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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 70: Colonel Willett, Valley Commander.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1049-1068 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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1781 — June, Colonel Willett, appointed commander of Mohawk Valley posts, makes Fort Plain his headquarters — Dreadful Tryon County conditions — July 9, Currytown raid — July 10, American victory at Sharon — Fort Stanwix abandoned.

Of the conditions in the Mohawk country at the opening of 1781, Beers' History of Montgomery County has the following:

"Gloomy indeed was the prospect at this time in the Mohawk valley. Desolation and destitution were on every side. Of an abundant harvest almost nothing remained. The Cherry Valley, Harpersfield, and all other settlements toward the headwaters of the Susquehanna, had been entirely deserted for localities of greater safety. Some idea of the lamentable condition of other communities in Tryon county may be obtained from a statement addressed to the legislature, December 20, 1780, by the supervisors of the county. In that document it was estimated that 700 buildings had been burned in the county; 613 persons had deserted to the enemy; 354 families had abandoned their dwellings; 197 lives had been lost; 121 persons had been carried into captivity, and hundreds of farms lay uncultivated by reason of the enemy.

"Nor were the terrible sufferings indicated by these statistics, mitigated by a brighter prospect. Before the winter was past, Brant was again hovering about with predatory bands to destroy what little property remained. Since the Oneidas had been driven from their country, the path of the enemy into the valley was almost unobstructed. It was with difficulty that supplies could be conveyed to Forts Plain and Dayton without being captured, and transportation to Fort Schuyler was of course far more hazardous. The militia had been greatly diminished and the people dispirited by repeated invasions, and the destruction of their property; and yet what information could be obtained indicated that another incursion might be looked for to sweep perhaps the whole extent of the valley, contemporaneously with a movement from the north toward Albany."

Gov. Clinton was greatly pained by the gloomy outlook and knowing that Col. Willett was exceedingly popular in the valley, earnestly solicited his services in this quarter. Willett had just been appointed to the command of one of the two new regiments formed by the consolidation of the remnants of five New York regiments, and it was with reluctance that he left the main army for so difficult and harassing an undertaking as the defense of the Mohawk region. The spirit of the people, at this time lower than at any other during the long struggle, began to revive when Col. Willett appeared among them. It was in June that he repaired to Tryon County to take charge of the militia levies and state troops that he might be able to collect.

* * * * *

Early in May, 1781, high water from the Mohawk destroyed a quantity of stores in Fort Stanwix (Schuyler). On May 12 this post was partially destroyed by fire. The soldiers were playing ball a little distance away and pretty much everything was burned except the palisade and the bombproof, which was saved by throwing dirt on it. This fire has been said to have been of incendiary origin, having been started by a soldier of secret Tory sentiments. Samuel Pettit, who was then one of the garrison, in his old age, told Simms that the fire originated from charcoal used to repair arms in the armory. The post was abandoned and the troops marched down to Forts Dayton and Herkimer, which became now the most advanced posts on this frontier. Some of the Fort Stanwix garrison are said to have been removed to Fort Plain. After the abandonment of Fort Stanwix the principal Mohawk Valley posts of Tryon County were, in their order from west to east, as follows: Fort Dayton (at present Herkimer), Fort Herkimer (at present German Flats), Fort Plain, Fort Paris (at Stone Arabia), Fort Johnstown, Fort Hunter. Fort Plain's central position probably influenced its selection by Colonel Willett as the valley American army headquarters when he assumed command in the early summer of 1781.

* * * * *

[Painting: Colonel Marinus Willett.]

"Willett's Narrative," which was compiled by Colonel Willett's son, gives the best picture of Mohawk Valley war conditions, at this critical period of the Revolution and that of the defense of this exposed frontier. On his assumption of command in Tryon County, Colonel Willett wrote letters to General Washington and to Governor Clinton, which are particularly informing as to the terrible conditions then existing along the Mohawk. Colonel Willett seemed to have always had the esteem and confidence of Washington. Willett, soon after these letters, received command of the Tryon County Militia.

As will be noted, in Colonel Willett's letters, he made his headquarters at "Fort Rensselaer" at "Canajoharie." Fort Rensselaer was the renamed Fort Plain and the name "Canajoharie" was applied to Fort Plain and its section, as well as to the present village of Canajoharie. As previously stated, the entire Mohawk River section, from the Noses to Fall Hill, had been called "Canajoharie", from the earliest occupation of the Mohawks. The Reformed Dutch Church at Fort Plain was called the "Canajoharie Reformed Church", and General Herkimer, living at Fall Hill, dated his letters from "Canajoharie". The wide extent of "Canajoharie", and the double names of "Fort Plain" and "Fort Rensselaer", for the same fortification, have been the causes of endless historical confusion and controversy. "Fort Plain" and "Fort Rensselaer" have caused almost as much trouble as the Revolutionary designations of "Fort Stanwix" and "Fort Schuyler" for the same fort at Rome. The officials changed the names, in both cases, but the Valley people and soldiers, as a rule, clung to the original names, no matter how justifiable the changes may have been.

