Catskill Mountain House

Chapter 6

Suffering and Escapes Of Prisoners - Ravages Of Tories And Indians

From "The Catskill Mountains And The Region Around" (1867) By Rev. Charles Rockwell
Fort Niagara.-Dr. Bethune.-Colonel Johnson.-Colonel Butler.-A Tory Friend.-Brant's visit.-James Butler.-Carlton Island.-Ogdensburg.Cote- du Lac.-Montreal.-The Prevot there.-Prison Life.-General McLain. -Sir William Grant.-Labor of Prisoners.-An Escape.-Prison Fare.-Colonel Gordon.-Release of Captain Abeel.-Isle of Jesu.-Life there.-New Clothes.-Books.-They prepare to escape.-The Fourth of July.-Escape from the Island.-Point au Tremble.-Chambly River.-Hessian Boat.Axes lost.-A British Blockhouse.-Surge Marsh.-A False Alarm.-Lake Magog.-Indians-Connecticut River.-They Cross it.-A Narrow Escape.-Wild Berries.-A Log-house.-Kind Friends.-General Bailey.-New Shoes.-A Horse.-Routes Home.-Short and Miller.-Letter of Mr. Emerick.-Massacre at Minisink.-Burial of its Victims.-Raid on Harpersfield and Canajoharie.-Brant in Ulster County.-His History.-Rev. Dr. Wheelock.-Brant visits England.-Sir William Johnson and the Indians.-The Butlers.-Colonel McKinstry.-His Life saved by Brant.-Their Friendship. -Brant's Visits.-Sullivan's Expedition.-Brant's Family.-His Death.-His Sons.-Their Education.-Vindication of him by his Son.-Thomas Campbell.

Fort Niagara was large and strong, having been early built by the French, and was one of the strongest holds of the British in the west. It was on a tongue of land jutting into Lake Ontario, with the Niagara River on one side and a cove on the other. On the land side it had a breastwork fifteen feet high, covered with turf, and inclosed some six or eight acres of land. There was in it a handsome wooden edifice for the use of the head of the Indian Department, who was then Col. Guy Johnson. [Fort Niagara was taken from the United States by the British in the war of 1812, and was held by them some time. A history of this fort may be found in the "Gazetteer of New York," published in Syracuse in 1860; and engravings both of its interior and exterior are given in the late Rev. Dr. George W. Bethune's Life of his mother, who was born in the fort, while her father was Surgeon of a British regiment stationed there.] Colonel Johnson was a native of Ireland, and a son-in-law of Sir William Johnson (whose life by Mr. William L. Stone has been recently published). Capt. Snyder and his son were seated on the piazza in front of the fort, with the Indians on either side of them, when Colonel Johnson made his appearance. He was a short, thickset man, about forty years of age, of a stern countenance and haughty manners, in British uniform, with powdered locks, cocked hat, and a sword by his side. His voice was harsh, with a touch of the brogue. He ordered a white flag to be raised, as a signal for Colonel Butler, who had a regiment of rangers on the opposite shore, and directed a servant to give rum first to the Indians and then to the prisoners. Soon Butler came, with two of his soldiers, and joined Colonel Johnson. He was a native of Connecticut, tall and portly, dressed in a green uniform, and apparently about fifty years of age.

When Johnson and Butler were seated opposite the prisoners, Runnip gave the papers taken from Snyder to Colonel Johnson, and gave an account of the prisoners, and where they were taken. The papers were examined by each of the officers, and laid aside. Johnson asked what news there was on the frontiers, when Runnip replied, that the British fleet were up the Hudson River, as high as Kingston, and that he and his companions had been down to the point, and had seen the vessels. When Johnson asked Captain Snyder about it, he said, "It may be so; we do not know." Then followed the questions and answers given below. "Is Charleston taken ? " "It was besieged, but we cannot tell whether it was taken or not." "What is the strength of the rebel army under Washington ? " "We cannot tell." "Do the rebels still keep up their spirits ? " "As far as we know they do." "How are the times ? " "Not very encouraging." " Is West Point called Fort Defiance ?" "We never heard it called so." "It is called so, and you ought to know it."

