Horton's Historical Articles

by Gerald Horton

Timeline for 1781

Jan 17, 1781 Battle of Cowpens, SC.

In late December 1780, British General Cornwallis learned a force commanded by Rebel General Daniel Morgan was operating in the western region of North Carolina. Cornwallis realized this force was a threat to his flank. He ordered Col. Banastre Tarleton to attack and destroy Morgan’s army.

On the morning of Jan 17th, Tarleton attacked, but Morgan was ready for him. In a series of skirmishes and what looked like retreats, Morgan led Tarleton into a trap. Morgan’s main force held Tarleton’s advance while cavalry (led by William Washington, a kinsman of George Washington) turned Tarleton’s flanks. This was the biggest British defeat since Saratoga.

An hours fighting cost the British 100 killed and 229 wounded. An additional 600 were captured. American losses were 12 killed and 60 wounded.

Source: Mark M. Boatner III, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution.

Feb 5, 1781 Gov. Clinton’s letter to Congress.

Historian Barbara Graymont described the damage inflicted on the New York frontier in 1780: “It included three hundred thirty killed or prisoners – fourteen of whom were officers – six forts and several mills destroyed, over seven hundred houses and barns burned, and nearly seven hundred head of cattle driven off. The grain destroyed was immense. Also to be considered was the terror instilled into the frontier inhabitants and their enforced flight from once flourishing settlements.”

Governor George Clinton wrote to Congress: “We are now arrived at the year 1781, deprived of a great Portion of our most valuable and well inhabited Territory, numbers of our Citizens have been barbarously butchered by ruthless Hand of the Savages, many are carried away into Captivity, vast numbers entirely ruined, and these with their Families become a heavy Burthen to the distressed remainder … we shall soon approach to the Verge of Ruin.”

Source: Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution.

Mar 1781 Indian war parties.

During the 1781 campaign a large number of Iroquois war parties descended on the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys. Many of them attacked settlements previously devastated and destroyed whatever had been rebuilt. Most of the parties were small, traveled swiftly, and did much damage.

Source: Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution.

Mar 15, 1781 Battle of Guilford Courthouse, NC.

After avoiding British General Cornwallis’ army for several weeks, Rebel General Nathaniel Greene decided to make a stand at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina. Greene had approximately 4,500 men – 1,600 of whom were Continentals. Most of Greene’s men had never been in action. Cornwallis’ army consisted of 1,900 men who were all veterans.

Cornwallis heard Greene had received some reinforcements and thought the Rebel General now had 10,000 men under his command. Showing his disdain for the Rebel militia, Cornwallis marched his outnumbered force into battle.

Greene’s tactics used Cornwallis’ belief (that the militia would break and run) against him and so frustrated the British that at one point Cornwallis fired grapeshot into a melee of his won and Rebel soldiers. Greene finally retreated (in an orderly fashion) in the afternoon. Cornwallis left the field for Wilmington, NC the following day.

Greene sufferd 78 men killed and 183 wounded. The British lost 143 killed and 389 wounded.

Sources: Mark M. Boatner III, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution.

Harv Hilowitz, Revolutionary War Chronology and Almanac.

Apr 28, 1781 Marinus Willett assumes command.

New York Governor George Clinton appoints Col. Marinus Willett commander of the New York militia on the frontier.
Source: Public Papers of George Clinton, Vol VI.

May 22, 1781 Fort Stanwix abandoned.

In May 1781, Fort Stanwix was in extremely poor condition. The barracks had been mostly destroyed by fire and heavy spring rains had nearly demolished the fort.

The fort had been of little service in recent months in keeping the enemy from the frontier. To repair it and keep it in a state of readiness would now require an enormous expense. Rebel General James Clinton ordered the abandonment of the fort. The garrison was to take up quarters at Fort Herkimer where they could be more readily available for a defense of the Mohawk Valley.

Source: Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution.

Jul 9, 1781 Currytown attacked.

Currytown settlement was attacked on the morning of July 9th. The raiders were led by Loyalist Lieutenant John Doxstader and consisted of about 300 (some sources say 500) Indians and a small number of Loyalists. They killed or captured the settlers and burned the settlement.

Sources: Lossing, Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution.

James Morrison, Battle of New Dorlach, Tryon County (on Tryon County rootsweb site).

Jul 10, 1781 Battle of New Dorlach.

