Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

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

Volume II, Page 449. On the morning of the day on which the Stone Arabia battle was fought, Fred H. Dockstader, who lived on the "Sand Flats," in the present town of Mohawk, having been the fires along the river, concealed his family and personal effects in the woods, and then approached the Mohawk valley to get a view of passing events; thinking the enemy would confine their movements to the river settlements. As he was about to gain the desired position, he was surprised to see a party of Indians approaching him. He walked boldly up, and addressing them with confidence assured them he was their friend, and on his way to meet them. They proceeded with him to his house, and after laying him under contribution in the way of plunder, left him and his buildings unharmed. Before leaving, they took several of his horses, one of which was a favorite, although he dared not protest against their taking it. This party of the enemy burned the house of F. H. Dockstader's brother, within sight of his own, and left a war club in a conspicuous place; as much as to say, "we will kill the proprietor if we can catch him."

A pleasing incident occurred at Dockstader's, illustrative of the red man's character. One of the Indians caught a colt that had never been rode, and with his belt and some cords made a kind of bridle which he put upon its head. The colt stood still until the Indian had mounted with a bundle of plunder in one hand and his rifle in the other, seemingly delighted with his new master; but as soon as he had made ready to set forward, and struck his heels against the animal, it dashed onward and reared several times, sending the Indian heels over head upon the ground in one direction, and his rifle and duds in another. Thus rid of his load, the colt stopped and looked back to witness the plight of the rider. The rest of the Indians laughed as though their sides would split, and Dockstader, who dared not laugh, expected to see the Indian rise and shoot the animal; but instead of doing so, he sullenly gained his feet, picked up his portable wealth, and moved off amid the merry jeers of him companions. --Henry F., son of Fred. H. Dockstader.

Johnson's Pursuers make no Haste. After Col. Brown fell, the enemy, scattered in small bodies, were to be seen in every direction, plundering and burning the settlements in Atone Arabia, from which agreeable pastime, for them, they were finally called to join the forces of Sir John Johnson to the westward, by the blowing of several tin horns. Gen. Van Rensselaer kept upon the south side of the river, making no efforts to cross it as Keator's rift; at Spraker's, where the enemy had forded; or at Brandywine rift, near Canajoharie, but finally brought up at Fort Plain, where he became the guest of Col. Willet at his dinner table. Several fugitives from Brown's command had conveyed intelligence of his fate to Gen. V. R., but without causing any movement toward crossing the river, until Col. Harper and other officers began severely to censure him for his neglect of duty. Orders were finally given to cross the river, which was accomplished, in the afternoon, at Ehle's rift, half a mile below Fort Plain bridge, where several wagons were used in the deepest water. Much delay attended the crossing, and the march was resumed late in the day.

The Centenarian, Henry Smith, assured the writer that at the time of Johnson's invasion, his father and Klock's, with those of several other families, on the signal of alarm, took refuge at Fort Nellis, below St. Johnsville. Informant was sent back to his father's place, across the river (the present residence of Joseph Smith), to let their horses into the woods; which duty he accomplished and got back to the stockade before the enemy arrived. They passed several fortified dwellings without demonstration, and were allowed to pass this rather than provoke an assault.

During some previous invasion, informant's father was going to drive away his cows early in the morning, when he saw an Indian, on his knees, trying to get a shot at him. He shot the Indian, ran up and dispatched him with a hatchet, cutting through a beaver hat, of which the rascal had become possessed. He gave the Indian's gun to his son. Nellis had a Guinea Negro, at stout fellow, who made a small hickory cannon that was sometimes allowed to be fired, but his master would not allow it to be fired at this time, from motives of policy. Armed with his gun, the lad, then 13 years old, wanted to fire on the passing foe, but was restrained from so doing. It is not known that any of the foemen remained on the south side of the river when Johnson's army crossed at Spraker's and the firing of signal guns gave the settlers a chance to gain a safe retreat: the Vandals plundering and burning their abandoned homes, through Palatine, without opposition.

