Samuel W Durant.

History of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers online

. (page 25 of 192)
Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 25 of 192)
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dians well. He belonged to a good family, and was a splen-
did sample of the beau ideal Revolutionary soldier. Bold
and prompt to do and dare, he was a fitting lieutenant for
the gallant Gansevioort, and the story of the siege of Fort
Stanwix and its successful defense (one of the few made by
the American arms during the war) will tell to the latest

t Colonel Peter Gansevoort was a native of Albany, and then
twenty-eight years of nge.

± Colonel Marinus Willett was a native of Jamaica, L. I., -then
thirty-seven years old.



generation the nable heroism of those brave defenders of
the Mohawk Valley.

Colonel Gansevoort, after a careful inspection of the
works, wrote General Schuyler the following letter:

"Fort ScHoyLEu, July 4, 1777.

" Str, — Having taken an accurate review of the state of the garri-
son, J think it is incumbent on me to inform your Excellency by ex-
press of our present circumstances. Every possible assistance is
given to Captain Marquizee"^ to enable him to carry on such works
ji8 are deemed absolutely necessary for the defense' of the garrison.
The soldiers are constantly at work, — even such of them as come oflf
guard are immediately turned out to fatigue.

"But I cannot conceal from your Excellency the impossibility of
attending fully to nil the great objects pointed out in the urders issued
to the commanding officer on the station without further assist-
ance. Sending out parties of observation, felling the timber into
AVood Creek, clearing the road from Fort Da^tun, which is so em-
barrassed in many parts as to be impassable, and prosecuting, at the
same time, the internal busiuess of the garrison, are objects of the
greatest importance, which should, if possible, be immediately con-
sidered. But whileno exertions compatible with the circumstances
we are in, and necessary to give your Excellency satisfaction with re-
spect to all these Lnternal matters, shall be omitted, I am very sen-
sible it is not in our poiver to get over some capital obstructions
without a reinforcement. The inclosed return, and the difficulties
arising from the increasing number of hostile Indians, will show to
your Excellency the grounds of my opinion. One hundred and fifty
men would be needed speedily and effectually to obstruct Wood Creek ;
an equal number will be necessary to guard the men at work in fell-
ing and hauling timber. Such a deduction from our number; together
with smaller deductions for scouting parties, would scarcely leave a
man in the garrisun, which might therefore be easily surprised by a
contemptible party of the enemy. The number of inimical Indians
increases. On the affair of last week only two made theiir appear-
ance. Yesterday a party of at least 40, supposed to be Butler's emis-
saries, attacked Ensign Sporr with 16 privates, wno were out un
fatigue, cutting turf about three-quarters of a wile from the furt.f
One soldier was brought in dead, and inhumanly mangled; two were
brought in wounded, one of them slightly and the other mortally.
Six privates and Mr. Sporr are missing. Two parties were immedi-
ately sent to pursue the enemy, but they returned without being able
to come up with them. This success will, no doubt, encourage them
to send out a greater number ', and the intelligence they may possibly
acquire will probably hapten the main body destined to act against
us in these parts. Our provision is greatly diminished by reiison of
the spoiling of the beef, and the quantities that must be given from
time to time to the Indians. It will not hold out above six weeks.
Your Excellency will perceive, in looking over Captain Savage's
return of the state of tho artillery, that some essential articles are
very scarce. As a great number of gun-bullets do not suit the fire-
locks, some bullet-moulds of different sizes for casting others would
be of great advantage to us. Our stock uf powder is absolutely' too
little ; a ton, in addition to what we have, is wanted as the lowest pro-
portion for the shot we have un hand.

" We will, notwithstanding every difficulty, exert ourselves to the
utmost of our power; and if your Excellency will be pleased to order
a speedy reinforcement, with a sufficient supply of provisions and
ammunition to enable us to hold out a siege, we will, I hope, by tho
blessing of God, be able to give a good account of any force that
will probably come against us."J

In addition to all the other diflficulties under which
Colonel Gansevoort labored, was the incompetency of the

^'Captain Marquizee was a French engineer, who had been sent to
superintend the work of repair; but he was subsequently found
wholly incompetent, and sent back to headquarters.

f This was the same party sent out by Colonel Claus tb reconnoitre
the fort mentioned in his letter to Secretary Knox. The colonel calls
the ensign a lieutenant.

