Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Story of Old Fort Plain and the Middle Mohawk Valley
by Nelson Greene
O'Connor Brothers Publishers, Fort Plain, NY 1915

1780-May 21, Johnson's Johnstown Raid-August 2, Brant's Minden Raid.

After Sullivan's campaign the valley had comparative repose for a time. So tar the lower Mohawk section had suffered little. Its men had gone forth to fight for the common defense and their numbers had been reduced by death and capture. They had received an influx of population from the defenseless people driven in from above, which, however, was no added protection.

May 21, 1780, Sir John Johnson entered Johnstown near midnight at the head of 500 Indians, Tories and British. He had crossed the country from Crown Point to the Sacandaga, a point from which an invasion was least expected, and stolen upon the settlement so quietly that the patriots were first warned of the enemy's presence by the beginning of the work of murder and destruction in their midst. The resident Tories, being in the secret and assisting the raiders, were exempt from injury. Johnson separated his men into two parties, one going through Johnstown and down the Cayadutta to the Mohawk, there to join the other division, which was to take a more easterly route to Tribes Hill. They were then to unite and ravage up the valley. The whole course of Sir John's eastern raiders was murderous and disgraceful. They murdered and scalped a Mr. Lodwick Putman and son, dragged Putman's son-in-law, Amasa. Stevens, out of his house and killed him in the most brutal manner and then went on to the house of Gerret Putman, a stanch "Whig, who had been marked as a victim but who had removed lately and rented his house to two Tory Englishmen. Ignorant of this the Tories and Indians broke into the house and murdered and scalped the two inmates before they had a chance to explain their situation. Henry Hansen was next murdered and his sons carried oft prisoners. They next came to the house of Col. Visscher, whom Simms says was a brave man in spite of the unfortunate panic retreat of his force at Oriskany. His two brothers were with him and they made a brave stand, fighting valiantly up the stairway and into their chamber, where they were stricken down and scalped and the house set on fire. Visscher was tomahawked, scalped and left for dead, but revived and lived many years. The western division led by Sir John himself, went through Johnstown undiscovered by the Whig garrison of the fort which had formerly been the jail. This force captured Sampson Sammons and his three sons and, uniting with the eastern force, proceeded up the valley, burning every building not belonging to a Tory. The alarm, however, was getting abroad and the people had some chance to escape to the neighboring forts. Returning after a few miles foray to Caughnawaga they burned every building but the church and parsonage. Here in the morning an old man named Douw Fonda had been murdered. He was one of nine aged men, tour over eighty, who were brutally killed and scalped on this raid. Sir John returned to Johnstown and recovered his buried plate and valuables and about twenty slaves. The plate and valuables filled two barrels. Toward night the militia began to gather under Col. John Harper and Johnson decided to get away, heading for the Sacandaga. The militia were in too small numbers to attack him but followed him several miles. Col. Van Schaick came up with 800 men in pursuit but too late to engage the guerillas.

While halting, on the day after leaving Johnstown, the elder Mr. Sammons (Sampson Sammons) requested a personal interview with Sir John Johnson, which was granted. He asked to be released, but the baronet hesitated. The old man then recurred to former times, when he and Sir John were friends and neighbors. Said he: "See what you have done, Sir John. You have taken myself and my sons prisoners, burned my dwelling to ashes, and left my family with no covering but the heavens above, and no prospect but desolation around them. Did we treat you in this manner when you were in the power of the Tryon County Committee ? Do you remember when we were consulted by General Schuyler, and you agreed to surrender your arms? Do you then remember that you then agreed to remain neutral, and that, upon that condition, General Schuyler left you at liberty on your parole? Those conditions you violated. You went off to Canada, enrolled yourself in the service of the king, raised a regiment of the disaffected who abandoned their country with you, and you have now returned to wage a cruel war against us, by burning our dwellings and robbing us of our property. I was your friend in the Committee of Safety, and exerted myself to save your person from injury. And how am I requited? Your Indians have murdered and scalped old Mr. Fonda, at the age of eighty years, a man who, I have heard your father say, was like a father to him when he settled in Johnstown and Kingsborough. You cannot succeed, Sir John, in such a warfare, and you will never enjoy your property more." The baronet made no reply but the old gentleman was set at liberty.

