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sir william Johnson's Diploma. His Amusements and sudden Death. Flight of Sir John. His Invasion of the Valley in 1780.
was in the habit of giving a diploma, testifying to their good conduct. One of these is in the possession of the New York Historical Society, a copy of which, with the vignette, is given in the note." His house was the resort of the sachems of the Six Nations for counsel and for trade, and there the presents sent out by his government were annually distributed to the Indians. On these occasions he amused himself and gratified his guests by fetes and games, many of which were highly ludicrous.” Young Indians and squaws were often seen running foot-races or wrestling for trinkets, and feats of astonishing agility were frequently performed by the Indians of both sexes. Sir William's death was sudden, and was by some ascribed to poison, voluntarily taken by him, and by others to apoplexy, induced by over-excitement. His posses. sions, which, with his offices and titles, passed into the hands of his son, did not long remain undisturbed, but were abandoned, as we have seen, in 1776, and were afterward sold to strangers under an act of attainder and confiscation passed by the Legislature of New York. Sir John, as we have already noted, fled to Canada, where he received a colonel's commission. The sequestration of his immense landed property inspired him with feelings of implacable revenge, which were manifested by his terrible visitations to the settlements in Tryon county. One of these was chiefly for the purpose of recovering the plate and other valuables belonging to the baronet, which had been buried near Johnson Hall. The events of this incursion were as follows: About midnight on Sunday, the 21st of May, 1780, Sir John, with a force of five hundred Tories and Indians, who had penetrated the country from Crown Point to the Sacondaga River, appeared at Johnson Hall without being seen by any but his friends. His forces were divided into two detachments, and between midnight and dawn he began to devastate the settlement by burning every building, except those which belonged to Tories. One division was sent around in an easterly course, so as to strike the Mohawk at Tripes Hill,” be. low Caughnawaga, whence it was ordered to proceed up the valley, destroy Caughnawaga, and form a junction with the other division at the mouth of Cayudutta Creek. This march was performed; many dwellings were burned and several lives were sacrificed. Sir John, in the mean while, at the head of one division, proceeded through the village of Johnstown unobserved by the sentinels at the small picketed fort there, and before daylight was at the Hall, once his own, where he secured two prisoners. On his way to join the other division upon the Cayudutta, he came to the residence of Sampson Sammons, who was, with his
* “By the Honorable Sir William Johnson, Bart., His Majesty's sole Agent and Superintendant of Indian Affairs for the Northern Department of North America, Colonel of the Six United Nations, their Allies and Dependants, &c., &c. “To . . . . . . . . . WHEREAs, I have received repeated proofs of your attachment to his Britannic Majesty's Interests and Zeal for his service, upon sundry occasions, more particularly . . . . . . . . . I do therefor give you this public Testimonial thereof, as a proof of his Majesty's Esteem and Approbation, Declaring you, the said . . . . . . , to be a . . . . . . of your . . . . . . , and recommending it to all his Majesty's Subjects and faithful Indian Allies to Treat and Consider you upon all occasions agreeable to your character, station, and services . . . . . . Given under my hand and seal at Arms, at Johnson Hall, the . . . . . . day of . . . . . . ; 17 . .
“By command of Sir W. Johnson.”
* Among the amusements invented by Sir William were foot-races, in which the competitors had mealbags drawn up over their legs and tied under their arms; a hog, with its tail greased, would be offered as a prize to the one that should catch it by that extremity; a half pound of tea was a prize offered to the one who could make the wryest face; a bladder of Scotch snuff to the greatest scold of two old women; and children might be seen exploring pools of muddy water, into which the baronet had cast several pennies.—Simms, 121.
* At this place lived Garret Putnam, a very active Whig, and his house was the first one assailed. Unknown to the invaders, Putnam had rented his house to two Englishmen named Gort and Platto, stanch Tories. The assailants broke into the house, scalped the two men, who had not time to reveal their characters, and it was not until daylight that they discovered their victims to be their own friends instead of Putnam and his son, as they had supposed.
