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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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 37 of 192)
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court was irregular, but because of the desire of the commander-in-
chief to spare him as a. witness against Hammell, as will presently
appear. The following document will complete this section of the
proceedings at Fort Schuyler :

COLOKEL GANSEVOORT TO GESEUAL WASHINGTON.

"FouT ScHUYLEU, August 13, 1778.

"Sin, — I have the unhappiness to inform your Excellency that de-
sertion has lately been very frequent from this garrison. Since the
2Gth of last March we have had three sergeants, two corporals, and
twenty privates desert from this battalion, besides one bombardier,
one gunner, and one other from the artillery. Before the date above
mentioned, several soldiers had been tried by a general court- martial
at this garrison for desertion, but never received the punishment duo
their crimes. The sentences of these different courts-martial were
carefully sent to the Commanding General of this Department, § but
no returns have been ever received. Some time in June last Colonel
Varick informed me that a recruit, who had just joined our battalion,
was suspected of being a confelerate with Major Hammell. I ordered
his conduct to be narrowly inspected. He was detected in the fact of
corrupting and enticing the soldiers to desert. Upon being' appre-
hended, he confessed that he came upon such designs, and was sent
by an aide-de-camp of Sir Henry Clinton as a spy. He was Imme-
diately tried by a general court-martial; the sentence was directly
sent down for approbation, but no answer has been received, and the
man still lies confined in irons.

" Finding the spirit of desertion to increase, and the men in general
to be exceeding uneasy, probably arising from their being so long
stationed on this frontier post, — they have been frequently heard in
their private conversations to say that they would sooner die than stay
here the ensuing winter, — -my officers, as well as mysc!f, were con-
vinced that unless some example was made, we should not be able to
check this growing evil. A party of five men deserted on the lOth.
of August. They were taken by the Taacarora Indians on their way
to Canada, fifty miles from this fort. They were brought in on the
l."ith. A general court-martial was convened on the 15th. They were
sentenced to die. The officers in a body desired their immediate exe-
cution, as the ouly way effectually to stop the increasing spirit of de-
sertion.

" While these men were under sentence of death, a party returned
from the German Flatts who had been to drive cattle to this garrison.
They had lost six men by desertion, who were pursued, but without
effect. This, together with the above reasons, and being apprehensive
of some design of the enemy, and hearing a report which they had
carefully spread among the savages of having upward of seventy men
enlisted in this garris)n who would rise upon their appearance, con-
vinced me of the necessity of a rigid example, and resolved me to take
the advice of my officers by ordering the prisoners to be executed.
They were accordingly shot at the head of the regiment on the 17th.||
In doing of which, although I could not find that the articles of war
gave me the fulle;=t authority, yet, as commanding officer of a frontier
jjost, far distant from the commander-in-chief, and having a separate
commission from Congress as commandant of this post, I considered
my;?elf fully empowered in u, case of such great necessity. I hope
your Excellency will be convinced of this necessity, and approve of the
justness of the execution. Inclosed your Excellency has a copy of the
proceedings of the court-martial.

*' I am, etc."

J According to Geake's confession, Hammell was employed in the
commissary of prisoners' department by the British officers in New
York, before he was sent on his mission.

g General John Stark.

II Notwithstanding this severe example, it is noted in the private
diary of Adjutant Ilutton, of Colonel Giinsevoort*s regiment, that on
the same day on which these five men were tried and sentenced to
death, six others deserted; and two others deserted five days after
their execution.



HISTORY OP ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



135



gent.ral washington to colonel gansevoort.

"Ueadquartehs, Whtte Plains,
"29th August, 1778.
"Sir, — I have just received your favor of the LSth instant. Inclosed
is a copy of a letter sent you some time ago respecting the court-mar-
tial you transmitted.

"The spirit of desertion which possessed your soldiers was certainly
very alarming, and required a serious check. I hope the intention of
the example you have made will be fully answered ; and although the
proceeding was not strictly in the prescribed form, yet the necessity of
the ease may justify the measure.

" I have sjioken to Lieutenant-Colonel Willett on the application of
the oflBcers of the garrison. It is impossible to comply at present with
their request, things are so circumstanced, but I shall ta.ke steps to
relieve it before winter.*

"I am. Sir, your obedient, humble serv't,

"Geo. Washington.

