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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

A History of Schenectady During the Revolution:
Chapter XIV: The Decision of the Indians. The Raids of 1778.

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[This information is from pp. 83-89 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.]

Although the Indians had taken a more or less prominent part on the side of the British in the military movements of the year 1777, it was hoped that they might still be induced to assume a position of neutrality, and with this in view a council was held at Johnstown on March 9, 1778, under the direction of the Northern Department. So far as obtaining pledges was concerned the meeting was without avail, the only word from the Senecas, who did not even send a representative, being a message (1) affecting great surprise "that while [their] tomahawks were sticking in their heads, their wounds bleeding, and their eyes streaming with tears for the loss (2) of their friends at German Flats the commissioners should think of inviting them to a treaty." And so it was brought about that prompted by a desire for personal vengeance the Indians, with the exception of the Oneidas and a few Tuscaroras, now definitely cast their lot with the British, soon to commence, with the co-operation of the Tories, that border warfare which in the next five years was to bring desolation to many a once fertile and prosperous section.

While in the raids that were to follow the action of the Indians was prompted by one motive, another of real strategic value seems to have governed the movements of their allies, for these border campaigns bear a direct relation to the main conflict inasmuch as it was hoped that to repel them Continental forces would be diverted, (3) thereby weakening more important points.

Although since the opening of spring (4) the frontiers had been in a constant state of alarm in anticipation (5) of Indian and Tory raids, it was not until May 30 that the culmination of the first movement in force occurred. On that day Joseph Brant, at the head of a force of from three hundred to four hundred men, attacked the little settlement of Cobleskill. (6)

Christopher Yates writing to Colonel Wemple from Schoharie on the same day reported (7) "the people in great disorder, the buildings all destroyed." "We have this afternoon received information," continues the letter, "that a party far Superior to that of Cobuskill, or perhaps them joined with the other, are to come upon Scoharie in order to destroy the whole." The news of the attack was received in Albany the next morning while the people were at church, and although application was made to General Ten Broeck for the immediate ordering out of the militia he refused to do so until church was over "for fear," he said, (8) "of frightening the Town into fits."

Accompanying the troops, who with Colonel Wemple in command, finally set out for Schoharie was a detachment of one hundred and nineteen of the Schenectady militia. (9) On June 2 Colonel Wemple reported (10) to General Ten Broeck from Schoharie that he had that morning sent a detail of one hundred and fifty men under Lieutenant-Colonel Yates to Cobleskill, but that after they had been gone some time he had received information of a large party coming down to destroy the settlement of Brakeabean and had therefore ordered them to return to the upper settlement at Schoharie where he himself would reinforce them. "If I am lucky enough to meet them [the enemy]," continues the letter, "I hope to give them a trimming." On June 6 he again reported (11) in part as follows:

I have Buried the dead at Cobuskill, which was 14 in number; found five more burnt in the ruins of the House of one Yurry Wainer, where the engagement has been; they were Butchered in a most inhuman manner; burnt 10 Houses and Barns, Horses, Cows, Sheep, etc., lay dead all over the fields.

With the actual appearance of the enemy the alarm on the frontiers became the more acute and to the many appeals for assistance that were forwarded to Governor Clinton there was added on June 15 the following (12) plea from the Committee at Schenectady:

Honoured Sir, The distressed situation of Tryon County, Schoharie and indeed the whole of our western Frontiers, seem to call so loud for relief that we think we should be wanting in our duty, if we did not acquaint your Excellency, of the real danger our Frontiers are in; Your Excellency may depend on it, that it is no sham to frighten the people, but a thing in real existence, for the people are flying and crowding into this town in great numbers, and by the best information the enemy are really round about there, and are determined to destroy, and burn up that whole country, and unless soon relieved we undoubtedly believe they will affect it, and the loss that will arise therefrom to the unhappy individuals of that part of the country will be nothing, in comparison to the loss of the United States, as it is one of our principal wheat countrys.

Governor Clinton replied (13) to the letter from the Committee on June 18, detailing the steps that had already been taken toward meeting the danger that threatened the settlers on the frontiers. "Considering the militia as the only force whose services I can command," he added, "more could not have been done by me for their protection."

In spite of the many urgent pleas made to the authorities for Continental troops to protect the frontiers, no effective measures had yet been taken. "If they do not come soon," wrote (14) General Ten Broeck in reporting the criticalness of the situation to Governor Clinton on July 20, following the news of Brant's raid on Springfield and Andrustown, "I dread the Consequences — it is now harvest & it is with the utmost difficulty I get the militia to turn out — the number now Ordered out (Exclusive of Col. Wemple's Regt. (15)) is ab't 700 men; about 600 were Ordered the 12th June & only ab't 220 did come. What number I shall get now is Impossible for me to tell. I shall do everything in my power."

