The Frontiersmen of New York
This piece was transcribed
and kindly donated by Stephan G. Dennie,
direct descendant of Godfrey and Jacob Shew.
Invasion of Johnstown and Battle near Johnson Hall.
The following facts relating to the invasion of Johnstown, were obtained from the old patriot, Jacob Shew. On the same morning the army of Ross left Florida, Capt. Littel led a scout of nearly a dozen men of his company toward Tribeshill, to learn the destination of the Florida " barn-burners" of the night before.
Under him were Zepheniah Bacheller, John Eikler, Henry and Jacob Shew,Peter Yost, David and John Moyer (brothers). The scout was attended by Lieut. Saulkill, a fine looking young officer, well mounted ; who was going to Schenectada as an express- doubtless to give intelligence of the enemy's proximity, heralded the evening before.
About five miles to the eastward of Johnstown, Capt. Littel came suddenly upon the enemy's advance, which fired upon and killed Lieut. Saulkill in the road. The Indians secured his horse and several others from adjoining fields before they arrived in town. When the Lieutenant fell, Capt. Littel was about to fire on the foe, but be was advised by Jacob Shew not to halt to contend with such odds, and the scout faced about and fled. Yost and Jacob Shew bounded from the road on the left and ran westward, while the captain with the rest of his party took the woods to the right and were driven off to the eastward of Johnson Hall, and were there serving as out-flankers when the action began between Willett and Ross. In this position they fell in with a party of the enemy, took trees and exchanged shots with them. A ball fired at Eikler struck the tree which sheltered him, scattering the bark and causing him to dodge; seeing which, said the captain, "Eikler, why do you dodge-when you see the bark fly you are in no danger." Another bullet sent with more precision soon after pierced Eikler's breast; at which moment the captain was wounded in one leg. The scout now fled for the fort, leaving their poor comrade to his fate. Although a man of great courage, the captain would probably have been slain as be was greatly exhausted ; but Henry Shew lent him a helping hand and be got off in safety.
Jacob Shew and Yost joined the troops under Col. Willett, just after his repulse, and assisted in retaking a cannon the enemy had captured. On the morning after the Johnstown battle, Eikler was found alive and taken to his house near Johnstown, but he died soon after, much lamented. He had fallen in the woods, and as the enemy had pursued his companions, he escaped their notice, and was not scalped. At the beginning of the action, a part of Col. Willett's troops, under Maj. Rowley, were piloted by Lieut. William Wallace to gain the enemy's rear back, of the Hall, and were led so far around as not to reach the position assigned, until after Col. Willett had met and been repulsed by the enemy. Hearing Rowley's troops engaged he again led his men to the attack, and the foemen were routed. The Americans had about 400 men in this battle, and the enemy from 400 to 450, consisting of British, tories and Indians. About 30 were killed on both sides, rather more than one half of whom were foes.(1)
A large Indian who was killed in a field where he had exposed himself, was found and burried by the Americans-who placed a pile of stone on his grave.