A Battle at St. Johnsville. Finding himself pursued, Col. Johnson halted his men a little below St. Johnsville and prepared to give his pursuers battle. "And," said Henry Smith, "on the lands of John Richard Failing, and near the former Edwin Snell place, a battle occurred. It could hardly be called a battle, for scarcely had it begun ere the end came." But with the few shots exchanged, several were killed and wounded on both sides. It grew dark so fast after the armies were in array, that both parties, from fear of shooting their own men, were willing to adjourn for more light, at least such was a subsequent statement at Van Rensselaer's court martial. Sir John was compelled to retreat to a peninsula in the river, where he encamped, with his men much wearied. His situation was such that he could have been taken with ease. Col. Duboise, with a body of Levies, took a position above him to present his proceeding up the river; Gen. Van Rensselaer, with the main army, below; while Col. Harper, while Col. Harper, with the Oneida Indians, gained a position on the south side of the river, nearly opposite. The General gave express orders that the attack should be renewed by the troops under his immediate command, at the rising of the moon, some hour in the night. Instead, however, of encamping on the ground from which the enemy had been driven, as a brave officer would have done, he fell back down the river and encamped three miles distant. The troops under Duboise and Harper could hardly be restrained from commencing the attack long before the moon arose; but when it did they waited with anxiety to hear the rattle of Van Rensselaer's musketry.

The enemy, who encamped on lands owned by the late Judge Jacob G. Klock, spiked their cannon, which was there abandoned; and soon after the moon appeared, began to move forward to a fording place just above the residence of Nathan Christie, and not far from their encampment. Many were the denunciations made by the men under Duboise and Harper against Van Rensselaer, when they found he did not begin the attack, and had given strict orders that their commanders should not. They openly stigmatized the General as a "Coward" and "traitor;" but when several hours had elapsed, and he had not yet made his appearance, a murmur of discontent pervaded all. Harper and Duboise were compelled to see the troops under Johnson and Brant ford the river and pass off unmolested, or disobey the orders of their commander, when they could unaided, have given them most advantageous battle. Had these brave Colonels, at the moment the enemy were in the river, taken the responsibility of disobeying their commander as Murphy had done at Schoharie three days before, and commenced the attack in front and rear, the consequences must have been very fatal to the retreating army, and the death of Col. Brown and his men promptly avenged. Jacob Becker, a Schoharie militiaman.

As if to cap the climax of Gen. Van Rensselaer's management, he had sent an express to Fort Schuyler; from whence, Capt. Walter Vrooman *(the same mentioned as being at the Johnstown fort in May preceding), was dispatched with a company of fifty men to Oneida Lake, to destroy the enemy's concealed boats. Col. Johnson, informed of the movement, as believed, through the treachery of one of Vrooman's men, surprised and captured the entire command.

*Soon after Capt. Vrooman, who was a large muscular man (as brave as strong), was taken, and Indian, claiming him as his prisoner, fastened to his shoulders a heavy pack, which he compelled him to carry. Those Indian packs were usually made of striped linsey petticoats, stolen from frontier settlers: such was the one, filled with plunder made in Stone Arabia, imposed on Capt. Vrooman. He had not borne it far, before he was observed by Col. Johnson, who inquired why he carried it? he replied that an Indian has placed it upon him. The Colonel then drew his sword and severed its fastenings. In a short time, the owner of the pack, who was in the rear at the time it fell, camp up, and in anger replaced it, with a threat of death if he did not continue to carry it. It had been restored but a little while, when Sir John again observed the American Captain (who was a fine specimen of the early Dutch) under the ungainly load, and once more cut its bands; placing a guard around him to prevent his receiving any injury or insult from the red warrior. In a few minutes, the latter reappeared with uplifted tomahawk, threatening vengeance; but finding his approach to the prisoner prevented by bristling bayonets, he sullenly fell back: he, however, continued to watch for a favorable opportunity all the way to Canada, to execute his threat. While crossing a rapid stream on a log shortly after, this Indian fell off with his pack on, and would have drowned, but for the timely aid of his comrades. On arriving at Montreal, Capt. Vrooman was incarcerated in prison and did not see the sun again for two long years. Volkert Voorhees.

