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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inal intention to carry the expedition against the British
post at Niagara, which was the grand point of supplies for
all Indians in Western New York and a great portion of
Canada. Why Sullivan did not carry out this portion of the
plan has never been satisfactorily explained. The general's
excuse was a want of provisions, but these could easily have
been supplied from the immense stores of the Indians.

Looking at all the facts from the standpoint of to-day,
it is at least questionable whether the great expense of
Sullivan's army, and the destruction wrought by it, were
ever justified by the results. Unquestionably the only effect
it had upon the Indians was to stimulate and nerve them
to still more desperate and bloody warfare against the people
of the frontiers ; and the destructive raids which repeatedly
desolated the valleys of New York and Pennsylvania were
the results, in a great measure, of the spirit of revenge en-
gendered by the wholesale destruction wrought by this

The Indians reasoned correctly that the terrible vengeance
meted out to them was by authority from Congress and the
commander-in-chief; and Washington was ever afterwards
known among the Senecas and Cayugas as the " Town De-
stroyer." The army reached Easton, Pa., on the 15th of
October, having traversed since their setting out a distance
of two hundred and eighty miles.

There was a single episode in this campaign which cast a
gloom over the whole army. This was the destruction of
a party under Lieutenant Boyd. The lieutenant had been
detached on the 13th of September with a company of 26
riflemen, including the celebrated Virginian, Murphy, and
an Oneida warrior named Honyerry, for the purpose of
reconnoiteriug Little Beard's town. He had accomplished
his purpose, and was returning, when he encountered a band
of Indians who were in pursuit of an Oneida prisoner. It
is also said that the Muhawh chieftain, Brant, came upon
him suddenly with 300 men. Other accounts claim that
Brant was not present. The Indians immediately sur-
rounded and attacked the party, who made a gallant attempt
to cut their way through and escape. The fighting was
desperate, for the riflemen were all noted shots, and the
Indians suflered severely. But after a short and murderous
contest, the mcu were all shot down, bat Bgyd and a few



otliers. The brave Oneida, Honyerry, who had done great
execution among the enemy at Oriskany, was literally
hacked to pieces. INIurphy, and one or two others, dashed
through the Indians and escaped. Boyd, and a soldier
named Parker, were taken prisoners. The Indians suffered
such losses that they had not time to bury all their dead
before the approach of General Hand's brigade obliged them
to fly. They left a wagon-load of packs, blankets, etc., on
the field.

Boyd made himself known to Brant as a Mason, and the
chief promised him protection ; but being called away, he
was left with Colonel Butler, who, failing to get the desired
information from him concerning the strength and move-
ments of Sullivan's army, inhumanly turned him over to
the tender mercies of Little Beard and his band, who im-
mediately put him to death by the most savage torture.
His companion, Parker, was also put to death, but hot tor-
tured. The mutilated bodies were found on the 14th and
buried on the bank of Beard's Creek, in a clump of wild
plum-trees, in the present town of Groveland, Livingston

One other incident of this campaign deserves notice in
this connection. It will be remembered that one clan of
the Muhawlc nation had declined to follow Brant in their
migration to Canada, and had remained behind at the lower
castle, where they had been assured by the Committee of
Safety that they should not be disturbed so long as they
behaved themselves consistently. For some reason General
Sullivan formed the opinion that those Mohawks were fur-
nishing information to the enemy, and he resolved to put a
stop to their proceedings.

* An incident illustrating tlie peculiarities of the Indians in a re-
markable degree occurred a little earlier in the campaign. The
advance of the army had a slight skirmish with a strong force of
Indians posted in ambush between Hooeoye Creek and Conesus Luke,
in which the troops were compelled to fall back upon the main body.
In this affair two Oneida Indians were captured. One of them was
General Sullivan's guide and had rendered very efficient service, and
on this account be was a prisoner of more than ordinary consequence.
This guide had a brother who belonged to the enemy's party, who
had tried every means in his power to persuade him to join the
British, but without success. The moment he recognized his brother
he approached him in a haughty manner and addressed him as
follows : .

"Brother: You have merited death! The hatchet or the war-club
shall finish your career! When I begged of you to follow me in the
fortunes of war, you were deaf to my cries; you spurned my entreaties.