* * * * *

That part of "Willett's Narrative", under the head of "Mohawk Campaigns", which deals with Colonel Willett's assumption of command of the Mohawk frontier and his first action thereafter at Dorlach or Sharon, is as follows, given without quotation marks for the sake of added clearness:

Towards the close of the year '80, the reform took place which reduced the five New York regiments to two. Upon this change, Col. Willett was ordered to take command of all the levies, militia, and state troops, that might be raised to protect the northwest frontiers of the State of New York, in which command he continued to the end of the war.

It was at the earnest solicitation of Governor Clinton, that he was induced to undertake the defence of this important frontier. He quitted the main army With extreme reluctance, unwilling to deprive himself of the opportunity of serving his country in that more public scene of action. But yielding to the repeated requests of Governor Clinton, who in his letter to him on this subject, expressed his belief that he could be of essential service to the State in that exposed section of it; the more so, to use the governor's own language, 'as he was informed that the inhabitants of Tryon County placed the highest confidence in his zeal and military abilities;' he at last consented to the governor's proposition. Having once engaged in this arduous service, sympathizing in the sufferings of the inhabitants of that frontier, anxious to inflict upon the Indians, and especially upon the Tories, (whom Governor Clinton in one of his letters to him, styles 'cruel monsters worse than savages'), as being the chief instigators, and the most barbarous actors in the cruelties and devastations that were committed along this extended frontier, he entered upon the arduous duties of the campaign with diligence and alacrity. The following letters of Col. Willett to General Washington and Governor Clinton, will give an account of the condition of the country, both before and at the time of his arrival there; the mode of defence against the savages that was adopted by the inhabitants; and the measures he himself took for their security.

German Flatts, Fort Herkimer, July 6th, 1781.

Sir, — I am in this county by order of Governor Clinton. Among other particulars in the instructions I have received from him, are the following. 'For a variety of reasons, I conceive it will conduce most to the good of the service that you should take post yourself in Tryon county. In the distribution of the troops, you are to have regard to the aid to be derived from the continental troops, and militia; to whom I will give such orders as will enable you to avail yourself of their aid.'

In consequence of these orders, and in expectation of the legislatures making provision to execute a plan, of which I had given a sketch to Governor Clinton, I am at present on these frontiers. Impelled by the situation of things in these parts, I beg leave to lay before your Excellency a short description of this country, with its present condition.

It is a country of the most luxuriant soil. Not only the lands along the river are exceedingly rich, but the back lands are also of the first quality. This tract of country exceeds any I passed through in our march upon the western expedition under General Sullivan. Most of the settlements lie along, or not far back from the Mohawk river. At the commencement of the present war, both sides of the river, from Schenectady to Germantown, which is seventy miles, the settlements were considerably thick; and everything had the appearance of ease and plenty. There were besides several valuable farms, extending fifteen miles higher up the river than Germantown. Germantown, however, is the last place where any number of families had fixed themselves together. At the beginning of the war the militia of the county did not amount to less than two thousand five hundred men. In such a country, blessed with so fine a soil, lying along a delightful river, which affords an easy transportation of the produce to a valuable market, with a climate exceeded by none, one would have expected a consequent increase of population. But this was retarded by means which you are undoubtedly acquainted with. The obstructions to future growth and prosperity, will, I hope, in a little time be removed; and this part of the world, which is, perhaps, one of the first places on this continent, be surpassed by none. Flourish it must. Nothing but the hand of tyranny can prevent it much longer from becoming the garden of America.

The place from which I now write, is, at present, the advance settlement up the river, and lies sixty-three miles from Schenectady. This strip, sixty miles in length, is liable to Indian incursions, on both sides of the river. This the inhabitants have frequently experienced; and so severe has been their experience, that, out of two thousand five hundred upon the militia rolls, at the commencement of the war, at present, the whole number of classable inhabitants does not amount to one thousand two hundred. Of classable inhabitants, (that is, of those who were liable to be assessed to pay taxes, in order to raise men for the public service), there being not twelve hundred, the number liable to be called upon to do military duty, will hardly exceed eight hundred; so that there is a reduction in the county of at least two thirds, since the commencement of the war.