Capture of the Sammons Family. Cruelties and Crimes of the Invaders. Johnson's Retreat. Recovery of his Negro and Plate.
whole family, among the most active and intrepid patriots in Tryon county. Sir John had always respected Mr. Sammons, and still held him in high estimation, but he was determined to carry him and his family away prisoners, if possible, and thus lessen the number of his more influential enemies in the Mohawk Valley. It was not yet light when a Tory, named Sunderland, with a resolute band, surrounded the house of Sammons, and the first intimation the family had of danger was the arrest of Thomas, the younger of three sons, as he stepped out of the door to observe the weather." The father and three sons were made prisoners, but the females of the family were left undisturbed, after the house was plundered of every thing valuable. The marauders then marched with their prisoners to the mouth of the Cayudutta, and both divisions went up the valley, burning, plundering, and murdering. A venerable old man, named David Fonda, was killed and scalped by an Indian party attached to the expedition, and in its march of a few miles nine aged men, four of them upward of eighty years old, were murdered. Returning to Caughnawaga, the torch was applied, and every building, except the church, was laid in ashes. From Caughnawaga they proceeded to Johnstown” by way of the Sammonses, on whose premises every building was burned, and the females, bereft of their protectors and helpers, were left houseless and almost naked. Seven horses that were in the stables were taken away, and that happy family of the morning were utterly destitute at evening.
Toward sunset Johnson perceived that the militia of the neighborhood were gathering, under the direction of Colonel John Harper, and resolved to decamp. Several Loyalists had joined him, and he succeeded in obtaining possession of twenty negro slaves whom he had left behind at the time of his flight, in the spring of 1776. Among these was the faithful negro who buried his chests of plate. With his prisoners, slaves, and much booty, he directed his course toward the Sacondaga. The inhabitants seemed so completely Mayo, taken by surprise, and were so panic-stricken by the suddenness and fierceness of the 1789. invasion, that he was unmolested in his retreating march, and reached St. John's, on the Sorel, in safety. The captives were sent to Chambly, twelve miles distant, and confined in the fortress there.”
* Thomas Sammons, who was then a lad, lived until within a few years, and furnished much of the interesting matter concerning this irruption of Sir John, to the author of the Life of Brant, from whose pages I have gleaned much of the narrative here given. Mr. Sammons was a representative in Congress from 1803 to 1807, and again from 1809 to 1813. *I have before mentioned that the silver plate and other valuable articles belonging to Johnson were buried by a faithful slave. When the Hall and other property were taken possession of by the Tryon county Committee, under the act of sequestration, the elder of Mr. Sammon's sons became the lessee, and the purchaser of the slave William, who had buried the plate. This slave Sir John found at the Hall, and while he tarried there for several hours on the day in question, the negro, assisted by four soldiers, disinterred the plate, which filled two barrels. It was then distributed among forty soldiers, who placed it in their knapsacks, the quarter-master making a memorandum of the name of each with the article of plate intrusted to him, and in this way it was carried safely to Montreal. Johnson Hall, with seven hundred acres of land, had been sold by the commissioners to James Caldwell, of Albany, for $30,000, the payment to be made in public securities. To show the real value of such securities—in other words, the state of public credit of the colonies about 1779, it may be mentioned that Mr. Caldwell immediately resold the property for $7000, $23,000 less on paper than he gave for it, and then made money by the operation. He had bought the securities for a trifle, and received hard cash from the man who purchased from him. * While halting on the day after leaving Johnstown, the elder Mr. Sammons requested a personal interview with Sir John, which was granted. He asked to be released, but the baronet hesitated. The old man then recurred to former times, when he and Sir John were friends and neighbors. “See what you have done, Sir John,” he said. “You have taken myself and my sons prisoners, burned my dwelling to ashes, and left the helpless members of my family with no covering but the heavens above, and no prospect but desolation around them. Did we treat you in this manner when you were in the power of the Tryon county Committee 2 Do you remember when we were consulted by General Schuyler, and you agreed to surrender your arms? Do you not remember that you then agreed to remain neutral, and that upon that condition General Schuyler left you at liberty on your parole 2 Those conditions you violated. You went off to Canada; enrolled yourself in the service of the king; raised a regiment of the disaffected, who abandoned their country with you; and you have now returned to wage a cruel war against us, by burning our dwellings and robbing us of our property. I was your friend in the Committee of Safety, and exerted my
Pursuit of Johnson. Incursion of Ross and Butler. Action of Willett. Battle at Johnstown. Adventures of the sammonies.
