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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 74: Peace News Reaches Fort Plain.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1102-1109 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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1783 — April 17, messenger from General Washington reaches Fort Plain giving news of end of hostilities — April 18, Captain Thompson's journey to Oswego with a flag of truce — Received by Major Ross — Given list of Mohawk Valley American prisoners in Canada — Returns to Fort Plain.

In April, 1783, Capt. Alexander Thompson made a journey from "Fort Rennselaer" [Rensselaer] (Fort Plain) to the British post of Oswego to announce the formal cessation of hostilities between England and the United States of America. He kept a record of his trip and this journal was given to Simms by Rev. Dr. Denis Wortman, long a pastor of the Reformed Church at Fort Plain, It is headed, "Journal of a tour from the American Garrison at Fort Rennselaer in Canajoharie on the Mohawk river, to the British Garrison of Oswego, as a Flagg, to announce a cessation of hostilities on the frontiers of New York, commenced, Friday, April 18, 1783."

This journal recounts a wilderness journey made within a year of a century and a half after the trip of the Dutch traders through the Canajoharie district, in 1634, given in Chapter 13 of this work. Traveling conditions along the route seem to have been similar even at this later date. It also details a tour over a historic route of traffic of which the Mohawk was an important part, and a great highway so vital to national transportation of the present day. The details narrated give vividly, moreover, a characteristic picture of wilderness travel and life at that day.

This diary belonged (in 1880) to Mrs. Thomas Buckley of Brooklyn, a granddaughter of its Revolutionary author. We have seen that the name of Fort Plain had been changed to Fort Rensselaer, in honor of General Van Rensselaer, who had proved so lacking during the Stone Arabia and Klock's Field battles. This name it retained officially to the end of the war. Simms has summarized Captain Thompson's record as follows:

"On the first of January of this year (1783), Capt. Thompson, as his journal shows, was appointed to the artillery command of several posts of the Mohawk valley, which he names as follows: Fort Rensselaer, Fort Plank, Fort Herkimer and Fort Dayton. Fort Rensselaer — another name for Fort Plain — being, as he says, the headquarters for the river forts, he thought proper to have his own quarters near those of the commanding officer [Col. Willett], so as to furnish from his own company detachments as required.

"On the 17th of April — only a little over two months after Col. Willett's attempt to surprise Fort Oswego — an express arrived at Fort Plain, from Washington's headquarters, to have an officer sent from thence with a flag to Oswego to announce to that garrison (from whence many of the Indian depredators came) a general cessation of hostilities, and an impending peace.

"Major Andrew Fink, then in command at Fort Plain [under Col. Willett], committed this important and hazardous mission to Capt. Thompson. His companions were to be four, a bombardier of his own company, a sergeant of Willett's militia, and a Stockbridge Indian, and his guide and interpreter were to join him at Fort Herkimer. All things were to be ready for an early start on the morning of the 18th, but, when the nature of his mission became known along the valley, many, having lost friends whose fate was unknown, desired a chance to send letters by the flagbearer; and the start was thus delayed until 11 o'clock, at which hour numerous packets and letters were collected to be sent to friends in Canada. To some inquirers he said on his return, his mission proved to be one of joy, to others one of sadness; as the veil of mysteries had not been lifted.

