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Lecture on the Life and Military Services of General James Clinton. Read before the New York Historical Society, Feb. 1839. By WILLIAM W. CAMPBELL.


It was beautifully and truly said by Montgomery, that it is difficult to convey to others an accurate impression of an impassioned speaker; that it is like "gathering up dew-drops, which appear indeed jewels and pearls in the grass, but run to water in the hand. The essence and the elements remain, but the grace, the sparkle, and the form are gone." He who has attempted the task will have realized the force and the truth of the poet’s observation, and will have felt regret and disappointment when he perceives that his description is comparatively tame and spiritless, of events, and scenes, and efforts which charmed him as a beholder, and produced impressions which are glowing and fresh in his memory. But if the speaker possessed the power of conveying to this audience correct impressions of eloquent men, he would not be called upon to exercise that power in discharging the duty which he has assumed this evening. The individual, whose biography he proposes briefly to sketch, was a plain, blunt soldier, born upon the frontiers, and who spent no inconsiderable portion of a long life amid the toils and perils of border wars – a true patriot, who, if not first, was prominent among the men who sustained the heat and the burden of the revolutionary contest in this state. I mean General JAMES CLINTON. A brief sketch of his family, and especially of his father, Colonel Charles Clinton, may not be uninteresting. The name of Clinton has been prominent for the last hundred years, both in the colonial and State history of New York. For nearly forty years of that period, individuals of that name have held the high and responsible trust of governor, besides filling many other offices of a military, legislative, and judicial character. The different branches of the family were originally from England. The first of the name who was distinguished here was the colonial governor, George Clinton, who was the youngest son of Francis, sixth Earl of Lincoln, and who was governor of the province of New York from 1743 to 1753. He returned to England, and was afterwards appointed governor of Greenwich Hospital. He was the father of Sir Henry Clinton, who was in command of the English army during a part of the Revolution.

General James Clinton was a descendant of William Clinton, who was an adherent to the cause of royalty in the civil wars of England, and an officer in the army of Charles I. After the death of that monarch he went to the continent, where he remained a long time in exile. He afterwards passed over to Scotland, where he married a lady of the family of Kennedy. From Scotland he removed to Ireland, where he died, leaving one son. This son, James Clinton, on arriving at manhood, made an unsuccessful effort to recover his patrimonial estates in England. While in England he married a Miss Smith, a daughter of a captain in the army of Cromwell, and with his wife returned and settled in Ireland.

Charles Clinton, the son of this marriage, and the father of Gen. James Clinton, was born in the county of Longford, in Ireland, in 1690. In 1729 he determined to emigrate to America. Being a man of influence, he prevailed upon a large number of his neighbors and friends to remove with him. He sailed from Dublin in a vessel called the George and Anne, in May, 1729, and by a receipt preserved among his papers, it seems that he paid for the passages of ninety-four persons.

They were unfortunate in the selection of a vessel. The captain was a violent and unprincipled villain. They were poorly supplied with stores, and the voyage proving long, they suffered from disease and famine. A large number of passengers died, including a son and daughter of Mr. Clinton. They were finally landed upon the coast of Massachusetts, the captain refusing to go to New York, or to Pennsylvania, the latter having been his original place of destination. Charles Clinton remained in Massachusetts until 1731, when he removed to the province of New York, and settled at a place called Little Britain, in a region designated as the precincts of the Highlands, afterwards a part of Ulster, and now a part of Orange county. Though within a few miles of the Hudson River, and within sixty or seventy miles of the city of New York, the residence of Mr. Clinton was on the frontier of civilization. The virgin wilderness was around him. In the language of some of the inhabitants of Ulster county after this period, in a petition to the colonial legislature asking for protection, they say that they are bounded on the west by the desert – a desert where, instead of the roaming Arab, the wild Indian erected his cabin, and "made his home and his grave." The inhabitants of that district were compelled to fortify their houses in order to guard against inroads of the savages. In the subsequent Indian and French wars Charles Clinton took an active and efficient part. In 1758 we find him in command of a regiment of provincial troops, stationed in the valley of the Mohawk, and in the summer of that year he joined the main army under General Bradstreet, on his way to Canada, and was present with him at the capture of Fort Frontenac. Colonel Charles Clinton was a good mathematical scholar, and frequently acted as surveyor of lands, an employment of considerable importance and emolument in a new country. He was also a judge of the court of Common Pleas of Ulster County. He sustained a pure and elevated character, was neat in his person and dignified in his manners, and exerted a great influence in the district of country where he lived.

