By Rev. Charles Rockwell
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
Captives.—Frederick Schermerhorn.—His Residence.—Josiah Priest.—His
Writings.—The Stropes.—Schermerhorn at Roundtop.—Indians and
Tories.—Strope and his Wife Killed and Scalped.—Escape of Jacob
Schermerhorn’s Wife and Children.—The House Burned.—Route of the
Indians.—Vain Pursuit of Them.—Captives at Night.—Scalps Dried.—An Elk
Shot.—A Murdered Man.—the Sesquenhanna.—Voyage on it.—Dead Fish.—Troga
Point.—Sullivan’s Expedition.—Murphy.—Unburied Bones.—Marks of Cannon
shot.—Genesee River.—Hunger.—Food.—Tonawanda Creek.—Warwhoops.—Premium
on Scalps.—Running the Gauntlet.---Reach Niagara.—Schermerhorn Enlists in
the Army.—Bounty Money.—Doxtaters’ Raid.—Currytown.—Prisoners.—A
Fright.—Colonel Willet.—A Defeat.—Return to Niagara.—A Captive
Boy.—His History.—Deivendorf Scalped and yet Lived.—tories with Doxtater.—Schermerhorn
in Michigan.—His Release and Return His Home.-- His Family.—His Death.—His
Tory Captors.—Priest’s Writings.—The Schermerhorns on the
The narrative of the seizure and the captivity among the Indians and the British in Canada, of Frederick Schermerhorn, of Catskill, during the Revolutionary War, is here given as interesting matter of history, and as showing how those who have gone before us were exposed to fearful danger of captivity and death in their efforts to secure and hand down to their posterity the rich civil and religious blessings which we, in peace and quiet, so securely and happily enjoy. Schermerhorn’s parents lived where his grandson, Frederick Barringer, now resides, about two miles west of Catskill. He has two daughters still living in Kiskatom, a son and daughter in Cairo, and a daughter in one of the Western States.
I give below the substance of the narrative, compiled by Josiah Priest, formerly residing in Cairo, but who removed to Albany, and for some years travelled through this region selling books, several of which he himself wrote. He has a son who is a physician in Windham, in this county.
The titlepage of the pamphlet from which I copy is as follows: “The Low Dutch Prisoner; being an Account of the Capture of Frederick Schermerhorn, 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 sufferings through the wilderness with the Indians. Also the story of the hermit found in a cave of the Allegany Mountains, and 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 cry of fear,
Are sounds that please the Indian ear;
For thus their ancient gory creed.
Pronounced the pris’ner sure should bleed,
And through death’s gate in pain must go,
To meet the awful Manito.” *
*(By Josiah Priest.
Author of several works, pamphlets, & c. never before published. Copyright.
Price 18 ¾ cents. Albany, 1839)
The Strope family, mentioned below, were the first settlers in their neighborhood, and lived on the Shingle Kill Creek, some forty rods east of the Roundtop Methodist Church, and ten or twelve rods south of the road.
The pamphlet from which I copy is in octavo form, with thirty-two closely printed pages, and closes with an allegory styled “The Plains of Matrimony,” and the following verses:
“The low Dutch captive
boy amid the forest wild,
With hunger, grief, and sorrow, when a little child,
The Indian Minisink, and settler’s tale is told;
The hermit of the rock, the miners and their gold;
But soon a longer story, as wonderful and true,
The press from off its bosom will give to public view,
In which the pangs of war, of love, and deep distress.
Shall thrill the reader’s heart, amid a wilderness.”
Another work published by Mr. Priest was “Stories of Early Settlers,” a copy of which I met with in the State Library in Albany. This book contains a singular collection of narrative of the hardships and adventures of the early emigrants in the region north and west of Catskill. The hermit found in the cave of the Alleghany Mountains, spoken of above, or one much like him, figures in Dr. Murdoch’s “Dutch Dominie of the Catskills.”