"A flag of truce having been made by securing a white cloth to the head of a spontoon [a short spear much used on this frontier] to be borne by the sergeant, he left the fort with the flag man in front of him and the artilleryman and the Indian in his rear. He started with a pack horse which he discreetly left at Fort Herkimer. The novelty of his mission drew a great crowd together and he was accompanied several miles by a cavalcade of officers, soldiers and citizens. He went up the river road on the south side of the Mohawk and spoke of passing Fort Windecker (near Mindenville), and the Canajoharie or Upper Mohawk castle (now Danube, where the Mohawks' church still stands), arriving at Mr. Schuyler's house at the foot of Fall Hill about 3 p. m., where he and his party were presented an excellent dinner. Leaving Schuyler's at 4 o'clock he passed over Fall Hill and arrived at Fort Herkimer at sunset. At this garrison, Capt. Thompson found David Schuyler, a brother of the man he had dined with, who became his guide and interpreter. Eight days' rations were put into knapsacks, and one short musket was concealed in a blanket, with which to kill game, if by any means their provisions failed. On Saturday morning, April 19, in a snow-storm, this party of five set out on their wilderness journey, still on the south side of the Mohawk. They met several hunting parties and made their first halt opposite 'Thompson's place, above New German town,' now in the town of Schuyler, Herkimer County. A few miles above they fell in with a party of ten families of Indians on a hunting excursion and learned how forest children lived. Here his men, instructed by their Indian companion, soon erected a wigwam for the night in the following manner: Two stakes, with crotches at the upper end, were set upright about ten feet apart, upon which they placed a pole. Then they covered the sides with bark resting the top against the pole with the bottom on the ground, so as to leave a space about twelve feet wide. The gables were also covered with bark; a fire was made in the middle of the structure, and a small hole left in the top for the smoke to pass out, and when some hemlock boughs had been cut for their beds, the wigwam was completed. Such a structure the Indians would construct in an incredibly short space of time, where bark was handily obtained. In such rude huts, many a hunter or weary traveler has found a good night's rest.

"The next morning the journey was resumed on the Fort Stanwix road, and at 10 o'clock he passed the ruins of Old Fort Schuyler of the French war (now Utica). On Capt. Thompson's arrival at the 'Seekaquate' Creek (Sadaquada or Saquoit Creek), which enters the Mohawk at Whitestown, he found the bridge gone. Soon after passing this stream, he said he ascended 'Ariska (Oriskany) Hill,' which he observed 'was usually allowed to be the highest piece of ground from Schenectada to Fort Stanwix. Says the journal: 'I went over the ground where Gen. Herkimer fought Sir John Johnson; this is allowed to be one of the most desperate engagements that has ever been fought by the militia. I saw a vast number of human skulls and bones scattered through the woods.' This was nearly five and a half years after the battle. He halted to view the ruins of Fort Stanwix [Fort Schuyler] and those of St. Leger's works while besieging the fort and, passing along the site of Fort Bull, on Wood creek, at the end of a mile and a half, he encamped for the night, erecting the usual Indian wigwam. The night was one of terror, as the howling of wolves and other animals prevented much sleep, but, keeping up their fires, the beasts were kept at bay.

"Monday morning, on arriving at Canada Creek, a tributary of Wood Creek, two trees were felled to bridge the stream. A mile and a half below he left the creek and ascended Pine Ridge, where he discovered in his path a human footprint made by a shoe, which indicated a white wearer. On arriving at Fish Creek, he halted to fish but with poor success. He had purposed to cross the creek and pursue his way to Oswego on the north side of Oneida lake, striking Oswego River near the falls, but, learning from his Indian (who had recently been on a scout to the Three Rivers) that he had seen three flat-bottomed boats with oars, and as the ice had recently left the lakes and thinking they might still be there, he changed his course for Wood creek, and striking it at a well-known place, called 'The Scow,' he sent the Indian and sergeant to search for the boats and to return the same evening. The three remaining at 'The Scow' were soon searching for material for a cabin, but neither bark nor hemlock could be found and, as it was fast growing dark, they collected what logs and wood they could to keep up a good fire which was started. At eight o'clock it began to rain terribly and in two or three hours the fire was put out. As the boat seekers did not came back that night it became one of great anxiety and discontent.

"The men returned after daylight and reported a serviceable boat without oars, which they had launched and towed round the edge of the lake and left at the royal block house, known as Fort Royal, at the mouth of Wood Creek. No time was lost in reaching the boat, which was found to leak badly. They caulked it as best they could with an old rope. From a board oars were soon made, a pole raised and blankets substituted for a sail with bark halliards. Having everything aboard, they moved into Oneida lake (20 miles long) with a favorable but light wind. It was deemed prudent to run across the lake to Nine Mile Point, on the north shore, but before reaching it two men were kept constantly bailing. The boat was again repaired and put afloat, sailing from point to point. As night approached the crew landed half way down the lake, where they improvised a cabin with a good fire to dry their clothes. The night was pleasant but the howling of wild beasts again terrific.

