History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Story of Old Fort Plain and the Middle Mohawk Valley
by Nelson Greene
O'Connor Brothers Publishers, Fort Plain, NY 1915
1779-Gen. Clinton at Canajoharie- Road Built to Otsego Lake-Guard on Otsquago Creek-Sullivan and Clinton Defeat Johnson and Brant.
To chastise the hostile Iroquois, Col. Van Schaick was sent from Fort Schuyler to make a descent on the Onondagas on April 18, 1779. The Indians fled and their three villages were burned. The Onondagas retaliated by a descent into the Schoharie valley where ten militiamen were killed. In the spring of 1779 It was resolved to send a large American expedition into the Indian country to severely chastise the savages so as to discourage them from renewing their ravages. Gen. Sullivan was placed in chief command of the expedition, the plan of which was a combined movement in two divisions; one, from Pennsylvania under Sullivan, to ascend the Susquehanna, and the other from the north through the Mohawk valley to Otsego lake and the headwaters of the Susquehanna, under Gen. James Clinton. The campaign had been carefully worked out by Washington and experienced men called in council. Gen. Clinton's forces assembled at Schenectady and his supplies and military stores were sent up the Mohawk on batteaux to Canajoharie. These same boats were later transported to Otsego lake and used on his trip down the Susquehanna.
Clinton had a force of 1600 men and made his Mohawk rendezvous In the present village of Canajoharie, which must then have been a scene of great activity as well as the river upon which ordnance and supplies were brought in bateaux. In Canajoharie Clinton boarded with Johannes Roof, a pioneer settler of land at Fort Stanwix, which he abandoned on the approach of St. Leger and came to Canajoharie, there opening a tavern. While Clinton was preparing for his overland journey at Canajoharie, the Otsquago road to Otsego lake from Fort Plain was guarded by two companies of infantry and one of artillery, with Fort Plain as their base.
John Fea, in his article on the "Indian Trails of the Mohawk Valley," says: "Upon the return of the Onondaga expedition, Clinton deployed two companies of infantry and one of artillery on the Otsquago road, west of Fort Plain. One of the companies was stationed at Camp Creek, near the present village of Starkville, at the confluence of the creek and the Otsquago. From this place the Indian trail from the Mohawk to Wa-ont-ha went southwestward. Lieutenant Van Horne, of Colonel Fisher's regiment, was in charge of the work of defense at this point, as It was expected that Brant would make a sortie from the west by the way of this trail, to harass the movement of Clinton's wagon train. During the stay at Camp Creek a corduroy road was made along the Otsquago creek on ground where the present village of Van Hornesville is located. The old roadway to Springfield at that time, went over the steep incline east of Van Hornesville. Clinton's troops made a new road over the 'pumpkin hook' district of about two miles in length to accommodate the carriage of his artillery. At the same time he was hewing a roadway through an unbroken forest from Seeber's Lane, southwest of Canajoharie creek, to the head of Otsego lake, a distance of about twenty miles. Over this road they transported 220 heavy batteaux and provisions for three months. June 17, 1779, he commenced the arduous task. He reached Springfield with all his luggage, June 30. At this place Clinton was joined by the troops that had been deployed at Otsquago." Eight horse wagons and oxcarts are said to have been used on this hard overland carry.
Clinton's united force soon reached the head of Otsego lake where they launched their bateaux and floated nine miles down its placid waters to its outlet at Cooperstown. It is said that there was not then a single house standing at that site. The passage down the lake was made on a lovely summer's day, and everything connected with it was so novel and picturesque that the scene was truly enchanting. On arriving at the foot of the lake, the troops landed and remained several weeks, until it was sufficiently raised by a dam constructed at the outlet, to float the fleet of 208 boats. When a sufficient head of water was thus obtained the boats were properly arranged along the outlet and filled with troops, stores and cannon. Then the dam was torn away and the flotilla passed down into the Susquehanna (a word signifying in Indian "crooked river"). It is said that, preparatory o to opening the outlet of the lake, a dam made by beavers, on one of the large inlets, was ordered destroyed. This was done but it was repaired by the little animals the next night. It had to be more thoroughly destroyed and a guard placed there all night to prevent Its being rebuilt. While the army was quartered there two deserters were tried and one shot. The younger, a boy, was pardoned but the other, who had previously deserted from the British to the Americans and then deserted them, was shot. Said Clinton: "He is neither good for king or country let him be shot." The flood from the opening of Clinton's dam destroyed the Indian's cornfields along the river banks, who, being ignorant of the cause of their loss, were astonished and alarmed.
