Samuel W Durant.

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

. (page 29 of 192)
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the militia who were killed were Isaac Paris (then a mem-
ber of the Legislature), Samuel Billington, John Dygert,
and Jacob Snell, members of the Committee of Safely.
There was likewise a Captain Graves who fell, but to which
regiment he belonged the author has not ascertained."

This battle was to Tryon County what the battle of
Flodden Field, in 1513, was to Scotland, — scarce a family
but was in mourning, and the loss, as shown, reached the
legislative bodies of the State and county. It was a fearful
holocaust, but every drop of blood shed in that wilderness
fight, like the fabled dragon's teeth of Cadmus, produced a
new and determined warrior to take the place of each one
slain.

The losses on the side of the enemy can only be conjec-
tured, as no careful official statement was ever furnished
by St. Leger. In a loose way he enumerates about 60
Indians killed and wounded, while Col. Glaus says in his
letter to Secretai-y Knox at London, " We lost Capts. Hare
and Wilson of the Indians, Lieutenant McDonald of Sir
John's regiment, two or three privates, and 32 Indians,
among which were several Seneca chiefs, killed. Captain
Watts, Lieutenant Singleton, of Sir John's regiment, and
33 Indians wounded."

Col. Glaus evidently tried to put a good face upon the
matter and to pass lightly over the losses, and only men-



"'^' Spelled also Petrie.



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



109



tions Sir John Jolinson's regiment as sustaining any loss
at all among the white troops. The admissions of Thayen-
danegea of the terrible losses among his Mohawks, and the
mourning among the Scnecas and Cnyiiga^, coupled with
St. Leger's subsequent statements during the siege of Fort
Stanwix, prove beyond a peradventure that their losses were
heavy and most discouraging. But taking everything into
consideration, there cannot be much doubt that the Provin-
cials suffered the heaviest loss on the field. They took no
prisoners, while the British claimed to have taken 200,
though this was no doubt an exaggeration.

Both parties claimed the victory, though it is self-evident
that technically the British lost the battle. On the other
hand, it may be said that they accomplished the design of
the expedition, which was nothing more than to prevent
the reinforcement of Fort Stanwix, which they succeeded
in doing, though undoubtedly the result of the battle was
the primary cause of the subse(|uent defection of the In-
dians, and the final abandonment of the siege by St. Leger.

The Provincials, on the other hand, though left in pos-
session of the field, did not stop to bury their dead (or at most
only a part), but left them where they fell, to be interred
by General Arnold's troops. Both parties were probably
glad to see the battle ended.

It has been said that the Indians were with great diffi-
culty induced to enter into this expedition, and the object
was only accomplished by the free distribution of stimulat-
ing drink among them. According to the narrative of Mary
Jemison, who was captured near Pittsburgh, and held a
prisoner for several years among them, the Seiiecas were
deceived into the campaign. " They were sent for to see the
British whip the rebels. They were told that they were not
wanted to fight, but merely to sit down, smoke their pipes,
and look on. The Seiiecas went to a man, but, contrary to
their expectations, instead of smoking and looking on, they
were obliged to fight for their lives, and in the end of the
battle were completely beaten, with a great loss in killed and
wounded."*

These accounts may have some truth in them, but in the
face of the facts that Thayendanegea was the commander-
in-chief of the whole Indian forces, and that the utmost
efibrts of the colonists could not persuade these Indians
even to remain neutral, it is altogether probable that tliey
very willingly joined St. Leger, and only conjured up these
frivolous excuses after they had been defeated and humbled.
Had they succeeded in cutting to pieces General Herk-
imer's command, taking Fort Stanwix, and ravaging the
Mohawk Valley, there would have been very little lamenta-
tion and no apologies.

It has also been said that this battle compelled St. Leger
to raise the siege of Fort Stanwix, but to any attentive
reader of history this statement is evidently erroneous.
The siege had only really commenced on the 5th, — the day
preceding the battle, — and notwithstanding the severe losses
he deliberately sat ■! wn and pushed his operations for at
least sixteen days following the action, and had it not been
for other causes the fort must have eventually been taken.
This .subject will be considered farther on.



"* Life of Mary Jemison — from Stone.



