The Low Dutch Prisoner
Being an account of the
of Frederick Schemerhorn
When a lad of seventeen years old
By A Party of Mohawks
In the time of the Revolution
Who took him near the famous mountain house
in the State of New York
And of his suffering through the wilderness
With the Indians.
Also, The Story of the Hermit, Found in a cave of the Allegany
The Miners of the Minisink
With some other curious matters which the reader may consider useful as
Well as interesting.
The glare of fire, its smoke and flame,
Are hues which tinge the savage name;
The screech—the groan—the dry of fear,
Are sounds that please the Indian ear.
For thus, their ancient Cory Creed
Pronounc’d the prisoner sure should bleed,
And through death’s gate in pain must go,
To meet the awful Mantio!
By Joseph Priest,
Author of Several works, Pamphlets, & c.
Never before Published—Copy-right
Price 18 ¾ Cents
Courtesy of the Vedder Library. Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin.
Four miles west of the beautiful and populous town of Catskill, on the North River, is situated the highly romantic village of Madison. The scenery surrounding the place is such, as never fails to excite the liveliest interest on the beholder; as it is here that the wild, precipitous and crooked stream, called the Catskill Creek, had in some former age cut for itself a passage through the loose, shelly rocks, to a great depth in the winding, zig-zag and headlong manner. In some places the stream flows for a short distance over the smooth flat limestone bottom, tranquil and pellucid; then in a moment if it is hurled down the rugged descents of successive rapids, into the deep and peaceful bosom of wide and extended eddies, the home of myriads of the tenants of the waters. From thence it rushes onward, renewing at varied distances scenes of the same character, though different in form and aspect; while from these continued cataracts, goes up the everlasting sound of the waters. In the distance there comes rolling from the far west, in majestic and awful undulations, the broad and towering Alleghany mountains, booming up to the very heavens as they pass onward to the southwest, casting over the whole region a lofty look of wildness grandeur.
It was at this place, when in a new and wild condition, that the hero of the following narrative was born; where his parents, in the year 17_8, being eighty-one years since, settled; and cultivated here in the woods a home—such as the backwoodsman loves—a home of peace and plenty. Frederick Schermerhorn is a Dutchman of the Holland descent; as many even now at his advanced age, who give evidence, in no ordinary degree, of the sober, thoughtful cast of his intellectual powers, so characteristic of his nation, the Low Dutch of Holland. Here Frederick had lived, till a lad of about seventeen years old, which carried him at the time of his capture by the Indians, several years into the seven years war of the Revolution.
But in order to enter immediately, and more particularly into the account, we shall find necessary to mention, that between a certain dome-like elevation of land, of a very striking and peculiar formation, called by the people of the neighborhood "The Round Top," situated some two or three miles from the immediate foot of the range of mountains above spoken of, there runs a small rapid stream called the Shingle Kill. On this little creek is a strip of alluvial, of excellent quality, where at this earlier time, a relative of the Schermerhorn family had settled; there, in the woods, between the almost Alps-like mountains which frowned over the vale, and the towering "Round Top." The name of this family was Strope, whose daughter had married the son of Schermerhorn, the brother of Frederick, whose sufferings and captivity we are about to relate. To this place, viz: Old Mr. Strope’s, the boy had been sent to procure the aid of his brother in driving a number of sheep from "Cairo" (a beautiful inland town, now so called, but then was known by the appellation of "Shingle Kill," and at this time could boast of but one house which is yet standing, and is called the "Carbine House,") to his fathers in Madison, or to where Skinnemans bridge was afterwards built over the Catskill.
The time the boy was sent on his errand to Strope’s, was in the after part of the day, when the sun was some two hours above the horizon; which was time sufficient, however, for him to reach his destination before dark, as he was on horseback; and could easily ride the distance, which was about eight miles, in two hours; although the way was there rough, wild and broken. In all the journies of Frederick, in hunting the cattle which then ranged the forest for feeding, or wherever he went, there always accompanied him his large ferocious looking bear-dog, which was particularly attached to him, proving a sufficient safe-guard from all danger from the attack of wild animals, or impertinence of strangers. But at this time, as strange as it may appear, the dog, his hitherto faithful friend, refused to follow his master. He called him, whistled and chirruped, making all the tokens which were well understood by the dog, to induce him to follow; but to no purpose; he could be persuaded no further than to the bars, where he stopped; and raising his huge paws upon the upper bar, gave two or three low protracted howls, of the most dismal kind, but would not follow. This behaviour of his old and faithful dog, seemed very strange; and was afterwards interpreted by the family, to have been a kind of instinctive warning afforded from the invisible world, of the pending fate of the young man. In accordance with this idea when he had gone on his way as far as to Shingle Kill, he, as related to the writer, felt a strange and unaccountable reluctance to proceed any further; yet he went on, but much against his will. He arrived safe at Strope’s, where he remained all night, but little rest. Sleep he could not for the same gloom was upon him that he had felt so acutely during the previous afternoon. The reason of the dog’s behaviour, may have been occasioned by his having, in his rambles in the woods that day, seen the very party of Indians proceeding in the direction his master wished him to go, and had been frightened by a shot from one of their guns: and, therefore, felt more safe within the precincts of this own premises. In correspondence with this solution of the mystery, it is well known that the civilized dog has a fearful antipathy to the sight and smell of an Indian; seeming very well to understand that they are dangerous characters. But those who may believe the dog’s manners at this time, were intended as a warning, have, it is true, some reason for the opinion; for had they influenced the boy so much as to have deterred him from his purpose, he would not have been captured by the Indians, and held four years a prisoner.