Gen. Clinton's force formed a juncture with Sullivan's at Tioga on Aug. 22, and the united force moved up the Tioga and Chemung, destroying the Indians' growing crops. The force of 4600 Americans met the Tories and Indians under Johnson and Brant near the present city of Elmira on Aug. 29. A fierce battle ensued and was for long doubtful. The patriots' artillery under Proctor finally routed the enemy. The invaders rested that night and next day made a vigorous pursuit. The entire Indian country was ravaged and destroyed in a most thorough fashion. In revenge the savages retaliated upon the frontier settlements whenever opportunity offered.
While Clinton was waiting at Canajoharie for his troops and supplies to assemble, and also for the construction and delivery of bateaux, two Tories were there hung and a deserter shot. The Tory spies were Lieut, Henry Hare and Sergt. Newbery, both of Col. Butler's regiment. They were tried by a general court martial as spies and sentenced to be hanged, "which was done accordingly at Canajoharie, to the great satisfaction of all the inhabitants of that place who were friends of their country, as they were known to be very active in almost all the murders that were committed on the frontiers. They were inhabitants of Tryon county, had each a wife and several children, who came to see them and beg their lives." The foregoing quoted words are those of Gen. Clinton himself in a letter to his wife. At the time of the execution. Gen. Clinton rode up to Fort Plain and spent an hour or two with Dominie Gros, to avoid the importunity of the spies' friends who begged for their lives, and especially was this the case with Mrs. Hare. Hare and Newbury had left the Seneca country with 63 Indians and 2 white men, who divided them into three parties. One was to attack Schoharie, another party was to descend on Cherry Valley and the Mohawk river and the third party was to skulk about Port Schuyler and the upper part of the Mohawk to take prisoners or scalps. Both had lived in the town of Glen and were captured there. A flfteen-year-old boy, named Francis Putman, captured Hare, who was delayed in his return to Canada by a sprained ankle. A party of Whigs under Lieut. Newkirk arrested Newbury that night. It is said "they were enabled to find his house in the woods by following a tame deer which fled to It." The executions in Canajoharie took place on Academy hill. While Hare was in custody, at the request of Gen. Clinton, Johannes Roof asked the Tory if he did not kill Caty Steers at Fort Stanwix in 1777. "For you were seen with your hands in her hair," said Roof. Hare confessed that he had killed and scalped her.
Gen. James Clinton was born in Ulster county, New York, August 9, 1736. At the age of 20 (1756), he was a captain under Bradstreet in the attack on Fort Frontenac. In 1763 he commanded four companies in Ulster and Orange as protection against Indians. He, with his brother, George Clinton (governor of New York during the Revolution), early espoused the patriot cause. He was a colonel in 1775 and went with Montgomery to Canada. In 1776 he was a brigadier general and was in command, under Gov. Clinton, at Forts Montgomery and Clinton when they fell into the hands of the enemy in 1777. He escaped and conjointly with Sullivan led the expedition against the Indians In 1779. During the remainder of the war he was connected with the Northern Department of the Army, having headquarters at Albany. He retired to his estate at Newburgh, after peace was declared, and died there in 1812, aged 75. He was the father of Dewitt Clinton, the eminent governor of New York and "father of the Canal system."
The state legislature on Oct. 23, 1779, levied a tax of $2,500,000, of which Tryon county's quota was $81,766. The quota of the Canajoharie district was $16,728. April 6, 1780, another state tax of $5,000,000 was authorized of which $120,000 was assigned to Tryon. The quota of the Canajoharie district was $28,000. Payment of these two taxes, levied inside of six months, must have been a considerable hardship to the valley settlers at this time.