The parents of Frederick Schermerhorn came to the place where Mr. Barringer now lives, in 1758, and there made them a home in the woods, where their son lived with them until he was taken captive by the Indians. He is called by Mr. Priest, “The Low Dutch Prisoner.” because his ancestors came from Holland, and hence were known as Low Dutch, while emigrants from Germany are called High Dutch. A brother of Frederick Schermerhorn had married a daughter of Mr. Strope, living near the Roundtop, as described above, and Frederick was sent there to obtain the aid of his brother in driving some sheep from Shingle Kill, now Cairo, where there was but one house, to where their father then lived, near where Skinneman’s or Schuneman’s Bridge was afterwards built over the Catskill Creek.
The sun was about two hours high when the boy left home, which gave him time to ride eight miles to Strope’s before dark. His large bear-dog, he usual attendant when he went from home, refused to follow him, and howled after he when he left, as if to warn him of danger; having it may be, seen the Indians in the woods, and been frightened by their firing at him. This was regarded as an ill omen, and served to depress the feelings of the boy. Before sunrise the next morning he heard, in his sleeping-room at Strope’s, the screams of his sister-in-law, apparently at some distance from the house, she and her parents having risen before him. This was caused by the barking of Strope’s dog. Which had run towards a swamp near by, where the young woman saw in the woods a party of Indians painted and armed approaching the house. Strope had gone to his field to work, but saw the Indians going from their place of ambush, where they had spent the night, towards his house. It is thought that at first the Indians only intended to take and kill a son of Strope’s, named Bastayon, who was then absent in Saugerties, and had some time before offended them by what he had done to them near the Susquehanna River. He, with his wife and family, had been taken captive there by the Indians, near the Otego Creek, when he basely fled, leaving his family behind him, and, as is supposed, stealing from the Indians a choice rifle, a tomahawk, ammunition, and other articles of value.
The boy, Schermerhorn, was called suddenly from his bed, by his sister-in-law, who cried to him that the Indians were just upon them. At first they seemed quite friendly, shaking hands with every one, and saying, “How do, how do.” Asking for Bastayon, intending to plunder the house, but not to kill any one. They first drew the charge from Strope’s gun, which hung on pegs, on a beam of the chamber floor. Which was done quickly, through fear of the Esopus rangers, a band of guerillas, who made short work with Indians and tories when they caught them. Strope, being a loyalist or tory, did not much fear the Indians, when he saw them going towards his house; though he did not like to see among them one named Wampehassee, whom, in times past while hunting near his house, he had knocked down and kicked out of doors for drunkenness and impudence, a kind of personal attention an Indian is not apt to forget. Before Mr. Strope reached the house, they had seized several articles of clothing; and as Mrs. Strope, who was fearless and strong, stoutly resisted them, they handled her roughly. Soon one of the Indians, with a blow of his hatchet, broke in the lid of a chest, in which the linen of the family was kept. Drawing a long piece of new linen around the room, he said, “make Indian good shirt.” Mrs. Strope attacked him, saying, “Dat ish Bastayon’s peace of de linens.” Hearing this, the Indian said “Me hate Bastayon, me have good shirt now.” While the old lady and the Indian were pulling the cloth different ways, young Schermerhorn said to her, “Vor Got’s sake, let dem haff vat dey wills, or you many lose your life.” She would not yield, however; an soon the Indiana killed her by a blow on her head with his tomahawk. At this moment Mr. Strope came in, and seeing what was done, rushed forward, with uplifted hands and cried. “Cot Almighty!” when the same Indian named above killed him also with a blow of his tomahawk. Then scalped them, by cutting the skin around their heads when seizing it with his teeth, he placed his foot on their breasts, and thus tore off their scalps.
When this had been done, the Indian seized young Schermerhorn by the shoulder, and said, “You go me?” to which the boy replied, “Yaw, yaw; I will.”
