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 42 of 192)
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twin boys were carried prisoners to Canada.

Subsequently the gallant Shell was fired upon when at
work in the field and mortally wounded. One of his brave
boys was also killed while defending his father until a guard
could reach them from Fort Dayton. This was one of the
most remarkable episodes in the history of the valley, and
the story is still fresh among the people of Herkimer

In October of this year occurred the last formidable in-
vasion of the Mohawk Valley during the war. The expe-
dition was organized at Buck Island, in the St. Lawrence
River, three miles below Cape Vincent, and was composed
of four companies of Johnson's regiment of " Royal Greens,"
Colonel John Butler's Rangers, under command of Major
Walter N. Butler, his son, and 200 Indians, estimated by
some at a total of 1000 men. J The whole force was under
command of Major Ross. Their route was by Oswego and
Oneida Lake, and thence through the forests to Warrens-
bush, near the junction of the Mohawk and Schoharie Kill,
which place they reached on the 24th of October, and fell
upon it like a clap of thunder from a clear sky.

They destroyed the settlements on the south side of the
river and then crossed over and moved to Johnstown. As
soon as the news reached Colonel Willett at Canajoharic,
he sent orders for all the militia and levies in the variou.s
posts and settlements to join- him without a moment's
delay. With his garrison he marched to Fort Hunter, but
found that the enemy were already at Johnstown. Willett
had with liim 416 men, and the river being too deep to
ford they were obliged to ferry across, which, on account of
the lack of necessary boats, it required half the day to

The enemy moved slowly, destroying property, killing
and capturing the inhabitants, and leaving a desolate waste
behind them. On their way to Johnstown they encoun-
tered a scouting-party under a Lieutenant Saulkill, which

J A memorandum found in Major Butler's pocket after his death
gave his force as follows : Eighth Regiment, 25 men ; Thirty-Fourth
Regiment, 100; Eighty-Fourth Regiment (Highlanders), 36; Sir
John's, 120; Lake's Independents, 40 ; Butler's Rangers, 150 ; Ya-
gers, 12; Indians, 130; total, 670 [Letter of Colonel Willett]. —



was fired upon and the lieutenant killed, but the party es-

Crossing the river with all possible dispatch. Colonel
Willett pushed on in pursuit. When within a short dis-
tance of the enemy, deeming it unsafe to risk an engage-
ment with their whole force in front, he detached Major
Rowley, of Massachusetts, with a small body of the militia
and about sixty levies from his own State, to make a
circuitous march and fall upon the rear of the enemy
simultaneously with his attack in front. Boldly ad-
vancing he deployed into line of battle, and attacked with
great spirit. Major Ross was driven from his position into
the neighboring wood, and everything was promising for
the Americans, when one of those sudden panics to which
militia are always liable, and which have so many times in
the history of this country rendered them worse than use-
less,* spread among them like a prairie-fire, and they fled
pell-mell from the field in spite of every effort of Colonel
Willett and his oiBcers to check them. They did not stop.
until they reached the stone church in the village. The
only field-piece was abandoned to the enemy, and the am-
munition-wagon blown up.

In the mean time Major Rowley emerged from the woods
in the rear of the enemy and came upon the field just at
the moment when Willett's militia broke and fled. He
pressed his attack with the utmost vigor, but was unfor-
tunately wounded in the ankle and taken from the field.
Colonel Willett, seeing that Rowley's small force alone was
holding the enemy in check, finally succeeded in rallying a
portion of the broken troops, with which he renewed the
battle. About dark the enemy broke and retreated a dis-
tance of six miles, taking refuge for the night on the top
of a mountain. After the retreat of the enemy. Colonel
Willett caused lights to be procured, and had the wounded
— friends and enemies alike — collected and attended to.
The loss of Colonel Willett's force in this affair was about
40, including wounded and prisoners. The loss of the
enemy was about 40 killed and about 50 taken prisoners.
Among the gallant ofiicers who distinguished themselves
was Captain Gardeuier, who fought so desperately and was
terribly wounded at Oriskany, four years before. The
Tyron County militia, to their great credit, behaved well
under Major Rowley. Knowing by prisoners taken that
Ross had left his bateaux at Oneida Lake, Willett sent a
detachment of troops to make a forced march and destroy
them. On the morning following the battle Colonel Wil-
lett marched his force to Stone Arabia, in order to inter-
cept Ross, but the latter avoided him by a march through
the woods to the north, when Willett again pushed forward,
on the 28th to German Flatts, where he learned that the
party who were sent to destroy the boats had returned with-
out performing their duty.