Governor Clinton was at Kingston, Ulster county, when intelligence of this invasion reached him. He repaired immediately to Albany, and sent such forces, composed of militia and volunteers, as he could raise, to overtake and intercept the invaders. One division, commanded by the governor in person, pushed forward to Lakes George and Champlain, and at Ticonderoga was joined by a body of militia from the New Hampshire Grants. At the same time Colonel Van Schaick, with eight hundred militia, pursued the enemy by way of Johnstown. But Sir John was far beyond the reach of pursuers, and too cautious to take a route so well known as that of the lakes. He kept upon the Indian paths through the wilderness west of the Adirondack Mountains, and escaped. This was the last visit made by Johnson to the Mohawk Valley during the war, but his friends invaded the settlement the following year, and near Johnson Hall a pretty severe battle took place.
On the 24th of October, 1781, Major Ross and Walter Butler, at the head of about one thousand troops, consisting of regulars, Indians, and Tories, approached the settlement so stealthily that they reached Warren Bush (not far from the place where Sir Peter Warren made his first settlement, and the place of residence of Sir William Johnson on his arrival in America) without their approach being suspected. The settlement was broken into so suddenly that the people had no chance for escape. Many were killed, and their houses plundered and destroyed. As soon as Colonel Willett, then stationed at Fort Rensselaer, was informed of this incursion, he marched with about four hundred men for Fort Hunter, on the Mohawk. Colonel Rowley, of Massachusetts, with a part of his force, consisting of Tryon county militia, was sent round to fall upon the enemy in the rear, while Willett should attack them in front. The belligerents met a short distance above Johnson Hall, and a battle immediately ensued. The militia under Willett soon gave way, and fled in great confusion to the stone church in the village; and the enemy would have had an easy victory,
self to save your person from injury. And how am I requited? Your Indians have murdered and scalped old Mr. Fonda, at the age of eighty years, a man who, I have heard your father say, was like a father to him when he settled in Johnstown and Kingsborough. You can not succeed, Sir John, in such a warfare, and you will never enjoy your property more 1* The appeal had its effect. The baronet made no reply, but the old gentleman was set at liberty, and a span of his horses was restored to him. A Tory, named Doxstader (whom we shall soon meet again at Currytown), was seen upon one of the old man's horses, and refused to give him up. After the war he returned to the neighborhood, when Mr. Sammons had him arrested, and he was obliged to pay the full value of the animal.
The two elder sons of Mr. Sammons, Frederic and Jacob, were taken to Canada. At Chambly they concerted a plan for escape by the prisoners rising upon the garrison, but the majority of them were too weak-hearted to attempt it. The brothers, however, succeeded in making their escape a few days afterward, and the narrative of their separate adventures, before they reached their homes, forms a wonderful page in the volume of romance. It may be found in detail in the second volume of Stone's Life of Brant. Jacob, after a toilsome journey from St. John's to Pittstown, in Vermont, through the trackless wilderness, reached Schenectady in safety, a few weeks after his capture, where he found his wife and children. But Frederic was recaptured, and it was nearly two years before he returned. His adventures in making his escape from an island among the St. Lawrence rapids, above Montreal, and his subsequent travel through the wilderness from the St. Lawrence to the Mohawk, with a fellow-prisoner, partake of all the stirring character of the most exciting legendary fiction. Almost naked, and with matted hair, they entered the streets of Schenectady, a wonder and a terror to the inhabitants at first, but, when known, they were the objects of profound regard. A strange but well-attested fact is related in connection with the return of Frederic. After the destruction of his property upon the Mohawk, the elder Sammons and his family returned to Marbletown, in Ulster county, whence they had emigrated. On the morning after his arrival at Schenectady, Frederic dispatched a letter to his father, by the hand of an officer on his way to Philadelphia. He left it at the house of Mr. Levi De Witt, five miles distant from Mr. Sammons's. On the night when the letter was left there, Jacob dreamed that his brother Frederic was living, and that a letter, announcing the fact, was at Mr. De Witt's. The dream was twice repeated, and the next morning he related it to the family. They had long given Frederic up as lost, and laughed at Jacob for his belief in the teachings of dreams. Jacob firmly believed that such a letter was at De Witt's, and thither he repaired and inquired for it. He was told that no such letter was there, but urged a more thorough search, when it was found behind a barrel, where it had accidentally fallen. Jacob requested Mr. De Witt to open the letter and examine it, while he should recite its contents. It was done, and the dreamer repeated it word for word Frederic lived to a good old age, enjoying the esteem and confidence of his fellow-citizens. He was chosen an elector of President and Vice-president in 1837.