J It is possible that Colonel G. had some knowledge of St. Leger's
force, for Frederick Sammons had been sent on a scout to the Black
River country in June, to learn the strength and probable route of
his army.

engineer who had been sent up by General Schuyler to
superintend the work of repairing the fort. The practiced
eye of Colonel Willett soon discovered his unfitness for the
position, and he was arrested soon after Willett^s arrival,
and sent back to Albany under guard. From this time
on the work was under Colonel Willett's direction, who
pushed it as rapidly as possible.

With the gathering of St. Leger's forces at Oswego, the
Indians daily became more bold and venturesome, and their
scouting parties began to appear tnore frequently in the
surrounding forests, and constant precautions were neces-
sary to guard against surprise wlienever a working party
was gent out from the fort.

It was during this critical period preceding the siege
that the following incidents occurred. The first was the
adventure of Captain Gregg, which is briefiy narrated in
the subjoined letter from Colonel Gansevoort to General
Schuyler :

"Fort Schuyler, .Tune 26, 1777.
"I am sorry to inform your Honor that Captain Gregg and Cor-
poral Madison, of my regiment, went out a gunning yesterday
morning, contrary to orders. It seems they went out just after
breakfast, and at about ten o'clock Corporal Madison was killed and
scalped. Captain G-regg was shot through his back, tomahawked
and scalped, and is still alive. He informs me that the misfortune
happened about ten o'clock in the morning. He looked at his watch
after he was scalped. He saw but two Indians. He was about ono
mile and a half from the fort, and was not discovered until two
o'clock in the afternoon. I immediately sent out a party and had
him brought into the fort, just after three o'clock j also the corpse of
Madison. Gregg is perfectly in his senses, and speaks strong and
hearty, notwithstanding that his recovery is doubtful."

This incident, related with the customary brevity of a
soldier accustomed to scenes of misery and blood, was
amplified and given to the public in a variety of forms, the
most interesting of which was from the pen of Dr. Dwight,
who collected much interesting data in the valley of the
Mohawk during his travels. This account was published
in the old American Preceptor as early as 1820, under the
title of "The Faithful Dog.''

According to the doctor^s narrative, it appeared that
Captain Gregg and his friend had been tempted to trans-
gress Colonel Gansevoort's orders by the immense number
of pigeons which were in the vicinity. When they were
fired upon and fell, the Indians instantly rushed from
their coverts and tomahawked and scalped them, and then
as suddenly fled, for fear of pursuit. The corporal was
killed by the shot, but Captain Gregg was only severely
wounded, and, lying perfectly quiet, he submitted to the
torture of having his scalp torn from his head without betray-
ing any signs of life. After the Indians had fled he crawled
to his murdered companion and laid his head upon his
breast, expecting that death would soon come to his relief.
According to the story, he had a faithful dog, who had
accompanied him, and when he saw the condition of his
master, he ran to a place not far distant, where a couple of
men were engaged in fishing, and, by imploring looks and
cries, finally induced them to follow him to the place where
lay his wounded master. The fishermen, upon making the
discovery, immediately ran to the fort and alarmed the
garrison, when a party was sent out and brought in the



two unfortunate men.* Captain Gregg eventually recovered
from his terrible wounds, and lived many years afterwards.
When the friendly Indians, who were chiefly Oneidas,
heard of this outrapje, they were alarmed lest the act should
he charged upon them, and hastened to present an address

- 4> - ^ - ,'<s-^ -

^J/fc^U ^>^:Z-^2t-^ - ^^^2'^:'^^'2>^

of condolence to Colonel Ganscvoort, which, though not
preserved, will be readily understood by a perusal of the
annexed reply of the colonel :

" Brother Warriors of the Six Nations: I thank you for
your good talk.

" Brothers : You tell us you are sorry for the cruel usage
of Captain Gregg and the murder of one of our warridrs ;
that you would have immediately pursued the murderers,
had not General Schuyler, General Gates, and the French
General"!' desired you not to take any part in this war ;
and that you have obeyed their orders, and are resolved to
do so. I commend your good intentions and inclinations.

" Brothers : You say you have sent a runner to the Six
Nations, to inform them of what has happened, and that
you expect some of your chiefs will look into the affair, and
try to find out the murderers. You have done well. I
shall be glad to smoke a pipe with your chiefs, and hope
they will do as they speak.

" Brothers : I hope the mischief has been done, not by
any of our good friends of the Oneida nation, but by the

* Notwithstanding the high authority here given, the story savors
very mach of the romantic and marvelous. It is singular that the
fishermen were not molested, and still more singular that when they
saw the captain they did not take him at once to the fort.

t The Frenoh general here nllu'led to was undoubtedly the Marquis
dc La Fayette.