"Col. GANSET0OBT."t

Although Fort Schuyler (Stanwix) was a most important
one, commanding, as it did, the gateway between the east
and the west, yet it was so far from the Bettlements on the
Mohawk River that parties of the enemy easily avoided it
by taking more circuitous routes, and thus the valley was
almost as badly exposed as though the fort had not been
in existence.

On the 18th of July, 1778, Brant, at the head of a
small party of Indians, destroyed the little hamlet of
Andrus-town, six miles southeast of Gorman Flatts, which
consisted of seven families, of whom four persons were
killed, and the rest carried into captivity.

But the most terrible visitation of the valley was the one
which destroyed the settlement known as the German
Flatts.J It covered about ten miles of the valley of the
Mohawk, and was originally called Burnetsfiold, from the
fact that the patent had been granted by Governor Burnet.
About centrally located stood the stone church, built under
the auspices of Sir William Johnson, and near by was the
Herkimer family mansion. During the war both these
buildings were inclosed with a rampart and used as a place
of defense, and known as Fort Herkimer. Fort Dayton
stood on a gravelly plain, on the north side of the river,
nearly opposite Fort Herkimer.

* In November following, Gansevoort's command was relieved by
Colonel Guise Van Schaick, whose regiment was assigned to that post.

■f The inclosure spoken of by Washington reads as follows :

" Headquarters, White Plains, August 13, 1778.

" Sir, — I have received the proceedings of a court-martial held by
your order, respecting Samuel Geake. As neither the Articles of war
nor any resolves of Congress authorize the constituting of General
courts-martial by any other than the commander-in-chief, the com-
manding officer of a separate department, or a general officer command-
ing in a particular State, I should have been under the necessity of
ordering a second trial, and appointing a court for the purpose, if it
had been judged expedient to bring Geahe to punishment. But as his
confession contains information very pointedly against Major Ham-
mell, which concurs with other accounts I have received, I think it of
more importance to the public to save Geake, as a witness against
Hammell, than to make an example of him. You will therefore keep
him in such a kind of confinement as will effectually prevent his escape
till matters are ripe for the prosecution of Major Hammell, and at the
same time will be as little rigorous as the nature of the case will admit.
He need, however, know nothing of my intentions.
" I am, etc.,

"Geo. Washington.

"Col. Gansevoort."

i This name was formerly spelled I'lnllt, but the present style is to
use but one t.



According to Colonel Stone, the settlement numbered, at
the time of the invasion, about thirty-four dwellings on
each side of the river, together with numerous outbuild-
ings and several mills. The harvest of that year had been
plenteous, and the people were prosperous.

The storm fell upon the quiet valley about the last of
August or beginning of September. Brant was a short
time before at Unadilla, and the people entertaining sus-
picions of him, a seou ting-party of four men was dis-
patched to the vicinity to reconnoitre. Three of the
unlucky men were killed at the Bdmeston settlement, but
the fourth, John Helmer, succeeded in making his escape.
He reached the Flatts just before sunset, and announced
the comingTsf'Brant and a large force of Indians, There
was great terror and alarm, as the inhabitants hastened to
places of safety, with their families and what few effects
they could snatch away. In the course of the evening
they succeeded, by means of boats and canoes, in collecting
all the women and children, and a portion of their most
valuable goods, in Forts Dayton and Herkimer, where they
awaited the onset of the savages. Their flocks and herds
were necessarily left a prey to the enemy.

In the early part of the evening Brant arrived near the
settlement; but as the night came on very dark and rainy,
he halted and bivouacked in a ravine near the dwelling of
a Tory named Shoemaker, the same at whose house Walter
Butler had been captured the year before. Here the sav-
ages lay quiet through the night, not dreaming that the
inhabitants bad any knowledge of their approach. With
the dawn they were on foot, and the dusky warriors rapidly
spread themselves through the settlement, so as to fire every
part nearly at the same moment. At daybreak everything
in the valley, except the forts and a few buildings imme-
diately around them, was in flames, and the whole region
was lit up as by the glare of a volcano. The people were
in no condition to offer any resistance to the overwhelming
horde of savages, and thus were compelled to stand idly
within their strong inolosures, and see their homes and
property totally destroyed, and all their stock either driven
away or killed.