In a letter to his son James, who was in the army, dated June, 1759, he says: "My advice to you is, to be diligent in your duty to God, your king and country, and avoid bad company as much as in your province lies; forbear learning habits of vice, for they grow too easily upon men in a public station, and are not easily broke off. Profane habits make men contemptible and mean. That God may grant you grace to live in his fear, and to discharge your duty with a good conscience, is the sincere desire of your affectionate father, Charles Clinton." Among his papers, carefully preserved and written upon parchment, is the following certificate. It was his Christian passport, which he carried with him when he embarked for the New World:

"Whereas the bearer, Mr. Charles Clinton, and his wife Elizabeth, lived within the bounds of this Protestant dissenting congregation from their infancy, and now design for America; this is to certify, that all along they behaved themselves soberly and inoffensively, and are fit to be received into any Christian congregation where Providence may cast their lot. Also, that said Charles Clinton was a member of our session, and discharged the office of ruling elder very acceptably; this, with advice of session, given at Corbay, in the county of Longford, Ireland. JOSEPH BOND, Minister."

I need scarcely add that Charles Clinton took an active part in the promotion of the cause of religion and good morals. He sometimes also courted the muses, and I find in the commonplace-book of De Witt Clinton, the following stanzas, with this caption:


Lines written by my grandfather, Charles Clinton, and spoken over the grave of a dear departed sister, who had often nursed and taken care of him in his younger days.


"Oh canst thou know, thou dear departed shade,

The mighty sorrows that my soul invade;

Whilst o’er thy mouldering frame I mourning stand,

And view thy grave far from thy native land?

With thee my tender years were early trained,

Oft have thy friendly arms my weight sustained;

And when with childish fears or pains oppressed,

You with soft music lull’d my soul to rest."


He concludes his last will, made in 1771, and a short time before his decease, with the following directions: "It is my will I be buried in the grave-yard on my own farm, beside my daughter Catharine; and it is my will, the said grave-yard be made four rods square, and open free road to it at all times when it shall be necessary; and I nominate and appoint my said three sons, Charles, James, and George, executors of this my last will, to see the same executed accordingly; and I order that my said executors procure a suitable stone to lay over my grave, whereon I would have the time of my death, my age, and coat of arms cut. I hope they will indulge me in this last piece of vanity." He died on the 19th of November, 1773, at his own residence, in the 83d year of his age, and in the full view of that Revolution in which his sons were to act such distinguished parts. In his last moments he conjured them to stand by the liberties of America.

His wife, Elizabeth Denniston, to whom he was married in Ireland, was an accomplished and intelligent woman. Her correspondence with her husband, as far as it has fallen under my observation, exhibits her in an interesting and commanding light. She appears to have been well acquainted with the military operations of the times, and to have shared largely in the patriotic ardor of her husband and her sons. She died at the residence of her son James, on the 25th of December, 1779, in the 75th year of her age.

They left four sons: Alexander, Charles, James, and George. The two former were physicians of considerable eminence. Charles was a surgeon in the British navy at the capture of the Havana. Of George Clinton, it will not of course be expected that I should speak at length. He was the youngest son. He was a soldier and a statesman. He was engaged in the French war and in the Revolution; he was a member of the Provincial Assembly just before the Revolution, and in that body was a fearless advocate of his country’s liberty. He was the first governor of the State of New York, and for twenty-one years was continued in that high and responsible office, and exerted, perhaps, a larger influence than any other man over the then future destinies of the Empire State. He closed his eventful life while filling the chair of Vice-President of the United States.

