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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manity; but the men were much better employed, and kept in excel-
lent order. We were out so long that a number of British regulars,
accompanied by what Indians, etc., could be rallied, had marched
down to a thicket on the other side of the river, about fifty yards
from the road we were to pass on our return ; near this place I had
ordered the field-piece; the ambush was not quite formed when we
discovered them, and gave them a well-directed fire. Here, espe-
cially. Major Bedlow, with his field-piece, did considerable execution.
Here, also, the enemy were annoyed by the fire of several cannon
from the fort, as they marched round to form the ambuscade. The
enemy's fire was very wild, and, though we were very much exposed,
did no execution at all. We brought in four prisoners, three of
whom were wounded. One of the prisoners is a Mr. George Single-
ton, of Montreal ; he is a lieutenant in a company of which Mr. Ste-
phen Watts, of New York (brother-in-law to Sir John Johnson), is
captain, and who was himself killed in the battle with the militia
about two hours before.f Mr. Singleton told me that Sir John John-
son was with him when we attacked their camp, and that he thinks
he ran to the river.J It is said, by some of the Oneida Indians, that
he is killed, which does not appear unlikely. From these prisoners
we received the first account of General Harkaman's militia being
ambushed on their march ; and of a severe battle they had with them
about two hours before, which gave reason to think they bad, for the
present, given up their design of marching to the fort.

" I should not do justice to the oflficors and soldiers who were with
me on this enterprise, if I were not in the most positive terms to
assure their countrymen, that they in general behaved with the great-

a Written also Ament.

t Major Watts was not killed, but severely wounded and left on the
field. It appears from this letter that some of the wounded had
already arrived from Oriskany, which battle must have commenced
very early in the morning.

j: This statement would indicate that Sir John had returned from
the battle-field, with a convoy of wounded, previous to the sally of
Colonel Willett. From this it would seem that he was not present in
the latter part of the battle.

est gallantry on this occasion ; ami next to the very kind and signal
Interposition of Divine Providence, which was powerfully manifested
in their favor, it was undoubtedly owing to that noble intrepidity
which discovered itself in this attack, and struck the enemy with
such a panic as disenabled them from taking pains to direct their
fire, that we had not one man killed or wounded. The officers in gen-
eral behaved so well, that it is hardly right to mention the name of
any particular one for their signal valor; but so remarkably intrepid
was Captain Van Benschoten, and so rapid was his attack, that it
demands from me this particular testimony of his extraordinary spirit.

"Among other things taken from the enemy were several bundles
of papers, and a parcel of letters belonging to our garrison, which
they had taken from our militia but not yet opened. Here I found
one letter for myself; there were likewise papers belonging to Sir
John Johnson and several other of the enemy's officers, with letters
to and from General St. Leger, their commander; these papers have
been of some service to us.

"On the evening of the next day the enemy fired a few cannon at
us from high ground, about half a mile north of the fort, where they
have erected a small battery. Next day, being Friday, the 8th, they
threw a parcel of shells from the same battery, none of which did any
execution. This evening they sent us a flag, with which came their
adjutant-general. Captain Armstrong. § Colonel Butler, and a sur-
geon; the surgeon to examine Singleton's wounds. The principal
business of the flag was to acquaint us that General St. Leger had,
without much difliculty, prevailed on the Indians to ngree that if the
commanding officer would deliver up the fort, the garrison should be
secure from any kind of harm, — that not a hair of their heads should
be touched; but if not, the consequences to the garrison, should it
afterwards fall into their hands, must be terrible; that the Indians
were very much enraged, on account of having a number of their
chiefs killed in the late action, and were determined, unless they got
possession of the fort, to go down the Mohawk River and fall upon
its inhabitants. Our answer was that, should this be the case, the
blood of those inhabitants would be upon the heads of Mr. Butler
and his employers, not upon us; and that such proceedings would
ever remain <i stigma upon the name of Britain ; but for our parts,
we were determined to defend the fort.

