Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site

Centennial History of Delaware County, New York : 1797-1897
edited by David Murray, LL.D.

Transcribed by Tamara Sanford


Delaware county was involved in the trials of the Revolution only as a frontier community. In the meager settlements at Harpersfield, Middletown and Sidney there were differences of opinion which gradually grew into bitter controversies. Even in the perilous times which resulted from the invasions of the Indians there were tories who were ready to lead them against their patriot neighbors, and help them to raid their homes and carry off their slender possessions.

The Middletown settlers were very sharply divided. Even the boys at school became bitter partisans. It is handed down by tradition that a quarrel occurred between two of the schoolboys, one Isaac Dumond a son of Peter, and the other a boy by the name of Markle. The latter called Dumond a rebel and in return Dumond struck him. An encounter ensued; and probably other boys took sides. The matter ended in the breaking up of the school. In the spring of 1778, soon after the burning of Kingston by the British troops, the Indians advanced up the East branch for the purpose of making depredations upon the patriotic settlements. Their designs against Middletown were revealed by the friendly Indian Teunis* (*See p. 28.) as has been mentioned above. He notified Mr.Yaple his friend, and by him the alarm was spread among his patriot neighbors. They drove off their cattle and concealed such of their goods as they could. The Indians burnt their buildings and pursued the fugitives through the hills towards Kingston as far as Shandaken. It is said that Yaple afterwards returned to secure some of his goods, and was taken prisoner by the tories and carried off to the Pepacton. He was however soon after released.

A company of patriot militia was sent from Schoharie to protect the settlers. A sad event occurred in connection with the visit of these troops. In August 1778 they took prisoner Messrs. Dumond and Barrow, supposing them to have been tories, who had returned to the settlement to secure a piece of grain which was ripe. They were mounted, both on a single horse, and at what they thought a favorable moment tried to make their escape. They were detected in their effort and Dumond was shot, but Barrow eluded pursuit .and escaped. In the autumn of the same year Peter Brugher and his young son had returned to the Middletown settlement to harvest some of their crops. The Indians had been provoked by his piloting the Schoharie militia against them, and they took this occasion to kill him. The boy they took prisoner and carried him with others to Niagara*. (*See Gould's History of Delaware County, p. 39).

The most trying scenes, however, of the Revolution which occurred in Delaware county, were those in Harpersfield. Here the settlers were mostly patriots, and early August 1775 in the struggle they formed a committee of vigilance. The chief of this committee was John Harper, who received the commission of Colonel. Others of the active settlers were enrolled and took a solemn oath of fidelity to the patriot cause. They had not then given up the hope that at least a part of the Indians might join the American side in this controversy. As there was a gathering of the Indians at Oquago on the Susquehanna river, it was deemed best to dispatch Colonel Harper to hold a conference with them. This he undertook in the winter of 1776, and carried with him a letter from the Provincial Congress. He was received by them with kindness, and as he spoke their language fluently, he was given an opportunity to read the letter and state the wishes of the Congress. They treated him with the most august ceremony and gave him the assurance of their wish to remain neutral in the controversy then pending.

But the hopes raised by this conference of Colonel Harper with the Indians of short duration. Joseph Brant*, (we follow Stone's Life of Brant in these particulars) a Mohawk Indian, and whose sister was the Indian wife of Sir William Johnson, had become the war chief of the Six Nations. As a youth, by the influence of Johnson, he had been sent to the Moor Charity School at Lebanon, Connecticut. Here he acquired a fairly good education, and made the acquaintance of many boys who afterward became prominent. One of these was Captain Alexander Harper, a brother of Colonel John Harper. By the aid of Sir William, and through his own active and ambitious genius, he had been advanced to the leadership of the powerful league of Indians. He does not seem to have been present at the conference between Colonel Harper and the Indians at Oquago. And when he afterward joined the Indians he had little difficulty in reversing all the good impressions which had been made, and in persuading his fierce and lawless warriors to enter upon the bloody succession of raids which followed.

