Revolution - Early conflicts - Eloquence of Pitt in Parliament - Advocates the cause of American rights - His efforts unavailing - Provincial Congress assemble - Eloquent appeal of Patrick Henry - Effect of his speech - Resolution of Continental Congress - George Washington unanimously chosen Commander-in-Chief of the American forces - His acceptation - Meetings of the inhabitants to express their sentiments - Vigilant Committees - Organization of, in Tryon County - Influences brought to bear - Sir William Johnson espouses the Royal cause - His sudden death - His successors in office - Patriotism of the inhabitants of Harpersfield and Cherry Valley - First open act of hostility - Organization of a Vigilant Committee in Harpersfield - Their service to the American cause - The names of members - The chairman - Col. John Harper despatched by Congress on a Mission to the Indians - His apparent success - Reception by the Indians - Great feast and other ceremonies - Harper returns - Intimacy between Brant and Harper - Copy of a letter - Indians prove treacherous - Affidavit of the Rev. Wm. Johnston - Driven with his family from Sidney Plains - Obituary notice of Capt. Hugh Johnston - Effect of the intelligence communicated by Johnston along the frontiers - Letter from Harpersfield Vigilant Committee - Herkimer's Mission - Singular interview between Gen. Herkimer and Brant - Speech of Brant - Failure of the expedition - Evacuation of Harpersfield - John More an early settler - Warned of danger - Journey to Catskill - Accident - Enumeration of the inhabitants before the war - Scotchmen settle in the Valley of Wright's Brook - Story of the Scotchman and his gold - Capture of a party of Indians by Col. Harper - McDonald, a tory, invades Schoharie - Exposed situation of the settlement - Harper volunteers to go to Albany - Procures a company of Cavalry - Marches to Schoharie - Disperses the enemy - Letter from Harper to Congress.
Having rendered a passing notice to the early settlements, within the present limits of the county, we now approach that dark period of warfare, strife, and blood - the Revolutionary struggle, which eventually resulted in the immolation and cessation over them of foreign despotism in the colonies. Already have the clashing of steel and the boom of musketry been heard upon Bunker and Breed's Hill. Already have the excited and irritated Bostonians, disguised as Indians, consigned the cargoes of tea of several vessels to the mercy of the waves, as a mark of their just indignation at the infamous Stamp Act of Parliament.
It was now evident, that the rupture had become irreparable. The eloquence of Pitt, in Parliament, whose voice had been raised uniformly in behalf of the oppressed against the oppressor, who, at the close of a speech upon an illustrious occasion, in which he had exhorted the House to the exercise of wisdom and moderation in their dealings with America, concluded with the words of Prior the poet: -
All had proved unavailing. In 1775, the Provincial Congress re-assembled at Philadelphia, to resolve on what steps were necessary in the emergency in which the colonies were placed. It was during this session, that Patrick Henry depicted with his thundering eloquence the history of our relations to the mother country: closing his appeal he remarked "The war is inevitable! And let it come!! I repeat, sir, let it come!!! It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry peace, peace - but there is no peace! The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me," he cried, with both arms extended aloft, his brow knit, every feature marked with the resolute purpose of his soul, and with his voice swelled to its loudest note: "Give me liberty or give me death."
This speech had its desired effect; its noble and fearless sentiments found a home in every patriotic breast. On the fifteenth of June, a resolution was adopted by the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, "That a general be appointed to command all the Continental forces, raised for the defence of American Liberty." George Washington was unanimously called to assume the responsibilities of this station, who rose in his place, being a member from Virginia, and signified his acceptance in a brief and appropriate reply; at the close of which he remarked: "As to pay, sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress that, as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept the arduous employment, at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any profit from it. I will keep an exact account of my expenses. These, I doubt not, they will discharge, and that is all I desire."
And while their representatives were assembled, the people themselves were far from being idle. Meetings of citizens were called in every village and district; to give expressions to their sentiments, to favor liberty or oppression. Committees of vigilance were organized, whose duty it was to report the names of disaffected persons, to correspond with the General Assembly, and to whom was acceded the power of calling out troops in cases of emergency, to repel invasion; although, I believe, they actually possessed no such power. Such a committee was organized in Tryon county, as early as May, 1775, consisting of members from each of the districts; and we may perhaps with propriety in this place glance at the peculiar political condition of the county, in order to better understand the nature of the forthcoming struggle.
The population of Tryon was a mixed one, composed of Dutch, who lived principally in the Mohawk valley, the descendants of the German Palatines, who had settled in the Schoharie valley, and of Scotch Irish, who had settled in Cherry Valley, Harpersfield, Laurens, Otsego, and other places. The Dutch and Germans were an exceedingly illiterate people, and had been accustomed to look up to Sir Wm. Johnston for counsel and advice, who, being a man of sagacity and address, it is not strange that, when he declared himself openly opposed to Congress, and favored the cause of that monarch who had heaped upon him emolument and honor, a major portion of the inhabitants within his potent influence should also go over to his standard. But Providence, in the midst of his active preparations for war, and when in the midst of an Indian council at Johnston, called him suddenly away
He died in June, 1774, and was succeeded in his estates and titles by his son, Sir John Johnston, while the authority of superintendent of the Indian Department fell into the hands of his son-in-law, Col. Guy Johnston, who understood the Indian affairs better than any one else, having acted in the capacity of deputy to the old baronet. The successors of Sir William were illy calculated to assume, and fulfil successfully the exalted station vacated by his death, and consequently, quite a number of those least affected, declared unconditionally for the cause of Congress soon after.