James Clinton, the third son, and the father of De Witt Clinton, was born on the 9th of August, 1736, at the family residence in Little Britain. It has truly been said of him, that he was a warrior from his youth upward. Born upon the frontiers, with a hardy and vigorous constitution; accustomed to alarms and Indian incursions, he became in early life attached to the profession of arms. As early as 1757 he was commissioned an ensign, and in the following year he was commissioned first lieutenant by James Delancey, lieutenant-governor of this, then, province, and empowered to enlist troops; and in 1759, being then twenty-three years of age, he attained the rank of captain in the provincial army. In 1758 a considerable army, under General Bradstreet, passed up the Mohawk valley, and thence to Lake Ontario, and, by a well-directed attack, captured Fort Frontenac, from the French. Colonel Charles Clinton was at this time in command of Fort Herkimer, near the German Flats, in the Mohawk valley; and, as I have heretofore mentioned, joined General Bradstreet with his regiment. James Clinton was also in this expedition, and commanded a company; his brother George being lieutenant. At the attack upon Fort Frontenac, he exhibited an intrepidity of character which gained him great credit. He and his brother were instrumental in capturing one of the French vessels. The capture of this fort was one of the brilliant exploits of the French war.

Colonel Charles Clinton states in his journal, that "the destruction of this place, (meaning Fort Frontenac,) and of the shipping, artillery and stores, is one of the greatest blows the French have met with in America, considering the consequences of it, as it was the store out of which all the forts to the southward were supplied; and the shipping destroyed there, they employed in that service." The expedition was conducted with secrecy, and the French were taken unprepared. The fort contained but a small garrison, and was carried the second day after the commencement of the siege. Similar expeditions were common in that war. Armies plunged into the wilderness and forced their way up streams and over morasses with great labor and difficulty. The province of New York was the principal battle-ground. Fortresses were erected on the whole then northern frontier, extending from Lake George through the valley of the Mohawk, and along the shores of Lake Ontario to the vicinity of the great cataract itself. The Englishman and the Anglo-American fought side by side against France and her dependencies, and it seemed at times as if the fate of nations three thousand miles removed, was to be decided by the hot contests of their armies amid the green forests of this western world.

It is to be hoped that the persevering and able author of the life of the great captain of the Six Nations will follow out his original plan, and give to the world a full and accurate narrative of the thrilling scenes and romantic incidents of these early border wars.

From 1758 to 1763, James Clinton continued in the provincial army, now stationed upon the frontier posts engaged in the border skirmishes, and now enlisting new recruits under orders from the colonial governors, Sir Charles Handy, James Delancey, and Cadwallader Colden. In the latter year, 1763, he raised and commanded a corps of two hundred men, who were designated as guards of the frontier. He continued in the army until the close of the French war, and seems to have enjoyed, in a large degree, the confidence of the government and of his fellow soldiers.

After the close of the war he retired to his farm at Little Britain, and married Mary De Witt, a daughter of Egbert De Witt, a young lady of great respectability, whose ancestors were from Holland. He had four sons by this marriage: Alexander, who was private secretary to his uncle George; Charles, who was a lawyer in Orange county; De Witt, the third son, born in March, 1769; and George, who was also a lawyer and a member of Congress, all of whom are now deceased.

James Clinton, however, in time of peace, could not entirely forsake the tented field. He entered with zeal into the militia organization, and was a lieutenant colonel of a regiment in Orange county. At the commencement of the Revolutionary War he entered warmly into the continental service. His brother George, as has been related, had been for many years a representative in the colonial assembly from his native county, and had, from the first, advocated his country’s cause with that fearlessness and energy of character for which he was distinguished.

The two brothers were not unmindful of the dying injunctions of their patriotic sire, and hand in hand, at the first moment of outbreak, they entered the arena and joined their pledges of faith and support to the colonial cause.

In 1775 James Clinton was appointed colonel of the third regiment of New York troops, raised by the order of the Continental Congress; and in 1776 he was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general. In the summer of this year he was employed in the expedition against Canada, under Gen. Montgomery, and was before the walls of Quebec at the time of the fall of that brave and gallant general. In the summer of 1777, that gloomy period when almost the whole force of the British armies in America was concentrated upon the State of New York, General Clinton was stationed at Fort Montgomery, upon the Hudson River, and, together with his brother the governor, made a firm though unsuccessful resistance to the advance of the enemy, under Sir Henry Clinton.

The attack upon this fort, and also upon Fort Clinton, separated only by a creek, was made on the 6th of October, 1777, by an army of three thousand men. Some outposts had been carried during the day.