To account for this large reduction, I do not think I am wild in my calculations, when I say, that one-third of them have been killed, or carried captive by the enemy; one-third have removed to the interior parts of the country; and one-third deserted to the enemy. The present distressed situation of the inhabitants, is such, as to demand sympathy from the most unfeeling heart. Each neighbourhood has erected for itself a fortification. Within these forts, the inhabitants have in general taken up their residence. Each fort contains from ten, to upwards of fifty families. There are twenty-four of these fortifications within the county. Pitiable, indeed, is the case of a people, thus situated. But wretched as their situation is, such is the state of the country; and in such a condition are the people who inhabit it. But, notwithstanding their deplorable situation, should they be fortunate enough to preserve the grain they at present have in the ground, they will have an immense quantity more than will be sufficient for their own consumption.

To protect this country, as much as possible, is our present business; and this is the point, to which I now wish to call your Excellency's attention. By withdrawing the regular troops, the county is, undoubtedly, much weakened. At this time, I have not, in the whole county, more than two hundred and fifty men, exclusive of the militia. Some reinforcements, Governor Clinton writes me word, are coming from the eastward. Part of these, we may hope, will come this way; and, by others being sent to the northward, I flatter myself I shall be able to withdraw those levies, which have been placed under my command, which are, at present, that way.

I heartily wish to have as much force as possible, to assist in the preservation of a people whose sufferings have already, been so exceeding great. But, be the force larger or smaller, I can only promise to do everything in my power, for the relief of a people, of whom I had some knowledge in their more prosperous days; and am now acquainted with in the time of their deep distress; a people, whose case I most sincerely commiserate. At the same time, I think it my duty to inform your Execellency, that, after withdrawing the two regular regiments from these parts, I expect to have the command of all the troops that may be ordered into this county for its common defence. This is what Governor Clinton told me would be the case. Should the legislature make such further provision, for the defence of the county, as I have requested, notwithstanding its present deplorable situation, I shall hope to have the state of things much more respectable than hitherto it has been. Nor shall I exceed my hopes, if, in the course of less than twelve months, I shall be able to convince the enemy, that they are not without their vulnerable quarters in these parts.

Since I have been in this part of the country, I have been endeavoring to put matters in some kind of regulation. With the approbation of the governor I have fixed my quarters at Canajoharie [district at Fort Plain], on account of its central position. And my intention is to manage business so as to have an opportunity of acquainting myself as well as possible with every officer and soldier I may have in charge. In order the better to do this, I propose, as far as I can make it any way convenient, to guard the different posts by detachments, to be relieved as the nature of the case will admit. And as the relieved troops will always return to Fort Rensselaer [Fort Plain], where my quarters will be, I shall have an opportunity of seeing them all in turn. Having troops constantly marching backwards and forwards through the country, and frequently changing their route, will answer several purposes, such as will easily be perceived by you, sir, without my mentioning them. This is not the only way by which I expect to become particularly acquainted with the troops and their situation. I intend occasionally to visit every part of the country, as well to rectify such mistakes as are common among the kind of troops I have at present in charge, as to enable me to observe the condition of the militia, upon whose aid I shall be under the necessity of placing considerable reliance.

In order to shew that I have some reason to place dependence upon the militia, I shall first mention a transaction that took place a few nights ago at Canajoharie. An account was sent me at one o'clock in the morning, that about fifty Indians and Tories were in the neighborhood of a place six miles off. Having with me at the fort no more regular troops than were necessary to guard it, I sent for a captain of the militia; and in less than an hour he was out with seventy men in search of the enemy. In short, they are a people, who, having experienced no inconsiderable portion of British barbarism, are become keen for revenge, and appear properly determined.

It is with regret I trespass upon your time in this manner; but I am desirous of giving you as good a sketch as I can of the situation of this country. It is easy for you to perceive that the strength we now have this way is inadequate to the fortress intended to be erected at this place by Major Villa * * * the engineer, who was ordered here for the purpose of fortifying this place. Nor did I see the great necessity of such works being erected here: I humbly conceive that some small improvements to the works we already have, will answer our present purpose. And I am pretty clear it will be all that we shall be able to accomplish.

If it should meet with your approbation, I should be glad to make such a disposition of the cannon and other ordnance stores, as may appear most secure, and best calculated to protect the country. For to me it is clear, that the way to protect these parts is, in case the enemy should again appear this way with any thing of force, to collect all the strength we can get to a point, and endeavour to beat them in the field, and not attempt to defend any one particular spot: for such is the exposed state of the country, that the enemy can make incursions in almost any quarter. Beside this, it is not their policy or custom to halt to invest any particular place. It is therefore my opinion, that by joining our whole force together, and not by defending any one post, we are to endeavour to protect these frontiers, whilst these small stockade forts, and block houses, which the inhabitants themselves have built, are in general sufficient to cover them against such parties of Indians and Tories as usually make this way.

I should count myself happy in having your sentiments upon this subject. At present I have at this place about one hundred men: nor is it possible without calling on the inhabitants below, to afford this place more men until I receive some reinforcements. I need not say to you, sir, that nothing can be done towards erecting the new fort, with the men I now have. I shall, therefore, only endeavour to repair the works already at this place, until I shall receive further orders.

