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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

A History of Schenectady During the Revolution:
Chapter VII: The Indians. Rumors Regarding the Johnsons and Colonel Guy's Subsequent Departure from the Valley

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[This information is from pp. 35-42 of A History of Schenectady During the Revolution by Willis T. Hanson, Jr. (Brattleboro, VT: E. L. Hildreth & Co., 1916). It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 974.744 H25, and copies are also available for borrowing.]

Both the colonists and the Mother Country had been quick to realize the important part to be played by the Confederacy of the Six Nations (1) should their differences lead to a clash of arms. As early as 1774 efforts were made in behalf of the colonists, through the Stockbridge Indians, to secure the sympathies of the Mohawks, while to Reverend Samuel Kirkland (2) was intrusted the matter of winning (3) over the Oneidas. In behalf of England Colonel Johnson, acting under orders, had sought to hamper the work of Kirkland and to retain the friendship of the Indians.

Scarcely had the Committee of Safety at Schenectady been formed when rumors (4) began to be freely circulated to the effect that Colonel Johnson, in abuse of his office as Indian Superintendent, was desirous of bringing about an Indian uprising With a view of "cutting off" those who opposed him and that he was laying plans to this end.

So persistent were these rumors that Colonel Johnson, fearing the consequences were he to permit them to go unrefuted, placed (5) the matter before the Schenectady Committee on May (6) 18, thus stating his position:

Gentlemen: We have, for some days past, heard of many threats from the public, that give us reason to apprehend that the persons or properties of gentlemen of the first consequence, both with respect to station and property, would have been insulted in this county, and myself in particular, under color of a gross and notorious falsehood, uttered by some worthless scoundrels, respecting my intentions as Superintendent of Indian affairs. To gentlemen of sense and moderation these malicious, ill-founded charges ought to be self-evidently false, as my duty is to promote peace, and my office of the highest importance to the trade and frontiers; but as these reports are daily increasing, it becomes me, both as a subject and a man, to disavow them, and until I can find out and chastise the infamous author, to assure the public of their mistake, and to acquaint them that it has rendered it my duty for self-preservation, so necessary, that I have taken precaution to give a very hot and disagreeable reception to any persons who shall invade my retreat; at the same time I have no intention to disturb those who choose to permit me the honest exercise of my reason and the duties of my office; and requesting that you will immediately cause this to be made public to the Albany Committee.

I remain, Gent'n, your very humble serv't,

G. JOHNSON.

Much, however, as Colonel Johnson sought to check it, the current of opinion continued to increase in its hostility to him. The gossip of the day abounded in stories, false or otherwise, circulated for the benefit of one side or the other. One, to the effect that the person of Colonel Johnson was in danger of being seized and their supply of powder thereby cut off, evidently spread with a view of inciting the Indians against the colonists, so well succeeded in its purpose that on May 20 Little Abram, a chief of the Lower Castle of Mohawks, in behalf of the Indians, thus appealed (7) to the magistrates and committees at Albany and Schenectady:

Brothers—

Our present situation is very disagreeable and alarming, what we never expected, therefore desire to know what is designed by the reports that are spread amongst us. We hear that Companies and Troops are coming from one quarter to another to molest us, Particularly from New England to apprehend and take away by Violence our Superintendent and extinguish our Council Fire, for what reason we know not—

Brothers—

We desire you would inform us, if you know of any such design on foot either by the New England People or in your Vicinity and not deceive us in this Matter for the Consequences will be important and extensive—

Brothers—

We shall support and defend our Superintendent and not see our Council Fire extinguished—

We have no Inclination or purpose of interfering in the Dispute between Old England and Boston; the white People may settle their own Quarrels between themselves; we shall never meddle in those matters, or be the Aggressors, if we are let alone. We have for a long time lived in peace with one another and due wish ever to continue so. But should our Superintendent be taken from us, we dread the Consequences, the whole Confederacy would resist it, and all their Allies, and as reports now are, we should not know where to find our Enemies; the innocent might fall with the Guilty. We are so desirous of maintaining Peace that we are unwilling the Six Nations should know the bad Report spread amongst us & threats given out—

Brothers—

We desire you will satisfy us as to your knowledge of the foundation of those reports, and what your News are and not Deceive us in a matter of so much Importance—

Signed Abram Chief.

In answer to the appeal of Little Abram, at a conference of the Indians called at Guy Park on May 25, a committee (8) composed of delegates from Albany and Tryon (9) counties declared (10) to the Indians in the presence of Colonel Johnson that the reports concerning intended harm to their superintendent were false. They declared further that they hoped the report in regard to the powder was false also, and assured the Indians that on their return they would inform their "old and wise men" of the report and use every endeavor, if it were so, to prevent any recurrence in the future.

The Indians on their part again expressed themselves as being peaceably disposed toward the inhabitants, but made it quite plain that if their supplies of powder which they obtained from their superintendent were cut off, they would surely distrust them.

The Indians who attended the conference were mostly Mohawks, and as the Western Indians who were invited to attend were not represented, the council was soon adjourned with a view of meeting later at Crosby's Manor near German Flats. This council was never held. Colonel Johnson remained but a short time at Crosby's Manor and then proceeded westward to Fort Stanwix, (11) accompanied not only by his family and some five hundred retainers who had left Guy Park with him, but also by a large body of Mohawk Indians from the Upper Castle. The stay at Fort Stanwix was but a brief one, Colonel Johnson and his followers proceeding almost at once to Ontario, where a council of the Western Indians was convened.