But while the larger portion of the inhabitants of the northern and eastern sections declared themselves unconditionally in favor of the authority of the crown, in Cherry Valley and Harpersfield an exactly opposite state of things prevailed; they there openly denounced the position assumed by the Johnstons and their adherents; they denounced the oppressive acts of Parliament, and loudly extolled the measures adopted by the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS. A high state of excitement prevailed, - frequent and angry discussions were indulged in, which strongly tended to neutralize the parties from each other, and prepared them to embrace the actual commencement of hostilities with open arms, with the vain hope of satiating their personal animosities under the all-sufficient cloak of war; where they might justify themselves in applying the lighted torch, or the merciless tomahawk, - sacrificing with impunity the property and lives of their nearest neighbors, whose only fault was, -
The first open act of hostility that was committed in Tryon county, was at the meeting of those favorable to the cause of Independence, in May, 1775, at the house of John Veeder, in the Caughuawaga district, for the purpose of raising a "liberty pole." The citizens, unapprehensive of danger, assembled unarmed. In the midst of their deliberations, and while one of their leading whigs1 was haranguing the assembled multitude, whose hearts beat in unison with his own, they were suddenly thrown into great confusion by the appearance of an armed body of loyalists, commanded by Sir John Johnston in person. The whigs, indignant at the unceremonious interruption of their proceedings, determined to compel Johnston and his retainers to withdraw: a violent scuffle ensued, which resulted in black eyes and bruised noses on both sides, but no blood was shed, or other serious injury sustained by either side, when the parties actually withdrew, the loyalists to Johnstown, and the whigs to their respective homes, leaving the "pole" unraised.
The report of these proceedings was immediately communicated to the general committee of safety, and by them transmitted throughout the State, and leading whigs were everywhere vehement in their denunciations of Johnston and his adherents, and overflowing in the emulation of the bravery and resolute spirit evinced by leading patriotic Tryon brethren.
In August, 1775, a meeting of the citizens of Harpersfield was held at the house of John Harper, and a committee of vigilance was appointed to watch the movements of certain disaffected persons, and to gain what information they could of the stealthy movements of the hostile Indians under Brant, who, report had reached them, was then at Oquago, on the Susquehanna. The exposed situation of Harpersfield, and the well known and patriotic character of the leading inhabitants of that section, rendered their communications to the state council of safety, not unfrequently of the utmost importance. They, through intercourse with friendly Indians, and by scouts, were constantly kept reconnoitering the disaffected settlements. Cautiously were the movements of Brant and his host of bloody retainers noted, and when, at last, the storm broke in all its fury, - when the impatience of the savages could no longer be restrained, and they demanded to be led on "to butcher and to burn," - when Schoharie, and all the frontier settlements of New York were about to become the theatre of predatory warfare, this committee communicated the timely warning to their faithful brethren.
It may be a matter of interest to learn, and certainly it deserves to become a matter of record, the names of the persons who braved every danger, and several of whom sacrificed life, property, and everything dear, upon the altar of liberty. Their names were John Harper, John Harper, Jr., Alexander Harper, Joseph Harper, Isaac Patchin, Freegift Patchin, Andries Riber, Wm. McFarland, St. Leger Cowley, Sawyer, John More, Jas. Stevens, and several others, all of whom took the prescribed oath, and signed the articles of association.
The following is the oath which was prescribed by the Provincial Congress, and which was administered to every member.
"You shall swear by the holy evangelist of the Almighty God, to be a true subject to our continental resolve and Provincial Congress and committees, in this difficulty existing between Great Britain and America, and to answer upon such questions as you shall be examined in, so help you God."2
Isaac Patchin, who was afterwards among the prisoners captured by Brant, in the spring of 1780, and the particulars of which will be narrated in a future chapter of this work, was the efficient chairman of the committee during its entire deliberations.
With the hope of influencing a portion of the Indians to join the American standard, or at least of obtaining pledges of neutrality in the forthcoming struggle, in the winter of 1776, Col. John Harper was despatched with a letter from the Provincial Contress, to Oquago, the winter quarters of a large number of warriors of the Six Nations. The success of this mission was considered to be a matter of the utmost importance to the interests of the frontier settlements, and it was one, too, combining imminent hazard and peril, as it was reported that the Johnsons had already stirred them up to hostile movements.
Harper cheerfully undertook the performance of the arduous duties assigned him, and immediately made preparation for the journey, a distance of over seventy miles, through an almost unbroken wilderness.
