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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rumblings in the Valley....Pt. 2

The Story of the Campaign of 1777 and the Battle of Oriskany

Johnson, Butler and Brant came back to the valley to play prominent roles in the Campaign of 1777 when the British planned an invasion of New York. If they managed this, they could separate the New England colonies from those of the Middle Atlantic and South, effectively ending a short-lived “revolution”. To do this, the main force under General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne would come down the Hudson via Lake Champlain from Canada, with a second force under General William Howe to move north from New York City. A third under Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger would drive east from Oswego by way of the Mohawk Valley.

The three armies planned to unite in Albany, thereby controlling the state’s strategic waterways and the adjoining land areas. Since the waterways were important trade routes, the growing success of the Patriot middle class farmers and merchants could be brought under control and in service to the Crown once more.

The plan, though sounding good on paper, never worked. Howe failed to receive orders to move north, and instead sailed for Philadelphia. Burgoyne advanced as far south as Saratoga (Schuylerville) where his army was eventually routed, and he was captured.

However, in the Mohawk Valley phase of the campaign, Sir John Johnson (Sir William’s son) was second in command to St. Leger, Colonel John Butler headed the Loyalist militia, and Joseph Brant lead the Iroquois tribes, save for the Oneidas, who’d sided with the Patriots. They also found the entrance into the valley unexpectedly blocked—by Ft. Stanwix, built by the British during the French and Indian War. With the foresight of General Philip Schuyler of Albany, the Patriots repaired this strategic outpost after the French threat had ended. Colonel Peter Gansevoort, also of Albany, then commanded the garrison.

News of the invading army spread like a brush fire throughout the Valley and alarmed the frontier settlements. General Nicholas Herkimer summoned all males between the ages of 16 and 60 to assemble at Ft. Dayton (what was to become the community of Herkimer) to raise the siege of Ft. Stanwix. As the most prominent Patriot in the Valley, Herkimer directed the Tryon County Militia.

Herkimer and his militiamen, (about 800) marched to relieve Ft. Stanwix, never suspecting their fate. It struck on the morning of August 6, 1777 at a marshy ravine south of the Mohawk and just west of Oriskany, N.Y. (between present-day Utica and Rome, N.Y.)

Molly Brant, Mohawk wife of Sir William Johnson had sent a message to her brother Chief Joseph Brant, who led St. Leger’s Indian contingent, with the exact date that Herkimer and his men would set out to relieve Ft. Stanwix. It might be interesting to discover just how this information got into Molly’s hands.

The fierce battle raged throughout the day in a pastoral setting called Bloody Creek (Oriskany Creek), as ill-prepared, mostly German farmers faced Indians, Loyalist militia, British and Hessian soldiers. In the beginning of the encounter, Herkimer was shot in the leg, but seated on a log and with sword drawn, continued to direct and encourage his men who faced over a thousand of the enemy. In proportion to the numbers engaged, no other battle of the Revolution exceeded the casualties at Oriskany.

But Herkimer and his men held the line.

Eleven days later, General Herkimer died of gangrene after his leg was amputated. Fond of Scripture, the General listened as his devoted wife Maria remained at his side to read the Psalms daily before he passed away.

British plans to march though the valley had failed. The Patriots from the Mohawk Valley were free to join the forces opposing Burgoyne. The Battle of Oriskany was a turning point in the Campaign of 1777 and the War for Independence. ~ Pat Iacuzzi


  1. Hi Everyone--

    A beautiful summer day (they're dwindling down now--can't believe it!)and I can understand why people would be doing a zillion other things right now. Will be back in a couple more hrs. to answer questions. Later....

  2. Pat, This is wonderful stuff - poignant and rich. Adding the video really brings your word to life. I find it so touching that his wife read the Psalms to him till he passed away. I'll be back to read again later. Sometimes it takes twice to stick in this crazy brain;) Bless you for a great post!

  3. Hi Laura--
    Herkimer and his family (as far back as his father's time (one of the first settlers in the valley in 1723) were close neighbors to Rev. Abraham Rosencrantz and his wife Maria (popular name, apparently :) during the French and Indian War, and later with Rev. Sam Kirkland (Scottish)& his family during the Rev. Most of the people or their descendants were from the Palatine area in Germany. Thanks for stopping in!
    p.s. I would still love to know WHO from the American side gave Molly Brant that

  4. This was very touching, Pat. My Rousch ancestors were from the Palatinate. Yes, Maria was a popular German name just as Marie was common among the French. I have a Maria and a Marie in my MS and wonder if one will need a name change (one is never actually on the page, though).

  5. Hi Carrie!
    Wow! Wondered how far back you've been able to go with tracing your ancestors....isn't that something when you know their stories and the hardships they've gone through? It makes me wonder sometimes the legacy we'll vbe leaving for our descendants; I don't think mine will hold a candle to some of the things mine have suffered! That's when they really got involved with politics & religion! :)

  6. Pat, I've so enjoyed learning more about New York's part in the Rev War. The novel I set there is after the war, in 1784, but echoes of this battle still haunt some of the characters who were there, who lost loved ones, who were forever scarred by it. Thanks for this post. It's a part of history I wish I'd known about long ago, but better late than never, I say. :)

    And I agree, it would be VERY interesting to know how Molly got this information.

  7. Hi Lori--
    I immediately thought it might be an Oneida torn by the division of the tribes and maybe attempted to once again show his loyalty to the Iroquois....
    but, it would also be intriguing if it were a settler in the valley and his/her relationship(s)
    with the Loyalists. I see the conflict for a story forming here!

  8. Pat, just a glance through one my Joseph Brant biographies says that because Molly was living in Canajoharie at the time "little that the rebels were doing could escape her eyes and ears." A scout apparently confirmed the information. Still leaves a lot to the imagination!

  9. Well, I knew the moment I read these details Pat was posting! I'm in the small privileged group who has read Pat's Mohawk Legacy and the lady knows her stuff. Hey, we never made it anywhere for the French/Indian War events yet--maybe next year a field trip is in order!

    Wonderful, Pat!
    I have been to Brantford, Ontario for a Mohawk gathering. My mom's best friend's mother was a beautiful Mohawk woman who 'adopted' mom into the Turtle clan. What an amazing history we have in New York State. Not a happy ending but very valuable.

  10. Thank you for this post, Pat! I love to learn about the lesser-known battles, events, and individuals of the Revolution, and the Battle of Oriskany is chock full of them.


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