History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume II, Page 86-- Sir John Johnson Wants Revenge on His Former Neighbors.-- Agreeable to a letter of Col. Claus to Secretary Knox, of London, dated at Montreal, Oct. 16, 1777: (Brod. Papers, vol. 8, p. 718.) "Sir John Johnson proposed (while the siege of Fort Stanwix was still being prosecuted) to follow the blow given to the reinforcements (who were chiefly Mohawk river people), to march down the country with about 200 men, and I intended joining him with a sufficient body of Indians, but the Brigadier (St. Ledger) said he could not spare the men, and disapproved of it. The inhabitants in general were ready (as we afterwards learned), to submit and come in." This was another delusion. "A flag was sent to invite the inhabitants to submit and be forgiven, and assurance given to prevent the Indians from being outrageous; but the commanding officers of the German Flats (Fort Dayton), hearing of it, seized the flag, consisting of Ensign Butler (Walter N., son of Col. John,) of the Eighth Regiment, ten soldiers and three Indians, and took them up as spies. A few days after, Gen. Arnold, coming with some cannon and a reinforcement made the inhabitants return to their obedience." This party were at the house of Rudolph Shoemaker, a son of Johan Jost Shoemaker, where the late Ezekiel Spencer formerly resided, at Mohawk village, only two miles distant from Fort Dayton. The act of coming there now to recruit, was a very impudent and bold one. This house was a sort of neutral ground during the war, as Provincial scouts and those of the enemy were alike there hospitably entertained, with food and a draught of buttermilk. Col. Weston of Mass., then in command of Fort Dayton, apprised of what was going on across the river, sent a body of troops which surprised and captured Butler and his party without resistance. On the arrival of General Arnold, a few days after, those prisoners were tried by Court Marital as spies, and sentenced to be hung. Whether all the white prisoners were thus tried is uncertain; but true it is that Butler and Hon. Jost Schuyler were. By the intercession of friends, the execution of Butler was delayed, and he was sent to Albany and there retained, a prisoner, for months, but finally made his escape, as believed through the treachery of his keeper, and returned to Canada.
How Han Jost Schuyler Escapes the Halter.-- The time was set for the execution of Schuyler, and a rough coffin made in which to bury him, when Arnold, who was waiting at Fort Dayton for the Tryon county militia to join him, which they did, in good numbers, considering their recent losses, thought to turn the life of the criminal to a better use than to hang him. One reason was that his mother and his brother Nicholas, who resided near Little Falls, came and pled earnestly for his life. The General proposed terms for his ransom, which his mother and his brother both offered themselves a a pledge for his performance of, the brother being accepted and confined.
Han Jost Schuyler was a queer fellow. He had a misty brain, on which account he had become known to all the Mohawks of the Upper Castle, who, for his peculiarities and harmless demeanor, regarded him with some favor. He was promised his life on condition that he would go to St. Ledger's camp, and, by giving an exaggerated account of the approaching army, so alarm the Indians that they would leave the ground; well knowing that if they did not remain with him he could not maintain the siege for a day. Having had several bullets shot through his clothing, so as to make it appear a plausible story that he had been fired upon while making his escape, he set forward in advance of Arnold's army, which consisted, in fact, of only a few regiments.
Indian runners, in the interest of the enemy, had already reported Arnold's army a thousand strong, but Schuyler was to represent is as consisting of at least two or three times that number. When he arrived among the Mohawks, tho whom he was known; showed the holes in his garments and told what hair-breadth escapes he had had to get away and bring intelligence of the advance of Gen. Arnold with a large army and heavy cannon; there was at once a commotion in the camp, and he was hurried before St. Ledger, to whom his unwelcome and astounding news was repeated. That officer was at first incredulous, but the loyal officers who knew the messenger when down with Lieut. Butler, and was captured with him, placed confidence in his statement. At this stage of proceeding, several friendly Oneidas, who were in the secret, one after another dropped into camp to warn their former friends of danger, saying the Americans had no quarrel with the Indians, each confirming the story of Schuyler. When asked how many troops Arnold had, they answered enigmatically: Said one, "Can Indian count the stars?" Said another, "Can me tell how many leaves on em trees! The also represented that the large army was rapidly advancing, and must soon reach that place. A score of bomb shells exploding in the Indian encampment would not have produced a more wonderful excitement. Indeed, the camp was at once broken up, and they began rapidly to set their faces toward Canada. In vain did St. Ledger remonstrate with his allies against their hot haste, and attempt to detain them until he could gather up his camp equipage: and not a few of his own dusky warriors, who were tired of camp life, added to the general terror and confusion by giving the war whoop and shouting, "They're coming! They're coming!"
