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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 43: Capture of Fort Bull — 1756.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 574-580 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Assault on, and capture of Fort Bull, and massacre of its garrison by French-Indian war party — Building of Fort Canajoharie, Fort Hendrick, Fort Herkimer, 1756-1758.

On December 9th, 1755, the New York Assembly applauded Governor DeLancey for his activity in promoting the Crown Point expedition under General Johnson which resulted in the victory of Lake George. Stone says: "While they confessed that the success of that expedition had not equalled their expectations, yet the advantages gained by General Johnson were deserving of special notice — as to it might be ascribed the comparative safety of the frontier."

Governor Shirley, of Massachusetts, was now second in command of the British-American armies, due to the death of General Braddock. He was active in garrisoning and strengthening Fort Oswego, to which all supplies went from Albany over the Mohawk River or its roads. This started the war activity in the Mohawk Valley, which lasted during the years 1755, 1756, 1757, 1758, 1759, 1760. During that time the Mohawk River and its paralleling roads were the scene of much bustle and transportation of military stores, supplies, ammunition and ordnance. For the first time, the Schenectady-Mohawk River-Wood Creek-Oneida Lake-Oswego River water route assumed great military importance. Indeed, during the Seven Years' war, the Mohawk and Champlain became the two greatest military routes in America and so continued during the Revolution.

Shirley's plans for the year 1756 comprised expeditions against Fort Niagara by way of the Mohawk River and Oswego; against Crown Point by way of the Hudson and Lake George; against Fort Duquesne; against the French settlements on the Chaudiere, by way of the Kennebec River. 20,000 American-British troops were to conduct these extensive operations which were laid before the English government as the plan of campaign by which New France was to be completely conquered. Shirley and Johnson now again became embroiled over Sir William's commission as superintendent of Indian affairs. Shirley however finally stopped meddling and left Johnson to operate under the commission given him by General Braddock.

In 1756, there were two forts at the carry between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek. Fort Williams was built in 1746, during the Old French war, and stood on the later site of Fort Stanwix in the present City of Rome. Fort Bull stood about two-and-a-half miles west of Fort Williams on the Wood Creek end of the portage. Fort Williams was much larger than Fort Bull and was more heavily stockaded. It mounted four cannon and was garrisoned by about 150 men under Captain Williams, whose name it bore.

The waters of Wood Creek were dammed so that they set back and ran into a ditch which ran around Fort Bull, thus forming a defensive moat in summer which was of no use in winter when it was frozen over. The stockade was in the form of a star and the pickets were fifteen or eighteen feet high, crossed at the height of a man. It had a garrison of about sixty men, no cannon but plenty of ammunition and hand grenades.

On March 17, 1756, a war party of 300 French and Indians, under M. DeLery, left Montreal to strike at this post at the Mohawk-Wood Creek carry. They skated up the "Ocean River" of St. Lawrence to Fort Presentation at present Ogdensburg. Here they changed their skates for snowshoes and struck south through the wilderness over forest paths known only to the Indians.

On or about March 26th, the raiders came near Fort Bull and captured two Englishmen from whom DeLery obtained valuable information. There was then a considerable movement of stores going from Schenectady to Oswego. The goods and military supplies were driven in sleds up the Mohawk Valley to the Wood Creek portage forts where the teamsters stopped to rest and feed their horses. Then they proceeded onward to Fort Oswego. On the morning of the 26th, the French raiders captured ten American teamsters driving supply sleds. A negro with them escaped and alarmed Fort Williams. Having secured these provisions, the Canadian Indians refused to go any farther with the exception of a few whom DeLery made drunk with brandy. As usual, the red men disliked to attack a fort. They agreed, however, to guard the portage road and to ambush any force which might come along it from Fort Williams to the relief of Fort Bull.

The following French account of the assault and taking of Fort Bull and the massacre of its garrison is taken from the Documentary History of New York, published 1849, Vol. I; Paris Documents, p. 509-513.

"The detachment having commenced their march along the highroad, the soldiers having their bayonets fixed, M. DeLery gave orders, when within fifteen acres of the fort, to move straight forward without firing a shot and seize the guard on entering the fort. He was still five acres off when he heard the whoop of the Indians, notwithstanding the prohibition he had issued. He instantly ordered an advance, double quick time, in order to carry the gate of the fort, but the enemy had time to close it. Six Indians only followed the French, the others pursued six Englishmen who, unable to reach the fort, threw themselves into the bush. M. DeLery sent some to cut down the gate and caused the commandant to be summoned to surrender, promising quarter to him and all his garrison, to which he only answered by a fire of musketry and by throwing a quantity of grenades. Our soldiers and the Canadians, who ran full speed the moment the Indians whooped, got possession of the portholes; through these they fired on such of the English as they could get a sight of. Great efforts were made to batter down the gate, which was finally cut in pieces in about an hour. Then the whole detachment, with a cry of 'Vive le Roi' rushed into the fort and put everyone to the sword they could lay hands on. One woman and a few soldiers were fortunate enough to escape the fury of our troops. Some pretend that only one prisoner was made during this action."