Thus far no act of open hostility had been committed by Colonel Johnson, although his movements were viewed with the greatest suspicion by the settlers. While the council was being held at Ontario the whole Valley was again thrown into alarm by rumors that reached the Tryon County Committee on good authority that "Col. [Guy] Johnson was ready with eight or nine hundred Indians to make an invasion of the Country, that the Indians were to be under the Command of Joseph Brant (12) and Walter Butler (13) and that they were to fall on the inhabitants below the little falls in order to divide the people in two parts. (14)

The cause for this alarm seemed the more real as Sir John Johnson still remained at Johnstown, surrounded by a large body of loyal followers.

The Tryon County Committee wrote (15) to the Albany and Schenectady Committees on July 13, placing the matter before them, stating that they had every reason to believe the reports true, and further that they feared that all their enemies in the county would appear in arms as soon as the Indians approached. "Our ammunition is so scant," continued the letter, "that we cannot furnish three hundred men so as to be able to make a stand against so great a number. In these deplorable circumstances we look to you for Assistance both in men and ammunition to save this County from slaughter and desolation."

It will be remembered that Captain Van Dyck's company was on July 13 under orders to march to Lake George.

Immediately upon its receipt the letter from the Tryon County Committee had been forwarded (16) by the Schenectady Committee (who first received it) to the Committee at Albany who at once dispatched it by "an express" to General Schuyler, who was then at Saratoga, with the suggestion (17) that if he thought it advisable he should countermand his former orders and permit the company to march to the relief of their friends to the westward.

On the fourteenth General Schuyler's answer was received. "The letter you have enclosed," it read, (18) "is of a truly alarming nature and requires the most immediate and vigorous efforts to counteract the meditated evil, And I would advise that not only Capt. Van Dyck and his company but also such others as you can possibly get should immediately March into Tryon County with the Albany and Schenectady Militia who should also be requested to march to the relief of that County. You will please to supply Capt. Van Dyck's Company with ammunition (19) and send all you can spare to the Inhabitants of Tryon County."

Whatever may have been the plan of the Johnsons, the one feared was not carried out. Colonel Guy returned to Oswego from Ontario, succeeded in winning a few more Indians to the British cause, and then proceeded with his followers to Canada.

Notes

  1. Their number in 1773 is estimated as twelve thousand five hundred. (Unnamed authority. Quoted United States Census. 1890.)
  2. He was born at Norwich, Connecticut, December 1, 1741, and died February 28, 1808. In 1764, with the approval of Sir William Johnson, he took up his residence among the Senecas as a missionary and in 1766 settled at Oneida. He performed valuable services as an interpreter, acted as a chaplain in the army during the Revolution and in 1793 founded Hamilton-Oneida Academy, the germ of Hamilton College.
  3. On June 23, 1775, Kirkland appeared before the Schenectady Committee with five Oneida Indians and requested that some member of the Board accompany them to Albany, whither they were bound. John Roseboom was appointed for this service and on the return of the Indians to Schenectady a few days later the Committee voted to give them some presents to show their "friendly disposition" and to entertain them while in town at the house of William White.
  4. On May 20 the Committee received a letter stating that the bearer "had heard Colonel Guy Johnson desire some Indians to rise in arms and Cut off the Inhabitants" and on the twenty-second it was reported on good authority that one Mr. Fletcher, a schoolmaster in the town, had said that Colonel Johnson "would come down the river with five thousand Indians and cut [them] all off" and that he had further stated "that it would be right and if he had it in his Power he would do the same for [they] were all rebels." Mr. Fletcher seems to have very wisely left town after indulging in these remarks, as he could not later be located by the Committee.
  5. Jeptha R. Simms, Frontiersmen of New York, I, 494.
  6. On May 20, Colonel Johnson dispatched a second letter to the Committees of Albany and Schenectady representing the danger he believed himself to be in of being seized and imprisoned "either by the New Englanders or some persons in or about the city of Albany or town of Schenectady," as the result of the "ridiculous and malicious report that [he] intend[ed] to make the Indians destroy the inhabitants." William L. Stone, Life of Joseph Brant, I, 67-69.
  7. The original of the speech as interpreted by Reverend Samuel Kirkland is to be found among the Trumbull Papers in the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society, XXVII, 243.
  8. Christopher Yates and John Roseboom were appointed to represent the Schenectady Committee.
  9. Tryon County was taken from Albany County in 1772 and named in honor of William Tryon, then governor of the province. It included all the colonial settlements west and southwest of Schenectady, and was divided into five districts, — Mohawk, Canajoharie, Palatine, German Flats and Kingsland.
  10. Trumbull Papers, XXVII, 246.
  11. This fort, begun in 1758 by Brigadier-General John Stanwix of the British Army, was situated within the boundaries of the present village of Rome, N. Y. It was occupied in June, 1776, by Colonel Elias Dayton and at this time the name was changed to Fort Schuyler.
  12. Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), a full-blooded Mohawk of the Bear clan, was born in 1742 and died November 24, 1807. He was a brother-in-law of Sir William Johnson, Sir William having married his sister Molly. Early he became an active Loyalist and later rendered valuable services to the British Government, under which he held a colonel's commission.
  13. The celebrated Tory of the Valley, whose oft-mentioned deeds of cruelty render his name abhorred to this day.
  14. Letter from the Tryon County Committee to the Committees at Albany and Schenectady, July 13, 1775. Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
  15. Ibid.
  16. The Records of the Albany Committee of Safety.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. The Albany Committee had but three hundred pounds of powder in store. Of this they sent one hundred and fifty pounds to the Tryon County Committee, charging them for it at the rate of five shillings per pound, and twenty-five pounds to the Committee at Schenectady for the use of Captain Van Dyck's company. (The Records of the Albany Committee of Safety.) The Schenectady Committee was without powder (ibid.) but forwarded three hundred pounds of lead at forty shillings ($5) per cwt. (The Minutes of the Tryon County Committee of Safety, July 15, 1775.)

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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

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