One of the most remarkable phases of the battle of Oris-
kany was the presence of such a variety of nationalities,
and each, almost without exception, having representatives
in both armies. There were English, German, Dutch,
Irish, Scotch, French, and possibly Canadians, on both
sides, and the Six Nations were also represented in both
armies by the Muhawks, Senecas, Cai/iigas, and Onondagas,
on the British side, and by the Oiieidcts, and probably the
Titscaronis, on the side of the Americans; and, in addi-
tion, the Jlississagiies and seven nations of Canada were
also present in force.

Families living in the Mohawk Valley were divided, and
their members were found fighting in the opposing ranks.
Even General Herkimer himself had a brother who was a
captain in St. Leger's army, and Major John Frey, who was
wounded and taken prisoner, came very near losing his life
at the hands of his brother, who was in the British service.
The German and Dutch troops of the Mohawk Valley fought
against their friends and brothers in Sir John Johnson's regi-
ment, and the Scotchmen under the Campbells from Cherry
Valley encountered those from Johnstown under the Mc-
Donalds, and Sir John, himself an Irishman by extraction
if not by birth, encountered men of the same nationality
in the ranks of Herkimer. The Hanau Chasseurs fought
men of their own extraction from the Palatinate, and the
French soldier, De Graff, from the lower Mohawk, battled
manfully against his fellow-countrymen from La Chine.
Several leading men of the Oneidas, including Thomas
Spencer, were killed on the field, and the Senecas, Mo-
hawks, and iVissUsagues left many a representative whose
bones whitened for years in the forest of Oriskany. Indian
scalped Indian and white man alike, and Protestant and
Catholic and savage mingled fiercely in the bloody melee,
asking no man his creed, but intent only on the work of
destruction.

On the whole it was the most remarkable conflict of the
war, and it seemed as if nearly all the nationalities of
Europe and America had gathered at this point, in the
very centre of the Empire State, to determine by the arbi-
trament of the musket, the rifle, the spear, the tomahawk,
and the knife, what should be the future of America :
whether it was to remain an appendage to the effete monarch-
ies of Europe, or, throwing off the shackles of the old regime,
to rise to the commanding position of the great champion
of human rights, and ere a century should elapse to take
the lead in the van of human progress.

It most unquestionably was the commencement of those
serious reverses which culminated in the surrender of Bur-
goyne, and which latter event is admitted by all writers to
have been the turning-point in the American Revolution.
The capture of this large and finely equipped and officered
army awakened the European nations to a sense of the
capabilities of tlie colonies, and just six months to a day
from the battle of Oriskany (Feb. 6, 1778) France entered
into a treaty with the Republic, and the issue became
no longer doubtful.

The gallant commander of the Provincials did not sur-
vive Ion" enough to realize the value of his stubborn fight
to the cause of his country. When the battle was over
and the wounded had been collected together, the remains



110



HISTOIIY OF ONEIDA COUNT?, NEW YORK.



of the gallant army took up their line of march down the
river, for all thought of reinforcing Fort Stanwix had
been, of necessity, abandoned. The wounded general was
taken to his home a few miles below Little Falls, and
though seriously, was not supposed to be dangerously
wounded. But the regular surgeons, Doctors Petry and
Younglove, were not at hand to attend to him, the first
named being severely wounded, and the last a prisoner,
and an unskillful or unpracticed surgeon was left to attend
him. Dr. Petry had dressed his limb in the best manner
possible upon the field, and had no thought of an amputa-
tion being necessary, neither had he di-eamed of the
general's dying from the effects of hi.s wound. But the
weather was excessively warm, and it was thought by the
surgeon in attendance necessary to perform an amputation,
which was done on the tenth day succeeding the battle.
It appears that this surgeon belonged in General Arnold's
army, which was advancing up the valley.

The following is the surgeon's letter, announcing the
amputation and the general's death :

" General Harcomer's, Aug. 17, 1777.

"Dear Doctor, — Yesterday morning I aaiputated General liar-
comer's leg, there not being left the prospect of recovery without
it. But, .ihis ! the patriot hero died in the evening, the cause of his
death God only Itnows. About three hours before his departure he
complained of pain. I gave him thirty drops of laudanum liquid,
and went to dress Mr. Pettery.* I left him in as good a way as I
could wish, with Dr. Hastings to take care of him. When I returned I
found him taking his last gasp, free from spasm, and sensible.
Nothing more surprised me, but we cannot always parry death, so
there is an end of it.

