History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Life of Joseph Brant-Thayendanegea
Indian Wars of the American Revolution
by William L.
Stone. Volume II
& Co., 1851.
Gloomy opening of the year-Distresses of the army-Revolt of the Pennsylvania line-Negotiations-Revolt of the New Jersey troops-Arnold's expedition to Virginia-Progress of the war at the South-Distresses at the North-Active movements of Brant in the Mohawk country-Meditated attack upon the Oneidas-Letter of Colonel Claus-Destitution of the country-Letter of General Schuyler-Destruction of Fort Schuyler by fire and flood-Suspicions of design- General Clinton's correspondence respecting that catastrophe-Hostile indications in the North-Indications of extensive treachery-Arrest of the disaffected at Ballston and its vicinity-Bearing of Washington in adversity-Colonel Willett appointed to the command of the Mohawk District-Slender means at his disposal-Burning of Currie-town-Battle of Durlagh-Defeat of the Indians-Death of Captain M'Kean-Irruption into Palatine-Willett's letter to Washington- Willett's influence upon the broken militia-Battle near the German Flatts- Death of Solomon Woodworth-Story of John Christian Shell-Invasion of Ulster County by Indians and Tories under Captain Cauldwell-Another case of individual bravery-Incidents on the Kentucky border.
sun of the new year was veiled by a cloud of deeper gloom than had previously
darkened the prospects of the American arms at any period of the contest.
The whole army, in all its divisions, at the North and in the South, was suffering
severely both for clothing and provisions. Indeed, the accumulated sufferings
and privations of " the army constitute a large and interesting portion
of the history of the war of American independence. At the date now under
review, Winter, without much lessening the toils of the soldiers, was adding
to their sufferings. They were perpetually on the point of starving, were
often entirely without food, were exposed without " proper clothing to
the rigors of the season; and had, moreover, " now served almost twelve
months without pay." * Such was the general fact. The Pennsylvania troops
had still farther grievances of which to complain. They had been enlisted
in ambiguous terms-to " serve three years, or during the war." At
the expiration of the stipulated period, " three years," the soldier
claimed his discharge, while the officers insisted upon holding him to the
other condition of the contract. The consequence was great dissatisfaction,
increased, of course, by the much higher bounties subsequently paid for enlistments.
The Pennsylvania line, consisting of six regiments, was cantoned at Morristown,
under the immediate command of Briga-
* Marshall's Life of Washington. 10
General Wayne. So long had they been brooding over their wrongs, so intense
had become their sufferings, and so discouraging were the prospects of remedy
or redress, that the discontents which, down to the last day of the preceding
year, had only been nurtured, broke out into open mutiny on the evening of
the next. The spirit of insubordination was from the first so decided, and
the evidences of revolt were so general, as at once to jeopard the cause.
An effort was made to quell the mutiny, in the course of which several of
the turbulent soldiers were wounded, as also were some of the officers, who
were endeavoring to repress the disorder. One of the officers, Captain Billings,
was killed. But the cause of the revolt was too deeply seated, and the disaffection
too extensive, to be easily overcome. Even Wayne himself, the favorite of
the Pennsylvanians, was without power. Drawing a pistol and threatening one
of the most turbulent of the revolters, a bayonet was presented at his own
bosom.* In a word, the authority of the commissioned officers was at an end.
The non-commissioned officers were generally engaged in the mutiny, and one
of their number being appointed Commander-in-chief, they moved off in the
direction of Philadelphia, with their arms and six pieces of artillery-deaf
to the arguments, the entreaties, and the utmost efforts of their officers
to change their purposes,+ As a last resort, Wayne and his officers attempted
to divide them, but without effect. Those who at first appeared reluctant,
were soon persuaded to unite with their comrades, to march upon Philadelphia
and demand a redress of their wrongs at the doors of Congress.
+ Letter of Washington to President Weare of New Hampshire. This was a letter urging upon the government of New Hampshire to make some exertion to relieve the distresses of the army. A circular was sent to all the New England States to the same effect, and confided to General Knox, as a special agent to enforce the appeal. To President Weare, the Commander-in-chief said, plainly ;-"I give it decidedly as my opinion, that it is in vain to think an army can be kept together much longer under such a variety of sufferings as ours has experienced; and that unless some immediate and spirited measures are adopted to furnish at least three months' pay to the troops in money, which will be of some value to them, and at the same time provide ways and means to clothe and feed them better than they have been, the worst that can befall us may be expected." The Legislatures of Massachusetts and New Hampshire nobly responded to the call, and immediately voted a gratuity of twenty-four dollars in hard money to each of the non-commissioned officers and soldiers belonging to those States, who were engaged to serve during the war.-Sparks.
The number of the revolters was about thirteen hundred-a loss that would have been severe of itself. But the most unpleasant apprehensions arose from the danger, not only that the spirit of insubordination might spread to other corps of the army, but that the mutineers might fall away in a body to the enemy, who would, of course, lose not a moment in availing himself of such a diversion in his favor. Coercive measures having failed to bring the revolters back to the path of duty, Wayne, with his principal officers, determined to follow close upon their rear, and after the first transports of their passion should subside, try what virtue might be found in the arts of persuasion. The General overtook them at night in the neighborhood of Middlebrook, but being advised in their present temper not to venture among them, he invited a deputation of one sergeant from each regiment to meet him in consultation. The deliberations were amicable, and the General suggested a mode of obtaining redress of their grievances, which satisfied the delegates, who, on retiring, promised to exert their influence in bringing the men back to duty. But the attempt was ineffectual; and on the day following the mutineers marched to Princeton-the few who were well disposed and willing to separate from the mutineers, continuing with the majority at the request of their officers; in the hope that their exertions might " moderate the violence of " their leaders, and check the contagion of their example."
The crisis was most critical. The Commander-in-chief, on receiving the first advices of the revolt, was disposed to repair at once to the camp of the mutineers; but on advisement and reflection, this course was relinquished. The complaints of the Pennsylvania line, 'in regard to destitution of provisions and clothing, were common to the whole army, and it was doubtful how far the contagion of disaffection might already have spread. Nor could the Commander-in-chief, whose head-quarters were at New Windsor, venture upon a visit to the mutineers, without taking with him a sufficient force to compel obedience to his commands should the exertion of force become necessary. But a sufficient body of troops for such an object could not be spared without leaving the fortresses in the Highlands too weak to resist an attack from Sir Henry Clinton, who would be sure to strike upon those important works at the first favorable moment. The river being free from ice, Sir Henry would possess every facility for such a movement the instant the back of Washington should be turned upon the North. Under all the circumstances of the case, therefore, the Commander-in-chief remained at his post, neglecting, however, no measure of justice within his power to heal the discontents, or of precaution to prevent their farther extension.
Meantime the mutineers remained several days at Princeton,refusing to proceed to the Delaware and cross into Pennsylvania, while Sir Henry Clinton made every disposition to avail himself of the revolt, and lost not a moment in despatching emissaries to their camp, with tempting offers to induce them to join the armies of the King. But, mutineers as they were, they nevertheless spurned the proposition ; and retaining the emissaries in custody, handed the communications, of which they were the bearers, over to General Wayne. Though in rebellion against their officers, the soldiers were nevertheless indignant at the idea of turning their arms, as Arnold had done, against their own country; and those about them who were well disposed, availed themselves of the occasion, with much address, to impress upon their minds the magnitude of the insult conveyed in propositions made to them in the character of traitors.*
of the revolt had no sooner reached Philadelphia, than a committee was appointed
by Congress, consisting of General Sullivan,+ and two other gentlemen, in
conjunction with President Reed on behalf of the Council of Pennsylvania,
to meet the revolters, and attempt to bring them back to reason. The demands
of the mutineers were exorbitant, but were in the end acceded to with some
unimportant modifications. They then moved forward to Trenton, and in the
end, although better things were anticipated from the stipulations agreed
upon, the Pennsylvania line was almost entirely disbanded. A voluntary performance,
by Congress, of much less than was yielded
*Five days after their arrival among the mutineers, viz. on the 11th of January, Sir Henry's emissaries were tried by a court-martial, and executed.
