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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

A History of Schenectady During the Revolution:
Chapter XVI: The Mohawk Valley Laid Waste

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[This information is from pp. 95-100 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.]

The enemy did not wait until spring to again commence their activities. In February, 1780, a small band effected some damage at German Flats, in March a settlement to the north of Palatine sustained a like invasion, and early in April came news of Brant's raid on Harpersfield.

Reports of minor raids, rumors of intended movements by the enemy on a large scale, actual suffering on the part of the settlers for want of provisions, depreciation in Continental currency which had by now become practically worthless, and the difficulties of affording a semblance of protection by reinforcing the meager garrisons already posted, due to the impossibility of obtaining supplies for the militia, the only force available for this service, had by May brought about a most lamentable condition on the frontiers. As a result of this condition the more remote settlements were reported as daily breaking up and Colonel Van Schaick was led to express (1) the fear that unless some speedy and effectual measures were taken to inspire the despondent people with confidence, Schenectady would in all probability soon be the frontier to the westward.

At daybreak on the morning of May 22 the much feared attack of the enemy materialized, Sir John Johnson appearing on the Mohawk River at Tribes Hill with a strong force (2) of Indians and whites. From Tribes Hill the enemy proceeded westward "burning the Houses and Barns of the Inhabitants and putting to Death every Male capable of bearing arms." (3)

"Collo. Fisher (4) is mortally wounded," reported (5) Colonel John Harper from Johnstown on the same day, "and his two (6) Brothers killed, [and] old Mr. Douw Fonda (7) with seven others."

Of the Schenectady militia who had marched under Colonel Wemple "on the first alarm" some were almost immediately obliged to return for want of provisions (8) The remainder, however, hastened towards Johnstown and, joined by troops from Fort Hunter (9) under Colonel Harper (10) and others under Colonel Volkert Vedder, (11) swelling their force to about four hundred and fifty men, determined to engage the enemy should Sir John, who had rendezvoused there, show any disposition to fight. (12)

Sir John, although his force, swelled by the addition of many Tories who had hastened to join him, now outnumbered the American troops about two to one, did not offer an engagement, but almost immediately withdrew and, eluding the troops which Governor Clinton sent to intercept him, made his way safely back to Canada. (13)

The opportunity afforded by the dispirited condition of soldiers and settlers alike had early been seized upon by the British, who with no small success endeavored through their emissaries to stir up mutinies in the ranks of the main army or induce those holding Tory sentiments to take up arms in their behalf.

Many Tories had joined Sir John Johnson during his raid, and from time to time small bands from Albany and Tryon counties left to join the enemy. That a large party so inclined were assembled at Beaverdam was reported (14) to the Schenectady Committee on July 18. Colonel Vrooman (l5) at Schoharie was at once apprised (16) of the fact that he might order out a detachment in an endeavor to intercept them, while in Schenectady a party was at once organized (17) for the same purpose. Although the Schenectady detachment after having marched all night arrived at the rendezvous at daybreak, they were successful in securing but three of the band who had secreted themselves in a barn, while the main body, having undoubtedly been alarmed, succeeded in making their escape. (18)

Late in July the enemy under Joseph Brant appeared in force before Fort Schuyler. This movement was probably a feint, for while the troops were hastening to the defense of the post, leaving the lower valley without adequate means of protection, Brant and his followers quietly withdrew and, advancing by way of the Unadilla and Susquehanna Rivers on August 2, fell upon Canajoharie.

The Albany and Schenectady militia, who had turned out with alacrity (19) under orders previously given, had just gone into camp at Caughnawaga (20) opposite Mr. Frey's at about eleven o'clock on the morning of the second, when they were alarmed by the heavy smoke "between John Abeails and Fort Plank about four miles distant." (21)

"Instantly I did order both Regiments to be formed," reported (22) Colonel Wemple in his dispatch to General Ten Broeck, "& proceed against the Enemy, who were at that time in their full Carear and tho our Numbers were not equal, yet I can assure you I should be void of Justice if I omitted mentioning their Prudence and cool behavior without Distinction to all Raneks. An Altho they had been in full march since early in the morning they came up with such Vigor that the Enemy on our approach gave way & tho in sight we had no opportunity to give them Battle they retired in the usual way."

"Such a Scean as we beheld since we left the River," reads another section of the report, "passing dead Bodies of Men & Children most cruelly murdered, is not possible to be described. I cannot ascertain at present the Number of poor Inhabitants killed and missing but believe the Loss considerable as the People were all at work in the Fields... Some Persons pretend to say not less than one hundred dwelling House are burnt."

On August 21 Colonel Goose Van Schaick, writing (23) to General Washington from Albany, confirmed the details of the withdrawal of Brant from Fort Schuyler and of the attack on Canajoharie. "From thence," continued the letter, "they returned towards the susquahanna, & in a few days after made a Descent on Schohary; here they burnt twelve Houses, & have by information taken and killed a larger number of the Inhabitants than at the former place, & it is expected the remainder of Schohary will share the same fate. The Indians are seen daily in small parties, & take prisoners & Scalps, Schenectady is threatened & the Inhabitants are moving their effects to Albany with all dispatch seeing no appearance of support, & numbers going off to the enemy daily."

In England Riverton's Royal Gazette told of the successful progress of the expedition. "The Indians have laid waste the whole country," reads its issue (24) of September 23, "the Tory houses excepted, down to Schenectady, where some rebels are at work throwing up works to oppose the progress of the British troops and our Indian allies. The rebel women and children have retired to Albany."

Notes

  1. To Governor Clinton, May 17, 1780. Public Papers of George Clinton, V, 715. He expressed the same view to General Washington a few days later. Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
  2. Four hundred whites and two hundred Indians.
  3. Public Papers of George Clinton, V, 743.
  4. Frederick Visscher (Fisher), a colonel in the Tryon County Militia. He had removed his family to Schenectady for safety's sake a few days before. Having been brought down by a tomahawk, scalped and left for dead by the raiders he subsequently recovered consciousness and managed to escape from the burning house he had so gallantly helped to defend. With the aid of a negro slave belonging to one of the neighbors Colonel Visscher managed to reach friends, who at once sent him to Schenectady by canoe. Here he received medical attention and subsequently recovered from his wounds.
  5. Public Papers of George Clinton, V, 737.
  6. John and Harman. They with Colonel Visscher were the sole defenders of the family homestead where the attack occurred.
  7. He had removed from Schenectady and settled at Caughnawaga (Fonda) about the year 1751. An account of his murder may be found in Jeptha R. Simms, Frontiersmen of New York, II, 339.
  8. Public Papers of George Clinton, V, 744. Pension Office Records, Philip Viele R 10947.
  9. This fort stood a short distance east of the Schoharie Creek near its confluence with the Mohawk River.
  10. Colonel John Harper of the Levies.
  11. His name was spelled both Vedder and Veeder. He was lieutenant-colonel of the 5th Albany County and later of the 3d Tryon County Militia.
  12. Public Papers of George Clinton, V, 743.
  13. He took with him the family silver which had been buried at the time of his departure in 1776.
  14. Public Papers of George Clinton, VI, 30.
  15. Peter Vrooman, colonel of the 15th Albany County Militia.
  16. Public Papers of George Clinton, VI, 31.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid., p. 79.
  20. Now Fonda, Montgomery County.
  21. Public Papers of George Clinton, VI, 80.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
  24. Franklin B. Hough, The Northern Invasion of October, 1780, p. 81.

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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

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