As the wife of Jacob Schermerhorn, Strope’s daughter, saw the Indians come towards the house, she quickly seized and dressed her two children, who were in bed, one an infant, and the other two years old, and left the house, after the Indians had entered it; and calling after her two older children, who were playing near the house, she hastily fled, and hid them and herself in a field of tall rye not far from the house. Soon she heard the sound of the flames of the fire which the Indians had kindled to destroy the house, and saw them moving off, heavily laden with plunder, and with the boy in their midst. Waiting until the Indians were out of sight, fearing to remain where she was, lest the Indians should return, as also to take the path to Shingle Kill, where, too, she might meet them, she resolved to go through the woods, following the course of the Kiskatom Creek, to the house of one Timmerman, who lived near its mouth, some five miles distant, where she arrived near night the same day.
The day before these murders, her husband, Jacob Schermerhorn, had gone on horseback to Wynkoop’s Mill, on the Kiskatom Creek, and did not return until the house was burned; and he saw there, among the smoking ruins, the bones of two human beings, not knowing but that his wife might be one of them, until he found her, and thus learned what had taken place. Had he returned half an hour sooner, he too would have been taken and probably killed. Having left his bag of meal in the barn, where his brother’s horse was, he went to a small fort, Called Pasamacoosick, between Catskill and Cairo. Having told what had happened, there came together the next day a large company of men, from all the region around, with provisions and ammunition, who, after a careful and diligent search, could find no traces of the Indians retreat. Had they come together a day sooner they might have found and killed them. The bones of those murdered were buried, and Jacob’s wife was found at Timmerman’s.
As young Schermerhorn did not return, his father, strongly urged by his wife, the next day mounted a horse, left home and chanced to meet his son Jacob on the way to the fort, and learned from him what had taken place. Returning home, he told the sad tale to his wife, both of them being filled with anxiety and fear for the fate of their son. A year or so after his, a letter reached them, by means of a tory, through whose aid it was sent to them, informing them as to what had happened to him and where he was.
The Indians, after securing their spoil, crossed the mountains through Hunter, some miles west of where the Mountain House now is. On reaching to top of the mountain, they took from the boy his shoes, which were new, giving him an old pair of moccasins in their place, and his hat, which was a good one, leaving him with no covering for his head during the whole of his long journey. There were four Indians, who marched with the boy in their midst, so that they could easily seize or kill him, should he attempt to escape. With a view to safety, they went by the wildest and most difficult route, until near night they came to a swampy region, near the head of the Schoharie Creek, where they encamped. From the house of a tory near by, the Indians obtained milk and meal, of which they made pudding for their supper, kindling a fire with the flash of a gun, and moss, and some Continental paper money, taken from their prisoners, at the same time making sport of the Continental Congress. The boy was bound, for the night, by a cord, passing round each arm, at the elbow, and round his body, each end of which was fastened to the arm of an Indian on either side of him, between whom he slept. This was done for the three first nights, when having gone so far from his home that they did not fear that he would try to return, they then left him at liberty.
Their plan was to reach the Delaware River, follow it for some distance, then cross to the Susquehanna, and from thence travel to the West. As the weather was hot, and Schermerhorn complained of the headache, the Indian flourished him a tomahawk around the boy’s head, saying, “This good for headache,” which cured him of all disposition to complain of the headache in the future. During a heavy rain, they built a covering of bark, near a warm fire, by means of which they were thoroughly dried. Here one of the Indians made two hoops of twigs, on which he stretched the scalps of Mr. and Mrs. Strope, to dry them, and then making a smaller one, as if for Frederick’s scalp, he suddenly raised him to his feet by his hair, and with a horrid yell, drew his fingers around his head, as if about to pass his knife there and scalp him, when the boy was so overcome with fear that he fell to the ground as if he had been shot; whereupon the Indians were so amused that they burst into fits of laughter, yelling and rolling on the ground for joy.