+ Very soon after he left the army, at the close of the Seneca campaign, General Sullivan was elected to Congress, of which body he was an efficient and patriotic member. Afterward, in the years 1786, 1787, and 1783, he was President of New Hampshire, in which situation, by his vigorous exertions, he quelled the spirit of insurrection which exhibited itself at the time of the troubles with Shays in Massachusetts. It 1782 he was appointed a District Judge. He died in 1795, aged 54.
by the committee, would have averted the evil, and saved the division.*
The success of the Pennsylvania mutineers induced the New Jersey line, then stationed at Pompton, to follow the bad example ; and on the night of the 20th of January a large portion of the brigade rose in arms. Their claims were precisely the same as those which had been yielded to the Pennsylvanians. By this time, however, the Commander-in-chief had satisfied himself that he could rely upon the eastern troops; and, chagrined as he had been by the result of the Pennsylvania revolt, he determined, not only that nothing more should be yielded to the spirit of insubordination, but that such an example should be made as would operate as a check to the like proceedings in future. A strong detachment of troops was accordingly led against the insurgents by General Howe, with instructions to make no terms whatsoever while they continued in a state of resistance. General Howe was farther instructed to seize a few of the ringleaders, and execute them on the spot. The orders were promptly complied with, and the insurrection was crushed at a blow. The mutinous brigade returned to its duty; and such vigorous measures were taken by the States to supply the wants of the army, as effectually checked the progress of discontent.+ But it was only by the strong process of impressment that those supplies could be wrung from the people, whose discontents, though less immediately alarming, were, nevertheless, as great as had been those of the army.
first active demonstration of Sir Henry Clinton, on the opening of the new
year, was the expedition against Virginia, under the conduct of General Arnold.
The arch-traitor had, in fact, sailed from New-York toward the close of December,
but he did not enter the Capes of Virginia until the beginning of January-landing
at Westover on the 5th. He marched to
* Although the Pennsylvania line was thus dissolved, the evil was surmountedmuch sooner than had been anticipated. Before the close of January, Wayne wrote to Washington that the disbanded soldiers were " as impatient of liberty as they had been of service, and that they were as importunate to be re-enlisted as they had been to be discharged." A reclaimed and formidable line was the result in the Spring.
+ Sir Henry Clinton endeavored to avail himself of this New Jersey insurrection, in like manner as he had attempted to tamper with the Pennsylvanians. But his emissary, who was in the American interest, delivered his papers to the first American officer with whom he met.
Richmond, and after some trifling skirmishes on the way, destroyed the stores at that place, and also at Westham; whereupon he retired to Norfolk. This was a mere predatory expedition, attended by no important result. Farther south, events were continually occurring of greater moment. General Greene having been assigned to the command of that department, after the signal discomfiture of Gates, affairs soon wore a brighter aspect. The loss of the battle of Camden, a few months before, was balanced, and, in its moral effect, more than balanced, by the decisive victory over Tarleton, achieved by General Morgan at the Cowpens on the 17th of January. And although Greene was defeated at Guilford on the 15th of March, yet the victory was too dearly won by Earl Cornwallis to render it a just occasion of triumph. So likewise in the repulse of Greene by Lord Rawdon at Camden, owing to the misconduct of the militia, the British commander was nevertheless so roughly handled that, although he received a reinforcement in the course of the following night,he deemed it expedient to destroy the town, and retire farther down the Santee. But these apparent disadvantages -were amply compensated by the masterly manoeuvres of Greene, and the brilliant succession of victories over the smaller works and detachments of the enemy. In these latter affairs, Forts Watkinson, Orangeburgh, Motte, Silver Bluff, Granby, and Cornwallis were successively taken, and the enemy was compelled to evacuate other forts. Lord Rawdon was likewise obliged to fall back upon Charleston, while Cornwallis was pursuing a doubtful march into Virginia. The great disadvantage labored under by General Greene, was the necessity of depending, in a great measure upon the militia-not having regular troops sufficient to cope with the veterans from Europe. But, though not always victorious in battle, he was invariably so in the results. And his masterly movements proved him far in advance of any of his antagonists, in all the requisites of an able commander.
But while events thus propitious to the American arms were occurring at the South, the aspect of affairs, as has already been seen, was sadly discouraging at the North. In addition to the destitution of the main army, causing the insurrections in the Pennsylvania and New-Jersey lines, so wretchedly supplied were the small garrisons from Albany northward and westward, both in respect to food and clothing, that it was only with the utmost difficulty that the officers could keep the soldiers upon duty. Ravaged as the whole Mohawk country had been the preceding' Summer and Autumn, no supplies could be drawn from the diminished and impoverished inhabitants remaining in those settlements ; while it was equally difficult to procure supplies, either at Albany or below, or eastwardly beyond that city. It is painful to read the private correspondence of General Schuyler, and Governor and General Clinton upon this subject. Orders for impressing provisions were freely issued, particularly against the disaffected portion of the people, who had greatly increased in numbers in that section of the country; but some of the supplies thus taken were returned, from the knowledge of General Schuyler that they had nothing more for their own support. Meantime, emboldened by his successes the preceding year, the enemy hung around the skirts of the settlements, approaching almost beneath the very guns of the forts, cutting off all communication with them, unless by means of strong escorts, so that it was difficult and often impossible even to throw such scanty supplies into the garrisons as could be obtained.
The Oneidas having been driven from their country the preceding year, even the slight barrier against irruptions from the more western tribes, who were all hostile, into the Mohawk country, afforded by that slender people, was gone. On the 15th of January, the scouts of Thayendanegea appeared openly ill the German Flatts, and attacked some of the inhabitants. During the months of February and March,'Brant was hovering about the Mohawk, ready to spring upon every load of supplies destined for Forts Plain, Dayton, and Schuyler, not too strongly guarded, and cutting off every straggling soldier or in habitant so unfortunate as to fall within his grasp.
On the 6th of March, Major Nicholas Fish wrote to General Clinton, from Schenectady, informing him that a party of fifteen of Colonel Van Cortlandt's regiment, at Fort Schuyler, had fallen into the hands of Brant's Indians; and on the 2d of April, in moving to the neighborhood of that fort, to cut off another escort of supplies, the same lynx-eyed chieftain made prisoners of another detachment from that garrison of sixteen men. The difficulty of transporting the provisions, however, the unbeaten snow lying to a great depth, had so greatly retarded the progress of the scouts, that the intrepid warrior was disappointed in this tempted to strike too soon.
But the hunted Oneidas, notwithstanding the neutrality of the greater part of them, were not altogether safe in their new position near Schenectady. It seems to have chafed both Brant and his employers, that a single tribe of Indians had been detached from their influence or service; and their destruction was again seriously meditated, with the sanction of Sir Frederick Haldimand, as will more fully appear by the annexed letter from Colonel Daniel Clans, the brother-in-law of Sir John Johnson, to Captain Brant.
CLAUS TO CAPTAIN BRANT.
" Montreal, 3d March, 1781.
" DEAR JOSEPH,
" Captain John Odeserundiye, about a month ago, showed me a letter he received from you, with a proposal to him about the Oneidas, telling me he had answered you that he would join you with his party about the 20th of this month, desiring me at the same time to keep it a secret from the Mohawk Indians and others, for fear of being made public; he then asked me where the Oneidas now lived, which then I could not tell him; but since that I was informed that the rebels had posted themselves at a place called Palmerstown, about twelve or fifteen miles west of Saraghtoga, of which I acquainted His Excellency General Haldimand, together with your intentions and plan; whereupon I received His Excellency's answer enjoining the utmost secrecy to me, and which I hereby give you in the words of his letter, by Captain Mathews his secretary, and is the occasion of this express.
" His Excellency, General Haldimand, commands me to acquaint you that Captain Brant's intention meets highly with his approbation, and wishes to assist it; which might be done from this place in the following manner, but the General de sires you will keep it inviolably secret. He has for some time intended sending a party of about sixty chosen loyalists, under the command of Major Jessup, toward Fort Edward: this party might join Joseph against Palmerstown could he ascertain the time and place, which might be nearly done by calculating the time his express would take to come from Carleton Island-his march from thence, and Major Jessup's from Point au Fez, alias Nikadiyooni. If Joseph wishes to have this assistance, he must confer with Major Ross, who will send off an active express; otherwise, if Joseph should prefer aid from that quarter, Major Ross and Captain Robertson are directed to afford it; and, indeed, the delays and uncertainty of the parties joining punctually, incline the General to think it more eligible."