Runnip then rose, and made a speech in his native tongue, of some ten or fifteen minutes, which a Stockbridge Indian rendered fluently into English. The substance of it was : "The quarrel is between you and them (the Americans), and we expect to be well rewarded for what we have done." Johnson answered that he was willing to reward them with rum, provisions, and corn, but that they must give none to the Indians around the fort. He said that they had already been furnished and ordered to the Genesee Flats to plant; but many of them, through laziness or dislike, went a little way, got drunk, and returned. The Five Nations of Indians, after their plantations on the Genesee Flats had been destroyed by General Sullivan the year previous, had retreated to near Fort Niagara, where they had been maintained during the winter by the British Government. Having there been fed mostly on salt meat, great numbers of them died of scurvy. Runnip now took Captain Snyder by the hand and delivered him to Colonel Johnson, and his son Elias, in the same way, to Butler. An escort of soldiers then conducted them to a guardhouse on the wall of the fort, where they were confined a week. The third day, a tory sergeant named Rowe, belonging to Butler's corps, visited them. He had lived near the Snyders, in Saugerties, and came to inquire about his relatives and friends. He was civil, and seemed to pity them; but they could converse only in the presence of a British sergeant, and aloud. Captain Snyder and his son were here furnished with frock coats of coarse Indian cloth.

While in the guardhouse they were visited by Brant, the celebrated Indian chief. He was good-looking, of a fierce aspect, tall and rather spare, well spoken, and apparently about thirty years of age. He wore moccasins elegantly trimmed with beads, leggings and a breechcloth of superfine blue, a short green coat, with two silver epaulets, and a small, round, laced hat. By his side was an elegant silver-mounted cutlass; and his blanket of blue cloth (purposely dropped in the chair on which he sat to display his epaulets) was gorgeously adorned with a border of red. His language was very insulting, asking many questions; and, having learned that they were from near Esopus, he said, "That is my old fighting-ground." They were led to form a very unfavorable opinion of Brant, from his treatment of them. Speaking to Elias, he said, "You are young, and I pity you ; but for that old villain," pointing to his father, "I have no pity."

At the end of the week they were removed across the river, with Michael Vreeland, formerly of New Jersey, James Butler of Philadelphia, and an Irishman by the name of Gilfallen, and were put into the bold of a twelvegun vessel on Lake Ontario. Butler had been in Sullivan's army, was taken prisoner by the Indians near Wyoming, and adopted by an Indian family at Niagara, in place of a lost son. He ran away several times to Niagara, was sold to a British surgeon for two gallons of rum, and was in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. Sergeant Rowe visited them on shipboard, and gave the Snyders second-hand hats ; and a tory by the name of Birch, who had known Benjamin Snyder, a brother of the captain, was kind to them, and sent them seven pounds of sugar and a pound of tea. Friday, June 2, the vessel set sail, and the prisoners were permitted to come on deck. Sunday they were put ashore on Carlton Island, at the foot of the lake, where they were confined in a small fortress three days. They were then sent in batteaux, under a guard of tories from Sir John Johnson's battalion, to Montreal, stopping at Ogdensburg (then called Oswegatchie), and receiving on board a female prisoner and five deserters from the American army. The parting between this woman and her husband, who was detained by his Indian captor, was most affecting, separating as they did in a paroxysm of grief, with a flood of tears. At Cote du Lac they stopped an hour, where an Irishman cursed Gilfallen for rebelling against His Majesty, and then brought him a large piece of bread and butter. June 12 they reached La Chine, walking from thence nine miles to Montreal, where they were confined in the Prevot, a military prison, of a class in which there was great suffering during our Revolutionary War. The word "Prevot" is of French derivation. The Prevot at Montreal was a large, dismal lookiing stone building, with big windows, where were confined American prisoners, and criminals of every kind. In a room about sixteen feet by twenty, in the second story, forty American prisoners, or "Yankees" as they were called, were confined until August, while they slept in an entry or gangway about sixteen feet by eight, where they were stowed, twenty on a side, with their heads to the wall, and barely space enough between their feet for the guard to pass when he inspected them at nine o'clock at night. At times there were fifty prisoners in such apartments ; some of whom, who had been longest confined, were sent to Quebec to relieve the pressure. The keeper of the Prevot, named Jones, who had married in Albany, secured for the Snyders the privilege of remaining at Montreal, and treated them kindly.