" That evening it was agreed by the field-officers that I should
undertake, with Lieutenant Stockwell (who is a good woodsman), to
endeavor to get into the country, and by making a proper representa-
tion of our affairs, endeavor to procure such force as may be sufficient
entirely to extirpate this miscreant band. After a most severe march
of about fifty miles through the wilderness, I arrived at this place,
and am in no doubt of beholding, in a few days, a jforce sufficient to
accomplish this important piece of business. By the best accounts,
the loss of the Indians is very considerable, and they are quite sick
of the expedition. Mauinus Willett."

" For this gallant exploit Congress passed a resolution
of thanks, and directed the Comraissavy-Greneral of military
stores to procure an elegant sword, and present the same to
Colonel Willett in the name of the United States." This
resolution was carried out, and the sword is now in posses-
sion of his descendants.

Following what may be termed the drawn battle of Oris-
kany, St. Leger set himself with renewed energy to the
task of compelling Colonel Gansevoort to a capitulation.
He considered himself safe, for the present at least, from
an attack in the rear, and even boasted that the militia of
the Mohawk Valley could never rally. Availing himself of
every circumstance which seemed to be in his favor, he
compelled Colonel Bellinger and Major Frey to sign a note
addressed to Colonel Gansevoort, setting forth the military
situation, and couched in the following terms:

" Casip uefore Fort Stanwix, Nine o'clock,
"6th August, 1777.
"S[n, — It is with concern we are to acquaint you that this was the
fatal day in which the succors, which were intended for your relief,

g Captain Ancrom is undoubtedly meant, as Sir John Johnson's
orderly book shows hira to have been St. Leger's adjutant-general.



have been attacked and defeated, with groat loss of numbers killed,
wounded, and taken prisoners. Our regard for your safety and
lives, and our sincere advico to you is, U" you will avoid inevitable
ruin and destruction, to surrender the fort you pretend to defend
against u. formidable body of troops and a good train of artillery,
which we are witnesses of; when at the same time, you have no
farther relief or support to expect. We are sorry to inform you that
most of the principal officers are killed, to wit; General Herkimer,
Colonels Cox, Seebcr, Isaac Paris, Captain Graves, and many others
too tedious to mention. The British army from Canada being now,
perhaps, before Albany, the possession of which place of course in-
cludes the Mohawk River and this fort."

On the back of this document Colonel St. Leger, or his
adjutant-general, miide the following indorsement:

" General St. Leger, on the day of the date of this letter, made a
verbal summons of the fort by his Adjutant-General and Colonel
Batler, and who then handed this letter, when Colonel Gansevoort
refused to answer any verbal summons, unless made by General
St. Leger himself, but at the mouth of his cannon.*'

The letter so cunningly written, and signed by the cap-
tive officers under duress, failed entirely to make any
impression upon Colonel Gansevoort and his bravo officers
and men ; and the gallant commander very properly re-
turned a bold and soldierly answer. Finding this ruse
would not effect the desired object, the British commander,
on the following day, sent forward a white flag, accompanied
by three officers of the garrison, and a request that Colonel
Butler and two other officers might be admitted into the
fort as bearers of a message to the commanding officer.
The request was granted, and the officers were blindfolded
and conducted inside, and were received by Colonel Ganse-
voort in his dining-room. The windows were closed and
candles lighted, and a table was spread with refreshments,
crackers, cheese, and wine. Three chairs were placed at
one end of the table for the British officers, and a like
number at the other end for Colonels Gansevoort, Willett,
and Mellon.* Seats were also placed around the table for
others, and the room was as full of the officers of the
garrison as it could comfortably be.

After passing round the wine, with a few commonplace
compliments, Major Ancrom,| one of the messengers, with
a very grave, stiff air, and a countenance full of importance,
spoke in nearly the following words : " I am directed by
Colonel St. Leger, the officer who commands the army now
investing this garrison, to inform the commandant that the
colonel has, with much difficulty, prevailed on the Indians
to agree that if the garrison, without further resistance,
shall be d^ilivered up, with the public stores belonging to
it, to the investing army, the officers and soldiers shall have
all their baggage and private property secured to them.
And, in order that the garrison may have a sufficient pledge
ta this effect. Colonel Butler accompanies me to a.ssure them
that not a hair of the head of any one of them shall be
hurt." (Here, turning to Colonel Butler, he said, " That,
I think, was the expression they made of, was it not?"
To which the colonel answered, " Yes.") " I am likewise
directed to remind the commandant that the defeat of Gen-
eral Herkimer must deprive the garrison of all hopes of
relief, especially as General Burgoyne is now at Albany ;

