This page conforms to the XHTML standard and uses style sheets. If your browser doesn't support these, you may not see the page as designed, but all the text is still accessible to you.


Bringing the heritage of Schenectady County, New York to the world since 1996

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 44

History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 44: 1757 — Massacre at German Flats.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 581-587 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

Go back to: Chapter 43 | ahead to: Chapter 45

Assault and massacre by French-Indian raiders at German Flats (Herkimer), 1757 — Attack on the Fort Herkimer neighborhood, 1758 — Fort Herkimer garrison attacks and routs invaders in a hot skirmish.

On November 12, 1757, a raiding party of 300 French marines, Canadians and Indians destroyed the German Flats settlements, on and around the site of the present village of Herkimer. The raiders killed 40 people and captured 150 prisoners and burned 60 houses, many barns and other buildings. The amount of booty taken and destruction wrought is probably considerably exaggerated by the French commander. Oneida scouts warned the Palatine settlements but the settlers laughed at the news and made no preparations for the attack. While this seems incredible yet the same thing happened many times in our Colonial and Revolutionary history. It is a peculiar manifestation of human psychology which rests upon man's self-importance being so great that he considers that no enemy could have the effrontery to attack him. Nations have been similarly afflicted in times of danger. The Palatines showed that they were not immune to this human peculiarity, just as the Holland Dutch settlers of Schenectady did in 1690, and as Colonel Alden did at Cherry Valley in 1778. Benton [i.e, Nathaniel S. Benton, A History of Herkimer County: including the Upper Mohawk Valley, from the earliest period to the present time, etc.] makes a tremendous effort to lay the blame of this disaster upon Sir William Johnson without any foundation for his charges.

Among the buildings burned was the octagonal frame Reformed Church, then standing on the site of the present Reformed Church of Herkimer.

When the enemy attacked the Palatine village, at three o'clock in the morning of November 12, 1757, many of the people, including the minister, escaped over the ford in the Mohawk River, to Fort Herkimer, where they took refuge. The fort's garrison made no attempt to aid the unfortunate settlers whose houses were being attacked. The size of the garrison may have been exaggerated and it may not have been strong enough to make a sortie.

The Palatine settlers of the German Flats section had had a period of peace for the greater part of thirty-five years prior to the massacre of 1757. Probably it had experienced some irruptions during the old French war but they must have been of a minor character. The district had grown in population and wealth until, in 1757, it had become one of the richest and most thickly settled in the Mohawk Valley. It was a fertile and productive farming region and there must have been fully one thousand people living in this section at the time of the raid led by M. de Belletre. The German Flats settlers were located along the Mohawk River's shores, in the fourteen mile stretch from Little Falls to Dutch Hill, west of present Frankfort. They had two churches, schools, stores, mills — and the region seems to have had a number of blockhouses which should have been able to resist an attack similar to that of 1757. It is remarkable, considering that this was the most exposed point upon the New York frontier, that the people seem to have had no plan of defense nor any fear of attack, although a most bloody and brutal war was being waged all about them and they had had a most terrible object lesson in the massacre of Fort Bull, but thirty or more miles to the westward, during the previous year. Taking into consideration the number of killed and prisoners and the amount of property destroyed, the raid on German Flats in 1757, was one of the most destructive raids on any one locality in the Mohawk Valley, during Colonial and Revolutionary times. It was only excelled in destructiveness by Sir John Johnson's great raid of 1780, along the Schoharie and Mohawk rivers.

The Palatines of the upper river settlements had had a false alarm in April of the same year, which may have been given them by the French purposely in order to throw them off their guard at a later and more opportune time.

After the raid and massacre, Johnson sent his deputy superintendent Colonel George Croghan to investigate the matter of no warning having been sent him of the intended attack. On November 30th, Croghan held an examination of the Oneida scouts and the German Flats people. Hanyost Herkimer and Rudolph Shoemaker acted as interpreters.

Conaghquieson, the chief Oneida sachem, testified that the Oneidas, fifteen days before the attack, had "sent the Germans word that some Swegatchi Indians told us the French were determined to destroy the German Flats, and desired them to be on their guard. About six days after that we had a further account from the Swegatchi, that the French were preparing to march. I then came down to the German Flats and, in a meeting with the Germans, told them what we had heard and desired them to collect themselves together in a body at their fort, and secure their women, children and effects, and make the best defense they could; and, at the same time, told them to write what I had said to our brother Warraghiyagey (Sir William Johnson). But they paid not the least regard to what I told them and laughed at me, saying they did not value the enemy. Upon this, I returned home and sent one of our people to the (Oneida) lake to find out whether the enemy were coming or not; and, after he had stayed there two days, the enemy arrived at the carrying place and sent word to the castle at the lake that they were there and told them what they were going to do; but charged them not to let us at the upper castle know anything of their design. As soon as the man I sent there heard of this, he came to us with the account that night and, as soon as we received it, we sent a belt of wampum to confirm the truth thereof to the flats, which came here the day before the enemy made their attack; but the people would not give credit to the account even then, or they might have saved their lives. This is the truth and those Germans here present know it to be so."