Following the attack on Currystown, Rebel Col. Marrinus Willett, who was in headquarters at Fort Plain, saw the smoke from the settlement. Assuming this was the work of Loyalist raiders, he sent out a scouting party to try and find the enemy. The scouts found the raiders encamped in a cedar swamp in New Dorlach (present day Sharon Springs). Runners were sent to inform Col Willett. Upon learning of the enemy’s location, Willett sent out a call for more militia and immediately set out to engage the Loyalist force.

Willett used a favorite tactic of the Indians and led them into an ambush. The battle lasted an hour and a half. Thinking they were being attacked by a force larger than theirs, the Indians retreated leaving their booty from Currytown behind.

Fifty of the raiders were killed or wounded while Willett’s force suffered five men killed and nine wounded. This was the first large raiding party the frontier militia had defeated.

Source: William W. Campbell, The Border Warfare of New York During the Revolution.

James Morrison, The Battle of New Dorlach, Tryon County (Tryon County rootsweb site).


Jul 1781 Cornwallis establishes base at Yorktown, VA.

British General Cornwallis established his base at Yorktown, Virginia, a small peninsula jutting into the Chesapeake Bay. He had approximately 7,000 men and was supported by a British fleet in the bay.

Source: Harv Hilowitz, Revolutionary War Chronology and Almanac.

Sep 1, 1781 Cobus Kill raid.

About twenty to thirty Indians and Loyalists attacked the settlement of Cobus Kill. They plundered and burned “dwellings and buildings which had escaped the enemy’s visitation four years previous”. One settler (George Fremire) was killed, and seven other men taken prisoner.

Source: Edward Hagan, War in Schohary.
Sep 7, 1781 Scouting party attacked.

Rebel Lieutenant Solomon Woodworth led a scout of forty-six militia and six Oneida Indians from Fort Dayton up the West Canada Creek to look for signs of the enemy. The scout found tracks of a party of Indians and followed. Those tracks were made by a war party of seventy-four Onondagas and Cayugas led by Loyalist Lieutenant John Clement. Clement learned his party was being followed and set an ambush for the Rebels.

One of the Indian raiders showed himself and Woodworth’s men pursued him. The entire Rebel scouting party was well into the trap as they chased the fleeing Indian. The enemy’s first volley left ten of Woodworth’s men dead or dying.

At the end of the skirmish, twenty-two militia were dead including Lt. Woodworth. Nine were captured and taken to Canada. The rest of the militia and the Oneidas escaped and returned to Fort Dayton. Only two of the raiders were wounded.

The site of the ambush was in a deep ravine three miles north of present day Herkimer on the east side of the West Canada Creek.

Sources: Paul Keesler, Kuyahoora: Discovering West Canada Valley.

James Morrison, The Fate of a Scouting Party (Fulton County rootsweb site).

Sep 8, 1781 Battle of Eutaw Springs, SC.

Rebel General Nathaniel Greene surprised the British army under Lt. Col. Alexander Stewart as the British were encamped at a place called Eutaw Springs. This was the last major engagement in the south (until Yorktown) and was one of the hardest fought actions of the revolution.

After initial Rebel success, a British counterattack forced Greene to withdraw, but his army was intact. The British withdrew to Charles Town. The British were left with only the ports of Savannah and Charles Town. Their southern strategy was a failure.

Of approximately 2,200 Rebels engaged, 522 were casualties (139 killed, 375 wounded, and 8 missing). The British had between 1,800 and 2,000 men. They lost 687 (85 killed, 351 wounded and 251 missing). Historians disagree on the number of missing and prisoners as some count unarmed foragers captured by the Rebels at the start of the battle and others do not.

Sources: Mark M. Boatner III, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution.

Harv Hilowitz, Revolutionary War Chronology & Almanac.

Sep 15, 1781 French fleet defeats British.

The French fleet under Admiral de Grasse defeated the British fleet off the Chesapeake Capes. The British sailed back to New York and the French blockaded Chesapeake Bay.

Source: Harv Hilowitz, Revolutionary War Chronology & Almanac.
Oct 3, 1781 Cornwallis trapped.

Over 16,000 French and American troops surrounded British General Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. With the French fleet blockading Chesapeake Bay, Cornwallis is trapped with approximately 7,000 British, Hessian, and Loyalist troops.