« Written also Mellen.

t Sometimes written Ankrum. He was St. Loger'a adjutant-


so that, sooner or later, the fort must fall into our hands.
Colonel St. Leger, from an earnest desire to prevent further
bloodshed, hopes these terms will not be refused ; as in that
case it will be out of his power to make them again. It
was with great difficulty the Indians consented to the pres-
ent arrangement, as it will deprive them of that plunder
which they always calculate upon on similar occasions.
Should, then, the present terms be rejected, it will be out
of the power of the colonel to restrain the Indians, who
are very numerous and much exasperated, not only from
plundering the property, but destroying the lives of prob-
ably the greater part of the garrison. Indeed, the Indians-
are so exceedingly provoked and mortified by the losses
they have sustained in the late actions, having had several
of their favorite chiefs killed, that they threaten — and the
colonel, if the present arrangements should not be entered
into, will not be able to prevent them from executing their
threats — to march down the country and destroy the set-
tlement with its inhabitants. In this case, not only men,
but women and children, will experience the sad effects of
their vengeance. These considerations, it is ardently hoped,
will produce a proper effect, and induce the commandant,
by complying with the terms now offered, to save himself
from future regret when it will be too late."

With the approbation of Colonel Gansevoort, Colonel
Willet made the following reply. Looking the important
major full in the face, he observed, " Do I understand you,
sir? I think you say that you come from a British colonel,
who is commander of the army that invests this fort; and
by your uniform you appear to be an officer in the British
service. You have made a long speech on the occasion of
your visit, which, stripped of all its superfluities, amounts
to this, that you come from a British colonel to the com-
mandant of this garrison to tell him that if he does not
deliver up the garrison into the hands of your colonel, he
will send his Indians to murder our women and children.
You will please to reflect, sir, that their blood will be on
your heads, not on ours. We are doing our duty. This
garrison is committed to our charge, and we will take care
of it. After you get cut of it, you may turn round and look
at its outside, but never expect to come in again, unless you
come in a prisoner. I consider the message you have
brought a degrading one for a British officer to send, and
by no means reputable for a British officer to carry. For
my own part, I declare, before I would consent to deliver
this garrison to such a murdering set as your army, by
your own account, consists of, I would suffer my body to
be filled with splinters and set on fire, as you know has
been done by such hordes of women- and children-killers as
belong to your army."| Those sentiments were received
with a round of applause by the Provincial officers, who,
far from being intimidated by the threats of the mes-
sengers, only the more strongly suspected that this pomp-
ous harangue was intended to cover up their own weakness,
and was, therefore, a mere bravado,

Before the close of the interview, Major Ancrom re-
quested that an KnglLsh surgeon, who accompanied him,
might be permitted to visit the British wounded who were

+ From Colonel Willett's Narrative, page 56,



prisciners, which was granled. He also proposed an armis-
tice for three days, which was also agreed to, as the garrison
had more reason to fear a lack of ammunition than pro-
visions. The flag soon after returned to the besiegers'
lines, and the garrison enjoyed a brief interval of repose.

On the 9th of August, Colonel Gansevoort having re-
fused to recognize any verbal messages from the British
commander, Colonel St. Leger sent the following written
communication, at the same time protesting that no in-
dignity was intended by the verbal message of Major
Ancrom :