He was accompanied down the Susquehanna, a distance of nearly fifty miles, to the Johnston settlement, by the regiment of militia under his command, when, deeming it imprudent to march farther into the Indian country, lest the appearance of an armed force amongst them should frustrate the important object of the mission, he stationed his force at this settlement, giving private orders to the captains to hold themselves in readiness, at a moment's warning, to march to his relief, should he be inhospitably detained beyond the appointed time for his return.
He was accompanied the remainder of the journey by a friendly Oneida and one white man, who resumed their route from the settlement, travelling the whole distance to the Indian encampment upon the frozen surface of the Susquehanna. They were received by the Indians with every demonstration of friendship; a council fire was built, and the chiefs and braves assembled around it to deliberate upon the objects of the mission. The letter from the Provincial Congress of New York was read to them by Harper, who needed no interpreter, and who, in a few remarks in the Indian tongue, which he spoke and gestured3 fluently, represented to them the advantages of an alliance with the colonies; as the inevitable result of the war would be the establishment of their independence. He then distributed some presents among them. In the afternoon they again assembled at the council fire; the Indians having held a discussion in secret, when a principal chief arose: he stated to Harper, that the report that in connection with the Johnsons, an expedition into the frontier settlements had been concerted in the following spring, was untrue - that they deplored the existing difficulties into which their brethren had been placed - that they should take no part in them, and that they desired to remain neutral. Having closed his speech, according to Indian usages he presented Harper with a deer skin, as a pledge of the sincerity of his pretensions.
At night a feast was prepared, and an ox which Harper had brought for the occasion, was killed and roasted. The ceremonies were conducted in all the novelty and pomp of Indian custom, and Harper, painted as one of them, and dressed in Indian costume, mingled freely in all their performances, and partook with a hearty relish of the roasted viand. The repast being over, the chiefs and great ones assembled around their hostage, when a crown, which consisted of a belt richly decorated with beads, was placed upon his head as a mark of distinction, and which entitled him to a voice in the deliberations of the Six Nations.4
Harper having successfully accomplished his mission, accompanied by his companions, returned to the Johnston settlement, where he joined his regiment, and from thence returned to Harpersfield.
It was, I believe, unusual for the Indians so far to forget their native prejudices as to bestow this mark of distinction upon a pale face, and I have never read of any other person excepting Sir William Johnston, upon whom the favor has been bestowed; and although the long struggle which immediately followed, was calculated to place him at enmity with the Indians, his bravery and the humanity he exhibited, still the more endeared him to them. He never took life when he could avoid it, and never suffered himself or those under his command to commit any of those barbarities which placed so dark a stain upon the history of the border warfare of the Revolution.
The following is an exact copy of a manuscript letter found in possession of the Rev. Mr. Boyce, of Harpersfield, who married a niece of Col. Harper, and which goes to show that the intimacy existing between Harper and the Six Nations was kept up for many years, and that he frequently transacted business for them. The communication is in Brant's own hand-writing:
"Head of Lake Ontario, October 2nd, 1804. "Dear Sir, - I now send the bearer for those papers you mention in your letter to have obtained for me; it was my intention to have called on you myself on my way out, but the season will be so far advanced before I shall leave home, and being under the necessity to pass through Albany, it will not be in my power to see you until I return, when I will call on you myself, or let you know immediately the success I meet with: if I am fortunate you may depend on my influence with the Oquagos to do you justice, which I believe is their full determination, whenever it is in their power. Another reason why I wish to get the papers before I leave home is, to arrange them with others before I set off. I have not heard anything from Governor Clinton on the subject, and would wish your advice respecting it, as to my calling on him; whether you think he would be disposed to lend me such assistance as would be in his power? In that case I conceive he might be of great service to me, as he was during the whole transaction of the business - executive of the State. As I supposed you might have mentioned something of my business to him about the time you wrote me, and will be able to know his feeling toward me, your opinion in writing to me will direct my calling on him, or mentioning my business to him. "I am, Dear Sir, your most "humble servant, "JOS. BRANT. "COL. JOHN HARPER."
But however sincere may have been the protestations of the Indians to Harper at Oquago, they were, unfortunately for the colonies, doomed to be of short duration, as will appear from the following affidavit made only a few months after, by the Rev. Wm. Johnston, which I find in the New York Journal of the Council of Safety, dated July 16, 1777.
"Ulster County, ss.
