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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 27: 1693, French Destroy the Mohawk Castles.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 409-416 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Canadian French-Indian war party of 625 burn the Mohawk castles of Caughnawaga, Canagora and Tionnontogen — Midnight attack and sharp fight at Tionnontogen, the upper Mohawk castle — 300 Mohawks made prisoners — Major Schuyler pursues with Albany County militia, Mohawks and Oneidas — Battle of Saratoga — Enemy escapes — Destruction of their castles greatly weakens the Mohawks' power — Building of the Mohawk tribal castle of Og-sa-da-ga, at present Tribes Hill.

In 1693 Frontenac organized an expedition with the object of striking a vital blow at the Mohawks, the most dreaded foe of French empire in America. The Canadian Viceroy also wished to alienate the Mohawks living at Caughnawaga, on the St. Lawrence, from their relatives of Caughnawaga on the Mohawk, and those of the other Canienga castles along our river. Parkman says of this invasion and its preparations: "All the mission Indians in the colony were invited to join it, the Iroquois of the Sault (Caughnawaga) and Mountain, Abenakis from the Chaudiere, Hurons from Lorette, and Algonquins from Three Rivers. A hundred picked soldiers were added and a large band of Canadians. All told, they numbered six hundred and twenty-five men, under three tried leaders, Mantet, Courtemanche, and La Noue.

"They left Chambly at the end of January and pushed southward on snowshoes. Their way was over the ice of Lake Champlain, for more than a century the great thoroughfare of war parties. They bivouacked in the forest in squads of twelve or more; dug away the snow in a circle, covered the bare earth with a bed of spruce boughs, made a fire in the middle, and smoked their pipes around it. Here crouched the Christian savage, muffled in his blanket, his unwashed face still smirched with soot and vermilion, relics of the war paint he had worn a week before when he danced the war-dance in the square of the mission village; and here sat the Canadians, hooded like Capuchin monks, but irrepressible in loquacity, as the blaze of the campfire glowed on their hardy visages and fell, in faint radiance on the rocks and pines behind them."

The Mohawks at this time had four castles on the north side of the Mohawk River. They were Caughnawaga, at present Fonda; Canagora on Briggs Run, east of present Yosts; Canajorha on the Knauderack, or Canajorha Creek, about two miles north of the present Montgomery County Farm; Tionondogue or Tionnontogen, east of present Palatine Church. Parkman speaks of only three castles, so that the castle of Canajorha (back from the river) must have been overlooked, or the Bear Clan villages may have consolidated before this time.

A hard winter's march of sixteen days brought the invaders from Three Rivers, on the St. Lawrence, to the Mohawk, probably over the trail reaching the river near Amsterdam. They had brought along a young Dutchman who had been captured at the Schenectady massacre three years before. This Jan Baptiste Van Eps escaped about this time and made his way to Schenectady, where he gave the alarm which was evidently the first intelligence brought in concerning the raiders. The news was hurried to Albany and from there carried to New York so rapidly that Governor Fletcher started north on February 11th, rousing the militia on his way.

On February 6th, the invaders came within sight of the first Mohawk castle of Caughnawaga. Here they waited till nightfall while they sent a party forward to Canagora, three miles westward. Both companies surrounded their respective castles and waited till midnight. When the Mohawks were deep in sleep, the Canadian, moved cautiously forward, found no sentinels posted, and captured the two towns without a fight. Most of the male inhabitants were absent. The French herded their prisoners in one castle and left them well guarded, while they burned the other. The invaders then resumed their march in an attempt to surprise the upper castle of Tionnontogen (or Tionondogue) which lay six leagues, or eighteen miles west of Caughnawaga. The site of this castle is the only one of the four not now (1924) definitely known. In 1689, the Mohawks moved their castle one mile from the vicinity of Wagner's Hollow.

Reaching the upper castle, which was the largest tribal town and the Mohawk capital, the Frenchmen and Indians hid in the woods, in an attempt to repeat their surprises of the night before. In this attempt they were again successful.

Parkman describes this attack as follows: (Frontenac and New France, pp. 311, 312) [probably Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV]

"Through all the early night, they heard the whoops and songs of the warriors within, who were dancing the war-dance for an intended expedition. About midnight all was still. The Mohawks had posted no sentinels and one of the French Indians, scaling the palisade, opened the gate to his comrades. There was a short but bloody fight. Twenty or thirty Mohawks were killed and nearly three hundred captured — chiefly women and children. The French commanders now required their allies, the mission Indians, to make good a promise which, at the instance [insistence?] of Frontenac, had been exacted from them by the governor of Montreal. It was that they should kill all the male captives, a proceeding which would have averted every danger of future reconciliation between the Christian and heathen Mohawks. The converts of the Sault and the Mountain had readily given the pledge, but apparently with no intention to keep it; at least, they now refused to do so. Remonstrance was useless, and, after burning the town, the French and their allies began their retreat, encumbered by a long line of prisoners."

