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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

A History of Schenectady During the Revolution:
Chapter XVII: The Raids on Ballston and the Schoharie Settlements

Go back to: Chapter XVI | ahead to: Chapter XVIII

[This information is from pp. 101-108 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.]

Late in August word was brought to the authorities in Albany that another raid along the Valley was being contemplated by the enemy. Sir John Johnson was reported to be in command and with the two thousand men under him was to strike first at Stone Arabia. From Schenectady scouts were kept continually out, and here General Van Rensselaer (1) took up his headquarters so that in case the accounts were found to be true he might in person collect troops to repel the invasion. (2)

On September 4 General Van Rensselaer reported (3) to Governor Clinton from Fort Rensselaer (4) that small parties of the enemy were frequently seen on the frontiers, although the reports of their intentions were still vague and uncertain. The militia were already under orders to be in readiness to march at a moment's notice as soon as the advance of the enemy was reported and on September 8 Colonel William Malcolm, under orders to march to the front, encamped near Albany with his brigade of State Levies (5) raised to reinforce the troops on the frontiers.

"I find but very few Persons here which manifest a Disposition to forward the Service," Colonel Malcolm wrote (6) to Washington, "although they express great Apprehensions about the Indians."

"I send forward one Regiment Tomorrow," continued the letter, "they go entirely upon the Prospect of obtaining Provisions from the Country — there is no Magazine at Schenectady (7) — not one Ration."

On October 12 word (8) reached Albany that on the eighth Sir John Johnson, Butler and Brant were at Oneida on their way to Stone Arabia and ultimately Fort Schuyler. From the north came information (9) that a second expedition under Major Christopher Carleton had already taken possession of Fort Ann and that Fort George was threatened.

On the night of October 16, the settlement of Ballston (10) was attacked. The enemy, which comprised a detachment (11) from Major Carleton's division, consisted of British regulars, Tories and Indians and was under the command of Major John Munro, a former merchant of Schenectady. It is believed that the original intention of the enemy was to surprise Schenectady but that possibly due to some information obtained through their scouts they decided to proceed no further than Ballston.

A fort built of oak logs surrounded by a stockade comprised the defenses of the settlement. This fort had a few days before been garrisoned by a small detachment of Schenectady militia, and perhaps fearful lest they be unable to effect a surprise complete enough to insure its capture, this post was carefully avoided by the enemy, who instead directed their efforts to attacking some of the exposed houses. One man killed, one wounded and the capture of twenty-two prisoners whom the enemy took with them as they hastily withdrew (12) bore witness to the success of the expedition.

The approach (13) of Sir John Johnson on the Schoharie settlements was almost simultaneous with Munro's raid on Ballston, for early on the morning of the seventeenth his forces were discovered (14) passing the Upper Fort. (15) No attempt was made to attack this position, the enemy, finding themselves discovered, devoting themselves instead to burning whatever buildings they came upon as they made their way toward the Middle Fort. (16) Here they met with some resistance (17) and finding that a display of their force was not sufficient to induce the garrison to capitulate, the enemy about three o'clock in the afternoon continued their march down the Valley and, passing the Lower Fort, (18) burning and pillaging as they proceeded, went into camp some six miles below.

Word of the enemy's presence at Schoharie reached Albany about noon on the seventeenth and General Van Rensselaer at once set out for Schenectady with such troops as he was able to rally for the pursuit. (19) When he arrived in Schenectady early in the evening the light of fires toward the lower end of Schoharie bore evidence of the destruction being wrought by the enemy. A conference of the principal inhabitants was at once called and with them was discussed the practicability of procuring a number of horses and wagons by the next morning in order that such of the militia as could be collected might be sent forward with greater expedition. The attempt was made during the night, but a very inadequate number was secured.

Henry Glen, the issuing commissary, was approached on the matter of furnishing rations for the troops and later reported "that there was not a Sufficiency of Provisions of the meat kind to victual the Troops for a Day & a very small Quantity of Bread." Some cattle, however, destined for the garrison at Fort Schuyler, arriving opportunely, were ordered killed and all the ovens available were pressed into service that a sufficient quantity of bread might be baked during the night.

Between nine and ten o'clock on the eighteenth the troops having received their provisions and being reinforced by members of Colonel Wemple's regiment, General Van Rensselaer left Schenectady and proceeded up the Valley, taking with him two field pieces on wheels which he had obtained at Schenectady.

On the morning of the nineteenth Colonel Brown, (20) who was in command at Fort Kayser, (21) left the post with a force of one hundred and thirty men under orders to join General Van Rensselaer. Marching south they later were surprised by Sir John Johnson's forces proceeding in the opposite direction and, outnumbered seven to one, disastrously defeated.

General Van Rensselaer was apprised of the enemy's whereabouts and of the defeat of Colonel Brown by fugitive soldiers who had succeeded in making their escape from the field, and in the afternoon, overtaking the enemy, he forced the engagement known as the battle of Klock's Field.

That Sir John and his forces were permitted to escape has always been a matter of regret, and although General Van Rensselaer has been severely blamed (22) for his failure to at once follow up the advantage gained, the Court of Inquiry convened for the purpose of investigating his action not only wholly exonerated him, but declared that his conduct "was not only unexceptional, but such as became a good, active, faithful, prudent and spirited officer."

Not a few of the Schenectady militia marched (23) as far as Herkimer in the effort to overtake the enemy and some were detailed (24) as guards and batteaumen to bring by boat to Schenectady those of Colonel Brown's soldiers who had sustained injuries that their wounds might here be dressed under the direction (25) of Dr. Dirk Van Ingen.

