Samuel W Durant.

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

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in the country's behalf

" Brothers : I can assure you that as soon as Butler's
speech at Oswego shall be over, they intend to march down
the country immediately to Albany. You may judge your-
selves, that if you don't try to resist we shall be obliged to
join them or fly from our castles, as we cannot hinder them
alone. We, the good friends of the country, are of opinion
that if more force appears at Fort Schuyler the enemy will
not move from Oswego to invade these frontiers. You may
depend on it, we are willing to help you if you will do some
efforts too."

This most excellent counsel, and the information accom-
panying it, had very nearly come too late. Such was the
desperate alternative presented to the inhabitants of the
Mohawk Valley that they seemed to have lost all courage,
and to be on the point of making terms with the enemy
like the frightened Oiieidas. Truly, the situation was most
disheartening, with Burgoyne pressing southward on the
east, and the formidable army of St. Leger on the west, ready
to scatter death and destruction if any resistance were made.
Even those who had heretofore borne themselves nobly in
the van appeared to have reached a point where they could
see no hope in further resistance, and to have given up in
despair. Treason was doubly active, and strove by every
means to encourage the loyal element, and in proportion to
depress those who favored the cause of the colonies.
" Upon this subject, and with special reference to the pop-
ular feeling and conduct in Tryon County, John Jay, then
sitting in the State Convention at Kingston, addressed the
following letter to Gouverneur Morris, a member of the
Council of Safety, who was at that time with General

Schuyler, in the North :

"TCiNGSTos, July 21, 1777.

'^Dkau Monnis, — The situation in Tyron County is both shameful
and alarming. Such abject dejection and despondency as mark the
letters we have received from thence disgrace human nature. God
knows what to do with them or for them, "^ere they alone interested
in tbeir fate, I should be for leaving their cart in the slough till they
would put their shoulders to the wheel.

"Schuyler has bis enemies here, and they use these things to his
disadvantage. Suspicions of his having been privy to the evaeua-



tion of Ticonderoga spread wide; and twenty Jittle circumstances,
which perhaps arc false, are trumped up to give color to the conjec-
ture. "We could wish tliat your letters might contain paragraphs for
the puhlic. We are silent because we have nothing to say ; and the
people suspect the worst because we say nothing. Their curiosity
must be constantly gratified, or they will be uneasy.

"Indeed, I do not wonder at their impatience, the late Northern
events having been suc>i as to have occasioned alarm and suspicion.
I have not leisure to add anything more than that I am, very sin-
cerely, yours, etc., John Jay."

In a note to this letter Colonel Stone makes the following
just coEpments upon the treatment of General Schuyler :

" There was probably no officer in the service, the eommanier-in-
chief alone excepted, who was considered by the enemy so great an
obstacle to the success of their arms. A narrow sectional prejudice
existed against him in New England. The failure of the Canadian
campaign had been most wrongfully attributed to him in 1776; and
with equal injustice the fall of Ticonderoga was now charged to his
remissness by his own countrymen. The enemy were not slow to
avail themselves of these pi'ejudices and groundless imputations, and
through the agency of the Tories the most artful and insidious means
were employed to destroy the public confidence in his integrity and
capacity. The flame of suspicion was fanned by them until it be-
came general, and was openly avowed. Committees, towns, and dis-
tricts assembled and jiassed resolves expressing their distrust in
him, and both Congress and the Provincial Legislature of New York
were addressed upon the subject. General Schuyler — than whom
there was not a truer patriot, nor a more earnest and active in the
public service, was well aware of these movements. To a committee
of the Provincial Congress, who had formally communicated the
charges to him, he returned an answer worthy a brave and mag-
nanimous soldier. The character of this answer will be understood
from this single sentence: 'We must bear with the caprice, jealousy,
and envy of our misguided friends, and pity them.' "

There was trouble in every direction. The loyalists in
the vicinity of Ballston were in arms, and the spirit of dis-
affection had spread even to the troops in the j&eld. Colonel
Robert Van Rensselaer wrote a friend in April that his
men were not trustworthy, and that numbers of them had
taken the oath of allegiance to Great Britain. Seventeen
had been arrested and were then in confinement. Early in
May the Scotch Roman Catholics remaining about Johns-
town had fled to Canada, accompanied by a few loyalist
Germans, all headed by two men named McDonald, whom
General Schuyler had permitted to visit their families.

