Samuel W Durant.

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

. (page 41 of 192)
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 41 of 192)
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battery was put in position. A flag was then sent to de-
mand its surrender, but it was fired upon by the famous
Murphy, before spoken of, and obliged to retire. Fire was
then opened by the battery and small arms, but without
causing much damage. Three several attempts were made
to summon the garrison to surrender, but the flag was
fired upon at each attempt; and deeming the work too
strong to be taken by assault. Sir John Johnson withdi'ew
his forces and moved down the valley, destroying everything
in his course.

When approaching tlie old Schoharie fort Sir John di-
vided his forces into two columns, and approached the fort
on opposite sides. Considerable firing occurred between
the parties, when, finding the work too strong to be taken
except by a regular siege, Johnson passed on down the
valley towards Fort Hunter, at the mouth of the creek;
Every house and barn belonging to the Whigs was de-
stroyed, together with grain and stock, and the beautiful
valley was a smoking ruin. Only two or three of the de-
fenders of the forts were injured, but nearly a hundred of
the people were killed or captured in their houses.

On the evening of the 17th Sir John divided his force
into two bodies, three companies of the " Greens" and some
Indians being sent across the Mohawk, under Captain Dun-
can, while the main body, under the commander-in-chief,
moved up the south bank. What remained of Caughna-
waga was destroyed, and both shores of the river were one
scene of desolation. Major Jelles Fonda, in the town of
Palatine, lost property to the amount of $60,000. The
major was absent, and his wife escaped under cover of a
thick fog.

On the 19th, Sir John crossed to the north side, at
Keder's Rifts. There was at that time a small stockade in
Stone Arabia, about three miles north of Palatine, held by
Colonel Brown, who made himself famous during Bur-
goyne's campaign by his exploit in the rear of that general,
about Ticonderoga and Lake George. His force in the
stockade amounted to about one hundred and thirty men.
.In the mean time General Robert Van Rensselaer had ral-
lied the militia of Albany, Claverack, and Schenectady,
and, accompanied by Governor Clinton, had pushed on to
intercept Johnson. Reaching Caughnawaga on the 18th,
he learned that an attack was to be made upon Fort Paris,
and immediately sent an express to Colonel Brown to march



out and check the advance of the enemy, while at the same
hour he would fall upon his rear. Colonel Brown promptly
obeyed his orders without inquiring as to the numbers of
the enemy.

He attacked them near the site of an old military work,
formerly known as Fort Keyser. But General Van Rens-
selaer failed to co-operate in the attack, and Brown encoun-
tered the whole weight of the enemy, and fell gallantly
leading his little force into battle. His command was dis-
persed with the loss of upwards of forty men.

After his victory over Colonel Brown, Sir John dispersed
his force in small bands over the country for five or six
miles, to plunder and destroy. Late in the day they were
recalled, and the whole force marched back to the river
road, below Caroga Creek. Here Captain Duncan rejoined
the army, and Johnson moved about three miles towards
the west, avoiding, on his way, a small work called Fox's
Port.

General Van Rensselaer had now a force estimated at
fully fifteen hundred men, including a strong detachment
of Oneidas, and other Indians, under the celebrated Colonel
Louis Cook, or Alayataronghta.* General Van- Rensse-
laer was very dilatory in his movements, and was remon-
strated warmly with by Colonel William Harper and others,
and it is said that Colonel Louis shook his sword at him
and called him a Tory to his face.

Urged on by his officers. Van Rensselaer now began a
spirited pursuit, and brought the enemy to battle on the
afternoon of the 20th. A sharp engagement ensued, dur-
ing which the enemy were forced to fly, and Brant was
wounded in the foot. It is said that Johnson left the field
at the first intimation of defeat, and fljd up the valley.
There is little doubt that had General Van Ilennselaer
done his duty, nearly the whole force of the enemy would
have been taken prisoners.