"Camp before Fort Stanwix, August 9,1777.
" Sir, — Agreeable to jour wiEhes, I have the honor to give you on
paper tlie mes?tigo of yesterdny, though I cannot conceive, explicit
and humane as it was, bow it could admit of more than one con-
struction. After the defeat of the reinforcement and the fate of all
your principal leaders, in which naturally joxi built your hopes, and
having the strongest reasons from verbal intelligence and the matter
contained in the letters which fell into my hands, and knowing
thoroughly the situation of General Burgoyne's army, to be confident
you are without resources, in ray fears and tendcrnrss for your per-
sonal safety from the hands of the Indians enraged for the loss of
some of their principal and most favorite leaders, I called to council
the chiefs of all the nations; and after having used every method
that humanity could suggest to soften their minds', and lead them
patiently to bear their own losses by reflecting on the irretrievable
misfortunes of their enemies, I at last labored the point my humanity
wished for, which the chiefs assured me of the next morning, after a
consultation that evening with each nation at their tire-places. Their
answer in its fullest extent they insisted should be carried by Colonel
Butler, which he has given in the most categorical manner. You
are well acquainted that Indians never send messages without ac-
companying them with menaces on non-compliance, thiit a civilized
enemy would never think of doing. You may rest assured, therefore,
that no insult was meant to be offered to your situation by the King's
servants in the message they peremptorily demanded should be car-
ried by Colonel Butler.

"I am now to repeat what has been told you by my Adjutant-
General. ' That, provided you will deliver up your garrison, with
everything as it stood at the moment the first message was sent,
your i^eople shall be treated with every attention that a humane and
generous enemy can give.'

" I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient, humble servant,

" B-vRRY St. Leger,
" Brig. -Gen. of his Majesty's forces."

" P. S. — I expect an immediate answer, as the Indians are ex-
tremely impatient ; and if this proposal is rejected lam afraid it
will be attended with very fatal consequences, not only to you and
your garrison, but the whole country down the Mohawk River, — ■
such consequences as will be very repugnant to my sentiments of
humanity, but after this entirely out of my power to prevent.

" Barry St. Leger.

"CoLON'EL Gansevoort, commanding Fort Stanwix."

To this summons Colonel Gansevoort sent the following
terse and soldierly reply :

" Fort Schuyler, Aug. 9, 1777.
" Sir, — Your letter of this day's date I have received, in answer to
which I say that it is my determined resolution, with the forces un-
der my command, to defend this fort to the lout ej-ti-cun'ty, in behalf
of the United American States, who have placed me here to defend
it against .all their enemies.

'• I have the honor to be, Sir,

"Your most obedient, humble servant,

" Peter Gansevoort,
" Colonel commanding Fort Schuyler.
"General Barry St. Leger."

The relief of the fort from the outside being a matter of
great uncertainty since the check of the militia at Oris-
kany, and it being very necessary that something sliould

be done immediately to inform the inhabitants of the valley
of the situation of the garrison, it was determined after a
full consultation of the officers to send out messengers for
reinforcements; and Colonel Willett, being very popular
among the inhabitants of Tryon County, was selected as the
person best fitted to accomplish the purpose designed.

Accordingly, at ten o'clock on the evening of the 10th of
August, accompanied by Lieutenant Stockwell, an intelli-
gent officer and thorough woodsman, he set out. Passing
quietly through the sallyport, the two men proceeded with
great caution on their perilous journey, armed only with
spears. The works were completely environed by the camps
of the enemy, and every avenue was carefully guarded ; but
AVillett and his companion crept along the marsh until they
reached the river, which they crossed by crawling over on
a fallen tree or log, and, though it was only a few yards
from the enemy's sentinels, they pas.sed undiscovered, and
pushed on into the woods ; but in » short time they found
themselves in such darkness that they could not determine
their proper course. In the midst of their uncertainty they
were alarmed by the barking of a dog, a sure indication that
the Indians were near. In this dilemma they concluded to
remain where they were until it was light enough for them
to direct their course. Placing themselves against a large
tree, they remained perfectly quiet for several hours. At
length the morning star shone out, when they again started
out, but, instead of taking the nearest course to the settle-
ments, they walked in a northerly direction for several
miles until they again struck the river, probably in the vi-
cinity of Westernville. Pursuing their way along the river,
they frequently followed its channel, and occasionally crossed
to the right bank, in order to throw the enemy off their
track should they pursue. After a while they again left
the river and traveled a north course a few hours, when
they turned east and traveled until night without making a
single stop.