The result of a second effort to dissuade the Indians from making common cause with the British was no more favorable than that just referred to. This effort was made by General Herkimer in June, 1777. He had known Brant as an old neighbor in the Mohawk country, and hoped to exert some wholesome influence upon him. Herkimer asked Brant to meet him at Unadilla on the Susquehanna, and this he did. Each of the leaders had come, to the place of meeting with a considerable force. A conference was held, but without any good result. Indeed an angry altercation occurred between Brant and a Colonel Cox who was one of General Herkimer's attendant officers. And although no open breach of the peace occurred, both parties retired from the meeting more bitterly hostile towards each other than before.

Under pressure of such dangers the people of the Harpersfield settlement concluded that it was safest to escape to some more populous place. A few of the hardy men remained to care for the property and crops as far as possible; but the women and children and most of the men, July 1777, took quick and quiet departure for Cherry Valley. The sturdy old Scotchman John More who lived remote from the Harpersfield settlement had not heard of their departure, and was quietly remaining in his home. A friendly Indian who belonged to one of the threatening bands, escaped from his companions by night and came to John More's house to warn him to follow his friends and make his escape. He was wise enough to follow the advice and with his family and possessions joined in the procession to Cherry Valley.

The Johnston settlement on the Susquehanna at Sidney Plains had a visit from Brant and his Indians in June 1777. They stole some cattle from the settlers in order to feed, as Brant said his hungry warriors. Mr. Johnston held a conference with them, at which Brant gave his ultimatum in the following speech: "I am a man of war in. I have taken an oath with the king, and I will not make a treaty with you. I will give these families forty-eight hours* to get away. (Another authority gives the time as eight days). So long they shall be safe. If any among you wish to join us, I will protect them and they shall not be hurt". The Johnston and Sliter families who were patriots took advantage of the short respite and made their escape to Cherry Valley. Three families espoused the tory cause and remained under Brant's promise of protection. At Cherry Valley these families were present at the siege and burning of the place by the Indians and British; but after the war was over they returned to their old homes, and resumed their pioneer life.

The Indians of the Six Nations were mainly allies of the British in the Revolutionary war. Part of the Oneida tribe and part of the Tuscaroras were either friendly to the Colonists or neutral in the war. But the Mohawks, the Cayugas and the Senecas, were hostile; and under the active leadership of Brant gave the frontier settlements in Tryon county an infinite amount of trouble. They had held early in the war a council with British commissioners, who urgently pressed them to combine against the patriots. They thereupon made a treaty under which each chief of the savage allies was to receive a suit of clothes, a brass kettle, a gun and ammunition, a tomahawk, a scalping knife, a piece of gold, and a promise of a specified bounty for every prisoner or scalp delivered at headquarters.

Under these incentives many savage cruelties were enacted, sometimes by the Indians alone and sometimes by British troops; accompanied by Indians. The little village of Springfield at the head of Otsego Lake was destroyed in the spring of 1778, by Brant and his warriors. In July 1778, the terrible massacres at Wyoming* on the Susquehanna were perpetrated. (*Thomas Campbell's famous poem of Gertrude of Wyoming made a great impression. He calls Brant the "monster Brant". Brant's son however, visited London in order to vindicate his father's memory. It is said that he convinced the poet that Brant was not present on this occasion). The whole country was aroused, and the result was the sending of the Sullivan expedition, in order to exact due vengeance for the numberless barbarities which had been committed on the frontiers.

This expedition was planned by General Washington who insisted on the adequate punishment of the hostile Indians, who for so many years had acted as the willing agents of the British in harrying and raiding the New York settlements. The forces of the expedition were to consist of two parts; one under the command of General Sullivan, which was to ascend the Susquehanna; the other under the command of General James Clinton (the father of DeWitt Clinton) which was to be gathered in the Mohawk valley, to ascend the river in boats to Canajoharie, drag the 210 boats across the portage of twenty miles to the head of Otsego Lake, launch them there and traverse the lake to the outlet of the Susquehanna, thence to descend the river and join the first division at the junction of the Chemung and Susquehanna. The task of this second division was most difficult, but was performed with promptness and entire success.