Sir John's army retreated up the river, passing to
the south of the German Plats, and going by way of
Oneida to Onondaga Lake, where his boats had been left
in the beginning of the campaign. The advance of the
American army was ordered to follow the retreating enemy
as fast as possible and annoy his rear. Van Rensselaer prom-
ising to support them with the main body ; but after going
a few miles the general ordered a cessation of the pursuit,
and leisurely returned down the valley. One other blunder
was committed by this incompetent officer. Learning the
place of concealment of Sir John's boats, he ordered Cap-
tain Vrooman, from Fort Schuyler, with about sixty men,
to make a forced march and destroy them. At Oneida,
one of his men, pretending to be sick, was left behind, and
upon Sir John's arrival told him of Captain Vrooman's
movements.| Brant was immediately sent to cut him off,
and .succeeded in coming upon him by surprise and cap-
turing the whole party, who lost one lieutenant and three



■''■" Colonel Louis, as he was generality called, was of mixed parent-
age, his father being a negro, and his mother an Indian woman of
the St. Fitnn:o!i tribe. In 1788-89 Colonel Louis enlisted a company
among the Oiieidiis for service in the American army.

f Tn Junes' Annals it is stated that Captain ^'rooman destroyed
the boats before the arrival of Brant, and was preparing to return
to Fort Schuyler.



HISTORY OP ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



149



privates killed. Sir John reached Oswego without further
molest iition.

A charncteristio anecdote is related of Brant in connec-
tion with this expedition. Among the plundered and dis-
tressed people of the Schoharie settlements, who were
crowding around Fort Hunter, was a woman who had lost
her husband and infant child, which latter had been taken
from its cradle. " Earlj^ the next morning, while the offi-
cers of Van Rensselaer's headquarters were at breakfast, a
young Indian warrior came bounding into the room like a
stag, bearing an infant in his arms, and also a letter from
Braut, addressed to the ' commanding officer of the rebel
army.' The general not being present, a staff-officer opened
the letter and read as follows : ' Sir, — I send by one of my
runnci-s the child, which he will deliver, that you may
know that, whatever others may doj / do not make war
upon women and <;hildren. I am sorry to say that I have
those engaged with me in the service who are more savage
than the savages themselves.' "*

., The Mohawk Valley above Schenectady was now com-
pletely desolated, and the suffering people, together with
those of the Schoharie Valley, were crowded upon the in-
habitants of the lower Mohawk Valley and the Hudson.
It was with extreme difficulty that they could be fed and
housed, and next to impossible to obtain supplies for
the forts in the upper valley. Scouting-parties of In-
dians appeared about the German Flats, and there was a
strong feeling among the hostiles of the Six Nations that
the Oneidas should be pursued to their new homes and de-
stroyed. Every convoy of provisions and supplies for
Forts Plain, Dayton, and Schuyler was pounced upon and
cut off unless strongly guarded, and the privations of the
garrisons of these works were such that the utmost difficulty
was encountered in holding them together.

Colonel Van Cortlandt's regiment was stationed at Fort
Schuyler at this time, and Major Nicholas Fish wrote Gen-
eral Clinton from Schenectady that on the 6th of March,
1781, a party of fifteen of that regiment had been taken
prisoners by Brant's Indians ; and again, on April 2, that
chieftain had captured another party of sixteen men.

Early in 1781 a plan was arranged for cutting off the
Oneidas, and Colonel Dan Claus wrote Captain Brant from
Montreal, on the 3d of ftlarch, upon the subject; but for
some reason the plan was never carried into effect.

In addition to these difficulties, another noW threatened
which rendered the situation still more alarming. In the
beginning of May the works of Fort Schuyler, which were
getting sadly out of repair, were greatly injured by an un-
precedented flood in the Mohawk, caused probably by a
gorge in the river below the fort. It does not seem possi-
ble that the fort could have been damaged except by this
cause, for it stood high and di-y above all ordinary overflows.
A council of officers, convened by Colonel Cochran on
the 12th of May, reported nearly two-thirds of the work
ruined by the waters, and that the remainder would un-
doubtedly share the same fate.f They reported that the



* Stone's Life of Brant.

t It seems probable that the damage was caused by the back watdr,
which loosened the parapet and caused it to settle away into the moat,
and also injured the stook.ade by softening the ground.



only remaining strength of the work was in the outside
pickets on the glacis, and that the number of the garrison
was inadequate to the task of rebuilding or repairing, which
would require the labor of five or six hundred men under
the direction of a competent engineer.

To render the works more completely untenable, the bar-
racks and buildings were totally destroyed by fire on the
13th.

