History From America's Most Famous Valleys
In The Revolution
Interesting Bit of War History In The Mohawk Valley
Story of How Lightfoot Saw the First Blow of the Revolution Struck by Colonel Guy Johnson--Many Characters of Local Fame.
This is from an old pile of newspapers, mostly crumbling. The other articles in this batch were from the late 1800's and early 1900's. Name of the paper is unknown.
An interesting bit of Revolutionary War history in which members of the Sammons family figured conspicuously was published in last Sunday's New York Herald. Many descendants of these notable characters reside in this section and the article is herewith appended:
Through every city and hamlet in America in the month of May in the year 1775 swept the conviction that England would never yield to the demands of her Colonies on this side of the Atlantic and that the differences between the mother country and her children must be settled by war. Every where men were dividing and taking sides as patriots or loyalists in accordance with their views and opinions as to what was right or wrong.
This division crept up the valley of the Mohawk River and spread itself through the county of Tryon, which included all the territory settled by the white men west and south of Schenectady. It had even penetrated to the county seat, Johnstown, where the settlers had clustered about the baronial hall built by Sir William Johnson, who while he lived had been the ruler of all the people of that land, including the fierce Five Nations of Indians. The original owners of the soil, who had loved and trusted him above all others.
When Sir William died, stricken down as he was addressing a council of the Indian chiefs, his son, Sir John Johnson, succeeded him as the owner of the hall and the head of the house, while his son in law, Colonel Guy Johnson became the superintendent of the Indians in his stead, thus representing the authority of the King. He was aided by Colonel Daniel Claus, another son in law of the old baronet and by Brant, the Indian sachem, who was a brother of Sir Williams' Indian widow, Molly Brant, who was known everywhere as "Miss Molly."
Among the settlers of Johnstown was Nicholas Van Pelt, who had lived there from the time that the great hall was built. His hair was now sprinkled with gray and his sturdy shoulders were beginning to droop; but though age was upon him, his mind was soothed by the thought that he would be able to leave his farm and his well built house, for which he had toiled so long and so hard, to his son Richard. The boy had been captured by a Mohawk war party when he was just able to walk and for years Nicholas Van Pelt had never expected to see him again. The Rev. Mr. Kirkland, missionary among the tribes of the Five Nations has found him a strong lad of fourteen among the Mohawks and had restored him to this father. His discovery caused much wonder in Johnstown. The boy who had always believed himself to be an Indian was still so much like them in his appearance and his ways that nearly everybody spoke to him as Lightfoot, the name he had borne in the tribe that had brought him up.
Living as they did upon the frontier with the wilderness stretching beyond them, the men and boys of the Mohawk Valley were woodsman, but Lightfoot, because of his Indian training, excelled them all. He could run all day and never tire. He could slip through the most tangled thickets without causing a twig to snap or a leaf to rustle. He could read the signs of the wilderness more easily than print and he could follow the trail of a man or animal where the eyes of his companions could find no mark.
Nicholas Van Pelt sat upon the high bracket settle before his wide fireplace, for the evening air was still cool. His pipe was in his mouth and his eyes were fixed upon the glowing coals. His face was anxious and he seemed to be thinking deeply. At last his gaze wandered to Lightfoot, who was seated upon a low stool on the other side of the hearth whittling a bow out of a piece of tough and seasoned ash wood. He sighed, but he lines upon his forehead cleared.
"Not much use to waste your time on that, boy," he said, "I shall have to teach you how to use the rifle. Goodness knows you may need it soon enough!"
"Do you mean that there is going to be fighting?" Lightfoot asked eagerly, glancing up at the long rifle which rested upon buckhorn prongs fastened upon the side of the chimney above the fireplace. A polished powder horn and a fringed bullet pouch of deerskin hung with it from one of the prongs.
"I don't see how it can be helped," his father replied gravely, shaking his head, "but we shall soon know."
"Which side shall we be on?" Lightfoot continued.
"That is what troubles me most....I wish Sir William had lived. It is hard to defy the King--and yet I haven't' much confidence in Sir John and Colonel Guy."
He was interrupted by a knocking on the door. "Come in," he called and a man of his own age, followed by tow strapping younger men entered the room. They were Sampson Sammons and his sons, Jacob and Frederick.
"Good evening, neighbors," Nicholas Van Pelt said, "Sit ye down."
