Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883

Volume I, Page 223.

Incidents of the French War. I have already spoken of the Groat family as among the first to locate in the easterly part of Amsterdam. When the war under consideration was inaugurated, Lewis Groat was living at the homestead. He was then a widower with five children; and, owning a farm and grist-mill, he was comparatively wealthy. In the afternoon of a summer's day in 1755, 200 troops clad in rich Highland tartans passed up the valley on their way to Fort Johnson, six miles above. Groat, observing a gate across the road had been left open by the troops, went, after sun-down, to shut it. When returning home

* Pownall's letter to Lords of Trade.-Brod. Papers, vol. 8, p. 1008.

it began to rain, and for temporary shelter he stepped under a large oak tree: while there, three Indians, a father and sons, approached him. He took them to be Mohawks, and extending his hand to the oldest, addressed him in a friendly manner. The hand was received and firmly held by the Indian, who claimed Groat as his prisoner. Finding they were in earnest, and seeing them all armed with rifles, he surrendered himself. The captors belonged to the Owenagunga,* or River tribe of Indians, whither they directed their steps. The object of their expedition, which was to capture several negroes, they disclosed to the prisoner, who told them, if they would let him go across the river to Philips' he would send them some. "Yes," said the old Indian, holding his thumb and finger together so as to show the size of a bullet, "you send Indian leetle round negar; he no like such."

They had proceeded but a few miles, when a pack -was placed upon the back of the captive, after which he walked much slower than before. The old Indian threatened to kill him if he did not increase his speed. " What can you get for a scalp?" asked Groat. " Ten livres," was the reply. "And how much for a prisoner.? " He again asked. "Two hundred livres," replied the Indian. " Well," said Groat, " if ten livres are better than two hundred, kill me and take my scalp!" The Indian then told the prisoner that he would carry his own pack and the one apportioned him, if the latter would but keep up with the party. The proposition was acceded to, and they moved forward-the old Indian with two packs on. He took a dog trot and Groat kept near him. The feet of the savage often had not left the ground, when those of his captive claimed its occupancy. The warrior exerted all his strength to outrun his prisoner, who kept constantly "bruising his heel," until the former, exhausted and covered with perspiration, fell upon the ground, They had run about a mile and were both greatly fatigued, but Groat had triumphed.

When the Indian had recovered from his exhaustion, he told Groat if he would carry one of the packs he might travel as he pleased. After this adventure he was kindly treated, and often on the way did his captors give him plenty of food and go hungry

* The Owenagnngas settled above Albany on a branch of Hudson's river, that runs towards Canada, about the year 1672.- Colden.

themselves, saying that they were Indians and could endure hunger better than himself, because accustomed to it. Nights, his feet were tied to temporary stocks made by bending down staddles, but always secured so high that he could not reach the cord as he lay upon the ground. After journeying a day or two, he resolved on attempting his escape. One evening, when unbound, he hoped to give his captors the slip, but suspecting his motives they cocked their rifles, and he abandoned the hazardous project.

Near Fort Edward, the party fell in with two Mohawk Indians, one of whom, an old acquaintance, gave the prisoner a hat, of which he had been plundered by his captors. The Mohawks were on a hunting excursion, and remained in company with the party for a day or two, in the hope of affording the prisoner an opportunity to escape. The captors were to be made drunk by liquor in possession of the Mohawks; but as the time for the expedient drew near, Groat fell sick, and had to see his friends depart without him. He, however, gave one of them his tobacco-box, and requested him to carry it to his family, and tell them when and where he had seen its owner, that they might know he was still alive. The Indian did return and deliver the box as requested: but the family were suspicious the Indian had killed him and fabricated the story; which his protracted absence tended to confirm. When he got back he presented the friendly Indian with a fine horse. They proceeded some distance by water down Lake Champlain, and, on landing at an Indian settlement, Groat had to run the gantlet. His captors had conceived quite an attachment for him, and offered, before arriving at the village, to place a belt of wampum around his neck, which, according to the custom of their tribe, would have exonerated him from the running ordeal. He thought the acceptance of the belt would be an acknowledgment of his willingness to adopt the Indian life, and refused the kind offer, which he soon regretted. As the lines of women and boys were drawn up through which he was to flee, his captors, who had relieved him of his pack, covered their faces, and would not witness his sufferings. He was beaten cruelly, and the blood from some of his bruises ran down to his feet. A short time after, Groat was sold to a French Canadian, named Lewis De Snow, who told him, on going to his house, that he was to be his future master, and his wife his mistress. The former replied that he had long known his master-" he dwells above," he added, pointing his finger upward. At first the Frenchman treated him unkindly. He was willing to work, but would not submit to imposition ; and on being severely treated one day, he assured his Canadian master, that sooner than put up with abuse, he would poison him and his wife, and make his escape. Learning his independent spirit, his owner ever after treated him like a brother. The next summer, war was formally declared between Great Britain and France. Groat was claimed as a British prisoner previous to the capture of Quebec, and was for six months imprisoned at St. Francis'-way, near Montreal : where he suffered from short allowance of food. He was finally liberated and returned home, after an absence of four years and four months, to the surprise and joy of his family, which had considered him as lost forever-was again married, and my informant, John L. Groat, was a son by his second wife. Mr. Groat died in January, 1845, aged about 90 years.