Colonel Cochran wrote General Clinton a full account of
these disasters on the 13th and 14th of May. The follow-
ing extract from the general's reply shows that suspicions
existed that the conflagration was not altogether acci-
dental :

" I have just received your favors of the the l.jth and 14th instants,
with the disagreeable intelligence contained in them. I cannot find
words to express my surprise at the unexpected accident, or how a fire
should break out at noonday in a garrison where the troops could not
possibly be absent, alter a most violent and incessant rain of several
days, and be permitted to do so much damage. I am sorry to Bay that
the several circumstances which accompanied this melancholy affair
afford plausible ground for suspicion that it was not the effect of mere
accident. I hope, when it comes to be examined in a closer point of
view, such light may be thrown upon it as will remove the suspicion^
for which there appears too much reason. I have written to his E.Y-
cellency on the subject, and requested hi^ further orders, which I e-xpect
in a few daysj in the mean time I would request that you keep pos-
sc.'sion of the works, and endeavor to shelter the troops in the best
manner possible."

The general soon after addressed the following letter to
the Governor :

"Albany, May 17, 1781.

"Dear Sir, — Since my last to you of yesterday another letter, by
express, has been received from Fort Schuyler. Copies of the contents
I enclose for your information, under cover, which I wish you to seal
and forward to the Commnnder-in-chief. I informed you yesterday
of the general j)revailing opinion among the better part of the people
in this quarter respecting Fort Schuyler. The recent lose of the bar-
racks and the ruinous situ.ation of the works have confirmed them in
the propriety and even necessity of removing it to the German Flatts,
near Fort Herkimer, where they are disposed to afford every assistance
in their power to build a formidable work, confident that it will be able
to afford more protection, not only in that particular quarter, but also
to the whole western frontier in general. I must confess th.at I have
long since been of this opinion. I have not mentioned this circum-
stance to the General (Washington), as I conceive it will come better
from yourself, .ns you are acquainted with every particular circum-
stance respecting it, and the numberless difficulties which we shall
labor under in putting it in any considerable state of defense. As I
have directed the troops to remain in possession of the works until I
shall receive instructions from headquarters, I wish that you might
have it in your power to have a conference with the General on the
subject, and transmit to me the result of it without delay.
" I am. Sir, etc.,

"James Clinton.

" GovEiiNon Clinton."

The suggestion to abandon Fort Schuyler was soon after
adopted, and the garrison removed from the work which
had seen such a variety of experience and had been the
objective point of so many military expeditions.^

J According to Hon. P. Jones a strong octagon block-houae was
built at Fort Stanwix subsequent to the war, .and garrisoned by a
company of regular soldiers. This was .sujjposed to have been erected
ah tut 179t-!16, when the country was alarmed at the alt tude of the
"Western Indians. Colonel Stone states that the entire fort was rebuilt
during Jolin Alams' administration, and re-christ«ned Fort Stanwix.
It is most probab'e that Mr. Jones is nearer the truth. He slates that
the company of regulars was commmded by a Captain Cherry.



150



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



Early in the season of 1781, the five New York regi-
ments, which had been reduced by battle and disease to
mere skeletons, were consolidated into two; and Colonel
Willett, at the urgent solicitation of Governor Clinton, took
command of all the State troops and militia levies raised
for the protection of the frontiers.* The colonel was then
connected with the main army and left it with great reluc-
tance ; but the Governor appealed so strongly, urging the
high confidence which the people of Tryon County placed
in him, that finally he was induced to assume the com-
mand. He established his headquarters at Port Rensselaer
(Canajoharie), where he arrived in the latter part of June.

The region assigned him to defend embiaced all the
country west of Albany County, including the Catskills and
the middle region of the Hudson River.

He immediately examined into the condition of his forces,
and found them scattered in various detachments, about as
follows: Captaiu Moody's artillery, 20 men, and 130 levies,
including officers, at the German Flats; at Schoharie, a
guard of 20 men ; at Catskill, about the same number ; and
at Ballston 30 men. The levies at that time under arms
in the whole district amounted to only 96 men ; total, 316.
The following passage occurs in a letter written to the
Governor shortly after his arrival :

" I confess myself not a little disappointed in having such a trifling
force for such extensive business as I have on my hands ; and also tliat
nothing is done to enable me to avail myself of the militia. The
prospect of a suffering country hurts me. Upon my own account I iim
n')t uneasy. Everything I can do shall be donej and more cannot be
looked for. If it is, the reflection that I have done my duty must fi.^
my own tranquillity. "■!■