The night at length wore away, yet he did not arise as soon as he might have done, as he had not rested well; but by listening from the chamber where he slept, he found that his sister-in-law was up before him, as well as both of the old people; and yet he would have continued in bed still longer, as it was not sunrise, had he not been roused by the screams of this sister-in-law, which by the sounds appeared some distance from the house. This had been occasioned by barking of the Strope’s dog, which had suddenly darted off toward a swamp in great fury and alarm, which the sister casting her eyes in that direction, saw through the woods the glimpses of a small party of Indians, painted and accoutred in their usual hedious manner, approaching the house. It was this sight which occasioned her outcry, and roused Frederick from his pillow. At this time, although it was so early, Strope had gone to his work in the field. He too had seen the Indians in their progress towards the house, who all night had lain near it in ambush. So far as we could ascertain, they had not originally intended to do as much mischief as they eventually did; but had rather aimed at the capture and destruction of a son of Strope’s called Bastayon, who, however, at the time was not there, having gone somewhere in Saugerties, a few days before, and thus escaped the enemy. Against Bastayon the Indians had a mortal hatred, for a trick he had played upon them, some time before on the Susquehannah river. But what the trick was which had so exasperated them, we have not been able exactly to find out. Yet we have no doubt but it was the carrying off of some of their property, as this same Bastayon, with his wife and children, had been captured on the Susquehannah, somewhere about the Otego Creek; but finding an opportunity, he made his escape from them while on their way to the Indian country; leaving, in a most dastardly manner, his family with the Indians. They were, however, all returned safe after the war. It is likely that Bastayon took with him one of their choice rifles, a hatchet, ammunition, &c., articles which did not belong to him when captured. For this, or something of the kind, they were determined to retake him. But, as before remarked, Frederick’s sister-in-law had cried out in affright. While she fled into the house, saying for God’s sake Frederick get up, the Indians are just upon us. By the time he had got on his clothes, they had arrived at the house and entered it. They seemed very friendly at first, shaking hands with every one, even with the boy, saying, "How do, how do;" asking at the same time for Bastayon; inwardly intending to plunder the house, but not to kill any one. Their first move, as they did not sit down, although invited to do so, was to take down Strope’s gun, which hung on the pegs along a beam of the chamber floor, and to draw the charge. It was done in great haste, as well as all that now followed; for at that very time the Esopus Rangers were scouring the country in different directions; whom these Indians seemed considerably to dread. They, therefore, proceeded to business with but little delay. Strope was a tory, or king’s man, as the loyalists were sometime called, and did not therefore, very much apprehend any evil from them: yet he knew an Indian to be a treacherous kind of being, whatever party they might belong to. On this account, when Strope saw them approaching his house so early, he did not feel entirely at ease; and the more so, as among them he perceived an Indian, who had often been at his house before, (as the woods thereabout was their hunting grounds,) and who he had sometimes been obliged to knock down with his fist, and kick out the door, on account of his drunkenness and impertinence at such times; a kind of treatment an Indian is not apt to forget, though he may be intoxicated at the time. But before Strope could get to the house, they had thought fit to seize upon several articles of clothing, and meeting with considerable opposition and clamour for the old Holland lady. Mrs. Strope, they had pushed her about pretty roughly. During this operation one of the number espied a chest in one corner of the room, when, with a hatchet, this Indian dashed in the lid at a blow. This act roused all the energies of the old lady, who was a stout, able-bodied woman, and as courageous as she was stout. In a moment, therefore, she made battle upon the Indian, who in a twinkling had found his way among the peculiar treasure of a Dutch woman, which is her clean linen, and was stringing a long white piece of the said article about the room, saying, "Make Indian good shirt." But Mr. Strope cried out, "Nane, Nane; dat is Bastayon’s beace of de linnens. On hearing this, the Indian said, Me hate Bastayon, me have good shirt now; when a struggle ensued—the old lady yanking the linen one way and the Indian the other. At this juncture, the boy, who had been forbidden to stir by one of the Indians, spoke to Mrs. Strope, saying, Vor Got’s sake let dem haff vat day vills, or you may lose you life. But she did not regard this admonition, while she yanked away with increasing fury. This sport, however, lasted but a few moments, for the Indian getting angry, ended it by a thump of his tomahawk on her head, which laid her dead on the floor. At this moment her husband came to the door, and seeing what was going on, and the blow which had killed his wife, he rushed in among them, with uplifted hands, as he cried out involuntarily, in the Dutch tongue in pure terror, "Cot-Alamighty," which he had no sooner uttered, than a blow from the hatchet of the same Indian, Wam-pe-has-see, upon his head, laid him by the side of his wife in the stillness of death. This was done by the Indian, who had been so often roughly handled by Strope, who was a powerful man, or had been such in years that were passed by.
The Indian now circled their heads with a gash; then tore off the scalps with his teeth, placing his foot on the breast as he did it, which sounded in the operation like a piece of linen, when suddenly torn asunder, the blood flowing rapidly. When this was accomplished, the same Indian sprang to where the boy stood in terror, who had witnessed the murder of the two old people, and seizing him by the shoulder, said in broken English, "Your go me," in the gruff gutteral manner of their language. To this the terrified lad replied, "Yaw, yaw, I vill;" happy to find himself considered as a prisoner only. But if he had said "Nane," or in any manner objected, he too would have fallen a victim. At the time the wife of Frederick’s brother, Jacob Schermerhorn, who had married Strope’s daughter, saw the Indians coming toward the house, she ran in, seized the two children which were still in bed, one of which was an infant, the other about two years old, and dressed them as quickly as possible. By the time she had done this the Indians had entered the room, and were shaking hands with the inmates, when she, with her two babes, slipped out of the door, with the view of making her escape, if she could. As she did this, she called the other two, in a low voice, who were older, and had been out of their bed some time, and were at play a little way off; conveying them all together as fast as she could into an adjacent field of Rye, which being very tall, effectually bid them sight, as they all laid down flat on the ground. In this condition she remained, keeping her children as silent as possible for some time, when, on hearing a strange crackling noise, she slowly raised her head and looking toward the house, saw that it was on fire; while the Indians were in the act of moving off, heavily laden with the plunder of the house, with Frederick, the brother of her husband, in their midst. On seeing this, she again laid down, soothing her little ones as well as she could, till the Indians have gone entirely our of sight. She now began to bethink herself of the course she ought to pursue; for were she to remain near the ruins, it were not impossible but the Indians might return, or some how discover her. The same event she feared, were she to take the road, or path, as it was then, instead of a road, to Shingle Kill; on which account she finally came to the resolve of pursuing the course of the Kish-ka-tom Creek, through the woods, till she should come out at the house of a man named Timmerman, who she knew lived on this creek near the place where it empties into the Catskill in Saugerties. This course was a distance of about five miles, and lay through a gulf of the most dismal kind, obstructed by brush, fallen trees, rocks, ascents, descents and ledges; so that it was not till near dark of the same day, when, with her four children, she arrived a the house of Timmerman, exhausted, hungry, terrified and her clothes badly torn; while her little ones were screaming and crying. Here she told the horrid tale of all we have thus far related, in language and pathos, such as the pen of the writer cannot describe; for the truth of such disasters and sufferings are not to be depicted by the pen of any man; so as to give the reader an idea of the same kind of feeling of the sufferer endured. The day before this murder, the husband of this woman, Jacob Schermerhorn, had gone to the mill on horseback; which was called Wynkoop’s mill, and was situated on the Kish-ka-tom Creek, and did not return till the next day, at which very time, his wife and four children, were wending their way through the before described gulf, in their flight from the scene of murder. Schermerhorn, on coming within the neighborhood of his home, saw in that direction a considerable smoke, while at the same time, he was sensible of a very strange smell, which seemed to impregnate the whole atmosphere, such as the burning of some kind of animal would give forth; but could not conjecture what it might be; not in the least suspecting that it was the burnt bodies of his wife’s parents. But on coming quite up to the place where the house had stood, there was nothing but ashes, and the smouldering brands of the burnt timber; and from the circumstance of there being none of the family about the premises, to tell the occasion of the fire, he knew it was the work of the Indians, although his father-in-law was a tory; yet himself was of another manner of opinion. But in trying to find out the reason of the smell above spoken of, he found the bones of human beings, but whose they were he could not tell; nor did he ascertain this till he had found his wife, and from her learnt the account of the tragedy. If this man, the brother of Frederick and the husband of the then fugitive wife, had been but a half hour sooner, he too would have been captured or killed; but so was not his fortune. When he had become satisfied of the cause of all the mischief, he fled; having hid his bag of meal in the barn, which was not burnt, and where the boy’s horse was standing in the stable, making his way with all speed to a small fort, which had been erected on the north side of the Catskill Creek, about two miles below Eagleston’s tavern, which is between the town of Catskill and Cairo, and was called in the Indian tongue, "Fort Pas-a-ma-coos-ick," which was probably the name of the spot where the fort was built, before it was erected, so named by the natives. Here he gave an account of what happened—the burning of the house—the death of some, if not all, of the family by fire, as he had found human bones in the ashes; for he did not know, as yet, that any hand escaped; nor that his brother, Frederick Schermerhorn, had been to his father-in-laws house, and was the only prisoner they had taken. On hearing this news; the people about the fort and neighborhood, by the next day, made a rally, getting together a great company; for as the news spread by the