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A History of Schenectady During the Revolution:
Chapter VIII: Efforts on the Part of the Colonists to Hold the Indians in a Position of Neutrality and the Friction with Sir John Johnson

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[This information is from pp. 43-50 of A History of Schenectady During the Revolution by Willis T. Hanson, Jr. (Brattleboro, VT: E. L. Hildreth & Co., 1916). It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 974.744 H25, and copies are also available for borrowing.]

To counteract the influence of Colonel Johnson, the Tryon County Committee, on June 29, met with the sachems of the Oneida and Tuscarora tribes. At this meeting (1) were present delegates from Albany and Schenectady (2) and in the chair was Nicholas Herkimer. Mutual speeches (3) were made, friendship and confidence with the two nations renewed, with a promise from the latter, if possible, to bring the rest of the Six Nations to unite with them in measures of peace. (4)

The Indians expressed themselves as greatly pleased with the kindness and generosity manifested toward them and recommended that "the gate of Fort Stanwix be shut, that nothing might pass or repass to hurt the country." (5) A like recommendation was made (6) to the Tryon Committee on July 3, by the associated settlers at Fort Stanwix, who represented their dangerous situation due to their exposed position, and it was immediately resolved that the matter be brought to the attention of the Schenectady Committee that they might if so inclined (7) send one hundred men to the post.

With a view of using still further means of keeping the Indians in a position of neutrality, Congress on July 12 established an Indian Department with three subdivisions — Northern, Middle and Southern. Major-General Philip Schuyler was appointed one of the five commissioners of the Northern Department, and under the direction of this body a second conference (8) with the Indians was held at Albany in August. (9)

About five hundred Indians attended this conference. Presents to the amount of one hundred and fifty pounds worth of goods were distributed and, while the Council was not wholly representative, the Indians solemnly agreed not to take up arms for either side.

Toward the end of July a more serious clash than had yet occurred took place between Sir John Johnson and his Whig neighbors. Alexander White, (10) the sheriff of Tryon County, had imprisoned John Fonda, (11) much to the displeasure of the Whigs, who, some one hundred strong, went (12) to the jail (13) and forced his release. Following this the mob attempted to take the sheriff, shots were exchanged and White subsequently sought the protection of Sir John Johnson.

"Expecting that an attempt would be made to retake Fonda, wrote (14) Christopher Yates (15) to the Albany and Schenectady Committees on July 22," we have collected together about 5 or 600 men to protect Fonda and take the Sheriff prisoner. We have wrote to Sir John Johnson, Bart. and requested him to deliver the sheriff to us, or that we would take him by force.

"The Gent. we sent up being John Frey (16) and Anthony Van Veghten (17) inform us that Sir John has got about 400 men in Johnstown and has fortified his house in such a manner that it is not possible for us to take the sheriff out of the house with small arms and Sir John declared to Messrs. Frey and Van Veghten that he would protect the sheriff so long as he remained in his house.

"As the sheriff gives us a great deal of trouble Insulting us on every occasion and bids us open defiance we are therefore now determined to have him, and as we understand that their are field pieces in Schenectady we request you would send us a couple with all the implements necessary."

The letter from Christopher Yates came first to the Schenectady Committee, who immediately forwarded (18) it to the Albany Committee "by the Mohok's Express (19) viz: Jno. Newkirk & Wm. Snook," with an enclosure (20) stating that the Board was of the opinion that it was necessary that something be done in the matter at once, the more so because if their friends who were then gathered together were permitted to return home without having accomplished the desired end the moral effect would be very bad.

While they expressed their admiration of the spirit shown by their friends in Tryon County, the members of the Albany Committee were not wholly in accord with their seemingly hasty action, and fearing possibly that in the excitement of the moment the Committee at Schenectady might be led to take some action which they might later have cause to regret, it was resolved that a letter suggesting caution be sent them.

"It is more than probable [that the] sheriff has repeatedly been imprudent and perhaps insulting," read (21) the letter in part, "but let our enemies never have cause to upbraid us for infringing on the laws and Constitution which we are studiously endeavoring to preserve against Parliamentary encroachment.

"It gives us pain that we on this head differ in sentiments with our Brethren to the westward but we flatter ourselves in the expectation that when they will suffer passion and Resentment to subside that they will agree with us in these observations."

The letter further suggested that a committee proceed at once to Johnstown for the purpose of "healing the unhappy and distressing differences," and agreeable to this suggestion Henry Glen and Harmanus Wendell were subsequently chosen to represent the Schenectady Committee.

On the next day (July 23) John Fonda reported to the Schenectady Committee that Sheriff White had left (22) Johnstown, presumably for Canada, and on the twenty-ninth the Albany Committee reported (23) to General Schuyler that not only was the unhappy dispute with Sir John amicably settled, he agreeing to take no further active part in the dispute between Great Britain and the American Colonies, but that the apprehension of the inhabitants of Tryon County respecting the Indians was entirely removed.

In spite of his promises, however, Sir John Johnson continued to cause trouble throughout the remainder of the summer and autumn of 1775, and in December the Continental Congress resolved to send General Schuyler to Tryon County under orders to secure the arms and stores of the Tories and "to apprehend their chiefs." (24)

On January 13, 1776, word of the intended expedition was received by the Schenectady Committee, the letter (25) containing a request that the Board send immediately to Albany "a company of 60 men completely armed, with proper officers to command them and four days provisions." Orders (26) were at once given to the officers of the "minute" companies to have the necessary men ready for the march, with further instructions to include besides the number required any who wished to go as volunteers, and on the next day (27) the expedition set out for Albany in sleds, there to join the militia already assembled.