Croghan adds to this testimony: "The aforesaid Germans did acknowledge it to be so and that they had such intelligence."

Fort Herkimer, across the river, is said to have been garrisoned by about 250 or more soldiers but they stayed safely within the walls of the fort during the attack and massacre. The account of M. de Belletre is the best we have of this bloody foray, although it is doubtless exaggerated as to the plunder which he secured in this rich district of the Mohawk Valley. It is given in part as follows:

"On the 11th November, at three o'clock in the afternoon, M. de Belletre, preceded as was his custom by scouts, crossed the river Corlaer (Mohawk) with his detachment, partly swimming, partly in water up to the neck. He encamped at nightfall in the woods, a league and a half from the first of the five forts that covered the Palatine settlements.

"The 12th, at three o'clock in the morning, he gave his detachment the order of march and attack, so as to surround the said five forts and the entire Palatine village, consisting of sixty houses.

"Though M. de Belletre knew that the English got notice the day preceding, yet that the courage of the Indians may not receive the least check, and to show them that he would not rashly expose them, he liberated an Indian of the Five Nations, whom he had until then detained under suspicion. But this savage could not injure M. de Belletre, because he commenced at the same time to attack the five forts and the Palatines' houses.

"At the sight of the first fort, he decided to take it by assault. The enemy kept up a most active fire of musketry, but the intrepidity with which M. de Belletre, with all the officers and Canadians of his detachment advanced, coupled with the war whoop of the Indians, terrified the English to the degree that the mayor of the village of the Palatines, who commanded the said fort, opened the doors and asked for quarters.

"M. de Belletre lost no time in repairing to the second, the third, the fourth, and fifth, which were not less intimidated than the first by his intrepidity and the cries of the Indians. They all surrendered at discretion and were entirely burnt.

"During this time, a party of Canadians and Indians ravaged and burnt the said sixty houses of the Palatines, their barns and other outbuildings, as well as the water mill.

"In all these expeditions, about forty English perished — killed or drowned. The number of prisoners is nearly one hundred and fifty men, women and children, among whom is the mayor of the village, the surgeon and some militia officers. We had not a man killed, but M. de Lorimer, officer, was wounded in the right side by a ball, and three or four savages slightly.

"The damage inflicted on the enemy is estimated according to the representations of the English themselves, to wit:

"In grain of all sorts, a much larger quantity than the island of Montreal has produced in years of abundance. The same of hogs; 3,000 horned cattle; 3,000 sheep. All these articles were to be sent in a few days to Corlaer (Schenectady); 1,500 horses, 300 of which were taken by the Indians, and the greater number consumed for the support of the detachment.

"The property in furniture, wearing apparel, merchandise and liquor might form a capital of 1,500,000 livres ($277,500). The mayor of the village alone has lost 400,000 ($74,000). The French and Indians have acquired as rich a booty as they could carry off. They have in specie more than 100,000 livres ($18,500). One Indian alone has as much as 30,000 ($5,550). There was likewise plundered a quantity of wampum, silver bracelets, etc., scarlet cloth and other merchandise, which would form a capital of 80,000 more. All this damage could not be done short of forty-eight hours. M. de Belletre made provision to be always able to resist the enemy, who, as has been observed, were to the number of 350 men in the said Fort Kouari (Herkimer) about a quarter of a league from the field of battle."

Probably all the foregoing figures of property and live stock losses should be divided by three or four to arrive at an accurate figure of the result of the French raid. However, the German Flats section was one of the richest districts along the Mohawk River and the losses were enormous for that period.

The ease with which the raiders under M. de Belletre destroyed the north side settlements of German Flats evidently induced a second party to complete the work of destruction by devastating the south shore section early in 1758. A number of settlers had left this neighborhood following the raid and massacre of November 12, 1757.

