Samuel W Durant.

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

. (page 38 of 192)
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burning of one of their villages, then inhabited by only a few families,
— your friends, — who imagined they might remain in peace and friend-
ship with you, till assured, a few hours before the arrival of your troops,
that they should not even receive quarters, took to the woods; and, to
complete the matter, Colonel Denniston and his people appearing in
arms with Colonel Hartley, after a solemn capitulation and engage-
ment not to bear arms during the war; and Colonel Denniston not
performing a promise to release a number of soldiers belonging to
Colonel Butler's corps of rangers, then prisoners among you, were the
reasons assigned by the Indians to me, after the destruction of Cherry
Valley, for their not acting in the same manner as at Wyoming. They
added that, being charged by their enemies with what they never had
done, and threatened by them, they had determined to convince you
it was not fear which had prevented them from^ committing the one,
and that they did not want spirit to put your threats against them in
force iigainst yourselves.

" The prisoners sent back by me, or any now in our or the Indians'
hands, must declare I did everything in my power to prevent the In-
diana killing the prisoners, or taking women and children captive, or
in any wise injuring them. Colonel StaceyJ (Stacia) and several
other officers of yours, when exchanged, will acquit me; and must
further declare that they have reseived every assistance, before and
since their arrival at this post, that could be got to relieve their wants.
I must, however, beg leave, by the by, to obsarve that I experienced
no humanity, or even common justice, during my imprisonment
among you.

" I inclose you a list of officers and privates whom I should be glad
were exchanged likewise. The list of the families we expect for those
as well sent back, as others in our hands, you have likewise inclosed.

" Colonel Stacey, and several officers and others, your people, are at
this post, and have leave to write.

" I am your very humble servant,

" Walter N. Butler,

"Captain Corps of Hangn'S.

"Brigadier-General Clinton,

"f/ the Coittineiittil forces."

These explanations and apologies of Captain Butler shed
a somewhat different light upon the subject of Indian atroc-
ities, and the part taken by British officers ; but, after all

J Taken prisoner at Cherry Valley.



that can possibly be said in extenuation, the prominent fact
remains that the British government, with a full knowledge
of the savage nature of the Indians, and the utter impossi-
bility of restraining them to any considerable degree, and
after pointing with horror for years to their terrible out-
rages against humanity under the French rule, did deliber-
ately hire and employ them to carry on their merciless
warfare against the colonies without discrimination be-
tween peaceful inhabitants and troops in the field, and the
damnable evidence is still on record that their most bloody
atrocities were committed in the presence, if not with the
sanction, of British officers ; and there is little doubt but re-
wards were offei-ed and paid for the scalps of the unfortu-
nate who fell into their hands, both upon the battle-field
and in the more peaceful walks of life. Not only was this
true in the Revolution, but the records of the River Raisin,
of the Maumee, and many other localities, bear witness
against the British nation, and leave an ineradicable stain
upon her escutcheon. To the honor of the Republic be it
said that its people have ever manifested an extreme un-
willingness to make use of this element against a civilized
foe, even when every instinct of self-preservation and re-
taliation demanded it.

The prisoners were all exchanged and returned to their
friends in the course of the following summer, though the
Seneca family who had adopted Sirs. Campbell were very
loath to give her up. It was only when the aged and peace-
fully-inclined king, Gvy-au-gn-ah-tn. made a journey and
personally interceded in her behalf, that she was allowed to
depart. She returned viii Niagara, Montreal, and Crown
Point. She was soon after, at Albany, joined by her hus-
band, who had been stationed at Fort Schuyler most of the
time during her captivity.

The British government made an attempt to treat with
the colonies in the month of June of this year. A com-
mission, consisting of the Earl of Carlisle, Governor Johns-
tone, William Eden, Esq., and General and Lord Howe,
had been appointed ; but their letter to Congress was se-
verely rebuked for its unjust language against the Fiench
government, and the oiFer of negotiation was peremptorily
declined, except upon the basis of a recognition of independ-
ence. On the 6th of August, M. Gerard, the French
Minister Plenipotentiary, was publicly received, and on the
14th of September, Dr. Benjamin Franklin was appointed
Mini.ster Plenipotentiary to the Court of Versailles.