" General Arnold left yesterday morning, with positive orders to
follow liim this evening or to-morrow morning. I sent for Scull to
take care of the General and Pettery, lie is just uow arrived. I
propose to have Pettery removed to Palatine, when Scull and two
regimental m.atcs will take care of him and the other wounded. This
evening I will pursue Gen"! Arnold, and I suppose will overtake
him at Fort Dayton. . . .

"The place and hour of glory clraws nigh. No news from Fort
Schuyler. I am, dear doctor, your most obedient and bumble servant,

"Robert Johnston."

This letter was directed to Dr. Jonathan Potts, director
of the general hospital for the northern department.

Surgeon Johnston is called a Frenchman by several
writers, but the name indicates Scotch extraction.

From other accounts it is supposed that the surgeon did
not succeed in stanching the blood. Colonel Willett visited
the general soon after the operation, and found him sitting
up in his bed, smoking his pipe, and seeming in the best
of spirits. He died suddenly on the night succeeding the
colonel's visit.

His friend, Colonel John Roff, was present at the ampu-
tation, and stated that he bore the operation with uncommon
fortitude. He was also with the general when he died.
It would appear that the arteries were not well secured, and
a hemorrhage set in which terminated flitally in a short
time. Becoming satisfied that his end was near, he called
for his Bible, and read to his friends who were present the
thirty-eighth ps-alui, making the application to his own case.l
He closed the book, and soon after expired.

Colonel Stone, in speaking of Herkimer, uses the foliow-

~ Petry. f Colonel Rolf's statement, quoted by Colonel Stone.



ing language : " It may well be questioned whether the
annals of man furnish a more striking example of Christian
heroism, — calm, deliberate, and firm in the hour of death,
— than is presented in this remarkable instance. . . . He
was an uneducated man, with possibly less skill in letters
than even General Putnam, which is saying much. But
he was, nevertheless, a man of strong and vigorous under-
standing, destitute of some of the essential requisites of
generalship, but of the most cool and dauntless courage.
These traits were all strikingly disclosed in the brief and
bloody expedition to Oriskany. But he must have been
acquainted with that most important of all books, the Bible.
Nor could the most learned biblical scholar, lay or clerical,
have selected a portion of the sacred Scriptures more exactly
appropriate than that to which he himself spontaneously
turned. If Socrates died like a philosopher, and Rousseau
like an unbelieving sentimentalist. General Herkimer died
like a Christian hero."

Subsequently, Congress passed a resolution requesting
the Governor and Council of New York to erect a monument
at the expense of the United States, to the memory of this
brave man, of the value of five hundred dollars. This res-
olution was transmitted to Governor George Clinton, in a
letter from which the following is a quotation :

" Every mark of distinction shown to the memory of
such illustrious men as ofier up their lives for the liberty
and happiness of their country, reflects real honor on those
who pay the tribute; and by holding up to others the
prospect of fame and immortality, will animate them to
tread in the same path." The Governor inclosed the reso-
lution in a letter to the Tryon County. committee, of which
the following is a copy : " Enclosed you have a letter and
resolves of Congress for erecting a monument to your late
gallant general. While with you I lament the cause, I am
impressed with a due sense of the great and justly-merited
honor the continent has, in this instance, paid to tire memory
of that brave man.'' These patriotic sentences show the
profound respect entertained by the prominent men of those
days for the hero who gave his life on the blood-red field
of Oriskany, that the Republic might be established. But,
to the shame of the American people, and in particular to
the inhabitants of the Empire State of the Union, it must
be said that the patriotic and grateful action of Congress
is the sum total of all that has been done to perpetuate in
enduring stone the memory of Nicholas Herkimer.J

The Herkimer family originally settled at the German
Flats, on a tract of land granted to them about 1725.
They belonged to the German Palatinates from the banks
of the Rhine, and called themselves High Germans. In
religious belief they were followers of Martin Luther. The
patent granted them extended on both sides of the Mohawk
River, frLim the Little Falls westward as far as the present
town of Frankfort. The tract was surveyed into narrow
lots, running perpendicular with the river.

General Nicholas Herkimer was the eldest son of Johan
Joost Herkimer, who was among the earliest settlers upon



X The General Herkimer i\Ionument Association was organized in
Herkimer Counry, Aug. 18, 1S77, for the purpose of erecting a mon-
ument to the general. A. H. Greene, Little Falls, secretary.