I have the honour to be with the greatest sincerity your Excellency's most obedient and humble servant,

Marinus Willett.

To His Excellency, Gen. Washington.

The following letter is from Colonel Willett to Governor Clinton:

German Flatts, July 6th, 1781.

Sir, — At present I am at this place, with one hundred and twenty of the levies, including officers; and Captain Moody's company of artillery, which is but twenty strong. The total of all the levies in this county beside is ninety-six. A very insufficient number indeed to perform such business as is expected from us. I am crowded with applications for guards, and have nothing to guard with. I will, however, do my best, and have no doubt, you will pay as much attention to our situation as you can.

That part of my regiment of levies not with me at this place, is stationed as follows. At Schoharie I have placed a little over twenty men: Kaatskill about the same number, unless they have received recruits from Dutchess County, where I ordered them to send officers for that purpose. Captain White has his company still at Ballstown, except a few left with the commissioners of Albany, which I have ordered to join him. This whole company consists of about thirty men. Captain Whelp's company is ordered this way from Saratoga, where the companies of Captains Gray and Dunham still remain. I shall endeavour to make some alterations, but am at a loss, with the very few men we have, to know how. I shall be glad to have your sentiments on this matter as soon as possible. I confess myself not a little disappointed in having such a trifling force for such extensive business as I have upon my hands; and also that nothing is done to enable me to avail myself of the aid of the militia. The prospect of a suffering country hurts me. Upon my own account I am not uneasy. Every thing I can do shall be done; and more cannot be looked for. If it is, a reflection that I have done my duty, must fix my own tranquillity.

I am your Excellency's most obedient and very humble servant,

Marinus Willett.

To His Excellency, Gov. Clinton.

In the preceding campaign of 1780, the defense of the Mohawk country had been committed to Colonels Malcomb, Dubois and Brown, aided by three regiments of levies. During that year, the enemy made an incursion in that quarter; and marching deliberately through the country, laid waste on both sides of the river. The only opposition they met with in this cruel incursion, was from Col. Brown, who was himself slain. This disastrous campaign, in connection with other losses and attacks, had so completely disheartened the inhabitants that few remained upon their farms.

In the beginning of July, '81, Col. Willett arrived at Fort Rensselaer [Fort Plain], his headquarters, and relieved Colonel Courtland, who had been stationed in this quarter with a regiment of continental troops. Soon after his arrival, he received advice that the enemy in considerable force were destroying the settlements at Corey's Town, [Currytown] which lay about eleven miles to the southeast of where he was. The steps Colonel Willett took to repel this incursion will be seen in the following letter to Governor Clinton.

Fort Rensselaer, 1st July, 1781.

Sir, — In my letter of yesterday, I informed your Excellency, that, while I was writing, several smokes were discovered to the south-east; and that they were supposed to be produced by the enemy setting fire to Corey's Town. I had, early in the morning, detached thirty-five men of the levies, under the command of Capt. Gross, to Thurlough, [Sharon] but, upon the discovery of the smoke, I sent an express to Capt. Gross, to try to find out the track of the enemy. At the same time that the express was sent off to Captain Gross, I detached Captain McKain, with sixteen levies, with directions to collect as many of the militia as he could, and move towards Corey's Town [Currytown]. Notwithstanding this settlement was eleven miles from this place, Captain McKain was in time to assist in saving some of the buildings by quenching the fire. In the mean time, I was endeavouring to collect as many of the militia as I could, in order to join with the few levies I had, to go in pursuit of the enemy. It was dusk before I could get ready to march; and when I did march, the whole of my force, after being joined by the detachment of Captains McKain and Gross, was only one hundred and seventy strong. I had been so fortunate, as to discover, not only the track of the enemy, but the place where they had encamped the same day; and had reason to think, that they would return there again, and, probably that night. This determined me to march directly to the place of their encampment. Notwithstanding it was reported that the enemy were numerous, and the distance to the encampment eighteen miles, still I conceived it possible to arrive there before day, and perhaps surprise the enemy asleep in their encampment. This I should have accomplished, had it not been for the thickness of the woods, and the guide losing his way, for a considerable time, in the dark. In consequence of this delay, it was near six o'clock in the morning before our arrival, so that the enemy discovered our approach in time to prepare for our reception. They had left their camp, and taken other and better ground, so that we had to prepare for the attack under some disadvantages. The enemy, however, who were nearly of the same number with us, did not wait for us to begin the attack, but, with great appearance of determination, by their yelling and shouts, advanced, and began the fire. This was the fury of Indians, and nothing else; for upon the huzzas and advance of the front line, they soon gave way. At the same instant, another attack of the same kind was made upon our right, and would have been more injurious to us, had it not been for our reserve under the command of Captain McKain [McKean] who returned the attack with such spirit, that the enemy, dispersing in small parties, soon sought safety in flight.