'• Brother, you have merited death, and shall have your deserts !
When the rebels raised their hatchets to fight their good master, you
sharpened year knife, you brightened your rifle, and led on our fues
to the fields of our fathers.

"Brother: You have merited death, and shall die by our hands!
When those rebels had driven us from the fields of our fathers to seek
out new homes, it was you who could dare to step forth as their pilot,
and conduct them even to the doors of our wigwams, to butcher our
children and put us to death ! No crime can be greater. But though
you have merited death and shall die on this spot, my h;inds shall
not be stained with the blood of a brother ! Who will ttrike I"

After a moment's pause the hatchet of Little Beard flashed sud-
denly in the air, and the young Oneidu. lay dead at his feet. The
other captive was told by Little Beard that he was fighting only the
Whites, and his life should be spared, and he should eventually be set
at liberty. The Oneida, however, distrusted the chief, and took the
first opportunity to escnpe; and it was while in pursuit of him that
the Indians encountered Lieutenant Boyd's party.

Accordingly, while lying at the foot of Seneca Lake, on
the "iOth of September, he detached Colonel Gansevoort
with 100 men to Fort Schuyler. From thence he was
ordered to proceed down the valley to the lower castle of the
Mohawks, in-jL\i.e the Indians prisoners, and destroy their
castle. He was then to proceed immediately to headquar-
ters with his prisoners, — being expressly forbidden to leave
any of them at Albany. At the same time he was directed
that they should be shown " such nece.ssary marks of civility
and attention as might engage a continuance of their friend-
ship, and give evidence of our pacific disposition towards
them.'' This most extraordinary order was soon demon-
strated to have been without a shadow of extenuation, and
cruel and incomprehensible.

To Colonel Gansevoort these orders were no doubt ex-
tremely unwelcome and distasteful ; but, like a good soldier,
he hastened to obey them.

The following is the colonel's report to General Sullivan :

"At.dasv, Oct. 8, 1779.

"Siti, — Agreeably to my orders, I proceeded by the shortest route,
to the lower Mohawk castle, passing through the Tnvcarora and
Oneida castles (towns), where every mark of hospitality and friend-,
ship was shown the party.

" I had the pleasure to find that not the least damage or insult was
offered any of the inhabitants. On the 25th I arrived at Fort Schuy-
ler, where, refreshing ray party, Iproceeded down the river, and on
the 29th efi"ectually surprised the lower Mvhawk castle, making priso-
ners of every Indian inhabitsint.- They then occupied but four houses.
I was preparing, agreeable to my orders, to destroy them, but was
interrupted by the inhabitants of the frontiers, who have been lately
driven from their settlements by the savages, praying that they might,
have liberty to enter into the Mohaioka' houses until they could pro-
cure olher habitations; and well knowing those persons to have lately
lost their all, humanity teinpted me in this particular to act in some
degree contrary to orders, although I could not but be confident of
your approbation, especially when you are informed that this castle,
is in the heart of our settlements, and abounding with every, neces-
sary ; so that it is remarked that these Indians live much better than
most of the Mohawk River farmers. Their houses were very well
furnished with all necessary household utensils, great plenty of gi-aiii,'
several horses, cows, and wugons: of all which I have an inventory,
leaving them in the care of Major Ncwkirk, of that pJace, who dis-
tributed the rt fugees in ihe several houses. Such being the situation,
I did not allow the party to plunder at all.

"The prisoners arrived at Albany on the 2d instant, and were
closely secured in the fort. Yestei-daj', the 7th, I -received a letter
from General Schuyler (of which I inclose a copy), respecting the
prisoners, desiring that the sending the prisoners down might be
postponed until an express shall arrive from General Washington.
Agreeably to this request, a sergeant and twelve men are detained to'
keep charge of the prisoners until his pleasure is known.

"It is with the greatest regret I mention my Indisposition being'
so great as to hinder my taking charge of the party to headquarters.
I have been several d.ays confined, and my surgeon informs me that
my complaint is bilious fever. Captain S.vtez takes command of the
detachment, and will proceed with all expedition to headquarters
with the baggage of the several regiments, where I hope shortly .to
join the army. I am," etc.