The Indians made no demonstration against the forts,
but contented themselves with the destruction of every-
thing outside. The desolation was complete ; and what
had been the day before a beautiful and luxuriant region
of thrift and comfort, was turned into a desolate and black-
ened waste. Thanks to the timely warning of the sur-
viving scout, there was no additional loss of life. The
whole force of Brant on this occasion, according to a letter
of Major Cochran, was 300 Tories and 152 Indians.
Soon after the Indians had decamped with their spoil, a
force of about 300 militia collected and pursued them for
some distance, but without overtaking them. This party
discovered and buried tlie murdered scouts.

According to the Remembrancer there were 63 dwelling-
houses, 57 barns, 3 grist-mills, and 2 saw-mills burnt, with
most of the farniture and grain kept therein ; and 235
horses, 229 horned cattle, 269 sheep, and 93 oxen carried
away.

A few days later a party of Oneida Indians made a suc-
cessful raid against the hostiles, in which they burnt several



136



HISTORY OF ONEIDl COUNTY, NEW YOKK.



of their villages, and returned with a number of prisoners
and a portion of the stock which had been driven away.
The results of this foray were communicated to Major
Cochran, who was then in command of Fort Schuyler, about
the 25th of September, by a deputation of about one hun-
dred Oneidas and Tuscaroras, who delivered the following
speech ;

" Brothers; We have now taken the hatchet and burnt
Unadilla,* and a place called the Butternuts. We have
brought five prisoners from each of those places. Our
wari'iors were particular that no hurt should be done to
women and children. We left four old men behind who
were no more able to go to war. We have retaken William
Dygert, who was taken aboutnine weeks ago by Brant on
Fall Hill. We now deliver him to you, so that he may
return to his friends^ Last year we took up the hatchet at
Stillwater, and we will now continue it in our liands. The
Grasshopper, one of the Oneida chiefs, took to himself one
of the' prisoners to live with him in his own family, and has
adopted him as a son.

" Brothers : We deliver you six prisoners, witli whoitn
you arc to act as you please.

" Brothers: You had a man scalped here some time ago.
We Oneidas and Tu^carofas have now taken revenge, and
have brought you some slaves. We do not take scalps.
We hope you are now convinced of our friendship to you and
your great cause. The warriors detain two of the prison-
ers till to-morrow morning. The Caiiaseragas have one
in their possession. They will bring him to-morrow or the
next day.''-|-

The destruction wrought by Brant at the German Plats
was amply revenged a few weeks later by a force under
Colonel William Butler, consisting of the 4th Pennsyl-
vania Regiment, a detachment of Colonel Morgan's rifle^
men, then stationed at Schoharie, and a body of twenty
rangei-s, which the colonel led against the Indian settle-
ments at tinadilla and Oghkwaga, and in a campaign of
sixteen days completely destroyed, with vast quantities of
corn and other provisions. The Indians had all fled on the
approach of this force, and nothing was seen of them. The
command lost one man, killed while straggling.-

In revenge for these inroads into their territory, the In-
dians and Tories, under Walter Bulterand I'hai/endaiieffea,
to the number of seven hundred, made a sudden onslaught
upon Cherry Valley, on the 11th of November, and cap-
tured and destroyed, with many appalling barbarities, that
flourishing settlement. Colonel Aldeh, who was in com-
mand of a small garrison, had timely warning, but he per-
sisted in the belief that nothing would be attempted at that
season of the year, and so fell an easy prey to tlie merciless
band.

Brant held a subordinate position under Walter Butler,
and was therefore not responsible for the barbarities com-
mitted. It is believed that these were mostly committed
by the Seiiccas, and it is a well-autlienticated fact that
Brant saved many of the prisoners from destruction. The



•^ Meaning, probaMy, some email village on the head-waters uf the
Unadilla, and not the main town by that name.
I Report of Major Ct'chrano to Colonel Gansevoort. [Stone]



whole region was swept by fire and tomahawk, and the
destruction was as complete as at the German Flats. Col-
onel Alden and 16 of his men were killed, and 32 of the
inhabitants ; and between 30 and 40, mostly women and
children, were taken prisoners.