A Reason Why. It was confidently asserted in the American army, that some relationship by marriage existed between Gen. Van Rensselaer and Sir John Johnson, which induced the former to favor the escape of the latter. Becker and John Ostrom.

The Americans took two 9 pounders from Schenectada, which were left at Fort Plain. So much dallying took place on the part of the commanding officer, that the enemy, although pursued some distance on the south side of the river, were not prevented from making their escape. At a blockhouse and stockade, called Fort Windecker, after a German, whose house was enclosed at Mindenville, seven men and a boy killed an Indian and took nine prisoners, several of whom, worn out with constant exertions, purposely surrendered. They stated that if the Americans had followed up their advantages, Johnson and most of his men must have been captures. Forty or fifty horses belonging to citizens of Schoharie were recovered, and either taken back by the soldiers at this time, or reclaimed in the Mohawk valley the following winter, by some half dozen men who wet from Schoharie on purpose. Jacob Becker and David Zeh.

In the pursuit of Johnson from Schoharie, the militia being deficient in knapsacks, carried bread on poles. Holes being make in the loaves, a pole was passed through several, and borne between two soldiers, who also added a loaf at each end. Mattice Bal.

In the summer of 1843, I obtained from John Ostrom, a worthy citizen of Glen, some additional particulars relating to this invasion. Mr. Ostrom was a militiaman under Gen. Van Renselaer, in the pursuit of Sir John Johnson. When the Americans arrived at the Nose, on the enemy's trail in the morning, Col. Brown was then engaged with the latter not three miles distant, and they heard the firing, but made no attempt to cross the river where the enemy had crossed. When the skirmish took place between Col. Duboise and Col. Johnson, the reason assigned by Gen. Van Rensselaer, for not following up the success gained was, its being so near night. Henry Ostrom, a Captain of Militia, from the vicinity of Albany, and father of the informant, to whose company the latter was attached; surprised at the indifference of the General, asked him if he did not intend to prosecute the attack. He replied that it was so near night his men would not march. Capt. Ostrom, still remonstrating with him, for what he considered a neglect of duty, finally received orders to lead his own men forward; which he did with promptness, to the surprise of the General, who, having mistaken his mettle, countermanded the order after the company had proceeded several rods. Why Van Rensselaer chose to fall back down the river three miles to encamp, remains a mystery still. This incident goes to prove that it was not very dark when Gen. Van Rensselaer began his retrograde movement.

Capt. Duncan, an officer under Sir John Johnson, in this invasion, returned after the war closed to the residence of his father, situated a few miles from Schenectada. His return having been kept private for a little time, he invited in several of his former acquaintances, some of whom he had opposed in arms, of which number was Capt. Ostrom. On this occasion he informed his guests, while speaking of Johnson's invasion now under consideration, that after the skirmish with Col. Duboise, the British officers held a consultation, at which it was agreed to surrender the whole army, worn out with fatigue as it was, prisoners of war; but that Gen. Van Rensselaer did not give them a chance. Capt. Duncan finding himself kindly treated by his old neighbors, remained in the State.

I am aware that Gen. Van Rensselaer was court martialed for his apathy in this affair, and I suppose was honorably acquitted; but it would be evident to anyone who talked with members of the pursuing army, that Colonels Harper and Duboise, as also other officers who denounced his action at the time in the valley, and were called as witnesses at his trial at Albany, were afraid to testify against a man of his wealth and influence; hence a verdict of acquittal. They seemed to forget all they had said when in Tryon county.

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