About the first of August, most of the prisoners were taken before General McLain, an elderly Scotch officer, then commanding at Montreal. His manners were mild, and he treated the prisoners well. He had gained a victory over the lamented Montgomery. Prisoners who could secure recommendations from loyalists were employed by Sir William Grant, a paymaster in the British army, who had married a wealthy Canadian lady, and who was then building mills on an island at the lower end of the city. The Snyders, who had none to recommend them, Butler, who had come there from Niagara, having refused to do so, were confined in the Prevot, until at length the father was employed, the son remaining in prison as a security for the father's fidelity. The prisoners were mostly employed in blasting rocks and carrying the hod, and were paid five dollars a month in coin. Captain Snyder, however, who was expert in using tools, was employed as carpenter, and soon so far secured the favor of his employer as to obtain the release of his son from prison.

On the night of the 28th of October, however, six of those employed by Grant escaped ; and the next day all the other prisoners in his employ were again confined in the Prevot. There they remained without stockings during a Canadian winter, and two-thirds of the time until the 13th of June the next year were under the guard of a cruel Hessian sergeant and twenty-four men, who beat the prisoners with their swords. Near the end of October, Sir William Grant paid all the prisoners what he owed them, in coin. Some Indians in the employ of the British having come to Montreal, while returning from a drunken frolic by night, killed a Canadian, and wounded another. The murderer, handcuffed and fettered, was thrust into the Prevot, saying, "Me Yankee." He came near being killed by a man named Brown, whose father had been murdered by Indians in Harpersfield; but as two men named Hanson, from the Mohawk, would not agree to conceal the deed and the name of him who proposed to do it, the Indian's life was saved, and the next day he was taken from the prison.

During their first confinement in the Prevot, they had a short allowance of food, consisting of salt beef and pork, peas and oatmeal for soup, with three pints of sprucebeer, a day. Their food was drawn every Monday, and was so stinted in quantity as with the utmost economy to last only five days, leaving them two days of each week without food. They cooked their food at a single fire, in the guardroom below. The Hessians were cross, and often drove them from the fire; but as the Snyders were of German descent, and spoke some High Dutch, they were treated with more indulgence. The Prevot swarmed with vermin; and daily, after dinner, they tried to free themselves from them, and spent much time in playing cards. The money paid them by Grant enabled them to purchase a little tea and coffee. They often heard the scalp-yell in Montreal, and saw Indians coming in with scalps of men, women, and children, arranged in regular order on poles.

June 13, Colonel James Gordon, of Ballston, was brought in a prisoner with others, having been taken by the Indians in an irruption into that place. Through his influence the Snyders and Captain David Abeel and his son Anthony, of Catskill, who had been brought to the Prevot the May previous (1781) with several others, were liberated on parole, and billeted among the Canadians on the Isle of Jesu, sixteen or eighteen miles above Montreal. Here they were not treated well, though better than in the Prevot. The women were many and ill-natured, and tried to prevent their making tea. In August, Captain Abeel, being more than fifty, was sent home under guard, as it was not customary to detain old men, women, or children, the scalps alone of these being regarded as desirable.

About this time, Captain Drake, of Fishkill, proposed employing Elias Snyder as a waiter; but, as he had signed the parole as equal with the rest, he refused to be their servant. In October, the well-known Captain Wood, of Goshen, the only survivor of the massacre at Minisink, in Orange County, joined them. December 1, they were all restricted to one house, with orders not to leave it, Sir John Johnson's battalion having arrived on the island, and being, as was supposed, unwilling to see rebels going at large. In three days, however, they were allowed more liberty, and at Christmas began to have better treatment and more cleanliness.

The Isle of Jesu is about forty miles long by eight or nine wide, and they were then billeted among the Canadians at St. Rosa, near the centre of the island. The Snyders lived by themselves in the same family, and for the first time had a separate bedroom, which was warm and comfortable, the master of the house being aged, and keeping a fire night and day. While there a roll of cloth, called London Brown, was presented to them, having, it was said, been sent by Quakers from London. A prisoner by the name of Davis, a tailor, cut it for garments; and Captain Snyder, being ingenious at anything, made them up after a fashion. By aiding during the summer in the building of two houses, and laboring for farmers, they earned a little money for the purchase of comforts, but the winter was mostly spent in visiting and cards. An Irishman named Conelly, who had been in the Prevot for desertion, on being released, stole Pliny's Epistles, which he gave to Elias. These were their only source of intellectual amusement. One of the volumes is still in the possession of Mr. Snyder ; the other he gave to James Butler, who carried it to Philadelphia.