At the time of the French attack on Fort Bull, Captain Williams sent out a party from Fort Williams to the aid of Fort Bull. This detachment was ambushed by the Indians along the trail and 17 men of the English relief party were killed and the rest driven back into Fort Williams.

DeLery blew up the magazine of Fort Bull which set fire to and destroyed the fort. An Indian scout came running in to inform the French commander of the advancing relief party from Fort Williams. The French-Canadian regiment set out to meet it but met the Indians who told them of its repulse. DeLery then formed his forces for the return march, as they feared that Sir William Johnson might soon arrive with the Mohawk Valley militia. The French marched a short distance into the woods where they encamped and there and then, upon their knees, gave thanks to God for their victory. After resting a day, the raiders started, on March 28, 1756, on the return journey to Canada.

DeLery's report gives the following information as to the destruction of stores: "It is estimated that more than 40 thousand weight of powder was burned or thrown into the creek with a number of bombs, grenades and balls of different calibre. A great deal of salted provisions, bread, butter, chocolate, sugar and other provisions were likewise thrown into the water. The stores were filled with clothes and other effects which were pillaged; the remainder burnt. The day cost the English 90 men, of whom 30 are prisoners. Our detachment killed or captured 30 horses." The French also destroyed fifteen batteaux at Fort Bull.

DeLery gives the number of his war party as 362 men — 93 French regulars, 166 Canadians and 103 Indians. Of these, 265 attacked the fort. The French Commander gives the number of English and Americans killed as 60, and 30 prisoners. He claimed that but two of his men were killed and five wounded. The leaders of the French raids always seem to have intentionally minimized their losses. As the raiders were attacking Fort Bull for an hour, it does not seem possible that they could have escaped with such a small number of casualties.

The assault on Fort Bull and massacre of its garrison took place on March 26, 1756. Sir William Johnson was then at Fort Johnson. Although he had resigned his commission as Major-general, he was still in command of the frontier posts and troops. His Iroquois scouts had informed him of the French advance. Instead of reinforcing Forts Williams and Bull, Johnson sent extra ammunition and a message saying that he doubted that the posts would be attacked because of the rigorous winter. As the French had previously made many winter attacks in rigorous winters, Johnson's conduct was lacking in military foresight. Scouts informed Johnson of the approaching French-Indian war party. He collected the Mohawk Valley militia and started out for Fort Williams on March 26th, reaching the Mohawk River portage on the 28th, two days after the attack, when the French were well on their way to Canada.

Thus ended the first of three bloody attacks made upon the forts and settlements of the Mohawk Valley by parties of French and Indians during the French and Indian war.

"Extract of a Letter from Fort Williams Date 30th March, 1756"

[Vol. I, Documentary History of New York (pub. 1849), p. 514.]

"These may serve to inform you, that we arrived here safe Yesterday about Eleven o'Clock. The People that were transporting Lansings Provisions, were attacked between this amnd the Marsh, by a Body of French and Indians, and are all, but one that got in here, either killed or taken Prisoners; their names you have underneath. The Fort at Wood Creek is burnt down, and none of Lansings Men, or the Red Coats are as yet come in. Just now the Commissary arrived from Oswego, and informs us, that the 20 Battoes sent there by Capt. Williams, were safe arrived to their great joy; and that the People in Garrison were pretty hearty. All Lansings Provisions are destroyed, as well as the Powder that was in the Garrison, the People laid in Heaps and burnt. John Davids, Henry Dawson, James Tock, George Robertson, John Tuyle, John Griefey, John Pain, and Closs Marseillis, went down Wood Creek last Wednesday, whether they are taken or not, we cannot tell. We believe John Davis got safe to Oswego, as the Commisary met him on the other side of the Lake. Philip Lansing and John Alle, are safe here yet, with the rest of their Men. Just now 70 of our Indians are came in, and acquaints us, that by the Tracts of the Enemy, they imagined there was at least 500 of them. The Names of the Persons, Residents in and about Albany, supposed to be killed are as follows, viz. John, Jacob, and Andries Kidnee, John Vanderheyden, Jacobus Sickles, Wolker Dawson, Anthony Brandt, Peter Giffins, Cornelius Sprong, three Servants & five Negroes."