"William Johnston being duly sworn, says that on the second day of June, Joseph Brant came up from Onehoghquaga to Unadilla, with between seventy and eighty warriors; that they came out of the Indian territory and within the division line (referred to in a previous chapter as having been established in 1768,) about one mile; that Brant and his party sent for the officers of the militia company and the minister of Unadilla, and informed them that they were in want of provisions; that if they could not get them by consent, they must take them by force; that Joseph Brant told the officers that their agreement with the king was very strong, and that they were not such villains as to break their covenant with the king; that they were naturally warriors, and that they could not bear to be threatened by Mr. Schuyler; that they were informed that the Mohawks were confined - that they had not liberty to pass and re-pass as formerly; that they were determined to be free, as they were a free people, and desired to have their friends removed from the Mohawk's river, lest if the Western Indians should come down upon them, their friends might suffer with the rest, as they would pay no respect to persons; that the inhabitants being but weak and defenceless, they let them have some provisions; that the said Brant and his party, after staying two days at Unadilla aforesaid, took eight or ten head of horned cattle and some sheep and hogs, and returned to Onehoghquaga again; that those of the inhabitants who were friendly to the cause of America, removed with their families and effects to places of more security; that the examinant then went to the officers of Tryon county and informed them of the matter; that General Herkimer went with a party of men to Unadilla.
"WILLIAM JOHNSTON, JUN'R.
"Sworn and examined this 16th
day of July, 1777, by me,
"JOHN McKERSON, Not. Public."
Johnston, together with his family and the rest of the little settlement, deeming their lives unsafe in the exposed situation of Unadilla, repaired immediately to Cherry Valley, as will appear from an obituary notice of one of the party, and which I consider worth an insertion here:
"DIED at Sidney Plains, October 23d, 1833, HUGH JOHNSTON, aged 70 years. Captain Hugh Johnston was born April 10th, 1763, in Duanesburgh, Schenectady county, New York. He, together with his father, the Rev. William Johnston, and other connections, came to the Susquehanna Flats (now Sidney Plains) in 1775. They were the first settlers in that part of the county, and for two years suffered all the hardships and privations of a new country. In June, 1777, they were obliged to leave their homes and flee before an invading foe - Brant, a chief, with one hundred and ten warriors, came and burnt their buildings and slaughtered their cattle.
"The Johnston family fled to Cherry Valley, where they remained until Nov.11th, 1778, when seven hundred Indians and tories came unawares and burnt the village of Cherry Valley, and murdered twenty-eight women and children. The Johnston family narrowly made their escape. They then removed to Schenectady, where they remained until May, 1784, when they returned to the Susquehanna Flats, their former place of residence."
The ravages committed at the Johnston settlement, and flight of its inhabitants to the Mohawk, exceedingly alarmed the frontier settlements, and gave rise to numberless reports of invasion by a savage foe. A meeting of the Harpersfield vigilant committee was convened, and the following letter addressed to the State Council of Safety: -
"GENTLEMEN, - The late irruptions and hostilities committed at Unadilla by Joseph Brant, with a party of Indians and tories, have so alarmed the well-affected inhabitants of this and the neighboring settlements, who are now the entire frontier of this State, that except your Honors doth afford us immediate protection, we shall be obliged to leave our settlements to save our lives and families; especially as there is not a man on the outside of us, but such as have taken protection of Brant, and many of them have threatened our destruction in a short time, the particular circumstances of which Colonel Harper (who will wait on your Honors,) can give you a full account of, by whom we hope for your protection, in what manner to conduct ourselves."
It was now resolved to make yet another effort to induce the Indians to adhere to their professions of neutrality, and accordingly General Herkimer was despatched down the Susquehanna to hold a second interview with the Oquagos; a messenger had been previously sent forward with a letter to Brant, requesting him to advance up and meet him at Unadilla, which he accordingly did.
It was not until several days after Herkimer had made a halt at the appointed place of meeting, that Brant arrived. He was accompanied, according to his own statement, by five hundred warriors, to within a mile or two below where Herkimer was waiting, to whom he immediately despatched a messenger to inquire the object of his visit. Herkimer replied, that "he merely wished to hold a friendly converse with Captain Brant." The wily Indian, casting his eye around upon the armed force accompanying him, very sarcastically remarked: "And all these men wish to talk with the chief, too?" The preliminaries of a meeting were now arranged about mid-way, between the two encampments, and each commander was accompanied to the designated spot by a body guard of about fifty men, unarmed. A circle was formed with Brant and Herkimer in the centre. Brant was the first to break the silence, by haughtily inquiring - as the messenger had done before - the object of the visit? In reply to a direct question, as to the intentions of the Mohawks touching the difficulty of Great Britain and America, the chief replied that: "The Indians were in concert with the king, as their fathers and grandfathers had been; that the king's belts were yet lodged with them, and they could not falsify their pledge. That General Herkimer and the rest had joined the Boston people against their king. That Boston people were resolute, but the king would humble them. That Mr. Schuyler, or General, or what you please to call him, was very smart on the Indians at German Flats; but was not at the same time able to afford them the smallest article of clothing. That the Indians had formerly made war on the white people all united; and now they were divided, the Indians were not frightened."