Retreat of Ross and Butler. Fight on West Canada Creek. Death of Walter Butler. Last Battle near the Mohawk.
had not Rowley emerged from the woods at that moment, and fallen upon their rear. It was then nearly four o'clock in the afternoon, and the fight was kept up with bravery on both sides until dark, when the enemy retreated, or rather fled, in great disorder, to the woods. During the engagement, and while Rowley was keeping the enemy at bay, Willett succeeded in rallying the militia, who returned to the fight. The Americans lost about forty killed and wounded. The enemy had about the same number killed, and fifty made prisoners.
The enemy continued their retreat westward nearly all the night after the battle, and early in the morning Willett started in pursuit. He halted at Stone Arabia, and sent for. ward a detachment of troops to make forced marches to Oneida Lake, where, he was informed, the enemy had left their boats, for the purpose of destroying them. In the mean while he pressed onward with the main force to the German Flats, where he learned that the advanced party had returned without accomplishing their errand. From a scouting party he also learned that the enemy had taken a northerly course, along the West Canada Creek. With about four hundred of his choicest men, he started in pursuit, in the face of a driving snow-storm. He encamped that night in a thick wood upon the Royal Grant,’ and sent out a scouting party, under Jacob Sammons, to search for the enemy. Sammons discovered their forces a few miles in advance of the Americans, and, after reconnoitering their camp, communicated the fact to Willett that they were well armed with bayonets. That officer deferred his meditated might attack upon them, and continued his pursuit early in the morning, but the enemy were as quick on foot as he. In the afternoon he came up with a lagging party of Indians, and a brisk but short skirmish ensued. Some of the Indians were killed, some taken prisoners, and others escaped. Willett kept upon the enemy's trail along the creek, and toward evening came up with the main body at a place called Jerseyfield, on the northeastern side of Canada Creek. A running fight ensued; the Indians became terrified, and retreated across the stream at a ford, where Walter Butler, who was their leader, attempted to rally them. A brisk fire was kept up across the creek by both parties for some time, and Butler, who was watching the fight from behind a tree, was shot in the head by an Oneida, who knew him and took deliberate aim. His troops thereupon fled in confusion. The Oneida bounded across the creek, and found his victim not dead, but writhing in great agony. The Tory cried out, “Save me! Save me! Give me quarters” while the tomahawk of the warrior glittered over his head. “Me give you Sherry Falley quarters” shouted the Indian, and buried his hatchet in the head of his enemy. He took his scalp, and, with the rest of the Oneidas, continued the pursuit of the flying host. The body of Butler was left to the beasts and birds, without burial, for charity toward one so blood-stained had no dwelling-place in the bosoms of his foes. The place where he fell is still called Butler's Ford. The pursuit was kept up until evening, when Willett, completely successful by entirely routing and dispersing the enemy, wheeled his victorious little army, and returned to Fort Dayton in triumph.” This was the closing scene of the bloody drama performed in the Valley of the Mohawk during the Revolution, a tragedy terrible in every aspect; and we, who are dwelling in the midst of peace and abundance, and so far removed, in point of time, from the events, that hardly an actor is living to tell us of scenes that seem almost fabulous, can not properly estimate the degree of moral and physical courage, long suffering, patient endurance, and hopeful vigilance which the people of that day exhibited. It was a terrible ordeal for the patriots. Like the three holy men of Babylon, they passed through a “fiery furnace heated one seven times more than it was wont to
* The Royal Grant, it will be remembered, was the tract of land which Sir William Johnson shrewdly procured from Hendrick, the Mohawk sachem, by outwitting him in a game of dreaming—See page 106.