The wives and families of the Tories were in correspond-
ence with their husbands and friends, and matters finally
became so serious that some four hundred of these people
were arrested and removed from their homes to places
where correspondence was impossible. This harsh measure
was approved by General Herkimer and his officers.

Alarming reports respecting the movements of the enemy
were constantly in circulation, and the inhabitants had no
rest from military duty. If any labor was undertaken in
the field, it was necessary to have a guard upon the look-
out. Nobody felt secure ; and to crown all the evils press-
ing upon them, numbers of the men were stealing away
and joining the ranks of the enemy. In the midst of this
state of things, the country was called upon to reinforce
Fort Schuyler, though at the very time when this call was
made the Committees of Safety of Palatine and Schoharie
were calling on the Council of Safety at Albany for pro-
tection. Mr. Paris wrote repeatedly on the subject, and the
Schoharie committee wrote on the 17th of July, that

" the late advantages gained by the enemy had aucb an effect, that
many who had been counted as friends of the State were drawing
hack. Our situation," said they, " is deplorable, — excepting those
who have sought protection from the enemy. We are entirely open
to the Indians and Tories, whom we expect every hour to come upon
us. Part of our militia are at Fort Edward; and of the few that are
here, many are unwilling to take up arms to defend themselves, as
they are unable to stand against so many enemies. Therefore if your
honors do not grant us immediate relief to the amount of about five
hundred men, we must either fall a prey to the enemy or take pro-
tection also."

On the 18th of July, General Schuyler wrote the Hon.
Pierre Van Courtlandt, from Saratoga, and again on the
21st from Fort Edward, to the same effect.

" I am exceedingly chagrined," soys he, " at the pusillanimous spirit
which prevails in the County of Tryon. I apprehend much of it is
to be attributed to the infidelity of the leading persons of that quarter.
If I had one thousand regular troops, in addition to those now above
and on the march, I should venture to keep only every third man of
the militia, and would send them down.

" The substance of Colonel Harper's information had been trans-
mitted about a month ago. In consequence whereof, I sent Colonel
Van Schaick into Tryon County, with as many troops as I could
collect. After the improper agreement made by General Herkimer,*
these troops were marched back ; but as soon as I was informed of
the march, I ordered them to remain in Tryon County, where they
are still, and I have sent up Colonel Wesson's regiment to reinforce
them. But if I may be allowed to judge of the temper of General
Herkimer and the committee of Tryon County, from their letters to
me, nothing will satisfy them unless I march the whole army into
that quarter. With deference to the better judgment of the Council
of Safety, I cannot, by any means, think it prudent to bring on an
open rupture with the savages at the present time. The inhabitants
of Tryon County are already too much inclined to lay down their
arms, and take whatever terms the enemy may please to afford them.
Half the militia from this (Tryon) County, and the neighboring State
of Massachusetts, we have been under the necessity of dismissing;
but the whole should go. I enclose you the proceedings of a council
of general affairs, held at this place on the 20th inst. You will per-
ceive that we have been driven to the necessity of allowing some of
the militia to return to their plantations. The remainder have prom-
ised to remain three weeks longer, — that is to say, unless they choose
to return sooner, which will doubtless be the case, and for which they
have many reasons."

In a letter to the Committee of Safety, dated July 24,
1777, the general says, — ■

" If Burgoyne can penetrate to Albany, the force which is certainly
coming by way of Oswego will find no difficulty in reaching the Mo-
hawk Fi.iver ; and, being arrived there, will be joined by Tories not
only, but by every person that finds himself capable of removing
and wishes to make bis peace with the enemy, and by the whole body
of the Six Nations."

The following letter, written during the campaign of
General Burgoyne, and when the prospect of success for
the American arms was anything but encouraging, is sup-
posed to liave been from the pen of Rutger Bleecker, of
Albany. It was found among the papers of Hon. Morris
S. Miller, who married a daughter of Mr. Bleecker. Mr.
John Elmendorph, to whom it was directed, was afterwards
the executor of Mr. Bieecker's estate, and was then residing
at Kingston.

