THE BORDER WARFARE OF NEW YORK, DURING THE REVOLUTION;

OR, THE

ANNALS OF TRYON COUNTY

BY WILLIAM W. CAMPBELL

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CHAPTER XI.

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"’Tis faith thus wrought, whose fearful mysteries

Yield e’en weak women strength for deeds like these."

 

It has been stated in a preceding chapter, that Mrs. Campbell and her children were carried captives into the Indian country. Soon after her arrival at Canadaseago, the capital of the Seneca nation, she was given to a family to fill the place left vacant by the death of one of its members. This family was composed of females, with the exception of one aged warrior, who no longer went forth either to the chase or to war; this circumstance enabled her to render herself useful to them. The Indians knew little of the most common arts of life; few of the Indian women could make even an ordinary calico garment. She made garments not only for the family to which she belonged, but also for the neighboring families, who in return sent corn and venison for their support. By reason of these services, she was under no restraint, but was free to come or go as she pleased.

The Indians paid no regard to the Sabbath, but pursued their usual avocations on that day; on her informing them that she kept that day sacred, they did not ask her to do any work, and gave strict orders to the children to remain silent while in her presence.

An Indian one day came into the house where she was, and asked her why she wore caps, saying, "Indians do not do so." She replied it was the custom of her countrywomen. "Well, come to my house, and I will give you a cap." Her adopted mother motioned to her to follow him. As soon as they had entered the house, he pulled from behind a beam a cap of a smoky color, and handed it to her, saying in English, "I got that cap in Cherry Valley; I took it from the head of a woman." On examination she recognized it as having belonged to the unfortunate Jane Wells; and was no doubt the one she had on when she was so barbarously murdered, as it had a cut in the crown made by the tomahawk, and was spotted with blood. She could not but drop a tear to her memory, for she had known her from infancy – a pattern of virtue and loveliness. In the Indian who stood before her she perceived the murderer of her friend. She turned from him with horror. Returning to her cabin, she tore off the lace border, and washing it carefully, though she could not efface the stains of blood, laid away with the intention of giving to some of the friends of Miss Wells, if any had been fortunate enough to escape. She afterward gave it to Miss Ramsay, a cousin, whom she found at Fort Niagara, and who, together with her mother, melted into tears as they beheld this little relic, spotted with the blood of their kinswoman.

Early in the winter the nation assembled at Canadaseago to hold a general council, and to celebrate their late successes. This village was laid out with some regularity, and in almost a circular form, enclosing a large green. The houses were generally built of bark, after the rude style of the Indians. A few were of hewn logs. The ceremony was commenced by a sacrifice. A white dog was killed and borne along in procession to a large fire kindled in the centre of the village. In the mean time others went round to every house with a basket, in which each individual was required to deposit something. This basket, with all its contents, was first cast into the fire. Afterward the dog was laid on and thoroughly roasted, and was then eaten. This was followed by eating, drinking and dancing, which continued for several days. {See Appendix – Note K.}

When Col. Butler went to Canada he left his wife and children in the county. The committee afterward refused permission to them to join him. Captain Walter Butler, her son, wrote a letter by the prisoners who returned to Cherry Valley, to Col. Campbell, proposing an exchange of Mrs. Campbell and her children for his mother and brothers. This letter was laid by him before Gov. Clinton and Gen. Schuyler, and the proposed exchange was agreed to by them.

