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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


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Chapter III. — Contests in Which the Indian Force was Engaged. Invasion of St. Leger, with the Combined Iroquois.

SIR WILLIAM JOHNSON died suddenly, from the effects of an attack of apoplexy, in the year 1774, at a time when reflecting minds deemed a speedy rupture between the colonies and the British crown inevitable. This gentleman had been forty years in rising to that position in Indian affairs which left him no rival or peer in America. During about twenty years of this period, he had been the official head of that department in America, so commissioned by the crown, and acknowledged by all the commanding generals. Intimately acquainted with the mental characteristics, the wants, the wishes, and the fears of the Indians, he had, as it were, with one hand wielded the power of government, in keeping them in order and subjection to the laws, and, with the other, exercised the duties of a Mentor, in teaching them how to promote their own best interests. No man, in the whole scope of our colonial history, can be at all compared to him. He had a presentiment of his death. 368 He disappeared from the scene of action at a critical period, when, to employ an Indian allegory, two thunder-clouds, black with anger, seemed rushing into conflict, leaving no one of sufficient capacity to cope with or control the storm. Great Britain had lavished on him the highest honors, and he was held in the highest respect by the Indians.

Those who have investigated the proceedings and the character of Sir John Johnson, of Guy Johnson, his deputy, of Colonel Claus, and of the various subordinates, who thenceforth controlled the direction of Indian affairs, have arrived at the conclusion, that this important interest was managed in a bad way, if their object was to serve the crown. The encouragement of murders and massacres was well calculated to arouse the deepest hostility of the colonists, and to cement them in the closest bonds of unity against the oppression of the British yoke. Numbers of persons, previously lukewarm in their cause, were driven to take an active part in the contest by deeds of blood and Indian atrocity. The several conferences, held in the office of the British Indian Department,

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during the years '75 and '76, proved the incapacity of Sir William's successors to control great events. The Six Nations were, as a body, the friends of the British, and did not like to see their officials, in public councils, and by public letters to committees and corporations, palliating or denying acts which they had secretly approved, and had stimulated them to perform.

When, in the year 1776, Sir John's residence, at Johnstown, was surrounded and captured by the militia, under General Schuyler, the Highlanders disarmed, and himself liberated on parole, he manifested his lack of honorable principles by breaking his parole, and fleeing to Canada. Guy Johnson, the Deputy Superintendent, and his subordinates, tampered with the authorities, and became involved in inextricable difficulties, thereby evincing more confidence in the justice of the contest than sound discretion or devotion to the best interests of the Mohawks. The jarring elements of that period could not be pacified by duplicity, and Sir John fled with the Indians, first to Fort Stanwix, then to Oswego, and, finally, to Niagara, which became the active headquarters of the Indian superintendency, and the rendezvous for their marauding and
scalping parties.

The colonial public was, at this time, in a furor of excitement, the people impelling their local governments to vigorous action. The error of the British government, from first to last, was its rigid adherence to the rights of sovereignty, conceding nothing itself, but demanding from the colonies the most unqualified submission. It was ready to forgive and pardon; but never to redress grievances while possessing the power to coerce. The policy adopted at St. James's palace, was carried out at Johnson Hall, and at every intermediate point; the British maxim being, that the weak must submit to the strong, and that might makes right. No sooner had the Mohawks, Tuscaroras, Onondagas, and Cayugas migrated to western New York with the fugitive Indian Department, and rallied, with the powerful Senecas, around their superintendent, in Fort Niagara, than efforts were made to induce the Iroquois to attack the border settlements. During a conference with the Indians at Oswego, Guy Johnson had excited them to take up the hatchet against the Americans, by inviting them to come and drink the blood of an American, and feast on his roasted body. This, although but an Indian figure of speech for an invitation to a feast of an ordinary character, furnished a formidable weapon to the Revolutionists, who construed its meaning literally, and represented that functionary as a monster of cruelty, in thus rousing these savages to action. 369

The first incursion of this kind was, the expedition of Colonel St. Leger against the inhabitants of the Mohawk valley. It is not our purpose to notice all the occurrences of a long and bloody war, extending through a period of seven years, in which the Indians were employed; or even to describe at length the principal events. The objects

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of this rapid survey do not admit of it. But we may infer, from the circumstances previously mentioned, what was the character of the contest then impending.

The year 1777 has been made ever memorable by the expedition of General Burgoyne, whose coming was heralded by a threat to march through the country, and crush it at a blow. A fine and well-appointed army of 10,000 men, indeed, appeared to be sufficient to make the people quail; but it was accompanied by hordes of the long-separated, but now reconciled, Algonquins and Iroquois, who ranged over the country, not as auxiliaries on the field of battle, but to destroy the quiet of domestic life by their devastations, and to chill the heart's blood of the colonists by their atrocities. The fate of Miss Jane M'Crea may serve as an incident to illustrate the singular barbarity of this warfare, and its effects on the popular mind.