The letter graphically portrays the military situation, and
the feeling among the people :

"Albany, 11th August, 1777.

" Dear Sin, — My wife and children are this minute gone to the
Hellebergh, with my father and mother. I intend to stay in my


•'Referring to the meeting between Herkimer and Brant, at Una-



house until I see the enemy approach towards the city. If the
northern department had but been committed to the care of the 4th
New York Regiment, I believe they would have made such a defense
as the world would have deemed manly and vigorous (instance Fort
Stanwix).* The bearer is able to give you more minute particulars
of our distress and dangerous situation than I can possibly recollect
in the course of writing this letter. It's the Tariea are here, the sav-
ages yonder, and the regulars there. Our forlorn hope is at Still-
Water, daily diminishing, and no prospect of a sufficient reinfarce-
nient; and unless 5000 able-bodied troops are here within a week,
this place must, T think, inevitably fall into the hands of Greneral
Burgoyne, when God help us from the cruel massacres of the savages.
Behold the difference between foreign and civil wars. You have been
repeatedly requesting me to come to your house. I must thank your
family for the offer, but we remain under the same fear and apprehen-
sions which we at present labor under. My view is to get to a place
which is out of the course of the enemy's object. Yuu lay in the
stream, and, moreover, this province, or State, is deemed by some
members of the Convention of so little consequence in the present
dispute that it's scarce worth defending. Then where is the use of
our leaving one part fur another, when the whole is of so little weight?
Yet our all is in it; we cannot all possibly leave it; the Congress
cannot, or at least do not, protect it. It follows, we must trust to the
mercy and generosity of the conqueror. Do you recollect in Virgil's
9th Pastoral —

" * Lycides, at last the time is come,
I never tbuugUt to see — ■
(Strange revolution for my farm and me),
"When tlie grim captain, in a auily tone,
Cries out, pack up, ye rascals, and be gone !
KickM out, we set tlie best face nn't we could;
And these two kiiU, to appease his angry mood,
I bear; of which tlie Furies give him good.'

"We must look up to the Director of the Universe, who can soon
check the whole; may he protect us all! Adieu, my dear friend, But
alas! my poor helpless infants. The ideas and shocking apprehen-
sions that haunt me concerning them and my wife torment my heart
and soul.

"I am yours, etc., R. B.f

"To Mr. John Elmen'douph, Kingston."

General Schuyler had just reasons for complaint, and
the situation was anything but encouraging; but no man
was better fitted for a difficult position, and he bore all the
contumely and abuse without betraying himself into any
useless display of resentment. Both the regular troops of
the Continental army and the militia seemed to have lost all
courage and interest, and every possible excuse was made to
avoid active service. Out of two hundred militia ordered
to join the garrison at Fort Stanwix only a small part
obeyed, and two companies of regulars, ordered upon the
same service, very reluctantly did so, complaining that
scouting service had unfitted them for garrison duty.J

Under these depressing circumstances the various Com-
mittees of Safety had a difficult duty to perform. " Tryon
County had early espoused the cause of freedom, and appa-
rently with greater unanimity than any other county in the
State; and the extensive defection, or criminal apathy,
which we have just been contemplating, was altogether
unexpected." §

But the end was near, for a crisis was at hand which of
necessity compelled immediate action in one direction or
the other.

General Herkimer took the initiative, and on the 17th
of July issued the following stirring proclamation :

* The regiment which defended Fort Stanwix was the 3d New York,
t From the original letter, in possession of Henry S. Miller, Esq,
X Campbell's Annals of Tryon County,
g Campbell's Annals.

" Whereas, It appears certain that the enemy, about 2000 strong,
Christians and savages, are arrived at Oswego, with the intention to
invade our frontiers, I think it proper and most necessary for the
defense of our country, and it shall be ordered by rae as soon as the
enemy approaches, that every male person, being in health, from six-
teen to sixty years of age, in this county, shall, as in duty bound,
repair immedintely, with arms and accoutrements, to the place to be
appointed in my orders, and will then march to oppose the enemy
with vigor, as true patriots for the just defense of their country.