Should you upon this adopt the General's offer and opinion, and proceed from
Carleton Island to Palmerstown, which place I am sure several of Major Ross's
men and others at the island are well acquainted with, I wish you the aid
of Providence with all the success imaginable; in which case it will be one
of the most essential services you have rendered your king this war, and cannot
but by him be noticed and rewarded ; your return by Canada will be the shortest
and most eligible, and we shall be very happy to see you here. As I received
the General's letter this afternoon only, I could not speak with Odeserundiye,
but have wrote to him by express to let you know the precise lime he intends
meeting you. Mrs. Claus and all friends are well here, and salute you heartily;
also your sister and daughters; the others here are well, and desire their
love and duty. I hope she received the things safe which I sent lately by
Anna Adieu. God bless and prosper you.
" Yours most sincerely,
" DAN'L. CLAUS.
" P. S. The great advantage of setting out from Carleton Island, is the route, which is so unexpected a one, that there is hardly any doubt but you will surprise them, which is a great point gained. Whereas, were you to set out from Canada, there are so many friends, both whites and Indians, to the rebel cause, that you could not well get to the place undiscovered, which would not do so well. D" C."
Happily, from some cause now unknown, this project, so well devised, and apparently so near its maturity, Was never executed. The narrative is therefore resumed.
So great, and so universal, was the distress for provisions, already adverted to, that, on the 29th of March, General Clinton wrote to the Governor, " I am hourly under apprehensions that the remaining different posts occupied for the defence of the frontiers of this State, will be abandoned, and the country left open to the ravages of the enemy." Such continued suffering of course produced disaffection in this department also ; and the greatest possible prudence was required, on the part of the officers, to prevent desertions of whole bodies. So critical was their situation, that in a letter to the Governor, of May 3d, General Clinton mentions the fact, that a small scout, commanded by a corporal, in the neighborhood of Fort George, having captured a party of the enemy, " with a packet, had been bribed to " release them for a guinea each and two silk handkerchiefs." Still worse than this was the fact that the General was afraid to proceed openly to punish the delinquency. On the 5th General Clinton again wrote to the Governor-" From the present appearance,! am convinced that the troops will abandon the frontier. It is absurd to suppose they can or will exist under the present circumstances. However, let what will be the consequences, I have nothing to reproach myself with. I have repeatedly called for assistance from every quarter, but could obtain none." On the 8th of May, General Schuyler, writing rom Saratoga, said-" I wrote you this morning, since which, finding the troops exceedingly uneasy, Colonel Van Vechten and I turned out each one of the best cattle we had; the meat proved better than was expected, but the soldiers still continue troublesome ; they have hung part of it on a pole with a red flag above a white one, and some of them hold very alarming conversation. I dread the consequences, as they can so easily join the enemy. If a body of nine-months men were here, it would probably deter the others from going off to the northward, [the enemy meaning,] if they should have such an intendon."
Great blame was imputed to Congress, and likewise to the State governments, for allowing the commissariat to come to such a deplorable pass. The resources of the country were known to be abundant for the comfortable sustenance of a much larger army than was at that time in the field; but the efficient action of Congress was fettered by its want of power. The States, jealous of their own sovereignty, had withholden from the central government powers which were essential to the vigorous prosecution of the war, while it was but seldom that they could be brought into a simultaneous and harmonious exertion of those powers themselves. Hence the frequent and keen distresses of the army, and the complicated embarrassments under which the officers were compelled to struggle during the whole war. Still, the blame did not rest wholly with the States. There were jealousies, and heart-burnings, and intrigues, in the Congresses of that day, as in later times; and their conduct was often the subject of bitter complaint in the letters of the Commander-in-chief. The following letter from General Schuyler bears hard upon the officers of the federal government, while at the same time it depicts the extreme destitution of the country at the north, at the period under consideration:-
SCHUYLER TO GENERAL CLINTON.
" Saratoga, May 13th, 1781.
" DEAR SIR,
" Your favor of the 8th instant, Captain Vernon delivered me last evening. The distress occasioned by the want of provisions in every quarter is truly alarming, but was the natural consequence of such a system as was adopted for supplying the army. It is probable, if we should be able to continue the war ten years longer, that our rulers will learn to conduct it with propriety and economy; at present they are certainly ignoramuses. Not a barrel of meat or fish is to be had in this quarter if an equal weight of silver was to be offered for it, and as there is not above a quarter of the flour or wheat sufficient for the use of the inhabitants, it would be needless to appoint persons here to impress those articles. I therefore return the blank warrants.
It is probable that some flour may be obtained in the neighborhood of Schaghticoke,
and 1 am certain that a very considerable quantity of both wheat and flour
is lodged in Albany. Major Lush could employ his assistant at the former place,
and he might impress all at the latter without much trouble. A small collection
of meat has been made at Stillwater for the troops here, but that is already
expended. If there is any beef at Richmond, or Barrington, I think it would
be well to send a party of nine-months men under an active spirited officer,
to impress a number of wagons at Kinderhook and Claverack, and to attend them
to the former places, and back again to the respective landings of the latter
on Hudson's river. If an opportunity comes, pray send me some paper, as this
is my last sheet. Captain Arson is not yet returned from Jessup's.
" I am, dear Sir,
" Yours sincerely, &c. &c.
" PH. SCHUYLER.
" Gen. Clinton."
It was, indeed, a trying situation for brave and patriotic officers to find themselves in command of troops, driven, by destitution, to the very point of going over to the enemy almost in a body. But another disheartening occurrence was at hand. The works of Fort Schuyler, having become much out of repair, sustained great injury by the swelling of the waters in the early part of May. A council of officers was convened by Lt. Colonel Cochran, then in command, on the 12th of that month, to inquire and report what should be done in the premises. The council represented that more than two-thirds of the works had been broken down by the flood, and that the residue would be in the same condition in a very few days ; that the only remaining strength of the fort was to be found in the outside pickets on the glacis; and that the strength of the garrison was altogether inadequate to attempt to rebuild or repair the works, for which purpose five or six hundred men, with an engineer, artificers, &c. would be indispensably necessary.
But even if the works were not altogether indefensible on the 12th, they were rendered so on the following day, when all that had been spared by the deluge was destroyed by fire. Intelligence of this disaster was received by General Clinton at Albany, on the 16th, in a letter from Colonel Cochran- The following is an extract from General Clinton's reply to that officer, from which it appears a strong suspicion was entertained that the conflagration was the work of design-a suspicion that was never removed:-" I have just received your favors of the 13th and 14th instants, with the disagreeable intelligence contained in them. I cannot find words to express my surprise at the unexpected accident, or how a fire should break out at noonday, in a garrison where the troops could not possibly be absent, after a most violent and incessant rain of several days, and be permitted to do so much damage. I am sorry to say that the several circumstances which accompanied this melancholy affair, afford plausible ground for suspicion that it was not the effect of mere accident. I hope, when it comes to be examined in a closer point of view, such lights may be thrown upon it as will remove the suspicion, for which there appears too much reason. I have written to his Excellency on the subject, and requested his farther orders, which I expect in a few days; in the meantime I would request that you keep possession of the works, and endeavor to shelter the troops in the best manner possible."
In his letter to the Governor, enclosing the dispatches of Colonel Cochran, General Clinton suggested the expediency, under the circumstances of the case, of abandoning the post altogether, and falling back upon Fort Herkimer. On the following day he again wrote to his brother, renewing and re-enforcing this suggestion:-
CLINTON TO THE GOVERNOR.
"Albany, May l7th, 1781.
" Since my last to you of yesterday, another letter, by express, has been received from Fort Schuyler. Copies of the contents I enclose for your information, under cover, which I wish you to seal and forward to the Commander-in-chief. I informed you yesterday of the general prevailing opinion among the better part of the people in this quarter respecting Fort Schuyler. The recent loss of the barracks, and the ruinous situation of the works, have confirmed them in the propriety and even necessity of removing it to the German Flatts near Fort Herkimer, where they are disposed to afford every assistance in their power to build a formidable work, confident that it will be able to afford more protection, not only in that particular quarter, but also to the whole western frontier in general. I must confess that I have long since been of this opinion. I have not mentioned this circumstance to the General, [Washington,] as I conceive it will come better from yourself, as you are acquainted with every particular circumstance respecting it, and the numberless difficulties which we shall labor under in putting it in any considerable state of defence. As I have directed the troops to remain in possession of the works until 1 shall receive instructions from head-quarters, I wish that you might have it in your power to have a conference with the General on the subject, and transmit to me the result of it without delay.