means of runners; further and still further, the company became augmented in proportion; for they had come from Madison, Catskill, Acre, and from along the Catskill Creek, with their guns, ammunition, provisions, &c. Their first step was to examine the burnt premises; to take up the bones, which they now found to consist of but two persons, and to bury them. In the meantime, the woods, caves and hollows, along the foot of the mountains were searched, but neither Indians nor the tracks of Indians could be found. They had left the country, but in what direction they could not guess. But during the search it was ascertained that the wife of Jacob Schermerhorn had escaped with her children, and was at the house of Timmerman in Kishkatom, which was a matter of great joy to the disconsolate and hitherto berieved husband. This trait of Mrs. Schermerhorn’s life was one that she could never forget; for while she lay hid in the field, her home with all the savages had left was consuming to ashes. Her parents were roasting in the flames, and the little brother of her husband she had seen led away toward the dreary region of the foot of the wilderness mountains in the neighborhood, while herself and four small children were homeless and compelled to fly whithersoever they could. Had the company, which had come together on the occasion, known the course the Indians had taken soon enough, that is, on the day after the deed was done, they would have followed, rescued the boy, and killed the Indian; which they could easily have done. But this information was not obtained, until Mrs. Schermerhorn, the daughter of the Strope, had been found; when it was judged too late to make the attempt. Frederick had been gone from home, and from his dog, which he left at the bars, looking after him, one night and nearly till end of the next day, but he came not; the bleat of the sheep which he went after was not heard. What had become of him, was not the inquiry. Already the actions of the dog were beginning to be interpreted as an omen of evil, which no doubt had befallen Fretheric, as is the Dutch manner of speaking it. His mother began to take on saying, Oh mine Cot, were ish mine poy, mine poor Fretheric; dat was de reasons by de hown hash not goed wid him:--Oh mine coot man, saddle de peart, saddle de peart, and run hims so vast ash you can. The old man, the father of Frederick feeling somewhat moved, silently went and took a horse and was soon out of sight in the direction the boy and the sheep were expected, the dog following after, which it appears he was now willing to do. He rode on and on, but no signs of this son’s coming appeared. Strange thoughts passed his mind. Could Fretheric be dote; had de peart fell down and proke hi neck pone; or may pe, de sheeps vont come; or the volfs has kilt mine poor poy, lash nite. May pe he hash seen a spooke, an he is kilt mit scare. Oh I vish he vould come mit de sheeps, or dat I cout vint hims. Thus ruminating he went on, an soon getting along as far as nearly half the distance from Skinneman’s bridge (or the village of Madison which was then but a woods,) to Cairo, who should he see but his son Jacob riding with all his might to get to the Fort pas-a-ma-coos-ick, relating the horrid tale to all he met or overtook on the way. Here the father soon learnt what had become of his son, likewise that the sheep were where they were left, and that the horse was in the barn of his friend Strope, which was not burnt. He now returned home to his wife, and related the horrid story. Her now was sorrow and anguish. Fretheric was gone with the Indians. Oh how he must suffer with hunger, or may be they had killed him and torn off his scalp, and had left him in the woods to be devoured by the wolves. Every day and every night increased these fears and surmises: till in some way, in the course of a year or so, he was heard from, by the means of a tory, by whom a letter was sent to his father, disclosing his fate and real condition. But whether he would ever return, was a great doubt, as he might yet lose his life by some mishap in the course of the war. But to return now more particularly to the fortunes of the captive, and the Indians who have taken him. As soon as the goods had been made into packs, in numbers equal to the number of Indians, and one for the boy, they made directly for the Catskill mountain, which faces the village of Cairo, in the county of Green, N. Y., passing over it a few miles west of the famous Mountain House, through the region of country now called the township of Hunter, still a wild, rough and rugged region,. It is due, however, to the people of this quarter to state that it is now by far the most enterprising section of the county of Green, on account of the vast mechanical operations going on there, in the production of leather, and the manufacture of articles of luxury, in the line of cabinet-ware, chairs of the most exquisite workmanship, &c.—The reason of all this, is the use of the immense water-power furnished there by nature, as from the spurs and ravines of the mountains there descends numerous creeks which leap from ledge to ledge, giving at convenient distance the weight of the waters to impel the machinery, by which the ingenuity of these mountain adventures, is brought to bear, with the power of a flood, upon the mechanical and mercantile world in the produce of articles of trade. As soon as the Indians reached the top of the mountain and esteemed themselves somewhat out of danger, they cruelly took away the boy’s shoes, which as it happened were a new pair, and his hat, which was a good one, giving him instead of his shoes an old pair of moccasins, but left his head without a covering during the whole of the dismal journey. There were four Indians of the party, so that placing the boy in the midst he was securely situated, so that if attacked or pursued, they could kill and scalp him instantly, and flee as well as they could. For securities sake they took the most difficult route through the wilderness, which at the best is a wild, ledgey, precipitous, broken region, then clothed with perpetual forest of hemlock, spruce, pine and laurel, which greatly increased the hardship of the heart-broken prisoner. Toward night they came to a swampy tract of country, which is situated about the head waters of the Schoharie-kill Creek; in which, after finding a suitable place, they encamped. When this was done one of the number, taking a dish, said that not far from where they were, a white brother of theirs lived, and he would go and get some milk and Indian meal. This was a tory who lived there in the woods, and rendered all the assistance he could to the cause of the hostile Indians and English. The conduct of this class of men, the tories, greatly enhanced the horrors of that war, while the friends of human liberty were struggling for the freedom of the country. This tory’s name Schermerhorn could have given the writer, but thought it best not to do so, for his posterity’s sake, who are possibly as true friends to the country, as are the posterity of the whigs. The Indian had been gone but a short time, when he returned with the milk and meal, in quantity sufficient for their supper; the latter of which they cooked in a small brass kettle, they had with them, making spawn of the meal, and using the milk with the same. The fire they easily kindled by the flash of a gun upon some dry moss, gathered from the trunk of an old tree, and with a few dollars of Continental money which the Indians had found in a pocket of their prisoner, but was of no value at that time. This afforded them considerable sport, at the expense of the credit of the Continental Congress. Here for the first time the boy had to submit to be tied; as they did not think it safe to allow him to be at liberty, lest he might try to run away, while themselves were asleep. This they did by passing a cord around each arm, at the elbows and then around his body, when the same cord was tied to the right arm of an Indian and to the left of another, between whom the prisoner slept. This was done in the same manner for three nights in succession, till they had gone so far from the home of the child as to render it impossible for him to return, even though permitted to try. In pursuing this course their object was to come our somewhere on the Delaware river, down which they wished to travel a certain distance, and then to cross another horrid wilderness to the Susquehannah and thus onward to the Indian country, to the west. The weather was very hot, and the boy being unused to go without a hat, produced a severe headache, of which oncoming to the top of a high mountain where they having sat down to rest, he complained, saying to one of them, that his head ached, and enquired if he knew what would cure it. The Indian immediately replied, "Yes, me know what good for Yankee headache;" while he glared upon him fiercely, giving a yell or two, still adding, "This good for Yankee headache." After this remedy had been proposed the boy took good care not to have the headache any more, of if he had, not to complain of it. On the Second Day of their journey it rained very hard, drenching them through,, which soon occasioned them to halt, and putting their packs under some place out of the rain, they fell to peeling some hemlock, of the bark of which they soon constructed a shelter, from the storm, quite dry and comfortable. When this was done they struck a fire, which, being placed beside the face of a big rock, soon gave out its heat so that shining through or over their bark house, which was built close by the fire dried them effectually; where they remained through the whole day and the coming night. At this place it was the lot of poor Frederick to get himself nearly freightened out of his senses; for while he lay there on the ground with the rest, under the barks, he observed that the Indian who had killed and scalped old Mr. and Mrs. Strope, stepped out among the bushes and cut three small twigs or sprouts, much like whips. He then came in and commenced whittling two of them, out of which he soon formed two hoops by trying the two ends together. On these he began to stretch the scalps, fastening them on by some stitches of thread he had with him in his bullet pouch. When this was done, he made another, going through with the same operation of making a hoop, but this was considerable smaller then the others, every now and then looking at the prisoner, as if endeavoring to guess the proper size of the hoop, and to suit it to the dimensions of the boy’s scalp. He now began to be much alarmed, feared that indeed it was preparing for him, which the Indian noticed and having finished it, he turned round to the boy, and seizing him by the hair of his head with his left hand, lifted him to his feet at a yerk; then placing the fore finger of his right hand hard upon his forehead, passed it hard and gradually quite around his head, as if marking out the track where in a moment or two the knife was to cut, preparatory to tearing off his scalp, at the same time giving a horrid yell, when the boy fell as if had been shot; so dreadful had been the fright. Here the Indians all at once screamed themselves into uncontrollable fits of laughter, rolling about, and yelling for joy, till it appeared as if they would go in to fits, so mightily were they pleased at the joke put upon the poor Dutch boy, while he was left to recover himself as well as he could. This incident of Indian humor could never be obliterated from the mind of Frederick Schermerhorn, for at the time the writer of the story was listening to the tale, the old man said he could then feel the point of that Indian’s finger moving round his head, as plainly as at the very time; so strongly was it fixed in his memory.