Early in the spring Col. Campbell dispatched an Indian messenger to Col. Butler at Fort Niagara, informing him that the proposition was acceded to. Col. Butler soon after came to Canadaseago to confer with the Indians in reference to giving up their prisoners. When prisoners have been given to a family, that family return them with great reluctance. They usually fill the places of deceased relatives. To return them for money, or any other compensation, would be equivalent to selling their relatives. A council was called, which continued sitting for several days. Col. Butler urged with great earnestness the Indians to give up the prisoners in exchange for his wife and children. The assent of the council was finally obtained. The residence of Mrs. C. was intended to have been only temporary at Canadaseago. This spring she was to have been placed in a family in the Genesee village, who were kinfolk of the family with whom she lived at this time, and also of Guyanguahta, or, as he was usually called, Grahta, the Seneca king. It was necessary to obtain their assent, and the old king himself set out on this errand. Having succeeded, he returned to Canadaseago, and immediately informed Mrs. C. that she was now free. The good old king had always been kind to her. Though considerably advanced in life, so that he did not join in the war, yet he performed this journey on foot. Before her departure for Niagara, he came up from his residence near the outlet of the Seneca Lake, to bid her adieu, and to wish her success on her journey. "You are now about to return to your home and friends, I rejoice. You live a great way, many days’ journey from here. I am an old man, and do not know that I shall live to the end of this war; if I do, when the war is over I will come and see you." This was spoken through an interpreter. A circumstance occurred about the same time, which deserves notice. It has been observed that the Oneidas passed through the country of the other nations unmolested. One of them came into the village of Canadaseago. Among the prisoners in the village was a Mr. Piper, who had been taken in the valley of the Mohawk. He sought an interview with the Indian. The Indian, informed of this, called upon him, and addressed him in English in a very grave tone: "You wished to see me – I have come – what do you want." "I wished to request you, when you return, to go to my family and inform them that I am alive." "Is that all?" said the generous Oneida; "I supposed you wanted me to conduct you back to your home." "I dare not leave," was the reply; "I would be pursued and overtaken, and probably killed." "I can lead you safe, by paths which they do not know. If you will go with me, I am sure I can conduct you home in safety." Mr. Piper was advanced in life, and preferred waiting until some exchange should be made, to hazarding his life by an attempt to escape. This conversation had been overheard. Col. Butler, fearing lest he might escape, ordered him forward to Niagara. Col. Butler remained in the Indian country with his rangers. He was joined by Brant and the Indians, in all about 800, who made a stand, as before mentioned, at Newtown. Mrs. Campbell, shortly after the return of the old king, was also sent to Niagara, where she arrived in June, 1779. Soon after the British at that fort received information of the march of Gen. Sullivan. The fort at this time was in a poor condition to resist an attack. A regiment was ordered up from Canada to aid in repairing and garrisoning it. The men were almost constantly on fatigue duty during the summer. The most vigorous preparations were made to give Gen. Sullivan a warm reception, should the capture of this fort be the object of the campaign.

Among the persons driven into the fort by the American army, was Catrine Montour, who had signalized herself by her inhumanity at Wyoming. She had two sons, who were leaders of bands, and who consequently imparted additional consequence to her. This creature was treated with considerable attention by some of the officers. It has already been remarked, however, in justice to that body of men, that the indiscriminate war which was carried on along the border was not generally sanctioned or approved of by them.

A son of Catrine Montour took prisoner, in Cherry Valley, Mr. Cannon, the father of Mrs. Campbell. Mr. Cannon was severely wounded by a musket ball, and was also advanced in life; but he had been a committee-man, and had taken an active part in the war. He was therefore taken along a prisoner, for purpose of exchange. On the return of the party into the Indian country, Catrine addressed her son in English, and, in the presence of Mr. Cannon, reproached him for having acted humanely. "Why did you bring that old man a prisoner? Why did you not kill him when you first took him?" Another person was Molly, the sister of Joseph Brant, and mistress of Sir William Johnson. Lieut. Col. Stacia, who had been taken prisoner at Cherry Valley, was also at the fort. Molly Brant had, from some cause, a deadly hostility to him. She resorted to the Indian method of dreaming. She informed Col. Butler that she dreamed she had the Yankee’s head, and that she and the Indians were kicking it about the fort. Col. Butler ordered a small keg of rum to be painted and given to her. This for a short time appeased her, but she dreamed the second time that she had the Yankee’s head, with his hat on, and she and the Indians were kicking it about the fort for a football. Col. Butler ordered another keg of rum to be given to her, and then told her, decidedly, that Col. Stacia should not be given up to the Indians. Apart from this circumstance, I know nothing disreputable of Molly Brant; on the contrary, she appears to have had just views of her duties. She was careful of the education of her children, some of whom were respectably married.

The Indians having been driven into Fort Niagara, Col. Butler was enabled to get from them all Mrs. Campbell’s children. She was sent down to Montreal in June, 1780, a year after her arrival at the fort. Here she found Mrs. Butler and children, and one of her own sons, a child about seven years of age. {James S. Campbell, Esq. was the second son of Col. Samuel Campbell, and is still living at Cherry Valley, on the old homestead which he inherited from his father. He has long since forgotten the Indian tongue. Indeed, as he has often stated to me, he forgot it as readily as he learned it.} He had been with the Caughnawagas, a branch of the Mohawk tribe, settled in Canada. Mrs. Butler had taken off his Indian dress, and had clad him in the green uniform of Col. Butler’s Rangers. It was, however, only the appearance of the child which she had altered; for he could speak nothing but the Mohawk tongue, having entirely forgotten the English. Mrs. C. had not seen him since the day of their captivity at Cherry Valley. Though his habits had changed with his language, she rejoiced, for he had not forgotten her.