The enemy passed east over the north shore Mohawk River trail (which probably then generally followed the present line of the New York Central Railroad) to present Amsterdam, where they took the Valley central trail, leading north through Saratoga to Lake George.

"They marched two days, when they were hailed from a distance by Mohawk scouts, who told them that the English were on their track, but that peace had been declared in Europe and that the pursuers did not mean to fight but to parley. Hereupon, the mission Indians insisted on waiting for them and no exertion of the French commanders could persuade them to move. Trees were hewn down and a fort made, after the Iroquois fashion, by encircling the camp with a high and dense abatis of trunks and branches. Here they lay two days more, the French disgusted and uneasy and their savage allies obstinate and intractable." — Parkman.

When young Van Eps appeared before the people of Schenectady with the startling news of the invasion, a messenger was hurried to Major Peter Schuyler, commander of the Albany County regiment of militia.

With the invaders but thirty miles up the Valley, the Mohawks, who had escaped from the attacks, came to Schenectady and were impatient for their white brethren to go against the enemy but the Albany County militia by itself was not strong enough.

Major Schuyler ordered the militia to mobilize at Schenectady and came there on February 9th. On the following day, he sent Lieutenant John Schuyler, of Albany, and Lieutenant John Sanderse Glen, of Schenectady, with six men to reconnoitre the enemy. They returned with word that the Canadians were in possession of Caughnawaga and Canagora, the two lower Mohawk towns. A scouting party of 50 men went up the Mohawk Valley from Schenectady, on the 11th, and returned with the news that they had heard firing in the direction of the upper Mohawk castle of Tionondogue. Major Ingoldsby then sent 200 men to Schenectady from Albany, out of the militia force which had arrived there.

Major Schuyler had received no orders to march, but, on February 13, he crossed the Mohawk on the ice. In the afternoon he received orders to march against the enemy and, at about the same time, one of his scouts came in with the news that the French and their Indians had burned the three Mohawk castles and were in retreat with their prisoners. Schuyler at once set out in pursuit with his regiment of 237 men, probably mainly composed of the Albany County militia. He marched twelve miles north until 10 o'clock, when a scout overtook him with the news that a large body of Iroquois was on its way to join him. Schuyler immediately sent the scout to Major Ingoldsby at Albany with requests for ammunition and provisions for his expected allies.

In the night a scout came back with the news that the enemy was only eight miles above, and at about one o'clock in the morning Schuyler ordered camp broken and his weary soldiers to march. Lieutenant Harmanus Van Slyck of Schenectady and two Indians went forward as scouts and returned with the news that the invaders had broken camp and were in retreat. On the 15th, 290 Iroquois Indian men and boys joined Schuyler. Some were with arms and some without and the pursuers were still outnumbered by the enemy. About this time, Arnout Velie [Viele] escaped from the French and ran into Schuyler's camp. He was a son of Arent Cornelise Velie [Viele], the Indian interpreter of Schenectady, and he had been captured at the Schenectady massacre of 1690. He brought in word that the French had built a camp and were resolved to fight. On the 16th, Schuyler's army was within a mile of the enemy, at a point about three miles from the present city of Saratoga. On February 17th, 1693, Major Schuyler broke camp and marched his regiment against the enemy. At eight o'clock in the morning, he came in sight of the enemy's fort. The American force numbered about 400 effective men against the Canadians' 600.

Parkman describes the battle of Saratoga of 1693, which ensued, as follows:

"Meanwhile Major Peter Schuyler was following their trail, with a body of armed settlers hastily mustered. A troop of Oneidas joined him and the united parties, between five and six hundred in all, at length appeared before the fortified camp of the French. It was at once evident that there was to be no parley. The forest rang with war-whoops and the English Indians, unmanageable as those of the French, set at work to entrench themselves with felled trees. The French and their allies sallied forth to dislodge them. The attack was fierce and the resistance equally so. Both sides lost ground by turns. * * * Three times the French renewed the attack in vain, then gave over the attempt and lay quiet behind their barricade of trees. So also did their opponents. The morning was dark and stormy and the driving snow that filled the air made the position doubly dreary. The English [Americans] were starving. Their slender stock of provisions had been consumed or shared with the Indians, who, on their part, did not want food, having resources unknown to their white friends. A group of them, squatted about a fire, invited Schuyler to share their broth but his appetite was spoiled when he saw a human hand ladled out of the kettle. His hosts were breakfasting on a dead Frenchman.