Why St. Ledger Hastily Skedaddled.-- St. Ledger no doubt began to apprehend his position a dangerous one, and he and Sir John Johnson, with the ready acquiesce of their subordinate officers, made all haste to get away; leaving in their standing tents, provisions, artillery, ammunition, indeed, their entire camp equipage, with the papers and private effects of St. Ledger himself. (Life of Brant.) Not another such stampede was made during the war. It is stated on good authority, that the Indians, who had been disappointed in not sacking the entire valley of the Mohawk, and had even lost their own clothing and blankets by the sortie of Col. Willet, did not scruple on their way back to Oswego, to murder and strip some of St. Ledger's white troops, when in an exposed condition. Such was the finale to one of Britain's devised means to subjugate her American colonies.
Hon. Jost Schuyler accompanied the flying army of St. Ledger for two or three miles, and embraced an opportunity the first evening to steal away and hasten back to Fort Dayton. He stopped long enough at Fort Stanwix to inform Col. Gansevoort, that Arnold was advancing to the relief of the garrison. Informed by Col. Gansevoort, that St. Ledger had "vamoosed the ranche," Gen. Arnold sent forward a body of troops, if possible to overtake and punish the invaders. Arnold reached Fort Stanwix next day, where he was received by the cheers and an artillery salute of the garrison; to learn that troops from the fort were already on the trail of the enemy, and had made some prisoners, etc. Gansevoort did not know what had sent the enemy on the back track so hastily, until the arrival of Gen. Arnold. (Brod. Papers, Vol. 8, p. 719.) Schuyler, on arriving at Fort Dayton, saw his brother set free, and his mother overjoyed that they were both again at liberty. It has been stated to the writer, that Nicholas, the hostage afterwards rendered service in the Provincial army.
I have already shown that Sir John Johnson, in his exuberant love of early friends of the Mohawk valley, and their exposed families, wanted to visit them from Fort Stanwix with a herd of brutes and savages, and bring them such protection as wolves given to lambs; but prevented from manifesting his amiable disposition by his superior officer, who objected, either on account of his own safety, or a just horror of the deed which his associates boated they would commit. In the letter of Col. Claus, in which the preceding circumstance is mentioned, (Brod. Papers, vol 8, p. 719) appears the following statement of an incident attending the reconstruction of Fort Stanwix, which I do not remember to have seen recorded by any American write. This account states that Col. Claus set out, January 23, from La Chine, near Montreal, and that, "Between 60 and 70 leagues from Montreal, my reconnoitering party returned, and met me, with five prisoners (one [a] Lieutenant) and four scalps, having defeated a working party of 16 rebels, as they were cutting sod, and towards repairing and finished the Old Fort, which is a regular square, and garrisoned by upwards of 600 man; the repairs far advanced and the rebels expecting us and were acquainted with our strength and route." I copy further, to show his reasons for the failure of the enterprise: "I immediately forwarded the prisoners to the Brigadier [St. Ledger] who was about 15 leagues in our rear. On his arrival within a few leagues of Buck Island, he sent for me, and talking over the intelligence that the rebel prisoners gave, he owned that if they intended to defend themselves in that fort, our artillery was not sufficient to take it, however he said, he was determined to get the truth of these fellows. I told him that having examined them separately they agreed in their story. And here the Brigadier had still an opportunity and time of sending for a better train of artillery, and wait for the junction of the Chasseurs, which must have secured us success, as every one will allow. However he was full of his alert, making light of the prisoners' intelligence."
As also appears by this same letter of Col. Claus, Col. Butler, could not have had a separate command at Oriskany, since of the regiment of Rangers he was to raise, he seems to have had but one company present, which was then under the command of Sir John Johnson. To show what exaggerated account went to England, I may remark, that Col. Claus stated to Secretary Knox, that at Oriskany, the Americans out of some 800 men, left upwards of 500 killed on the spot.
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