General Schuyler was then at the head of the Northern
Commission of the India;n Department, and hearinj^ of the
harsh treatment of the Mohawks, had at once interposed
in their behalf. Colonel Gansevoort inclosed his own letter
and a copy of General Schuyler's to the commander-in-chief,
who iiutnediately ordered the release of the Indians.

Congress, on the 14th of October, passed a resolution of
thanks to General Washington for directing this great ex-
pedition, and to " General Sullivan, and the brave officers



and soldiers under his command, for its eifectual execution."
But at the same time there was a strong feeling in Congress
against what were deemed Sullivan's fault-finding procliv-
ities and extravagant expenditures, and he soon after tend-
ered his resignation (November 9) under pretense of ill
health. It was accepted on the 30th, but the act was
somewhat softened down by a vote of thanks for past

The immediate result of Sullivan's campaign against the
Indians was great suifering, amounting almost to starvation,
among them. They were compelled to fall back upon the
British post of Niagara for supplies, which could not be
furnished in sufScient quantities to relieve their necessities.
Sickness followed, and distress was everywhere among them.
They had received a terrible blow, the severest by far of
any ever administered to them, but it did not tame them or
bring about the peace which had been hoped for. On the'
contrary, it rendered them more hostile and far more vin-
dictive than before, and they neglected no opportunity of
glutting their revenge. ,

The winter of 1779-80 was exceedingly severe, but
neither sickness, nor destitution, nor storm could keep the
savages within their cabins or prevent thcjn from taking the
war-path. At some period during that cold winter, the
date of which is uncertain, Brant led a party of Indians
and Tories, or British troops, against the offending Oneidas,
who were taken entirely by surprise, and their castle, church,
and dwellings completely destroyed, together with all their
household utensils and provisions. The miserable people
were driven out of their beautiful country and scattered
among the white settlements in an entirely destitute condi-
tion. They were afterwards settled in the neighborhood of
Schenectady, and supported by the United States Govern-
ment until after the close of the war. This was the only
movement attempted during the winter, and the marauding
force did not penetrate beyond the country of the Oneidas.
Neither the Western nations of the Confederacy nor the
Oneidas ever recovered from the effects of these destructive
campaigns. From henceforth they ceased to be the power-
ful people whose rule a century before had extended from
the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the Mis.sissippi, and from
the highlands of Canada to the mountains of Georgia.
Their council-fire went out in blood, and the ffodeiiosaimee
disappeared from history as a great confederacy.

Early in April Brant led a war-party on a raid, intending
to capture Schoharie, but on his way ho captured a party
of fourteen soldiers under Captain Alexander Harper, on
the Charlotte River, who had been sent out from Old Scho-
harie by Colonel Vrooman, ostensibly for the purpose of
making maple-sugar, but really to watch the movements of
certain suspected parties living in the valley of the Char-
lotte River. Three of Captain Harper's party were killed
and the rest taken prisoners. Brant questioned the eap^
tain very closely as to whether there were any regular
soldiers at Schoharie, and upon being informed that a de-
tachment of three hundred had lately been sent there, he
concluded to abandon the main part of his projected enter-
prise and return to Niagara. The captain's information
was given purposely to deceive, and probably saved the
Schoharie region from another desolation, These prisoners

were not returned to their homes until after the peace of

Nearly at the same time a party of Tories and Indians
fell upon the small settlement at Little Falls, which con-
sisted of a few families located around the grist- and saw-
mills of Alexander Ellis. Their object was accomplished
with the loss of one man killed and five or six carried away
prisoners by the enemy. The mills and settlement were
completely destroyed.