It is something to the credit of Walter Butler that on
the succeeding day he released all the women and children,
except Mrs. Colonel Campbell and Mrs. Moore, and their
children. These were detained on account of the promi-
nent part their husbands had taken in the war. How far
this act of humanity was prompted by Brant, or the fact
that the mother of Walter Butler was then a prisoner in
the hands of the Whigs, is not known.

The prisoners were sent back, with the following letter
directed to General Schuyler :

• " Chebby Valley, Not. 12, 1778.
"Sin, — I am induced by humanity to permit the persons whosenames
I send herewith to return, lest the inclemency of the season and their
naked^ and helpless sit,uatijon: might prove fatal ,to,themji and expect
y.ou will: release an equal, number,, of .our people, in your bands,|
amongst whom I expect you will permit Mrs. Butler, and family to
come to dana'da; but if you insist 1ipon it, I do engage' to send you,
moreover, an equal Dumber of prisoners of yours, taken either by the
Ran^prs or Indians,- and will leave it to you to name the persons. I
ha.ve done every thing in my power to restrain the fury of the In-
diat)s from hurting women and children, or killing the prisoners who
fell into our bands, and would have more effectually prevented them,
but they were much, incensed by the .late destruction of their village'
of AnguagaJ by your people. I shall always continue to act in that
manner- I look upon it beneath the character, of a soldier to wage
war with women and children. I am sure you are conscious that
Celonel Butler or myself have no desire that your women or children
should be hurt. But, be assured,, that if you persevere in detaining
my fathe^r's family with you, that we shall no longer tal^e the same,
pains to restrain .the Indians from prisoners, women and children,
that we have heretofore done.

" I am 3-our humble servant,

" Walter N. Bdtleji,
- . , *'0a2?t, Commaudint/ ft/ the liaiij/efa,

" General ScuuYLEn."

,i After all, it was only the fear of trouble to his father's
family tliat restrained his bloodthirstiness.

This letter of Captain Butler was eventually handed to-
General Schuyler by the person most deeply interested in
the proposed exchange of prisoners, — Colonel Campbell,
who was absent from Cherry Valley at the time of the at-
tack, and consequently escaped. General Schuyler was not
then in command of the department, and the letter was
transmitted some time after to Governor Clinton. The fol-
lowing manly reply was written by General James Clinton,
brother to the Governor, and strikingly illustrates the dif-
ference in the character of the two correspondents :

. , "Albany, January 1, 1779.
-" SiK,— A letter, dated the 12th of Hoyember last, signed by you and
directed to General Schuyler, and which was delivered by John Camp-
boll, is come to hand. As its contents related to persons who were cit-
izens of the State, with which the military dp npt interfere, the letter
was not delivered to Brigadipi;-General Hand, who commanded in this
department, but transmitted to his Exoellenoy, Governor Clinton, that
his plcasuie might be known on its contents. He has authorized me.
to make the exchange you request. I am at a loss, to know not only
when to direct to you, but also in what part of the country the unhappy
prisoners taken in this Stiito have been carried. I therefore send the
bearers, A. B. and C. D., with a flag, to carry this letter to any place



X One of the old names of Unadilla.



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



137



where they may learn you are, or any other offioor who can accomplish
the exchange in your absence. Should the prisoners be in any of the
Indian villages, and in a condition to bo moved, you will please to send
them to the nearest of our settlements; or, if you do not choose to do
that, I will send proper persons to meet and receive them at any place
you may appoint. " I am not informed if Mrs. Butler, her family, and
such others as will be given in exchange for those you have in captivity,
and those you have suffered to return, as mentioned in your letter,
would choose to tnove at this inclement season. If they do, they shall
he sent; if not they may remain until spring; and then they may go
£ither to Oswego or Canada, at their option. Should the prisoners taken
at Cherry Valley, or any others belonging to the State of New York,
be at Niagara, it will be impossible for them to return until spring;
and then I request that they may be sent to Oswego or Fort Schuyler,
and that you will send notice of your determination, that provision
may be made accordingly.