A scouting-party sent forward to observe the enemy re-
ported that they had taken the wilderness route to Ruck
Islandj and Colonel VVillett made immediate preparations.,
for a rapid pursuit, determined to strike them another blow
before he left them. On the route about 60 Oneida war-

*• Vide the battles of Camden and Guilford Court-IIouse in tbe Rev-
olution, Ilarmer's and St. Clair's defeats in 1790-91, and Sackot'a
Harbor and Niagara in tbe War of 1812-15.

riors had joined him, and he now pushed rapidly forward
with a choice body of about 400 of his best troops, who
were supplied with provisions for five days.

On the 29th the army took the i-oute up the West Canada
Creek, marching the whole day in a snow-storm, and halt-
ing at night in a thick wood on the Royal Grant. Think-
ing the army could not be far distant, Jacob Sammons was
sent forward with two OrjeWa Indians to reconnoitre. After
proceeding a short distance tracks were discovered in the
snow which the Indians pronounced fresh, and refused to
proceed farther ; but the intrepid Sammons kept on alone,
and soon came upon the encampment of the enemy. The
tr()ops had been kept under arms awaiting the return of
Sammons, with a view to a night attack ; but learning that
the enemy were well provided with bayonets, of which his
own force wtere quite ^destitute, Colonel Willett abandoned
tlie project and bivouacked where he then was.

He commenced the pursuit early in the morning, but the
enemy had moved at the same time, and it was not until
one o'clock in the afternoon that they were overtaken. It
proved to be a detachment of about forty men sent out fur
provisions. A sharp skirmish ensued, and the enemy were
dispersed with the loss of several killed and a number taken
prisoners. Among the latter was a Tory lieutenant named

Willett came up with the main body of the enemy at a
place called Jersey Field, on the left bank of the creek.
A running fight ensued, but the enemy made a very feeble
resistance, and attempted to retreat after the Indian fashion,
in single files at a trot. Late in the day, when crossing the
creek to the right bank. Major Walter Butler attempted to
rally his men and make a stand. A brisk engagement en-
sued between the parties upon opposite sides of the stream,
during which about twenty of the enemy were killed and
wounded, among whom was Major Butler, who is said to
have been wounded by an Oneida Indian. Tie warrior
then sprang across the creek and dispatched the wounded
Tory, and snatched his scalp from his head.j" The Oneidns,
who knew Butler, seeing he was dead, set up the scalp hal-
loo, and stripping the body of its uniform, pressed hotly
after the flying fugitives. The army rapidly followed, but
darkness setting in the colonel gave up the pursuit and en-
camped until morning. The enemy, however, by this time
thoroughly beaten and humiliated, kept on steadily through
the night, and though they had been four days in the wil-
derness, with only a half pound of horseflesh per man, yet
such was their fear of Willett that they traveled thirty miles
beibre they dared to encamp. There was still an unbroken
wilderness of eighty miles before them, and this they lyere
compelled to traverse without provisions or blankets in a
cold and stormy season of the year.

When the morning came it was deemed inexpedient to
make further pursuit, and the army leisurely returned to
their cantonments after one of the most successful campaigns
in the valley.

" The loss of the Americans in this pursuit was only one
man. That of the enemy was never known. In the lan-

t There are so many different accounts given concerning tbe deiith
of Major Duller, that Ihe facts are scarcely to be arrived at. There'
is no doubt, however, that he was killed in this affair. '



guage of Colonel Willott's official dispatches, ' the fieldii of
Johnstown, the bi"oo(is and rivers, the hills and mountains,
the deep and siloomy marshes through which they had to
pass, these only could tell ; and perhaps the officers who
detached them on the expedition.' "*

This disastrous campaign closed the military operations
in the northern frontiers for the year. The British and
Tory leaders had drawn the long bow once too often, and
the sliattcred weapon had fallen from their hands never
again to be lifted by them against the plundered and dis-
tressed inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley. The Tory
loaders in particular experienced the just results of their
inhuman and bloody treatment of their former neighbors
and friends. Walter N. Butler fell a victim to that barba-
rous mode of warfare which he had so often led and en-
couraged, and the prominent leaders- — the two Johnsons^
Colonel Dan. Claus, and Colonel John Butler — saw their
estates confiscated and disposed of to other and better men,
and they realized the truth of the poet's saying, that " time
at last sets all things even.''

The surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, in Oc-
tober, 1781, to the combined American and French armies,
in effect ended the war; but the British fleets and armies
were not withdrawn, and, although there were no military
operations of any magnitude attempted during the year
1782, yet Washington had maintained his army under
thorough discipline, prepared for any emergency, — hoping
for peace, but fully prepared for war.

Negotiations with a view to a. treaty of peace had been
commenced in the autumn of 1782, and a basis of agree-
ment, established at Paris on the 30tli of November, had
been signed by the comrai.ssioners of the United States and
Great Britain ; but these facts were not known to the Amer-
icans until late in the spring of 1783.

In view of a possible resumption of hostilities, it bad
been deemed advisable to attempt the capture of the British
works at Oswego. It was the central point from which the
various Indian nations were issued their supplies, and in
time of active military operations had been, since the days
of Frontenac, an important base of operations against the
frontiers of New York and Pennsylvania. With this point
in possession of the American army, Washington felt that
the desolating invasions of the Mohawk and Schoharie
valleys would be put a stop to, and he determined to gain
possession of it, if possible, before the opening of spring.

In looking over the field for a suitable officer to take the
command of so important an expedition, Washington hon-
ored his own judgment in conferring it upon the man
perhaps of all other.s the best fitted by character and ex-
perience to carry it to a successful termination, — Colonel
Marinus Willett.

Upon receiving his orders, Colonel Willett with the
utmost secrecy mustered his command at Fort Herkimer,
on the 8th of February, 1783, and immediately began his
march. On the niglit of the 9th the army crossed Oneida
Lake upon the ice, and arrived at the Oswego Falls at two
P.M. on the following day. Halting long enough at the
falls to construct the necessary ladders for scaling the para-

« Stone.


pet. Colonel Willett resumed his march, and at ten o'clock was within four miles of the fort.

An Oneida Indian acted as guide, and after marching
for two hours in the dense forest and seeing nothing of the
fort, it was discovered that in diverging from the river he
had lost his course. The snow was vefy deep, and when
they found out their situation it was too late to attempt a
surprise that night ; and as they could not remain so near
the works through the day without being discovered, and,
moreover, as Washington's express orders were not to at-
tempt the works unless they could be surprised, it was
found necessary to order a retreat. The march had been severe; many of the men had become disabled, and
one had been frozen to death, so intense was the cold.
Colonel Willett returned to Fort Rensselaer deeply cha-
grined at the result of the movement, and soon after pro-
ceeded to Albany, where he learned, to his great joy, of the
conclusion of peace and the establishment of American

In reply to Colonel Willett's official report of the expe-
dition Washington wrote him a highly complimentary letter,
exonerating him fi'om all blame, and closing with these
words :

" I cannot omit expressing to you the bigh sense I entertain of your
persevering exertions and zeal on tliis ex.pcdition, and bog you
to accept my warmest thanks on the occasion, and that you will be
pleased to communicate my gratitude to the office's and men who
acted under your command for the share they had in that service."

Thus ended the military operations of the Bevolution in
New York ; and now, after eight years of unparalleled dis-
asters, the dwellers in the Mohawk Valley saw the last of
barbarous war.