* The sufferings of the retreating army must have been many and acute. The weather was cold, and in their hasty flight many of them had cast away their blankets, to make their progress more speedy. The loss of the Americans in this pursuit was only one man; that of the enemy is not known. It must have been very great. Colonel Willett, in his dispatch to Governor Clinton, observed, “The fields of Johnstown, the brooks and rivers, the hills and mountains, the deep and gloomy marshes through which they had to pass, they only could tell; and perhaps the officers who detached them on the expedition.”
Return to Fultonville. The Sammons House. Local Historians. The departed Heroes. The Kane House.
be,” yet they came out unscathed—“neither were their coats changed nor the smell of fire had passed on them.” We are yet to visit Currytown, Sharon Springs, and Cherry Valley, and note some incidents of the civil war, reserved for record here, and then we shall leave old Tryon county, with the pleasant anticipations of the “homeward-bound.” We returned to Fultonville, from our excursion to Johnstown, by the western road, and passed the premises formerly owned by Sampson Sammons, near the winding Cayadutta. The house, which was built upon the foundation of the one destroyed by the miscreants under Johnson, has a venerable appearance; but the trailing vines that cover its porch, and the air of comfort that surrounds it, hide all indications of the desolation of former times. We arrived at Fultonville in time to dine, and there I spent an hour pleasantly and profitably with Jeptha R. Simms, Esq., the author of a “History of Schoharie County and the Border Wars of New York,” a work of much local and general interest, and a valuable companion to Campbell's “Annals of Tryon County.” It is greatly to be lamented that men like Camp. bell and Simms, and Miner, of Wyoming, who gathered a large proportion of the facts concerning the Revolution from the lips of those who participated in its trials, have not been found in every section of our old thirteen states equally industrious and patriotic. It is now too late, for the men of the Revolution are mostly in the grave. I have found but few, very few, still alive and sufficiently vigorous to tell the tales of their experience with perspicuity; and a hundred times, in the course of my pilgrimage to the grounds where Discord raised its trumpet notes And carnage beat its horrid drum, have my inquiries for living patriots of that war been answered with “Five years ago Captain A. was living;” or “three years ago Major B. died;” or “last autumn Mother C. was buried;” all of whom were full of the unwritten history of the Revolution. But they are gone, and much of the story of our struggle for independence is buried with them. They are gone, but not forgotten: - - - - - - - - - - - - - - “They need No statue or inscription to reveal Their greatness. It is round them; and the joy With which their children tread the hallow'd ground That holds their venerated bones, the peace That smiles on all they fought for, and the wealth That clothes the land they rescued—these, though mute, As feeling ever is when deepest—these Are monuments more lasting than the fames Rear'd to the kings and demi-gods of old.” PERcival. I returned to Fort Plain, by rail-road, toward evening, and the next morning, accompanied by the friend with whom we were sojourning, I started for Currytown.' We went by the way of Canajoharie, a pleasant little village on the canal, opposite Palatine, and thence over the rugged hills southward. On our way to Canajoharie we passed an old stone house which was erected before the Revolution, and was used soon afterward by the brothers Kane, then the most extensive traders west of Albany. An anecdote is related in connection with the Kanes, which illustrates the proverbial shrewdness of Yankees, and the confiding nature of the old stock of Mohawk Valley Dutchmen. A peddler (who was, of course, a Yankee) was arrested for the offense of traveling on the Sabbath, contrary to law, and taken -- - before a Dutch justice near Caughnawaga. The peddler pleaded the THE KANE House. urgency of his business. At first the Dutchman was inexorable, but at length, on the payment to him of a small sum, agreed to furnish the Yankee with a writ: ten permit to travel on. The justice, not being expert with the pen, requested the peddler to write the “pass.” He wrote a draft upon the Kanes for fifty dollars, which the unsus.
* The name is derived from William Curry, the patentee of the lands in that settlement.