"At night the hostile bands ensconsced behind their sylvan ramparts, watched each other in silence. In the morning an Indian deserter told the English that the French were packing their baggage. Schuyler sent out to reconnoitre and found them gone. He ordered his men to follow but, as most of them had fasted for two days, they refused to do so till an expected convoy of provisions should arrive. They waited till the next morning, when the convoy appeared; five biscuits were served out to each man and the pursuit began. By great efforts they nearly overtook the fugitives, who now sent word that, if they made an attack, all the prisoners should be put to death. On this, Schuyler's Indians refused to continue the chase. The French, by this time, had reached the Hudson, where, to their dismay, they found the ice breaking up and drifting down the stream. Happily for them, a large sheet of it had become wedged at a turn of the river and formed a temporary bridge, by which they crossed and then pushed on to Lake George. Here the soft and melting ice would not bear them; and they were forced to make their way along the shore, over rocks and mountains, through sodden snow and matted thickets. The provisions, of which they had made a depot on Lake Champlain, were spoiled. They boiled moccasins for food, and scraped away the snow to find hickory and beech nuts. Several died of famine, and many more, unable to move, lay helpless by the lake; while a few of the strongest toiled on to Montreal to tell Callieres of their plight. Men and food were sent them and, from time to time, as they were able, they journeyed on again, straggling towards their homes singly or in small parties, feeble, emaciated, and, in many instances, with health irreparably broken."

Major Schuyler evidently used every means to overtake and destroy the enemy, but conditions were against his success. In the desperate Saratoga battle, the Americans had lost four white militiamen and four Indians killed and twelve wounded. Schuyler's regiment and his Indians had killed 33 Frenchmen, including their commandant and a number of other officers. In the pursuit, they had rescued 50 Mohawk prisoners. There were a number of Mohawks in Schuyler's war party, who had escaped from the fight at Tionondogue or who had been absent at the time of the capture of the lower castles. The threat of the French to kill all the Mohawk prisoners, in case they were again attacked, deterred the Mohawk braves from joining in an assault which would have meant the murder of their wives and children among the captives. In this attitude they were joined by their brother Oneidas.

On the 19th, Captain Simms, with 50 men and provisions, reached Schuyler. The pursuit was resumed after the famished soldiers had eaten. "Coming within a mile of the enemy, the Indians refused to attack, for fear the French would kill all their wives and children whom they had prisoners."

The next day, the 20th, Major Schuyler resolved to cross the Hudson and pursue the Canadians but the men were exhausted "their shoes quite worn out and provisions scarce, were not able to make any further pursuit." As the Mohawks and Oneidas refused to attack the enemy for fear of the safety of the Indian captives, Schuyler ordered a halt and reluctantly about faced his command and marched back to Schenectady.

Governor Fletcher arrived at Schenectady on February 17th, with 280 militiamen. On the 19th, the force had all crossed the Mohawk and on the 20th were joined by a pack train of thirteen horses, loaded with provisions and ammunition. On the 21st, as the expedition was ready to start, a scout reached Fletcher saying that Schuyler was returning. On the 21st, Major Schuyler reached Schenectady and, on the 22nd, Governor Fletcher and Schuyler returned to Albany with their troops, with the exception of those who lived in Schenectady or along the lower Mohawk.

Frontenac said "the expedition was a glorious success" and it certainly did result greatly to the advantage of the French, although the Canadians had suffered far greater losses than the Americans and their Mohawk and Oneida brethren in arms. The French and Canadian Indians had lost heavily in their attack on their pursuers at Saratoga and they had also had a number of their party die from exposure and starvation on the terrible winter retreat to Three Rivers.

Frontenac's raid of 1693 left the Mohawks absolutely destitute in midwinter. Through their remarkable carelessness they had made themselves as open to attack as had the Schenectady settlers at the time of the massacre of 1690, and they were left in much the same desperate condition as were the survivors of old Dorp after that other tragic February night three years previous to this time. The Mohawks sought what shelter was available about their old homes or with their white friends at Schenectady and Albany. They had lost fully one-fifth or more of their tribe, who were now captives of the hated French, and about forty of their warriors had been slain in this invasion. Where they had numbered 270 fighting men at the beginning of King William's war in 1689, they now were only 150 strong. By the end of the war in 1697 there were scarcely 110 braves left in the Mohawk nation. They and their younger brothers, the Oneidas, suffered more severely from this conflict of nine years than the other Confederates of the Five Nations.

The Mohawks were so decimated that the survivors of the Turtle, Bear and Wolf clans now all united and, in the summer of 1693, built a stockaded tribal town, called Og-sa-da-ga, at present Tribes Hill, Montgomery County. From this tribal village of the Mohawks the ancient little town of Tribes Hill derives its name. At Ogsadaga, the Mohawks lived until about the year 1700, when they removed to three new sites on the south side, which were the last that they occupied along the Mohawk, in the three-quarters of a century prior to their departure for Canada, with Col. Guy Johnson, Indian superintendent, at the beginning of the Revolution in 1775. These three south side castles were located at present Fort Hunter, Fort Plain and Indian Castle.

In all the bloody but generally indecisive and futile warfare of King William's war, there were no more effective blows struck by Frontenac from New France, than those invasions which destroyed Schenectady in 1690 and the Mohawk castles in 1693. Thus the Mohawk Valley played an important part in the first of the terrible wars which the American colonies, with more or less assistance from England, fought with New France for the mastery of the North American continent.

Frontenac, at last, had broken the wonderful and terrible fighting power of the Mohawks and our river Iroquois were never again the American arbiters of world destiny.

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