On the third day the sun rose brightly from the chambers of the east, when the travelers set forward on their journey, cheerful and gay all but the boy, whose heart was at home, with his parents; which was enough to bring the tears from his eyes, but it would not do. For the Indians to see him crying, as they might, in a fit of rage at such a discovery, cut him down at a blow. They had continued their march till about noon, when coming to a low swaley spot, one of the Indians diverged somewhat from the common course they were steering, and had been thus separated from his fellows for an half hour or so, when the report of a shot was heard. They now stood a little, and listened, but not hearing the shot repeated, they hastened to the spot, where they found their companion busy in taking off the hide of a large elk. Here they of necessity halted again, spending the afternoon and the coming night in preparing the flesh of the elk for food on their journey. This was done by cutting it into small strips and boiling them in their brass kettle, which was of a size sufficient to hold eight quarts; causing the operation to be a slow one on account of its smallness. When this was done, they contrived to press the boiled venison, into little balls as hard as possible, in order to preserve it the longer, as they had no salt: But of the heart, liver and a portion of the fat, they made a great feast on the spot, eating almost to surfeiting; which is the true savage or cannibal style of uncivilized and barbarous nations, when they can; starving and suffering beyond measure when they cannot. This preparation was husbanded with great care, even till it became of a greenish color, which they eat notwithstanding.
On the fourth day they came to the Delaware river, where they halted two days, during which time they made a bark canoe, they took off the coat of Frederick, and in its place they drew on a tow cloth shirt, which had been stripped from the body of some man they had murdered a few days before; for they had been lurking about (as the boy found out by their talk,) a place called by En-Bofft, or in English, the Great Bay, somewhere below Catskill, on the North River. These Indians were a part of a party who had been sent out by Guy Johnston, from Fort Niagara, who passed form the Genesse country over the Chemung;--which river divides between Pennsylvania and New York, till its confluence with the Susquehannah at Tioga point—from whence they had gone eastward till they came to the North River, along the shores of which they had been ranging and lurking till they had killed the man, whose shirt the boy Fredrick was now compelled to wear. The shirt was considerable bloody, although it had been kept, as it appeared, rolled up; in a sack; it was clear that the blood was that of the unfortunate owner of the shirt. There were two letters worked with a needle and thread, in this shirt, and were no doubt the initials of his name: but Frederick Schermerhorn had entirely forgotten what they were, so many years had passed since the time he had worn it and the time he related the story to the writer. As near as the lad could make it out by their conversation on the subject, at different times, it was at the En-Bofft, or as it is now-a-days pronounced, the Bofft, that they had killed the man of the bloody shirt.
The names of these Indians were as follows: Wam-pe-ha-see, who was the owner of the prisoner; Ach-c-wa-yume was that of another; a third was Tom Tory; this, it is likely, was not his Indian names, but some nick-name, which had been given him by the English at Niagara; a fourth was called John Teets; this also was not the native name of the Indian, which the old man could not remember that he had ever heard.
In their canoe they passed rapidly down the river, finding the shores literally lined with dead shad; which, on account of the lowness of the water and the heat of the weather, had died on their return to the sea, from whence they had come early in the spring, to deposit their spawn, as nature directed them to do in all the rivers of America, at their head waters. Wild ducks also were found in vast flocks fostering their young broods, which were in such Quantities that they could be taken alive by the hand in the water; for as yet their native haunts had not been disturbed by the shots and stratagems of the white hunters.
In a little less than two days they had passed as far down the river as was their design to do, encamping on shore one night only. They now hid their canoe in a secure place, took up the packs and resumed the journey on foot, aiming to pass through that dreadful wilderness to the place called by the Indians Tioge, or Tioga. This was a hard journey for the boy as it continued several days, all the while carrying a heavy pack, sleeping on the ground; bareheaded and barefooted, with but little food to sustain his strength of body. But at length the distance between the two rivers was passed, which, considering the course they travelled, could not be less than an hundred miles; making in all; from the place where he was taken, in the now town of Cairo, to Tioga, two hundred miles, if not more; a distance, on account of the horrid way, of more than four hundred miles in a good road. But when they were at this place, namely Tioga Point, there was but one half of the journey accomplished: as it was still as far to Fort Niagara, the place whither they were bound to, as it was from the place where he was first captured; amounting in all to full four hundred miles; all the way through an entire wilderness; fully equal to a journey of eight hundred on a fair road, if not more, besides being borne down with his pack, and traveling barefooted.
On coming to this river, the Susquehannah, it proved a deep volume of water, except at the rifts; where, having found such a place, they all joined hands, so that if one fell down from the swiftness of the current, the rest who were standing could help the fallen one up; and in this manner they went safely through. After getting across this river they soon fell in with the old track of Sullivan, who had routed and destroyed the Indians of the Chemung and Genessee country, with a dreadful overthrow, a year or two before. At a certain place on this route, up the Chemung, they came to a spot where a scout, which had been sent out from the main body of Sullivan’s army, had been taken and put to death by the Indians. The scout consisted of twenty-four men, who being ambushed by a body of the Indians greatly their superior in numbers, were all taken alive except one, and this was the famous Murphey of Old Schoharie, sometimes called the Indian killer; who, as if it were foreordained that he was not to die by the hand of an Indian, came finally to his end at home in peace and quietness; and yet, more Indians had fallen by his single hand, than by the hand of any other man during the seven years war of the Revolution. The bones of these men were yet bleaching there on the ground, and were shown to the boy by one of his capturers, who said, "Dee Kankee bones." They were all tomahawked, the Indians having no time to torture them, and were left where they died, to be torn and devoured by the vermin of the woods. When they were taken, it was known by the Indians that one of the scout had escaped; who, as soon as the twenty-three were knocked on the head, took after the fugitive in a full body, who had no doubt but in a few minutes they could find, and kill him also.
But they lost him, for, as he fled he saw that he was pursued by the whole troop, yelling like an army of mad wolves, and flung himself, on passing round a knoll covered with fallen timber and thick low brush, under an old log of a huge size, while he drew the bark and brush over him, and at the same time worked himself in under the sides of the log as far as he could, as it laid a little up from the ground, and thus placed his life on the issue of the stratagem. In a minute or so, the horde came on, passing over the very spot, many of them, where he lay, yelling as they went, but could not find him. He continued in this condition, not daring to stir till it was dark, when he crawled out and made his way to the encampment of Sullivan, with the news, that all the rest no doubt, were dead or taken prisoners.
In the progress of their journey along this part of the country, they often showed the boy where the cannon shot of Sullivan had cut off the bark and limbs of trees, as he charged the Indians with grape and canister, wherever he could get sight of them. During this trip of the fortunate general it is related, that having out-flanked a body of several hundred Indians on a certain range of highland, which on one side was bordered by a precipice of great height, over which he drove them headlong, when they were dashed to atoms in the fall; as they dare not face about, the dreaded cannon, which of all death’s array and Indian fears the most, being behind them.