"As the night was approaching," says Sir Henry Clinton in his official dispatch, "I determined to seize the first favorable instant. A brisk attack on the Montgomery side; the galleys with their oars approaching, firing, and even striking the fort; the men-of-war that moment appearing, crowding all sail to support us; the extreme ardor of the troops; in short, all determined me to order the attack." The attack was continued until eight o’clock in the evening, when the enemy carried the forts by storm, and at the point of the bayonet. General Clinton, in the midst of the darkness and confusion, though wounded, succeeded in making his escape. These forts were intended to guard the navigation of the river, and to prevent the ascent of the enemy’s ships, and were said not to have been well protected on the land side. Be this as it may, they were not sufficiently garrisoned. As early as March, General Clinton wrote to General McDougal, saying, "I understand the committee are uneasy at the want of stores in this fort, but I think they have more reason to be uneasy that we are not reinforced with more troops, as we have not a sufficiency to do the usual duty of the garrison on each side of the creek." It is presumed that they were better supplied with troops at the time of the attack, but there was still a deficiency. The time of service of many of the troops had expired, and they were with difficulty prevailed upon to remain. The campaign of the north also required the flower of the army. The conduct of George Clinton and James Clinton, in this defense, received the approbation of Congress.

During the greater part of 1778 Gen. Clinton was stationed at West Point, and for a portion of that year was engaged in throwing a chain across the Hudson to prevent the ascent of the river by the enemy’s ships. The summer of that year has been rendered memorable upon the then frontiers, by reason of the massacres of Wyoming and Cherry Valley, under armies of Indians and Tories, led on by the Butlers and Brant. On the 16th of November, 1778, and just after the massacre at Cherry Valley, which occurred on the 11th of that month, General Washington wrote to General Hand, acknowledging the receipt of his letter containing the information of the destruction of that place, and adds, "It is in the highest degree distressing to have our frontiers so continually harrassed by this collection of banditti under Brant and Butler." He then inquires whether offensive operations could not be carried on against them at that season of the year, and if not then, when and how. This letter was probably referred to General Clinton, as it has been preserved among his papers; and it contains the first intimation which I have seen of that expedition against the Six Nations in the following year, known as Sullivan’s expedition, in which General Clinton was called to act a distinguished part.

It was determined to "carry the war into Africa." In other words, it was resolved to overrun the whole Indian country, and thus, if possible, put an end to the constant and harassing inroads of the enemy upon the frontier settlements. For this purpose extensive preparations were made, and after some difficulty in obtaining a commander, the expedition was intrusted to General Sullivan. It was decided that the army should move early in the spring of 1779. General Sullivan was to cross to Easton, in Pennsylvania, and into the valley of the Susquehanna, while General Clinton was to pass up the Mohawk Valley, and either unite with Sullivan in the Indian country, or else cross over from the Mohawk River to Lake Otsego, and proceed thence down the eastern branch of the Susquehanna. The latter route was finally determined upon, though General Washington preferred the former, as did General Clinton. The latter gave as his reasons, that the army could move up the Mohawk Valley and enter the Indian country with more ease and less delay, and that a movement in that direction would be more decisive and fatal to the Indians. The whole expedition was, however, under the control of Gen. Sullivan, who preferred the other route, and it was adopted.

On the 1st of June, 1779, General Clinton’s detachment, consisting of about two thousand troops, moved from Albany and proceeded up the Mohawk valley as far as Canajoharie. Here they pitched their camp, and with great labor carried over their boats and stores to the head of Lake Otsego, a distance of nearly twenty miles.

While encamped at Canajoharie, two spies were arrested, and a court-martial ordered to try them. Their names were Hare and Newberry. They were both natives of that section of country, and had been with the parties of Indians and Tories who had laid waste the settlements. Newberry was a sergeant in one of the organized companies of Tories, and was engaged in the massacre at Cherry Valley, where he killed a daughter of a Mr. Mitchell under circumstances of cruelty almost unparalleled.

A party of Indians had plundered the house, and murdered his wife and children. After they left, Mitchell returned to the house and found one child, a little girl about eleven or twelve years of age, who was still alive. He carried her to the door, and while engaged in endeavoring to restore her to consciousness, he saw another party approaching. He again retreated, and from his hiding-place saw Newberry, with a blow of his hatchet, extinguish the little spark of life that remained in his child. Retributive justice often follows close on the heels of crime. At this court-martial for the trial of Newberry, Mitchell was called as a witness.