At Montreal, several other prisoners were collected, previous to their being exchanged. They were detained here several months waiting for their passports. They repeatedly made inquiries of, and remonstrated to Gen. Haldiman, the Governor. He said it was not in his power to grant them, but he would write to the commander-in-chief at Quebec; which he accordingly did. The passports were soon after obtained, and the prisoners were sent to Crown Point, where a batteaux lay which had brought from the States several loyalist families. Before their arrival, a British vessel had come into the port from Canada, and the sailors commenced telling the people on the wharf, and in the other vessels, that expeditions were fitting out in Canada against Fort George and Fort Ann. The Americans in the batteau overheard this conversation. When the prisoners left St. John’s, the commander at that place wrote to Crown Point, ordering the commander there to permit the batteau to return. This letter was to have been carried by them; but by accident it was sent forward and reached Crown Point before they did, and the batteau immediately departed. They were then sent back to Port Affair and detained there. They saw the expedition going down the lake, and though at that time they did not know that the sailors on board the batteau had overheard the conversation relative to it, yet they consoled themselves with the idea that they must have received some intimation of it, and would apprise the inhabitants. But the spies returned, saying all was silent and no attack was apprehended. Shortly after the batteau returned with another cargo of loyalist families. The batteaumen had given no intimation of the contemplated invasion. It was supposed they preferred the hard dollars which they received in pay for their labor, to the welfare of their country. They excused themselves by saying that they considered it a sailor’s story, and entitled to no credit.

One party of Indians and Tories in this expedition was commanded by Captain Johnson, a brother of Guy Johnson, who, on account of his ferocious conduct, was called "Savage Johnson." When this expedition returned, poles were erected in the sterns of the boats, from which were suspended the scalps of the persons whom they had killed. According to the account given by them, the number killed was about fifty.

The prisoners were now sent down to Crown Point – the batteau was dismissed, and they passed the lake. In their passage they were the cause of alarm to the inhabitants who had so recently been visited. The men were clad in blanket coats, and some of the women wore red cloaks. A scout had discovered them on the lake, and taking them for a party of Indians and Tories, gave the alarm, and before their arrival more than a thousand militia had collected, under Col. Ethan Allen. While stopping at a small fortress, eight miles from Castleton, it was announced that a flag was approaching. It was supposed to be sent to demand the surrender of the fortress. Col. Herrick, of the militia, struck his sword upon the ground with such force that he broke it in pieces, saying it should not be surrendered. Col. Allen told the prisoners that they should not again fall into the hands of the enemy, and immediately mounting them upon horseback, sent them off toward Albany, with an escort of a hundred men. This flag was sent for the following reason. It had been rumored that the inhabitants in that section had said that if they were not protected from the incursions of the Indians and Tories, they would seek protection elsewhere. It is perhaps needless to add, that this flag was sent to offer them the protection of Great Britain, which was indignantly rejected.

Shortly after her arrival at Albany, Mrs. Campbell was joined by Mr. Campbell, who had been in Fort Schuyler during most of the time since 1778. They removed up the river to where now is situated the village of West Troy. On the east side of the river there were but two houses, where is now situated the beautiful city of Troy.

It was not until the spring of 1784, that they returned to Cherry Valley. They were now almost penniless, their lands had gone to waste, and were covered with underbrush, and overrun with wild beasts. With a large family, and without a shelter, save a little log cabin, hastily put up, they felt for a time that their lot had been a hard one. But the consciousness that they had done their duty to their country, and that that country was now free, bore them up under their misfortunes. Toward the close of summer, Mr. C. had succeeded in erecting a comfortable log-house, and his farm began to assume again the aspect of cultivation. He received information that General Washington and several other distinguished persons were passing up the Mohawk, and would visit Cherry Valley. When they arrived, he had no place, save his log-house, in which to receive them. But most of them had been accustomed to the camp, and dreaded no inconvenience from this source. General Washington was accompanied by Gov. George Clinton, Gen. Hand, and many officers of the New York line. Gov. Clinton immediately inquired for Robert Shankland, who had married a distant connection of his, and with whom he was acquainted. Before introducing him, it may be well to give some account of this brave and hardy borderer. From the first he had espoused the colonial cause; and being an Irishman by birth, maintained it with the characteristic warmth of his countrymen. He lived in a remote part of the town, but while the garrison was kept, he came almost daily to inquire as to the state of affairs at home and abroad. He was accustomed to pass by the farm of a Mr. Coonrad, a townsman, whom he found always engaged in his usual farming business. Believing that a man could not be a good Whig, who appeared so indifferent to what was doing in the country, he one day accosted him. Armed, as was his custom, with a musket and a large basket-hilted sword, he drew up before him, when the following dialogue was held: "Mr. Coonrad, are you a Whig?" he asked, sternly. "Yes, Mr. Shankland, I am as good a Whig as you are." "And why don’t you arm yourself in defense of your country, as I do, then?" Throwing up his musket and striking his hand upon his sword, he marched toward the fort, leaving Mr. Coonrad somewhat surprised at this, though not unusual, yet searching question. Mr. Coonrad was afterward an active partisan soldier.