Early in the French war, Eve, the wife of Jacob Van Alstine, who resided not far from the Groat family, was proceeding along the road on horseback, with a little daughter in her arms; and while in the act of opening a swing-gate which obstructed the road, was fired upon by a party of hostile Indians, and wounded in one arm. The enemy then dispatched and scalped her, but sparing her child, carried it to Canada. After a long captivity, the child returned-and in 1843, at the age of nearly a century, was still living with her nephew, J. C. Van Alstine, Esq., at Auriesville, Montgomery county.

Fate of John Markell and his Wife.-Not a few instances of captivity and suffering were experienced in the Mohawk valley settlements in the French war, the most, of which have been irrevocably lost; but here is another which tradition has preserved. I furnished an account of it for Beer's Illustrated History of Montgomery County, but will here give it a more general reading. Near the beginning of this war John Markell-who had married Miss Anna Timmerman, of St. Johnsville-began a residence in the westerly part of Minden. In the summer of 1757, Markell and his wife left home, she with a child in her arms, to go to a neighbors. A little distance from their dwelling they unexpectedly saw in their path a dozen armed Indians. Markell at once viewed, them as strangers, and if so, as foes, and knowing that their escape was impossible, he said in German to his wife who was directly behind him, "Anna, our time is up." Those were his dying words, for in the next instant one of the party had sent a bullet through his body which lodged in hers. They both fell to the ground, the child escaping from her arms. With her face down she feigned death. Markell was tomahawked and scalped, and, as an Indian was about to scalp her, she heard one of his comrades say what she divined to be, " Better knock squaw on the head!" "She's dead now," was the reply. He drew the knife around the crown, and, placing his knees against her shoulders, with his teeth he tore off the reeking scalp. A third one of the party dashed out the brains of the crying infant against a tree. The foemen did not linger long to strip their victims, and well they did not, for Mrs. Markell could not much longer have enacted the death scene. It is impossible to conceive the agony of this brave woman, who was conscious all the time her foes were present, without being seen to move a muscle. It is believed the party went directly to the house of this family, and plundered it of all they desired. Mrs. Markell found friends, and being properly treated she recovered, but carried the bullet to her grave. A year or two later she married Christopher Getman, of Ephratah, where she lived a long and useful life. She died in April 1821, at the age of about 85 years. She is still remembered by four or five of her now aged relatives, from whom these facts were obtained, as a very industrious and exemplary woman. The loss of her scalp was afterward concealed by the combing of her hair. By her second marriage she had four sons, Peter, Christian, Jacob and Adam-and two daughters, Catharine and Anna-and her son Peter was a pensioner after the next war for Revolutionary services. Not a few of this woman's descendants are to-day numbered among the reputable citizens of Fulton and Montgomery counties.-Mostly from the late Benj. Getman.

More of the French War.-Here are several items of interest kindly noted 30 years ago for the writer, by Henry Onderdonk, Jr., from Gaine's New York newspaper of that period:

"Albany, June 25, 1759 : Friday morning last, about six o'clock, a party of French and Indians appeared at Canajoharie [supposed near the Upper Mohawk castle], consisting of about thirty. They attacked the house of Peter Mardil, killed a girl and carried off two men, two women, and two Negroes prisoners. They were immediately pursued by about 50 militia, who came up with and attacked them 12 miles above Fort Hendrick, when the Indians immediately killed their white prisoners, but the Negroes escaped. Our people beat off the Indians, and found one woman alive, and, though scalped, is likely to recover. 'Tis said several Indians were killed, but as yet we have no particular account.

"Albany, June 28, 1759 : This day an express arrived from the Mohawk's river, with advice that at Fort Herkimer they took an Indian from whom, after a little punishment, they extorted the following confession: That he had left the Little Falls the 26th, where he left 15 Indians, and on the other side of the kill 200 Canadians and Indians. This Indian was sent as a spy, as he spoke good English. They had been about that place ten days, and would have attacked the Little Falls had they had a few regulars.

"New York, July 16, 1759 : A letter from Albany dated last Thursday, says : The Indian who murdered John McMichael, a sutler, last January, between Fort Stanwix and Fort Harkiman's, was shot here last Tuesday by order of the General, and was afterwards scalped.

"March 5th, 12th and 26th, 1764 ; Gaine has notice of some encounter of troops on their way to the Susquehanna, who were sent by Sir William Johnson. Capt. Bull, an Indian captive with 14 others, was sent to New York city.

"Septembers, 1764: : Johnson returned home from Niagara with whites, recaptured from Indians in Pennsylvania.

"Gaine, March 18, 1765 : Delaware deputies met at Johnson Hall for peace."