But notwithstanding these depressing circumstances it
was soon apparent that the people only asked for a compe-
tent commander ; and when that object was gained they
were ready to rally around him upon the first emergency.
The colonel very soon had an opportunity to test them,
when he found them, to use his own expression, " a people
who, having experienced no inconsiderable portion of British
barbarism, were become keen for revenge, and properly de-
termined."J

On the 30th of June, John Doxtader, a Tory, and an
Indian chief named Quaclcyack^ at the head of about 250
Indians and Tories, attacked and burned Currietown, a small
village near the mouth of the Schoharie Kill. The light
of the conflagration gave the first intimation at Fort Rens-
selaer of the presence of an enemy in the valley. Colonel
Willett immediately put his force, consisting altogether of
about 150 men, in motion to cut them ofi'. Captain Gross,
with a scouting-party of 30 men, discovered the enemy's
camp, and Colonel Willett determined, if possible, to sur-
prise them.

The encampment was in a thick cedar swamp a few miles
to the northeast of Cherry Valley, and to reach it required
a night march through the woods, without any better road
than a bridle-path. But the colonel pushed on and reached
the neighborhood of the enemy about six o'clock in the
morning. Instead of surprising him, however, he found
him advantageously posted, and offering battle.

* For military portrait of Colonel Willett, see biographical sketch.

■j" Narrative.

J Willett's Letter to Washington.



Willett immediately attacked him, and partly by stratagem
and partly by superior tactics and determined bravery put
him to a complete rout, with the loss of all his baggage
and plunder, and nearly 40 of his warriors left dead on the
field. The enemy retreated down the Susquehanna, and
were pursued a considerable distance.

The loss of Colonel Willett's force was five killed and nine
wounded; among the latter the brave Captain McKean,
fatally. He was struck by two balls in the early part of the
action, but remained at his post until the enemy retreated.

The Indians had taken nine persons prisoners the day
before at Currietown, and when the attack began they were
all tomahawked and scalped. Their bodies were buried by
Willett's men, but so hastily that one of them, Jacob Die-
fendorflF, who was only stunned, succeeded in digging from
his living tomb, and when a party of militia under Colonel
Veeder visited the field, after Willett's return to Fort Rens-
selaer, they found him sitting on his own grave. He re-
covered, and lived many years.

The following letter, from Colonel Willett to General
Clinton, was written soon after the colonel's return :

" Sir, — I have just sent some of the wounded levies to Schenectady,
therQ being no surgeon here. Doctor Petrie, the surgeon of the levies,
is at German Flatts; where he has several sick and wounded to attend,
and the intercourse between here and there is too dangerous to allow
traveling without a guard. I could wish, therefore, to have a surgeon
from the hospital posted in this quarter.

" This place does not afford a gill of rum to bathe a single wound.
Two barrels designed for this quarter a few days ago met with a regu-
lar regiment passing down the country, who very irregularly took away
from the person that had them in charge these two barrels of rum.

" I need not mention to 3'ou, Sir, th.at the severe duty and large por-
tion of f.itigue that falls to the lot of the troops in this quarter makes
rum an article of importance here, and that I should be glad to see
some in the County of Tryon.

" This morning Captain McKean died of the wound he received
yesterday. In him we have lost an e.'ccellcnt offiL'er. I feel his loss
and much regret it."

Shortly afier Doxtader's invasion another small party of
Tories and Indians made a descent upon Palatine, but being
betrayed by one Philip Helmer, they were pursued by a
party under Lieutenant Sammons and driven off with con-
siderable loss, and without having caused any damage to
the inhabitants.

In a letter to General Washington, dated July 6, 1781,
Colonel Willett gives a vivid description of the country and
of its present condition, from which it would appear that at
the commencement of the war the number of enrolled
militia in Tiyon County amounted to 2500, which at the
date of the letter had been reduced to about 1200 assessed
for taxation, of whom only 800 were capable of bearing
arms. To account for this great reduction the colonel esti-
mated that one-third had been killed or made prisoners ;
one-third had joined the enemy, and one-third had for the
time being abandoned the country. The situation of the
people who remained was described as distressing in the
extreme. Those who were able had erected block-houses
for the protection of their families, and each neighborhood
had joined together and built some kind of a fortification
answering to the name of furl. At that date the colonel
enumerates twenty-four works of the kind between Sche-
nectady and Fort Schuyler.