Soon after this murderous raid of Sir John Johnson, Gen. Clinton ordered Col. Gansevoort to repair with his regiment to Fort Plain, to take charge of a large quantity of stores destined for Fort Schuyler and convoy the batteaux containing them to their destination. This caution was necessary to save the supplies from capture by the Indians. Most of the local militia accompanied Gansevoort's command.

Brant was again on the warpath, watching for a favorable moment to spring upon the unprotected inhabitants, and supplied the Tories with information of movements in the settlements. He was early aware of the departure of troops for Fort Schuyler and, when they had gathered at Fort Plain and started on their march of protection for the supplies going by river, on August 2, 1780, made a descent on the Canajoharie district with a force of about BOO Indians and Tories, chiefly the former. There were several stockades in the neighborhoods desolated by the savages (for the Tories seem to have equaled the red men in their barbarity). Chief among them, however, was the principal fortification of Fort Plain. Here the garrison was insufficient, without help from the militia, to give battle to Brant's force and, as has been stated, the local troops were absent with Gansevoort's force. Brant evidently approached the Mohawk from the west by way of the Otsquago valley and his raiders in bands thoroughly devastated the Freysbush and Dutchtown roads.

The approach of the Indians was announced by a woman firing the signal shot from a Fort Plain cannon. The people were then busy with the harvesting, and all who were fortunate enough to escape fled to the fort, leaving their property to be destroyed. The firing of one signal shot indicated that the people were to flee to the nearest stockade, while two or three in quick succession ordered the settlers to seek safety by hiding in the bush or woods and told that the enemy was between them and the fort. Fifty-three dwellings were burned with their barns and buildings, 16 people were murdered and 50 or 60 captured. The Indians, knowing its weakness, rushed up within gunshot of Fort Plain, after ravaging the Dutchtown and Freysbush districts. Seeber's, Abeel's and other houses were burned and then the savages fired the Reformed Dutch church. The spire was adorned with a brass ball and the Indians, believing it to be gold, watched eagerly for it to fall. When at last it dropped, with the burning of the spire, they all sprang forward to seize the prize. This red hot ball of brass was responsible for many a blistered red man's hand. To make a show of force at Fort Plain, some of the women who had fled there, put on men's hats and carried poles, showing themselves just sufficiently above the stockade to give the savages the impression of militiamen. This ruse was evidently successful for, had Brant known how feebly the fort was defended he would probably have rushed this stockade, burned it and massacred its inmates.

The columns of smoke rising from the burning buildings were seen at Johnstown and were the first intimation of this latest incursion. The farmers left their harvest fields and joined Col. Wemple, marching up the river with the Schenectady and Albany militia, but they were not in time to check the work of destruction or cut off the retreat of the marauders. Colonel Wemple, who was thought to be more prudent than valorous on this occasion, only reached the desolated region in time to see the smoking ruins and rest securely in Fort Plain that night. The next morning some buildings, which had escaped the torch the day before were discovered to be on fire. Col. Wemple, on being notified of the fact, said that, if any volunteers were disposed to look Into the matter, they might do so. Whereupon Major Bantlin, with some of the Tryon county militia, set out for the scene of the fire. It proved to have been set by a party of Brant's raiders who, as soon as discovered, fled to rejoin the main body. In a day one of the fairest portions of the valley had been desolated. The small forts which were demolished were not garrisoned and had been constructed by the people themselves. The inhabitants of the desolated region had protested against helping the government to keep open communication with Fort Schuyler, when there was constant need for the protection of their own district. The withdrawal of its militia and the consequent terrible result justified their worst apprehensions.