At length the parting arrived in the country of the Genesse river, where the Indians were still in considerable numbers, as they had returned again to their ancient grounds, after their flight from Sullivan, a year or two before. According to the a(n)cient usage of all Indians, the squaws and half grown savage boys, who are at liberty to strike, kick, and throw clubs and stones at the wretched prisoner, as he strains every nerve to reach a destined hut; where, if he is not disabled in the race, he is safe, when once within it. But from this fearful ordeal; for some unknown reason, the prisoner was delivered by the Indian who owned him. This was effected by the Indian dressing him in the clothes he had on when first taken, and by placing in his hands the gun of old Strope, which they had brought with them. The young Indians seeing this supposed he was not taken as a prisoner, but had come among them as a friend, or from choice. They however took the liberty to blow in his gun to see if it were loaded. And finding it was, drew from this circumstance the certainty of his standing with the Indians, who were his companions. Why his master had been thus merciful, in saving him from the horrors of the gauntlet, he never knew; but it is likely from pity, as the boy was found in the house of a tory, and was not therefore considered as the child or friend of an enemy, as were the children of the whigs.
While resting a little at this Indian encampment, there was a white prisoner, a man, brought in, but so poor and emaciated that he could not well get along; on which account his capturer had set him on a horse, to recruit him a little. But a certain Indian seeing this ran up to him bidding him to get off. But the white man refused to do so; when the Indian with furious gestures made at him saying "You want go die: Me give you go died" when he yerked him to the ground, mounting the horse himself, leaving the man to struggle on as he had before, his master not interfering in the matter.
At this place they remained but a short time, when dressing him as he was before they renewed their journey towards Niagara, suffering from hunger far more than on the first part of their tour; living on roots and a certain herb, which they pounded to a pumice, and then enclosing it in other leaves, baked it in the hot ashes of their fires. The name of this herb or leaf he had forgotten, or we should give an account of it. After a few days passed in this way, they began to come within the neighborhood of another Indian encampment, situate on the creek now called the Tonnewanta Creek, through which the canal runs in the county of Niagara, New York. As soon as they were near enough for their yells to reach the ears of the occupants, they gave one whoop to announce that they had one prisoner, and two more for the two scalps of the old people they had burnt—Strope and his wife. These tokens, which they had not seen fit to give at the first encampment, considerably alarmed the poor boy, as he could not make out what it might mean. In a few seconds these yells were answered from the camp, by the screams or corresponding yells of a great many Indians at one, which rent the air like the howling of so many wolves; then all was still. In a few minutes they had come within sight of the huts, at which place there was a heavy party of warriors, just ready to depart on a war expedition, towards the devoted frontiers along the back settlements of the State of New York. In the eyes of the boy they were awful to look upon, being hideously painted, and armed with guns, knives and tomahawks, for the work of destruction. As they were approaching the party, a certain half-breed Indian came up to the boy, as if he would shake hands with him in token of friendship. But as he extended one hand, seemingly for this purpose, he cuffed him headlong with the other, so that he fell to the ground. The Indian then turned away, laughing as he went, at the trouble of the miserable boy. He now began to recover himself from where he had fallen, when another Indian seized him by the arm and at a yerk set him on his feet, saying, "Get up Yankee," when he also gave a cuff more violently than the other, which sent him a rod or so, rolling on the earth. He now thought it best to lie still, as he expected every moment to be killed; and that if he should attempt to get up again, it would be but the signal of another knock down. But as he lay there a Nanticoke Indian from the south, who could speak English quite well, and was an officer in the English army, proudly and gaudily dressed, approached the boy where he lay, and said, as the other had said "Get up Yankee." But the boy refused, as he could see no use in getting up merely to be knocked down again. But the Indian stooping down took him up gently, saying "Stand up Yankee," as he said, "Drink, Yankee—me love to fight Yankee, and me love to tread Yankee too." He then sat him down on the ground and gave him a piece of biscuit, which, when he had eat it, considerably enlivened and recruited him. The war party now went their way, while himself and the four Indians resumed their journey toward Fort Niagara, where they were to get pay for the scalps and for the prisoner, from the British; keeping it a secret that the scalps were those of the friends of the Crown; caring very little whether they were friends or foes, if they could by get the scalp reward, which was eight dollars a piece.
During the residue of the journey they suffered much with hunger—eating roots, herbs, berries, and several skunks, and any thing they could find in the woods which they could devour. Game it appears was very scarce, as they killed nothing on the way larger than now and then a squirrel or a skunk, or some small bird; occasioned no doubt by the destruction of all the Indian processions the year before by Sullivan; which drove them to an entire extermination of the game of that country, to prevent a general starvation. From Tonnewanta Creek to Fort Niagara was about fifty miles, in the neighborhood of which place were the home and families of his capturers, where he got something to eat; as at these huts he fell in with an old Indian, who as soon as he found out the boy’s name, said that he had eat many times at his father’s house; on which account he was very friendly to him. Here he also met with a tory, who advised him out of pity how to act and how to answer questions which would be asked him when he should come to Fort Niagara. But while the conversation with the tory, there came into the wigwam an Indian with an axe in his hand, who on seeing the prisoner drew it back as if he would strike it into his head, while he sprang towards him giving a dreadful yell which so frightened the boy in his weak state of body, that he fell down as if he had been actually killed; when the Indian gave a loud long blow of wind from his mouth in derision, then a whoop, and then he fell to laughing, with all the Indians about the wigwam, as loud as they could scream, at the poor Yankee’s trouble, his timidity and fear. Between the place where the family lived and the fort—which was a distance of about two miles—there was a large encampment of Indians, where he had to run the much dreaded gauntlet. This took place near the fort, at a distance of about ten rods from the gate. Here he expected to die, as he saw on both sides of the path which he was to run, as many Indians as could stand, of all ages and sizes, with boys and squaws, all armed with guns, clubs and whips; leaving a distance between them of about six feet, reaching quite to the gate of the fort. The Indian who had captured the boy now stood by him [see the first plate,] and told him to run for his life; for if he could out reach the gate and enter the fort, his troubles would after that be at an end. But his heart almost fainted at the sight, for he had no expectation of reaching the fort, which to him looked like the paradise of rest, if he could but enter its open gate. He now started, when the Indians gave a yell, but no one struck him or otherwise injured him, except young Indians about his age, who severely switched his bare legs with whips as he ran; while the officers of the fort hallooed to him from the gate, to run or he would be killed; which he made out to reach without falling or meeting with any serious wound, amidst the roar and laughter of the savages, his rages flying in the wind as he ran.
He had no sooner entered the fort, than he was questioned as to the amount of the American forces by the clerk of Guy Johnston, who entered all he said in a book. But the boy knew no more of the amount of the American forces than if he had never heard of the war; as his age, his manner of bringing up, and his parentage—which was a secluded Dutch family—precluded all correct knowledge of the kind. When they were satisfied of his ignorance on these subjects, and withal saw his miserable condition, they gave him over to the care of a certain squaw, [See the door of the fort as in the plate,] who had the superintendence of the cooking apartment, where the boy was carefully fed and taken care of by the squaw, who seemed to pity him nearly as much as his own mother would have done. He had been here but a few days, when he saw the clothes of old Mrs. Strope, of the old man and his sister-in-law, and even his own clothes and shoes on the Indians, their squaws and papooses; while himself was nearly naked, bareheaded and barefooted; even the coat which the Indians had taken from him a the Delaware, which they supplied with the bloody shirt, he saw strained on the body of a tory, who had bought it of the Indian who owned it.