The season closed with the capture of Savannah, Georgia,
by a strong British force under Colonel Campbell, who de-
feated General Robert Howe, the American commander, on
the 29th of December, and immediately took possession of
the city.

In February, 1779, occun-ed the remarkable exploit per-
formed by Colonel George Rogers Clark, — the capture of
Vincennes, on the Wabash, — whereby the British Governor
of Detroit, Colonel Hamilton, who had proceeded to Vin-
cennes for the purpose of organizing and directing an ex-
pedition against the frontiers of Virginia, was made a pris-
oner. Several campaigns had been projected by Hamilton,
and Brant figured conspicuously in arranging the details.
There is no doubt that he had made the necessary arrange-
ments for a descent upon the frontiers of New York and

Pennsylvania, with a large body of Indians, simultaneously
with the attack upon Virginia ; but the capture of Hamil-
ton and the wonderful successes of Colonel Clark deranged
the whole grand plan.

Evidence of a design against the New York settlements
was furnished by Colonel Van Dyck, then in command of
Fort Schuyler, who on the 1st of January, 1779, wrote to
General Clinton " that the Oneidas had just received in-
formation that the enemy seemed determined to strike some
capital blow during the winter." Colonel Van Dyck
also stated that " one of the principal Oneida warriors had
received a private letter from Joseph Brant, inviting him
to join the Six Nations with his adherents, that he might
avoid the danger to which his tribe was exposed." The
Quiqvoga Indians had also sent the Oneida Indians an
invitation to join them.

These invitations, in accordance with Indian custom, were
taken into consideration by the Oneidas, who held a council
on the 16th and 17th of January, the result of which they
communicated to Colonel Van Dyck on the 18th. They
informed him that, after giving any who desired it pormLs-
sion to withdraw, the council unanimously passed a resolu-
tion " to stand by each other, in defense of their lives and
liberty, against any enemy that might be disposed to attack
them ;" and to the message of the Qiiiqiwgas they also
unanimously agreed to return the following answer, viz. :
" That as they had ever behaved themselves in a quiet and
peaceable manner towards the Confederacy, they could not
conceive that their conduct could be considered reprehensi-
ble by them. They likewise put them in mind of their
long and unwearied efforts to prevent the Six Nations in-
volving themselves in the calamities of war, and that they
had exerted themselves, so far, by their influence to relieve
from close confinement some of their people whom the for-
tune of war had put into the hands of their enemies. But
that they now utterly despaired of ever being able to effect
a reconciliation between the Confederacy and the United
States, and that the only hope they had of them was that
some of them would in time abandon the cause thus im-
prudently espoused ; that they would never violate their
allegiance with the United States ; and though they would
not be the aggressors, or wantonly provoke any tribe to war,
yet that they should henceforth be on their guard against
any enemy whatever."*

Seven of the principal chiefs of the Onondagas, who
were on their way to Fort Schuyler, were acquainted with
the above resolution, to which they replied in pacific terms,
expressing their gratification at the position assumed by
the Oneidas, and asserting their determination to follow a
similar course and join them and the Tuscaroras. Both
the Oneidas and this branch of the Onondagas joined in
a request that troops be stationed in their respective can-
tons for their protection.

Evidence constantly accumulating that Brant intended
to make a raid into the valley of the Mohawk during the
winter. General Clititon marched Colonel Van Schaick's
regiment to Caughnawaga, where it was ordered to go into
quarters and await events. On the 2f)th of February,

« Stono.



Captain Copp, who was in command of Fort Van Dyck,
a small stockade in the Oneida ov Onondaga country, wrote
to Captain Graham, then temporarily in charge of Fort
Schuyler, announcing that " two Oneida messengers of dis-
tinguished Indian families had just returned from Niagara,
where they had obtained positive evidence of Brant's pur-

The Moliawk chief had received information that the
Delawares and Shawanese were to strike a powerful blow
upon the frontier of Virginia, and a diversion was to be
made by sending a small force to fall upon Schoharie, while
Brant himself should lead the main expedition against the
Mohawk Valley. There was much uneasiness felt with re-
gard to the Onondagas, and the Tory element was watched
with continual distrust. Major Jelles Fonda wrote General
Clinton that there were yet remaining 300 Tory families
in the region of Johnstown, who were keeping up a con-
tinual correspondence with the enemy in Canada; and
urged upon the general the feasibility of erecting a strong
block-house, to be garrisoned by 50 rangers, on the Sacan-
daga River, north of Johnstown.