Tories, who are enemies to you as well as to us, and who
are ready to murder yourselves, your wives and children,
if you will not be as wicked as themselves.

" Brothers : When your chiefs shall convince me that
Indians of the Six Nations had no hand in this wicked
thing, and shall use means to find out the murderers, and
bring them to justice, you may be assured that we will
strengthen the chain of friendship, and embrace you as good
brothers. I will not suffer any of our warriors to hurt you."
" Another tragic incident occurred at nearly the same
tiine. About noon, on the 3d of July, the day being per-
Ibctiy clear, Colonel Willett was startled from his sics/a by
the report of musketry. Hastening to the parapet, he saw
a little girl running with a basket in her hand, while the
blood was trickling down her bosom. On investigating the
facts, it appeared that the girl, with two others, was picking
berries, not two hundred yards from the fort, when they
were fired upon, and two of the number killed.J Happily,
she, who was left to tell the tale, was but slightly wounded.
One of the girls killed was the daughter of an invalid, who
had served many years in the British artillery. He was
entitled to a situation in Chelsea Hospital, but had preferred
I'ather to remain in the cultivation of a small piece of ground
at Fort Stanwix than again to cross the ocean. "§

The storm was now rapidly gathering, and by the middle
of July the Indians became so numerous and troublesome,
that only large and well-armed parties were safe in ventur-
ing any considerable distance from the fortress. Even one
of these was attacked, a number of the men killed and
wounded, and the commanding ofiicer taken prisoner.

The force of the garrison at this time amounted to about
550 men, but partially supplied with provisions and muni-
tions, as we have seen from Colonel Gansevoort's letter.
But supplies were on their way, and the very day in which
Thayendanegea and Lieutenant Bird appeared in front of
the works, Lieutenant-Colonel Mellon, of Colonel Weston's||
regiment, arrived with 200 men escorting two bateaux,
loaded with provisions and stores. This reinforcement was
most welcome, and came not a moment too soon. The
stores were instantly conveyed to the fort, but the enemy
was so close upon the party, that the ofiBcer who commanded
the boats was taken prisoner by the advance of Brant's
Indians. Had this detachment been an hour later, or the
arrival of Brant and Bird an hour earlier, the history of
the Mohawk Valley, and, indeed, of the struggle for inde-
pendence, might have been altogether different. On such
slight contingencies hang the destinies of nations. Here
was a new Thermopylae, as important perhaps as the one
where Leonidas and his gallant band were " buried under a
trophy of Persian arms ;" but with this difference, that the
defenders were to issue victorious from the conflict, while
the fate of the Spartan king was reserved for Herkimer
and two hundred of his hardy followers.

With the addition of Lieutenant-Colonel Mcllon's force,

t To the disgrace of Cornplanter, the Seiieca chief, he acknowl-
edged, in 1797, having fired one of these shots.

J From Willctt's Narrative.

11 This name is spelled WeMaon by some writers, bnt its correct
spelling is undoubtedly Weatoi}. The name is iDvariably pronounced
in New England as if spelled Wetaov.



Colonel Gansevoort found himself at the head of about 750
men, which was probably all the fort could contain with,
advantage. These troops consisted of Gansevoort's own
regiment, the' 3d New York, and the 200 already men-
tioned, of Colonel Weslon's regiment of the Massachusetts
line. . The place was fully provisioned for six. weeks, and
there was plenty of fixed ammunition for. small arms, but
in artillery ammunition there was only suflGcient to serve
the guns with nine rounds each for the same period. This
did not allow of a fire sufficient to prevent St. Leger from
erecting his siege batteries within ordinary range, — 600
yards,— though his light pieces proved of very little Ser-
vice, except for throwing shells. ,

It seems from all accounts that the garrison had no
colors with which to represent their nationality. The new
national standard had been adopted, and the defenders of
the fort, understanding its make-up, set about constructing
one from the materials at. band. Colonel Stone says,
"Stripes of white were cut from ammunition shirts; blue
from a camlet cloak, captured from the enemy ;* while the
red was supplied from such odds and ends of clothes of that'
hue as were at hand." They undoubtedly used the best
materials to be found, and improvised a flag, which may
well be called a '■ storm flag,'' and flung it to the free winds
of heaven, never to come down in disgrace from the native
hickoi-y wlience it streamed.

The storm-flag, from the hastioa flung,.