"l am, Sir,&c.
This suggestion was adopted, and the post so long considered the key to the Mohawk Valley was abandoned.*
In addition to tills disheartening state of affairs at the westward of Albany, intelligence was received that another storm was about breaking upon the northern frontier. In a letter from General Schuyler to General Clinton, from Saratoga, May 18th, after speaking of the " chagrin " he felt at the destruction of the fort, Schuyler proceeds:-
" Last evening Major McCracken of White Creek came here, and delivered me a copy of a paper which had been found there, in the same hand-writing as one that was put in the same place last year, announcing the approach of Major Carleton with the troops under his command. This contains in substance-' That the writer had received a letter from a friend in Canada, to give him notice of the danger which threatened these parts ; that 1500 men were gone to Ticonderoga, from whence they were to proceed to Fort Edward and White Creek; that they are to be down in this month, and from what he could learn, they were to desolate the country.' The Major thinks he knows the channel through which this intelligence is conveyed, and that it may be depended upon ;-as it in some degree corroborates that given by Harris, and the person I had sent to Crown Point, it ought not to be slighted. Please to communicate it to the Governor and General Washington.
Fourteen of the nine months men have already deserted, two of whom are apprehended.
There are now at this post only thirty-nine of them. As the Continental troops
here are without shoes, it is impossible to keep out the necessary scouts.
* After the war the fort was rebuilt, and the ancient name of Fort Stanwix restored. The works were repaired and essentially strengthened, as being an important post, during the administration of the elder Adams.
not a parcel of shoes be obtained at Albany, and sent up to them ? It will be of importance to give the earliest intelligence if the party discovered by Colonel Lewis should appear on the Mohawk river, that we may with the troops here, and what militia we may be able to collect, try to intercept them." In a postscript to a letter of the 21st, General Schuyler observed :-" Since the above I have been informed from very good authority, that the enemy's morning and evening guns at Ticonderoga have been distinctly heard near Fort Anne for three or four days past." And on the 24th the General wrote more confidently still of the enemy's approach. Captain Gray is returned. He has not been near enough to determine the enemy's force, but sufficiently so to discover, by the fires, that they are numerous. Is it not strange, and subject of suspicion, that the Vermonters should not afford us any intelligence of the enemy's approach, as they must certainly know of his arrival at Crown Point and Ticonderoga ?"*
was alarming intelligence, more especially when taken in connexion with the
reports simultaneously coming in from the west, of an expedition meditated
against Pittsburgh, to be led by Sir John Johnson and Colonel Connelly; while
other reports were rife, at the same time, of more extensive combinations
among the hostile Indians than had previously marked the war. But even this
was not all-nor by any means the worst of the case. Treachery was at work,
and from the temper of great numbers of the people, the carriage of the disaffected,
and the intelligence received by means of spies and intercepted despatches,
there was just cause to apprehend that, should the enemy again invade the
country, either from the north or the west, his standard would be joined by
much larger numbers of the people than would have rallied beneath it at any
former period. The poison was actively at work even in Albany. On the 24th
of May, General Schuyler announced to General Clinton the return of a confidential
agent from the
* This ambiguous conduct of Vermont was the consequence of the quarrel-between the settlers of the grants from New Hampshire, which were within the chartered limits, and the government of New-York. Colonel Alien, not long before,had been in Albany upon the business of the settlers, and had gone away dissatisfied-having uttered a threat on his departure. He was at this lime, as General Schuyler was informed, at the Isle Au Noix-sick-as was pretended.
north, " where he met with five of the enemy, whose confidence he so far obtained as to be entrusted with letters written on the spot to persons at Albany, whose names I forbear to mention," (says Schuyler,) " for fear of accidents. They contained nothing material, except the arrival of the enemy in force at Crown Point and Ticonderoga, with this expression in one,-' We shall make rare work with the rebels.' " But other, and more " material" despatches were soon afterward intercepted, from the tenor of which the conclusion was irresistible, not only that a powerful invasion was about taking place from the north, but that very extensive arrangements had been made in Albany, and the towns adjacent, for the reception of the invaders, whose standard the disaffected were to join, and whose wants they were to supply. Among the papers thus intercepted, was the following letter, supposed to have been addressed to General Haldimand:-
Albany, 9th May, 1781.
"Your Excellency may learn from this that when I received your instructions, &c., I was obliged at that time to put myself into a place of security, as there were heavy charges laid against me. I thank God I have baffled that storm. Your commands are observed to the letter, part of them faithfully executed, the particulars of which I hope in a short time to have the honor to acquaint yon verbally. Now is the season to strike a blow on this place, when multitudes will join, provided a considerable force comes down. The sooner the attempt is made the better. Let it be rapid and intrepid, carefully avoiding to sour the inhabitants' tempers by savage cruelties on their defenceless families. If a few handbills, intimating pardon, protection, &c. &c. were sent down, and distributed about this part of the country, they would effect wonders; and should your Excellency think proper to send an army against this den of persecutors, notice ought to be given ten days before, by some careful and intelligent person, to a certain Mr. McPherson in Ball'sTowny who will immediately convey the intention to the well-affected of New Scotland, Norman's Kill, Hillbarack's, Neskayuna, &c., all in the vicinity of Albany. The plan is already fixed, and should a formidable force appear, I make no doubt provisions and other succors will immediately take place. A few lines of comfort, in print, from your Excellency to those people; would make them the more eager in prosecuting their designs ; and if the Vermonters lie still, as I have some hopes they will, there is no fear of success. No troops are yet raised. There is a flag from this place shortly to be sent; perhaps I may go with it; I expected before this time I would be removed from my present situation, &c
" 25th May. N.B. This I expected should reach you before now, but had no opportunity. Excuse haste." *
Accompanying this letter were several pages of memoranda, in the same hand-writing, giving particular information upon every point which the enemy could desire. The deplorable situation of Albany, and the whole Mohawk country, was described; the temper of the people in the towns around Albany and elsewhere set forth; the strength of the main army in the Highlands given with all necessary accuracy; and the mission of Ethan Allen to Albany, and the probable defection of Vermont, announced. Indeed, the character of these communications showed but too plainly that treason was deeply and extensively at work, and that the enemy was, beyond doubt, correctly advised of the true situation of the country.+
all these circumstances of internal and external danger-with but slender garrisons
at the points of greatest exposure, and those so miserably provided that the
soldiers were deserting by dozens, showing dispositions not equivocal of going
over to the enemy-without provisions or the means of procuring them, and scarcely
knowing whom to trust among their own people, lest the disaffection should
prove to be even more exten-
* This document has been discovered by the author among the papers of General Clinton. It is endorsed as follows:-"A copy of a letter in Doctor Smyth's handwriting, supposed to General Haldimand. Intercepted 27th of May, 178I." The author has not been able to ascertain who Doctor Smith was, farther than that he has been informed it Albany, that he was a brother to Smith the historian of New-York, afterward Chief Justice of New Brunswick. Some time afterward Governor Clinton transmitted a special message to the legislature, then sitting at Poughkeepsie, containing important information respecting the designs of the Vermonters, by which it appears that Dr. Smith was actively engaged in fomenting disaffection in that quarter, and had held interviews with Ethan Allen upon the subject in Albany, &c. Smith is spoken of in that message as having been appointed a Commissioner by the British officers to treat with the Yermonters.
+ See Appendix, No. II.
VOL. II. 11
sive than recent disclosures had taught the officers to suppose,- the Spring of 1781 may well be counted as the darkest period of o the revolution. Had it not been for the gleams of light shooting up from the south, all indeed would have been sullen blackness, if not despair. But the truth of the homely adage, that the darkest hour is always just before day, received a glorious illustration before the close of the year. " Accustomed to contemplate all public events which might grow out of the situation of the United States, and to prepare for them while at a distance, the American chief was not depressed by this state of affairs. With a mind happily tempered by nature and improved by experience, those fortunate events which had occasionally brightened the prospects of his country, never relaxed his exertions or lessened his precautions; nor could the most disastrous state of things drive him to despair."* Fortunately, in the Clintons and their associate officers at the north, the American Commander had subordinates possessing in no small degree the same great characteristics. Every possible precaution against lurking treason within, was taken, and every practicable means of preparation and defence against invasion from abroad, was adopted.
