History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Life and Times of
Sir William Johnson, Bart.,
by William L. Stone
Albany: J. Munsell, 78 State Street, 1865.
APPENDIX No 9.
Sir John Johnson.
SIR JOHN JOHNSON was born in 1742; and married, in the summer of 1773, Miss Mary Watts, daughter of John Watts of New York city. Of his early life not much is known. He was not as popular as his father, being less social, and less acquainted with human nature and the springs of human action. He accompanied his father on several of his warlike expeditions, however, and probably saw considerable service. Soon after the termination of the seven years war he was sent by his father (as related in the text) at the head of a small body of militia and Indians, to arrest Captain Bull, who was charged with stirring up a war among the Indian tribes, in which enterprise he was entirely successful.
On the death of Sir William Johnson, Sir John succeeded to his title and estates as well as to his post of major general of the militia;- but as the successor of his father he did not possess the same degree of moral power over the population of Tryon county, Indian or white, as had been exercised by him. They nevertheless derived essential aid from "Miss Molly," who was a woman of talents as well as tact, and possessing great influence among the Indians, who were her own people. Molly was in turn aided by the counsels and exertions of her brother, Joseph Thayendanegea, who had been much in the service of Sir William during the latter years of his life, and who, on the death of the Baronet, was advanced to the post of secretary of Guy Johnson. These gentlemen, however, (Sir John Johnson, Guy Johnson, and Colonel Claus) living in great splendor at and in the neighborhood of Johnstown, and thus allied with the family of a Mohawk sachem, were still enabled to exert a decided influence, especially among the Indians. They were likewise in close official and political alliance with Colonel John Butler, an opulent and influential gentleman of that county and his son Walter N. Butler-names rendered memorable, if nothing more, by association with certain bloody transactions during the revolutionary war.
But notwithstanding all their influence-and no family had ever been regarded with greater deference by the surrounding population than that of the Johnsons-they were not long in discovering that the principles now openly avowed in Massachusetts, could not be confined within the limits of that colony, or even of Newfoundland; and Sir John now discovered, that although he could still count among his relations a large number of adherents, the leaven of civil liberty had nevertheless been more deeply at work than he had desired, or probably supposed. He therefore quietly began to make preparations for espousing actively-when the proper time should arrive-the cause of the crown. Accordingly he fortified Johnson Hall, and secure in the support of a large body of retainers, of the same political complexion as himself, watched his opportunity, Guy Johnson, however, was more open in his demonstrations; and it was not long before the patriots of Tryon county began to look more closely, and with greater assurance, to the deportment of Sir John, of whose designs they had from the first entertained strong suspicions On the seventh of September, 1775, the Whig committee of Tryon county wrote to the Provincial congress in-New York, denouncing his conduct and that of his associates -particularly the Highlanders, who, to the number of two hundred, were said to be gathered about him, and by whom the Whigs were daily scandalized, provoked and threatened." They added-"We have great suspicions, and are almost assured, that Sir John has a continual correspondence with Col. Guy Johnson and his party."
But the Tryon county committee were not satisfied with merely writing to the Provincial congress. They at once determined to probe the intentions of Sir John to the bottom. For this purpose, on the twenty-sixth of October, they addressed him the following letter:
"TRYON COUNTY COMMITTEE CHAMBER, Oct. 26, 1775.
"As we find particular reason to be convinced of your opinion in the questions hereafter expressed, we require you, that you'll please to oblige us with your sentiments thereupon in a few lines by our messengers, the bearers hereof, Messrs. Ebenezer Cox, James McMaster, and John James Klock, members of our committee.
"We want to know whether you will allow that the inhabitants of Johnstown and Kingsborough, may form themselves into companies, according to the regulations of our Continental congress, for the defence of our country's cause, and whether your honor would be ready himself to give his personal assistance to the same purpose,
"Also, whether you pretend a prerogative to our county courthouse and. gaol, and would hinder or interrupt the committee, to make use of the same public houses, to our want-and service in the common cause."
"We don't doubt you will comply with our reasonable requests, and therefore oblige,
"Your obedient and humble servants,
"By order of the committee,
"To the Honorable Sir John Johnson, Johnson Hall."
To this letter Sir John replied that he had never refused to allow the goal to be used for any lawful purpose; and that concerning himself, before he would sign any association, or lift his hand up against the king, he would rather his head should be cut off. He however, would not allow the committee to take possession of the goal, and they were obliged to fit up a private house as a temporary prison; while some of their prisoners were sent to Albany, and others as far as Hartford, for safe keeping.
Meanwhile Sir John continued his defensive operations, with a view, as it was believed, of throwing up strong fortifications around the baronial hall. His adherents were numerous, particularly among the Scotch Highlanders, by several hundred of whom he was surrounded; and reports became rife, that, in addition to these, the works he was ejecting were to be garrisoned by three hundred Indians, to be let loose upon the settlements as opportunities might occur.
Convinced at last of his hostile intentions, General Schuyler, who with Montgomery, had charge of the northern department wrote to him in January, 1776, a letter in which he stated, that having been informed that "designs of the most dangerous tendency to the lives and liberties of those who are opposed to the unconstitutional measures of the ministry, have been formed in a part of the county of Tryon, he was ordered to march a body of men into that county to contravene those dangerous designs." "Influenced, moreover," the letter added, "by motives of humanity, I wish to comply with my orders in a manner the most peaceable, that no blood may be shed. I therefore request that you will please to meet me to-morrow, at any place on my way to Johnstown, to which I propose then to march." To this letter Sir John returned an unsatisfactory reply; and a correspondence ensued between himself and General Schuyler, which resulted in his giving his parole of honor not to take up arms against America, and agreeing not to go to the westward of the German Flatts and Kingsland districts.
For some unexplained reason, however, Sir John did not observe the compact of neutrality, nor the obligations of his parole. Or if he kept himself within the letter, his conduct was such as to reawaken the suspicions of the people, and was considered by General Schuyler a virtual violation of the spirit of the parole he had given, to take no part against the colonies. In fact, the information received by General Schuyler convinced him that he was secretly instigating the Indians to hostilities, and was thus likely to produce much mischief on the frontiers. To prevent such a calamity, it was thought advisable by Schuyler to secure the person of Sir John, and once more to quell the rising spirit of disaffection in the neighborhood of Johnstown, especially among the Highlanders. For this purpose, in the month of May, 1776, Colonel Dayton, with a part of his regiment, then on its way to Canada, was dispatched by General Schuyler to prosecute this enterprise. There were, however, large numbers of loyalists In Albany, with whom Sir John was then and subsequently in close correspondence. It is therefore not surprising that he received timely notice of these preparations for his arrest, in anticipation of Dayton's arrival. Such was the fact; and, hastily collecting a large number of his tenants and others, disaffected towards the cause of the colonists, the Baronet was prepared for instant flight on the approach of the Continentals, This purpose was successfully executed. Colonel Dayton arrived at Johnstown in the evening, whereupon Sir John and his retainers immediately took to the woods by the way of the Sacandaga. Not knowing whether his loyalist friends were in possession of Lake Champlain or not, the fugitives dared not venture upon that route to Montreal; and Sir John was accordingly obliged to strike deeper into the forests between the head waters of the Hudson and the St. Lawrence. Having but a brief period of preparation for their flight, the party were but ill supplied for such a campaign. Their provisions were soon exhausted, their feet became sore from traveling, and several of their number were left from time to time in the wilderness, to be picked up and brought in afterward by the Indians sent out for that purpose.