On October 29 Governor Clinton wrote (26) to James Duane detailing the destruction that had been effected by the enemy. He estimated the loss at one hundred and fifty thousand bushels of wheat in addition to other grain, forage and some two hundred buildings. "Schenectady may now be said to become the limits of our western Frontier," continued the letter, "the first Object worth a new Enterprise."

The incursions of the enemy had so delayed the raising of troops intended to relieve the Levies stationed at the various posts that late in October Governor Clinton decided to order forward details of the militia for this service, promising, however, that they would be relieved as soon as possible. In accordance with this decision Colonel Wemple was ordered (27) to dispatch seventy of his regiment to Fort Rensselaer, much to the alarm of the people in Schenectady, who on the twenty-fourth petitioned Governor Clinton that the order be reconsidered.

"Whereas," reads the memorial, (28) "the present situation of this place is become a frontier Town, which we have reason to believe the Enemy aims to destroy, and which we your memorialist are a good deal concerned about, particularly when we Consider the Different Settlements round about us, if we turn our eyes to the north, we find a Settlement called Galloway, and another called Peasly, who are all enemies to the Country and even Balls Town a great part of them; To the southwest from us we have the Hellebergh, which are likewise mostly Tories, at which places the enemy may lay conceald untill they find an opportunity to destroy this place. And one half of our Regiment are joining to these Settlements.

"We, your memorialist, therefore, humbly pray that your Excellency will take our Situation in Consideration and grant that our Regiment may remain at Home to defend this place. And as Balls Town is likewise exposed to great Danger of an other attack of the enemy we lying nearest to them might on occasion be a great assistance to the good people of that place."

The year was not to close without further alarm, for the militia had scarcely returned from the western frontier when they were again ordered (29) out to check a second invasion threatened from the north by forces under Major Carleton.

"Plots, Conspiracies, Conflagrations, Alarms, Burning of the City, Destruction of Schenectady, &c. &c.," wrote (30) Stephen Lush to Governor Clinton on November 7, in describing the terror reigning at Albany, "are the only Subjects of Conversation at present." Adding, in all probability not without some degree of truth, that "a chimney took Fire the other Evening and it was instantly determined [that] the enemy were in the midst of us."

Notes

  1. On June 29, 1780, the Albany militia was ordered to be divided into two brigades and to General Robert Van Rensselaer was given the command of the Second Brigade.
  2. Public Papers of George Clinton, VI, 136.
  3. Ibid., p. 169.
  4. Still standing in the village of Canajoharie and used as a museum.
  5. In August five hundred Massachusetts Levies were detailed to defend the New York frontiers and on the eleventh one hundred of them were reported in Schenectady on their way to Tryon County. On March 11, 1780, a law was passed in New York State to raise men for the same purpose. Of the twenty-nine men required from Colonel Wemple's regiment under this act twenty-two had been enrolled on August 10, twenty of whom were on duty at West Point and two at Albany.
  6. Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
  7. Schenectady had been a regular army post until the spring of 1780, but on March 16 orders were transmitted by the Board of War at Philadelphia to discontinue this post together with certain others because of the cost of maintenance. Public Papers of George Clinton, V, 697.
  8. Public Papers of George Clinton, VI, 288.
  9. Ibid.
  10. The sources of material used in connection with the raid on Ballston are: Jeptha R. Simms, Frontiersmen of New York, II, 413; Franklin B. Hough, The Northern Invasion of October, 1780, p. 45.
  11. About two hundred strong.
  12. On news of the raid a detachment from Schenectady set out in pursuit of the enemy. Pension Office Records, David Van Derheyden W 6373; John N. Marcellus W 26232; George Passage R 7989.
  13. It is now considered that this second invasion of Sir John Johnson was part of a well-defined plan revolving about the surrender of West Point by Benedict Arnold.
  14. Public Papers of George Clinton, VI, 303.
  15. The Upper Fort was a one-story building enclosed by a stockade and breastwork. It stood about five miles southwest of the present village of Middleburg.
  16. The Middle Fort stood in the present village of Middleburg about one half mile northeast from the bridge. It comprised a two-story stone house owned by John Becker and was surrounded by a stockade of pickets with blockhouses mounted with small cannon on two of its angles.
  17. A detailed account of the refusal of the militia to obey the orders of Major Woolsey, the Continental commander, and the firing on the flag of truce by Timothy Murphy as the British came forward for a parley is to be found in Jeptha R. Simms, Frontiersmen of New York, II, 424.
  18. The Lower Fort comprised a stockade with two blockhouses mounted with small cannon. This stockade surrounded the stone church now standing at Schoharie village, the home of the Schoharie County Historical Society.
  19. Minutes of the Court of Inquiry into the Conduct of Brigadier-General Van Rensselaer. Public Papers of George Clinton, VI, 692-703. These minutes are the source from which has been obtained most of the material relative to this campaign.
  20. Colonel John Brown, one of the bravest men on the frontier. He lost his life in the engagement that followed.
  21. To the north of Palatine Bridge.
  22. Had Simms, Stone or Douglas Campbell had access to the Clinton Papers or to the Minutes of the Court of Inquiry their judgment would have been more favorable.
  23. Pension Office Records, Simon J. Vrooman W 6370; John Van Eps W 27862.
  24. Pension Office Records, Nicholas R. Bovie S 12275.
  25. Pension Office Records, Henry H. Peek W 9219.
  26. Public Papers of George Clinton, VI, 345.
  27. Ibid., p. 333.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Ibid., p. 376.
  30. Ibid., p. 395.

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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

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