At the close of this harangue, Colonel Cox, a brave but impulsive young officer, who had accompanied General Herkimer, remarked, that if that was their determination the matter was ended. The Colonel, it is said, had had difficulty with Brant before the war in relation to some land, and it is highly probable that the same hard feelings still existed between them, as the Indians are the last persons in the world to make or receive amends, when the link of friendship is once severed. The haughty chieftain became highly indignant at the decided expression of Cox, and sarcastically asked, if he was not the son-in-law of old George Klock? "Yes," replied the Colonel, equally sarcastic, "and what is that to you, you d - d Indian?"5 At the close of this dialogue, Brant turned and gave the signal to his warriors, who gave a terrific whoop, and fled precipitately to their quarters, but immediately reappeared in hostile array, and discharged a volley of musketry into the air, the booming report of which echoed and reëchoed among the surrounding hills. Herkimer now renewed his declaration, that he had come on a peaceful mission; that they had met as friends, and he desired that they should part as such; but as either party were too highly excited to proceed farther with the business, the preliminaries of a meeting the following morning at nine o'clock were arranged, when the parties fell back to their respective encampments for the night.
Herkimer knew enough of Indian character to appreciate to the fullest extent, the exposed situation in which his person would be placed on the morrow's interview, and being too accomplished a soldier to proceed without any precaution to guard against surprise, in the morning, a short time preceding the appointed time for the interview, he called one of his most fearless and trusty men, Joseph Waggoner, and enjoining upon him secresy, he informed him that he wished him to select three other persons whom he could rely upon, and that the four armed, with rifles, should secrete themselves in a conspicuous position, where, concealed from observation, they could overlook the interview between himself and Brant, which, should the interview not end amicably, as he hoped it would, they were to sacrifice Brant and his three companions, rather than that he, Herkimer, should be detained a prisoner6 . But although we think Herkimer was perfectly justifiable in this precaution of safety, nothing transpired to justify his fears, and consequently the order committed to the ambush, was not carried into execution. The parties having met according to agreement, Brant was the first to break the silence. Addressing himself to Herkimer, he said: "I have five hundred warriors with me, armed and ready for battle. You are in my power, but as we have been friends and neighbors, I will not take advantage of you." At the close of the interview, General Herkimer presented the chieftain with a number of fat cattle, which had previously arrived from Otsego lake; for which the chief could not refrain from thanking him, as provisions with them were exceedingly scarce.
Campbell, speaking of this expedition, says: "This singular conference was singularly terminated. It was early in July, and the sun shone forth without a cloud to obscure it, and as its rays gilded the tops of the forest-trees, or were reflected from the waters of the Susquehanna, imparted a rich tint to the wild scenery with which they were surrounded. The echo of the war-whoop had scarcely died away before the heavens became black, and a violent storm of rain and hail obliged each party to withdraw and seek the nearest shelter. Men less superstitious than many of the unlettered yeomen, who, leaning upon their arms, were witnesses of the events of this day, could not have failed in after times to have looked back upon them, if not as an omen, at least as an emblem of those dreadful massacres which these Indians and their associates afterward visited upon the inhabitants of this unfortunate frontier."
The unsuccessful termination of the pacific mission of General Herkimer to the Indians, and which ended June 28th, together with their open declaration in favor of the king, as well as their denunciation of the acts of the Boston people, rendered the situation of the well-affected citizens of Harpersfield still more precarious; and accordingly in July, the month immediately following, it was deemed advisable that all except the male able-bodied part of the inhabitants, who were to remain for a time to harvest their crops and protect their homes, should evacuate the settlement. Some went to Cherry Valley, where they had friends and relatives, but the larger portion decamped to Schoharie, distant about twenty miles, at which place three forts were afterward erected and garrisoned. From Schoharie a number of them removed to the places of their former residences in the Eastern States, and among this number were the female portion of the Harper family, who returned to East Windsor, In Connecticut, where they remained until after the war had terminated.
Among those who left about this time and sought safety is the more populous sections of the country, were John More and his family, consisting of a wife and four small children. Although a member of the association, so precipitate had been the retreat of the inhabitants from Harpersfield, that he, living as he did in a remote part of the town, remained uninformed of their retreat, until made aware of the fact by a visit from a friendly Indian chief, with whom he had been familiar before the war, and who with his men had frequently partaken while on hunting excursions in that vicinity. To this chief, although he was known to be avowedly in favor of the king's cause, the sturdy Scotchman unfolded his situation: he hardly knew what course to pursue, or what expedient to adopt. He had considerable property, and it seemed almost an impossibility for him to move. The Indian listened attentively to his story, and in reply to the inquiry, if he thought his family would be safe where they were? replied: "I am thy friend, and so long as I am with you not a hair of your head shall be injured; but I cannot always be with the men myself, and I therefore advise you to go." This advice was immediately acted upon, and together with his family he made hasty preparations for their journey.