After nineteen days of severe hardship, the Baronet and his partisans arrived in Montreal in a pitiable condition-having encountered all of suffering that it seemed possible for man to endure. Such was the precipitation of his departure from the parental hall, and such the deficiency of his means of transportation, that an iron chest, containing the most valuable of his family papers, was hastily buried in the garden.(1) The family Bible, containing the only record
1 Numerous are the traditions afloat in the Mohawk valley concerning the recovery of this iron chest. The main facts, however, divested of their romance, appear to be these Late in the autumn of 1778, General Haldimand, at the request of Sir John, sent a party of between forty and fifty men privately to Johnstown to dig up and carry the chest away. The expedition was successful; but the chest not being sufficiently tight to prevent the influence of dampness from the earth, the papers had, many of them, become moldy, rotten and illegible, when taken up. The information respecting this expedition was derived in the spring following from a man named Helmer, who composed one of the party, and assisted in disinterring the chest. Helmer had fled to Canada with Sir John. While retiring from Johnstown with the chest, he injured his ankle; and by reason of his lameness, went back to his father's house, where he remained concealed until spring, when he was arrested, tried as a spy, and sentenced to death-chiefly on his own admissions to the court. This information in regard to the recovery of the iron chest, is derived from the minutes of the court martial, among the papers of General Clinton.
of the marriage of his father and mother, and of course the only written evidence of his own legitimacy, was also left behind.(1) of the papers as were found, were examined by Colonel Dayton, in compliance with his orders; "and Lady Johnson was removed to Albany, where she was retained as a kind of hostage for the peaceable conduct of her husband. She wrote to General Washington complaining of this detention, and asking his interference for her release; but the commander-in-chief left the matter with General. Schuyler and the Albany committee."(2)
1 After the confiscation of the property of Sir John, the furniture of the Hall was sold at auction at Fort Hunter. The late lieutenant governor of New York, John Tayler, purchased several articles of furniture, and among other things the Bible mentioned in the text. Perceiving that it contained the family record, which might be of great value to Sir John, Mr. Tayler wrote a civil note to Sir John, offering its restoration. Some time afterward a messenger from the Baronet called for the Bible, whose conduct was so rude as to give offence. "I have come for Sir William's Bible," said he, "and there are the four guineas which it cost." The Bible was delivered, and the runner was asked what message Sir John had sent. The reply was-"Pay four guineas, and take the book!"-Letter of John Tayler Cooper (grandson of the lieutenant governor) to the late William L. Stone.
2 In the course of the next year (1777), it was discovered that Lady Johnson was in active and frequent communication with her husband, and that the facilities derived from confidential agents and her powerful connections, enabled her to keep the enemy on either side, in New York and Canada, correctly advised, not only of the movements and designs of each other but likewise of the situation of American affairs. Under these circumstances, the council, by a formal resolution, ordered and enforced her removal from that part of the country. Sir John, greatly exasperated at the measure, availed himself of a flag to admonish the mover of the resolution, Mr. John Tayler, that should the chances of war throw that gentleman into his possession, he should be instantly delivered over to the fury of the savages. Tho reply of the councillor was characteristic of the man: "If Mr. Tayler should be so fortunate as to have Sir John Johnson in his power, he should most assuredly be treated as a gentleman." Several attempts were subsequently made by the enemy, probably under the direc tion of Sir John, to make a captive of that gentleman, but they were all unsuccessful.
Sir John was immediately commissioned a colonel in the British service, and raised a command of two battalions, composed of those who accompanied him in hiss flight, and other American loyalists who subsequently followed their example. They were called the Royal Greens. In the month of January, 1777, he found his way into New York, then is possession of the British forces. From that period he became not only one of the most active, but one of the bitterest foes of his own countrymen of any who were engaged in that contest-and repeatedly the scourge of his own former neighbors. He was unquestionably a loyalist from principle, else he would scarcely have hazarded, as he did, and ultimately lost, domains larger and fairer than probably ever belonged to a single proprietor in America, William Penn only excepted. But the immediate cause of his breaking his pledge of honor is not known. Perhaps he never intended to keep it; but unexplained as it ever has been, the act has always been regarded as a stain upon the Baronet's character. It was held as such by the Provincial congress of New York, as will be seen by the annexed extract from a letter addressed by that body to General Washington immediately after his flight: "We apprehend no doubt can exist whether the affair of Sir John Johnson is within your immediate cognizance. He held a commission as brigadier general of the militia and, it is said, another commission as major general. That he hath shamefully broken his parole is evident, but whether it would be more proper to have him returned or exchanged, is entirely in your excellency's prudence.''
Anxious to serve the cause which he had espoused, Sir John, with his regiment of Royal Greens joined, in the summer of 1777, the expedition of Lieutenant Colonel St. Ledger, against Fort Schuyler, and was present at the memorable siege of that post. The successful defence of the fort by Colonel Gansevoort, and the defeat of the royal forces at Oriskany by General Herkimer, need not here be detailed. It is sufficient to say that Sir John's first attempt to serve the cause of the crown in a military capacity was a failure, and on the appearance of Arnold to the relief of the besieged, St. Ledger and Sir John, with their shattered forces, retreated into Canada, the laughing-stock of their Indian allies.(1)