Colonel Visscher was In command at Fort Paris in Stone Arabia in November, 1779, having command of this section. While Visscher was on a visit to Fort Plank, a detachment of soldiers, from Col. Stephen J. Schuyler's regiment, located at Fort Paris, mutinied, knocked down the guards and started to desert. One of them was shot down and presumably the rest escaped. Capt. Jelles Fonda, in temporary command there, was courtmartialed and honorably acquitted. In December, at a conference. Colonels Visscher and Klock and Lieut. Col. Wagner dispersed a number of three months militia men, on account of the lateness of the season and the improbability of Immediate invasions. This was done with the sanction of Gen. Ten Broeck and some of the garrisons were broken up for a time.
July 9, 1779, three Vols (now Folts) brothers and the wives of two of them, and a Mrs: Catherine Dorenberger, who had been a Hilts, went berrypicking up the West Canada creek, near Fort Dayton. A party of a dozen Indians and Tories discovered them. Two of the brothers and their wives escaped to the fort, although one of the women was wounded. Mrs. Dorenberger was overtaken and stabbed to death with a spear by her own brother, named Hilts, who was one of the guerilla party. He also tore off the scalp from her dead body. Joseph Vols was separated from the rest, but leveled his gun and fired at a party of nine who were pursuing him in a narrow path. He was so close that three Indians fell, two killed instantly and one mortally wounded. His gun was loaded with 21 buckshot. This is said to have been the best shot fired in Tryon county during the war. One Indian, In the race which followed, got up and wounded Vols with his tomahawk, but the Whig knocked his assailant down, stunned him with a blow of his gun and escaped, although wounded by several shots. Troops, hearing the firing, came up and the white and red savages fled. Conrad Vols, one of the brothers, was wounded at Oriskany two years before.
The national events of 1779 are herewith summarized: 1778-9, Col. Clarke conquers middle west from English by victories at Kaskaskia and Vincennes; 1779, July 15, Americans under Gen. "Mad Anthony" Wayne capture Stony Point on the Hudson; 1779, Aug. 29, Sullivan's and Clinton's patriot army defeat Indian and British force in battle of Chemung (at Elmira), Indian country subsequently devastated; 1779, September, Paul Jones, on American ship, Bon Homme Richard, defeats two British men-of-war; 1779, October, French and American attack on Savannah repulsed.
The lot of the soldier was not all one of warfare. In the midst of ever-present dangers, he took his holiday and his natural and robust pleasures with a carefree heart. An instance from Simms details a merrymaking of Revolutionary times: "In the fall of 1779, there was a corn-husking at the residence of John Eikler in Philadelphia Bush. His house was some six miles east of Johnstown, and where John Frank formerly kept a tavern. Capt. John Littel permitted ten or a dozen young men of his company to go from the Johnstown fort to the husking, of which number was my [Simms's] informant, Jacob Shew. They went on foot from the fort to Eikler's. A lot of buxom maidens, corresponding in number, were already assembled from the scattered settlement on their arrival. As the night was a rainy one the corn was taken into the house to husk.
"In the protracted struggle for political freedom, many a lovely girl had to toil in the field to raise sustenance for herself and feebler friends, when the strong arms, on which they had before leaned, were wielding the sword or musket far away. As the husking progressed not a few red ears were found, imposing a penalty on the finder, and lucky Indeed was the Son of Mars who canceled such forfeit, as he was brought in contact with the cherry lips of a blushing lass, who, although she may have said aloud the young rebel ought to be ashamed, secretly blessed the inventor of huskings. A part of the corn was risked and hung up under the roof on a lintel, which, to add variety to the entertainment, broke down under its accumulated weight, and came near entrapping one of the guests. After the corn was all husked and the eatables and drinkables-pumpkin pies and cider-were disposed of, the party had glorious times. But why specify at this late day -the details of ancient sayings and doings? Suffice it to add, the rain came down in torrents, so as to prevent the guests from returning home; and after the midnight hilarity had stolen out through the crannies of the log dwelling, the guests-but how dispose of so many without beds? The husks were leveled down, and each took a soldier's lodge upon them; for the girls-heaven bless their memory -were the artless and true maidens of the times."
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