An able address upon the "Pioneer," thus does justice to the memory of this settler. Referring to the incident related above, he says: "The reminiscences of this old gentleman I have oftened listened to with intense pleasure: had they been preserved and recorded, they would fill an interesting chapter in the history of those eventful times. But I fear, as I said at the commencement, that the record of his battle has never been preserved. Aye, he did battle! He contended singly and alone with foes, before whose formidable front many a valiant hero would have quailed. He had settled in Delaware county ere the Revolution broke forth - ere the fierce tempest of political discord, with its mighty thunderings shook the very sphere to its centre, and the mighty surge of war sent its echo to the remotest log-cabin in the wilderness. But he lived far back from the haunts of civilization, a hermit in the wilderness! Surely the home of the pioneer will escape the blood-thirsty vengeance of war. Its solitude will form a shield! But hark! In the still, solemn hour of the night, a chieftain warrior leaves his dusky band in the strong embrace of their midnight slumbers, and by a path unknown to any footstep but his own, he winds his way through the dark frowning forest, until he reaches the little clearing of the pioneer; he approaches the log-cabin. His knock arouses the slumberers from their sleep; and in reply to the demand of the settler, 'Who's there?" the well known voice of his Indian friend is recognised. The mission of the chieftain is speedily performed, and lest his presence from his comrades be missed, he quickly disappears in the dark forest and returns to the camp-fire of his dusky mates, by the same blind trail. But he has made revelations which will banish sleep from the eyelids of the occupants of that house that night. He has told the pioneer that, ere to-morrows's sun shall finish his diurnal course, and sink behind the western hills, this home of his will be marked but by a heap of ashes, and that that loving partner in the rugged journey of life, and these merry children who cluster around his knee, and himself, did they remain, would yield up to the tomahawk the price of British bribery. That noble chieftain was none other than the renowned Jo Brant. His generosity saved the white man and his family from a cruel death, but their hard-earned home vanished amid the wreathing curls of the crackling flames, as the chief had predicted on the morrow."
The rude state of the roads at that period, being for many miles nothing but an Indian trail, prevented even the convenience of a sled, and much less a wagon. They collected a few things, the most valuable of which they contrived to tie in packs upon their horses, and the remainder they buried or concealed in the crevices of a ledge of rocks a short distance behind the house.
A passing description of this family, as they appeared when the arrangements for their journey had been completed - the last box of goods had been carried and secreted - the cattle turned loose into the wilderness, and they, too, equipped and just ready to plunge into a forest for many miles unbroken by a single clearing in the direction they were to pursue. Upon one of the horses was Mrs. More and her two youngest children, one of which, a mere babe in her arms, she carried before her, and the other being large enough, was compelled to cling on behind, although, as he frequently assured the writer, when an old man, I used to sit upon his knee, and for long hours listen with breathless attention to the reminiscences of his childhood, upon which he loved to dwell, that several times during that journey he came near being brushed off by projecting limbs overhanging the way; and that just as they had started the second day, having encamped for the night on the identical spot which, after the country became settled, was reserved as a burying-ground, and where, but a year since, a large concourse of relatives and friends consigned his lifeless remains to the silent chamber of the tomb,7 and where, crossing the Bear Hill, a short distance below the village of Moresville, he came near losing his life, in the following manner: - In those early times, the streams were guarded by high banks on either side, which were effectually prevented from yielding to the inroads of the current, by the rooty projections of trees, making the crossing exceedingly difficult for a horse with a heavy burden, as the animal would, in most cases, have to step down full two feet into the stream, and to spring with all his force to attain the bank on the opposite side. It was while the horse was performing this last act of springing up, that he slid off behind, and went over backwards into the water, sticking his head beneath the mire in the bed of the stream, which filled eyes, nose, and mouth - the father, who was immediately in front, perceiving him fall, sprang and rescued him from the unpleasant situation, and carried him to the shore, exclaiming, when he found that he was apparently lifeless, and could not speak, with all the feeling peculiar to his native tongue, "Sondy, Sondy, is thee dead?" He soon recovered, however, after a copious effusion of cold water, which effectually removed the mud; and not being otherwise injured, they again proceeded on their journey.
After a short digression from the main subject, we will return and complete our description of the family: across the other horse were slung tow baskets, one on either side, and which were fastened together by a rope; they were filled with provisions and clothing. The animal was managed by the elder of the boys, aged about eight years - this person is still living, although bowed down by the weight of years - the venerable John T. More, of Moresville. Behind him clung his little brother Robert, who died at Prattsville, Greene county, a few years since, an aged man. The sire of the family accompanied them on foot, with an axe, to lop the bushes and under-brush, which frequently obstructed their progress. After a tedious journey of four days, they arrived at Catskill, where was then only one or two rude habitations. At this place he resided with his family until 1786, when, peace having been established, he removed and settled at Moresville, and was the first white settler within the present limits of the town of Roxbury.
It is impossible at this late day, to ascertain with accuracy the number of inhabitants within the present limits of the county of Delaware, but it is certain that it could not much have exceeded one hundred souls. In the absence of better authority, I shall assume the liberty of distributing them as follows: --
Harpersfield,___________________________________ 50 Pakatakan,______________________________________ 20 Pepacton, ______________________________________ 15 Johnston Settlement,____________________________ 20 Kortright,______________________________________ 10 Stamford,_______________________________________ 5 _____ Total Population,______________________________ 120
There were two or three families of Scotch, who had settled within the present limits of the town of Kortright, but who, becoming affected with what is commonly called toryism, sought an asylum in Canada. Among them was one, who for those times, was considered wealthy, if indeed gold could have constituted wealth in so isolated a spot. I give the following anecdote upon the authority of several early settlers of that town.