With the return of peace there was a disposition mani-
fested, at least by a part of the Tory clement, to return to
their former homes in the State. This fact becoming
known, called forth from the Whig inhabitants most em-
phatic expressions, which made it apparent that such a
movement would meet with determined opposition, and
that their presence would not be endured. The following
copies of the proceedings of meetings held by the people of
the Jlohawk and Canajoharic districts show the determi-
nation which existed to tolerate none of the Tory element
in their midst in the most emphatic and unmistakable

At a t>ieetinfj o/ the principal inhahitaitte of the Mohawk District, in
Tri/on County, Colonel Josiah Throop in the chail\

'' Taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of this
country relating to its situation, and the numbers that joined the
enemy from among us, whose brutal barbarities in their freo[uent visits
to their old neighbors are shocking to humanity to relate r

" They have murdered the peaceful husbandman and his lovely boys
about him, unarmed and defenseless in the field. They have, with a,
malicious pleasure, butchered the aged and in6rm ; they have wantonly
sported with the lives of helpless women and children ; numbers they
have scalped alive, shut them up in their houses and burnt them to death.
Several children, by the vigilance of their friends, have been snatched
from flaming buildings, and, though tomahawked and scalped, are
still living among us ; they have made more than three hundred widows,
and above two thousand orphans, in this county j they have killed
thousands of cattle and horses, that rotted in the field ; they have
burnt more than two million bushels of grain, many hundreds of
buildings, and vast stores of forage ; and now these merciless fiends
are creeping in among us again, to claim the privilege of fellow-citizens
and demand a restitution of their former estates; but can they leave



their infernal teiiipcvs behind them, and be safe or penceable neighbors ?
Or can the disconsolate widow nnd bereaved mother reconcile her
tender feelings to a free and -cheerful neighborhood with those who
inhumanly made her such?- JmpoBsille ! It is contra-ry to nature, the
first principle of which is self-preservation; it is contrary to the law
of nations, especially that nation which, for numberless reasons, we
should be. thought to pattern after. Since the accession of the House
of Hanover to the British throne five hundred and twenty peerages ,
in Scotland have been sunk, the Peers executed or fled, and their
estates confiscated to the Crown, for adbering to their former adminis-
tration after a new one was established- by law. It is contrary to the
eternal rule of reason and rectitadfe. If Britain employed them, let
Britain pay them! , We .will not.

" Therefore, Renolved unanimously, That all those who have gone off
to the enemy, or have been banished by any law of this State, or those
who we shall find tarried as spies and tools of the enemy, and encduraged
and harbored those who went away, shall not live in this district under
any pretence whatever; and as for those who have wa^shcd their faces
from Indian paint, and their hands from the innocent blood of our
dear ones, and have returned either openly or covertly, we hereby warn
them to leave this district before the 20th of June next, or tbey may
expect to feel the just resentment of an injured and detei-mined

" We likewise unanimously desire our brethren in the other districts of
this county to join with us to instruct our representatives not to consent
to the repealing' of any laws made for the safety of the State, against
treason or confiscation of traitors' estates, or to passing any new acts for
the return or restitution of Tories.
" By order of the Meeting,

"May 9,1783. "Josiah Throop, Chairman:'

At a meeting of the freeholders and inhabitants of Cana-
joharie district, in the County of Tryon, held at Fort Plain,
iu the same district, on Saturday, the 7th day of June,
1783, the following resolves were unanimously subscribed.
Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Clyde in the chair :

" Wherena, In the course of the late war, large numbers of the in-
habitants of this county, lost to every sense of the duty they owed to
their country, have joined the enemies of this State, and liave, in eon-
junction with the British troops, waged war on the people of this State;
while others, more abandoned, have remained among us, and have
harbored, aided, assisted/ and victualled the said British troops and
their adherents, and by their example and influence have encouraged
many'to desert the service of their country, and by insults and threats
have discouraged the virtuous citizens, thereby inducing a number to
abandon their estates and the defense of their country; and whereas,
the County of Tryon hath, in an especial manner, been exposed to the
continued inroads and incursions of the enemy, in which inroads and
incursions the most cruel murders, robberies, and depredations have
been committed that ever yet happened in this or any other country,
neither sex nor age being spared, insomuch that the most aged people
of each sex, and infants at their mothers' breasts, have inhumanly
been butchered; our buildings (the edifices dedicated to the service of
Almighty God not excepted) have been reduced to ashes ; our property
destroyed and carried away; our people carried through a distant
wilderness into captivity among savages (dear and' faithful allies of
the merciful and humane British !), where Very many still remain, and
have, by ill usage, been forced to enter into their service;