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



Ill



the German Flats. His father drew and first lived upon
lot No. 30, on the south side of the river. It is about a
half-mile below the old stone church, and in 1877 was
owned by James H. Steele, Esq., and George H. Orondorf.
At this place it is supposed that the general was born soon
after his father built his first dwelling, in 1725 or 1726.
(The exact place and date of his birth, however, is not
certainly known.) The house in which he was born sur-
vived the Revolution, though every other in the settlement
was destroyed. It is stated by Samuel Earl, Esq., that
there was a school-house in the settlement as early as 1730,
and at this primitive temple of learning, no doubt built of
logs, the young Herkimer received all the school education
which it was his lot to obtain.

His father was a leading member of the religious society
which erected the old stone church, as appears from the
following petition to the Governor in 1751 :

'' Tii hiB Excellency, the Honorable George Clintitn, Cuptniii-Genernl
and Qoveriior-in-Chief of the Province of Neia York, and Tcrri-
toriea thereon depending in America ; Vice-Adntirul of the aaniCf
and Admiral of the White Sqnadron of Hin Miijeaty'a Fleet :
" The humble petition of Joban Joost Hercheiiner, of Burnet's
Field, in the county of Albany, yeoman, in behalf of himself and the
rest of the inhabitants, High Germans, living there, humbly sheweth :
"That your petitioner and sundry other High Germans, to the
number of one hundred families and upwards, at present resident at
Burnet's Field, in this province, propose, with your E.\cellency's per-
mission, to erect a stone church on the south side of the river, upon
a convenient spot of ground already purchased by the inhabitants,
for the worship of Almighty God, according to the discipline of the
Reformed Protestant Dutch Church. But finding themselves unable
alone to finish and complete the same, your petitioner, therefore, in
behalf of the said inhabitants, humbly prays your Excellency will
be favorably pleased to grant a Brief or Lycense to crave a voluntary
assistance an contribution of all well-disposed persons within this
province, for completing the said structure, altogether intended for
Divine worship.

"And your petitioner, as in duty bound, shall ever pray, itc.

" JunAN Joost Heucueimeii."
Indorsed :
"Foax George is New York, October 6, 1751. Be it so.

" G. Cli.ntos."

Previous to the French war the general's father erected
a fine stone mansion about three-fourths of a mile to the
west of his first location. He was a wealthy farmer and
posse.ssed a large estate, and had numerous chattels and
negro slaves. He raised a family of five sons and eight
daughters. About 1755, his mansion was fortified and
known as " Fort Herkimer." This mansion remained un-
til the enlargement of the Erie Canal, about 1841, when it
was torn away. It is supposed that General Herkimer,
then a lieutenant in Captain Wormwood's company, was in
command of Fort Herkimer in 1758.

About 1760, his father conveyed to him a tract of 500
acres of land situated below Little Falls. His father died
in August, 1775. The family was next after that of Sir
William Johnson the wealthiest and most influential in the
valley. One of the general's brothers, upon the breaking
out of the Revolutionary troubles, went over to the British
interest and fled to Canada. His estates were confiscated.
It is probable that he was the Captain Herkimer spoken of
by St. Leger in his account of the expedition ; and he may
possibly have fought against his brother, the general, in
the battle of OrLskany.



The general was an exceedingly popular man in the val-
ley, and possessed immense influence over the people, as the
grand rally which they made in response to his proclamation
in 1777 plainly shows.

The general left no children. His widow survived him,
and subsequently married a man in straitened circum-
stances, with whom she removed to Canada, where she
remained until her death.

The sisters of General Herkimer all married respectably,
and their husbands were all influential and leading men.
Among them Mr. Earl mentions Rev. Abraham Rose-
crants, Hendrick Fry, Colonel Peter Bellinger, and George
Henry Bell. The husbands of several, however, were
ardent supporters of the crown, and were instrumental in
bringing much destruction and misery upon the inhabi-
tants of the valley and surrounding country.

His brother George was a true patriot, and fought with
the general in the battle of Oriskany. His brother Henry,
or Hendrick, died at the family mansion during the Revo-
lution.