Among the early settlers within the limits of the county, were a few Scotch pioneers, who located themselves in the valley of Wrightsbrook, within a short distance of the site of the present village of Bloomville. After the war broke out, the murders and lawless depredations committed upon the lives and property of the frontier settlers, gave them a timely warning. They saw safety only in flight. Although favorably inclined to the British Government, a heavy bounty had been offered for scalps, and the Indians were as likely to sacrifice friend as foe, and they consequently prepared to leave. The arrangements were soon completed, their goods boxed and buried, or otherwise secreted in places recognised by themselves through the agency of marked trees, intending to return and possess themselves of their property, as soon as peace should be restored.
The Scotchman, fearing to take much money with him in his flight, pondered long and earnestly in what manner most effectually to conceal his "pile;" at last he bethought himself to bury it - selecting a spot favorable to his purpose, he sank an excavation at the roots of a hollow tree, in which he deposited the wallet, containing, as he asserted upon his dying bed, five hundred guineas, and carefully replaced the dirt, and designated the spot by a marked line of trees, to the junction of Wright's brook with the Delaware river.
The party sought a refuge in Canada, and while there the family of this Scotchman became the fated victims of a contagious disease: one by one were consigned to the grave, until he alone remained. At last he was taken ill himself, and when upon his dying bed, he called the physician who had kindly attended him during his illness, and revealed to him the secret of his hidden treasures, and all the attending circumstances.
Immediately after the declaration of peace, the physician, not doubting from the minute statement of the dying man, but that he could easily discover the concealed treasure, made a journey into the county in search of it. He arrived at the place, then and until recently, known by the appellation of "Four Corners," concealing the object of his mission from every one, and accounting for his strange conduct by pretending to be searching for herbs of rare medicinal properties, which a friendly Indian had told him abounded in that region. He readily discovered the line of marked trees - but alas! He had come too late, and the improvements of the Scotchman were now occupied by an enterprising settler, and upon the identical spot where the treasure was concealed years before, was now waving a heavy crop of wheat. The physician now made careful inquiries of the present occupant, who stated "that in ploughing the field over there, (pointing to the same lot,) the ploughshare had struck and smashed in the end of a wooden box, which, upon examination, he found to have once contained clothing, but of which only a few decayed remnants remained; he had also ploughed up a set of harrow-teeth and an iron wedge, and that these were all that he had discovered." After a futile search of nearly a week, the physician was compelled to abandon the enterprise, and return to meet other engagements. Before his departure, however, he made a revelation of the facts to one Gregory, a merchant at the "Corners;" but to this day the treasure remains undiscovered, although many persons have searched for it since that time.
The following account of a successful enterprise of Colonel John Harper, during the Revolution, was often related by the late Rev. Stephen Fenn, for many years a minister at Harpersfield, who had received the information from the colonel's own lips. It was first published in the Annals of Tryon county.
"In the year 1777, he had the command of one of the forts in Schoharie, and of all the frontier stations in this region. He left the fort in Schoharie, and came out through the woods to Harpersfield, in the time of making sugar, and from thence he laid his course for Cherry Valley, to investigate the state of things there; and as he was pursuing a blind kind of Indian trail, and was ascending what are now called Decatur Hills, he cast his eye forward, and saw a company of men coming directly towards him, who had the appearance of Indians. He knew that if he attempted to flee from them they would shoot him down: he resolved to advance right up to them, and make the best shift for himself he could. As soon as he came near enough to discern the white of their eyes, he knew the head man and several others: the head man's name was Peter, an Indian with whom Col. Harper had often traded at Oquago, before the Revolution began. The Col. had his great coat on, so that his regimentals were concealed, and was not recognized: the first word of address on Col. Harper's part was, 'How do you do, brothers?' the reply was, 'Well; how do you do, brother? which way are you bound, brother?' 'On a secret expedition; and which way are you bound, brothers?' 'Down the Susquehanna, to cut off the Johnston settlement.' (Parson Johnston, and a number of Scottish families, had settled down the Susquehanna, at what is now called Sidney Plains, and these were the people whom they were about to destroy.) Says the colonel, 'where do you lodge to- night?' 'At the mouth of Schenevus creek,' was the reply. Then shaking hands with them, he bid them good-speed, and proceeded on his journey.
"He had gone but a little way from them before he took a circuit through the woods, a distance of eight or ten miles, on to the head of Charlotte river, where were a number of men making sugar; ordered them to take arms, two days' provisions, a canteen of rum, and a rope, and meet him down the Charlotte, at a small clearing called Evan's place, at a certain hour that afternoon; then rode with all speed through the woods to Harpersfield, collected all the men who were there making sugar, and being armed and victualed, with each man his rope, laid his course for Charlotte: when he arrived at Evan's place, he found the Charlotte men there in good spirits; and when he mustered his men there were fifteen, including himself, exactly the same number as there were of the enemy; then the colonel made his men acquainted with his enterprise.