Anticipating, from the presence of the enemy at Ticonderoga, that Tryon county
might again be attacked from that direction by the way of the Sacondaga, Captain
John Carlisle was despatched into the settlements of New Galway, Peasley,
and Ballston; accompanied by Captain Oothout and a small party of Indians,
to make prisoners of certain persons suspected of disaffection to the American
cause, and to remove all the families from those towns to the south side of
the Mohawk river. About sixty families were thus removed, and all the suspected
persons arrested. The Captain, in his report of the expedition, gave a deplorable
account of the poverty of the people. He could scarcely procure subsistence
for his party during his mission. On arriving at Ballston, however, he drew
more liberally upon the stores of the disaffected, and then arrested them.
But their disposition, Captain Oothout was glad to inform the Commissioners,
was such as to " prevent his setting fire to their houses agreeably to
the letter of his orders."+ Happily these measures
+Manuscripts of Gen. Clinton. Indeed, the materials for this whole section of the northern history of the Spring of 1781, have principally been drawn from the Clinton papers, so often referred to.
of precaution, and the other preparations, were for that timeunnecessary-the enemy, if he was in actual force at CrownPoint or Ticonderoga, not then venturing another invasion fromthat quarter.
But the Mohawk Valley was continually harassed by the Indians and Tories-even to the very precincts of the stockades and other small fortifications. The spirit of the people had in a great measure been crushed, and the militia broken down, during the repeated invasions of the preceding year. The Rev. Daniel Gros,* writing to General Clinton from Canajoharie, upon the importance of having at least a small detachment of regular troops at Fort Rensselaer, observed-" It would serve to bring spirit, order, and regularity into our militia, where authority and subordination have vanished. If it should last a little longer, the shadow of it will dwindle away; and perhaps the best men in the state will be useless spectators of all the havoc the enemy is meditating against the country. The militia appears to me to be a body without a soul. Drafts from the neighboring counties, even of the levies under their own commanders, will not abate the fatal symptoms, but rather serve to produce a monster with as many heads as there are detachments." Having no other defenders than such as are here described, with the exception of a few scattered companies, or rather skeletons of companies, at the different posts extending along the Valley, the prospect of the opening Summer was indeed gloomy-more especially when men's thoughts reverted to the sufferings of the past. Nor were the inhabitants encouraged to expect any considerable reinforcements from head-quarters, since the Commander-in-chief, in concert with the Count de Rochambeau, was again evidently preparing for some enterprise of higher moment than the defence of those remote settlements against any force that could be brought down upon them from the north.
there was one officer whose name, among the people of that district, was a
tower of strength. That man was Colonel Marinus Willett; who, at the consolidation
of the five New-York
* Afterward a Professor in Columbia College, and author of a work on Moral Philosophy.
regiments into two-an event happening at about the same time-was induced by the strong solicitation of Governor Clinton to take the command of all the militia levies and State troops that might be raised for the protection of the country. It was only with great reluctance that Colonel Willett was persuaded to leave the main army, and enter upon this difficult and hazardous service. But the appeal of Governor Clinton was so strong and enforced with so much earnestness, that he could not resist it. The Governor urged the high confidence reposed in him by the people of Tryon county-and reminded him of the cruelties of the Indians and Tories-speaking of the latter with great emphasis, as " cruel monsters worse than savages ;"* and Colonel Willett, feeling a hearty good-will to chastise such an enemy-the Tories especially-repaired to the north, and assumed the command. He arrived at Fort Rensselaer (Canajoharie), where he established his head-quarters, toward the close of June. The country he was to defend embraced all the settlements west of the county of Albany, including Catskill and the Hudson river. A fortnight after his arrival he ascertained that the following skeleton detachments composed the full complement of the forces under his command : one hundred and thirty levies, including officers, and Captain Moody's artillery, numbering twenty men, at the German Flatts; at Schoharie he stationed a guard of twenty men; at Catskill about the same number, and about thirty men at Ballston. Exclusive of these diminutive fragments of corps, stationed at great distances apart, the levies of the county amounted to no more than ninety-six men. In a letter to Governor Clinton, making known the paucity of his numbers, Colonel Willett added:-" I confess myself not a little disappointed in having such a trifling force for such extensive business as I have on my hands; and also that nothing is done to enable me to avail myself of the militia. The prospect of a suffering country hurts me. Upon my own account I am not uneasy. Every thing I can do, shall be done ; and more cannot be looked for. If it is, the reflection that I have done my duty, must fix my own tranquillity."+
however, as were the people, and inefficient as, from the preceding descriptions,
the militia must have become
* "Willett'a Narrative, + Idem.
these circumstances were, no doubt, in a great degree attributable to the want of officers in whom the people could repose confidence. Colonel Willett had very soon an opportunity to make trial of their spirit, and he found them " a people who, having experienced no inconsiderable portion of British barbarism, "were become keen for revenge and properly determined."* The occasion was the following:-On the 30th of June, several columns of smoke were discovered by the garrison of Fort Rensselaer, ascending as from a village on fire, in the direction of Currietown, lying eleven miles down the river, near the estuary of the Schoharie-kill. Having previously sent forth a scout of thirty men, commanded by Captain Gross, to patrol the country south as far as a settlement called Durlagh,+- an express was despatched to overtake that officer, with information of the probable presence of the enemy below, and with instructions, if possible, to fall upon his trail. Meantime Captain M'Kean was ordered to Currietown, with sixteen levies only, but with instructions to collect as many of the militia in his way as possible. Such was the celerity of M'Kean's movements, that he arrived at Currietown so soon after it had been ravaged and deserted by the enemy, as to enable him to assist in quenching the fires of some of the yet unconsumed buildings. Colonel Willett was himself actively employed during the day in collecting the militia, while, through the vigilance of Captain Gross, not only the trail of the Indians was discovered, but the place of their encampment. Having reason to suppose they would occupy the same encampment that night, and being joined before evening by the detachments of Gross and M'Kean, the Colonel determined, with these forces, and such few militia-men as he had been able to collect, to march directly for the encampment, and, if possible, take them by surprise before morning-perhaps while asleep. This encampment was in a thick cedar swamp, five or six miles to the north-east of Cherry Valley, and of course to reach it by a march through the woods, during an exceedingly dark night, and without, any better road than a bridle-path, was no small undertaking. It had been ascertained that the Indians numbered between two and three hundred, commanded by a Tory named John Doxstader, in connexion with an Indian
* Letter of Colonel Willett to General Washington.
+ Sometimes spelt Turlock. Now the town of Sharon, Schoharie County.
named Quackyack. Colonel Willett's strength, levies and militia included,
did not exceed one hundred and fifty rank and file. The plan of falling upon
the enemy while asleep did not exactly succeed, in consequence of the difficulties
of the march-occasioned by the darkness, the thickness of the woods, and,
worse than all, the losing of his way by the guide. It was therefore nearly
six o'clock in the morning when they arrived in the vicinity of the encampment;
and, instead of falling upon the enemy by surprise, they found him occupying
a more favorable situation, and awaiting their reception. Immediate dispositions
were made to engage the enemy, with a view to which a stratagem was laid to
draw him from the advantageous situation which he had chosen. For this purpose,
before the Indians had become fully aware of Willett's near approach, Jacob
Sammons, now a lieutenant in the New-York levies, was detached with ten resolute
men, to steal as near to them as possible, give them one well-directed fire,
and retreat. The ruse succeeded. Sammons and his men turned their backs on
the first yell of the Indians, and the latter sprang forward in pursuit.*
They were soon met by Colonel Willett in person, advancing at the head of
his main division, which consisted of one hundred men, while Captain M'Kean
was left with fifty more as a reserve, to act as occasion might require, on
the right. The enemy did not wait an attack, however, but, with great appearance
of determination, advanced with their wonted shouts and yells, and began the
fire. The onset of the Indians was furious ; but they were received with firmness,
and in turn the Americans advanced upon them with loud huzzas, and such manifestations
of spirit as soon caused them to give way. Simultaneously with their attack
upon the main body in front, the Indians had made an equally desperate rush
upon the right wing, which might have been attended with disaster, but for
the destructive fire poured in upon them by the reserve of M'Kean. The Indians,
thus driven back, now betook themselves to their old game of firing from behind
the trees; but Willett's men understood that mode of fighting as well as themselves.