In May of this year occurred the invasion of the lower
Mohawk Valley by Sir John Johnson, who fell upon Johns-
town on the 21st of the month with a force of five hundred
men, composed of a few British troops, a portion of his
own regiment of " Greens," and about two hundred In-
dians. He had come by way of Lake Champlain to
Crown Point, and most probably via, Lake George, across
the country to the Hudson, and thence up the Sacandaga
River, falling upon the valley from an entirely unexpected

This raid was made for the ostensible purpose of recov-
ering a chest of plate left behind at the baronial hall when
Sir John fled the country in 1776, but he took occasion to
desolate a region occupied by his former neighbors and
friends, and which he had repeatedly declared he would
never be found guilty of. The country for many miles
around, including the villages and settlements of Caughna-
waga and Tribes' Hill, was plundered, many of the people
killed, and the property of every Whig destroyed. Among
others, the dwelling of Colonel Frederick Visischer, near
Caughnawaga, was attacked by a portion of Sir John's force.
The house was occupied by the colonel, his mother, and
two brothers. The men made a desperate defense, but
were overpowered, two of them killed, and the colonel him-
self and his aged mother scalped and left for dead, and the
buildings set on fire. But the colonel revived, and, not-
withstanding his desperate condition, succeeded in dragging
the dead bodies of his brothers from the flames, and in car-
rying his mother to a place of safety. Among others mur-
dered near Caughnawaga was Mr. Douw Fonda, an aged
and prominent citizen.

Among the prisoners was the well-known Sammons
family. After the work of destruction was about com-
pleted, and Sir John had gathered his prisoners and booty
together, the elder Sammons requested to speak with the
baronet. Upon his inquiring what he wanted he replied
that he wished to be released, with which Sir John hesi-
tated to comply. " But the old man pressed his suit, and
reminded Sir John of former scenes, and of the efforts of
friendship which he himself had made in his behalf. ' See
what you have done, Sir John,' said the veteran Whig, —
' you have taken myself and my sons prisoners, burnt my
dwelling to ashes, and left the helpless members of my
family with no covering but the heavens above, and no
prospect but desolation around them. Did we treat you
in this manner when you were in the power of the Tryon
County Committee? Do you remember when we were
consulted by General Schuyler, and you agreed to surren-
der your arms? Do you not remember that you then
agreed to remain neutral, and that upon that condition
(jcqeral Schuyler left you . at liberty upon your parole ?



Those conditions you violated. You went oiF to Canada;
enrolled yourself in the service of the king; raised a regi-
ment of the disaffected, who abandoned their country with
you ; and you have now returned to wage a cruel war
against us, by burning our dwellings and robbing us of our
property. I was your friend in the Committee of Safety,
and exerted myself to save your person from injury. And
how am I requited? Your Indians have murdered and
scalped old Mr. Fonda, at the age of eighty years, — a man
who, I have heard your father say, was like a father to
liim when he settled in Johnstown and Kingsborough.
You cannot succeed. Sir John, in such a warfare, and you
will never enjoy your property more.'"

The baronet made no reply, but the old man was s_et at
liberty, and a portion of his property restored to liim. One
of the sons, Thomas, was also given up, through the inter-
cession of the widow of Captain Hare, one of the British
officers killed at Oriskany. This lady was living at the
Johnson Hall, where she had been since her husband's
death. Through her efforts several of the prisoners were

This was one of the most cruel and disgraceful inroads
ever made into the valley.

A small body of militia bad collected under Colonel
John Harper, but they were not sufficiently numerous to
venture pursuit, and the marauders retired with their pris-
oners and booty unmolested. Governor Clinton, upon hear-
ing of the invasion, immediately collected such militia as
were at hand, and made a rapid march to Lake George,
and thence to Ticonderoga, where he was joined by a small
force from the New Hampshire Grants. Colonel Van
Schaick also followed by way of Johnstown, with 800 men ;
but all was of no avail, and the forces leisurely returned to
their posts.

After the retreat of Sir John Johnson the valley was
quiet until the beginning of August, when the terrible
Tliay-en-daa-e-gea once more appeared with tomahawk and
torch. On the 6th of June, Colonel Gansevoort had been
ordered by General Clinton to move to Fort Plank with
his regiment for the purpose of escorting a supply of pro-
visions to Fort Schuyler, which were to be transported in
bateaux up the Mohawk River.

Brant was aware of this movement, and cunningly circu-
lated information through the valley of his intention to not
ouly intercept and capture the supplies, but to attempt the
reduction of Fort Schuyler itself This plan produced the
desired effect. The militia were called out en masse for
tlie protection of the convoy, and when they were well out
of the way the wily Muhaivk made a circuit and fell upon
the defenseless settlements at Canajoharie. The result of
this movement was: 16 of the inhabitants killed, 50 to 60
taken prisoners ; 53 dwellings, about an equal number of
barns, a church, a grist-mill, and two small stockades burnt ;
300 cattle and horses killed or driven away ; and all the
arms, tools, and crops totally destroyed.