In May, 1782, growing tired of confinement, they began to speak of making their escape. Capt. Snyder at first strongly opposed their attempting it, being unwilling to violate his parole ; but when it was urged that, by having been imprisoned three days in December, their parole had been broken by the British, and they were free from its obligation, and Elias having decided to desert at all events, his father at length assented to the plan, and they privately prepared for their escape. Young Snyder and Butler bought leather of the merchants, for moccasins ; and Captains Snyder and Philips, from Juniata, Pennsylvania, procured a passport for Montreal, from the officer in command; and there, in a shop tended by a boy, they purchased three pocket-compasses, as matters of curiosity, pretending ignorance of their use. They celebrated the Declaration of Independence by contributing each a small sum, buying with it four gallons of wine, two of rum, and a sufficient supply of loaf sugar; and there, though prisoners in the enemy's country, almost with the bayonet at their breasts, and the tomahawk over their heads, did twenty good Whigs celebrate the Fourth of July.

The 10th of September was the day fixed upon for their escape. On the eve of that day, while at supper with the family, Elias rose from the table, and took from the cellar three large loaves of bread, and hid them under a hovel behind the barn. Returning to the house, the Captain then rose, and took pork from the cellar, concealing it in the same place with the bread. As soon as the Canadians began vespers, the Snyders went to their room, as if for rest; and throwing their packs out of the window, and following them themselves, they soon gathered up their provisions in the hovel, joined their comrades, Jonathan Millet, of Stonington, Connecticut, Anthony Abeel, of Catskill, and James Butler, of Philadelphia, and started for the lower part of the island. The night was rainy; two small boats were found at the end of the island ; and with these lashed together for greater safety, and with paddles previously prepared, they embarked. About three miles below, there were rapids to pass, which, being dangerous in a dark night, almost discouraged them. At length they landed Captain Snyder, Abeel, and Millet, to carry down the baggage; while young Snyder and Butler, having separated the boats, went with them down the rapids. Having, however, landed lower down than had been expected, they spent most of the night in looking for their comrades, and at daylight landed on a small desert island, about three miles below the rapids and ten from Montreal. Here they drew up their boats in the long grass ; and, as it cleared off cold, they lay all day very uncomfortably in their wet clothes. But there was no other way for them to do, as the Canadian boatmen passed so near them that they frequently saw them and heard them converse. At dusk they left in their boats; and crossing the St. Lawrence at Point au Tremble, by daybreak, they came in sight of the settlements on the River Chambly. During the night, it being very dark, they came so near running into a Hessian boat, that the rattling of the muskets and the conversation of the men were distinctly heard. Near Chambly they lay all day in an old hedge. At sunset part of them went up the river and the rest down, in search of vessels to transport them across the river, and found two canoes, one of which was set adrift, the other being large enough for them all; but, when it was too late to recover them they found that the two axes they had brought with them from St. Rosa, and which they much needed, had gone down the Chambly in the floating canoe. After crossing the Chambly, they went a short distance, and lay down for the night.

Thinking themselves now out of danger, they began travelling by daylight, passing around the Canadian settlements, with one exception, through which they boldly marched armed with clubs. At dusk they came near a British blockhouse, on the Missisque River, where, concealing themselves until all was quiet in the blockhouse, they made a raft and passed over the river. The opposite shore being rocky and thickly covered with spruce, so that it was difficult to move, they rested for the night, within hearing of the fortress, piling up brush to conceal their fire from the view of the garrison. Their clothes were wet, and they passed an uncomfortable night, resuming their journey at the firing of the morning gun in the fortress. They soon entered upon an extensive tract of low, moist land, covered with tamarack and a thick growth of underbrush, which tore their pantaloons to pieces. It was covered with soft, spongy moss, saturated with water which was unfit for use. For two days they travelled through this tract suffering much from thirst, and then found more solid footing. Between this tract and Lake Magog the country was more agreeable, being made up of uplands and cedar swamps. In these swamps, which were difficult to pass through, they were sometimes compelled to spend the night. Captain Abeel, awaking one night, heard what he thought was the yell of Indians, when, quickly awaking his companions, they covered their fire, and went separately into the brush. All listened with eagerness, and to their great joy found that it was only the hooting of an owl.