When Cherry Valley was destroyed, the house of Mr. Shankland, by reason {original text has "renson".} of its remoteness, was not burned. He fled, however, with his family to the Mohawk River. The following summer he returned with his son Thomas, a lad about fourteen years of age. They were awakened one morning a little before daylight by a violent pounding at the door, with a demand of admittance, made in broken English. Mr. Shankland arose, and taking down his guns, directed his son to load them as fast as they should be discharged by him. Upon listening, he ascertained that the demand was made by Indians, who were endeavoring to hew down the door with their tomahawks. With a spear in his hand he now carefully unbarred his door and charged upon them. Surprised by this sudden and unexpected attack, they fell back. One of the Indians whom he pursued in his retreat fell over a log which lay near the door and into which he struck his spear. He drew it back suddenly, when the blade parted from the handle and remained in the wood. He seized the blade in his hand and wrested it out, and then retreated into the house. Not a gun was fired nor a tomahawk thrown at him in this sortie. The Indians now commenced firing through the door and in the windows, which was returned by Mr. S., though with no effect on the part of the Indians, and with little on his. One or two of the Indians were slightly wounded. His son, who was frightened, made his escape through the window, and ran toward the woods. He was discovered, pursued and taken. When Mr. S. learned from their shouts that this was the case, he determined to sally out again and sell his life as dearly as possible. But upon reflection, fearing it might endanger the life of his son, whom they might otherwise save alive, he concluded to remain and defend his house to the last. The Indians, who were few in number, finding themselves unable to effect an entrance into the house, hit upon another method of attack. They gathered combustible materials, and placing them at a side of the house where there were no windows, and where they could not be annoyed by Mr. S., set fire to them. In a few minutes the whole side of the house was enveloped in flames. There was but one way of escape. He had sown a field of hemp, which came up to his house on one side, and luckily the side in which was the cellar door. The prospect of a successful defense being now over, he went into the cellar, and having gained the woods through the hemp, made his way to the Mohawk in safety. The Indians waited until the house was burned down, supposing him to have been burned with it, and then, raising their shout of victory, departed, taking their prisoner along with them into the western part of the State.

When Mr. Shankland had been introduced to the company, he was requested to relate some of his adventures, and the foregoing was a part of his narration. He stood up in the centre of the little log-cabin, and so far as space would allow, "fought his battle o’er." His audience listened with great attention, though their faculties were occasionally excited by his drolleries. Such a group would form no mean subject for the pencil.

An object of some interest also to the party, was a gun which formerly belonged to Joseph Mayall, and the notice of which arose from the following circumstances. Mayall lived in the town of Laurens, in the now county of Otsego. Though an Englishman by birth, he had sided with the colonies. He had returned home during the summer, and was hunting, when he was accosted by three men, who requested him to pilot them a short distance down the Susquehanna to the fording place. He did so; but the men, abusing his confidence, took his gun from him, and having taken off the lock returned it to him. They then informed him that he must accompany them to Canada. He remonstrated, saying that peace had been declared, and they had no right to detain him a prisoner. Finding argument unavailing he concluded to submit until an opportunity to escape should offer. When crossing a branch of the Susquehanna, the better to secure their prisoner, one of the men passed to the opposite side of the stream – one stationed himself in the middle, and one was to accompany Mayall. Seizing upon this advantage, Mayall struck the man who was with him on the bank a violent blow with his gun, which felled him to the earth; and then seizing quickly his gun, fired at and wounded the one in the stream. The third fired at, but missed Mayall, and then fled. Mayall returned and came to Cherry Valley, bringing the guns of the two men, together with his own, which he deposited with Mr. Campbell. Mayall was a stout, athletic man, and the barrel of his bun was bent almost to a semicircle by the violence of the blow.