On the morning after the Hall battle, as sometimes called because it was fought near it. The Shew brothers and William Laird were reconnoitering, and at Crosort's place they took two British soldiers, who, fatigued, had lingered there. The trio secured their guns and lodged the prisoners in jail. In the course of the day, Col. Willett, who bad returned to Fort Plain, and from thence moved up to Fort Dayton, sent a messenger to Capt. Littel at the Johnstown fort, to dispatch a scout upon the trail of the enemy, to discover his intended route 'to Canada. The enemy lodged the first night near Bennett's Corners, four miles from the Hall, where the prisoner Jacob Van Alstine made his escape; and the second night half a mile beyond the outlet of the Caroga lakes. Capt. Littel chose to lead this scout himself, the wound of the previous day proving a slight one; and taking with him Jacob Shew and William Laird, he followed the en`emy's trail to their camp fires of the second night, by which himself and men warmed. After observing the route some further, and becoming satisfied they would go via Buck's Island to Canada, the scout lodged in the woods near the enemy's last encampment, and returned next day to the fort. A horse stood ready saddled on his return, upon which Capt. Littel dispatched Peter Yost as an express to Fort Dayton nearly 40 miles distant, with a message to Col. Willett. The enemy, striking the most easterly of the Jersey field roads leading to Mount's clearing, followed it several miles ; encamping over night on what has since been called Butler's Ridge, (2) in the town of Norway, half a mile from Black creek. On he arrival of the Johnstown express, Col. Willett, in the hope of heading his foes and compelling them to fight, led his forces up the West Canada creek, crossed it a mile above Fort Dayton, proceeded up its eastern side to Middleville, and from thence up the Moltoner brook to the Jersey field road leading to Little Falls. Striking that road northeast of the present village of Fairfield, he followed it up and encamped at night, a mile distant from the encampment of the enemy-of whose position he was advised. - Jacob Shew and Col. -D. C. Henderson
At early dawn Col. Willett dispatched Capt. Thornton, afterwards a Major, with two men to observe the motions of the enemy. Just as it began to grow light, the scouts found themselves between the main body of the enemy and their rear guard, the whole corps already moving. Without attracting notice as be supposed, Thornton drew his men one side, sent one of them with a message to Col. Willett, and with the other, who was an artilleryman, remained to keep an eye of espionage upon the enemy. After the rear-guard had passed them, the two Americans fell behind and followed on for some distance, imagining they were not observed : but on arriving at a little beech plain on the Hurricane (3) -a strip of land on which a tornado had destroyed the timber- they were undeceived, a volley of balls greeting them from a dry tree top seemingly in a blaze, that lay directly in their path. The artilleryman, whose name is forgotten, sprang up half his length and sank to the earth a corpse. His coat drawn up under his belt, was found perforated in five places by a single bullet. (4)
Immediately after firing, the party in ambush ran off to join their fellows, and Capt. Thornton remained near his fallen companion until the Americans came up. The rear guard of the enemy was overtaken by the American's advance, and a skirmish ensued at the Black creek ; another skirmish took place near the West Canada creek, some distance above Trenton Falls, at which place - now known as Butler's Ford - Walter Butler was shot. In these skirmishes, said John Ostrom and several of the enemy were killed. But then- flight was so rapid, that Willett continued the pursuit but a short distance beyond the creek, despairing of bringing his foes to an engagement ; and scantily provisioned on the start he gave over the pursuit and returned to Fort Dayton. The enemy forded the creeks four abreast, -carrying poles to prevent falling.
Soon after crossing the West Canada creek, the Americans found a little white girl five years old beneath a fallen tree, where she sat crying piteously. She had been made captive by an enemy, who finding himself encumbered with her, had left her where found. She was taken back and restored to her surviving friends. - Col. Henderson
The following incident attendant on the Johnstown (5)battle, was told the author by Joseph Wagner. In the Revolution, a hedge fence ran eastward from Johnson Hall, and the men under Willett were upon one side of it, and those under Ross the other. After a few shots the Americans retreated in confusion, but were rallied, returning to the field ; and acting in concert with troops in the enemy's rear, gained a signal victory.
When the Americans first retreated, Wagner was the last man to leave the ground. Seeing an officer gentely clad spring into, the fence near, he fired and brought him down. In an instant an hundred guns were leveled at his own person, and he fled in safety amid their discharge. After the battle was over and Willett's men had encamped, Wagner, attended by several friends, visited the field to learn the fate of the handsome officer he had fired at. He found him on the around near where, he had fallen, and addressed him much as follows: My dear sir, I am the man who shot you in the afternoon, but I have a fellow feeling for you; permit me and I will take you to our camp, where you shall receive kind treatment and good care. "I would rather die on the spot," was his emphatic reply, than leave it with a d--ned rebel! " The young officer, who was very good looking, with long black hair, was left to his fate.