1 For a detailed account of the siege of Fort Schuyler, and the battle of Oriskany, see Stone's Life of Brant, Vol. I.
Mortified at his failure, and burning with hatred against those of his former neighbors who espoused the side of the colonies, Sir John made two incursions upon the Mohawk valley during the remainder of the war. His first blow was as sudden as it was unexpected. On Sunday, the 21st of May, 1780, he entered the north part of Johnstown at the head of five hundred men, composed of some British troops, a detachment of his own regiment of Royal Greens, and about two hundred Indians and Tories. Sir John had penetrated the country by way of Lake Champlain to Crown Point, and thence through the woods by way of Crane mountain (in the present town of Thurman, in Warren county), to the Sacandaga river; and so entirely unawares had he stolen upon the sleeping inhabitants, that he arrived in the heart of the country undiscovered, except by the resident loyalists, who were probably in the secret. Before he reached the old baronial hall at Johnstown-the home of his youth, and for the recovery of which he made every exertion that courage and enterprise could put forth - Sir John divided his forces into two detachments, leading one in person, in the first instance, directly to the Hall, and thence through the village of Johnstown, while the other was sent through a more eastern settlement to strike the Mohawk river at or below Tribe's Hill, whence it was directed to sweep up the river through the ancient Dutch village of Caughnawaga to the Cayadutta creek at which place a junction was to be formed with Sir John himself. This disposition of his forces was made at the still hour of midnight a time when the inhabitants were not only buried in slumber, but wholly unsuspicious of approaching danger. What officer was in command of the eastern division is not known, but it was one of the most stealthy and murderous expeditions, murderous in its character, though but few were killed, and the most disgraceful, too, that marked the progress of the war in that region. During the night-march of this division, and before reaching the river, they attacked the house of Mr. Lodowick Putnam, who, together with his son, was killed and scalped. The house of a Mr. Stevens was then assailed and burnt, and its owner killed. Arriving at Tribe's Hill, they murdered three men by the names of Hansen, Platts, and Aldridge. Hansen, who was a captain of militia, was killed by an Indian to whom he had formerly shown great kindness, and who had in return expressed much gratitude. The houses of all, it is believed, were plundered before the application of the torch. Proceeding toward Caughnawaga, about dawn, they arrived at the house of Colonel Visscher - occupied at the time by himself, his mother, and his two brothers. It was immediately assailed. Alarmed at the sounds without, the colonel instantly surmised the cause, and being armed, determined, with his brothers, to defend the house to the last. They fought bravely for a time, but the odds were so fearfully against them that the house was soon carried by storm. The three brothers were instantly stricken down and scalped, and the torch applied to the house. Having thus completed their work, the enemy proceeded on their way up the river. Fortunately, however, the colonel himself was only wounded. But grievously wounded as he was, he succeeded in removing the mangled bodies of his two brothers from the house before the burning timbers fell in. His own wounds were dressed, and he lived many years afterward. Mrs. Visscher, his aged mother, was also severely wounded by being knocked on the head by the hatchet of an Indian, but she also survived. The slaughter along the Mohawk, to the village of Caughnawaga, would have been greater, but for the alertness of Major Van Vrank, who, eluding the enemy, ran ahead and gave the alarm, thus enabling many of the inhabitants to fly across the river.
Meantime Sir John proceeded with his division through the village of Johnstown, stopping before it was yet light at what was once his own hall, where he made two prisoners. Directing his course for the confluence of the Cayadutta with the Mohawk, Sir John arrived at the residence of Sampson Sammons, a staunch Whig. The eldest of Mr. Sammons's sons was then the lessee of the Johnson farm at the Hall, which had been sold by the committee of sequestrations, and which he was then cultivating; and Thomas, the youngest, had risen at an unwonted hour in order to feed his horses, and go over to the Hall to work with his brother. As he passed out of the house a hand was laid upon his shoulder, with the words- - "You are my prisoner!" In such perfect stillness had the enemy approached, that not a sound of a footstep was heard, until the younger Sammons was thus arrested, and the house immediately surrounded. One of the officers, with several soldiers, instantly entered the house, and ordered the family to get up, and surrender themselves as prisoners. Two other sons, Jacob and Frederick, who were in bed in the second story, sprang upon their feet immediately, and seized their arms. The officer, who was a Tory, and acquainted with the family, called to them by name, and promised quarter on condition of their surrender. Jacob inquired whether there were Indians with them, adding, that if there were, he and his brother would not be taken alive. On being assured to the contrary, the brothers descended the stairs and surrendered. The females were not taken as prisoners, but the father and sons were directed to make ready to march forthwith, and the house having been thoroughly ransacked for plunder, Sir John, with his troops and prisoners, proceeded to the river at Caughnawaga. The whole army now set their faces westward, traversing the Mohawk valley several miles, burning every building not owned by a loyalist, killing sheep and black cattle, and taking all the horses that could be found for their own use. Returning again to Caughnawaga, the torch was applied to every building, excepting the church; a number of prisoners were made, and several persons killed. Nine aged men were slain in the course of this march, of whom four were upwards of eighty. From Caughnawaga Sir John retraced his steps to Johnstown, passing the premises of Mr. Sammons, where the work of destruction was completed by firing all the buildings, leaving the females of the family houseless, and taking away the seven horses which were in the stables.
On the arrival of Sir John back to the homestead, in the afternoon, he halted upon the adjacent grounds for several hours; establishing his own quarters in the hall of his father. The prisoners were collected in an open field, strongly guarded, but not in a confined space; and while reposing thus, the Tory families of the town came in large numbers to see their friends and relatives, who for the most part constituted the white troops of the invading army.
The immediate object of this raid by Sir John was to procure his plate, which had been buried at the time of his flight from the Hall, and not recovered with the iron chest. The treasure was not indeed buried with the chest, (as many have believed) but in the cellar, and the place of deposit was confided to a faithful slave. While Sir John was in the Hall, in the afternoon, the slave, assisted by four soldiers, disinterred the silver, which filled two barrels, brought it to the Baronet and laid it down at his feet.(1) It was then distributed among about forty soldiers, who placed it in their
1 This faithful domestic had lived long with Sir William Johnson, who was so much attached to him that he caused him to tie baptized by his own name, William. When the estate was placed in the hands of Sammons by the committee, William was sold, and Sammons was the purchaser. He lived with him until retaken by Sir John, but never gave the least hint either as to the burial of the iron chest, or the plate, although both had been hidden in the earth by him.
knapsacks, a quartermaster taking an account of the names of the soldiers, and the articles confided to each-by whom it was carried to Montreal. The raid, however, was one of the most indefensible aggressions upon an unarmed and slumbering people, which stain the annals of the British arms. As the commanding officer, Sir John is himself to be held responsible in a general sense. How far he was directly and specially responsible for the midnight murders committed by his barbarians, red and white, is a question which may, perhaps, bear a somewhat different shade. Still, from the success which attended the expedition, and the unaccountable inaction, of the people against him, it is sufficiently obvious that he might have recovered his plate without lighting up his path by the conflagration of his neighbors' houses, or without staining his skirts with innocent blood. But the most remarkable circumstances attending this expedition are, that the inhabitants were so completely taken by surprise, and that Sir John was so entirely unopposed in his advance on the morning of the twenty-second, and altogether unmolested on his retreat. The inhabitants who had so often proved themselves brave, appear to have been not only surprised, but panic-stricken. True, as already observed, before Sir John began his return march, the militia had begun to gather at the village, a mile distant from the Hall. They were led by Colonel John Harper, who was beyond doubt a very brave man. With him was also Colonel Volkert Veeder. But they were not strong enough to engage the enemy; and when a rumor came that the enemy exceeded seven hundred men, Colonels Harper and Veeder marched back to the river, and Sir John with many prisoners and much booty, together with twenty of his Negro slaves, retired unmolested. On the first rumor of this raid, Governor Clinton hastened with some militia to Lake George and Ticonderoga, with a view of intercepting Sir John. But his efforts were of no avail; the invaders escaped-taking to their bateaux, probably at Crown Point, whence they proceeded down the lake to St. John's. The captives were thence transferred to the fortress of Chamblee.