About noon the third day, one of the Indians shot a large elk, which they skinned; and, boiling the flesh, they pressed it into small balls to dry and preserved it, as they had no salt, while of the liver and fat they made a great feast. The fourth day they came to the Delaware River, where they spent two days, and made a bark canoe large enough to carry their party of five persons and their baggage. They then took the boys’ coat from him, giving him a shirt of tow cloth in its place, which they had taken a few days before from the body of a man whom they had murdered near the Hudson River, in the Imbought just below Catskill. The shirt was quite bloody, and had the initials of its former owner in it with thread. These Indians belonged to a party which had been sent out from Fort Niagara by Guy Johnston, who passed by way of the Genesee country to the Chemung, following it to its entrance into the Susquehanna at Tioga Point, from whence they had gone east to the Hudson River, where they had killed the man referred to above. In passing rapidly down the river in the canoe, the banks were covered with dead shad, which, owing to the low water and the great heat, had died while returning from leaving their spawn high up the river. Wild ducks were also met with in great numbers, rearing their young, which could be taken alive by hand from the water, having never been frightened by men.
In less than two days, they had gone as far down the river as they wished to go, where they spent a night; and, having concealed their canoe, they took their packs and travelled for a hundred miles or more through the woods to Tioga Point, two hundred miles from where they had started, and had yet two hundred miles from where they had started, and had yet two hundred miles or more to go before they would reach Fort Niagara. The boy had a heavy pack, and, bareheaded and barefooted, travelled through the rough, thorny woods. Having crossed the Susquehanna at a shallow place, they struck the war-path of General Sullivan, who, a year or two before, had defeated the Indians of the Genesee and Chemung country, and killed many of them. In their march they came to a place where a scouting party, sent out by Sullivan, had fallen into an ambush and were taken by the Indians, with the exception of the famous Murphy, of Schoharie, known as “The Indian Killer,” who is said to have killed more Indians during the Revolutionary War of seven years than any other man in the country, and who died in peace years after its close. The bones of these captives, bleaching on the ground, were pointed out to the boy by the Indians, who said, “See Kankee bones.” These captives were all tomahawked by the Indians, as they had not time to torture them, and their bodies were left to be devoured by beasts of prey. When these twenty-three captives had been killed, the Indians all pursued Murphy, but could not take him, he in his flight having hid himself under a large log by drawing bark and brush around him, where the Indians passed directly over him, loudly yelling as they went. At night he escaped to Sullivan’s camp, with the news of their sad misfortune.
During this part of their journey, the Indians in many places, pointed out to Schermerhorn where the cannon-shot of Sullivan had cut off the limbs and bark of trees, as he gave them grape and canister shot wherever he found them, having in one place thus driven a party of them over a precipice, where they were killed by the fall. In the region of the Genesee River there were many Indians, who had returned there after their flight from Sullivan’s invasion. There, according to custom, Schermerhorn would have had to run the gauntlet between two rows of old Indians, the squaws and Indian boys armed with clubs and stones, and permitted to strike and kick the running captive, had not the man who owned him so dressed him and given him a gun, as to cause the Indians to regard him as a friend instead of a captive prisoner. On leaving the Genesee, they suffered from hunger much more than before, living on roots and an herb which the Indians pounded to a pumice, and wrapping it in leaves, baked it in hot ashes.
After a few days, they came to Tonawanda Creek, where there was an Indian settlement. When they came near to it, they gave one whoop to show the prisoner they had, and two to make known the number of scalps; for which, at Fort Niagara, they received from the British officers a reward of eight dollars for each scalp, concealing the fact they were taken from the friends instead of the enemies of England. Here Schermerhorn was repeatedly knocked down, and severely treated by Indians; while one whom he met with treated him kindly, and gave him food and drink. From Tonawanda to Fort Niagara they lived on herbs, roots, berries, squirrels, birds, and skunks, having a hard journey of it, until they came where the Indians who were with Schermerhorn lived, and they obtained food. Here the boy met a friendly old Indian, who said that he had often eaten in his father’s house; and hence treated him kindly. Near the fort, he had to run the gauntlet for a distance of ten rods, expecting to be killed, but was not much injured. Having been questioned by a clerk of Guy Johnston, as the number of the American forces, and other matters of which he knew nothing, he was placed under the care of a squaw, who had charge of the cooking department, and who treated him with great kindness. The clothes taken from himself and the Stropes he saw worn by the Indians and a Tory in the fort.
