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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

A History of Schenectady During the Revolution:
Chapter XII: The Campaign of 1777

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[This information is from pp. 71-77 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.]

On May 5 General Burgoyne returned to Quebec, and four days later the command of the approximately eight thousand troops assigned for the suppression of the rebellion was transferred to him.

On June 29 Burgoyne arrived at Crown Point and on July 1 his forces appeared before Ticonderoga, which post was abandoned by the American forces on July 6.

At the news of the British advance on Ticonderoga General Ten Broeck (1) ordered (2) Major Swits to march (3) with all of the Schenectady militia to Fort Edward, much to the anxiety of a number of the inhabitants of Schenectady, who appeared (4) before the Committee on July 9 with petitions that they be ordered to stay in town "on account of the alarming news from the westward." General Ten Broeck was appealed to regarding the matter and in the afternoon an answer to the Committee's letter was received ordering (5) the militia to march (6) without delay.

On July 30 General Burgoyne advanced to Fort Edward, and the American forces fell back upon Stillwater.

With the troops under General Schuyler that had thus far so successfully disputed the advance of the British was a detachment of Schenectady militia under Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Yates. This detachment was detailed for fatigue duty and under a strong guard had been busily engaged in felling trees and in otherwise rendering impenetrable the comparative wilderness that lay between Skenesborough and Fort Edward. (7)

With the further advance of the British, discouragement and alarm spread rapidly. All the militia that could be collected throughout Albany County had been sent to the army. (8) They had already been for some time in the service and it was reported that they intended soon to return to remove their families to a place of greater safety. (9) Albany was in a state of panic and "the appearance of a few of the enemie's troops on the Mohawk River," it was felt, "would immediately make the inhabitants lay down their arms." (10)

Schenectady presented a no less gloomy picture. "We are sorry," wrote (11) Reinier Mynderse in behalf of the Committee to General Schuyler on August 5, "to be under the Necessity of informing you of the disagreeable Situation of our Affairs in this place at present. The inhabitants in General seem much dejected. Since the Loss of Tyconderoga many of them who formerly seemed warm in the Interest of the Country are now quite cool, or rather inclined to the other side. We believe this change of Sentiment in many of them to be greatly owing to the bad counsel and advice, they daily receive from disaffected Persons who begin to be pretty numerous amongst us. We are unable to take any measures to prevent their spreading Influence, or any thing else for want of a few Troops to support us. A few days ago we issued a warrant to impress a number of waggons to go and relieve those who have been a considerable time in the Service, but the Constables returned without getting one for want of force to put the warrant into execution. (12) We beg you will take our case into consideration, and if you can spare them, send about sixty men with good Officer to remain with us some time."

On August 3 the forces under St. Leger, (13) proceeding in accordance with the formulated plan, arrived before Fort Stanwix. Rumor that Fort Stanwix was under siege seems to have reached Schenectady even before the siege actually commenced, for Colonel Goose Van Schaick writing from here to General Schuyler on the fourth mentions it as "a common report." (14) Van Schaick, with "near one hundred Continental troops, men and boys," was at the time on his way to German Flats, where, under Nicholas Herkimer, the Tryon County militia had gathered, and was endeavoring to prevail upon members of the Schenectady militia (15) to join the expedition as volunteers; without avail, however, for "I find to my great surprise," he adds in the same letter, "that not a man will go with me, either from this place or Scoharie."

As soon as news was brought of the actual investment of Fort Stanwix General Herkimer advanced to its relief, encamping on August 5 to await reinforcements about eight miles to the east of the fort. Any delay was, however, displeasing to his officers and on the morning of the sixth, irritated by their impatience and insinuations, General Herkimer finally, against his better judgment, gave the order for the advance which subsequently terminated in the ambuscade and slaughter known as the battle of Oriskany.

The siege of Fort Stanwix was soon renewed, to be continued until August 22, when news of the approach of the troops (16) under Benedict Arnold caused St. Leger (17) to withdraw hastily. The Tories in the vicinity of Schenectady had seized upon the cooling of the patriotic spirit as an opportunity to renew their activities. On August 10 it was reported (18) to the Committee of Safety that a number of them had actually "disarmed some of the inhabitants that were on guard and that they had assembled to the number of 300."

The remaining militia were already under orders from General Schuyler to join the main army, but on the report of the Tory raid it was immediately resolved (19) by the Committee "that they be detained in Town, and that a Watch of 25 Men be kept up Day and Night."