But the desire of Sir John for vengeance was not yet satiated. Accordingly, late in the same year (1780), another and yet more extensive expedition, both as to the numbers engaged and the object to be accomplished, was planned and carried into execution The Indian portion of this expedition was chiefly collected at under his auspices, and that of Joseph Brant, and the famous Seneca warrior, the Corn Planter.
Tioga Point, whence they ascended the Susquehanna, where a junction was formed with Sir John, whose forces consisted, besides Mohawks, of three companies of his own regiment of Greens, one company of German Jagers, a detachment of two hundred men from Butler's rangers, and one company of British regulars, under the immediate command of Captain Richard Duncan, the son of an opulent gentleman residing, previous to the war, in the neighborhood of Schenectady. The troops of Sir John were collected at Lachine, near Montreal, whence they ascended the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario and Oswego. From this point they crossed the country to the Susquehanna, where they were joined by the Indians and Tories from Tioga. Sir John had with him two small mortars and a brass three-pounder, called a grass-hopper, from the circumstance of its being mounted upon iron legs instead of wheels. These pieces of ordnance were carried through the woods upon pack horses. Every soldier and every Indian was provided with eighty rounds of cartridges.
The course of the invaders in number about two thousand men, was along the eastern branch of the Susquehanna to its source, and thence across to the head of the Schoharie-kill, for the purpose of making thorough work in the destruction of the continuous chain of settlements through that beautiful valley to its junction with the Mohawk. The enemy had designed to keep the movement a profound secret, until proclaimed by his actual presence. Two of the Oneidas in their service, however, having deserted, frustrated that design by giving information of their approach to the settlements. Whether from weariness of continual alarms, or from ignorance or doubt as to the quarter where the blow was to be struck, or from criminal negligence, cannot be told; but it is certain that the surprise was as complete as the success of the campaign was discreditable to those who did not prevent it.
The plan of Sir John and Captain Brant was to enter the valley by night, pass, if possible, the upper fort unobserved, and then, by silently destroying the intervening settlements, attack the middle fort at Middleburgh early in the morning. This fort was garrisoned by about one hundred and fifty state troops, called three months men, exclusive of some fifty militia-men, the whole under the command of Major Woolsey,(1) who, from all accounts, appears to have been an inefficient officer, and by some writers has been represented
1 Manuscript statement of Phillip Graft, in the author's possession.
as the most miserable of poltroons.(1) The design of passing the upper fort unperceived was, in part, successful; nor was the enemy's approach to the middle fortress discovered until just at break of day, on the morning of the 16th of October, when a sentinel, named Philip Graft, standing upon the parapet of a mud wall, discovered a fire kindling in some buildings not more than a quarter of a mile distant. Calling to the sergeant of the guard, he communicated the discovery through him to the commanding officer. The drums at once beat to arms, and Major Woolsey requested forty volunteers to sally forth and discover the cause of the alarm. Every man on duty promptly responded to the invitation, and the complement was thereupon counted off from the right, and sent out in charge of Lieutenant Spencer. The little band proceeded with alacrity in the direction of the burning buildings, until they suddenly encountered the enemy's advance. Three shots were exchanged, when Spencer retreated, and brought his detachment back into the fort without the loss of a man. (2) At this moment the concerted signal of three guns from the upper fort came rolling down the gorge of the mountain, from which it was evident that the enemy had passed that fortress without molesting it. A proper degree of vigilance, however, ought certainly to have enabled the sentinels of that garrison to observe the advance of the invading army, instead of merely catching a glimpse of its rear. The moment the enemy had thus been discovered, front and rear, concealment of his approach being no longer possible, the roch was indiscriminately applied to such houses and barns as came in his way. The season had been bountiful, the rich alluvial bottoms of the Schoharie Kill producing an unusually abundant harvest that year. The barns were therefore well stored with the earlier grains, while the fields were yet heavily burdened with the autumnal crops. But the husbandmen in the neighborhood, or those lodging for greater security in the little apology for a fortress, looked abroad at sunrise to behold the produce of their industry in flames.
Soon after sunrise the main forces of the enemy had arrived, and
1 "Woolsey's presence of mind forsook him in the hour of danger. He concealed himself at first -with the women and children in the house, and when driven out by the ridicule of his new associates, he crawled round the intrenchments on his hands and knees, amid the jeers and bravos of the militia, who felt their courage revive as their laughter was excited by the cowardice of their major."-Campbell's Annals.
2 Manuscript statement of Phillip Graft.
the fort was completely invested. A column of troops, with the pieces of light artillery heretofore mentioned, passed round the northeast side of the fort, and planted their guns upon an eminence commanding the American works. An officer with a flag was now dispatched toward the garrison, and from the moment he was seen, an order was given to cease firing. All was silent until he had approached to within the distance of a fair rifle shot, when the reader's old acquaintance, Murphy, recently of Morgan's rifle corps, but now making war on his own responsibility, expressed a determination to shoot down the officer by whom the flag was borne. He was instantly ordered by the officers of the regular troops to forbear. But the militia irregulars encouraged him to persist in his mutinous determination. He did so; but for once his rifle was untrue; and the flag-officer immediately faced about and retired to his own ranks.
Sir John thereupon opened his artillery upon the fort, while the Indians and rangers kept up a brisk fire of musketry-both without much effect. The enemy's field pieces were probably of too small caliber for the distance, and the shells were thrown with so little skill, for the most part, as either to fall short, or fly over the works, or to explode in the air. Two shells, however, fell upon the roof of the house within the fort, one of which was precipitated down into a room occupied by two sick women. It sank into a feather bed, and exploded, but without inflicting farther injury. Fire was communicated to the roof of the building by the other shell, and was extinguished with a single pail of water carried up and applied by Philip Graft. Unfortunately the garrison was unable to return the fire with spirit, for the want of powder. The regular troops had only a few rounds each, and the militia were but little better provided in that respect. Messengers had been dispatched to Albany on the preceding day for ammunition, and also for reinforcements; but neither had yet been received, go that the fort was but ill prepared for protracted or efficient resistance. But of this destitution the enemy was of course ignorant; and the shooting at his flag-officer may have been, and probably was construed by Sir John as evidence of a determination to make no terms. Expecting a desperate resistance, therefore, the Baronet may, from that circumstance, have proceeded with greater caution.
It was indeed a singular siege. The enemy, spreading over the whole of the little plain, were now occupied in feeble attacks upon the fort, and now dispersing in small detachments to plunder another farm house and burn another corn stack. There was one large barn, situated near the fort, and around which stood a circle of stacks of wheat. These the enemy attempted several times to fire, but Lieutenant Spencer sallied forth with his little band of forty, and so gallantly protected the property, that the enemy reluctantly abandoned his design upon that point. Spencer was fired upon briskly in this sortie, but lost only one of his men.