The number of men under Willett's command, exclusive



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



151



of militia, did not exceed 250. But he was not the man
to give up under any circumstances, and he kept up a brave
heart. In one part of his letter to Washington he says, —

" Nor shall I exceed my hopes if, in the course of less tbnli twelve
months, I shall be ahle to conTince the enemy that they are not with-
out vulnerable quarters in those parts."

The wisdom and ability with which he placed and man-
aged his small force are set forth in the following extracts :

"My intention is to raannge business so ns to have an opportunity
of acquainting myself, as well as possible, with every officer and
soldier I may have in charge. In order the better to do this, I pro-
pose, as far as I can make it any way convenient, to guard the dif-
ferent posts by detachments, to be relieved as the nature of the case
will admit. As the relieved troops will always return to Fort Rens-
selaer, where my quarters will be, I shall have an opportunity of
seeing them all in turn. Having troops constantly marching back-
ward and forward through the country, and frequently changing
their route, will answer several purposes, such as will easily be per-
ceived by you, sir, without mentioning them.

" This is not the only way by which I e.xpeet to become particu-
larly acquiainted with the troops and their situation. I intend occa-
sionally to visit every part of the country, as well to rectify such
mistakes as are common among the kind of troops I have at present
in chai-ge, as to enable me to observe the condition of the militia,
upon whose aid 1 shall be under the necessity of placing considerable
reliance."

For several months succeeding the defeat of Doxtader
the lower valley of the Mohawk remained quiet. The
enemy had evidently a high respect for Colonel Willett,
and for a time gave him a wide berth. In the upper por-
tion of the valley they were more active.

In the spring of 1781, Solomon Woodworth had been
commissioned as captain, and instructed to raise a company
of rangers, for the purpose of patroliiig the wooded country
lying north of Fort Dayton and the German Flatts.* He
raised acompany of 40 men, and, well armed and provided,
marched from Fort Dayton in the direction of the Royal
Grant,f on a scouting expedition. After a few hours'
march he came suddenly upon a large band of savages, and
a most desperate battle took place, in which Woodworth
and all but fifteen of his brave followers were killed or
taken. The loss of the Indians was also severe.

Another spirited affair occurred at a neighborhood
known as "Shell's Bu.sh," situated about four miles north
of Herkimer village, in the valley of West Canada Creek.
Among the settlers was John Christian Shell, who had six
sons. Shell, like many others, had built a block-house for
protection against the savages. On the 6th of August a
band of 66 Indians and Tories, under Donald McDonald,
one of the Scotch refugees from Johnstown, attacked Sliell's
Bush. Most of the people had taken refuge at Fort Day-
ton, but Shell, believing literally that every man's hou-se
was his castle, chose to remain in liLs own dwelling. When
the attack was made, Shell and his sons were at work in
the field, and in attempting to escape the two youngest
boys (twins) were captured. Shell and four of his sons
succeeded in reaching the block-house.

In an attempt of the enemy to capture the building
McDonald was severely wounded, and being left near the
house, was dragged in by Shell when the enemy fell back.



* This name is written indiscriminately Flatla and FlatB.
t From the king to Sir William Johnson.



and thus made a prisoner. His capture was fortunate in
more w.iys than one, for his cartridge-box was full of am^
munition, which served to replenish that of the garrison,
already nearly exhausted. The enemy made several des-
perate attempts to carry the place by assault, but were each
time repulsed by the sharp fire of the garrison, which killed
and wounded a number of them.

In one of these assaults five of the enemy thrust their
guns through the loop-holes, when the brave wife of Shell
immediately seized an axe, and by quick, well-directed
blows ruined every one of them by bending the barrels.

When the baflled enemy again fell back Shell went into
the lofl; and cried loudly to his wife that succors were ap-
proaching from Fort Dayton, and pretending to give orders
to the reinforcement, he so effectually deceived the enemy
that they precipitately fled. In this remarkable affair the
enemy lost eleven killed and six wounded. McDonald
died afterwards from the result of an amputation. 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 41 of 192)