7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Friday, February 15, 2013

New York State and the American Revolution--Part II

By Kathleen L. Maher

According to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation,
“Nearly one third of all the battles fought during the American Revolution were fought in New York State. The capture of Fort Ticonderoga, the Battles of Oriskany, Newtown and Saratoga are just a few of the major events that took place on New York soil.”

This is part two  in a four-part look at these important theaters in the war and New York’s vital role in our Nation’s Founding Struggle

To understand the Battle of Oriskany, one must appreciate the waterways and the mode of travel and trade through New York in the 18th century. The Mohawk Valley (see Mohawk River on above map) was incredibly fertile and considered a bread basket. New York offered lucrative opportunities for trade along its waterways: from New York City's harbor, up the Hudson River, west along the Mohawk River, a trader could make it almost all the way to the Great Lakes by canoe. At the end of Mohawk River, however, one would have to carry their canoe and goods for a short stretch to meet Wood Creek and continue on. This area of portage was called the Oneida Carry. It was this small parcel of land between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek that would become a hotly contested area between British, Iroquois and Patriot interests over who would control trade and control of the state.

An old British stronghold Fort Stanwix guarded the Oneida Carry, and in 1777 the New York patriots rebuilt it and manned it with 700 infantry, and renamed it Fort Schuyler. In nearby Oswego, loyalist General Barry St. Leger had a force of 800 plus another 800 Native Tories. St Leger was then ordered to move east to meet Bergoyne. Standing in the way was Fort Schuyler, and St. Leger prepared to lay siege. Patriot reinforcements came from the east, from Fort Dayton via General Herkimer and 800 of his troops. In early August, 1777 Joseph Brant, the famous Iroquois leader, led a party to intercept Herkimer. At the little Indian village of Oriska, an ambush lay in the dense woods and its steep ravine and creek--British commander John Butler's Rangers and Sir John Johnson's Greens waiting to strike the head of Herkimer's column while the Natives under Brant would attack the rear and flank.

Herkimer was supposed to wait for a signal (three reports from cannon) from the commander at Schuyler before moving in, but pressured to prove his mettle in a swift attack, he forged ahead of orders. His Oneida scouts sensing no threat, he marched 600 men into the ravine, plus several supply wagons, and as his rearguard began to follow, the attack came at them from all sides. 

"One of the most violent battles of the Revolutionary War occurred at Oriskany on August 6, 1777. It was the first time that Oneida warriors, who openly sided with the rebellious Americans, fought against other Haudenoshaunee warriors who allied themselves with the British."
so reads a plaque at the site of the Battle of Newtown.                                                                                        Oneidas at the Battle of Oriskany                                                                                            painting by Don Troiani 2005.

Blacksnake, a Seneca war chief, said this of the battle:
We met the enemy at the place near a small creek. They had 3 cannons and we none. We had tomahawks and a few guns, but agreed to fight with tomahawks and scalping knives. During the fight, we waited for them to fire their guns and then we attacked them. It felt like no more than killing a Beast. We killed most of the men in the American's army. Only a few escaped from us. We fought so close against one another that we could kill or another with a musket bayonet.... It was here that I saw the most dead bodies than I have ever seen. The blood shed made a stream running down on the sloping ground.

General Herkimer was shot through the leg and his horse killed, but he continued to lead the men. A fierce thunderstorm interrupted the battle, allowing a contingent of Patriots to slip away and attack the nearby British camps. Once the battle resumed, the Indian Tories abandoned the fight and went to the aid of their camp. Without their help, the British soon abandoned the fight, too.
The result of the battle was a draw. Out of 800 only 150 Patriots returned without major wounds. Herkimer didn't stop the siege, but by August 22, St. Leger ended it anyway. General Herkimer died of his wounds 11 days after the battle. The Oneida villages were sacked and given over to natives loyal to the rebel cause.

New York held a tentative peace as each side retreated in stalemate. More conflict was to come.


  1. Wow! That was really interesting! I had never heard that story or if I heard it in history class it was made so boring I don't remember. LOL. I guess this is a lesson we all could learn from. 'Pride comes before a fall.' Had Herkimer not been so proud and waited for the cannon shots the outcome could have been vastly different.

    1. That's a great application to a timeless truth, Debbie Lynne! Yeah, it might have saved his life.
      Thanks for commenting :)

  2. Thank you, Kathleen, for such an interesting post.Furnishing the map was very helpful to put things in perspective.

    1. I love looking into these battles. I am learning so much! Thanks for coming over today, Janet.

  3. What an interesting account of this battle, Kathleen! Thank you for explaining it so well and bringing it to life. Wow. The map was a great help—thank you!

    1. Thanks, Elaine. I wish I could say I drew the map myself. :)

  4. Interesting... I know who I'm calling for all my future research needs... :-)

    1. Tina, you're no slouch at research yourself. ;) Thanks for coming by!

  5. Have a crit partner who writes faction based on facts. Would love this post.

  6. Hi Kathleen--

    Wow! Great story telling of a true incident! Had me really engaged. I can't believe the bravery of most men who go off to war, no matter what era.

    They apparently fought for hours--that's why I still can't believe the strength these people had. Amazing about that thunder storm too...God just seemed to turn it in the patriots' favor. Thanks so much for this post!

  7. This was great, thanks. History has come to life for me, ever since I started following these blogs by you wonderful ladies! Thank you so much!

  8. This sounds so much more exciting than I recall from fifth grade when the entire social studies year was devoted to NY history!
    Loved it. I've been taking herbalist classes and our teacher even ties things in to NY history --things I didn't even know, and you know how geeky we can get when historical details pop up!

    Thanks Kathy!
    You and Pat and I need to get together this year for sure...

  9. A great example of how weather can change history, Kathleen! I've also run across a number of similar historical accounts of storms that dramatically changed the course of battles which I used in my series on the American Revolution. In book 2, Native Son, I included an account of a severe storm that occurred right after the British discovered that Washington had fortified Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston, with the cannon Knox brought back from Ticonderoga, making Boston untenable for the British. They planned to attack the fortification, but that night a storm wreaked such havoc on their ships that it prevented the attack, and the British had no choice but to evacuate the town. If they had carried out their plans, the result would have been disastrous.

    In book 3, Wind of the Spirit, I used the account of a tremendous storm over New York City that occurred just before the Battle of Brooklyn Heights in 1776. It was truly astounding in its power and felt to many who experienced it like an omen. The battle was delayed because of it, and although the British flanked Washington's forces and won the battle a few days later, as Washington was evacuating his troops from Long Island back to Manhattan early in the morning, a great fog rose that concealed them from the British until all were safely out of reach.

    Clearly God works through the natural world to accomplish his purposes!

  10. Very interesting account from history. Having lived in Syracuse for a couple of years while in grad school at Syracuse U, I could picture the battle as I have been through that area of New York state.

  11. AJ Hawke! I've been looking for you! So glad to see you here. I hope you are well and interested in how your cowboy Joe is doing!


    (that's me smiling!)


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