"And those that are above sixty years, or really unwell and inca-
pable to march, shall then assemble, also armed, at the respective places
where women and children will be gathered together, iti order for
defense against the enemy, if attacked, as much as lies in their power.
But concerning the disaffected, and who will not directly obey such
orders, they shall be taken, along with their arms, secured under
guard, to join the main body. And as such an in vasion regards every
friend to the country in general, but of this connfy in particular, to
show his zeal and well-affected spirit in actual defense of the same,
all the members of the committee, as well as all those who, by former
commissions, or otherwise, have been exempted fiom any other mili-
tary duty, are requested to repair also, when called, to such place as
shall be appointed, and join to repulse our foes.|| Not doubting that
the Almighty Power, upon our humble prayers and sincere trust in
Him, will then graciously succor our arms in battle for our just cause,
and victory cannot fail on our side.

"Nicholas Ekkkimer."^

The Oneida Indians, as we have already seen, were on
the alert, and kept a watchful eye upon the movements of
St. Leger and Tkayendanegea. They were intensely in-
terested in the movements of the enemy. Having resolved
not to take sides with their brethren of the Six Nations,
and been denied the privilege of taking an active part with
the colonies, they had nobly determined to at least remain
neutral, though from the peculiarity of their location they
were likely to be the first sufferers in case Fort Stanwix
was taken. They well understood the situation, and kept
the inhabitants of the valley informed of every movement
of the enemy, while at the same time urging the utmost
diligence and dispatch in preparing for battle.

On the 29th of July the watchful Spencer sent the fol-
lowing letter to the Palatine committee, which was received
on the next day :

" At a meeting of the chiefs, they tell mo that there is but four days
remaining of the time set fur the king's troops to come to Fort
Schuyler, and they think it likely they will be here sooner.

"The chiefs desire the commanding officers at Fort Schuyler not
to make a Ticonderoga of it ; but they hope you will be courageous.

" They desire General Schuyler may have this with speed, and send
a good army here; there is nothing to do at New York; we think
there is men to be spared ; we e-^pect the road is stopped to the in-
habitants by a party through the woods; we shall be surrounded as
soon as they come. This may be our last advice, as these soldiers are
part of those to hold a treaty. Send this to the committee. As soon
as they receive it let the militia rise up and come to Fort Schuyler.

"To-morrow we are agoing to the Three Rivers,*^ to the treaty.

" We expect to meet the warriors, and when we come there and
declare we are for peace, we expect to be used with indifference and
sent away.

" Let all the troops that come to Fort Schuyler take care on their
march, as there is a party of Indians to stop the road below the fort,
about 80 or a 100. We hear they are to bring their cannon up Fish.
Creek. We hear there is 1000 going to meet the enemy. We advise
not — the army is too large for so few men to defend the fort. We
send, a belt of eight rows to confirm the truth of what we say.

II How well this latter class responded to the call is best shown by
the list of killed, wounded, and missing.

fl This proclivmatioii was undoubtedly written in Gterraan, and the
translation shows many imperfections.

■x-;i:- The junction of the Seneca, Oneida, and Oswego Rivers.



" It looks likely to me the troops are near ; hope all friends to
liberty, and that love their families, will not be backward, but exert
themselves; as one resolute blow would secure the friendship of the
Six Nations, and almost free this part of the country from the incur-
sions of the enemy.""-

One thing can certainly be said of the Oneida Indians,
and particularly of Thomas Spencer, — they did all that was
in their power to give accurate infornjation in time for the
people to rally ; and notwithstanding the opposition mani-
fested by the American leaders to their doing active service
in the field, a gallant band of them joined Herkimer on
his march and took part in the bloody battle which fol-
lowed, where the heroic Spencer and several others laid
down their lives in defense of the common cause.

The information furnished by the Onddii sachem and
the various scouting parties at length brought the inhabit-
ants of the Mohawk Valley to a full realization of the dan-
ger which was approaching, and to their honor they rallied
around the banner of the brave Herkimer with an alacrity
and spirit that was in remarkable contrast with their late
supineness and indifference. From various authorities it is
evident that a body of from 800 to 900 men soon assem-
bled, at the call of Herkimer, at Fort Dayton, now Herki-
mer village, where a part of Colonel Weston's Massachusetts
regiment was doing garrison duty. These men consisted
of the militia of the four regiments belonging to the four
districts of Tryon County, and quite a number of volun-
teers, members of the Committees of Safety, etc.