They did not, however, practise it long. Willett pressed forward waving his
hat and cheering his men-calling
*MS. narrative of Jacob Sammons.
out that he could catch in his hat all the balls that the enemy might send; and in the same breath exclaiming, " the day is ours, my boys !" These inspiriting demonstrations being followed up by a timely and efficient use of the bayonet, the whole body of the enemy was put to flight in half an hour after the commencement of the action. They retreated upon their old path down the Susquehanna, and were pursued to a considerable distance. Their camp was, of course, taken, and the plunder they had gathered recaptured. The loss of the Indians was severe-nearly forty of their dead being left on the field. Colonel Willett's loss was five killed, and nine wounded and missing. Among the wounded was the brave Captain M'Kean, fatally. He received two balls early in the engagement, but kept at his post until it was over, and the rout of the enemy complete*.
There was one very painful circumstance attending this battle. In their excursion to Currietown, the day before, Doxstader and his Indians had made nine prisoners, among whom were Jacob and Frederick Diefendorff, Jacob Myers and a son, a black boy, and four others. The moment the battle commenced, the prisoners, who were bound to standing trees for security, were tomahawked and scalped by their captors, and left as dead. The bodies of these unfortunate men were buried by Colonel Willett's troops. Fortunately, however, the graves were superficial, and the covering slight-a circumstance which enabled Jacob Diefendorff, who, though stunned and apparently dead, was yet alive, to disentomb himself. A detachment of militia, under Colonel Veeder, having repaired to the field of action after Willett had returned to Fort Rensselaer, discovered the supposed deceased on the outside of his own grave; and he has lived to furnish the author of the present work with an account of his own burial and resurrection.+
M'Kean died, greatly lamented, a few days after the detachment had returned
to the fort, as will be seen by the annexed letter, addressed by Colonel "Willett
to the commanding officer at Albany:-
* Willett's Narrative-Campbell.
+ Statements of Jacob Diefendorff and Jacob Sammons, in the author's possesion.
WILLETT TO GENERAL CLINTON.
"SIR :-I have just sent some of the wounded levies to Schenectady, there being no surgeon here. Doctor Petrie, the surgeon of the levies, is at German Flatts, where he has several sick and wounded to attend; and the intercourse between here and there is too dangerous to allow travelling without a guard. I could wish, therefore, to have a surgeon from the hospital posted in this quarter.
" This -place does not afford a gill of rum to bathe a single wound The two barrels designed for this quarter a few days ago, met with a regular regiment passing down the country, who very irregularly took away from the person that had them in charge those two barrels of rum. I need not mention to you, Sir, that the severe duty and large portion of fatigue that falls to the lot of the troops in this quarter, make rum an article of importance here, and that I should be glad to see some in the County of Tryon.
" This morning Captain M'Kean died of the wound he received yesterday. In him we have lost an excellent officer. I feel his loss, and must regret it."*
after the irruption of Doxstader, there was another descent of Indians and
Tories upon Palatine, which was an event of more singularity than importance.
A son of Colonel Jacob Klock, with several of his Tory friends, went off to
Canada. He returned in about four weeks with a band of Indians and Tories
to fall upon the settlement; and encamped for one night in the vicinity of
his own neighborhood. During the night, one of the number, Philip Helmer,
having discovered that a part of their object was to plunder and murder the
family of his relative, John Bellinger, determined to save that family. Taking
a young Indian with him, therefore, under the pretext of reconnoitring the
settlement, he proceeded so near to some of the houses, that the Indian, becoming
suspicious, ran back to his comrades. Helmer's object was to surrender himself,
and cause the Indian to be taken prisoner; and he accordingly delivered himself
up to Judge Nellis. Expresses were immediately sent to Fort Plain and Stone
Arabia for assistance; and the enemy, finding themselves betrayed, took to
the woods. Lieu-
tenant Sammons, with twenty-five men, was ordered by Colonel Willett to go in pursuit; and so rapid were they of foot, as to arrive at the enemy's encampment before his fires had gone out. William Feeter, with six other volunteers, was sent forward to keep his trail. In about two miles after entering the woods, most luckily they discovered a number of the Indians lying flat upon the ground. The latter no sooner discerned Feeler's approach, than they rose and fired; but one of their number having fallen grievously wounded by the return fire of Feeler's party, while they were stooping down to re-load, they sprang to their feet and fled-Tories and all-leaving their provisions, knapsacks, and some of their muskets. They ran down a steep hill, and were measurably shielded from Feeter's fire by the thickness of the shrubbery and trees. One of them gave himself up as a prisoner; three more were wounded, and died on their way to Canada. The poor Indian first wounded, was put to death by Helmer, who ran up and despatched him while he was begging for quarter !*
Willett took early occasion to make the Commander-in-chief acquainted with
the deplorable situation to which this fine region of country had been reduced
by the repeated visitations of the enemy. In his letter to General Washington
upon the subject, he describes the beauty, the productiveness, and the natural
advantages of the country with, a glowing pen. From this communication it
appears, that at the commencement of the war, the number of enrolled militia
in Tryon county amounted to not less than two thousand five hundred; but at
the date of the letter, (July 6, 1781,) the number of inhabitants liable to
pay taxes, or to be assessed to raise men for the public service, was estimated
at no more than twelve hundred; while the number liable to bear arms did not
exceed eight hundred. To account for so large a reduction of the population,
it was estimated that one-third had been killed or made prisoners; one-third
had gone over to the enemy ; and one-third, for the time being, had abandoned
the country. The situation of those that remained, the Colonel described as
so distressing as to provoke sympathy from even the most unfeeling heart.
Those who could afford
* Narrative of Colonel "William Feeter, in the author's possession, and also of Jacob Sammons. Colonel Feetsr is yet living, (1837.)
the expense, or perform the labor, had erected block-houses on their own farms, for the protection of their families. Each neighborhood had been compelled to erect a fortification for itself, within which their families resided for safety-from ten to fifty families crowding together in a fort. Of these works there were twenty-four between Schenectady and Fort Schuyler. At the time of writing this letter-or rather memoir, for the communication was extended through several sheets-Colonel Willett stated that the whole number of men then under his command, exclusive of the militia, did not exceed two hundred and fifty. But he, nevertheless, kept up a good heart, and in the course of his anticipations of bringing about a better state of things, added-" Nor shall I exceed my hopes, if, in the course of less " than twelve months, I shall be able to convince the enemy that " they are not without vulnerable quarters in these parts." The following quotation will illustrate alike the wisdom, the activity, and the skill of the dispositions made by Willett, for the purpose not only of bringing order out of confusion, but of displaying his strength before an invisible foe, lurking stealthily about in every place of concealment, on all sides and every hand. After stating that he had fixed his head-quarters at Canajoharie, on account of its central position, he proceeds:-" My intention is to manage business so as to have an opportunity of acquainting myself, as well as possible, with every officer and soldier I may have in charge. In order the better to do this, I propose, as far as I can make it any way convenient, to guard the different posts by detachments, to be relieved as the nature of the case will admit. And as the relieved troops will always return to Fort Rensselaer, where my quarters will be, I shall have an opportunity of seeing them all in turn. Having troops constantly marching backward and forward through the country, and frequently changing their route, will answer several purposes, such as will easily be perceived by you, sir, without mentioning them. This is not the only way by which I expect to become particularly acquainted with the troops and their situation. I intend occasionally to visit every part of the country, as well to rectify such mistakes as are common among the kind of troops I have at present in charge, as to enable me to observe the condition of the militia, upon whose aid I shall be under the necessity of placing considerable reliance."
The effect of Colonel Willett's presence and example was very soon perceptible. The people reposed the most unlimited confidence in him; and so rapidly did he infuse something of his own fire and energy into the bosoms even of the dispirited and broken militia, that they presently appeared like a different race of men. An illustration of this fact occurred one night early in July. The Colonel was informed, at the hour of one o'clock in the morning, of -the presence of fifty or sixty Indians and Tories in the neighborhood, at only about six miles distance. Having barely troops enough in the fort to guard it, he sent immediately for a Captain of the militia, and in one hour's time that officer was in search of the enemy at the head of seventy men. It is not often that much good results from the employment of militia. Few officers can do any thing with them. Most commanders nothing. But Willett was an exception in those days, as General Jackson has been since. Willett, like Jackson, possessed the faculty, by looking into the eyes of his men, of transfusing his own native fire into their bosoms in spite of themselves.