If I possessed the wand of the great magician, I might draw aside the curtain and present to your view this court-martial scene. I might show to you the rough soldier brushing away a tear, and the pale cheek and quivering lip of the guilty Newberry, as the witness related the simple and affecting story of his sufferings, of the destruction of all his earthly hopes, of that massacre which had widowed him, and sent him forth upon the world homeless and childless.

Both Hare and Newberry were found guilty and hung as spies, and their execution, says General Clinton, gave great satisfaction to the inhabitants. Their bodies were given to their friends for interment, and were placed in coffins, which were laid upon the ground-floor of a house near the place of execution. While the bodies were lying in that situation, it was alleged that a large black snake ran hissing from the wall of the house, and, passing around or over the body of Newberry, glided away and disappeared in the opposite wall. The tradition was current a few years since, and I have myself heard the statement from the lips of the living actors of that period. The story is also alluded to by De Witt Clinton, in his journal which he kept when exploring the canal route in 1810. The report of this, as was supposed, appearance of his satanic majesty himself, to convey away the soul of Sergeant Newberry, produced a strong impression upon the minds of many of the unlettered and superstitious Germans of the Mohawk valley.

I cannot forbear, in this place, to pay a passing tribute to some of these Germans, whose advice General Clinton was requested to take, who were educated men, and who supported the American cause with great zeal and courage.

Among them was the Rev. Dr. Gross, the clergyman at Canajoharie, and Christopher P. Yates and John Frey, both lawyers, and residents in that vicinity. After the war, the Rev. Dr. Gross was chosen one of the professors of Columbia College, and I cannot present to you so correct and beautiful an outline of his character as is drawn by De Witt Clinton, in his address before the alumni of that college, which has never been printed, and which was the last of his literary efforts.

"The Rev. Dr. Gross," says Governor Clinton, "a native of Germany, and who had received a finished education in her celebrated schools, was a professor of the German language and geography, and afterwards a professor of moral philosophy. He had emigrated to this country before the Revolution and settled near the banks of the Mohawk, in a frontier country, peculiarly exposed to irruptions from Canada and the hostile Indians. When war commenced, he took the side of America, and, enthroned in the hearts of his countrymen, and distinguished for the courage which marks the German character, he rallied the desponding, animated the wavering, confirmed the doubtful, and encouraged the brave to more than ordinary exertion. With the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other, he stood forth in the united character of patriot and Christian, vindicating the liberties of mankind, and amidst the most appalling dangers, and the most awful vicissitudes, like the Red Cross Knight of the Fairy Queen,


‘Right faithful true he was, in deed and word.’ "


Such was the Rev. Dr. Gross, at the time of which we have been speaking.

Another of the Germans of the Mohawk valley was Christopher P. Yates, an early and ardent friend of the Revolution. He was a lawyer by profession, and some of the resolutions drawn up by him, and adopted by the committees of safety, were patriotic in sentiment and fearless in tone, and would have done no discredit to any provincial assembly, or even to the Continental Congress itself.

Another of these Germans was Major John Frey, a brother-in-law of Christopher P. Yates, and the last chairman of the Tryon County committee. He was one of the most prominent and active of the revolutionary patriots of the Mohawk valley; and I trust I shall be excused, by an indulgent auditory, for sketching the interview which it was my good fortune to have with him several years since.

It was in the winter of 1830, that I presented myself at the mansion of Major Frey, and desired an interview for the purpose of conferring with him, and of obtaining such manuscripts as he might have preserved.

Age and infirmity then sat heavily upon him. In the language of the good old Oneida chief, Skenando, he was like an aged pine, through whose branches had whistled the winds of an hundred winters. Like Skenando, also, the generation which had acted with him had gone and left him.

My own ancestors had sat in committee with him, and had shared in the toils, and in the fearful and bloody contests of the border. I shall never forget the appearance of this gray-haired sire as I entered his room, and was kindly introduced to him by his son, as a descendant of one of his co-laborers in the Revolution. His son explained to him at the same time, briefly, the object of my visit. He was entirely blind, and nearly deaf, so much so that it required a loud voice to rouse him. As soon as he understood his son fully, like a patriarch of old, he rose up, and extending his trembling hand, requested that I would draw near to him that he might touch me. His fervent language was, "God bless you, my son, and prosper you in your undertaking. Your grandfather and myself fought side by side in the Revolution. I have somewhere several papers which may assist you. They are yours – keep them." In a neglected spot in the garret, from a mass of unimportant and moth-eaten papers, I selected several documents of great interest, and which were of much service in throwing light upon the history of the valley, especially many of the proceedings of the Committee of Safety during the early part of the war.