They took no baggage of any kind, not oven a blanket,
and their provisions consisted of a few crackers atid some
cheese, which they carried in their pockets, and a quart
canteen filled with spirits. Halting for the night, they
dared not kindle a fire, and lay down to sleep wrapped in
each other's arms. Though it was midsummer, the night
was quite cool, and they were very uncomfortable; and with
the hard traveling the day before, and sleeping on the damp
ground without covering, in the morning they were stiff
and sore. The colonel had so severe an attack of rheuma-
tism in one knee as to cause him to limp for several hours.
Directing their course farther to the south, about nine
o'clock on the morning of the second day they came to an
opening in the woods occasioned by a wind-fall. Here they
found a field of raspberries and blackberries, upon which
they made a delicious repast. Kesuming their journey, they
reached the settlements about three o'clock in the afternoon,
having traveled about fifty miles.

On arriving at Fort Dayton, a stockade-fort at the Ger-
man Flats, they received a hearty welcome from Colonel
AVeston, who was stationed at that point with the balance
of his regiment.* From this officer Colonel Willett ob-

» It will be recollected that Lieutenant-Colonel Mellon had joined
Colonel Gansevoort on the 2d of August, with 200 of this regiment.



tained the agreeuble i[itellin;enoe that General Lamed had
been ordered by General Sehuyler to send a brigade to the
relief of the fort. Stirling again the next morning, the
two officers at evening met the troops on their march.
They kept on to Albany, where they found General Arnold,
to whom was intrusted the command of the forces destined
for Fort Stanwix. Colonel Willett also learned that the
1st New York Regiment was on its way to join his bri-
gade. On the following day Colonel Willett, in company
with General Arnold, joined the troops, and two days later
they arrived at Fort Dayton, where the whole force was

Leaving the army of Arnold at Fort Dayton, let us go
back a little and notice a few incidents which occurred
soon after Colonel Willett left the fort.

Failing in all his attempts to induce Colonel Gansevoort
to surrender, another expedient was tried on the 13th.
This was an appeal to the inhabitants of Tryon County, of
which the following is a copy from the Appendix to Stone's
" Life of Brant" :

"C-Uip BEFORE Fort Stavwmx, Aug. 13, 1777.

" To tkr. inhitbitfinU of Tryon Conitit/ :

"Notwithstanding tho many and great injuries we have received
in person and property at your hauds, and being at tile head of vic-
torious troops, we most ardently wish to have pe.iee restored to this
once happy country ; to obtain which we are willing and desirous,
upon a proper submission on your parts, to bury in oblivion all that
is past, and hope that you are, or will be, convinced in the end that
we were your friends and good advisers, and not sucli wicked, de-
signing men .as those who led you into error and almost total ruin.
Vou have, no doubt, great reason to dread the resentment nf the In-
dians, on account of the loss they sustained in the late action, and
the mulish obstinacy of your troops in this garrison, who have no
resource but in themselves; for which reasons the Indians declare
that if they do not surrender the garrison without further oppo-
sition, they will put every soul to death, — not only the garrison, but
the whole country, — without any regard to age, sex, or friends; for
which reason it is become your indispensable duty, as you must an-
swer the consequences, to send a deputation of your principal people
to oblige them immediately to what, in a very little time, they must
be forced, — the surrender of the garrison; in which case we will en-
gage, on the faith of Christians, to protect you from the violence of
the Indians.

" Surrounded, as you are, by victorious arms ; one-half (if not the
greater part) of the inhabitants friends to government ; without any
resource, — surely you cannot hesitate a moment to accpt the terms
proposed to you by friends and well-wishers to the country.

" JoHS JonxsoN,
" B. W. CI.AUS,
"Jou.v Butler,

" Snperlitlcitilrntif."

Shortly after this proclamation was drawn up. Major
Walter N. Butler,* a son of Colonel John Butler, taking
a party of fourteen soldiers, and an equal number of In-
dians, proceeded to the residence of a Mr. Shoem.iker,
about two miles above Fort Dayton. This man was a
Tory, and held his maje.sty's commission as a peace officer.
A clandestine meeting had been arranged at Shoemaker's
house, for the Tj.ies of the vicinity, and Butler was pres-
ent, armed with thi address above given.

Colonel Weston, at Fort Dayton, in some manner heard
of this gathering, and secretly dispatching a body of troops,

they came upon the assembly by surprise, and took them

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 30 of 192)