In four or five days after leaving the lowlands, they reached the shore of Lake Magog. Here most of them were for following the gravelly beach; but Capt. Snyder opposed this course, fearing they might meet with Indians who frequented such places laces, but his objections being overruled, they kept along by the lake from ten until three, when, halting at a brook to drink, Capt. Abeel said, in a low tone, "There are Indians." In the distance they saw the smoke of an Indian hut, and two dogs coming towards them, which, much to their surprise, did not bark. Each one taking the alarm, with the utmost speed and effort climbed to the summit of a neighboring cliff, but no one pursued them. For the sake of greater safety, however, they kept some twenty-five feet apart, and travelling until sunset, they slept at the same distance from each other. Captain Snyder afterwards learned that the Indians of this hut had, in the forenoon of the same day, gone in pursuit of Captain Philips, of Juniata, who with one Roberts fled from St. Rosa the afternoon of the same day with themselves. They thought, however, that one Indian must have remained behind, as otherwise there would have been neither smoke nor dogs at the hut.


They were now nearly out of provisions, and began to suffer, living four days almost entirely upon spignet, until they reached the Connecticut River, about thirty miles above the upper Coos. Here, at a fire, Elias found the thigh-bone of a moose, stripped of all but the sinews, which had been left there the night previous by Indians or hunters. He burned the bone and sinews, and ate them for two days, carrying the bone in his pocket. After travelling for some distance along the west side of the river, they crossed it, for the sake of avoiding the troubled state of Vermont, and to arrive the sooner at the inhabited districts. The day after reaching the river they caught a few trout, and young Snyder plunged in with his pack and angling-rod, and attempted to swim across the river; but his strength failing, when nearly across, he sank and would have been drowned, but for a sudden effort which brought him where he could wade ashore. For some time he lay quite exhausted on the shore. This discouraged the others from following him ; but they soon found a more favorable place for crossing, and passed over. Not far from this point they found the first traces of civilized inhabitants. They ate blackberries, in a new field covered with them, and some two miles beyond came to a log-house, the owner of which was working in a field. Captain Snyder and Abeel went towards him to inquire for provisions, while the others entered the cabin and helped themselves to part of a loaf of bread, which was all the provisions the poor man had. When he came in soon after and looked for his bread, on the shelf where he had left it, and could not find it, he was not displeased, but said they were welcome. The same evening they went about a mile further, to the house of a man named Williams, whose family kindly gave up to them their supper of hasty-pudding and moose-pie. Here they remained all night; and in the evening several of the neighbors came in, with a magistrate named Ames, who, after examining them, furnished Captain Snyder with a passport for himself and his comrades to the headquarters of General Bailey, at the lower Coos. They were now in New Hampshire, among a very humane and generous people, who liberally supplied their wants. But such was their appetite after enduring extreme hunger, that they commonly ate six meals a day of light food, and thus made small progress. Sunday, September 29, they reached General Bailey's headquarters, who received them with great kindness. He ordered shoes to be made and mended for them; and there they remained two days, when Captain Snyder, having been furnished with a horse by the General, left his companions and returned home through Massachusetts and Connecticut, crossing the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie. The others went by the way of Sunderland and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and crossed the Hudson at Kinderhook. Captain Snyder reached home first, where he found his relatives and friends living and in good health. The joy of their meeting we need not attempt to describe.