In the course of the forenoon, another flag was dispatched toward the fort by Sir John, which Murphy again determined to shoot down the moment the officer came within range of his trusty rifle. Major Woolsey and the officers interposed, but the militia again rallied round Murphy; and although one of the officers drew his sword, and threatened to run the offender through if he persisted, yet the rifleman coolly replied that he had no confidence in the commanding officer, who he believed intended to surrender the fort; that, if taken, he knew well what his own fate would be, and he would not be taken alive. As the flag approached, therefore, he fired again, but happily without effect; and the flag officer once more returned to the headquarters of Sir John.(1) When the officers of the regular troops remonstrated against such a barbarous violation of the usages of honorable war, the militia soldiers replied they were dealing with a foe who paid no regard to such usages; and however strictly they might observe the rules of war and of etiquette themselves, the besiegers would be the last men to exhibit a corresponding course of conduct in the event of their success. The wailings of plundered and murdered families without the fort, and the columns of smoke and flame then ascending to the heavens, afforded ample testimony of the truth of their position. "The savages, and their companions, the Tories, still more savage than they, had shown no respect to age, sex, or condition; and it was not without force that the question was repeated, are we bound to exercise a forbearance totally unreciprocated by the enemy?" " Besides," it was added, "let us show that we will neither take nor give quarters; and the enemy, discovering our desperation, will most likely withdraw."(2)
The desultory battle was again renewed, small parties of the garrison occasionally watching opportunities to sally forth and do what mischief they could to the enemy, retreating within the gates
1 Statement of Philip Graft.
2 The Sexagenary.
again when likely to be borne down by superior numbers. Sir John perceiving at length that neither shot nor shells made any impression upon the garrison, formed his disciplined troops under shelter of a small building more immediately in the neighborhood of the fort, and prepared for an attempt to carry it by assault. A flag again approached, and Murphy brought up his rifle to fire upon it the third time. He was admonished, as before, to desist, and an effort was made to arrest him. But he was a universal favorite, and the soldiers would not allow the procedure. A white flag was then ordered to be raised from the fort, but Murphy threatened instant death to any one who obeyed the direction; and as the enemy's flag continued to approach, he was again preparing his piece, when an officer once more interposed. Captain Reghtmeyer, of the militia, standing by the side of Murphy, gave him the order to fire. The continental officer made a demonstration toward Reghtmeyer, by attempting to draw his sword; but immediately desisted as the latter clubbed his fusee, and gave an impressive motion with its breech, of an import not to be misunderstood; whereupon the major stepped back, and there the matter ended.(1) The officer bearing the flag, having been thus a third time repulsed, Sir John convened a council of war, and after a brief consultation, abandoned the siege, and proceeded on his vandal march down the valley. The reason of his hasty change of purpose has never been known. Some have asserted that a pretended loyalist gave the Baronet an exaggerated account of the strength of the garrison and its means of resistance.(2) Others have said that rumors of approaching reinforcements induced him to hasten forward, lest his projected march of desolation should be interrupted. But it is likely that the repeated violations of the flag had created an impression that such an indomitable garrison might not prudently be engaged steel to steel and hand to hand, by assailants not to be relied upon with much confidence in such emergencies.
The march of the invaders was rapid in the direction of Fort Hunter, at the confluence of the Schohariekill with the Mohawk river, in the course of which they destroyed the buildings and produce of every agricultural description.(3) On arriving in the vicinity
1 The Sexagenary.
3 The destruction of grain was so great as to threaten the most alarming consequences, in respect to the forming of magazines for the public service at the north. But for that event the settlement of Schoharie, alone, would have delivered eighty thousand bushels of grain.-Letter of Washington to the President of Congress, Nov. 7, 1780.
of the lower fort at Old Schoharie, Sir John divided his forces the regulars continuing down on the bank of the creek to the left of the fort, while the Indians skirted the meadows half a mile distant on the right. Having thus gained the north side of the fort, they made a stand for a brief space of time, and a few shots were interchanged. Some sharp shooters having been stationed in the tower of the church, the enemy brought one of their field-pieces to bear upon it. A single shot only struck, which lodged in the cornice, and a discharge of grape from the fort drove the invaders back,(1) whereupon their march was resumed and continued to Fort Hunter, at which place they arrived in the night without interruption. In their course the whole valley was laid in ruins. The houses and barns were burnt, the horses and cattle killed or taken, and those of the inhabitants who were not safely within the walls of their little fortifications, were either killed or carried into captivity. Not a building, known by the Indians and Tories to belong to a Whig, was saved. Sir John had ordered his forces to spare the church at the upper fort, but his mandate was disobeyed, and the structure was laid in ashes. The houses of the loyalists were passed unmolested, but exasperated by the destruction of their own habitations, the Whigs soon caused these to be numbered in the common lot.(2) Thus was the whole valley of the Schohariekill made desolate.
The loss of the Americans at the forts was very trifling. Only two were killed, and one wounded, at the middle fort, and none at the lower. But of the unprotected inhabitants, numbers according to some accounts, one hundred were killed. There were some individual occurrences during the day, moreover, which are worthy of being specially noted. It happened early in the morning, that John Vrooman and two of his neighbors were upon a scout in the woods, about eight miles from the fort, when they discovered an Indian. Vrooman fired, and the Indian fell. At the same instant, another Indian was discovered through the bushes, who was also brought down by one of Vrooman's companions. A third savage was now seen, but as Vrooman's third companion hesitated about firing, Vrooman himself snatched his rifle from him, and brought the warrior also to the ground. At the same instant, for it was all the work of a moment-up rose from the ground a group of
1 The Indians spared one house, from the consideration that it had formerly been occupied at one of their treaties.
2 Campbell's Annals.
Indians and Tones, who set upon them with a terrible yell. Vrooman and his companions fled in different directions at the top of their speed, and succeeded, by reason of their wind and bottom, and their zig zag flights, in making their escape. It was noon when the former reached his own home,-only to behold his house in flames. His wife and her mother were made captives by an Indian named Seth Hendrick, who had formerly resided in Schoharie; but they were released and sent back on the following day, by Captain Brant, together with a letter written upon birch bark, explaining his reason for allowing their return.(1)
One of the farmers, on that day, while engaged with his boys in unloading a wagon of grain at the barn, hearing a shriek, looked about, and saw a party of Indians and Tories between himself and the house. "The enemy, my boys!" said the father, and sprang from the wagon, but in attempting to leap the fence, a rifle ball brought him dead upon the spot. The shriek had proceeded from his wife, who, in coming from the garden, had discovered the savages, and screamed to give the alarm. She was struck down by a tomahawk. Her little son; five years old, who had been playing about the wagon, ran up to his mother, in an agony of grief, as she lay weltering in blood, and was knocked on the head, and left dead by the side of his parent. The two other boys were carried away into Canada, and did not return until after the war.2
1 The Sexagenary. The Vroomans were an extensive family in the Schoharie settlements, and were severe sufferers. In the last preceding chapter but one, the boastings of Becraft, who had murdered one entire family of that name, have been noted. During the present expedition, the following persons, among others, were murdered, viz: Tunis Vrooman, his wife and Son ; while at the same time Ephraim Vrooman and his two sons, Bartholomew and Josias, John Vrooman, Martin Vrooman, Bartholomew Vrooman, Jun., Simon Vrooman, his wife and his son Jacob, were taken prisoners and carried to Canada.-Giles F. Yates.