Fort Canajoharie, Fort Hendrick and Fort Herkimer were three important fortifications built in the Mohawk Valley, under the supervision of Sir William Johnson, in 1755 and 1756, although Fort Hendrick may not have been completed until later.

Fort Canajoharie stood on the south side of the Mohawk River, opposite the mouth of East Canada Creek. It took its name from the Canajoharie district, which extended along the Mohawk River from the Noses to Fall Hill. Fort Canajoharie was built in 1755.

Fort Hendrick was built close to the stockade of Canajoharie Castle, which it was designed to protect. It was named in honor of the celebrated Mohawk chief King Hendrick, who fell in the battle of Lake George, as previously noted. Hendrick was a close friend of Sir William Johnson, who showed his appreciation of this valiant old warrior by naming the Castle fort after him.

Fort Herkimer was built around the stone house of Johan Jost Herkimer, which stood a short distance east of present Fort Herkimer Church. This post was originally called Fort Kouari, taking its name from the locality, which was originally called Kouari, a corruption of the Mohawk word Ok-wa-ri, meaning "bear". After Herkimer built his store here in 1740, the place became known as "Herkimer's". As the fort of 1756, enclosed Herkimer's house, it naturally took his name. A plan of the fort, published in [Nathaniel S.] Benton's "Herkimer County and the Upper Mohawk Valley", [i.e, A History of Herkimer County: including the Upper Mohawk Valley, from the earliest period to the present time, etc.] shows this important fortification. In the fort are noted the "stone house", "old house" (which was probably Herkimer's first permanent log house in which General Herkimer was born), "guard room" and "well". The fort stood close to the river and its gate opened toward the water. Fort Herkimer was a strong post and bore an important part in the French and Indian war. It is said that the partially built present Fort Herkimer Reformed Church also formed a fortification here during the French war. About 250 men garrisoned Fort Herkimer. After the capture of Fort Oswego and the destruction of Forts Bull and Williams, in 1756, Fort Herkimer became the most advanced frontier post in New York until Fort Stanwix was built in 1758.

In 1755, the Assembly passed an act raising 3,000 pounds ($7,500) to be expended in fortifying Schenectady, which was done.

In 1756, there were the following fortifications along the Mohawk River, after the destruction of those at the Mohawk-Wood Creek portage: Fort Schenectady, Fort Johnson, Fort Hunter, Fort Canajoharie, Fort Hendrick, Fort Herkimer.

Whether there was a military post, in 1756, at Frey's in present Palatine Bridge, it is difficult to say. Fort Harrison was built in 1736, a short distance northwest of present Palatine Church. It was used as a neighborhood defense in the Old French war and in the French and Indian war. Probably it is Fort Harrison or Fort Frey which is mentioned in the account of the Mohawk Valley by the French spy in 1756, although the location he gives would indicate the Ehle house in present Nelliston.

Montcalm was now in command of the French forces. He was a brilliant energetic officer, who perceived the weaknesses of the English commanders and was quick to take advantage of them. He sent out an expedition from Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.), which captured Fort Oswego on August 14, 1756, and burned the post. General Webb marched to the relief of Fort Oswego but, lacking courage, stopped at the Mohawk portage and burned Fort Williams and the fortifications which he had started there to replace Fort Bull and turned around and marched back down the Mohawk Valley. Johnson raised a body of Indians and militia to go out with Webb, which he disbanded after Webb's shameful retreat. The war was being conducted by the English military commanders with the usual inefficiency which had prevailed since the struggle for French or English mastery had begun in 1689, at the commencement of King William's war. Sir William Johnson was in conference with the Six Nations at Oneida, Onondaga and Fort Johnson, during the summer of 1756.

An army of ten thousand Americans and British had been raised in 1756, which mobilized at Albany, under the command of Lord Loudoun and his lieutenant, General Abercrombie, two military incompetents. The militia were anxious to move forward to the conquest of New France but the English commanders kept this great force dawdling about all summer. In connection with these futile operations, Sir William Johnson marched with a party of Indians from Fort Johnson for Fort Edward, on October 17th and marched back again on November 2nd. He held a conference with Lord Loudoun on November 6th at Albany and from November 17th to the 23rd he held councils with the Six Nations at Fort Johnson. On November 24th, Johnson sent George Croghan, deputy Indian agent, on a mission to the Pennsylvania Indians. The year 1756 closed with much disappointment to the American Colonists, who had hoped for some definite steps toward the conquest of their hereditary enemy on their northern borders. The Six Nations were also disgusted with the conduct of the war by the English commanders and were only kept loyal to the British cause by their friendship for Sir William Johnson.

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