"They marched down the river a little distance, and then bent their course across the hill, to the mouth of Schenevus creek: arriving at the brow of the hill, where they could overlook the valley where the Schenevus flows, they cast their eyes down upon the flat, and discovered the fire around which the enemy lay encamped. 'There they are,' said Col. Harper. They descended with great stillness, forded the creek, which was breast-high to a man; after advancing a few hundred yards, they took some refreshment, and then prepared for the contest. Daylight was just beginning to appear in the east. When they came to the enemy, they lay in a circle, with their feet toward the fire, in a deep sleep; their arms and all their implements of death, were stacked up according to the Indian custom when they lay themselves down for the night; these the colonel secured by carrying them off a distance, and laying them down; then each man, taking his rope in his hand, placed himself by his fellow: the colonel rapped his man softly, and said, 'Come, it is time for men of business to be on their way;" and then each one sprang upon his man, and after a most severe struggle, they secured the whole number of the enemy.
"After they were all safely bound, and the morning had so far advanced that they could discover objects distinctly, says the Indian Peter - 'Ha! Col. Harper! now I know thee; why did I not know thee yesterday?' 'Some policy in war, Peter.' 'Ah, me find 'em so now.' The colonel marched the men to Albany, delivered them up to the commanding officer there; and by this bold and well-executed feat of valor, he saved the whole Scotch settlement from a wanton destruction."
Shortly after the above successful adventure of Col. Harper, McDonald, with a body of two hundred regulars and tories, had concerted a plan for the destruction of the whole Schoharie settlements. This expedition would doubtless have proved successful, had not their intentions been thwarted by the timely exertions of Col. Harper.
The fort at Schoharie was commanded by Col. Vrooman, a good man, doubtless, but illy calculated for the performance of the arduous duties devolving upon him as commandant. They saw the enemy wantonly laying waste the settlement, destroying everything on which they could lay their hands. The garrisons, from their reduced condition, could spare no men from the forts to protect the inhabitants, or secure their crops. "What shall be done?" says Col. Harper. "Oh, nothing at all," says Col. Vrooman, "we be so weak we cannot do anything." It was however resolved that a messenger must be sent to Albany for succor, and Col. Harper volunteered his services, and mounting a fleet horse was soon far on his way toward the place of destination. After travelling about five miles, he concluded to put up for the night at a tavern, and having finished his supper, he retired to an upper room, fastening the door behind him.
During the night a party of tories arrived at the tavern, whose object it was to secure the person of Harper, whose mission they rightly conjectured, and thinking to thereby prevent the news of the invasion of the settlement by Mcdonald reaching Albany. The landlord stoutly protested against their disturbing the repose of his guest, but all to no purpose. They ascended the stairs, and finding the door fastened, of the room into which Harper had retired knocked loudly, demanding admission. Harper, who had only lain down, and who had not been asleep, arose, and with pistol in hand opened the door, and presenting himself in a an attitude of defence before his unwelcome and intruding guests, demanded of them their business, but at the same time cautioned them against entering his room, as "the first man who stepped over the threshold should pay for it with his life." After a little conversation the party withdrew, and did not again molest him.
The next day he rode into Albany, when he informed the commandant of the exposed situation of Harpersfield. A small body of cavalry was granted him, which left Albany the same evening, and continuing to ride all night, at the break of day arrived at the tavern where he had spent the preceding night. They soon came up with the forces of McDonald, who made but a slight stand and then dispersed and fled, the moment the impetuous troopers charged amongst them. This daring and well- executed feat again restored confidence to the drooping spirits of the Schoharie patriots, and redounded double credit upon the head of this brave commander; who thus recapitulates his success in a letter to the Provincial Congress:
"Schoharie, August 28th, 1777.
"GENTLEMEN, -- Snce we put Captain McDonald and his army to flight, I proceeded with some volunteers to Harpersfield, where we met many who had been forced by McDonald, and some of them much abused. Many others were in the woods, who were volunteers; and as we could not get hands on those who were active in the matter, I gave orders for all to make their appearance when called on, at Schoharie, in order to give satisfaction to the authority for what they had done; and if they do not, that they are to be proclaimed traitors to the United States of America; which they readily agreed to, and further declare that they will use their best endeavors to bring in those who have been the cause of the present disturbance. I would therefore beg of the Honorable Council of Safety that they would appoint proper places to try those persons, as there are many that can witness the proceedings of our enemy, and are not in ability to go abroad.
"From your most obedient Humble servant,
"JOHN HARPER, Colonel.
"P.S. The people here are so confused that they do not know how to proceed, I therefore would beg the favor of your honorable body to appoint such men as are strangers in these parts.