2 The Sexagenary. "Ephraim Vrooman himself was carried away by Seth Hendrick, who treated him with much kindness by the way. There were two or three other Indians in the immediate party with Seth. These, before they arrived at their place of destination, grew tired of their prisoner, and proposed to dispatch him. Mr. Vrooman overheard the conversation, Which was conducted in a whisper, and repeated it to Hendrick. Hendrick assured him, in the most positive manner, that not a hair of his head should be touched, and gave his companions a severe reprimand for their ungenerous conspiracy. After the termination of the revolutionary contest, Hendrick paid Mr. Vrooman a visit, and apologized for his conduct during the war, in the strong metaphorical language of his nation. The tomahawk, said he, is used only in war ; in time of peace it is buried-it cuts down the sturdy oak as well as the tender vine ; but I (laying his hand on Mr. V's shoulder,) saved the oak."- Giles F. Yates.
The family of Ephraim Vrooman was also particularly unfortunate. He was at work in the field when he first discovered a straggling party of the enemy approaching. He started at full speed for his house, in order to obtain his arms, and sell his life as dearly as possible. But in climbing a fence he was seized, and taken prisoner. His wife, in endeavoring to escape by flight, was shot dead before his eyes. As she fell, her little daughter, aged eleven years, ran up, and cast herself down by the side of her dying parent, as clinging to her for protection, when an Indian came up, and added to the agony of the father and the crimes of the day, by crushing her head with a stone.(1)
There was an aged man in the middle fort who performed a bold exploit. He was the owner of a mill about two miles distant, at which his son had passed the night. Knowing that some one or more of the enemy's plundering parties would assuredly visit the mill, at the instant Lieutenant Spencer's party encountered Sir John's advance guard in the morning, the old man sallied out and hastened to the rescue of his son. Mounting each a horse to return to the fort, they found it already invested by the enemy on their arrival. Nothing daunted, however, they passed within a hundred yards of the enemy at full speed, dashed up to the rear of the fort, and were received in safety.(2)
There was another incident transpiring at the fort which stands in happy contrast with the conduct of the commanding major. The females within the fortress are said to have displayed a degree of heroism worthy of commendation and of all praise. Being well provided with arms, they were determined to use them in case of an attempt to carry the works by storm. One of them, an interesting young woman, whose name yet lives in story among her own mountains, perceiving, as she thought, symptoms of fear in a soldier who had been ordered to a well without the works, and within range, of the enemy's fire, for water, snatched the bucket from his hands, and ran forth for it herself. Without changing color, or giving the slightest evidence of fear, she drew and brought bucket after bucket to the thirsty soldiers, and providentially escaped without injury.(3)
1 The Sexagenary.
2 The Sexagenary.
Sir John remained in the neighborhood of Fort Hunter on the seventeenth, continuing the work of destruction in every possible direction. On the evening of that day Captain Duncan crossed the river with three companies of the Greens and some Indians. On the morning of the eighteenth, all that had been left standing of Caughnawaga at the time of the irruption of Sir John in the preceding spring, and all that had been rebuilt, was ruthlessly destroyed by fire. A simultaneous and most desolating march up the river was then commenced by Sir John and the main body of his forces on the south side of the river, and by Captain Duncan's division on the north. As at Schoharie, the march of both was one of entire devastation. Rapine and plunder were the order of the day, and both shores of the Mohawk were lighted up by the conflagration of every thing combustible; while the panic-stricken inhabitants only escaped slaughter or captivity by flight-they knew not whither.(1) Conspicuous among the sufferers was Major Jelles Fonda, a faithful and confidential officer under the father of Sir John; but who, having turned his back upon the royal cause, was singled out as a special and signal mark of vengeance. His mansion at The Nose, in the town of Palatine, was destroyed, together with property to the amount of sixty thousand dollars. The major was himself absent.(2) His wife escaped under the curtain of a thick fog, and made her way on foot, twenty-six miles, to Schenectady.(3) Sir John encamped with his forces on the night of the eighteenth nearly opposite, or rather above, the Nose. On the following morning he crossed the river to the north side, at Keeder's rifts. The greater part of the motley army continued its progress directly up the river, laying waste the country as before. A detachment of one hundred and fifty men was, however, dispatched from Keeder's rifts against the small stockade called Fort Paris, in Stone Arabia, some two or three miles back from the river, north of Palatine. But, after marching about two miles, the main body also wheeled off to the right, to assist in attacking the fort. The work of devastation was continued, also, in this direction, as at other places.
The small fort just mentioned was at this time in command of Colonel Brown, with a garrison of one hundred and thirty men. An unfortunate occurrence induced him to leave his defences, and resulted in his discomfiture and fall. The circumstances, were
1 Manuscript, of Major Thomas Sammons.
2 In the State Senate, the legislature being then in session at Poughkeepsie..
3 Antiquarian researches, by Giles F. Yates.
these; the moment tidings that Sir John had broken into the settlements of the Schoharie reached Albany, General Robert Van Rensselaer, of Claverack, at the head of the Claverack, Albany, and Schenectady militia, pushed on by forced marches to encounter him, accompanied by Governor Clinton. Having arrived at Caughnawaga on the eighteenth, and having likewise ascertained that Fort Paris was to be assaulted on the morning of the nineteenth, Van Rensselaer dispatched orders to Colonel Brown to march out and check the advance of the enemy, while at the same time he would be ready to fall upon his rear. Brown, faithful to the hour designated, sallied forth, and gave Sir John battle near the site of a former work, called Fort Keyser. But General Van Rensselaer's advance had been impeded, so that no diversion was created in Brown's favor; and his forces were too feeble to withstand the enemy, or even to check his progress. Colonel Brown fell gallantly at the head of his little division, of which from forty to forty-five were also slain. The remainder of his troops sought safety in flight.
After the fall of Colonel Brown, and the defeat of his troops, Sir John dispersed his forces in small bands, to the distance of five or six miles in all directions, to pillage and destroy. Late in the afternoon he reunited his troops, and leaving Stone Arabia a desert, marched back to the river road, east of Caroga creek. The detachment of Captain Duncan having come up, Sir John again moved toward the west. There was a small defence not far from the mouth of the creek, called Fox's fort. Avoiding this work by diverging from the road to the margin of the river on the left, Sir John continued his course three miles farther, to a place called Klock's Field, where, from the fatigue of his troops, and the over burdens of provisions and plunder with which they were laden, it became necessary to halt.
General Van Rensselaer was now close in pursuit of Sir John, with a strong force. Indeed, he ought to have overtaken him in the early part of the day, since he had encamped the night before on the south side of the river, at Van Epp's, nearly opposite Caughnawaga, while Sir John himself was encamped opposite the Nose, only two or three miles farther up the river. Sir John's troops, moreover, were exhausted by forced marches, active service and heavy knapsacks, while those of Van Rensselaer were fresh in the field. On the morning of the same day, while continuing his march on the south side of the river, Van Rensselaer was joined by Captain M'Kean, with some eighty volunteers, together with a strong body of Oneida warriors, led by their principal chief, Louis Atayataronghta, who, as stated in a former chapter, had been commissioned a lieutenant colonel by congress. With these additions, the command of General Van Rensselaer numbered about fifteen hundred - a force in every way superior to that of the enemy.