Streamed in the toying breeze,
While from beneath its folds outrung,
\Y\th /eu-de joie and cheering tongue, -

A aalvo o'er the trees
That compassed it on every side ;
Proclaiming, by the Mohawk's tide,.
Defiance to the kingly crown,
Whose miscreant hordes were trampling down
The' rights of men who would be free,-
Or pile anew Thermopylje.
Beneath that primal banner stood
Heroes from vale and shadowy wood;'
Grave veterans from New England's soil, - I '■
. And men well used to battle broil.
From where broad Hudson rolls his tide —
From sunny glen and green hillside —
Gathered to battle for'thd Right —
To win or perish in the fight. "

The following roster of officers with the garrison of Fort
Stanwix is from' the Oriskany Blemorial Volume, gathered,
at considerable trouble, by the Ulica Herald :


, Peter Gansevoort, Colonel ; Marinus Willett, Lieutenant-
Colonel ;'|^ Robert Cochran, Major ; George Symes, Adju-
tant; Thomas Williams, Quartermaster.' . ., ,

* Judge Jones says the. camlet cloak was furnished by Captaiil
Abraham Swartwout, of Poughkeepsie. From Colonel Willett's nar-
rative it appears that the eloak was taken from tKe British in the
afiair at Peekskill, March 22, 1777.

f There is some discrepancy in this roster or in other statements.
It is stated in Stone that Colonel Willett was ordered to .join the
garrison with his regiment, and cither Colonel Gansevoort must have
been without a command or his regiment was not with him at first,
as the roster shows that both he and Willett, were ofScers of the same
regiment. We cannot reconcile the discrepancy.. ...

First Company. — E. Van Bunschooten, Captain ; John
Pearcy, First Lieutenant ;. Thomas Oostrander, Second'

Second Company. — Thomas Dewitt, Captain ; Benjamin
BogarduS) Second .Lieutenant. ; ' . •• "

Third Company. — Cornelius T. Jansen, Captain ; N.
Vandor Hoyden, First Lieutenant; James Dubois, Second
Lieutenant; Samuel English, Ensign.

Fourth Company. — Abraham Swartwdudt, Captain ;
Philip Conine, First Lieutenant ; G. R. G. Livingston,
Second Lieutenant; Samuel Lewis, Etisign;

Fi/lh Company. ^-K-Mon Austin, Captain; John Ball,
First Lieutenant ; Gerritt Staats, Second Lieutenant.

Sixth Company. — James Gregg, Captain ; Levi Stock-
well, First Lieutenant ; James Blake, Second Lieutenant ;
George Dennison,. Ensign.

Seventh Company. — Henry N. Piebout, Captain ; Isaac
Bogert, First Lieutenant; William Mead, Second Lieu-
tenant; Christopher Hutten, Ensign.

Eighth Company.— John Houston, Captain ; John
Welch, First Lieutenant; Prentice Bowen, Second Lieu-

Lieutenant-Colonel Mellon, Major Bedlow, Captain Al-
len, Captain Bleecker, Captain John J. Davis, Captain
Johnson ;J Lieutenants Diefendorf, McClenner, and Cof-
fraunder; Captain Johannes Roof; Ensigns Chase, Bailey,
Magee, Arnent, and Jonathan Dean ; Gersborn Gilbert,
Jabez Spicer, Isaac Covenhoven, John Schuyler.

Thus situated, this sturdy band of gallant men, on the
border of the wilderness, many miles from succor, in the
certain pathway of the advancing enemy, and with a full
knowledge of all the horrors of savage warfare, prepared
to defend their little fortress against whatever force might
come before it. It is not probable that the actors in the
drama of those stirritig days realized the vast importance'
of the situation ; but they are none the less entitled to the
loftiest praise as the successful defenders of the key-point
of the Revolution.

- If St. Leger was successful at Fort Schuyler, the vailley.
of the Mohawk at once became an open highway to Albany,
the whole Iroquois confederacy would undoubtedly join the-
' British army, and the force under Schuyler battling with-
Burgoyne in front would be taken in reverse, and defeat'
and disaster must inevitably overwhelm the American arms.
Had Burgoyne's two outlying columns been victorious at-
Fort Schuyler and Bennington, the entire army would easily
h"ave converged upon and concentrated at Albany, loaded
with the spoils of the rich valleys of the Mohawk and Hu J-.
son, and the grand project of the British government, the
severing of the" New England colonies from those beyond
the Hudson, would have been consummated. Even had.
the British advance been checked at the mouth of the Mo-
hawk, the valley of the latter stream vi'ould have been open
to Burgoyne, and he could easily have fallen back upoU'
Oswego and placed the Six Nations between him and the
American army. The issue of the campaign hung in the
scales on the Wallomsic and the Mohawk, and the bravery.