This battle lasted an hour and a half. The enemy's force consisted of about two hundred. Our loss, in killed, was five; missing and wounded, nine. The enemy's loss was supposed to be not less than forty, as near that number were found dead on and near the place of action.

In this action, Captain McKain, a brave, and very valuable officer, received a wound, of which he died, before he got to Fort Rensselaer [Fort Plain], where he was buried. He had a son with him, a fine lad, who was likewise wounded, but recovered.

In consequence of the happy effects of this action, but little trouble was experienced from the enemy throughout the remainder of the summer. They were sometimes discovered, but in no considerable bodies and, being always pursued, they fled without doing much injury. * * *

The foregoing ends the quotation from "Willett's Narrative."

* * * * *

The following condensation of Simms' description of the battle of Dorlach or Sharon is from the Editor's [The Story of] "Old Fort Plain and the Middle Mohawk Valley:"

1781, July 9, 500 Indians and Tories entered the town of Root on one of the raids that devastated Montgomery county the latter years of the war. Their commander was Capt. John Dockstader, a Tory who had gone from the Mohawk country to Canada. The settlement of Currytown (named after William Corry, the patentee of the lands thereabout) was the first objective of these marauders. Here a small blockhouse had been erected, near the dwelling of Henry Lewis, and surrounded with a palisade. At about ten in the morning the enemy entered the settlement. Jacob Dievendorf, a pioneer settler, was at work in the field with his two sons, Frederick and Jacob and a negro boy named Jacobus Blood. The last two were captured and Frederick, a boy of 14, ran toward the fort but was overtaken, tomahawked and scalped. Mrs. Dievendorf, in spite of being a fleshy woman, made for the fort with several girl children and half a dozen slaves and reached it in safety, on the way breaking down a fence by her weight in climbing over. Peter Bellinger, a brother of Mrs. Dievendorf, was plowing and hearing the alarm, unhitched a plow horse and, mounting it, rode for the Mohawk and escaped although pursued by several Indians. Rudolf Keller and his wife happened to be at the fort, when the enemy appeared; Keller, Henry Lewis and Conrad Enders being the only men in the blockhouse at that time. Frederick Lewis and Henry Lewis jr., were the first to reach the fort after the invaders' appearance. Frederick Lewis fired three successive guns to warn the settlers of danger and several, taking the warning, escaped safely to the forest. Philip Bellinger thus escaped but was severely wounded and died with friends shortly after. Rudolf Keller's oldest son, seeing the enemy approach, ran home and hurried the rest of the family to the woods, the Indians entering the Keller house just as the fugitives disappeared into the forest. Jacob Tanner and his family were among the last to reach the blockhouse. On seeing the Indians coming, Tanner fled from his house, with his gun in one hand and a small child in his other arm, followed by his wife with an infant in her arms and several children running by her side holding onto her skirts. Several redmen with uplifted tomahawks chased the Tanner family toward the fort. Finding that they could not overtake them, one of the Indians fired at Tanner, the ball passing just over the child's head he carried and entering a picket of the fort. The defenders fired several shots at the savages and the fleeing family entered the block-house safely.

The Indians plundered and burned all the buildings in the settlement, a dozen or more, except the house of David Lewis. Lewis was a Tory and, although his house was set on fire, an Indian chief, with whom he was acquainted, gave him permission to put it out when they were gone. Jacob Moyer and his father, who were cutting timber in the woods not far from Yates, were found dead and scalped, one at each end of the log. They were killed by the party who pursued Peter Bellinger.

The lad, Frederick Dievendorf, after lying insensible for several hours, recovered and crawled toward the fort. He was seen by his uncle, Keller, who went out to meet him. As he approached, the lad, whose clothes were dyed in his own blood, still bewildered, raised his hands imploringly and besought his uncle not to kill him. Keller took him up in his arms and carried him to the fort. His wounds were properly dressed and he recovered, but was killed several years after by a falling tree. Jacob Dievendorf senior, fled before the Indians, on their approach and, in his flight, ran past a prisoner named James Butterfield, and at a little distance farther on hid himself under a fallen tree. His pursuers enquired of Butterfield what direction he had taken. "That way," said the prisoner, pointing in a different direction. Although several Indians passed by the fallen tree Dievendorf remained undiscovered.

An old man named Putman, captured at this time, was too infirm to keep up with the enemy and was killed and scalped not far from his home.