The next movement by the enemy in force culminated early in July in the massacre of Wyoming in the valley of the Susquehanna, to be followed in the middle of September (16) by Brant's long-expected raid on German Flats. News of the disaster attending the enemy's appearance in the Mohawk Valley reached General Ten Broeck at Albany on the eighteenth, and almost immediately Colonel Wemple's regiment set out for the relief of the quarter attacked, soon to return home, however, as the enemy had on their arrival retreated too far to render pursuit by the militia advisable. (17)

On November 11 the enemy under Captain Walter Butler fell upon the settlement of Cherry Valley. The success of the attack, which had been instigated as a means of retaliation for the vigorous offensive measures instituted by the American forces the month before, resulting in the destruction of Unadilla and Oghwaga, was the more lamentable as repeated and timely warnings had been given regarding the enemy's intentions.

On receipt of the news of the attack the militia were again ordered out. (18) "Altho my Letter of the 13th and General Ten Broeck's of the 16th give no great Credit to the Militia in General," wrote (19) General Hand to Governor Clinton of the eighteenth, "I think it my Duty to acquaint your Excellency that Col. Wemple's Schenectady Militia, (a very respectable Body of Men) turned out with much Chearfulness, tho the remoteness of their Situation prevented their answering the wished for purposes."

Many of the inhabitants of Cherry Valley who were fortunate enough to have escaped from the massacre (20) with their lives, although they lost all else, at once hastened to Schenectady (21) "in a Dolefull, Lamentable, and Helpless Condition, Destitute (many of them) of meat, money and Cloathing, Either for Back or Bed." (22) For the relief of these refugees General Hand was appealed to from Schenectady on the twenty-sixth, the petitioners humbly praying (23) that their distressed condition be given serious consideration and that some means be devised whereby they might be supplied with provisions, wood and "sufficient clothing to cover them from the inclemency of the weather."

Notes

  1. William L. Stone, Life of Joseph Brant, I, 305.
  2. The Indian loss at Oriskany was about one hundred men, of whom thirty-six were Senecas.
  3. Their end in this particular was not accomplished, the defense of the frontier falling therefore almost entirely upon the militia.
  4. In March a company of artificers, enlisted in Schenectady and commanded by Jacob Vrooman as master workman, left for Saratoga, where they remained until near the first of December engaged in building barracks and batteaux and in rebuilding the mills and dwellinghouse of General Schuyler, which had been burned by the British the year before. Pension Office Records, Benjamin Van Vleck R 10897.
  5. In April a detail of one hundred and twenty-five of the militia and several Indians under Colonel Abraham Wemple went out on scout duty to Beverdam to apprehend some Tories from Unadilla and elsewhere. Pension Office Records, James Barhydt S 12948.
  6. Public Papers of George Clinton, III, 377.
  7. Ibid., p. 378.
  8. Ibid., p. 379.
  9. Ibid., p. 383.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid., p. 413.
  12. Ibid., p. 459.
  13. Ibid., p. 467.
  14. Ibid., p. 562.
  15. The whole of Colonel Wemple's regiment was ordered to Schoharie on July 19. Public Papers of George Clinton, III, 563. On August 27 forty-four men from this regiment were reported as stationed there. Ibid., p. 736.
  16. During the interim the available military force of Schenectady was augmented by the formation of a company of "Associated Exempts" numbering fifty men, under Captain Jacob Schermerhorn, with Isaac Glen as first lieutenant and Cornelius A. Van Slyck as second lieutenant. This company was organized under a state law which recommended that those men who had heretofore held commissions form themselves into companies, as well as those who were over fifty years of age and thereby exempt from militia duty. Public Papers of George Clinton, III, 590. Service in the Exempts was entirely voluntary and those who enrolled engaged to provide themselves with proper alms, accoutrements and ammunition, "adding a pledge that on alarm they would repair to their appointed rendezvous, and when drafts were made on the militia, they would contribute their portion of men to be commanded by their own officers."
  17. Public Papers of George Clinton, IV, 54, 80, 82.
  18. Ibid., p. 293.
  19. Ibid., p. 298.
  20. A younger son who was in school at Schenectady was the only survivor of the family of Robert Wells, who, with his wife, mother, brother, sister, three children and three servants, lost his life in the massacre.
  21. Public Papers of George Clinton, IV, 334.
  22. Ibid., pp. 338-339.
  23. Ibid., p. 339.

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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

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