When the conflict was over, it was found that Lieutenant-
Colonel Samuel Campbell, of Cherry Valley, who was
second in command of Colonel Cox's regiment, was the
senior officer left unwoundod, and he took command and
led back the shattered battalions from that terrible field.
The night succeeding the battle the survivors encamped
on the site of Utica. When Arnold soon after advanced
up the valley, one-half the survivors of each of the four
regiments that had fought at Oriskany were ordered to
join him for the relief of Fort Stanwix.

We will now return to Fort Stanwix (Schuyler). As
the sortie of Colonel Willett occurred nearly at the same
time with the battle of Oriskany, we introduce the account
of the affair in this place ; and as the commander of the
detachment was the best judge of his own movements, his
letter to Governor Trumbull, descriptive of the affair, is
herewith given in full :*

" German Flats, Aug. 11, 1777.

"On Saturday evening, August the 2d, five bateau.Y arrived with
stores for the garrison. About the same time we discovered a num-
ber of fires a little better than a mile from the northwest corner of
the fort. The stores were all got safe in, and the troops, which were
a guard to the bateaux, inarched up. The captain of the bateaux
and a few of his men, delaying their time about the boats, were fired
upon by a party of Indians, which killed one man and wounded
two. The captain himself was taken a prisoner.

" Next morning the enemy appeared in the edge of the woods,
about a mile below the fort, where they took post in order to invest
it upon that quarter, and to cut off the communication with the
country, from whence they sent in a flag, who told us of their great
power, strength, and determination, in such a manner as to give us
reason to suppose they were not possessed of sufficient strength to
take the fort. Our answer was a determination to support it.

All day on Monday we were much annoyed by a sharp fire of mus-
ketry from the Indians and German riflemen, which, as our men
were obliged to be exposed on the works, killed one and wounded
seven. The day after, the firing was not so heavy, and our men
were under better cover; all the damage was one man killed by
a rifle ball. This evening indicated something in contemplation
by the enemy. The Indians were uncommonly noisy. They kept
up the most horrible yellings a great part of the evening in the
woods, hardly a mile from the fort. A few cannon were fired among
them.



bee p'



ortrait of Colonel Willett.



112



HISTORY OP ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



"Wednesday morning there was an unusual silence. We dis-
covered some of the enemy marching along the edge of the woods
downwards. About eleven o'clock three men got into the fort, who
brought a letter from General Harkaman, of the Tryon County
militia, advising us that he was at Eriska (eight milea off) with a
part of his militia, and proposed to force his way to the fort for our
relief. In order to render him what service we could in his march,
it was agreed that I ?hould make a sally from the fort with 250 men,
consisting of one-half Gansevoort's, one-half Massachusetts ditto,
and one field-piece, an iron three-pounder.

" The men were instantly paraded, and I ordered the following
disposition to be made : thirty men from the advance guard, to be
coraraanded by Captain Van Benschoten and Lieutenant Stockwell ;
thirty for the rear-guard, under the command of Captain Allen, of
the Massachusetts troops, and Lieutenant Diefendorf; thirty for
flank-guards, to be commanded by Captain , from Massachu-
setts, and Ensign Chase. The main body formed into eight sub-
divisions, commanded by Captain Bleeekcr, Lieutenants Conyne, Bo-
gardus, McClenner, Coffraunder, Ensigns Bailey, Lewis, and Denni-
son ; Lieutenant Bail, the only supernumerary officer, to march with
me. Captain Janscn to bring up the rear of the main body. Cap-
tain Swartwoudt, with Ensigns Magee, Arnent,'^^ and fifty men, to
guard the field-piece, which was under the direction of Major Bedlow.

*' Nothing could be more fortunate than this enterprise. We totally
routed two of the enemy's encampments, destroyed all the provisions
that were in them, brought off upwards of fifty brass kettles, and
more than one hundred blankets (two articles which were much
needed), with a quantity of muskets, tomahawks, spears, ammu-
nition, clothing, deer-skins, a variety of Indian affairs, and five colors
(the whole of which, on our return to the fort, were displayed on our
flag-staff under the Continental flag). The Indians took chiefly to
the woods, the rest of the troops, then at their posts, to the river.
The number of men lost by the enemy is uncertain. Six lay dead in
their encampments, two of whom were Indians; several scattered
about In the woods; but their greatest loss appeared to be in crossing
the river, and an inconsiderable number upon the opposite shore.

"I was happy in preventing the men from scalping even the In-
dians, being desirous, if possible, to teach even the savages hu-



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 29 of 192)