The Currytown captives taken along by the enemy were Jacob Dievendorf jr., the negro Jacob, Christian and Andrew Bellinger, sons of Frederick Bellinger, and a little girl named Miller, ten or twelve years old. Christian Bellinger had been in the nine month [militia] service. He was captured on going to get a span of horses, at which time he heard an alarm gun fired at Fort Plain. The horses were hobbled together and the Indians, with a bark rope, had tied the hobble to a tree in a favorable place to capture the one who came for them, who chanced to be young Bellinger. His brother (Andrew) was taken so young and kept so long — to the end of the war — and was so pleased with Indian life, that Christian had to go a third time to get him to return with him. Michael Stowitts (son of Philip G. P. Stowitts, who was killed on the patriot side in the Oriskany battle) was made a prisoner on the Stowitts farm, and is credited with having given the invaders an exaggerated account of the strength defending the fort, which possibly prevented its capture; but it is well known that even small defenses were avoided by the enemy, who did not like exposure to certain death.

On the morning of the same day of the Currytown raid (1781, July 9) Col. Willett sent out, from Fort Plain, Capt. Lawrence Gros with a scouting party of 40 men. Their mission had the double object of scouting for the enemy and provisions. Knowing that the settlements of New Dorlach and New Rhinebeck were inhabited mostly by Tories and that he might get a few beeves there, Gros led his men in that direction. Near the former home of one Baxter, he struck the trail of the enemy and estimated their number from their footprints at 500 men at least. Gros sent two scouts to follow the enemy and then marched his squad to Bowman's (Canajoharie) creek to await their report. The scouts came upon the enemy's camp of the night before after going about a mile. A few Indians were seen cooking food at the fires — making preparations, as the Americans supposed, for the return of their comrades who had gone to destroy Currytown. The two rangers returned quickly to Gros and reported their find, and the captain dispatched John Young and another man, both mounted, on a gallop to Fort Plain to inform Col. Willett. The commandant sent a messenger to Lieut. Col. Vedder, at Fort Paris, with orders to collect all troops possible, at his post and elsewhere, and to make a rapid march to the enemy's camp. Col. Willett detailed all the garrison of Fort Plain he could, with safety detach from that post, for the field. In addition he collected what militia he could from the neighborhood and set out. Passing Fort Clyde in Freysbush, Willett drafted into his ranks what men could there be spared and about midnight he joined Capt. Gros. at Bowman's creek. The Americans numbered less than 200 men, many of whom were militia. Col. Willett's battalion set out and, at daybreak, reached the enemy's camp, which was in a cedar swamp on the north side of the Great Western Turnpike, near the center of the present town of Sharon, two miles east of Sharon Springs. This camp was on the highest ground of the swamp, only a few rods from the turnpike. On the south side of the road, a ridge of land may be seen and still south of that a small valley. By a roundabout march, Willett reached this little dale and there drew up his force in a half-circle formation. The men were instructed to take trees or fallen logs and not to leave them and to reserve their fire until they had a fair shot.

The enemy was double the number of the patriot force and stratagem was resorted to by the Fort Plain commandant. He sent several men over the ridge to show themselves, fire upon the raiders and then flee, drawing the foe toward the American ranks. This ruse completely succeeded and the entire Tory and Indian band snatched up their weapons and chased the American skirmishers who fled toward Willett's ambuscade, Frederick Bellinger being overtaken and killed. The enemy was greeted with a deadly fire from the hidden soldiers and a fierce tree to tree fight began which lasted for two hours until the Tories and Indians, badly punished, broke and fled. John Strobeck, who was a private in Captain Gros's company and in the hottest part of the fight, said afterwards that "the Indians got tired of us and made off." Strobeck was wounded in the hip. During the battle, from a basswood stump, several shots were fired with telling effect at the patriots. William H. Seeber rested his rifle on the shoulder of Henry Failing and gave the hollow stump a centre shot, after which fire from that quarter ceased. About this time, it is said, the enemy were recovering from their first panic, learning they so greatly outnumbered the Continental force. A story is told that Col. Willett, seeing the foe gaining confidence shouted in a loud voice, "My men, stand your ground and I'll bring up the levies and we'll surround the damned rascals!" The enemy hearing this, and expecting to be captured or slain by an increased American body, turned and ran. In the pursuit Seeber and Failing reached the stump the former had hit and found it was hollow. Seeing a pool of blood on the ground, Col. Willett observed: "One that stood behind that stump will never get back to Canada."

The enemy, in their retreat, were hotly pursued by the Americans, led by Col. Willett in person and so complete was the defeat of the raiders that Willett's men captured most of their camp equipage and plunder obtained the day before in the Currytown raid. Most of the cattle and horses the raiders had taken found their way back to that settlement. Col. Willett continued the pursuit but a short distance, fearing that he might himself fall into a snare similar to the one he had so successfully set for the enemy. The American force returned victorious to Fort Plain, immediately after the battle, bearing with them their wounded. Their loss of five killed and about the same number wounded was small and due to their protected position and the surprise they sprang on their foe.