"On Wednesday, the 23d [of April], a beautiful day, the party were early on the move, and, from the middle of the lake, Capt. Thompson said he could see both ends of it, and enjoyed one of the most beautiful views imaginable. There were several islands on the western side of the lake covered with lofty timber, while back of the Oneida castles the elevated ground made a very beautiful prospect. After about eight miles sail, he heard a gun, evidently fired by an enemy, but, to avoid observation, he sailed along the shore until he was opposite 'Six Mile Islands,' as the two largest islands in the lake, lying side by side, are called. He went ashore, where a fire was kindled and a good dinner enjoyed; after which he again dropped down the lake, passed Fort Brewerton, and entered the Oneida River. Here he found a rapid current in his favor and the river, the most serpentine of any stream he had ever been on, abounding at that season with immense numbers of wild fowl, especially of ducks of many varieties. He saw many flocks of geese, but he would not allow the old musket to be fired, lest a lurking scout might be attracted to his position. He continued his course down the river, sometimes on the Onondaga side, and at others on the Oswego side.

"About two miles from Three Rivers (nearly 20 miles from Oneida Lake), he discovered a party of Indians, in three canoes, coming up the river near the same shore. On seeing his boat, they gave a yell and paddled to the opposite shore; they landed, drew their canoes out of the water, ascended the bank and took to trees [not having presumably made out the flag of truce]. When the flag was opposite, they hailed in Indian and in English, which last was answered. When assured that the captain had a flag of truce, the Canadians asked him to come ashore. Four Indians then came out from behind trees and beckoned him to land. He did so and was conducted into the woods. His men also landed and the Indians drew his boat well on shore. He was brought into the presence of two white men and an old Indian, who were seated on the ground. One of them told Capt. Thompson his name was Hare, a lieutenant of Butler's rangers, and that he had just started on an enterprise to the neighborhood of Fort Plain. Thompson assured the lieutenant that all hostilities had ceased on the warpath, and that his mission was to convey such intelligence to the commanding officer at Oswego. When assured that all American scouts had been called in, after several consultations, the war party (consisting of one other white man and eight Indians — all being painted alike) concluded to take Thompson to the fort, saying, if the measure proved a finesse, they had him sure. He was conducted back to his boat, to the great relief of his friends who were exercised by thoughts of treachery, and, with a canoe on each side of the boat and one behind it, the flotilla passed down the river, Lieutenant Hare taking a seat with Captain Thompson in his boat. The party glided down past the Three Rivers [the junction of the Oneida and Seneca rivers with the Oswego], about three miles below which they landed and encamped for the night, constructing two cabins, one of which Lieut. Hare, Capt. Thompson and two Indians occupied, the remainder of both parties using the other.

"Early Thursday morning, Lieut. Hare sent one of his canoes to Oswego to inform the commander of the approaching flag, and, soon after sunrise, they all embarked down the rapids which increased as they approached the falls [of the Oswego]. On arriving there they drew the boats around the carrying place, and safely passing the rifts below, they stopped within a mile of Lake Ontario where they were hailed by a sentinel on shore to await orders from the commandant of the fort [Major Ross]."