Sir William Johnson, after receiving such commanding positions, and becoming the wealthiest man in the colony to the westward of Albany, no doubt lived at Fort Johnson in greater affluence, or more in the style of a European nobleman of that day, than did any other citizen of New York, or, perhaps, of any other of the thirteen colonies. His mansion, which was a noble structure for the place and time of its erection-indeed, it was for a long period the most commanding edifice to the westward of Albany-was situated near the north shore of the Mohawk, three miles to the westward of Amsterdam. At the time of its erection, and long after, the river was covered with small water-craft ; and we may suppose that a fleet of Indian canoes and trader's bateaux were often moored for business or pleasure along the river shore here, where they could the most conveniently tie up. Here, too, were often assembled large Indian delegations from the six nations, which came to make treaties, plan war adventures, and receive gifts from the British government, and often on such occasions did scenes of athletic sports please and delight the multitude.

Here is a brief and truthful notice of the character of Sir William Johnson, published about the time he was created a Baron, which appeared in the September number of the London Gentleman's Magazine for 1755, said to have been from an American correspondent.

" Major-General Johnson (an Irish gentleman) is universally esteemed in our parts, for the part he sustains. Besides his skill and experience as an old officer, he is particularly happy in making himself beloved by all sorts of people, and can conform to all companies and conversations. He is very much of the fine gentleman in genteel company. But as the inhabitants next him are mostly Dutch, he sits down with them, and smokes his tobacco, drinks flip, and talks of improvements, bears and beaver skins. Being surrounded with Indians, he speaks several of their languages well, and has always some of them with him. His house is a safe and hospitable retreat for them from the enemy. He takes care of their wives and children when they go out on parties, and even wears their dress. In short, by his honest dealings with them in trade, and his courage, which has often been successfully tried with them, and his courteous behaviour, he has so endeared himself to them that they chose him one of their chief sachems or princes, and esteem him as their common father."

The Prosecution of the French War.-Let us catch a glimpse of the progress and end of the French war. Early in the spring of 1756, Fort Bull-at the Oneida Carrying Place, above Rome -was captured by the French, and its garrison nearly all slain. Great preparations were made by the colonies, that season, to prosecute the war with vigor. Montcalm, who had succeeded Baron Dieskau in Canada, captured the forts at Oswego, which he destroyed. In August of that year the regiments of Shirley and Pepperell, 1,400 strong, became prisoners to the French. Gen. Webb was, for some time, posted at the Great Carrying Place (near the site of Fort Bull) with 1,400 men, and Sir William Johnson at the same time was stationed near the German Flats ready for service with 1,000 militia. Lord Loudoun came from England about this time to take command of the northern expedition; but his conduct proved him unfitted for the task, and the season passed without accomplishing expected results.- Holmes.

The year of 1757 opened gloomily on the frontiers of New York. The loss of the forts at Oswego for a time forfeited the confidence of the Indian confederacy in the English interest, and opened the door for aggressive action on the part of Canada : and the result was the murder of quite a number of colonists on the borders of New York. Now was afforded an opportunity for Sir William Johnson to exhibit his wonderful influence over the Indians, which lie did quite effectually, considering the attending difficulties, in bringing the majority of them back to the English interest.* Lord Loudoun, who had the winter before rendered himself odious to the people of New York city by quartering British troops upon them-an act imitated in Boston a few years later-uudertook with a large fleet and 12,000 British troops to capture Louisburg; but having frittered away his opportunity until a French fleet came upon the coast, he ignobly returned to New York.+ Gen. Webb was at Fort Edward, 14 miles distant from Fort William Henry, with 4,000 men, and although solicited made no demonstration in aid of Col. Monroe, then its commandant, who was finally compelled to surrender to Montcalm, investing it, and although granted honorable terms, they were violated and many of his men plundered

* Indeed, so well convinced was Sir William Johnson of the difficulty of retaining the six nations without an English victory over the French, that In writing to the Lords of Trade under date of May 28, 1756, he penned this significant sentence.: "I must beg leave to give it to your Lordships as my flxt opinion upon the most deliberate consideration, that the six nations will never be thoroughly fixt to the British interest and arms until we strike some grand stroke and thereby convince them, that we have ability to protect them and humble the French, etc." In the same letter he said: " For we are now building in the Senecas country, at Onondaga, Onelda and Schoharie."-Doc His., vol. 3, pp. 724-726.

+ Holmes' Annals.

and slain by the -Indians. Sir William Johnson with 1,000 men from the Mohawk valley, wanted to go to Col. Monroe's assistance but was prevented by Webb, who seems to have lacked true courage.*

It is not surprising, that under these depressing circumstances the Indians were losing confidence in English prowess, when for two seasons with such large armies they were only meeting with disaster. But another blow was to follow the disappointments upon the water courses of the north ; which should bring the horrors of savage warfare into the Mohawk valley.

* Holmes' Annals and Stone's Johnson

Copyright 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.

Contents Introduction Links Home