Colonel Wemple was at the head of a strong force of the
Albany and Schenectady militia, but he did not seem in-
clined to come to close quiirters, although he had at least an
equal number of men, and so the invader escaped unmo-
lested. The people complained bitterly at being obliged to

assist in opening the road to Fort Schuyler, and thus, when
defenseless, of suffering such a terrible calamity.

On August, 1780, a deputation of Indians, consisting of
13 Oneidas and Tuscaroras and five Cdnghnawagns, under
the management of Mr. James Dean, made a visit to the
headquarters of the French commander, the Count Rocham-
beau, then at Newport, Rhode Island. They were received
with distinguished attention by the French officers, and
entertained with military pageants and parades, at which
they were greatly pleased. Upon their departure presents
were distributed among them, and the chiefs were presented
with medals representing the coronation of the king of
France. A written address was also presented them upon
their departure, of which the following is a translation :

" The king of France, your father, ha3 not forgotten his children.
As a token of reuiembmnce, I hare [iresented gifts to your deputies
in his name. He learned witli concern that miiny nntions, deceived
by the English, who were his enemies, had attacked and lifted up the
hatchet against his good and faithful allies, the United States. He
has desired mc to toll you that he is a firm and faithful friend to all
the friends of America, and a decided enemy to all its foes. He hopes
that all his children, whom he loves sincerely, will take part with their
father in this war against the English.''

This address was signed by Count Rochambeau. The
design of the visit was to make a favorable impression upon
the Indians, which it no doubt did so far as the visiting
nations were concerned ; but these were already friendly to
the American Beyond this it produced very little
effect, for the remaining members of the Iroquois Confed-
eracy were too much under control of the British authori-
ties to be sensibly affected.

The year 1780 was the most disastrous in the history of
the Mohawk Valley. Not content with the destruction
wrought by Sir John Johnson and Tluiy-eii-dau-e-gea, at
Caughnawaga and Canajoharie, a, still more formidable ex-
pedition was set on fijot early in October. The Indian
portion collected at Tioga Point, on the Susquehanna, from
whence they ascended the river to Unadilla, where they
were joined by Sir John Johnson, with another large body
composed of the Muliawks, three companies of his own
regiment, one company of German Yagers, 200 of Butler's
Rangers, and a company of British regular infantry, the
latter under the command of Captain Richard Duncan, who
had resided previous to the war near Schenectady. Sir
John's troops were collected at Montreal and La Chine, from
whence they reached the State of Now York by way of
the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario. From Oswego they
crossed over to the Susquehanna. Sir John brought along
from Canada two light mortars and a brass three-pounder,
which, from the circumstance of its being mounted on an
iron frame instead of the regular field-carriage, was called
" the grasshopper." The ordnance was transported by land,
on pack-horses. Every soldier and Indian in this expedi-
tion was supplied with eighty rounds of ball cartridge.
The total number of combatants included in this army
(according to Stone) was variously estimated at from SOft
to 1550.

The invaders passed up the Charlotte River, and thence
across to the upper waters of the Schoharie Kill. There
were three forts in the valley, known as Upper, Middle,
and Lower Forts, and the design of the enemy was to pass



the upper one unporceived, if possible, and attack the mid-
dle one. The inhabitants were warned in season by two
Oneida Indians, who deserted from the enemy, but from
gross indiflFerence or an unbelief in the report, the valley was
as completely taken by surprise as the invaders could wish.

The entire body passed the upper fort early in the morn-
ing of October 16, and their passage was not discovered
until the van of the army was close upon the middle fort,
and .the last of the atragglera in the rear just passing the
upper one, when a gun was fired at the latter, and the peo-
ple awakened to a sense of the situation. The destruction
of everything combustible in the valley, not protected by
the guns of the fortifications, was immediately begun. The
middle fort was defended by about 200 men, under Major
Woolsey, who appears to have been a most incompetent
officer. This work was at once surrounded, and the field-

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 40 of 192)