Fortunately, however, less trouble was experienced from the enemy during the Summer, in the lower section of the Mohawk Valley, than had been anticipated. The summary and severe chastisement inflicted upon Doxstader and his party had a powerful effect upon that irritating branch of the enemy's service; and for more than three months afterward the inhabitants were only troubled occasionally, and then merely by small flying parties of the enemy, who accomplished nothing worthy of record. But in the upper section of the Valley, the German Flatts, it was otherwise, and several spirited affairs occurred in that neighborhood, attended by great bravery, though not by important consequences. The name of Solomon Woodworth has twice or thrice occurred in the preceding pages; once, as having been taken a prisoner and making his escape, and again as alone defending a block-house north of Johnstown, and repulsing the enemy from his fortress. In the year 1781 he was commissioned a captain, for the purpose of raising a company of rangers to traverse the wooded country north of Fort Dayton and the German Flatts. He succeeded in enlisting a company of forty brave and kindred spirits; at the head of whom; well armed and provided, he marched from Fort Dayton, striking in the direction of the Royal Grant,* for purposes of observation. After a few hours' march, one of Woodworth's men, being a short distance in advance, discovered an Indian, evidently in ambuscade, upon whom he immediately fired. Instantly the forest resounded with the war-whoop, and Woodworth with his little band, was surrounded by doable his own number. A furious and bloody engagement followed, in which the Rangers and Indians fought hand to hand with great desperation; and, for the numbers engaged, there was cruel slaughter. A fiercer engagement, probably, did not occur during the war. Woodworth fell dead. The savages were the victors; and of the rangers, only fifteen escaped to tell the melancholy fate of their comrades. Several were taken captive, and subsequently exchanged.+
affair, as an individual exploit, was as remarkable for its coolness and bravery,
as for the singular incident occurring: in the course of the battle, or rather
siege, by which the leader of the enemy was made to supply ammunition to be
used against his own troops. There was, and is to this day, a wealthy German
settlement about four miles north of the village of Herkimer, called Shell's
Bush. Among those of the settlers who had built block-houses of their own,
was John Christian Shell. His Stockade was large and substantial, and well
calculated for defence. The first story had no windows, but small loop-holes,
through which the inmates could fire upon any persons venturing to assail
them. The second story projected two or three feet over the first, so constructed
that the garrison could either fire upon those who approached too near, or
cast down missiles upon their heads. Shell had a family of six sons, the youngest
two of whom were twins and but eight years old. In the afternoon of the 6th
of August, Donald M'Donald, one of the Scotch refugees who fled from Johnstown,
made an attack upon Shell's Bush at the head of a band of sixty-six Indians
and Tories, among the latter of whom were two celebrated traitors, named Empie
and Kassellman.++ Most of the inhabitants of Shell's Bush, however; had taken
refuge in Fort Dayton-four miles distant: but John Christian Shell, being
a sturdy believer in the doctrine
* A large tract of land, so called from the fact that it was a grant from the King, under his own sign manual, to Sir William Johnson.
+Manuscripts of the Rev. John I. Shew.
++MS. notes of Lauren Ford.
every man's house is his castle, refused to quit his own domicil. He and his
sons -were at work in the field when M'Donald and his party made their appearance;
and the children were unfortunately separated so widely from their father,
as to fall into the hands of the enemy. Shell and his other boys succeeded
in reaching their castle, and barricading the ponderous door. And then commenced
the battle. The besieged were well armed, and all behaved with admirable bravery;
but none more bravely than Shell's wife, who loaded the pieces as her husband
and sons discharged them. The battle commenced at two o'clock, and continued
until dark. Several attempts were made by M'Donald to set fire to the castle,
but without success; and his forces were repeatedly driven back by the galling
fire they received. M'Donald at length procured a crow-bar and attempted to
force the door; but while thus engaged he received a shot in the leg from
Shell's blunderbuss, which put him hors du combat. None of his men
being sufficiently near at the moment to rescue him, Shell, quick as lightning,
opened the door, and drew him within the walls a prisoner. The misfortune
of Shell and his garrison was, that their ammunition began to run low; but
M'Donald was very amply provided, and to save his own life, he surrendered
his cartridges to the garrison to fire upon his comrades. Several of the enemy
having been killed and others wounded, they now drew off for a respite. Shell
and his troops, moreover, needed a little breathing time; and feeling assured
that, so long as he had the commanding officer of the besiegers in his possession,
the enemy would hardly attempt to burn the citadel, he ceased firing. He then
went up stairs, and sang the hymn which was a favorite of Luther during the
perils and afflictions of the Great Reformer in his controversies with the
Pope.* While thus engaged, the enemy likewise ceased firing. But they soon
afterward rallied again to the fight, and made a desperate effort to carry
the fortress by assault. Rushing up to the walls, five of them thrust the
muzzles of their guns through the loop-holes, but had no sooner done so, than
Mrs. Shell, seizing an axe, by quick and well-directed blows ruined every
musket thus thrust through the walls, by bending the barrels ! A few
" A literal translation of this hymn has been furnished the author by Professor Bokum of Harvard University, which will be found in No. III, of the Appendix.
more well-directed shots by Shell and his sons once more drove the assailants back. Shell thereupon ran up to the second story, just in the twilight, and calling out to his wife with a loud voice, informed her that Captain Small was approaching from Fort Dayton with succors. In yet louder notes he then exclaimed-" Captain Small, march your company round upon this side of the house. Captain Getman, you had better wheel your men off to the left, and come up upon that side." There were, of course, no troops approaching; but the directions of Shell were given with such precision, and such apparent earnestness and sincerity, that the stratagem succeeded, and the enemy immediately fled to the woods, taking away the twin-lads as prisoners.* Setting the best provisions they had before their reluctant guest, Shell and his family lost no time in repairing to Port Dayton, which they reached in safety-leaving M'Donald in the quiet possession of the castle he had been striving to capture in vain. Some two or three of M'Donald's Indians lingered about the premises to ascertain the fate of their leader; and finding that Shell and his family had evacuated the post, ventured in to visit him. Not being able to remove him; however, on taking themselves off, they charged their wounded leader to inform Shell, that if he would be kind to him, (M'Donald,) they would take good care of his (Shell's) captive boys. M'Donald was the next day removed to the fort by Captain Small, where his leg was amputated; but the blood could not be stanched, and he died in a few hours.+ The lads were carried into Canada. The loss of the enemy on the ground was eleven killed and six wounded. The boys, who were rescued after the war, reported that they took twelve of their wounded away with them, nine of whom died before they arrived in Canada.++
a subsequent day, Shell, being at work in the field withhis two sons at no
great distance from the fort, was fired uponby a party of Indians concealed
in the standing wheat, and
* One of Shell's neighbors lay in ambush during the battle, and heard Shell's directions to Small and Getman.
+ M'Donald wore a silver-mounted tomahawk, which was taken from him by Shell. It was marked by thirty scalp-notches, showing that few Indians could havebeen more industrious than himself in gathering that description of military trophies.
++ Among the slain was a white man, who had two thumbs on one hand. One of Shell's sons is yet living in Canada, being a member of the Dunkard's Society, in the neighborhood of Toronto.
severely wounded. He called to his sons not to allow the Indians to scalp him ; and neither of the brave boys would retreat until a guard came from the fort to their relief. But in the discharge of this filial duty, one of them was killed and the other wounded. John Christian Shell himself died of his wound, in the fort. His deeds were commemorated in one of the most rude and prosaic of ballads. But his memory is yet green in the remembrance of the German population of Herkimer.*
The policy of the enemy at the north, during the whole season, was to divide their own forces into small detachments, and harass the border settlements at as many different points as possible-thus distracting the attention of the people, and by allowing them neither a sense of security nor repose, rendering them disgusted with the protracted struggle. The most formidable movement of the Indians and Tories during the Summer months, was the descent of Captain Cauldwell, from Niagara, upon the border of Ulster County, at the head of about four hundred Indians and Tories. The first intelligence of this irruption was received in Albany by General Gansevoort,+ by letter, as follows:-
CLINTON TO GENERAL GANSEVOORT.