In the narrative above, the names of Peter Short and his son-in-law Peter Miller, of Woodstock, in Ulster County, are found as captives and prisoners with the Snyders in Canada ; Woodstock and Saugerties being adjoining towns, near the southern extreme of the Catskill Mountains, so that the Snyders and their fellow-prisoners lived within a few miles of each other when at home. At the request of the author, Mr. James U. Emerick, a wellknown and intelligent resident of Woodstock, recently made inquiries with regard to Short and Miller, and under date of June 16, 1866, wrote as follows:

"Short and Miller were freed from their captivity in Canada by an Indian named Joe Dewitt, to whom they had shown kindness before their captivity. This Indian requested them to wash their blackened faces, which had been painted to prevent their friends from recognizing them, if others from the same district should be taken prisoners. He then conducted them through the wilderness, so that in due time they reached Woodstock in safety, thankful to God who had preserved their lives, while exposed to torture and death, from the merciless tories and savage Indians. This information I obtained from Captain John Vandebogart and James Wolven, aged inhabitants of this town, who received it directly from the Snyders, who were with these men in Canada, and knew of the manner of their liberation, as also from Short and Miller themselves. There are in this town a number of young men named Short and Miller, who are grandchildren of those spoken of above."

The account given in the narrative of the Snyders, as to the reason why Short's face was painted black, is probably the correct one, though the Indians commonly painted the faces of their captives so as to resemble their own, when near the white settlements, or where they did not wish them to be known by their friends or others.

In the narrative above, Captain Wood, of Goshen, is spoken of as the only survivor of the massacre of Minisink. This may have been the impression among the captives in Canada at the time, but can hardly be correct. In Gordon's America, vol. iii., P. 22, we read thus: " July 23, 1779, Colonel Brant, with sixty of his warriors and twenty-seven white men, came suddenly upon Minisink, in Orange County, New York, where they killed seven of the inhabitants and made others captives. They burned ten houses, twelve barns, a garrison, and two mills, and then commenced their retreat. The militia from Goshen and places adjacent, to the number of one hundred and fortynine, collected, pursued, and came up with them, when a most bloody battle was fought. The Indians were finally victorious, and thirty only of the one hundred and fortynine whites escaped. Some were carried into captivity, and the rest were killed. Not being sufficiently cautious, they fell into an ambush, and hence they fought at a great disadvantage.

In 1821 a county meeting was held, by which it was voted that the bones of the slain should be collected and deposited under a suitable monument, at the same time ordered to be erected. In 1822 the committee appointed to collect the bones, "which had been exposed to the sun and snows for forty-three years," had found those of fortyfour persons, which were with much formality publicly interred. We read also in the narrative of the Snyders, that while they were in the Prevot in Montreal, a man by the name of Brown, whose father had been killed by the Indians in Harpersfield, New York, was anxious to kill a drunken Indian, who had killed a Canadian, and who, having been thrust in among them, insulted them by saying, "Me Yankee."

In Drake's "History and Biography of the Indians of North America," page 588, we read, that, "in the spring Of 1780, Brant surprised Harpersfield with a company of his warriors and a few tories. He took nineteen prisoners, and killed several others. August 2, he fell upon Canajoharie with about four hundred mixed warriors, killed sixteen people, took about fifty-five prisoners, chiefly women and children; killed or drove away about three hundred cattle and horses; burned fifty-three houses and as many barns, besides out-houses, a new and elegant church, a gristmill, and two garrisons."

Brant, the Indian Chief, holding the rank of colonel in the British army, in his interview with the Snyders at Fort Niagara, speaking of the region about Esopus, or Kingston, and Saugerties, said, "That is my old fighting-ground." Brant is said to have had an encampment or fortification nearly west of where the Snyders lived, on the side of the mountains north of the Plattekill Clove, from which he could look out upon a wide extent of country below, and decide where to descend and prey upon the inhabitants of that region.

Brant, or Brandt, as his name is often spelled, was so called from his Indian name, which signifies Brant, a species of wild 'goose. He is said to have been born in 1742, on the bank. of the Ohio River, where his parents had gone for a time. he was an Onondaga Indian, of the Mohawk tribe, and the home of his family was Canajoharie Castle, the central of the three castles of the Mohawks, in their native valley.

When he was thirteen years old he joined the Indian forces under Sir William Johnson, a celebrated British officer, and Superintendent of the Indians in that region and, when nineteen, was sent with several other Indian youth by Johnson to Moor's Charity School, in Lebanon, Connecticut, under the care of the Rev. Dr. Wheelock, where he was educated.

Brant's early teacher having been requested afterwards by those in authority to use his influence with his former pupil, with a view to secure his aid in favor of the Colonies and against Great Britain, in our Revolutionary War, he shrewdly reminded the reverend doctor that he had been accustomed to hear him pray that we might be good subjects, might fear God, and honor the king.