However, the threatened blow did not fall, most probably
on account of the capture of Colonel Hamilton ; and the
winter passed away without any actual outbreak of hostil-
ities. But the conduct of the Onondngiis had been so
equivocal and uncertain, tiiat it was finally resolved upon
the opening of spring to make an example of them for the
benefit of the remaining nations of the Confederacy who
remained hostile to the Americans.

Accordingly, early in April an expedition was detailed
by order of General Clinton, under the sanction of Wash-
ington, consisting of detachments from the regiments of
Colonels Van Schaick and Gansevoort, in all amounting to
about five hundred men, under the command of Colonel
Van Schaick. This force was sent as expeditiously as pos-
sible to Fort Schuyler, where thirty bateaux were collected
for the purpose of transporting the troops down Wood
Creek and across Oneida Lake to Three Rivers.*

Every precaution was adopted to prevent the Indians
from obtaining knowledge of the expedition, and rumore
were set afloat that it was destined for Oswego. The com-
mander was instructed to burn and destroy every species
of property belonging to the Onondagas, including all their
stock and household goods; but he was at the same time
cautioned to permit no useless sacrifice of human life, and
to take as many prisoners as possible. The following pas-
sage occurs in the instructions furnished by General Clin-
ton, which does honor to the man and the ofiicer, and
speaks volumes for the savage: '■ Cad as the savages are,
they never violate the chastity of any women their pris-
oners. Although I have very little apprehension that any
of the soldiers will so far forget their character as to
attempt such a crime on the Indian women who may fall
into their hand*, jet it will be well to take measures to
prevent such a sta n upon our army." Colonel Van Schaick
was further enjoined to dissuade any of our Indian allies
from accompanying him; and Lieute.nant-Colonel Willett
and Major Cochran were oidered to accompany the expe-

* Oneida, Seneca., and Oswego Riv

Colonel Van Schaick received his orders on the 9th of
April; and such was the promptitude with, which the
arrangements were perfected, that the expedition was ready
to move from Fort Schuyler on the 18th. The little army,
consisting of exactly 558 men and officers, was put in
motion early on the morning of the 19th, and moved as
rapidly down Wood Creek as the numerous obstructions
would permit, favored by a dense mist that concealed its
movements from any spies or scouts who might be lurking
near. The whole body reached the landing at Fort Brew-
ertoti at three p.m. on the 20th. At this latter point the
bateaux were left in charge of a suitable guard, and the army
pushed on through the tangled forest nine miles farther the
same afternoon, and encamped without fires for the night.

Resuming the march early on the morning of the 21st,
the army forded an arm of Onondaga Lake, about 200
yards in width and four feet deep. At the head of this lake.
Captain Graham, in command of the advance-guard, cap-
tured a warrior, which was the first one seen, although
they were now within a few miles of some of their villages.
The force was now divided into small detachments, and
pushed rapidly forward with a view to surround the castle
and villages and take the Indians by surprise. The line
of villages is said to have extended along the valley of
Onondaga Creek for a distance of ten miles.

Tins tribe or nation had once been among the most
powerful and important of the famous Ko-iiosh-i-o-ni, and,
on account of their situation in the centre of the Confed-
eracy and their wisdom and political importance, had been
made the keepers of the great central council-house, and
the perpetual fire which had burned from time imme-
morial. It had been twice temporarily extinguished, — in
1G96 by Count Frontenac, and again in 1777, — and it was
now doomed to go out in darkness for a third time. Since
the spring of 1775 it had ceased to be the grand central
fire of the Confederacy ; for the Mohawlcs had withdrawn
from the State, and the Oaeidus and Tascaroras had
seceded from the remainder of the Confederacy.

But though the expedition had been conducted with all
possible secrecy, the surprise was not complete. The alarm
was given by some means, and the bulk of the Indians
with their families fled into the forest ; but they left in
such haste that they took nothing with them, scarcely even
their arms. The troops, however, succeeded in killing 12
of the warriors, and 33 were taken prisoners. Three
villages, containing altogether about 50 houses and a large
quantity of provisions, consisting mostly of corn, beans,
etc., were destroyed. About a hundred muskets and
several rifles were found and brought away ; and a small
swivel kept at the council-house was rendered useless.