The younger men seated themselves, but Sampson remained standing. He took his position on the hearth with his back to the fire.
"Nicholas, we have lived here many years, side by side," he said.
"Yes," his host replied, "and I hope that we shall pass our old age here together."
"That we shall not be allowed to do," the other man said bitterly. "Have you not heard the news? Listen then:--Sir John and Colonel Guy have lost their heads. They are determined not to let us have peace. This day they persuaded the members of the Court and the Grand Jury to sign a paper giving up their freedom and declaring themselves ready to endure any outrage that the King's Minister may choose to heap upon them. We have come to you to ask whether you are with us or against us. It must be one or the other, for their is no longer a middle ground."
"I stand with you." Nicholas answered, rising and stretching out his hand.
"I knew it!" the other cried, "We meet tomorrow at the house of John Veeder. Be there at noon and we will show these Tories that they have to deal with men and not children."
After some further talk of what was likely to happen, Sampson left with his two sons. Their enthusiasm and the thought that perhaps his father might not permit him to go to the meeting kept Richard long awake that night, but his fear proved groundless, for in the morning his father told him that he was to accompany him.
When they reached the Veeder house a large crowd was already assembled there. The people came unarmed, as they did not wish to give any excuse for an attack on the part of the troops which Sir John kept about him as a guard at the Hall. Just as Nicholas and Richard entered the enclosure about the house, Mr. Kirkland ascended the high stoop of the house and every man in the throng bared his head. Silence fell and the clergyman prayed that the hearts of the oppressors across the sea might be softened and the impending conflict averted.
Mr. Kirkland stepped down and Sampson Sammons took his place.
"The Time has come to declare our principles!" he said, in a strong voice. "The hour may be at hand when we shall have to fight for them. Raise the Liberty Pole!"
On the ground lay a long pole, to the top of which a Liberty cap had been fastened. A score of hands seized it and, amid the shouts of the crowd, raised it upright. But before they could place it in the hole which had been dug to receive it, a troop of soldiers, headed by Sir John Johnson, Colonel Guy Johnson, Colonel Claus and Colonel John Butler, galloped down the road, wheeled in at the gate and forced their way through the press with drawn swords and pistols. Taken by surprise and helpless before the sudden attack, the crowd fell back and made way for them.
Colonel Guy threw himself from his horse and mounted the steps of the stoop. His pale face was made paler than ever before by his rage.
"Fools!" he cried, shaking his riding whip at the assemblage. "Have you the audacity to think that you can resist your King? A single ship would be enough to sink any navy that you might set afloat! His forts, garrisoned by brave men, extend along your border! Have you the folly to think that you could resist them? But unless you desist from your madness there is worse in store for you. The Indians are under my command and I have only to give them a word to have you all massacred--you and your wives and your children."
This was more than Jacob Sammons could endure. "Guy Johnson, you are a villain!" he shouted looking him in the face.
"I am a villain, am I?" cried Johnson choking with anger. "Take that!" He leaped down from the stoop and struck his opponent upon the temple with the butt of his riding whip, which was weighted with lead.
Sammons fell and one of the soldiers threw himself upon him. It happened that Lightfoot,who had been separated from his father in the crowd, stood close beside him. His blood boiled as he saw the attack upon a man who was unable to defend himself. Colonel Johnson had his pistol in his hand and was aiming at Sammons' breast.
"Stop!" Richard cried, forgetting his own danger. Springing forward he grasped Colonel Johnsons' hand and forced the muzzle of the pistol toward the earth, "Shame on you!" he cried: "would you kill a man who cannot fight you back?"
"Hold on, Guy: you are going too far!" said Sir John, anxiously, hastening up behind him.
Colonel Johnson was beside himself with rage. He tried to shake Lightfoot off, but the boy clung fast. The crowd surged around them. Blows were struck and the voices of men were raised in anger. But Sir John and Colonel Butler had no wish to begin the conflict then, and they finally succeeded in forcing Colonel Guy back to his horse, which they compelled him to mount. Both sides drew away from each other, uttering threats of vengeance.
Jacob Sammons slowly picked himself from the ground, his clothing torn and covered with dirt. His forehead was red from the wound which the butt of the whip had made. It was the first blow struck in the Mohawk Valley in the struggle of the Revolution.
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