As soon as Schermerhorn had somewhat recruited, and regained his strength, the choice was given him to enlisting as a soldier in the British army, or to go again with the Indians. With much reluctance and grief, he at length consented to enlist, thinking that thus he might escape perpetual captivity among the cruel, filthy, hated Indians, and have a chance of reaching his friends by flight, or at the end of the war. Forty Spanish dollars were paid to the Indian who captured him, this being the bounty given by the government for every young man for the colonies who enlisted as a soldier under the king. Dressed in a suit of blue, with white facings, he joined a company called Foresters, under Guy Johnston, and thus he served four years, or one year after the end of the war, as he was claimed as a British subject. When he had been a soldier for about a year, he went on an expedition under Lieutenant Doxtater, a Dutchman from the Mohawk, a relative of Butler, the savage companion of Brandt in the war. There were in this company about fifty white men and one hundred Indians, who so suffered from hunger that they had to eat three or four packhorses they took with them. They followed nearly the course which the Erie Canal now takes, until they reached Currytown, now in Montgomery County, south of the Mohawk River, where there was a fort, from which they hoped to obtain plunder, prisoners, and scalps. In their unexpected approach to the place, the Indians took as prisoners six men, who were working in their fields with a negro and a small white girl. As they approached the fort, however, they were discovered, when the men fled to the fort, and as many of the women as could reach it. Many women and children took refuge in a house near the fort, around which Doxtater placed a guard for their protection, intending probably to carry them off as prisoners.
The fort, however, was not attacked, nor did those in the fort come out to fight; so that the place was freely plundered, and most of the buildings burned. Doxtater ordered Schermerhorn to set a certain barn on fire, but he refused, saying: “I cannot find it in my heart to destroy the property of my people.” Schermerhorn here attempted to make his escape and reach home; but coming near a blockhouse of the Americans, where he was in danger of being shot by them, and fearing being discovered by the British and Indians, who would have put him to death as a deserter, he therefore returned to his company, who soon left the place in a fright, a Tory runner having informed them that the enemy were near. Thus they left behind them the women and children in the house. They turned their course towards a small place named Tourbaugh, near Cherry Valley, where they hoped to obtain prisoners, horses, cattle, and provisions, but Colonel Willet, a famous border warrior in the region of Schoharie and Otsego counties, having heard of their movements, laid an ambush for them, and after a fight of a few minutes put them to flight, they having tomahawked and scalped their eight prisoners, where their friends afterwards found their bodies, and removed them. Doxtater and his party, having thus lost all they had taken at Currrytown, except a few horses, which hunger compelled them to eat on their way back to Fort Niagara, the party reached there, wretched and forlorn, with nothing to show but eight scalps, one of them of the little white girl they had taken. During the fight with Willet, Schermerhorn had charge of Peter Quackenboss, a prisoner taken by the white men of the party; and hence his life was spared when those taken by the Indians were scalped. Peter and his brother John were captured while hunting deer, and, failing in attempts to escape, returned to their home after the end of the war.