Sir John had stationed a guard of forty men at the ford to dispute its passage. On approaching this point, General Van Rensselaer halted, and did not again advance until the guard of the enemy had been withdrawn. Continuing his march, still upon the south side of the river, white the enemy was actively engaged in the work of death and destruction on the north, Van Rensselaer arrived opposite the battle ground where Brown had fallen, before the firing had ceased, and while the savage war-whoop was yet resounding. This was at 11 o'clock in the morning, and the Americans came to a halt about three miles below Caroga creek, still on the south side. While there, some of the fugitives from Colonel Brown's regiment came running down, and jumping into the river, forded it without difficulty. As they came to the south bank, the general inquired whence they came. One of them, a militia officer named Van Allen, replied that they had escaped from Brown's battle. "How has it gone?" "Colonel Brown is killed with many of his men. Are you not going there?" "I am not acquainted with the fording-place," said the general. He was answered that there was no difficulty in the case. The general then inquired of Van Allen if he would return as a pilot, and the reply was promptly in the affirmative. Hereupon Captain M'Kean and the Oneida chief led their respective commands through the river to the north side, expecting the main army immediately to follow. At this moment Colonel Dubois, of the State Levies, rode up to the general, who immediately mounted his horse, and instead of crossing the river, accompanied the colonel to Fort Plain, some distance above, to dinner, as it was understood. Meantime the baggage wagons were driven into the river, to serve in part as a bridge for the main body of Van Rensselaer's forces, and they commenced crossing the stream in single files. The passage in this way was not effected until four o'clock in the afternoon, at which time the general returned and joined them, just as the last man had crossed over. Governor Clinton remained at the fort. As the general arrived at the water's edge, Colonel Louis, as the Oneida chieftain was called, shook his sword at him, and denounced him as a Tory. Arrived on the north side, Colonel William Harper took the liberty of remonstrating with the general at what he conceived to be a great and unnecessary delay, attended with a needless loss of life and property, on the part of the inhabitants who had been suffered thus long to remain unprotected. From that moment Van Rensselaer moved with due expedition. The troops were set in motion, and marched in regular order, in three divisions, with the exception of the Oneida warriors and the volunteers under M'Kean, who regulated their own movements as they pleased-showing no disposition, however, to lag behind. The advance was led by Colonel Morgan Lewis.
Anticipating that he should be compelled to receive an attack, Sir John had made his dispositions accordingly. His regular troops, Butler's rangers, and the Tories less regularly organized, were posted on a small alluvial plain, partly encompassed by a sweeping bend of the river. A slight breastwork had been hastily thrown across the neck of the little peninsula thus formed, for the protection of his troops, and the Indians, under Thayendanegea, were secreted among the thick scrub oaks covering the table land of a few feet elevation yet farther north. A detachment of General Yagers supported the Indians.1
It was near the close of the day when Van Rensselaer arrived, and the battle was immediately commenced in the open field. Two of the advancing divisions of state troops, forming the left, were directed against the regular forces of Sir John on the flats, commencing their firing from a great distance, with small arms only the field pieces not having been taken across the river. Colonel Dubois commanded the extreme right, which was so far extended that he had no enemies to encounter. Next to him were M'Kean's volunteers and the Oneida Indians, whose duty it was to attack Thayendanegea's Indians and the Yagers. They were supported by a small corps of infantry, commanded by Colonel Morgan Lewis. The American left was commanded by Colonel Cuyler, of Albany. Sir John's right was formed of a company of regular troops. His own regiment of Greens composed the center, its left resting upon the ambuscading Indians. The latter first sounded the war-whoop, which was promptly answered by the Oneidas. Both parties eagerly rushed forward, and the attack, for the instant, was mutually impetuous. Dubois, though too far extended, brought his regiment speedily to the support of M'Kean's volunteers, who were following
1 These Yagers were a sort of rifle corps-using short rifles.
up the attack of the Oneidas. The hostile Indians manifested a disposition to stand for a few moments; but Dubois had no sooner charged closely upon them than they fled with precipitation to the fording place near the upper Indian castle, about two miles above- crossing the road in their flight, and throwing themselves in the rear of the Greens as a cover. The Mohawk chief was wounded in the heel, but not so badly as to prevent his escape.
The enemy's regular troops and rangers, however, fought with Spirit although Sir John himself was reported by some to have fled with the Indians.(1) On the flight of the Indians, Major Van Benschoten, of Dubois's regiment, hastened to the general for permission to pursue the flying enemy. It was just twilight; and the indications were not to be mistaken that the heat portion of the enemy's forces were in confusion, and on the point of being conquered. The disappointment was therefore great, when, instead of allowing a pursuit of the Indians, or charging upon the feeble breastwork on the flats, and thus finishing the battle, General Van Rensselaer ordered his forces to retire for the night. His object was to obtain a better position for a bivouac, and to renew and complete the battle in the morning - for which purpose he fell back nearly three miles, to Fox's fort. His troops were not only disappointed, but highly incensed at this order, believing that the contest might have been victoriously ended in a very few minutes. Indeed, the brave Colonel Louis, of the Oneidas, together with Colonel Clyde and Captain M'Kean, refused to retreat, but sheltered themselves in the adjacent buildings-hanging upon the enemy's lines several hours, and making some prisoners. In the course of the evening, Clyde, with a handful of Schoharie militia, succeeded in capturing one of the enemy's field-pieces. The Americans were still more chagrined on learning from one of the prisoners that the troops of Sir John were on the point of capitulating at the very moment of Van Rensselaer's order to retreat, And from the fact that the river was alike too rapid and too deep, where it curved round the battle field; to admit of an escape in that direction, no doubt can be entertained that the enemy had been entirely within their power. But it was
l Major Thomas Sammons, from whose manuscripts the author has chiefly drawn the facts of this portion of the narrative-i. e. after the arrival of General Van Rensselaer at Van Epps's - is positive in his declarations that the British commander was among the first to flee. Other accounts speak differently Major Sammons was in the battle, among the volunteers of M'Kean.
now too late. The golden opportunity had been lost. On the morrow's dawn there was no enemy in the field to encounter. Under cover of darkness the Royal Greens and Butler's Rangers had followed the example of the Indians and made good their escape.