One difficulty General Clinton surmounted in a most original and effective manner. It was in August 1779, that he and his expedition arrived at the outlet of the lake. The drought had so lessened the flow into the river that it was too low to float the boats which had been brought thither with such labor. Clinton had a dam erected across the outlet by which the flow was interrupted. In a few days the water of the lake was raised to the necessary height. The boats had been in the mean time moored in the stream below the lake. Then when everything was ready the dam was removed, and the boats were carried down on the crest of the swollen stream, until they arrived August 22 at the designated place of rendezvous.

The westward campaign at once began, under the command of General Sullivan. A considerable battle was fought at Newtown the site of the present city of Elmira. It is called the battle of the Chemung. A combined force of Indians under Brant and of British troops under Colonel John Butler, opposed Sullivan's army. But the British and Indians were swept away and the march westward continued. The Indian towns which were found were everywhere deserted, and as a revenge for the long series of depredations upon white settlements these towns and the crops about them were destroyed. The beautiful country* of the Cayugas and Senecas was the blossom of the highest Indian civilization. (*Stone in his life of Brant says: "They had several towns and many large villages, laid out with a considerable degree of regularity. They had framed houses, some of them well finished, having chimneys and painted. They had broad and productive fields; and in addition to an abundance of apples, were in the enjoyment of the pear and the still more delicious peach". Life of Joseph Brant. Vol. 11, p. 25). The Indians everywhere fled as Sullivan's expedition advanced. A slight and ineffective stand was made before Sullivan entered the beautiful valley of the Genesee. Everything was devastated and destroyed. The ripening crops on which the Indians depended for their winter supply were burnt. "The town of Genesee contained one hundred and twenty-eight houses, mostly large and very elegant. It was beautifully situated, almost encircled with a clear flat extending a number of miles; over which extensive fields of corn were waving, together with every kind of vegetable that could be conceived." ** (** Sullivan's report as cited by Stone. Vol. 11, p. 33).

This town with all its accumulated supplies was utterly destroyed, besides forty other Indian towns and villages. One hundred and sixty thousand bushels of corn were burned or cast into the river. Fruit trees were cut down and fields of growing vegetables were utterly devastated.

On the 16th of September Sullivan redressed the Genesee river and commenced his return. It had been intended that he should advance on Fort Niagara and reduce this principal stronghold. But perhaps fearing that his force had been too much reduced to undertake such a task, he did not venture upon the advance. He had accomplished the immediate object of his campaign. He had administered a stern and unsparing punishment upon the Indians for their barbarities committed upon the white settlements. Perhaps such cruelties are justifiable under such circumstances; but modern rules of warfare would not justify the destruction of peaceful towns and villages, without absolute evidence that they belonged to the guilty authors of the depredations.

The Indians were roused by this expedition of vengeance to make retaliations. During the winter of 1779-80 Brant led a band of Indians against the Oneidas who had befriended the Americans in their struggle with the British. He completely destroyed their dwellings and broke up their settlement. In the spring of 1780 he appeared again at Harpersfield. By a timely warning the inhabitants had made their escape and had taken refuge in Schoharie. A few of the men, among whom was Captain Alexander Harper, had returned to secure the maple sugar crop. They were surprised and taken prisoners. Part of them were marched off to Niagara, and part sent to Canada; where both parties remained till the end of the war, when they were set at liberty and returned to their desolated homes.

The only reminiscences of the scenes of the war were the bitterness's left by the disloyalty of tory neighbors. Some, of these tories ventured after the war to return and re-establish themselves among their old neighbors. But they found their neighborhoods too hot for them, and were compelled to make hasty exits.

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