A few years after this interview, the good old patriot was called to his rest, but the impression will pass away from my memory only with the decay of the faculty itself.

But I am wandering too much from my subject. On the 1st of July, General Clinton broke up his camp at Canajoharie, and crossed over to Lake Otsego, where his boats and stores had previously been carried, and, launching his boats, passed down to the outlet, and again encamped upon the spot where now is built the beautiful village of Cooperstown, the Templeton of the Pioneers. Two hundred and eight batteaux, and a large amount of provisions and military stores, had been carried across from the Mohawk River. Here, under date of 13th of July, General Clinton writes to Mrs. Clinton, saying that she probably expects that the army is in the midst of the Indian country, but that he is still waiting orders to move; that he is impatient for them, but that his situation is by no means unpleasant; that he can catch perch in the lake and trout in the streams, and hunt for deer upon the mountains. Lake Otsego is a beautiful little lake, about nine miles long, and varies in breadth from one to three miles. Its elevation is about twelve hundred feet above tide water, and it is almost embosomed by hills; the water is deep and clear. The scenery from many points is highly picturesque and wild.


"Tall rocks and tufted knolls, their face

Could on the dark blue mirror trace."


At this period, save in one or two places, no mark of civilization was visible. And though


"Each boatman bending to his oar,

With measured sweep the burthen bore,"


They could not but gaze at times with delight upon the natural beauties which surrounded them.

The outlet of this lake is narrow. General Clinton having passed his boats through, caused a dam to be thrown across; the lake was raised several feet; a party was sent forward to clear the river of drift-wood; when ready to move, the dam was broken up, and the boats glided swiftly down with the current.

On the 22d of August, this division arrived at Tioga, and joined the main army under General Sullivan.

On the 26th of August, the whole army moved from Tioga up the river of that name, and on the 29th fell in with the enemy at Newtown. Here a spirited engagement took place, in which the enemy was routed; this was the only battle. When it was first announced that an army was marching into their country, the Indians laughed at their supposed folly, believing it impossible for a regular army to traverse the wilderness and drive them from their fastnesses.

On the 14th of September the army arrived at the Genesee River; and the rich alluvial bottom lands, which now constitute the garden of this State, had even then been extensively cultivated by the Indians. Scarcely a tree was to be seen over the whole extent. Modern curiosity and enterprise had not then rendered familiar the mighty valleys and prairies of the West; and officers and soldiers gazed alike with surprise and admiration upon the rich prospect before them. The army, as it emerged from the woods, and as company after company filed off and formed upon the plain, presented an animating and imposing spectacle.

The whole country of the Onondagas, the Cayugas, and the Senecas was overrun by this expedition. Vast quantities of grain were destroyed; all the Indian villages were laid waste; and it was fondly hoped that the Indians, driven back, and having lost their provisions and stores, would be prevented from making further inroads into the border settlements. This was not considered merely as a retaliatory measure. The western part of New York was the granary from whence the Indians and Tories drew their supplies. Cut off from these, it was thought they would be driven back into Canada, and that a stop would be put to further incursions.

Such, however, unfortunately for the frontier settlements, was not the effect. In the following summer these incursions were renewed; and they were continued throughout the war. For nearly eight years the inhabitants were kept in almost constant alarm, and were the victims of this barbarous warfare until they became a peeled and scattered people. The whole valley of the Mohawk, including the valley of the Schoharie, and all the settlements to the south upon the head-waters of the Susquehanna, were entirely destroyed. There was not a spot which had escaped the ravages of the enemy.

"It was the computation," says the author of the Life of Brant, "two years before the close of the war, that one third of the population had gone over to the enemy, and that one third had been driven from the country or slain in battle, and by private assassination. And yet among the inhabitants of the other remaining third, in June, 1783, it was stated at a public meeting held at Fort Plain, that there were three hundred widows and two thousand orphan children." In great justice and truth he as added, "that no other section or district of country in the United States, of like extent, suffered in any comparable degree as much from the war of the Revolution as did that of the Mohawk. It was the most frequently invaded and overrun, and that too by an enemy far more barbarous than the native barbarians of the forest."