This dreadful race of the gauntlet was also run by a Miss Anne McKee, who was taken prisoner in the town of Harpersfield, New York, in the Revolution, by the Mohawk Indians under Brandt. This young woman was a Scotch girl, who during the journey suffered incredibly from hunger, the want of clothes, and other privations. When she came to the Fort Niagara, the squaws insisted that she should run the race, in order that the pale faced squaw might take a blow from her sex of another nation than herself. It was a grievous sight to see a girl, weak from hunger and worn down with the horrors and privations of a four hundred miles journey through the woods by night and day, compelled at the end to run this race of shame and suffering. Her head was bare, her hair tangled into mats, her feet naked and bleeding from wounds, all her clothes torn to rags during her march, presented her an object heart-rending to look upon. She wept not; all her tears had been shed; her eyes stared around her upon the grinning multitude, with hopeless amazement and fixed despair, while she glanced mournfully at the fort at the end of the race. The word was given, which was a yell, when she started off as fast as she could, while the squaws laid on the whip with all their might; thus venting there malice and envy upon the hated white woman. She reached the fort, but in a almost dying condition, as she was beat and cut in most miserable manner, her person being greatly exposed, on account of the want of clothes to defend her. She was at length allowed to go to her friends—some Scotch people then living in Canada—and after the war was over she returned to the States.
As soon as Frederick Schermerhorn had gained a little strength, and was somewhat recruited from the awful journey he had performed, from Catskill to Niagara, which, as before remarked, was full four hundred miles, and twice that distance, considering the way; he was told that he must now enlist as a British soldier in the king’s service, or go again with the Indians. This was what he had not suspected; he now saw that a point in his history had arrived which was dreadful to contemplate; a dilemma, viewed on either hand, full of all that was revolting and dreadful to his imagination. If he should refuse to enlist, then the horrors of an endless captivity among the filthy, cruel Indians stared him in the face—or if he should enlist, then the horrors of a perpetual separation from his parents, his country, and all that was dear to his memory, as well as the terrors of war by sea and land, stared him in the face. To lift his hand against his country, when that country was bleeding at every pore, was of all things abhorrent to his imagination; yet, after much deliberation in his own mind, he thought it best to enter the English army, as this course would probably afforded him a better opportunity of escape than a state of captivity among the Indians would do; or if he could not escape, the war would end sometime or other, and then, perhaps, he might get home again, if not sent on board a man of war for life, as an English subject.
He now put down his name, sobbing with grief as he did it, while the officers who looked on tried to persuade him that it was right, and that the Americans were a set of accursed rebels, and would soon all be hung by the neck till they were dead: then the king would make a man of him for life. But this had no effect on his mind to make him cheerful, while in his heart he cherished the secret design of running away, as soon as he could get an opportunity.
As soon as this was done, there was paid to his capturer, Wam-pee-has-see, forty Spanish dollars, which was the bounty the crown paid for every young man from the rebellious Colonies, who should enlist as a king’s soldier. He was now dressed in a suit of blue, and attached to a company under Guy Johnston, called the foresters, who did not dress in the hated red coats, but in blue, with white facings. In this condition he remained nearly four years, even a whole year after the war was over, in virtue of his enlistment, the English claiming him as a British subject. About a year had elapsed, when an expedition was fitted out under a Lieutenant Doxtater, for the Mohawk country; consisting of about fifty white men and a hundred Indians. This Doxtater was a Dutchman, who had been brought up on the Mohawk, and was therefore intimately acquainted with the country and the people. He was a relative of Butler, the coadjutor of Brandt in the war—yet we cannot but think he was somewhat less cruel then many others of the Americans who espoused the side of the British—on account of this merciful treatment to a house full of women and children taken prisoners at Currytown, which we shall soon relate. During this trip of intended murder, the party suffered from hunger, so much, that they were forced to eat their own horses, three or four in number, on which they carried their packs. Their course was down through the country pretty much as the canal runs, passing over the region now under the hand of civilization, formed into the Counties of Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Montgomery, and a part of Otsego, into the western side do Schoharie, to a place called Currytown. At this place there was a fort and something of a settlement, where the expedition calculated to enrich themselves with plunder, prisoners and scalps. In their approach to this place, which was wholly unexpected to the people of Currytown, the Indians had taken eight prisoners, six men who were at work in their fields, a Negro boy and a little white girl. But as they approached the place they were discovered, when the men fled to the fort, and as many of the women as could reach it. But there was a certain house which was nearer to many than was the fort, into which the women and children who could not reach the fort entered, hoping in terror of the moment, that it would cover them from the shot of the enemy. Doxtater saw this, and that the house was full of women and children, when he immediately set a guard of white men around it, to prevent their being massacred, intending probably to carry them off as prisoners to Canada as soon as the skirmish should be over.
But for some reason or other, he did not see fit to attack the fort; nor dare the men who occupied it venture to sally out upon the enemy, which gave them a better opportunity to plunder, and to destroy the place, except the fort, and the house where the women and children were huddled in together. During the burning of this place, Doxtater, happening to be near where Frederick Schermerhorn stood, said to him , "Go, sir, and set that barn on fire, yonder, I have not seen you fire a single building to-day: --No—nor you will not, replied Schermerhorn, as I cannot find it in my heart to destroy the property of my own people. Doxtater turned away, and said no more to him, seeming to honor, by his silence, the patriotism of the boy. As the party of Doxtater approached the neighborhood of Currytown, it had been the intention of the hero of our story to give them the slip, and, if possible, escape to Albany, and thus return to his parents and his country. He had often wept in silence for his home, never for a moment forgetting the dear fire side of his father’s house, on which account he was ever on the alert to escape from the hated British tories and the Indians. In pursuance of this design, as the party came into Currytown he made the attempt. This was done by falling in the rear of the party, under a certain pretence, for a short time, when he would follow on again; but in reality fled, as soon as he saw himself out of there view. His aim was to gain a certain piece of woods, which was at hand. But as he neared it, he came unexpectedly in sight of the block-house or fort, whose small arms he found were directing sundry shots at him, not knowing his intentions, and seeing his dress was that of the enemy, they would soon have finished his journey, had he not fled or retreated; and beside this, he was in danger of being discovered in this attempt by the British and Indians; so that he was like to get between two fires, where he feared he should fall a victim to his own temerity. On this account he was compelled to return to the party, and soon joined them, being still determined to make his escape at some future time.
Doxtater, having now done what he could in reducing the place, left it in a fright, occasioned by a runner, a tory, who brought the news that he had heard that a company of the rebels were just upon them, and gave his advice that he had better retire. This he did, leaving the house where the women and children were unmolested; which act cannot be accounted for on any principle other than the mercifulness of this feelings, or from policy, supposing it not impossible but he might be captured; and it so, is would certainly go better for with him, when it should be known that he had saved the lives of so many helpless women and children from the knives of the Indians.
The object of this expedition was plunder, and therefore, doubt was the reason why the fort was not attacked, as the enemy did not care to spend their time and ammunition in an attempt to capture it, or to lose any of their men in trying to burn it. Be that as it may, they suddenly for the reason no doubt mentioned above, departed, aiming to reach another small place not far from Cherry-Valley, called Tourbaugh, where they intended to secure more plunder as they went, consisting of horses, cattle, provisions and prisoners. But in the meantime, Col Willet, a man well known in the history of the border warfare of Schoharie and Otsego Counties, had got news of what was going on at Currytown, for he was at the very time posted but a few miles from the scene of the enemies depredations, and was on his way to intercept him.