By dawn of day the Americans were put in motion, and Wagner saw no more of the warrior named ; but on the approach of several Oneidas in the morning, he observed in the hands of one, a scalp, the hair of which resembled that of his.
Capt. Andrew Finck, a native of the Mohawk Valley, who possessed a spirit suited for the times, was also in the Johnstown battle. In a correspondence between Andrew Finek, his son, and H. F. Yates, in which a part of the military services of the Captain are mentioned, I find the following facts noted. During the action near the Hall, the British took from the Americans a field piece, which Col. Willett was anxious to recover. He sent Capt. Finck with a party of volunteers to reconnoitre the enemy, and if possible get the lost cannon. Three of the volunteers were Christian and Myndert Finek, brothers of the Captain, and George Stansell. While observing the movement of the enemy from the cover of a fallen tree, Stansell was shot down beside his brave leader, with a bullet through his lungs; and was born from the woods by Hanyost Finek. Strengthening his party of volunteers, Capt. Finck again entered the forest, soon after which be picked up a British knapsack containing a bottle of French brandy and a cocked bat. The cannon was soon after recaptured, and it, being near night, Willett drew off his men and quartered them in the old Episcopal church in Johnstown; gaining entrance by breaking in a window.NOTES:
(1) Dr. Thacher says, that the enemy consisted of 6OO regular rangers and Indians (the number I think overrated): that their killed was unknown though supposed considerable, but their loss in prisoners was 52; that the loss of the Americans was one Lieutenant and 12 rank and file killed, and one Captain, two Lieutenants and 20 rank and file wounded.
(2) In the summer of 1850, the writer enjoyed the pleasure, in company with Col. Henderson, of standing upon this elevated ground.
(3) Several years before the Revolution, a hurricane began in the westerly part of Oneida county, and swept off through the forest in an easterly direction, across the present towns of Camden and Trenton; and entering, Herkimer county at a place called the dug way, in Poland, it continued onward through the towns of Russia, Norway and Salisbury-extending a distance of 50 or 60 miles. Its breadth generally ranged from 60 to 100 rods, and so great was its fury, that almost every tree in its course was torn up by the roots. Its traces were visible for more than half a century; and a portion of the ground over which the tornado burst in its fury, is called " The Hurricane" to this day. -Col. Henderson.
(4) On their return, a party of Americans buried this soldier in the following manner. Placing the body under the roots of a wind fallen tree and cutting off the trunk; when done the roots were easily thrown back Into the cavity, effectually burying the poor soldier.
(5) Most of the Scotch settlers in and around Johnstown, as elsewhere shown, either went to Canada with the Johnsons at the beginning of difficulties, or if they remained, were more the friends of the British than the American government. Duncan McGregor, who resided several miles north of Johnson Hall, was an exception. At the time of Ross' invasion, several Indians and a tory entered the pioneer's house in the evening, who left it as they were approaching, unobserved by them. He gained the rear of his log dwelling, and through a cranny watched the motions of the party. He was armed with a gun and a sword, and resolved that if any injury or insult was offered his wife, to shoot the offender and flee to the woods. Mrs. McGregor detected a tory as one of the party, by observing his white skin where the paint had worn off. This white Indian enquired of her, if she could not give them something to eat. She replied that she had some johnny cake and milk. "That will do," said he, and soon they were eating. As they rose from the table, one of them espied a handsomely painted chest in one corner of the room, and asked what it contained " It contains books," said she, " and other articles belonging to a relative in Albany. "Ah" said the speaker "he belongs to the rebel army I suppose?" She replied that he did; and her countenance indicated no little anxiety as he exclaimed with a menacing gesture, "be careful you do not deceive us." One of the intruders with a tomahawk instantly split the cover, and the books and sundry articles of clothing were thrown upon the floor. The clothing was added to their stock of plunder, and soon after the warriors departed. -Alexander J. Comrie
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