An enemy raiding party attacked the south side settlements on April 30, 1758, killing thirty of the inhabitants and burning houses, barns, mills and destroying other property. Nicholas Herkimer, son of Johan Jost Herkimer, had been commissioned a lieutenant in the "Schenectady Battalion" of the Albany County militia, by Governor DeLancey, January 5, 1758. In it his name is spelled "Han Nicholas Herchkeimer" and also "Han Nicholas Herchkimer". He was evidently christened Johan Nicholas, his first name being that of his father. He is also often referred to as Honikol, a contraction of Johan Nicholas. Captain and later General Nicholas Herkimer never used his first name, generally signing himself "Nicolas". Captain Herkimer was evidently immediately assigned to the command of Fort Herkimer and was its commandant at the time of the second raid in the German Flats neighborhood. The whole section was called German Flats, but the latter name referred also especially to the northern shore section, while the southern seems to have been specifically called Herkimer's or Fort Herkimer. Captain Herkimer's conduct during this raid was markedly different from that of the commandant of the fort in the previous November when the north side section above, at, and below present Herkimer, was destroyed. Herkimer sent out an attacking party of rangers who fought a battle with the enemy, defeated them with considerable loss and drove them away. Benton gives the following description of the raid of 1758:

"In the following spring, April 30, 1758, a large party of Indians and a small number of French attacked the Palatine settlement on the south side of the river, near the fort. About thirty of the inhabitants and one officer, Lieutenant Hair of the rangers, was wounded slightly in the breast. The enemy were rather roughly treated when they came in contact with the rangers, having about fifteen of their number killed and wounded. Captain Herchamer commanded the fort at the time and, on the first intimation of danger, collected within the fort all the inhabitants he could gather, before the attack was made upon the settlements, but there were several families who had fled from Henderson's purchase that spring and with them two Indian traders by the name of Clock, and several teamsters taking baggage to the fort, who were not notified in time or for some other cause, did not retire to the fort before the enemy came upon them, rushed into the houses, killing and scalping all they could find. The teamsters being together in one of the houses ran upstairs and made a brave defense until the Indians were driven away by the rangers; one of them, however, John Ehle, hearing the Indians threaten to set fire to the house they were in, became frightened, jumped out of the chamber window and was killed.

"A woman came into the fort the next morning, who had been scalped, her nose nearly cut off, and wounded in her breast and side and she was even then, in that mutilated condition, supposed to be likely to recover. She related all that happened to her until scalped, and said there were Onondaga Indians with the enemy.

"One or two facts are worthy of special notice. The account given of this second disaster to the Palatines, states that Captain Herkimer or Herchamer, was notified by an Oneida Indian about 12 o'clock, that the Indians and French were near the fort and would come down on the settlements that day, and at four o'clock the attack was made, giving only four hours to gather in the inhabitants from the different localities in the neighborhood of the fort, and some of the houses were some distance from it."

When the American rangers beat off the enemy and they ran into the woods and started on their way to Canada, they left a blackened waste of what had been one of the fairest regions of the Mohawk Valley. The destruction wrought equalled that of any of the sectional raids of the Revolution, but the magnitude and national character of the latter conflict have so overshadowed the great French and Indian war, that its important features connected with our Valley have been largely lost sight of.

The foregoing instance of the mutilated woman who dragged herself into Fort Herkimer, is but one instance of the hideous brutalities of the many Indian raids which devastated the Mohawk Valley during this and the later Revolutionary war. It is apropos to here quote Parkman relative to the attitude of the border settler toward the Indian. He says: "In fact, the benevolent and philanthropic view of the American savage is for those who are beyond his reach. It has never been held by any whose wives and children have lived in danger of his scalping knives."

The following letter, concerning the Fort Herkimer raid, was written by John Butler from Fort Hendrick to Sir William Johnson, on the day following:

"Fort Hendrick, May 1.

"Honerd Sir

"Last Night came one Hendrick Clock here who made his Escape from thee Germean flats and Say that yisterday about five a Clock in the afternoon a large party of Indians atackt the house on this Side the Fort and Says he beleves he is the only one that has made his escape as the Enemie was all round them he Saw Sevrll strive to get to the fort but ware all tacken he Saw about 90 or 100 men but by the Noyse he heard beleve theay ware more I have Garret Van Slick & three Indians to go to the Flats this morning by whome I expect the Porticalters.

"I am Honerd Sir your most Dutyfull Servent.

John Butler.

"Indorsed: the Honerbl Sir William Johnson Bertt.
Fort Johnson."

Go to top of page | back to: Chapter 43 | ahead to: Chapter 45

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 44 updated March 30, 2015

Copyright 2015 Schenectady Digital History Archive — a service of the Schenectady County Public Library