Between Tourbaugh and Currytown, there was a gorge which ran along at the foot of two hills, very near each other, forming a narrow valley, and lay in the exact direction the enemy would have to pass. At this place, Col. Willet meant, if possible, to fall in with the enemy, as he knew this would be his route in retiring from the country; and also, that Tourbaugh would be in the line of his march, and that, of course, it would be destroyed, unless he could in this way save it.
After the conflagration of Currytown, the enemy having retired into the wilderness, and night coming on they encamped, rejoicing much over the plunder they had secured, and the injury they had done the rebels. During that night, Willett and his men made their way to the pass above named, where he lay in ambush for the expected foe, who would certainly pass that way in the morning, hoping to recover the property they had taken, and prisoners, if they had any. Doxtater, however, was considerable of a warrior, and by no means so heedless as to enter a narrow wilderness pass, without first examining it. Accordingly, he ordered several of his Indians to reconnoiter the place. It was but a short time before these Indians returned with the news that the pass was occupied, and that the rebels were upon them. In a moment, the eight prisoners of whom we have before spoken, were tomahawked, the little girl and all, scalped and left on the spot, as they belonged to the Indians, where they were afterwards found and taken away by their friends.
By this time Willet was upon them, and being much superior in numbers, they fought but a few minutes, when they broke and fled in all directions. Schermerhorn, however, as it happened, did not fire a gun in the battle, having been placed over a prisoner they had captured, namely one Peter Quackenboss or Quackenbush, as the name is sometime spoken; and this was the only battle Schermerhorn was in during his captivity, and of course did his country no harm, although he was a British soldier. Here the enemy lost all they had gained at Currytown, except a few horses, which they had to eat before they got back to Niagara; so that they returned a set of poor, miserable wretches, whence they came with nothing but eight scalps, one of which was a Negro, and another that of a little girl; and the prisoners, the Quackenboses, taken as above related.
There were two of the Quackenbosses taken, namely, David and Peter. They were taken by the white men of the party, and according to usage, belonged to them to kill or to save, or they would have been tomahawked when the other eight were. These two men were out on a deer hunt, and were watching a deer-lick, when they were suddenly taken by Doxtater’s white men. While Schermerhorn stood sentry over Quackenboss, he related to him in what relation he stood to the British cause, being a soldier by compulsion and with all his heart wished to get away. The instant Quackenboss learned this, he proposed a flight; but Schermerhorn refused, saying, as the Indians were everywhere, it would be impossible for them to effect it. In a few minutes, there came from the very course Quackenboss proposed to run. A number of the Indians, which proved that Schermerhorn was right, and that they would have lost their lives in the attempt. A few nights after this, while the party was ascending a hill somewhere in the region of Newtown martin, near Otsego Lake, called the Oaks, this Peter Quackenboss made his escape, and pursuing his back track, attempted to reach Currytown, but unhappily, was taken again by another party of Indians, who were prowling over the country, and carried to Canada, arriving about a month after the arrival of Doxtater’s expedition. Both Quackenbosses returned after the war to the States. From this it is clear, that if Schermerhorn had fled with him that night for the Oaks, that he would have been recaptured, and of course hung for desertion, on account of his enlistment as a British soldier.
At the time Doxtater and his Indians left Niagara, there accompanied him a certain squaw, the wife of a noted chief, who went with him for the purpose of getting a white child, a boy, as they had no children of their own. During the destruction of Currytown, this squaw on seeing the house were have spoken of, which was crowded with children and their mothers, went to it, and standing by the door, as the sentinels passed by one way and the other, watched her opportunity, till she saw in the arms of a woman a child that suited her fancy. On this child she kept her eye, till the women, happening to come within her reach, who had it in her arms, the squaw snatched it from her and fled. The sentinels would not prevent her, as they knew her object in coming, and it would not do to disappoint her—the enmity of the Indians would thereby have been gained by it. The woman who lost the child screamed dreadfully after the infant; but it was gone beyond recovery, as the old imp of a worse world than this, darted off into the woods like a spectre of darkness and made her way to Canada with the party she came with, having secreted herself during the conflict with Willett. The infant was about two years old, a beautiful child, fated from that hour never to know its parents or kindred, its country and civilized privileges it had lost—doomed to perpetual savageism. About a year after this, Schermerhorn saw the child at Fort Niagara, well and hearty, wonderfully dressed in the true Indian style, caressed and loved by all Indians. Respecting this child, we have no doubt, but we are able to give the reader some further account. In the year 1823, about ten years since, there was a white man who came from among the western Indians in quest of his parentage and friends. He stated, that after having been many years among the Indians, he was told by them that he was stolen when a child, from Schoharie, in the time of the war, and carried to their country. The Indians did not know the name of this father or that of the child, and could therefore give him no information of his parentage or of himself. But when he was told that he was fully a white man, or pale face, which it appears he did not suspect, as in all respects he knew himself as an Indian only, he became anxious to be identified as such, among a nation who were more honorable than the savages. His manner and habits were perfectly Indian; he could whoop, sing, dance and hunt with the true native dexterity. He went to Washington, to New York, to Albany, Schoharie, and to many other places in the region of Albany, to find, if possible, some person who could give him light on the subject of his search, but could find none. Had he hit upon the acquaintance of the hero of this story, it is not impossible but he might have gained a ray of light as to who he was; but this did not happen. During all his journeyings, he begged his way, as he had no money; which was always freely bestowed, as his condition moved the sympathies of the public in his favor.
But when he found the search was a fruitless one, he returned to the forest again, as it was there he could mingle with a race of human beings more congenial to the ways and feelings which had been thrown over his existence by accident. Had he found his friends, it is most likely the same result would have ensued, for the same reasons, He appeared to be a man of fifty years old, which would correspond to the time of his capture, and to the time when the squaw at Currytown seized the child from the arms of the woman in the house, as above related.
It is well known that the Indian warriors never steal and carry off in time of battle helpless infants, but rather kill and scalp them; it is the squaw that does this; the warrior has not patience to bear with its crying, while the squaw has, if she intends it for her own, or for some friend, to supply by adoption the want of such a child.
From these facts, and the age of the man we have here given some account of, and the time and circumstance accompanying the capture of the child at Currytown induces us to believe that the poor wanderer was the very child taken there, as we have heard of no other infant which was carried our of old Schoharie during the Revolution.
On the morning of Willet’s battle with the Indians under Doxtater, as they fled, they came across a lad, the child of a Dutchman, Deivendorf by name, about fourteen years of age, whom they stunned with a blow of the hatchet, and tearing off his scalp, left him for dead, as they no doubt thought. As Dievendorf himself, now an old man, informed the writer, he came to, and finding himself, as he supposed, in a dying condition, crawled toward a fallen tree, feeling a burning thirst, and as if his head was on fire. So dreadful was the pain where the skin had been torn off. Here he dropped down upon his knees, and lay with his breast over the log in agony, the blood streaming down his temples and forehead over the side of the log, to the ground. He had not been long in this condition, when a party of Willet’s men, or some of the inhabitants who had rallied on this occasion, and were in pursuit of the Indians, came across the mangled lad, as he hung over the log. At first sight seeing the bloody head, they suppose it to be the head of an Indian, with a red bandanna handkerchief tied round it. In an instant the rifle of the man who saw it first, was to his eye, with a view of killing him; when a man standing by who had looked more attentively at it, struck up the gun, just a the instant when a ball would have finished the poor boys days and pain together. For God’s sake, said the man, don’t fire, it is some wounded person, or it would not lie there in so motionless a condition. They now went up to it, and found a wounded person indeed, unable to speak or more. He was conveyed home, as they now perceived whose child he was, and finally recovered; making a stout hearty man, with whom the writer has conversed, and also has examined his head, which still shows the horrible scar—the mark of his sufferings in the cause of American freedom. Dievendorf is still living near the place where he was scalped; a man of a heavy property, as we have been informed, and a good citizen of the part of the country he inhabits.