The Indians, in their retreat from Sharon, crossed the west creek in New Dorlach (near the former Col. Rice residence) and made for the Susquehanna. The loss of the enemy was very severe — about 50 killed and wounded — and Dockstader is said to have returned to Canada (after one other engagement) with his force "greatly reduced." Two of the enemy carried a wounded comrade, on a blanket between two poles, all the way to the Genesee valley, where he died.

Five of Willett's men were killed, including Capt. McKean, a brave and efficient officer. He was taken to Van Alstine's fortified house at Canajoharie, which was on the then road from New Dorlach to Fort Plain, and died there the following day, after which he was buried in "soldier's ground" at Fort Plain; which was probably the burial plot about one hundred yards west of that post, remains of which are still to be seen. On the completion of the blockhouse, McKean's body was reburied on the brink of the hill in front of this fortification with military honors.

Among the wounded was a son of Capt. McKean, who was shot in the mouth. Jacob Radnour received a bullet in his right thigh which he carried to his grave. Like that Sir William Johnson got at Lake George, it gradually settled several inches and made him very lame. Han Garrett Dunckel was wounded in the head, "a ball passing in at the right eye and coming out back of the ear." Nicholas Yerdon was wounded in the right wrist, which caused the hand to shrivel and become useless. Adam Strobeck's wound in the hip has been mentioned. All three of the latter came from Freysbush and Radnour, Dunckel and Yerdon were in the Oriskany battle, where Radnour and Yerdon were wounded. All these wounded were borne on litters back to Fort Plain and all recovered.

Finding their force defeated and having to abandon their prisoners in the flight, the Indians guarding them tomahawked and scalped all except the Bellinger boys and Butterfield. The killed at this time included a German named Carl Herwagen, who had been captured by the enemy on their return from Currytown to their camp the previous evening.

After the battle was over Lieut.-Col. Veeder arrived from Fort Paris with a company of 100 men, mostly from Stone Arabia. He buried the Americans killed in battle and fortunately found and interred the prisoners who were murdered and scalped near the enemy's former camp. The Dievendorf boy, who had been scalped, was found alive half buried among the dead leaves, with which he had covered himself to keep off mosquitoes and flies from his bloody head. One of Veeder's men, thinking him a wounded Indian, on account of his gory face, leveled his gun to shoot but it was knocked up by a fellow soldier, and the Currytown boy's life was spared for almost four-score years more. Young Dievendorf and the little Miller girl, also found alive, were tenderly taken back to Fort Plain, but the latter died on the way. Doctor Faught, a German physician of Stone Arabia, tended the wounds of both Jacob Dievendorf and his brother Frederick Dievendorf and both recovered. Jacob Dievendorf's scalped head was five years in healing. He became one of the wealthiest farmers of Montgomery county and died Oct. 8, 1859, over seventy-eight years after his terrible experience of being scalped and left for dead by his red captors on the bloody field of Sharon.

The battle of Sharon was fought principally on the present Engle farm, but the action also covered some of the present day adjoining lands.

The battle of Sharon was fought, almost entirely, by men from the present limits of the town of Minden — the Fort Plain garrison, with additions from that of Fort Clyde, and the Minden militia. Some of the soldiers doubtless came from Forts Willett, Windecker and Plank. The Fort Paris battalion, as seen, did not get up in time to fight. The list of the Americans wounded at Sharon would indicate that the greater part of Willett's battalion were local men. Probably the men of the Mohawk formed a large percentage of the valley garrisons of that time. There was then little for the men of the Mohawk to do but to guard and fight and, between times, to till the fields which were not too exposed to the enemy's ravages. Practically all the central and western Mohawk Valley population must have clustered in and about the principal forts for protection.

* * * * *

Near German Flats, 1781, were several encounters. One of them was marked by great bravery on the part of Captain Solomon Woodworth and a small party of fifty rangers which he organized. He marched from Fort Dayton to the Royal Grant for the purpose of observation. On July 2, 1781, at present Kast's Bridge, he fell into an Indian ambush. One of the most desperate and bloody skirmishes of the war hereabouts then ensued. Woodworth and 35 of his scouts were slain. This was the same Woodworth who so valiantly defended the Sacandaga blockhouse, as told in a previous chapter. His company assembled at Fort Plain only a few days previous to the fatal action. Some of his men were recruited from soldiers of the Fort Plain garrison whose time was soon to expire.

* * * * *

In this year also occurred the heroic defense by Christian Schell of his blockhouse home about five miles north of Herkimer village. Sixty Tories and Indians under Donald McDonald, a Tory formerly of Johnstown, attacked the place, most of the people fleeing to Fort Dayton. Schell had eight sons and two of them were captured in the fields while the old man ran safely home and with his other six sons and Mrs. Schell made a successful defense. They captured McDonald wounded. The enemy drew off, having 11 killed and 15 wounded. Schell and one of his boys were killed by Indians in his fields a little later.