Simultaneously with the invasion of the north-eastern borders of New York by Burgoyne, St. Leger, accompanied by a compact body of regulars, a park of artillery, and a large number of Indians, under Sir John Johnson, entered it from the west. He left Oswego with a total force of 1700 men, Indians included; the latter consisting chiefly of Senecas, Tuscaroras, Mississagies, an Algonquin tribe, nearly identical with the Chippewas, from the northern end of Lake Ontario, and of fugitive Mohawks, from the Mohawk valley, under Thyendanagea, or Brant, who now began to take a more active part in the contest. In his youth he had been a pupil at Dr. Wheelock's school, was employed as an interpreter and translator at the missionary station at Fort Hunter, and also as an under-secretary at Johnson Hall. As the active and influential brother of the Indian wife of Sir William, he had been constantly rising in the esteem of his people, until he assumed the position of popular leader; he must thenceforth be considered as the hero of the Iroquois. He combined, with great personal activity and a fine manly figure, a good common education, undoubted bravery, and an intimate acquaintance with the manners and customs of civilization; and, what was of still more importance to his success, he possessed a thorough knowledge of the geographical features, and population of the Mohawk valley and its environs, together with a good idea of their power, disposition and resources. He was thus by no means a feeble enemy. Although lacking that comprehensive judgment which was necessary to form an estimate of the true character of the contest, and the unflinching nerve and decision requisite for the control of events, yet he was, after the death of Sir William, fully equal in these particulars to Sir John Johnson, and the other managers of British Indian affairs. But he possessed, in perfection, all the subtlety, subterfuge, art, and, when he grasped the tomahawk in active war, all the cruelty, of the forest savage.

St. Leger pursued his route up the Oswego river to the junction of the Seneca and Oneida, at Three River Point; thence up the Oneida river, through the lake of that name, along Wood Creek and across the portage, to Fort Stanwix, on the Mohawk.

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As he progressed, his forces were augmented by the Cayugas and the Onondagas. Fort Stanwix was the only point at which there was any probability this invading force would be stopped; and this fortification was not only in a dilapidated condition, but was garrisoned by only 400 State troops, which force was subsequently increased to some 700. The enemy entertained no doubt that the fort would surrender at discretion, and, as the formal array deployed before the eyes of the garrison, column after column, with banners flashing in the sun, followed by battalions of light artillery, and hordes of Indians, the Americans experienced a feeling similar to that which moved David, when he laid aside his armor and stepped down into the valley to meet Goliath.

"The 3d of August was a day of deep scenic interest, and revealed a military pageant, which made a striking impression. It was a calm and beautiful morning when the enemy took up their line of march from Wood Creek. The intervening ground was an open plain of wide extent, most elevated towards its central and southern edge. Gansevoort's men were paraded on the ramparts looking in the direction whence the Oneida sachem had told them the enemy would appear. Music soon was heard; the scarlet color of their uniforms next showed itself. They had taken their standards from their cases that morning, and as color after color came into view, and they unfurled them to the breeze, an intense degree of interest was felt, but scarcely a word, uttered. To many of the men who had newly enlisted, the scene was novel. Some of them had served the year before under Montgomery; others in the movements at Ticonderoga and Crown Point under St. Clair. Some veterans dated their service in prior wars, under Sir William Johnson, Prideaux, and Bradstreet; there were others who were mere lads of seventeen. The Indians, spreading out on the flanks, gave the scene an air of Asiatic gorgeousness, mixed with terror; for their loud yells were heard above the British drum and bugle. The whole display, the exactitude of the order of march, the glitter of banners, the numbers present, and the impending danger of the contest, were designed for effect upon the American garrison. Not a gun was, however, fired; the panorama was gazed at in silence." 370

Never was an investment more complete. The artillery deployed on the south, and took up their position within cannon-shot. The Royal Greens and Loyalists, under Sir John, lined one bank of the Mohawk, the shores and woods being occupied by Brant and his myrmidons. Every avenue was watched by the Indians. Death was the penalty of every attempt to venture a distance of over 200 yards from the works. Many atrocities were committed by the Indians on officers, men, and even on children, who were captured outside the pickets. The sentinels soon became expert in watching for every cannon fired, and by a warning cry announced the coming of shot or shell. It became evident that the calibre of the enemy's guns was too light to make an

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impression on the fort, but they made up in diligence what they lacked in power. Sometimes a shell exploded in the hospital, scattering destruction around; and occasionally a man was shot down on the ramparts, or on the esplanade. The garrison had not sufficient ammunition to return a brisk fire; but there was one thing they never lacked — a heroic determination to defend the work at all hazards. The striped flag, which had been hastily made, partly out of a camblet cloak, 371 was duly hoisted and lowered every morning and evening, with the firing of the gun that marked the reveille and the close of day. There was not a heart that quailed; they well knew that, in addition to the ordinary casualties of war, if the garrison was taken, the Indians would perpetrate the most inhuman massacre. The fort was bravely defended by Colonel Gansevoort, with a corps of new recruits and militia, veterans, whose intrepidity, firmness, and military endurance had been previously tested.

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
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