This raid which culminated around Fort Plain was one of the most destructive made during the war. Brant had with him Cornplanter and other distinguished chiefs. Col. Samuel Clyde sent Gov. George Clinton an account of this affair, evidently written from Fort Plain, as follows:

Canajoharie, Aug. 6, 1780.
Sir-I here send you an account of the fate of our district:

On the 2d day of this inst. Joseph Brant, at the head of four or five hundred Indians and Tories, broke in upon the settlements, and laid the best part of the district in ashes, and killed 16 of the inhabitants that we have found, took between 50 and 60 prisoners-mostly women and children-12 of whom they sent back. They have killed or drove away with them, upwards of 300 head of cattle and horses; have burned 53 dwelling houses, besides some outhouses, and as many barns; one very elegant church, and one grist mill, and two small forts that the women fled out of. They have burned all the inhabitants' "weapons and implements for husbandry, so that they are left in a miserable condition. They have nothing left to support themselves but what grain they have growing, and that they cannot get saved for want of tools to work with and very few to be got here.

This affair happened at a very unfortunate hour, when all the militia of the county were called up to Fort Schuyler-Stanwix-to guard nine batteaux-half laden. It was said the enemy intended to take them on their passage to Fort Schuyler. There was scarce a man left that was able to go. It seems that everything conspired for our destruction in this quarter; one whole district almost destroyed and the best regiment of militia in the county rendered unable to help themselves or the public. This I refer you to Gen. Rensselaer for the truth of.

Brant, with subtle savagery, had thrown out a hint that he intended to take or destroy the supply flotilla on its way up the river. It was during this invasion that the Indians took the trader John Abeel, living at Fort Plain, and he was afterward liberated and sent back to his ruined home by his son Cornplanter, the Seneca chieftain. Parties of Indians at this time also made minor raids around Fort Herkimer and Fort Dayton, in the Schoharie valley and other sections.

Gyantwachia or Cornplanter, the Seneca chief, was associated with Brant in this Minden raid. He was a son of John Abeel, the Indian trader of Fort Plain, and the daughter of a Seneca chief. Although a half breed he was the leading man of his nation for a period of almost sixty years. At the close of the Revolution, he was not only ready to bury the hatchet but to take sides in all future troubles with the Americans. He became the firm friend of Washington and was perhaps the only Indian war chief, in our borders, whose friendship for the United States was unshaken in the Indian difficulties existing from 1791 to 1794. In 1797 Cornplanter paid a visit to Washington at Philadelphia. He fixed his permanent residence on the Alleghany river in Pennsylvania, where he subsequently lived and died and where his descendants still reside. In 1802 Cornplanter paid a visit to President Jefferson. In the war of 1812 with England, the Seneca chief, then almost 70 years old, offered to lead 200 warriors with the American troops against the English. He was not allowed to do so but some of his nation were with the Americans in the war and rendered efficient service as scouts. His son, George Abeel, held a major's commission and led these red American soldiers. Cornplanter was about five feet, ten Inches in height and a chief of fine bearing. He is said to have been a fine orator in the Indian way and, to further the interests of his people, made effective speeches before Washington and before the governor of Pennsylvania. The latter state gave him, in 1789, 1,300 acres of land and the national government paid him $250 yearly, in appreciation of his services rendered the country by keeping his own people in friendship with the United States. In 1866 the legislature of Pennsylvania erected a monument to Cornplanter at Jennesadaga, his village in Warren county in that state, and also published a pamphlet regarding his life and works. The inscription on the monument reads:

"Giantwahia, the Cornplanter. "John O'Bail [Abeel], alias Cornplanter, died at Cornplanter town, February 18, 1836, aged about 100 years.

"Chief of the Seneca tribe, and principal chief of the Six Nations from the period of the Revolutionary war to the time of his death. Distinguished for talents, courage, eloquence sobriety, and love of his tribe and race, to whose welfare he devoted his time, his energies and his means during a long and eventful life."

Simms says the age given on this monument is wrong and that Cornplanter was born about 1746 and was about 90 years old at the time of his death. His visit to Fort Plain in 1810 is treated of in a later chapter.

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