SURPRISE OF THE DUNHAM FAMILY

BY

JAMES F. MORRISON

 


    In the morning of April 11, 1779, a party of Indians visited Fort Hunter for the purpose of removing their families from the fort.

    That afternoon on their way back to Canada they passed the home of Jacob Dunham in Mayfield.  The Indians found Jacob and his son Samuel chopping a tree in one of their fields near the house.  The two men had leaned their muskets against a nearby tree.

    The Indians crept closer and closer to the unsuspecting men.  The Indians were so near that if the two men tried to escape or reach their muskets they would be shot before they could do so.

    The Indians now stood up, gave their dreaded yell and rushed Jacob and Samuel.  The two men attempted to reach their muskets but they were killed before they could reach them.  The Indians now headed for the house.

    Mrs. Dunham with her son Silas, on hearing the musket fire, ran for the safety of the woods.  Zebulon, another son, was taken prisoner by the Indians while attempting to escape into the woods.  The Indians took Zebulon back to the house and they started to plunder the house.

    While the Inidans were busy plundering the house, Zebulon saw his chance to escape.  Zebulon now slipped out the back door but not before one of the Indians saw him.  The Indians pursued Zebulon into the woods but he escpaed by hiding under a fallen tree and the Indian returned to the house, they left and once again started on their way to Canada.

    Mrs. Dunham with her two sons started on their journey to Johnstown.  On reaching Fort Johnstown, Mrs. Dunham informed Captain Littel what had happened.  The next day a party of men buried the two slain Dunham's and pursued the enemy but they were too far ahead and the men returned to Fort Johnstown.

 

[April 1779]

22 Wednesday "this morning the Jury mett and brought in an account of Damage Done at a place called mayfield nigh Stone arabia One man named Dunham and his (son) were Killed 3 houses and 3 Barns were Burnt with their contents."

SOURCE:  EXCERPTS FROM A DIARY OF JOHN BEEBE, JR., NEW CONCORD, (CANAAN, COLUMBIA COUNTY), ed. RICHARD C. PERRY, 1983, MSS 13329, p 1, NEW YORK STATE LIBRARY, ALBANY, N.Y..

 

    There are many versions of the attack on the Dunham family and the following excerpt is one of them.

    Murder of John [sic, should read Jacob] Dunham and his son Samuel. -   Friendly Indians were sometimes in the habit of taking up a residence in the vicinity of American frontier posts.  In the Spring of 1779 several Indians, who pretended friendship, left the Johnstown fort, where they had, for some time, been a tax on the charity of its officers.  It was supposed by James Williamson, an informant, that this party of Indians killed the Dunhams north of Johnstown, as related on page 294 of my Border Wars; but at an interview, May 23, 1850, with Judge John Dunham of Hamilton county, a son of Ebenezer and grandson of Jacob Dunham, one of the slain, I obtained the following narrative of the event, corroborated by Josiah Canfield.

     Some time in the afternoon of April 11, 1779, a small party of the enemy-number not known, but said to have been direct from Canada-arrived on the premises of Jacob Dunham, who, with his son Samuel, a young man grown, was engaged some 40 or 50 rods from his house chopping a fallow.   Hearing them at work, the Indians were enabled to steal up unobserved, shoot them both down and secure their scalps for market.  Mrs. Dunham, hearing the guns, is believed to have concealed herself in a forest hiding-place.  Zebulon, a son in his teens, was captured by the enemy, and while they were plundering the house he gave them the slip and fled into the woods for dear life.  He was pursued by an Indian, felt his inability to escape by running, and springing over the trunk of a fallen tree, he concealed himself beneath it.  The Indian stood upon the log, but, overlooking the object of his search, he gave over the pursuit and returned to share the plunder of their dwelling.  John Dunham, another member of this family, was killed later in the war in Herkimer county, as I shall elsewhere show.

    As soon as news of this affair reached Johnstown, a scout under the daring frontiersman of that locality, Solomon Woodworth, pursued the enemy and the next day, not many miles from the Dunham place, came upon their encampment, where was but one Indian.   He pretended friendship, told, Woodworth he would be his prisoner, etc.  The scout demanded the whereabouts of his comrades.  He said they were hunting, but would not tell in what direction.  Said Woodworth, "You and your friends have killed an uncle of mine, but you shall not be hurt if you will tell where your comrades are."  He covered his face with his hands and, although threatened with death, still refused to reveal their position, whereupon Woodworth raised his rifle and shot him.   The rest of the party escaped.