In order that the Indians might not be alarmed at seeing troops in the Valley (this being a direct violation of the treaty entered into with them at Albany the previous autumn, whereby it was solemnly agreed that the Mohawk River should be open for trade, that no troops should be sent into those parts and that Sir John should remain unmolested), General Schuyler dispatched (28) a messenger to the Lower Mohawk Castle (29) to explain that he was marching to Johnstown in order to ascertain the condition of affairs.

Without waiting for the return of his messenger General Schuyler went forward. At Schenectady he was met by a delegation of the Mohawks under Little Abram, who reported (30) in substance that the coming of an armed force had alarmed the Indians and that the delegation wished to be present at any interview that might take place between General Schuyler and Sir John in order that they too might know the true state of affairs.

At the request of the Indians General Schuyler wrote (31) to Sir John Johnson from Schenectady on the sixteenth, requesting Sir John to meet him at any place between Schenectady and Johnstown, whither he would set out on the following day.

On the seventeenth General Schuyler, his force constantly increasing until it numbered nearly three thousand men, had proceeded some sixteen miles beyond Schenectady before the meeting with Sir John took place. Sir John asked until the evening of the next day to consider the proposals placed before him by General Schuyler and his request being granted he returned to Johnstown. It was not until the eleventh hour that the terms proposed (32) were acceded to, and on Sir John's agreement to surrender all his arms and military stores and to use his influence to induce all the Loyalists in the county to do the same, he was released on parole.

Reports that Sir John was acting in violation of his parole, and continued rumors of Indian uprisings finally caused General Schuyler to order his arrest and in May (1776) Colonel Dayton (33) was dispatched to Johnstown for the purpose, without avail, however, as, forewarned of the approach of the troops, Sir John had taken alarm and with a large number of followers hastily departed for Canada.


  1. This was a "Meeting Extraordinary" of the Committee held at the house of Frederick Bellinger in the German Flats District.
  2. Hugh Mitchell and Abraham Oothout.
  3. Some of the speeches may be found in Life of Joseph Brant and Campbell's Annals of Tryon County.
  4. The Minutes of the Tryon County Committee of Safety, June 29, 1775.
  5. Ibid.
  6. The Minutes of the Tryon County Committee of Safety, July 3, 1775.
  7. Other than bringing the matter to the attention of the Albany Committee no action appears to have been taken by the Schenectady Committee, they "being unable to afford any assistance."
  8. On August 19, a letter was received by the Schenectady Committee from Turbot Francis, another of the commissioners of the Northern Department, requesting that no rum or strong liquor be sold to the Indians as they passed through the town on their way to the Council. Upon receipt of the letter the instructions were immediately acted upon, "the Crier being sent Round the Town" to give the necessary warning.
  9. The Council commenced its sittings on the twenty-third and was the last Indian council ever held in Albany. The proceedings of the Council may be found in Stone's Life of Joseph Brant, I, 430-457.
  10. He was the first sheriff of Tryon County and had held office since March 16, 1772. He was a bitter partisan and very unpopular with his Whig neighbors because of his Tory opinions freely expressed.
  11. Fonda was a man of some prominence. He had been arrested for striking with a hoe one Thomas Hunt, a servant of White's, following a quarrel brought about by reason of Hunt's having trespassed on Fonda's land after he had been warned against so doing.
  12. Letter of Christopher P. Yates, July 22, 1775. The Records of the Albany Committee of Safety.
  13. This jail is the one still standing in the city of Johnstown.
  14. The Records of the Albany Committee of Safety.
  15. Christopher P. Yates, one of the most active of the Tryon County Committee and a deputy to the first and third Provincial Congresses. He held a captain's commission in 1774 and was commissary of General Herkimer's brigade. He served as a volunteer in the Canadian expedition and in 1776 was a major in the 1st New York Line.
  16. Major John Frey was a prime mover in organizing the Tryon County Committee of Safety. He was commissioned a captain by the Provincial Congress June 28, 1775, and elected sheriff after the deposition of Alexander White. He was wounded at Oriskany and taken prisoner to Canada, where he remained until October 28, 1778.
  17. Anthony Van Vechten, adjutant in Colonel Klock's regiment.
  18. The Minutes of the Schenectady Committee of Safety, July 22, 1775.
  19. These "expresses" were sometimes fleet runners or men on horseback. In this case they appear to have been two Mohawk Indians.
  20. The Records of the Albany Committee of Safety.
  21. Ibid.
  22. He was afterward captured and imprisoned at Albany, to be finally, in 1783, banished by the Committee.
  23. The Records of the Albany Committee of Safety.
  24. The Journals of the American Congress.
  25. The Minutes of the Schenectady Committee of Safety.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. William L. Stone, Life of Joseph Brant, I, 121.
  29. The Mohawks of the Lower Castle had not gone with Colonel Johnson.
  30. The speech of Little Abram is given in Stone's Life of Joseph Brant, I, 123-132.
  31. William L. Stone, Life of Joseph Brant, I, 132-133.
  32. The correspondence passing between General Schuyler and Sir John Johnson is given in Stone's Life of Joseph Brant, I, 133-141.
  33. Colonel Elias Dayton, then colonel of the 3d New Jersey.

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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War updated March 30, 2015

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