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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

A History of Schenectady During the Revolution:
Chapter XVIII: The Oneidas at Schenectady

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[This information is from pp. 109-113 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.]

Unmoved by promises and threats alike the Oneida Indians alone of the Six Nations had continued to favor the cause of the colonists both with their influence and actual support. Because of this allegiance they had early incurred the enmity of the other tribes who, as we have seen, had ultimately decided to cast their lot with the King. The devastation effected by General Sullivan had naturally widened the breach and in the measures outlined for retaliation it was planned that the Oneidas should not escape.

On June 18, 1780, a delegation of Oneida chiefs acquainted (1) Colonel Cornelius Van Dyck, who was then in command of Fort Schuyler, of the danger that was apprehended and of the information that had given rise to the belief that their town was soon to be destroyed unless they transferred their allegiance. The threatened attack culminated in July. "[The Oneidas] too weak to make effectual resistance," wrote (2) General Schuyler to the Marquis de Lafayette on August 18, "but too firmly attached to us to submit, or take part with the enemy, prudently took shelter at Fort Schuyler the day before the arrival of the Enemy, who burnt part of their Village, siezed their Cattle, and destroyed the Crops and even pursued the fugitives as far as the fort."

Because of the scarcity of provisions the Indians were permitted to remain at Fort Schuyler but a few days. (3) They were, however, under the direction of the authorities, transferred to Schenectady, where, supported at the expense (4) of the Government, they remained until the end of the war.

On their arrival at Schenectady the Indians, to the number of four hundred and six (5) (which included seven Caughnawagas), were ordered quartered in the barracks, (6) and to Jellis Fonda and others was given the contract of supplying them with necessary provisions. Frequent complaints soon began to be heard (7) to the effect that the Indians were suffering for want of food. General Schuyler investigated these complaints and on October 10 reported (8) that he had been advised by one of the contractors that the Indians were well supplied with provisions with the exception of corn, which it was impossible to obtain. He reported further that the contractors complained that up to this time no money had been paid on the contract and that he was given to understand that unless money was furnished further supplies would in all event not be readily forthcoming. Schuyler spoke (9) of the poverty of the Indians as being such as to render them "an affecting spectacle of distress" and added that few had clothing sufficient to render them comfortable even at that season of the year.

Because of the expense of supplying the barracks with firewood it was now proposed to remove the Indians to the neighboring woods, where they were to be quartered in huts. (10) This arrangement, moreover, would, it was felt, simplify the food problem, as the Indians would be able to replenish their stores by hunting. (11)

The plan proposed was probably tried but evidently did not meet with the success hoped for, as on December 5 James Clinton reported (12) to Washington that the Indians were again in possession of the barracks and that he was at a loss to know to what point to remove them in order to make room for Continental troops (13) who were to be quartered in Schenectady during the winter and who were soon expected to put in their appearance.

On the subsequent arrival of the Regulars the matter (14) of quarters was finally adjusted by billeting the officers with the townspeople while soldiers and Indians were required to share the barracks. As might well be imagined this arrangement was not to prove practical. "Disagreeable Controversys have frequently arisen between the soldiery and Indians," reported (15) General Schuyler on March 29 of the following year, "and one of the latter [has] lately been barbarously murdered and others Assaulted and dangerously wounded." Because of this friction it was found necessary to make some other provision for the Indians and under the direction of Schuyler they were again removed (16) outside the town and supplied with boards (17) with which to cover rude huts which they had already constructed.

"The Indian Village," wrote (18) the Marquis de Chastelleux, who visited Schenectady soon after the Indian encampment was established, "is nothing but an assemblage of miserable huts in the wood, along the road (19) to Albany. [Colonel Glen] took me into that of a savage du Saut Saint Louis, who had long lived at Montreal, and spoke good French. These huts are like our barracks in time of war, or those run up in vineyards, or orchards, to watch the fruit when it is ripe. All the timber consists in two uprights and one cross pole; it is covered with a matted roof, but this is well lined within by a quantity of bark. The inner space is rather below the level of the ground, and the entrance by a little sidedoor; in the middle of the hut is the fire-place, from which the smoke ascends by an opening in the roof. On each side of the fire, are raised two branches, which run the length of the hut, and serve to sleep on; these are covered with skins and bark. Beside the savage who spoke French, in this but, there was a squah, the name given to the Indian women, who had taken him as her second, and was bringing up a child by her first husband; two old men composed the remainder of the family, which had a melancholy and poor appearance. The squah was hideous, as they all are, and her husband almost stupid, so that the charms of this society did not make me forget that the day was advancing, and that it was time to set out."

"All that I could learn from the Colonel, or from the savages," adds the Marquis, "was that the State gives them rations of meat, and sometimes of flour; that they possess also some land, where they sow Indian corn, and go a hunting for skins, which they exchange for rum. They are sometimes employed in war, and are commended for their bravery and fidelity. Though in subjection to the Americans, they have their chiefs, to whom application is made for justice, when an Indian has committed any crime. Mr. Glen told me, that they submitted to the punishments inflicted on them; but had no idea that it was right to punish them with death, even for homicide."

Notes

  1. Public Papers of George Clinton, V, 883.
  2. Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
  3. Colonel Van Schaick to General Washington, July 29, 1780. Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
  4. As early as March 24, 1779, Congress empowered the commissioners in the Northern Department to supply provisions to their "faithful friends the Oneidas." So low were the public funds and so inadequate the supplies for the troops that on more than one occasion both the State and Philip Schuyler personally advanced funds and supplies.
  5. Ninety-three of this number were men, fifty-four women and the balance children. The majority of the warriors probably remained with the troops. Papers of the Continental Congress, III, 551.
  6. Ibid., p. 541.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid., p. 551.
  12. Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
  13. The 2d New York Line.
  14. Magazine of American History, December, 1881, p. 409.
  15. Papers of the Continental Congress, III, 547.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Schuyler procured these and later replaced them from his own stock, as he had no money with which to pay for them. He however expressed the hope "of being repaid at a future day, when the public treasury [was] in better condition."
  18. The Marquis de Chastelleux, Travels in North America, I, 401.
  19. Hon. E. Winslow Paige, than whom few are better versed in the early history and traditions of Schenectady, has told the writer that he has always supposed that the Oneidas lived on what used` to be called "Injin" or "Engine" Hill, now Mount Pleasant, along the west edge of Cotton Factory Hollow, and that it was always a subject for discussion as to whether the name of the hill was "Injin" from the fact that the Oneidas lived there or "Engine" from the stationary engine of the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad. It is not unlikely that the Indians lived on both sides of the Hollow.

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