In the early part of 1780, the year following the expedition against the Six Nations, General Clinton was stationed upon the Hudson River. In October of that year, and after the discovery of the treason of Arnold, General Washington wrote to General Clinton, then at West Point, as follows:

"As it is necessary there should be an officer in whom the State has confidence to take the general direction of affairs at Albany and on the frontier, I have fixed upon you for this purpose, and request you will proceed to Albany without delay, and assume the command. You will be particularly attentive to the post of Fort Schuyler, and do everything in your power to have it supplied with a good stock of provisions and stores, and you will take every other precaution the means at your command will permit, for the security of the frontier, giving the most early advice of any incursions of the enemy."

General Clinton repaired to Albany, and took the direction of affairs in the northern department, according to the instructions of the commander-in-chief. That post had been one of great responsibility during the whole of the war, and at the time of General Clinton’s appointment it had not lost its importance.

The spring of 1781 found the American army, and especially that portion of it stationed at the north and west, almost destitute of provisions. This arose in part from some defective arrangement in the commissary department, and in part from the fact, that the whole Mohawk valley had been laid waste, which was one of the best sources of supplies in the earlier part of the war. General Clinton communicated intelligence of the destitute condition of the army to General Washington, early in the spring of that year, and, under date of May 4th, the commander-in-chief replied, saying, "he had received and read his letter, and transmitted it to Congress to aid in enforcing his own suggestions. That measures must be taken to procure provisions, and where persuasion, entreaty and requisition fail, coercion must be used, rather than the garrison of Fort Schuyler shall fall, and the frontier be again desolated and laid waste. I am persuaded the State will make a great effort to afford a supply of flour for the troops in that quarter; and I confess I see no other alternative under our present circumstances."

Coercion was used in order to procure supplies of provisions, and coercion saved the American army from dismemberment during the summer of 1781.

In a letter of a subsequent date, General Washington says, "whenever any quantity arrives you may depend upon having a full proportion of it, being determined to share our last morsel with our, and support your posts, if possible, at all hazards and extremities."

The situation of the army at the north was deplorable indeed. The different detachments were stationed not where they were needed for defense, but where they could procure supplies of provisions. The enemy, taking advantage of the trials and sufferings of the soldiers, made great efforts to produce disaffection and desertion in their ranks. Emissaries were sent among them, and the Tories, especially, were active in their efforts. In this they were but too successful, and General Clinton, in a letter dated in May, says, that unless the army is relieved, so prevalent is the spirit of desertion, every post must be abandoned and the country depopulated.

Under this impression, General Clinton determined upon taking decisive measures, which should strike terror into the hearts of the disaffected and Tories, and by executing summary punishment, to prevent, at least, their active interference in causing the desertion of the soldiers.

The following letter to Captain Du Bois, under date of June 1st, 1871, will more fully convey his views:

"SIR: I have received your letter of yesterday. From good information, I am well convinced that parties of the enemy are out on the recruiting service, and that they are protected, harbored, and subsisted, by the disaffected people on the frontiers. I am informed by a letter this morning received from the commanding officer at Johnstown, that several Tories have been apprehended at that place for encouraging our soldiers to desert, and for subsisting them in their habitations until they can have an opportunity to join the enemy. I therefore desire, that as soon as you can be thoroughly convinced of any disaffected persons in your quarter being guilty of either seducing any of our soldiers to desert, or subsisting or harboring them when deserted, you will not be at the pains of taking them prisoners, but kill them on the spot. If, also, you should find any of them to harbor parties from the enemy, by which means any of our good frontier inhabitants do in person get killed, you will also retaliate vengeance on them, life for life.

"I have issued and forwarded these orders to the different posts, which you may promulge, and not secrete, that the Tories may know their fate for their future misbehavior.

"I soon expect better supplies of men and provisions."

These measures, it is believed, had a salutary effect.

General Clinton continued at Albany until August 1781, when he embarked the troops immediately under his command, for the purpose of joining the commander-in-chief, and was succeeded in the command of the northern army by General Stark.