" Bo -not flatter yourself, sir, that your father's family have been
detained on account of any consequence they were supposed to be of,
or that it is determined they should be exchanged in consideration of
the threat contained in your letter. I should hope, for the sake of
Iiuman nature and the honor of civilized nations, that the British offi-
cers had exerted themselves in restraining the barbarit3' of the savages.
But it is difficult, even for the most disinterested mind to believe it, as
numerous instances of barbarity have been pei-petrated where savages
Tvere not. present — or, if they were, the British force was sufficient to
restrain them, h.ad there been a desire so to do. The enormous mur-
ders committed at Wyoming and Cherry Valley would clearly have
justified a retaliation; and that your mother did not fall a sacrifice to
the resentment of the survivors of those families who wore so barbar-
ously massacred, is owing to the humane principles which the conduct
of their enemies justilies a belief that they are utterly strangers to.
The flag will carry their arms with them, that they may furnish them-
selves with provisions, should what they set out with be expended
before they reach any places where they can be supplied. As Captain
Butler may be absent, I inclose a copy of this letter to General Schuy-
ler. "I am, etc.,

"James Clinton."

"To Captain Walter Butler, or anyofficeu in the Bnixisa ser-
vice TO WHICH THIS MAY BE HANDED."*

" This letter reached its destination in due season, and
called forth the following reply from Captain Butler, writ-
ten in behalf of his father and himself;" which we insert
at length, in order to give this remarkable correspondence
complete ; and, to a certain extent, to allow the Butlers,
whose reputation has always been an intolerable stench to
-the American people, a chance to be heard in their own
defense :

"Niagara, 18th Feb., 1779.

"Sir, — I liave reeeired a letter dated the 1st January last, signed
by you, in answer to mine of the 12tb November.

"Its contents I communicated to Lieut.-Colonel Bolton, the com-
manding officer of this garrison, etc., by whom I am directed to ac-
■quaint you that he has no objection that an exchange of prisoners, as
mentioned by you, should take place ; but not being fully empowered
by his Excellency — General Ualdimandl — to order the same immedi-
ately to be put in execution, has thought proper that I should go down
to the Commander-in-chief, for his direction in the matter.

"In the mean time, Colonel Butler, as he ever has done on every
other occasion, will make every effort in his power to have all the
I)ri3oncra, as well those belonging to your troops as the women and
children in captivity among the different Indian nations, collected and
sent in to this post to be forwarded to Crown Point, should the ex-
change take place by way of Canada, or to Oswego, if settled there.
In either case, Colonel Bolton desires me to inform you that the prison-
ers shall receive from him what assistance their wants may require,
which prisoners have at all times received at this post.

" The disagreeable situation of your people in the Indian villages,



* Copied by Colonel Stone from the original draft among the papers

of General Clinton.

t Then Governor-General of Canada.

18



as well as ours amongst you, will induce me to make all the expe-
dition in my power to Canada (Quebec), in order that the exchange
may be settled as soon as possible. For the good of both, I make no
doubt that his Excellency, General Ilaldimand, will acquiesce in the
proper exchange. The season of the year renders it impossible that
it should take place before the 10th or 15th of May next. How-
over, I shall write you, by the way of Crown Point, General Haldi-
mand's determination, and when and where the exchange will be most
agreeable to him to be made. I could wish Mrs. Butler and her family,
including Mrs. Scheehan, and son, and Mrs. Wall, were permitted to
go to Canada in the Spring, even should the exchange be fixed at
Ontario.

*' It is not our present business, sir, to enter into an altercation or to
reflect on the conduct of either the British or the Continental forces,
or on that of each other; but since you have charged (on report, I
must suppose) the British officers in general with inhumanity, and
Colonel Butler and myself in particular, in justice to them, and in
vindiciition of his and my own honor and character, I am under the
disagreeable necessity to declare the charge unjust and void of truth,
and which can only tend to deceive the world, though a favorite cry of
the Congress on every occasion, whether in truth or not.

" We deny any cruelties to have been committed at Wyoniing, either
by whites or Indians; so far to the contrary, that not a man, woman,
or child was hurt after the capitulation, or a woman or child before it,
and none taken into captivity. Though should you call it inhumanity
the killing nioi in anna in the field, v/e, in that case plead guilty. The
inhabitants killed at Cherry Valley does not lay at my door, — my con-
science acquits. If any are guilty (as accessories) it's yourselves; at
least the conduct of some of your officers. First, Colonel Hartley, of
your forces, sent to the Indiana the inclosed, being a copy of his letter
charging them with crimes they never committed, and threatening
them and their villages with fire and sword and uo quarters. The



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 37 of 192)