" Poughkeepsie, August 14, 1781
" Last Sunday, a body of the enemy, to the amount of about three hundred Indians and ninety Tories, appeared on the frontiers of Ulster County. They took a small scout Colonel Paul-
* This account of John Christian Shell's exploit has been drawn chiefly from the MS. statement of the venerable Col. William Feeter, yet living in that town, [Feb. 1838,] and from the ballad mentioned in the text, which contains a pathetic and particular recitation of the facts. This use of contemporaneous ballads as authority for facts is well sustained by precedent. Thierry makes bold use of English Norman ballads for his history of the Norman Conquest; and Prescott, in his late invaluable history of the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella, has done the like with the ancient Castilian romance and Moorish ballad.
+ In the re-organization of the army, at the close of the year 1780, Colonel Gansevoort was left out of service in the line, by seniority in rank of other officers. Being a brigadier general of the militia, however, stationed at Albany, his services were in continual requisition, since, in the absence of regular troops, his brigade was the chief dependence of the northern section of the State. His activity in the State service was incessant, and his correspondence with the Governor and the general officers of the regular army at the north, heavier than at any former period. See Appendix, No. IV.
ing had sent out, and from them it is supposed obtained information of the disposition of the levies in that quarter, whom they passed by, and -were first discovered at the settlement of Warwasing. From the last accounts they had retired; but how far, is not known. The militia have been collected and marched to oppose or pursue them, as circumstances may render expedient. From their force, it is not probable they will leave the country without attempting farther mischief in that or some other quarter. I conceive it necessary, therefore, to give you this information that you may take proper steps with your militia in case this party should take their route toward the frontier of your county; and I would particularly recommend that a part of your brigade be immediately marched to Schoharie, for the protection of that settlement until this party shall entirely have gone off. The account of the enemy's strength is from one Vrooman, who deserted them; which is confirmed from their appearance to a small party of levies, who saw them paraded at a house they attacked, and which the party defended. By a more particular account received this morning, (and which was the first that demanded credit,) they have burnt and destroyed about a dozen houses, with their barns, &c., among which are those of John G. Hardenburgh, Esq. They killed only one of the inhabitants, the rest having made a timely escape from their houses. The levies stationed there were by no means sufficient to turn out and oppose them; but those who were in the house defended themselves with spirit against the assaults of the enemy, by which means several of them are said to have fallen, and many houses were saved.
am, with great esteem,
Sir, your most obd't serv't,
" Brig. Gen. Gansevoort."*
Captain Cauldwell was an officer in Butler's rangers. Who
* Colonel Vrooman, at Schoharie, having heard of the invasion of Ulster County by Cauldwell, wrote a pressing letter to General Gansevoort, for assistance, on the same day that the Governor wrote from Poughkeepsie. Colonel Henry Van Rensselaer was forthwith ordered to Schoharie with his regiment, and Colonel Wemple was directed to send a detachment of his regiment thither, from Schenectady, together with as many of the Oneida Indians as he could engage. Fortunately, their services were not required in action.
was the Indian leader on the occasion, is not known. Their route from Niagara had been by way of the Chemung, and thence, after crossing the Susquehanna, by the Lackawaxen to the Delaware. The stockade forts at the north of the Lackawaxen, and at Neversink, had been passed unobserved. Luckily, however, for the inhabitants, shortly before Cauldwell reached the settlements, a scouting party had descried his advance, and, eluding the enemy's pursuit, had succeeded in communicating the alarm to the people, who at once fled with their most valuable effects to the picket forts erected for exactly such emergencies.
It was just at the first blush of morning that Cauldwell passed the small fortress on the frontier of Warwasing. Being fired upon by the sentinel, the report alarmed Captain Hardenburgh, who, with a guard of nine men, was stationed at a point about three miles distant from the fort. Proceeding immediately in the direction of the sound, Hardenburgh and his little band met the enemy on his way, directing their course toward the adjoining settlement of Mombackus-now called Rochester. Nothing daunted, the Captain gave the enemy battle ; but being closely pressed, he soon discovered that his retreat had been cut off by a party of Indians, who had gained his rear. In this dilemma, it being yet not quite light, Hardenburgh with his party took refuge in a small stone house near by, owned by a Mr. Kettle, which had probably not been observed by the enemy Here they found six militia-men more-making sixteen in all, and being well armed, they gave the invaders a warm reception The latter advanced several times to carry the house by assault, but as some of their number were each time doomed to fall, they as often gave way, and in the end relinquished the undertaking- leaving thirteen dead upon the field. In marching forward two miles to Hardenburgh's house, the enemy fell in with Kettle, the owner of the premises where they had been so roughly handled. He, poor fellow, was killed and scalped.*
Captain Henry Pauling, with a detachment of the regiment of
State levies commanded by Colonel Albert Pauling, was stationed at a point
about six miles distant from the scene of the action just described. He hastened
forward, but arrived too
* MS. statement of Captain Valentine Davis, in the author's possession.
VOL. II. 12
late to have a brush with the enemy, and only in season to
capture one strangling prisoner who was lingering for fruit in an apple orchard.*
Finding his reception rather warm, and perceiving indications of farther and
more powerful opposition to his advance, Cauldwell was already in full retreat.
Nor did he commence retracing his steps a moment too soon for his own safety.
The news of his advance having reached the west bank of the Hudson, where
Colonel Pauling, of the State levies; and Colonel
John Cantine, with a body of militia, were stationed, those officers marched
immediately to the relief of the invaded settlements. They arrived at the
outskirts in time to catch a glimpse of the enemy's rear, and to relieve some
of the inhabitants, among whom were a man and his -wife, who had conducted
themselves with distinguished bravery. His house was constructed of unhewn
logs, in the woods, and in advance of all others. On the appearance of the
foe, he fled to his castle with his wife, and securing it in the best manner
he could, gave battle to a party of the Indians who laid siege to his fortress.
Being well armed, he defended himself with so much spirit, that they recoiled
with loss. Finding, after several attempts, that they could not force an entrance,
the Indians collected a heap of combustibles, and set fire to the premises.
Retiring a short distance to see the result, the man watched his opportunity,
and rushing out with a couple of buckets, he procured water, which was close
at hand, and extinguished the fire. The Indians, of course, ran down upon
him; but not being quick enough of foot to prevent his gaining the door, hurled
their tomahawks at his head-happily without effect. He entered his castle,
made fast his sally-port, and re-commenced his defence. Just at this moment
Colonel Pauling with his troops appeared in sight, whereupon the Indians raised
the siege and departed. Colonel Pauling was absent in pursuit seven days,
but did not overtake them. The enemy suffered severely. They lost a goodly
number of their men; took only two prisoners and but little plunder; and were
so near starvation, that they were compelled to devour their dogs before they
reached their head-quarters.-+
* MS. of Major Thomas Sammons, who was at this time serving in the corps of Captain Pauling. The prisoner taken from the enemy was recognized as an old neighbor of his father's at Johnstown, who had served in the company of which Jacob Sammons was the lieutenant. + Major Sammons.
The Shawanese and other western Indians seem to have remained comparatively quiet during the Spring and Summer of 1781. The Kentucky settlements were for the most part unmolested, save by a feeble attack upon M'Afee's station near Harrodsburgh. The assailants, however, were but a straggling party of Indians, who hung about the stockade, and were ultimately punished severely for their temerity. Two of them were killed by an equal number of the M'Afees, whom, having left the fort for some purpose, the Indians attempted to cut off on their return. The Indians then commenced an attack upon the fort, but a party of cavalry arriving suddenly from Harrodsburgh, the garrison sallied forth, and the savages were quickly dispersed, with a loss of six killed outright, and several others, whom they bore away, wounded. A few days afterward, Bryant's station, which was yet more exposed, was visited by the Indians. Bryant, who was a brother-in-law of Colonel Boon, having arranged a large hunting party of twenty men, left his fort on an expedition down the Elk-horn. Having divided his company in order to sweep a broader extent of country for game, by reason of a fog, and other untoward circumstances, they failed of uniting at the points designated. Meantime the Indians were hanging about both divisions, and by stratagem succeeded in defeating both. In one of their skirmishes Bryant was mortally wounded, and another man severely. It was reported that the hunters, taken by surprise, were deficient in firmness, when Bryant fell. On the following day they encountered the Indians again, and defeated them.
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