* * * * *

In July, 1781, a party of 12 Indians made a foray in the Palatine district and captured five persons, on the Shults farm two miles north of the Stone Arabia churches. Three sons of John Shults — Henry, William and John junior, a lad named Felder Wolfe and a negro slave called Joseph went to a field to mow, carrying their guns and stacking them on the edge of the field, skirted on one side by thick woods. From this cover the Indians sprang out, secured the firearms, captured the harvesters and took them all prisoners to Canada. Upon the mowers not returning, people from the farm went to the field and found their scythes, but the guns were missing. These were the only evidences that the harvesters had been made prisoners. They remained in Canada until the end of the war.

* * * * *

In the summer of 1781 Col. Willett went with a scouting party from Fort Plain to Fort Herkimer and on his return stopped at the Herkimer house. Here then lived Capt. George Herkimer, brother of the deceased general, who had succeeded to the Fall Hill estate. At this time a small body of Indians was seen in the woods above the house and Mrs. Herkimer went to the front door and stepped up on a seat on the stoop and, with her arm around the northwest post, she blew an alarm for her husband who with several slaves was hoeing corn on the flats near the river. Col. Willett came to the door and seeing the woman's exposed position shouted, "Woman, for God's sake, come in or you'll be shot!" He seized hold of Mrs. Herkimer's dress and pulled her inside the house and almost the instant she stepped from the seat to the floor a rifle ball entered the post — instead of her head — leaving a hole long visible. It is presumed that Willett's men quickly drove off the enemy as Captain Herkimer was not harmed.

* * * * *

After the battle of Cobleskill, in 1778, the Cobleskill section enjoyed quiet until the year 1781. Roscoe's History of Schoharie County has the following concerning the building of the Cobleskill fort and the Tory raid of 1781:

"The lower and middle (Schoharie) forts being too small to accommodate the settlers of the surrounding country, many of the women and children were taken to the 'Camps' upon the Hudson, where nearly all of them had relatives, with whom they could visit and be safe from the savage enemy; owing also to the distance the settlers of this section were compelled to travel daily, for protection when invasions were threatened, besides the hospitality of private families becoming wearied in quartering soldiers, the citizens applied to the Committee of Safety for the building of a blockhouse at some point in the valley.

"Col. Dubois, of the regular service, being stationed at the lower fort, was ordered to superintend its structure, which was commenced in the spring of 1781 and finished before the harvest by the aid of soldiers and citizens. It was built near the (1882) residence of Charles Hamilton and was of sufficient capacity to accommodate the settlers in itself, without their being compelled to build tents or huts within the pickets, as at Schoharie, for the comfort of those that resorted to it."

There are no details of the shape and construction of this fort, but it is known to have had at least one blockhouse. It probably had two blockhouses situated at diagonal corners, with lookout towers or "cupalos" for a watch of the surrounding country. The palisades enclosed the house of Peter Shafer, which stood on the site of the later Hamilton house. The Shafer and Borst families were the first settlers of the Cobleskill village section, locating just east in 1749. A moat surrounded the fort, in which the water of the nearby brook was turned and from which the garrison was supplied. Roscoe continues:

"Here (at Fort Dubois) the militia were stationed and obtained their supplies from the people gratuitously and, we may imagine, lived upon the 'fat of the land.' The hen roosts and granaries of the Tories of 'Rhinebeck' (Lawyersville section in the present town of Seward, Schoharie County) were often visited by the soldiers on their scouting expeditions and their 'donations' thankfully and most agreeably received. * * * They said in substance 'If your party destroy our crops and other means of subsistence, we will live upon you.' After thus helping themselves to their productions, the Tories became greatly incensed and concluded to follow the adage of 'diamond cut diamond' and devastate the (Cobleskill) valley. Consequently, in the latter part of September, 1781, a party of Indians from the Mohawk appeared in the Karker neighborhood and were joined by a number of Tories to carry out their designs. The leader was from 'New Rhinebeck' and full of vengeance as he had been stripped of his cattle by Willett and hunted by the Cobleskill scouts."

Fort Dubois was slimly garrisoned and no defense was made against this invasion, which was carried out so slyly that it was over before the militia could gather to oppose it. The raiders burned the Lawyer, Bouck, Ferster and King houses, which had been rebuilt since the 1778 raid and massacre. They set fire to the Judge Shafer buildings. Mrs. Shafer was in the fort. She saw the fire and went alone and put out the fire in the dwelling, after the raiders had passed on. They returned the next day and finished the burning of the house. One boy, George Frimire, was killed and scalped. The Tories and Indians passed up the valley, driving along some thirty cattle, which was all they could collect. Doubtless the Whigs and the soldiers of Fort Dubois retaliated for this foray.

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