"And whereas, Through the blessings of God and the smiles of
indulgent Providence, the war has happily terminated, and the freedom
and independence of the United States been firmly established;

"And whereas, It is contrary to the interests of this country, as well
as contrary to the dictates of reason, that those persons who have,
through the course of an eight years' cruel war, been continually aid-
ing and assisting the British to destroy the liberties and freedom of
America, should now be permitted to return to, or remain in, this
county, and enjoy the blessings of those free governments established
at the expense of our blood and treasure, and which they, by every
unwarrantable means, hav.e been constantly laboring to destroy;

"Resolved, That we will not suflTer or permit any person or persons
whatsoever, who have, during the course of the late war, joined the
enemy of this State, or such person or persons remaining with us, and
who have any way aided, assisted, victualled, or harbored the enemy,

or such as have corresponded with them, to return to, or remain in,
this district.

" Resolced, That all other persons of disafl'ected or equivocal char-
acter, who have by their examples, insults, and threatenings occasioned
any desertions to the enemy, or have induced any of the virtuous citi-
zens of this county to abandon their habitations, whereby they were
brought to poverty and distress, and all such as during the late war
have been deemed dangerous, shall not be permitted to continue in
this district, or to return to it.

"Resolved, That all such persons now remaining in this district,
and'ooraprehended in either of the above resolutions, shall depart the
same within one month after the publication of thia ^

*' Resolved, That no person or persons, of any denominations what-
ever, shall be suffered to come and reside in this district, unlcs6 such
person or person? shall bring with them sufficient vouchers of their
moral characters, and of their full, entire, and unequivocal attachment
to the freedom and independence of the United States.

"Resolved, That we will, and hereby do, associate under all the ties
held sacred among men and Christians, to stand to, abide by, and carry
into fil IT effect and execution all and every the foregoing resolutions.

"Resolved, That this district does hereby instruct the members in
Senate and Assembly of this State, from this county, to the utmost of
their power to oppose the return of all such person or persons as are
comprehended within the sense and meaning of the above resolutions,

" Ordered, That the preceding votes and proceedings of this district
be signed b}' the chairman, and published in the New York Gazetteer.

"Samuel Clyde, Chairman."

As a further evidence of their loyalty and patriotism the
name of Tryon Couaty was changed, upon petition of the
citizens, on the 2d of April, 1784, to Montgomery County,
in honor of General Richard Montgomery, who fell in the
gallant attack upon Quebec, Dec. 31, 1775.

With the return of peace began the process of colonizing
the western lands, which has been in progress from tlie be-
ginning of the settlements on the Atlantic coast until the
present time.

" Westward the Star of Empire takes its way;
The four first acts already past,
The fifth shall close the drama with the day.
Time's noblest offspring is her last.''

The soldiers from New England, who had served in the
armies of Bradstreet, Amherst, Arnold, Clinton, and Sulli-
van, had noted well the beauty and fertility of the Mohawk
Valley and Western New York, and as soon as there was a
guaranty of peaceable occupation they were not slow to take
possession of the " land of .promise."'

Settlements were commenced in Oneida County, then a
part of Montgomery, as early as 1784, and others soon fol-
lowed, and the growth and prosperity of the country were
the special remark of travelers.

The following extracts are from the journal of a trip
through the State of New York, by Captain Charles Wil-
liamson, the agent of Sir William Pulteney and Governor
Hornby, who visited this region in 1792. , The captain
died of yellow fever at Havana, Cuba, in 1807. This jour-
nal is in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical
Society :

*' After leaving Schenectady I traveled over a most beautiful coun-
try eighty miles to Fort Schuyler (old" Fort Schuyler, the site of Utica),
where I forded the Mohawk. This extent was the scene of the British
and savage cruelty during the late war, and they did not cease while
anything remained to destroy. What a contrast now! Every house
and barn rebuilt, the pastures crowded with cattle, sheep, etc., and the
lap of Ceres full. I next passed through Wbitestown. It would appear
to you, my friend, on hearing the relation of events in this western
country, that the whole was fable j and if you were placed in 'Whites-


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 42 of 192)