Louis, with his warriors, and M'Kean with his volunteers, crossed the river early in the morning, in pursuit. General Van Rensselaer also arrived on the battle ground between 8 and 9 o'clock, for the purpose of completing the work of the preceding day. While he was crossing the river and preparing to follow on, some of M'Kean's volunteers, who were waiting for the main army, in strolling about came upon a little block house, in which they found nine of the enemy who had been made prisoners during the night. One of the party making the discovery was Thomas Sammons, and among the prisoners was a Tory who had been his near neighbor in Johnstown. On being asked how they came there, this man, whose name was Peter Gass, replied-"Why, I am ashamed to tell. Last night, after the battle, we crossed the river. It was dark. We heard the word, 'lay down your arms.' Some of us did so. We were taken, nine of us, and marched into this little fort by seven militia men. We formed the rear of three hundred of Johnson's Greens, who were running promiscuously through and over one another. I thought General Van Rensselaer'a whole army was upon us. Why did you not take us prisoners yesterday, after Sir John ran off with the Indians and left us? We wanted to surrender."
When Sir John fled from the field with the Indians and Yagers, he doubtless supposed all was lost. He laid his course direct for the Onondaga lake, where his boats had been concealed, pursuing the main road, and making only a slight deviation to the south of the German Flats, to avoid the forts at that place. His Greens and Rangers followed closely upon his heels, and overtook him at Oneida. Van Rensselaer pressed forward in pursuit, with all his forces, as far as Fort Herkimer, where he was overtaken by Governor Clinton, who did not, however, interfere with the command. Louis and M'Kean were now pushed forward in advance, with orders to overtake the fugitive army, if possible, and engage them-Van Rensselaer promising to continue his march with all possible rapidity, and be at hand to support them in the event of an engagement. On the next morning the advance struck the trail of Sir John, and took one of his Indians prisoner. Halting for a short time, Colonel Dubois came up, and urged them forward, repeating the assurances of the General near approach and sure support. The march of the advance w"s then resumed, but they had not proceeded far before they came upon the enemy's deserted encampment - the fires yet burning. The Oneida chief now shook his head, and refused to proceed another step until General Van Rensselaer should make his appearance. There was accordingly a halt for some time, during which a Doctor Allen arrived from the main army, informing the officers that the pursuit had already been abandoned by the General, who was four miles distant on his return march!
The expedition was of course at an end. But fortune had yet another favor in store for Sir John Johnson - to be won without the bloodshed that had attended his desolating course through the Mohawk Valley. Having ascertained where Sir John's boats were concealed, General Van Rensselaer had dispatched an express to Fort Schuyler, ordering Captain Vrooman, with a strong detachment, to hasten forward in advance of the enemy, and destroy them. Vrooman lost no time in attempting the execution of his orders; but one of his men falling sick, or feigning himself to be so, at Oneida, was left behind. Sir John soon afterward came up; and, being informed by the treacherous invalid of Vrooman's movement, Brant and his Indians, with a detachment of Butler's rangers, were hastened forward in pursuit. They came suddenly upon Vrooman and his troops while they were engaged at dinner, and every man was captured without firing a gun.(1)
The last obstacle to his escape having thus been removed, Sir John reached Oswego without molestation. By this third and most formidable irruption into the Mohawk country during the season, Sir John had completed its entire destruction above Schenectady- the principal settlement above the Little Falls having been sacked and burnt two years before. General Van Rensselaer has always been censured for his conduct in this expedition. Indeed his behavior was most extraordinary throughout. On the night before the battle of Klock's field, Sir John was not more than six miles in advance -having left Van Epps's just before dark, where Van Rensselaer arrived and encamped early in the evening; and it was obvious to all that no extraordinary share of energy was required to
1 Major Sammons; also statement of John More, yet living, who was one of Sir John's soldiers. According to the official returns of Sir John Johnson, this affair of the capture of Captain Vrooman and his detachment took place on the 23d of October, at a place called Canaghsioraga. Two captains and one lieutenant were taken, together with eight noncommissioned officers and forty-five privates. Three privates and one lieutenant were killed.
bring the enemy to an engagement, even before the encounter with Colonel Brown. Major Sammons, at the close of his account of the expedition, remarks with emphasis-"When my father's buildings were burnt, and my brothers taken prisoners, the pain I felt was not as great as at the conduct of General Robert Van Rensselaer." (1)
But Sir John's escape, after all, was rather a flight than a retreat; and had it not been for the capture of Vrooman's detachment, a most unexpected conquest, the visible trophies of his expedition would have been few and dearly purchased. Indubitable evidences were discovered by the pursuers that he was reduced to a most uncomfortable situation, and from the Baronet's own letter to General Haldimand it appears that there were many missing who it was hoped would find their way to Oswego or Niagara. General Haldimand wrote to his government that Sir John " had destroyed the settlements of Schoharie and Stone Arabia, and laid waste a great extent of country," which was most true. It was added:- "He had several engagements with the enemy, in which he came off victorious. In one of them, near Stone Arabia, he killed a Colonel Brown, a notorious and active rebel, with about one hundred officers and men." "I cannot finish without expressing to your lordship the perfect satisfaction which I have from the zeal, spirit, and activity with which Sir John Johnson has conducted this arduous enterprise."(2)
At the close of the revolution, Sir John, whose estates had been confiscated and sold by the Provincial congress, retired into Canada, receiving from the crown the appointment of "Superintendent and Inspector General of Indian affairs in British North America."
1 "With regard to the battle on Klock's farm, and the facts stated in these papers, I would say that I joined with Captain M'Kean as a volunteer, and met General Van Rensselaer on the south side of the river, opposite Caughnawaga, early in the morning ; and of my own knowledge I know most of the facts to be as they are stated. I staid with the volunteers after the battle, and held the conversation with the prisoners found in the little block house the next morning, as stated. I was with Captain Kean when he had orders to advance and overtake Sir John, and a short time after saw Doctor Allen, who came to inform us that Van Rensselaer was returning. With regard to the route of Sir John, I received my account from those of his own party who are now living, and men of undoubted veracity."-Note of Major Sammons-1836.
2 Letter of Sir Frederic Haldimand to Lord George Germaine, New Annual Register, 1781.
While holding this office, considerable dissatisfaction arose between the Indian tribes and the government of the United States upon a question of boundary - the former maintaining that the Ohio river was not to be crossed by the people of the latter. Great Britain, if she did not indeed secretly encourage this feeling, looked on with grim satisfaction at the prospect of a rupture between the Aborigines and the United States. Accordingly, Sir John wrote, in 1787, a letter to Joseph Brant, the tendency of which was to fan anew the embers of controversy, and plunge the Indians into another general war, an object which was despicable in itself, and unworthy alike of his position as a public officer, and of his character as a man. Brant, however, was too shrewd to commit himself irrevocably; and the troubles being finally adjusted, the great war captain of the Six Nations devoted the remainder of his life to the amelioration of his people.
Sir John was for a time a member of the legislative council in Canada. He was never governor of Canada, as has been incorrectly stated; nor did he even hold the office of administrator of the government, which, in the absence of the governor, was often temporarily held by leading men in the council. He visited England shortly before his death, which occurred at his residence in Montreal on the fourth of January 1830. He was succeeded in his title by his eldest surviving son, Adam Gordon. Sir John was the last Provincial grandmaster for the upper district of the colony of New York.
to James F. Morrison for loaning his book for the purpose of putting it on
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