Source: Harv Hilowitz, Revolutionary War Chronology & Almanac.
Oct 19, 1781 Cornwallis surrenders.

British General Cornwallis surrendered his entire army at Yorktown, Virginia. This was the final major land battle between large forces. However, hostilities did not cease for over a year, especially on the frontiers.

Source: Harv Hilowitz, Revolutionary War Chronology & Almanac.
Oct 25, 1781 Warrensbush attacked.

British Major John Ross and Loyalist Captain Walter Butler left Oswego on October 11th to attack the Mohawk Valley. Their force consisted of some 470 British and Loyalist troops as well as 130 Indians. On October 24th they attacked and plundered Currytown and then marched to Warrensbush (current Town of Florida).

At dawn on October 25th, Ross’s force attacked and burned Warrensbush. In his report to General Haldimand, Ross estimated that they had destroyed nearly one hundred fine farms. Rebel witnesses stated the loss was less than thirty. Ross also stated the settlement had been a “nest of Rebels”, but Rebel Colonel Willett said that most of the farms burned had belonged to “disaffected persons” or Loyalists.

Sources: Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution.

James Morrison, The Battle of Johnstown (Fulton County rootsweb site).

Oct 25, 1781 Battle of Johnstown.

After burning Warrensbush, Major Ross moved his force across the Mohawk River. This was not an easy task as the river was swollen from recent rains. The raiders moved within sight of Fort Johnstown. Some shots were exchanged, but no attempt was made to actually attack the fort. Ross moved his force through Johnstown to the west.

Rebel Colonel Willett received word of Ross’s presence on October 24th. He moved from his headquarters at Fort Plain to intecept the raiders. On the morning of October 25th, he learned Ross had burned Warrensbush and then crossed the river and headed for Johnstown. Willett and his militia force of about four hundred men crossed the river at Caughnawaga (present Fonda, NY). He also had difficulty crossing and lost an ammunition cart in the process.

About 4:00 in the afternoon, Willett caught up with the raiders where they had encamped outside Johnstown. Willett split his force and attempted to surround Ross. The battle lasted until darkness fell and Ross retreated from the battlefield. The raiders had eleven men killed and thirty-two taken prisoner. Willett’s force suffered twelve men killed, twenty-four wounded, and five taken prisoner.

Sources: Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution.

James Morrison, The Battle of Johnstown (Fulton County rootsweb site).

Oct 30, 1781 Death of Loyalist Captain Walter Butler.

Even before the Battle of Johnstown, Major Ross had decided not to return to Oswego, but to strike out across the lower Adirondack region to reach Carleton Island at the head of the St. Lawrence River. Following the battle, Ross traveled northwest. Col. Willett thought that was what Ross would do and marched to intercept him. Ross’s force was moving swiftly and Willett could not intercept him, but did pursue the raiders for several days.

Ross was unaware of his pursuers until October 30th when his rear party was fired on by the Rebels. The British then pushed themselves even harder and crossed the West Canada Creek. Loyalist Captain Walter Butler was in charge of the rear guard. Once across the creek, Butler thought he was out of musket range and taunted the Rebels across the creek. One account had an Oneida Indian wounding Butler in the thigh and he fell from his horse. The Indian rushed across and was about to tomahawk Butler when Butler cried “Quarter!” The Indian cried he would give him “Cherry Valley Quarter” (Butler led the raid at Cherry Valley in 1778 that left some 32 civilians dead). He then proceeded to tomahawk and scalp Butler.

Years later, the son of one of the Rangers on the Ross expedition claimed that his father was with Butler at the time he was shot and that Butler was shot in the head. Butler would not have been able to call for quarter – or anything else. Several of Willett’s men corroborated the story of Butler being shot in the head. Col. Willett, in his report to Governor Clinton, stated, “he (Butler) was not dead when found by one of our Indians, who finished his business for him and got a Considerable Booty”.
Source: Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution.
Nov 13, 1781 Schoharie attacked.

A raiding party of some twenty-eight Indians attacked the settlement of Schoharie. The party was led by Loyalist Lieutenant Adam Crysler. The raiders killed one man, burned several houses, and drove off about fifty head of cattle and horses. After several skirmishes with pursuing militia, the raiders lost the livestock and retreated to Fort Niagara.

Source: Edward Hagan, War in Schohary.

Return to opening page for Horton's Historical Articles

Copyright © 1998, -- 2004. Gerald Horton. 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.