When the destruction was complete the expedition re-
turned to Fort Schuyler, which it reached on the 24th,
after an absence of six days, during which the troops had
traveled by land and water 180 miles without the loss of a
man. The expedition was fired upon only once by a small
party of Indians in the woods, one of whom was killed by
the return fire.

Colonel Van Schaick, in his official report of the expedi-
tion to General Clinton, spoke in the highest terms of the
good conduct of officers and men, and particularly mentioned



Colonel Willett and Major Cochran as having rendered the
most effitient services.

This act of warfare against the Onondagas has some-
times appeared unnecessarily harsh and vindictive, but it
was deemed necessary by Washington, Schuyler, and other
military hiaders, and by those in civil authority. It was
supposed that a sharp, sudden, and decisive blow dealt upon
the vacillating Onondagas would bring not only that nation
to their senses, but also have a salutary effect upon the
Cityngns and Senecas, and teach them that they were by
no means so powerful or remote but the arm of the United
States would surely reach them if they continued hostile.

The effect upon the Oneidas was astounding. They had
been kept in profound ignorance of the whole matter, and,
when the blow fell, like lightning from a clear sky, upon
their nearest neighbors, their alarm was great ; and a dele-
gation of their principal men, headed by the renowned
Sken-nn-dua, and accompanied by Good Peter, the orator,
and Mr. Dean, the interpreter, waited upon Colonel Van
Schaick to learn its meaning.

The proceedings were opened by Good Peter, who spoke
as follows :

** Brother: Tou see before you aorae of your frieods, the OneiilnH j
they come to see you. The engagements that have been entered into
between us and our brothers, the Americans, are well known to you.
** We were much surprised a few days ago by the news which a war-
rior brought to our castle with a war shout, informing us that our friends,
the Onojidfiffae, were destroyed.

"We were desirous to sec you on this occasion, as they think you
might have been mistaken in destroying that part of the tribe.

" We suppose you cannot answer us upon this subject, as the matter
was agreed upon below. But perhaps you may know something of
this matter.

" When we heard of this account we sent back word to our friends
remaining among them, telling them not to be pale-hearted because
some of them were destroyed, but to keep up with their former en-

" We sent off some of our people to Canscraga to invite them to
corae to our village, but the}' returned an answer that they had sent
some of their own runners to Onondaga to learn the particulars, and
they waited for their return.

" Our people brought for answer that they were much obliged to their
children, the Oueidna, for attending to them in their distresses, and they
would be glad if they would speak smoothly to their brethren, the
Americans, to know whether all this was done by design or by mistake.
" If it was a mistake, say they, we hope to sec our brethren the
prisoners ; if by design, we still will keep our engagements with you,
and not join the King's party. But if our brethren, the Americana,
mean to destroy us also, we will not fly ; we will wait here and receive
our death.

'* Brother : This wa5 the answer of the Oumtdayaa. As for us, the
Oiickhie and TuecttroraB, you know our sentiments. We have sup-
posed we know yours.

" The commissioners promised ua that when they found anything
"wrong they would tell us, and make it right.

" Brother : If we have done anything wrong, we shall be glad if
you would now tell us so."

To this eminently diplomatic address. Colonel Van
Schaick responded in the following words :

" I am glad to see ray frien Is the Oiteidnv and Tnscaroras. I per-
fectly remember the engagements the Five Nations entered into four
years ago, and that they promised to preserve a strict and honorable
neutrality during the present war, which was all we asked them to do
for us.

" But I likewise know that all of them, except our brethren, the
Oneidas and Ttiscaroras, broke their engagements, and flung away
the chain of friendship. The Oiioiida(/as have been great jnurderers;
we have found the scalps of our brothers at their castle.

" They were cut off, not by mistake, but by design. I was ordered
to do it, and it is done.

"As for the other matters of which you speak, I recommend a depu-
tation to the commission at Albany. I am not appointed to ti'eat
with you on those subjects.