The report that another raid was imminent was brought to the Committee on the next day, and in the afternoon Jacob Schermerhorn, who had been sent out on scout duty, reported (20) to the Board "that on the 10th inst at Night [the Tories] lay at the House of a Thoms Morall and in the Morning went to one Nicholas Van Patten." A detail of Continental troops, who were in town, under Captain Childs and a number of the militia under Major Swits were immediately dispatched for the capture of the Tories, and on the twelfth turned over to the Committee eleven prisoners who had been taken with their arms and accoutrements. (21)

The news of the successful outcome of General Arnold's relief expedition, whereby General Burgoyne was deprived of the hope of reinforcements, coupled with the news of the defeat of Colonel Baum at Bennington, depriving him of much needed supplies, wrought a complete change in public opinion. The attitude of the Tories became less threatening and in answer to the call from the Continental Congress regulars and militia hastened to join the rapidly increasing forces at Van Schaick's Island, whence the American army had fallen back after the first entrenchments at Stillwater, and it was at this time (22) that many (23) more of the Schenectady militia joined (24) the ranks to remain with the army until the culmination of the campaign (25) in the surrender of Burgoyne. (26)

Notes

  1. Abraham Ten Broeck. He was in command of the brigade to which Colonel Wemple's regiment was joined.
  2. The Minutes of the Schenectady Committee of Safety.
  3. Details of Schenectady militia were already on duty, a company having been mustered here in May. Pension Office Records, Jacob Lyport S 13813; Elias Rosa W 17546.
  4. The Minutes of the Schenectady Committee of Safety.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Quite a considerable number of men appear to have marched as ordered. These detachments remained with the Northern Army until the defeat of General Burgoyne, many of them seeing active service in the various battles fought during the retreat and in the battle of Bemis Heights. Pension Office Records, John Corl S 15263; Bartholomew Schermerhorn S 17078; Adam Van Patten S 17168; Nicholas P. Van Vranken S 17170; David Sacia W 17768; George Staley N 19123.
  7. Pension Office Records, Simon J. Vrooman W 6370.
  8. Public Papers of George Clinton, II, 210.
  9. Ibid., p. 201.
  10. Ibid., p. 210.
  11. Ibid., p. 187.
  12. The unsuccessful efforts of the Schenectady Committee are detailed in its minutes.
  13. St. Leger's second in command was Sir John Johnson.
  14. Public Papers of George Clinton, II, 169.
  15. One half of them were then under orders to march to German Flats but refused to go because of the dangers to which their families might be subjected from Tory depredations.
  16. Abraham I. Van Eps states (Pension Office Records W 25831) that he performed eight days' service under Captain Van Eps "when the Schenectady militia marched to Oriskany." Cornelius Bradt states (Pension Office Records W 18649) that while serving under Colonel Christopher Yates he went "with Major Arnold's division up the Mohawk Valley." While these references are rather meager, it appears evident that some of the Schenectady militia marched to the relief of Fort Stanwix.
    The 2d New York Line, under orders to march for the same purpose, sailed in sloops from Fishkill to Albany but had occasion to proceed no further than Schenectady. Magazine of American History, December, 1881.
  17. Authorities have expressed the opinion that to St. Leger was assigned the most important part of the program with the most inadequate means of carrying it out.
  18. The Minutes of the Schenectady Committee of Safety.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Pension Office Records, John J. Van Eps; John DeGraff S 15090; Andrew Bearup W 16188; Peter Warren Cain W 16525; Samuel Kennedy W 20317.
    Official orders for all those not already in actual service to join the army under General Gates were sent to General Ten Broeck by Governor Clinton on September 18.
  23. That all the available men did not go, however, is shown from the fact that when, on October 16, the Albany Committee reported that "the enemy were coming up the North River with a number of ships," the Schenectady Board, in compliance with their request "to send down the Militia immediately," at once ordered that the request be complied with. The Minutes of the Schenectady Committee of Safety.
  24. On September 25 it was reported in Schenectady that the American troops were surrounded by the British and that it was therefore "folly" for the militia to attempt to join them as they could not get through. The Minutes of the Schenectady Committee of Safety.
  25. The failure of General Howe to co-operate with Burgoyne laid him open to severe criticism. It is now known, however (Life of William, Earl of Shelburne, I, 358 et seq.), that through the carelessness of Lord George Germaine the proper orders were never forwarded to him.
  26. After the surrender of General Burgoyne a detachment of Schenectady militia under Colonel Wemple was detailed for guard duty and escorted General Poor's brigade part way to Esopus. They did not, however, complete the journey, but were ordered home after a few days' service. Pension Office Records, John J. Van Eps.

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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

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