X This officer and Captain Jansen of the 3d company may be



and patriotism of Gansevoort, and Willett and Herkimer,
with their gallant companions in arms, and of Stark and
Warner at the head of the pioneers of New England, turned
the rising tide of British success into a disastrous deluge of
reverses, put 10,000 of the enemy hor.i du combat, gained
the alliance of France, and made possible the independence
of the Britisii colonies in North America.

Many people will take exception to these conclusions,
but a careful examination of all the facts, together with the
expressed opinions of Washington, Burgoyne, and other
military leaders fully competent to judge, and the evidence
of contemporaneous historians, all bear us out in the stiite-
ment that upon the is.sues of Oriskany, Fort Stanwix, and
Bennington depended the success or failure of the American

The insignificant affair at ThermopylcE, where a small
band of 300 devoted men perished in defense of their in-
vaded country, was the turning-point in the most critical
period of Grecian history, and the cackling of geese once
saved the " Eternal City" from the Vandals of the North.
There are times when the destinies of nations hang upon a
thread, when the most trivial circumstances determine the
existence of unborn millions, and one of those important
mile-stones of history, marking a great epoch, should stand
upon the field of Oriskany, having inscribed upon its tri-
angular shaft the memorable names, Oriskant, Foiit
Stanwix, Bennington.

We will turn back a few months, and see how the gath-
ering of the ominous clouds of war on their northern and
western horizon was looked upon by the people of the State
of New York.

The Oneida Indians were the first to become acquainted
with St. Leger's movements. Thomas Spencei-, an Oneida
half-breed, first brought the news to the people of the Mo-
hawk Valley. Spencer stated that he had been in Canada,
whither he had gone as a secret emissary for the purpose of
obtaining information, and had attended a council held at
the Indian castle of Caasasseny, at which Colonel Glaus
presided.* According to his relation Colonel Claus had
strongly urged the Indians to join St. Leger's expedition.
He spoke boastingly of General Burgoyne's army, and the
Dumber of Indians who had accompanied him, and assured
the Indians present that Ticonderoga would surely be taken.
He also predicted the same fate for Fort Stanwix, saying, " I
am sure that when I come before the fort, and the command-
ing officer .shall see me, he also will not fire a shot, but will
surrender the fort to me." The Oneida also informed the
people that Sir John Johnson and Colonel Claus were then
at Oswego with their families, with 700 Indians and 400
regular troops. He stated that there were 600 Tories on
one of the islands in the St. Lawrence, above Oswegatchie,
preparing to join them ; and Colonel Butler was to arrive at

* The following ext act from an orderly-book, captured at the time
of Colonel Willett's at Fort Stanwi.x, explains this point :

" Buck's Island, July 12, 1777.

" His Majesty has been pleased to appoint C'lhuel Clnite to be Su-
perintendent of the InJiau Department for this expedition."

Buck's Island, mentioned above, lies in the St. Lawrence River, at
the outlet of Lake Ontario, and was the rendezvous of St. Leger's
force when preparing for the Mohawk expedition. — [I1istoria.>j.]


Oswego on the 14th of July, from Niagara, to hold a coun-
cil with the Six Nations, to all of whom he would offer
the hatchet to join them and strike the Americans. He
concluded his information with the following exhortation :

" Brothers : Now is your time to awake, and not to sleep
longer ; or, on the contrary, it shall go with Fort Schuyler
(Stanwix) as it went already with Ticonderoga.

" Brothers: I therefore desire you to be spirited, and to
encourage one another to march on to the a,ssistance of Fort
Schuyler. Come up and show yourselves as men, to defend
and save your country before it is too late. Despatch your-
selves to clear the brush about the foi t, and send a party to
cut trees in the Wood Creek to stop up the same.

'■ Brothers : If you don't come soon, without delay, to
assist this place, we cannot stay much longer on your side ;
for if you leave this fort without succor, and the enemy
shall get possession thereof, we shall suffer like you in your
settlements, and shall be destroyed with you. We are sus-
picious that your enemies have engaged the Indians, and
endeavor daily yet to strike and fight against you ; and
General Schuyler refuses always that we shall take up arms

Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 25 of 192)