When Doxtater and his party left Fort Niagara, there came with them the wife of a noted chief who wished to get a white boy to adopt, as she had no child. While at the house in Currytown where the women and children were, she snatched a fine white boy two years old from the arms of his mother, and fled with it into the woods, the mother screaming after it, but not being permitted to follow and recover it. About a year after, this child was at Fort Niagara dressed in Indian style, and much caressed and loved by the Indians. In the year 1828, there came a white man from among the western Indians, saying that he had been told that he was stolen when a child from Schoharie, and that he came to seek his relatives and early home. He went to Schoharie, Albany, New York, and Washington, trying in vain to find his friends. His age was then about fifty years; and, had he met with Schermerhorn, he would probably have succeeded in his search, and not been compelled to return among his savage friends. His manners and habits, as his mode of life had been, were all Indian. His age and all the circumstances of the case make it well-nigh certain that he was the child stolen from the arms of its mother by the wife of the Indian chief. The morning of Willet’s fight the Indians took a Dutch boy, by the name of Deivendorf, about fourteen years of age, whom they stunned with a blow on the head with a tomahawk, and scalped him, leaving him for dead. He soon revived, however, so far as to be able to crawl to a log near by, where on his knees he lay over it on his breast, the blood flowing down his temples and forehead. When those pursuing the Indians came near him and saw him, one, supposing him to be an Indian, was on the point of shooting him, when a companion struck his rifle, and thus the ball missed him. Mr. Priest, the writer of the Life of Schermerhorn, from which I have complied this condensed sketch of nearly all the facts in the case, knew this Deivendorf, and had from him the statement given above. He was a stout, healthy man, with a large property, a good citizen, living near where he was scalped, and bearing the marks of that savage act.
Among the fifty white men who went with Doxtater, who was himself from the region of the Mohawk, there were several tories from the same part of the country, who blacked and painted their faces like the Indians, that they might not be known by their former neighbors. They advised Schermerhorn to do the same, but he refused, saying, “If I am to die in the battle, let me died a white man.” After the return of those of the party who survived, Schermerhorn was sent as a member of the body-guard of a Captain Dase, to Michigan, where he remained until nearly a year after the close of the war, when he returned to his parents, who were then living in the city of Hudson. Ebenezer Beach for many years lived where the Stropes were murdered, but none of his family are there now. His brother, Timothy Beach, was one of the prominent characters in the book, by Priest, already referred to, styled “Stories of the Early Settlers.” They were worthy men. Frederick Schermerhorn married near Hudson, but for more than fifty years lived about two miles west of where he was taken prisoner, and where now, May, 1866, his son, John Schermerhoren, lives, aged seventy-seven years. Frederick Schermerhorn died at the house of his son-in-law, Mr. Miller, one mile west of the Roundtop Methodist Church, in Cairo, February 13, 1847, in the eighty-fourth year of his age. He and his wife (who died in October, 1846, aged seventy-seven) were buried in the graveyard near where he was taken prisoner. They were most of their lives worthy members of the Presbyterian Church in Cairo.
The writer of this work had been told by an aged man who lives near where the Stropes were killed, that two tories came with Indians to the house as guides and helpers, as was done when the Abeels and the Snyders were taken, as is elsewhere related in this work. One of these tories lived near Acra, two or three miles northwest of the Stropes, and harbored the Indians; and the other lived on the Cauterskill Creek, near Catskill. Priest did not allude to these men, probably because the family of one of them lived near him when he was in Cairo; and perhaps no good end would be answered by publishing their names. Priest speaks of intending to publish a work called “Legends of the Mohawk,” in the time of the Revolution, which I have not seen. His books have much that is wild and fanciful in them, with frequent and singular episodes; but yet he collected and preserved much that was interesting and valuable, including a large octavo work, in which he tries to prove, as Elias Boudinot and others have done, that our western Indians are descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel.
There were some of the Schermerhorn family on the Mohawk River who suffered much from the Indians and Tories during the Revolutionary War. One of them, named Abraham Schermerhorn, fled repeatedly from his home in Glenville, to Schenectady, for safety. On one occasion a party led by Butler, infamously notorious for his connection with the massacre of the whites in Wyoming Valley, in Northern Pennsylvania, came to Schermerhorn’s house, plundered it of all provisions, broke in pieces all the crockery and iron ware, threw a barrel of tar into the well, and wrote his name on the door of the house, that it might be known who had called there. His party carried away two boys, one a German and the other a negro, the former of whom they scalped for the sake of the bounty paid by the British for the scalps; but this was done carefully, so that he recovered from the savage operation. The names of the Indians who captured Schermerhorn were Wampehassee, who was the owner of the prisoner, Achewayunme, Tom Tory, and John Teets; the two last probably nicknames, given by the English.