Among the fifty white men who accompanied Doxtater were some tories, who for fear they might be known by their old neighbors, had blacked and painted their faces like the Indians, before coming to the neighborhood of Currytown, and advised Schermerhorn to do the same. But he replied NO, saying, "If I am to die in the battle, let me die a white man." After the return of the party to Niagara—such of them as survived—Schermerhorn was sent as a member of a body guard of one Captain Dase, to Michigan, where he remained to the end of the war, and nearly a year over; but was at length allowed to return to the States and to his parents; who at the time of his return were living in the city of Hudson; having for some reason left there habitation near Skinneman’s bridge on the morning of the capture where we commenced the story. It is now sixty-two years since the morning of the capture of Frederick Schermerhorn. The exact spot where he was taken, and where the house was burnt with the aged people—Strope and his wife—is on a little flat or piece of alluvial land, on the creek called Shinglekill, a few rods east of the house built, and owned for about forty years by Ebenezer Beach, one of the first settlers of the woods west of Catskill, near the foot of the range of mountains. This Ebenezer Beach was a brother to Timothy Beach, the hero of the book recently published by the writer of this pamphlet, entitled "Stories of Early Setters," and was a man of great activity and benevolence of nature, like his brother; who has left a progeny of hardy, active men, like himself, who inherit his estate; full of the fire and battles of their country at her call. The writer of this little history has stood on the very spot where the smoke and flames of the consumed dwelling of these people curled upward towards the heavens, and where the cry of the owners shot deep and shrill through the convulsed air, in their agony; but not all is still, save the murmur of the brook as it goes by, and the whistle of the winds among the willows that grow where they dipped the water-pail along the brink of the Shinglekill. As it respects the political principles of this Strope family, we have never understood that they were of the violent kind, but rather of the neutral character; which was far better then avowed or secret enemies, as were many of the tories, who made the murder of their neighbors a matter of speculation and gain; from such characters we may piously say, "Good Lord deliver us," as the heart grows sick at the recollection, that human nature is capable of such a weight of infamy. We are thus particular to mention the very spot where the boy was captured, as every inch of ground which has drunk up the blood or the tears of the sufferers of the Revolution, (tories excepted,) is becoming hallowed and sacred, as the very prints and footsteps of the Genius of Liberty herself, and is thus esteemed by her sons.
Frederick Schermerhorn is still living within about two miles of the place where he was taken; a man well known as a character of the first order of the farmer class; is a member of the Presbyterian Church at Cairo; from whose lips we received the foregoing account—so far as relates to his own history in the account—and is still living to answer to the truth of the story, if any question it. In justification of the publishing this account and any and all accounts of the kind that are true, we may remark—and we believe the public are with us in the opinion—that whosoever despises any narrative of the sufferings of any individual in the conflict which achieved the independence of our country, is not worthy of the privileges which that independence secures to him; for in so doing he de___ the blood that was shed to procure those privileges; and would say to the wheels of me and to the trump of fame—Stop; that the news of the glorious deeds of our fathers may not be known to the future ages; and that the history of the Revolution may sink into eternal darkness, never to be lisped to the ears of the generations yet unborn, or to the distant nations of mankind, who as yet know not the sweets of liberty and independence.
Of the Schermerhorn family there were a number; some of whom lived on the Mohawk the time of the Revolution, and were considerable sufferers by the Indians and tories. There was one family of this race by the name of Abraham Schermerhorn, who lived at a place now called Glenville, about four miles from Schenectady, on the north side of this Mohawk river. This particular neighborhood was more than once alarmed and made to flee to Schenectady for safety. In this family of Abraham Schermerhorn, there lived a young lad, whose name our informant had forgotten; a German boy who, at a certain time when all of a sudden it was announced by a messenger on horseback that the Indians were upon them, giving the inhabitants scarcely time to fly to Schenectady, in moment of general confusion and alarm, ran and hid himself in a smoke house, where the family also deposited their ashes. The family had scarcely made their escape when the enemy had entered the house, which they instantly plundered; devouring every article of food it contained, in the cupboard, garret or cellar. During this search for food one of the Indians found the smoke house, which he entered in hopes of finding a ham or so. Now, while groping about in it, as it was not over light, there being no window, and the building was of stone, light could not enter only by the door, he had trod on the boy, who had literally crawled under the ashes when he found the Indians had actually arrived, as he could hear them about the premises. The Indian finding he had trod on something alive, stooped down, and with his hands soon hauled the boy from his hiding place, and led him out into day light. He now gave the prisoner yell, when in a moment the whole horde came out of the house and gathered around the poor boy, who was a pitiful object to look upon as he was covered with ashes, by which means his face was all in streaks, occasioned by his crying; so that the Indians said he was already for the battle. They shook him about at a great rate, to get the ashes off him to see how he looked, which wonderfully freightened him, as, he now expected to be killed. When the Indians had finished the work of plunder, as they did not burn this house, only breaking all the iron ware, crockery, &c., besides throwing a barrel of tar into the well, they departed; when the leader, who was Butler, had written his name on the door, in order to let the family know, when they should return, who had been there. There was a little Negro boy, which they found hid under the bed, whom they carried off with them, making a world of sport for themselves with the boy, as it was to them a great curiosity. This negro boy was with the Indians fourteen years before he got back to the Mohawk again. But before they left the house, one of the Indians found a cow-bell, which they tied on the neck of the German boy, and made him wear it all the way to Canada. This produced among the Indians a great deal of sport, as the bell made every where a wonderful rattling. The bell, however, saved him from being tied by night or day, as he could not stir except giving the alarm with the bell. He suffered much, as he was made to run the gauntlet naked, (with the bell on,) several times, as he went from tribe to tribe, when he was cut and wounded nearly to death, by the blows of clubs, whips and hatchets. He was among them about two years, during which time his owner, the one who found him in the ash house, scalped him for the sake of getting the price for it allowed by the British. But the operation was done so carefully that he was cured by the Indian who did it. This was an awful operation, in which he suffered more than if he had been knocked on the head with a hatchet, as was the ordinary way. But in this case it was done in cool blood, and is such a way as that the boy knew all the preparations beforehand, besides actually having his scalp torn from his head, to boot. But the Indian, after he had taken it and stretched it on a hoop, as is their way to preserve scalps, lost it before he had carried to the scalp agent. This same scalp was afterwards found by a Dutchman named Swart, who was also a prisoner, but got away, and with brought him the scalp; so the boy had it to look at after he had grown to a man, and had returned to the Mohawk.
During that war there were many who were taken prisoners and carried to Canada, among whom was Mr. Swart, a Mr. Canoe, and Mr. Vealy. This Vealy, as it happened, was a man who was extremely particular about his victuals—how it was cooked, seasoned, &c. Some of the tories, knowing this, told the Indians, who on that very account compelled him to eat soup made of horse flesh, dogs and cats, and withal forced him to eat it out of the same trough with dirty papooses. And besides dogs, cats and horse meat, they made him eat snakes roasted the same as they would roast an eel or a fish. There was one consequence, however, arising out of this treatment, which was some compensation at least, for by this means he was kept from starving, which otherwise he might have suffered.
There were many sufferers on the Mohawk in the time of the Revolution, and account of which we intend soon to publish; when we shall have visited all the old people yet living who suffered in that war, and shall entitle it Legends of the Mohawk.
Thus, in giving an account of the Low Dutch Prisoner, and some traits of the lives others, we have added an item to the vast history of personal sufferings which the Revolutionary heroes endured in that memorable conflict for human rights and rational liberty; which rights and which liberty are better understood and appreciated by Americans, than by any other people of the globe and which they are ever ready to defend and maintain.
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