    Not long after this event, some 20 rods where the Dunhams were killed, a piece of dry upland, which had been plowed over for several years, sunk down to considerable depth, leaving a hole 10 or 15 feet across, and superstition said it was a consequence of those murders. - John Dunham

SOURCE:  THE FRONTIERSMEN OF NEW YORK, JEPTHA R. SIMMS, GEO. C. RIGGS, PUBLISHER, ALBANY, N.Y., 1883, VOL. II,
pp 235-237.

 

    The following is excerpted from the PENSION APPLICATION OF EBENEZER DUNHAM, NO. S22744, N.Y..  Ebenezer and his brother, John were not home when the attack took place and were probably at Fort Johnstown.   Ebenezer mentions the death of his father and brother thus:

    "That on the 11th day of April 1779 Jacob Dunham the father of the applicant, (also a brother) was murdered by a party of Indians then on their return to Canada, (having been to Fort Hunter,) to remove their families to Canada with them.  That on the 13th of April '79, he removed to Johnstown to guard the Fort under the command of Capt [Andrew] Wemple, Col. [Frederick] Visschers Regiment."

 

The site of Jacob's home is on the Paradise Point Road [off of Route 30A], Town of Mayfield.  There is a marker there to denote this spot.  The marker reads as follows:

INDIAN RAID

 Jacob Dunham and Samuel his Son, Killed here April 1779.   Others of the family escaped by hiding in the woods.  Site of their home

 

    The following is another version of the Dunham incident and you can see there is a very big difference in this version.  SOURCE:   TYPED MANUSCRIPT BY REV. MELVIN LETHBRIDGE, p 53.  This manuscript was in the possession of Fulton County Historian Dr. R.M. Palmer unit his death.

    "It was about Father Dunham's brother who was also killed by the Indians while plowing down in the creek lot.  I remember the day as if it were yesterday - a beautiful October day like this.  The Indians had been set up by John Johnson and Walter Butler to hate the patriots of Mayfield and to kill them when they got the chance.  The Indians themselves were beginning to regret the bargain that had been forced upon them in their ignorance to get their land.  As I was saying, Dunham went out to plow with his well-trained span of brown oxen.  What happened no one knows.  Along toward his woman went out to feed the chickens, when she heard the rattle of the drag chain and the clink of the iron shod oxen on the cobble stones, and looking up saw the oxen come to a halt before the bars.  Her husband had a way of hanging his hat on the horn of the ox when working in the field, but this was not his hat - it was his head.  She screamed and ran down the lane toward the creek lot; a neighbor, who was husking corn in the barn heard her scream and followed down  the lane, first picking up his gun which in those days no careful person kept far away.  There in the creek lot they came upon the headless body of her husband in a furrow.  My God when I heard the news I was a savage too, and had I come upon those red-skins I would have killed them barehanded.  God grant that we may never see times like those again." "Amen." said several."

 

This version is obviously ficticious and the author of this typed manuscript quotes Simms for this version.  It is not in the Border Wars [1845], Trappers of New York [1850], or "THE AMERICAN SPY" in 1846 which was a fictionalized account of the American Revolution.  Perhaps it was from this book the above quote was taken from.

However, several historians have printed similar versions of Dunhams' death and adding that strange lights have been seen in the area of the sunken ground.

Others versions claim that Silas and Zebulon were killed and that the house was burned.  Unfortunately no one seems to know what happened to Mrs. Rebeccah Dunham, Silas or Zebulon.  They are not listed for any state in the First Census of the United States, 1790, Washington, 1908.  Mrs. Dunham could have remarried but Silas and Zebulon must have died before 1790.

John Dunham was killed in an ambush on September 7, 1781 in Herkimer County.  Ebenezer died in Lake Pleasant, Hamilton County around 1836.  Their only sister Rebecca, married Selah Woodworth, and they both died in Mayfield.

Supposedly by family tradition, Selah and Rebecca Woodworth moved back to Connecticut in 1781 and returned to Mayfield when the war ended.  They moved because of the various raids that took the lives of Rebecca's father and brothers and Selah's brother Lieutenant Solomon Woodworth who was killed in the same ambush as John.   Perhaps Mrs. Dunham returned to Connecticut at this time as well.

 

SOURCES:

BROWN, LEON R., "300" AMERICAN ANCESTORS OF LEON R. BROWN, N.Y., 1952.

MOORE, SOPHIE DUNHAM, JACOB DUNHAM GENEALOGY WITH ENGLISH AND AMERICAN ANCESTRY OF DUNHAM FAMILY, MICHIGAN, 1963.

WOODWORTH, WILLIAM, DESENDANTS OF WALTER WOODWORTH of SCITUATE, MASS., N.Y. 1898.


Return to Fulton County Page

NYGenWeb

Copyright 1999,2000 James Morrison
Copyright 1999,2000 Jeanette Shiel
All Rights Reserved.


Last updated Tuesday, 13-May-2008 13:36:10 PDT