" I am a warrior. My duty is to obey the orders which they send

This plain, straightforward, and soldierly reply settled
the business. The Oneidas at once saw the uselesshess of
seeking definite information, much less redress, of Colonel
Van Schaick, and the conference ended without furthei"
proceedings. They well knew the treacherous course pur-
sued by the Onondngas, and felt that their chastisement
was deserved.

On the same day of the departure of Colonel Van Schaick
from Fort Schuyler, various parties of savages made their
appearance in the valleys of the Mohawk and Schoharie.
Several prisoners were taken in the lower valley of the
Mohawk, and some plunder was carried away-. Another
party appeared simultaneously in Stone Arabia, where they
killed two men and burnt several buildings. They also
had a sharp fight with Captain Richer and his two sons,
who succeeded in killing or badly wounding two of the
Indians, and compelling their retreat, though the whites
were all wounded in the encounter. These Indians were
Mohawks from Canada.

A party of Senecas appeared on the same day in the
Schoharie Valley, where they captured two men and plun-
dered their houses. The panic was general, and word Wiis
sent at once to General Clinton at Albany, asking for aid.
The general immediately put himself at the head of Colonel
Gansovoort's regiment and the Schenectady militia, and
made a rapid march through the valley, returning on the
28th of April. The general, in reporting to the Governoi-,
expressed the opinion that but for his timely move the
Indians would have driven the whole settlement in upon

Previous to Colonel Van Sehaick's move upon Onondaga,
a party of Oneida Indians, under Lieutenants McClellati
and Hardenburgh, had been dispatched ostensibly upon
an expedition against Ogdensburg, with a view of taking
it by surprise, but really, no doubt, to call the attention of
the Oneidas from the movement against the Onondagas.
This party returned on the 30th of April to Fort Schuyler,
having failed to surprise the garrison or to draw them by
stratagem from the fort.

A Caughnawaga Indian was sent from this party with a
letter from a " French general" (most probably Lafayette),
addressed to the Canadians, and this was about the amount
of service performed by the expedition ; but it served the
purpose of taking the Oneida Indians, who were around
Fort Schuyler, away in season to prevent their giving in-
formation of Colonel Vart Sehaick's movement.

The object aimed at in the attack upon the Onondagas
was not accomplished ; for, instead of causing them to come
in and humbly sue for peace, it stirred within them ix.
terrible demon of revenge, and, true to the spirit of the
great Garangula, they resolved on a bloody reprisal. Three
hundred of their warriors were speedily on the war-path,
directing their course towards the Schoharie Valley, already
smoking in ruin. Their first point of attack was the Ger-



man settlement of Cobleskill, but the alarm was sounded,
and a detacliment of regular troops was quickly summoned
frrm Solioliarie. This body, reinforced by fifteen militia-
men, was enticed into an ambush, cunningly laid, and in
the desperate fight that ensued twenty-two were killed,
including the Ciiptain and seven brave fellows, burnt to
death in a log house, which they valiantly defended, and
two taken prisoners. The loss of the Indians was quite



Gfttbcring of the Forces — The Oneidas and Gonern,! Haldimntid —
GeDeral Clinton's Operations — Battle of Newtown — Destruction of
the Indian Country — Episodes and Incidents — Expeditions into
the Mohawk Valley— Peace— War of 1SI2.

The continual incursions of the hostile portion of the
Six Nations, and their evident determination to fight to the
bitter end, called the attention of the American leaders to
the necessity of taking efiectual means for the protection of
the exposed frontiers, and Congress, on the 25th of Febru-
ary, 1779, had requested the commander-in-chief to take
such measures as his judgment might deem best to effect
the desired result.

After mature deliberation it was deemed expedient that
the Indians should receive a thorough chastisement, and in
order to accomplish this, a powerful expedition was set on
foot to carry the war into the enemy's country. General
Gates was offered the command of the expedition, which
promised to be the most important of the year ; but that
ofiBcer declined the proffered honor in terms by no means
satisfactory to Washington, who finally selected General
Sullivan for the position.

The main body of the army, under the immediate com-
mand of Sullivan, was to assemble in Pennsylvania, while
an auxiliary division, consisting of 1500 men, under Gen-
eral James Clinton, was to collect at Canajoharie, and thence

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 38 of 192)