In the winter or spring of 1782 some promotions were made by the Continental Congress, by which a junior officer took precedence over General Clinton. The veteran soldier could not brook what he deemed a great injury. He solicited and obtained leave to withdraw from the active duties of the camp. In a letter dated April 10th, 1782, General Clinton says:

"At an early period of the war I entered into the service of my country, and I have continued in it during all the vicissitudes of fortune, and am conscious that I have exerted my best endeavour to serve it with fidelity. I have never sought emolument or promotion; and as the different commands I have held were unsolicited, I might have reasonably expected, if my services were no longer wanted, to have been indulged at least with a decent dismission."

He did not retire from the army entirely, but joined again the commander-in-chief, and was present at the evacuation of New York, where he took leave of General Washington, and retired to his farm at Little Britain. The war was happily terminated, and peace again reigned along the borders.

Then followed what has been well denominated the night of the confederation. In the midst of war, and while pressed by foes from without, the inefficiency of the articles of confederation were not so fully realized. But now darkness shrouded the future, or if that future portended aught, it portended a broken and dismembered confederacy.

The convention which assembled at Philadelphia in May, 1787, for the purpose of forming a federal constitution, arose like the day-star upon this benighted land. The convention of New York, called to ratify this constitution presented by the convention of Philadelphia, assembled at Poughkeepsie in June, 1788, and it embraced men, in themselves a host, and the mention of whose names should excite emotions of patriotism and of pride in the bosom of every New Yorker. There were John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, George Clinton, John Lansing, Robert R. Livingston, James Clinton, Melancthon Smith, James Duane, Samuel Jones, with others of less note, but well known in those times for their sterling patriotism. Among the number were Christopher P. Yates and John Frey, to whom I have heretofore alluded, and who represented in convention the then county of Montgomery.

George Clinton and General James Clinton were delegates from Ulster County. George Clinton was unanimously chosen president of the convention. The debates were continued for six weeks, with all the talent and address of the distinguished speakers whose names I have mentioned.

On the side of the constitution were John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and Robert R. Livingston, and opposed to its unconditional adoption were George Clinton, Melancthon Smith and John Lansing. General James Clinton united with his brother George, and to the last they both persisted in their opposition, even when many of those who at first acted with them had joined the other party, and were in favor of an unconditional adoption of the constitution.

George Clinton stated, that in times of trouble and difficulty men were always in danger of passing to extremes; that while he admitted the confederation to be weak and inefficient, and entirely inadequate for the purposes of union, he at the same time feared that the new constitution, proposed to be adopted, would give too much power to the federal government. The sturdy democrat foresaw that powers were conferred upon the executive of the Union by that constitution which could be used, with almost irresistible force, for good or evil; and had his life been spared to have witnessed its operation until the close of the first half century of its existence, he would have learned that his prophesy, to some extent at least, had become history. It was under the views above stated that both the Clintons voted in convention against the unconditional adoption of the present federal constitution. They were in favor of a modification, or of only a qualified adoption.

When the constitution was adopted and became the supreme law of the land, they both supported and cherished it with their usual decision and energy of character.

Gen. James Clinton was afterwards {original text has "afterwads".} called to fill several important stations. He was elected a member of the State Senate, a member of the convention to revise the constitution, and was appointed a Commissioner to run the boundary line between New York and Pennsylvania. While engaged in this latter service he was treated with marked attention by the Indians in the western part of New York, in consequence of his having been, as they considered, a brave soldier. They recollected him as having been engaged in Sullivan’s expedition, and described his dress and the horse which he rode in the battle of Newtown; and they offered to bestow upon him a tract of land, and desired his permission to apply to the legislature for liberty to make a conveyance to him. Their offer was declined, but it was a flattering compliment, coming as it did from those who had been enemies, and whose country had been laid waste partly by his instrumentality.

With the exceptions above mentioned, the residue of General Clinton’s life, after the war, was spent in peaceful retirement upon his estate at Little Britain.

He died at his residence in 1812, just at the commencement of another war. He had seen his country under all the vicissitudes of good and evil fortune.

The pen of his illustrious son has recorded his epitaph, and thus beautifully sums up his character:

"His life was principally devoted to the military service of his country, and he had filled with fidelity and honor several distinguished civil offices.

"He was an officer in the revolutionary war, and the war preceding, and at the close of the former was a major general in the army of the United States. He was a good man and a sincere patriot, performing in the most exemplary manner all the duties of life, and he died, as he had lived, without fear and without reproach."



Transcribed from the original text and html prepared by Bill Carr, last updated 8/27/99.

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