The first regiment, from the Canajoharie district, formerly
commanded by Colonel (now General) Herkimer, was led
by Colonel Ebenezer Cox ; the second, from Palatine, was
under command of Colonel Jacob Klook ; the third, from
Mohawk, was under Colonel Frederick Visseher ; and the
fourth, raised at the German Flatts and King's Land, was
led by Colonel Peter Bellinger. The regiments were the
merest skeletons, containing not over 100 men each, and
the remainder were volunteers. In the regiment of Colonel
Cox was included a body of Scotch-Irish from Cherry Val-
ley, under Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Campbell.

These 800 men had gathered from their hayfields, their
workshops and offices, in their homespun, every-day attire,
and with such arms as they happened to possess, — a brave
and patriotic, but undisciplined and somewhat unruly body
of men, — to march instantly to the relief of Fort Stanwix,
which they well knew, if not already beleaguered, would
soon be surrounded by a mixed army of British regu-
lars, American loyalists, and painted Indians, from whom,
in case of their success, no mercy need be expected either
for the garrison of the fort or the inhabitants of the valley

Herkimer's army was composed mainly of the descend-
ants of the German Palatinates and Low Dutch ; but there
were also men of English, Irish, Scotch, Welsh, and French
blood in their ranks, all actuated by the same spirit of deter-
mined resistance to the oppressions of the mother-country.
Leaving the gathering battalions of Herkimer to organize
and prepare for the march which was to end so disastrously
to many of them, we will return once more to St. Leger.
In addition to the precautions heretofore described, he

* Annals of Tryon County.

had detached Lieutenant Bird on the 28th of July, with a
portion of the 8th Regiment and a small body of Indians, to
keep a day's march in advance of the main body. The duty
of this detachment was to act as a scouting party, and the
commander was required to report regularly to St. Leger.

A few extracts from Lieutenant Bird's diary, or journal,
will give the reader an idea of his duties, and the perplex-
ities with which he was surrounded. It is probable that
no more unruly body of savages ever accompanied a British
expedition than those whom St. Leger had recruited in
Canada :

" Tuesday, July 28, 1777. — After going two milep, and no savages
coming up, waited two hours for them. Sixteen Sentcna arriving,
proceeded to the Three Rivers; waited there two hours; seventy or
eighty Measesangnes coming up, I proposed moving forward. They had
stolen two oxen from the drove of the army, and would not advance,
but stayed to feast. I advanced without Indians seven miles farther,
— in all nineteen miles. Posted four sentinels all night from a ser-
geant's guard of twelve men, relieved every hour, visited every half-
hour. All fires put out at nine o'clock.

" Wednesday, — Set ofi" next morning at six, having waited for the
savages till that time, though none arrived. Ordered the boats to
keep seventy rods behind each other, half the men keeping their
arms in their hands while the other h.alf rowed. Ordered, on any of
the boats being fired upon, that the men should jump ashore, the
rest to support them with all expedition. Rowed all night. En-
camped at Nine-Mile Point.

" Thursday, July 30. — With twenty-seven Seuecas and nine Mes-
sesaugties, joined Mr. Hair's party. f Many sava.ges being with us,
proceeded to Wood Creek, a march of fifteen miles. . . .

"Friday. — The savages hinted an intention to send parties to Fort
Stanwix, but to proceed in a body no farther. I called a council
of the chiefs; told them I had orders to approach near the fort;
that if they would accompany me I should be content ; but if they
would not go, I should take the white people under my command
and proceed myself. The Messesnugues said they would go with me.
The Scuecas said I had promised to be advised by their chiefs; that
it was their wiiy to proceed with caution. I answered that I meant
only as to fighting in the bush; but that I had communicated my
intentions to them in the former camp, of preventing them (the
Americans) from stopping the creek, and investing their fort. But
since I had promised to be advised by them, I would take it so far
as to wait till next morning, and would then certainly march by day-
break. After some counseling, they seemed pleased with what I had
said, and said they would send out large scouts to prepare the way.
Accordingly, eighteen or twenty set off this evening."

On the 2d of August, however. Bird wrote to St.

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 26 of 192)