The ensuing morning, Gov. Clinton, seeing several boys, inquired of Mrs. C. how many children she had: having told him, he added, "they will make fine soldiers in time." She replied, "she hoped her country would never need their services." "I hope so too, madam," said Gen. Washington, "for I have seen enough of war." They visited Otsego Lake and outlet, where Gen. Clinton {original text has "Sullivan".} threw a dam across, and afterward passed down to join Gen. Sullivan. The following letter was written by Gen. Washington to the Marquis of Chastellux, a foreigner who was in pursuit of literary and military fame.

"I have lately made a tour through the lakes George and Champlain as far as Crown Point, then returning to Schenectady I proceeded up the Mohawk to Fort Schuyler, crossed over to Wood Creek, which empties into the Oneida Lake, and affords the water communication with Ontario. I then traversed the country to the head of the eastern branch of the Susquehanna, and viewed the Lake Otsego and the portage between that lake and the Mohawk River at Canajoharie. Prompted by these actual observations, I could not help taking a more contemplative and extensive view of the vast inland navigation of these United States, and could not but be struck with the immense diffusion and importance of it, and with the goodness of that Providence which has dealt his favors to us with so profuse a hand. Would to God we may have wisdom enough to improve them. I shall not rest contented until I have explored the western country, and traversed those lines (or a great part of them) which have given bounds to a new empire."

At the close of the war most of the surviving inhabitants of Cherry Valley, and of the valley of the Mohawk, returned to their former homes. {On the 4th day of July, 1840, the inhabitants of Cherry Valley celebrated the anniversary of the one hundredth year of their settlement. The centennial discourse of the author will be found in the Appendix; and with it the writer feels that he has done with the history of his native town. The men of other generations must continue it.} Many of them had been scattered in different provinces and along the sea-board. The places of some were not occupied, and many a tear was shed as their friends lamented their death,

 

--------"Recalling with a sigh

Dim recollected pleasures of the days of youth,

And early love."

 

 

Many of the soldiers who were at the close of the war without homes, and who had been stationed along the frontier, returned and settled upon the places of their former trials and sufferings. The fertility of the western part of the State had been discovered by Sullivan’s expedition. These and other subsequent circumstances produced a tide of emigration to the west, which has not yet ceased to flow, which still pours on its flood into the far unbroken wilderness. Who that looked upon central and western New York then, would have dreamed of its sudden growth and prosperity – that in fifty years it would teem with more than a million of inhabitants, rich in education, rich in morals, rich in enterprise, both civil and religious, in all that adorns a State! When however I look over this land, the domain of the once proud and noble Iroquois, and remember how in the days of their glory they defended this infant colony from the ravages of the French, and contrast their former state, numerous, powerful, and respected, with their present condition, I feel almost disposed to blot the record which I have made of their subsequent cruelties. They are passing away from among us, without leaving upon the land which they inhabited any mementoes of their greatness. No Brant has written the history of the Six Nations, and left for our perusal "the story of their wrongs."

 

"Their yell of vengeance was their trump of fame

Their monument, a grave without a name."

 

I here close this little sketch of our border warfare. Every person will readily perceive how difficult it is to collect materials for even such a sketch, where the few tattered and moth-eaten documents are to be sought for among many persons, and when the authenticity of many events, long gone by, rests upon the frail basis of human memory. It is very possible, therefore, yea, very probable, there are omissions, perhaps errors, in this volume of Annals. I shall be satisfied, however, if I shall have succeeded in rescuing from oblivion any materials, however few or small, which shall be useful and important for the future historian of this State; for that architect whose lot it shall be to rear a monument more durable than those of stone – "that loftier monument on which, not the rays of the setting sun, but the rays of a nation’s glory, as long as letters shall endure, will continue to ‘play and linger on its summit.’ "

Since 1776, revolution has followed revolution; but however splendid in their commencement, or successful in their termination, in the eye of the American, they eclipse not that which terminated in his country’s independence. Far from becoming stale, it increases in interest as we recede from it. As our numbers and resources increase, we wonder that so much was done; and when the few remains of those times shall be gathered to their companions in peace, we shall regret but too late that we had not honored them more.

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