Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.



THE rebel colonies were to be subjugated by the campaign of 1777. By the employment of German mercenaries and of Indians, the king had made every effort to furnish a sufficient force for this purpose. Part of the plan for the year was the descent of General Burgoyne, by way of Lake Champlain and Lake George, into the heart of the country, where he was to make a junction "with Howe's forces. Burgoyne was provided with a large and well-trained army. He made a grandiloquent speech to his Indian allies, in which he said: " Warriors, you are free ; go forth in the might of your valor and of your cause ; strike at the common enemies of Great Britain and America, disturbers of public order, peace, and happiness, destroyers of commerce, parricides of the state. . . . Be it our task to regulate your passions when they overbear. I positively forbid bloodshed when you are not opposed in arms. Aged men, women, children, and prisoners must be held sacred from the knife and the hatchet." Meantime the general of the German mercenaries, Baron von Riedesel, exclaimed, " Wretched colonies ! if these wild souls are indulged in war."

While the British army, graced by the presence of some of the officers' ladies, was gayly marching in triumphant progress toward the Hudson, Brant accompanied a detachment under Colonel St. Leger to make a diversion in the direction of the young chief's old home, the Mohawk Valley. St. Leger was to ascend the St. Lawrence to Oswego, where he was to be joined by the Indians and Sir John Johnson with his regiment of loyalists, known as the Royal Greens. From here, by way of Oneida Lake and Wood Creek, the forces were to march upon Fort Schuyler, or Stanwix, the name by which it is better known. The fort was to be reduced, and St. Leger was to form a junction with Burgoyne.

The inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley were in a deplorable condition of fright and discouragement. The first news that reached them of the coming invasion was brought by a half-breed Oneida Indian, who said he had attended a council of the hostile Indians held by Colonel Claus. " Ticonderoga is mine," announced this gentleman, in bravado. " This is true, you may depend <"n it, and not one gun shall be fired. The same is true of Fort Schuyler. I am sure when I come before that fort, and the commanding officer shall see me, he also will not fire a shot, but will surrender the fort to me." Curiously enough, Burgoyne had taken Ticonderoga without a shot, and this led the Indians to believe in Colonel Claus's powers of prophecy.

" Brothers !" exclaimed the Oneida, " now is your time to awake, and not to sleep any longer, or, on the contrary, it shall go with Fort Schuyler as it went already with Ticonderoga. ... If you don't come soon, without delay, to assist this place, we can't stay much longer on your side; for if you leave this fort without succor, and the enemy shall get possession of it, we shall suffer like you in your settlements."

But the settlers were deeply dejected, and many of them were inclined to go over to the British side. John Jay said of them at the time that their situation was " both shameful and alarming. . . God knows what to do with or for them. Were they alone interested in their fate, I should be for leaving their cart in the slough till they put their shoulders to the wheel."

From time to time parties of disaffected inhabitants would steal away to join the British. Frightful rumors were constantly reaching the settlements. Men dared not work in the fields without a company of neighbors to guard them, the Indian ravagers were expected every day. In the spring of 1777 Colonel Harper, who was in command of one of the little neighborhood forts, had made a circuit through the woods to Harpersfield, and set out to return. As he climbed a hill he suddenly saw a band of Indians approaching. His overcoat covered his uniform, and he walked right up to the Indians. He recognized among them a Mohawk of his acquaintance, but fortunately they did not know him. He saluted them in the usual manner, and gave them the impression by his conversation that he was a loyalist. They informed him that they were on their way to cut off a small settlement upon the Susquehanna. When out of their sight, the Colonel returned to Harpersfield in all haste. Here he collected a band of fifteen brave men accustomed to border life. Each man provided himself with two days' provisions and a rope. They then went in pursuit of the Indians. That same night, as they stole along through the woods, they saw their camp-fire. The white men halted and waited. Toward morning, when the Indians were in their soundest sleep, Harper and his men crept up. The Indians had stacked their arms in the centre of the encampment. The white men first quietly removed these. Each man chose his Indian, and at a given signal every Indian was grasped and bound before he was fairly-awake.

" Ugh! Colonel Harper!" exclaimed the Mohawk, as daylight appeared, " why didn't I know you yesterday ?"

Fort Stanwix, in the summer of 1777, was in a bad condition to withstand attack. It had gone to decay, the ditch surrounding it was filled up, and it was poorly garrisoned. Colonel Peter Gansevoort, who was placed in command, did his best in the short time remaining to strengthen the defences. Those of the garrison who were not sick from destitution were kept constantly at work. Meantime it became daily more difficult to do any work outside of the fort, on account of lurking parties of Indians. Of some soldiers at work within three quarters of a mile of the fort, one was killed and mangled, two wounded, and six missing. Meanwhile there were only provisions enough in the fort to last about six weeks, and the garrison was in want of ammunition. Prowling parties of Indians were more and more infesting the neighborhood. One day the air was filled with clouds of pigeons. Two men, Captain Gregg and Corporal Madison, contrary to orders, went out to hunt in the neighboring woods. They were both shot down, and instantly the Indians rushed upon them to take their scalps. Captain Gregg had been shot through the back, and was still alive. With great presence of mind he pretended to be dead, and uttered no groan during the painful operation of scalping. When the Indians had gone he crept to the dead corporal and laid his head upon his friend's body. Captain Gregg's dog, who was with him, now ran to a place where two men were fishing. By his imploring actions he attracted their attention, and led them to his master. The fishermen immediately hurried to the fort with the news, and a party of soldiers came to Gregg's relief. His wounds were very dangerous, but he finally recovered from them. Again, as Colonel Willet was taking his noonday rest, he was one day startled by the report of musketry. He hastened to the parapet, and saw a little girl, with a basket on her arm, running toward the fort, while the blood trickled down the bosom of her dress. She had been out picking berries with two other girls. They had been fired upon by some Indians, and two of them were killed. The child who escaped was but slightly wounded.

Such attacks were the forerunners of the coming siege. Fortunately, before it was too late reinforcements of two hundred men arrived, with two bateaux of provisions and ammunition. With all haste the boats were unloaded. As the last of the lading reached the fort, the hostile Indians appeared at the edge of the woods and succeeded in capturing the captain of the boat. The garrison now counted seven hundred and fifty men. They had provisions enough for six weeks, but they were very much in want of ammunition for the cannon. Worst of all in their eyes, they had not a flag with which to bid defiance to the army now before the walls of the fort. The soldiers sacrificed, however, their white shirts to the cause; a blue camlet cloak, captured from the enemy, was stripped up, while various odds and ends of red were added, and a pieced-up flag soon waved gallantly over the fort.

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