Thompson was conducted blindfolded into the fort, hearing the drawbridge over the trench let down, the chains of which made a remarkable clattering. In the fort his blindfold was removed and he delivered his message to Major Ross, who received him very courteously, the latter inviting him to sit down to a dinner of cold ham, fowl, wine, etc., while the major looked over the papers. Major Ross had, within a fortnight, received orders from Governor Haldimand of Canada to strengthen his fortifications for American invasion and was greatly surprised at the news Thompson had brought. However, Ross pledged his honor that all his scouts would be at once called in and ordered the sloop Caldwell (mounting fourteen guns) to Fort Niagara to spread the news of the armistice. The curtains, which had been put up at the windows looking out on Lake Ontario, were now drawn and Major Ross asked his guest to look out and see the Caldwell departing on her errand of peace. The view from the window opening out upon the wide sunlit waters of the lake was a delightful one. Ross regretted that he could not conduct the American captain about the British works. The matter of American prisoners in Canada was brought up and Major Ross said information about them would be forthcoming as soon as possible, in the meantime receiving a list of those made in Tryon County during the war, and the messages Thompson brought. Ross said it was impossible for any officer to control the savages when on excursions and he really believed many cruel depredations had been committed by them on the frontiers which were known only to the Indians. He had exerted himself to prevent the murdering of prisoners and said "but the utmost effort could not prevent them from taking the scalps of the killed." The major said that he was very happy that such an unnatural war was ended, adding however that war created the "soldier's harvest." Ross was much upset to learn that the entire State of New York, including Oswego and Fort Niagara, were to be ceded to the United States in the treaty of peace then under consideration.

Captain Thompson was introduced to a number of British officers and treated with great courtesy, having however a verbal tilt with Captain Crawford of Johnson's Greens (who invaded the Mohawk Valley in 1778). Says the journal: "This person comes under that despicable character of a loyal subject. He appeared to be really ignorant of the cause he fought for, and had the wickedness to observe that he had made more money in the British service in the war than he would have made in the American service in 100 years." Captain Thompson replied that "American officers fought for principle, not money."

Major Ross wished to send Thompson back up the Oswego River and through Oneida Lake to Wood Creek in his own barge, but the American captain said he desired to return by land on the west side of the Oswego to see the country, and politely refused the courteous offer. The Indians at Oswego had heard a rumor that "all their lands were to be taken from them and that they were to be driven to where the sun went down." They had threatened the life of the American messenger and were in an ugly mood. Captain Thompson was given a list of the valley American prisoners then in Canada that evening. The patriot captain, for his own and his comrades' safety, deemed it best to depart at once, and thanking Major Ross for his courteous treatment, he was again blindfolded and led outside the fort down to his companions at the river edge at 11 o'clock on Sunday evening, April 27. He took back with him a fourteen-year-old American boy who had been captured near Fort Stanwix. Here the journal ends. Major Ross had promised to send a detachment of British troops back with the American party over the most dangerous part of their journey and it is probable he did so. The patriots, retracing their former steps, arrived at Fort Plain once snore, having completed satisfactorily their important mission.

After Captain Thompson's return, Fort Plain must have been the Mecca of people from all over the Mohawk Valley who came to learn of friends or relatives captive in Canada.

Thus from Fort Plain was spread the first news of approaching peace through the valley and to the British foe on the borders of New York state.

* * * * *

In the War of the Revolution there were 268 recorded conflicts. Ninety-two of these clashes of arms took place within the limits of New York State, against 176 in the other twelve of the thirteen original states. Of these ninety-two New York battles, twenty-one were fought in 1776, and twenty-seven in 1777. The state's battles include a number of the main conflicts of the war, while the decisive battles of the Revolution were fought at Bemis Heights, or Saratoga, on September 19 and October 7, 1777. The battle of Oriskany, August 6, 1777, and the successful defense of Fort Stanwix, contributed the main element to this decisive victory of the whole war. The militia of the middle and upper Mohawk Valley, comprised within Tryon County, fought the battle of Oriskany. The Schenectady (Second Albany County Regiment) Militia fought at Bemis Heights, where the New York Line and Militia regiments formed a great part of the fighting American force.

While New York fought over one-third of the battles of the Revolution, her Continentals and militia were in action and in service more than those of any other state and her territory was the most devastated of all, we turn to more widely advertised sections and find that Massachusetts had eleven battles in 1775, three in 1776, and only one thereafter. The Colonies had the following recorded conflicts: South Carolina, 79; New Jersey, 31; Georgia, 22; Virginia, 16; Massachusetts, 15; Connecticut, 14; Pennsylvania, 5; Rhode Island, 5.

It would seem that New York State should receive some long delayed recognition as the chief battleground of the Revolution.

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