In 1775, Brant went to England, where he received much attention, and was thus probably led to take the side of Great Britain in the war which had then just commenced. Sir William Johnson was the British Agent of Indian Affairs, and had secured great influence among the Indians of the Six Nations by freely entertaining hundreds of them at a time at his house at the village of Johnstown on the Mohawk. He used also at certain times to dress like the Indians; and, being a widower, he had a sister of Brant as a companion. His influence with the Indians was great in leading them to aid the British in our Revolutionary War, though he died in 1774, a year before the battle of Bunker Hill. Those white savages, John and Walter Butler, natives of Connecticut, whose names are associated with that of Brant in connection with the Revolutionary War, lived about four miles southeast of Johnstown, on the same side of the Mohawk. To one of these Butlers the Snyders refer in their narrative; and the descendants of Brant have tried to prove that he was much more humane than the Butlers, which might well have been without saying much in his favor. Brant, too, claimed that he could not restrain, as he would have done, his Indian warriors from deeds of violence and blood.

In the summer and autumn of 1865, 1 had occasion to prepare and deliver an address, which was published, giving an account of nearly thirty prominent clergymen and laymen, who, fifty years before, had founded the Bible Society of the County of Greene, the year before the American Bible Society was organized. The only surviving founder of this County Society was Mr. Henry McKinstry, formerly a merchant of Catskill, and afterwards connected for many years with the New York Custom House, - a gentleman of intelligence, and of high social and Christian standing, courtesy, and worth. His father, Colonel John McKinstry, who lived near Hudson, New York, was captain of a company in the unfortunate invasion of Canada, by our troops in 1776. At the battle of the Cedars, forty miles above Montreal, in May of that year, in a severe engagement, Captain McKinstry was wounded and left lying beside a tree, where he was taken prisoner by the Indians. It is said that they intended to torture him in their well-known savage way, and had made preparations to do so, but that he having made masonic signs to Brant, who had joined the free-masons when in England, his life was thus saved. Brant, with other British officers, bought an ox which they presented to the Indians in place of Captain McKinstry, in cooking and eating which they had a great feast and carouse.

Ever after this Brant was a warm and devoted friend of McKinstry, making him, to the close of his life, an annual visit at his house near Hudson. Mr. Henry McKinstry informed me that Brant strongly urged his father to remove, and settle near him in Canada, offering if he would do so to give him five hundred or one thousand acres of land from the grant made to him by the British Government after the close of the war. Mr. James Powers, a prominent lawyer in Catskill, now more than eighty years of age, told me that he was in the family and office of Honorable Elisha Williams, of Hudson, a lawyer of great eminence, from 1802 to 1806, and that Colonel McKinstry used each year to come there with Brant to dine. He wore at that time the common citizen's clothes of the whites, and used to entertain those present by specimens of Indian dances and other customs of his race. He used also to attend the meetings of the Masonic Lodge in Hudson. Mr. Henry McKinstry, who is a brother-in-law of Mr. Powers, also told me that his father once visited him at his house with Brant.

In the narratives of the captives taken by the Indians to Canada, as already given, repeated allusions have been made to General Sullivan's expedition against the Indians. A few of the leading facts connected with this expedition are as follows : The fearful massacres of the Indians and tories at Wyoming and elsewhere led General Washington to send General Sullivan with twenty-five hundred men into the Indian country to check and punish them. Brant and Butler with six hundred Indians, and Guy Johnson (a son-in-law of Sir William) with two hundred tories, came out to meet Sullivan; but August 29, 1779, at Newtown, now Elmira, on Tioga River, after a fight of two hours, the tories and Indians were defeated and put to flight. Forty villages were utterly destroyed by Sullivan, no trace of vegetation being left on the surface of the ground. All the cattle of the Indians were either killed or driven off, many of which had been stolen from the Americans.

After the Revolutionary War, in 1791 and at other times, Brant used his great influence with the southern and western Indians, to induce them not to engage in war against the United States, and in 1792 visited New York and Philadelphia to see personal friends in those cities, and to pay his respects to General Washington, then President of the United States. In the winter of 1779, Brant was married to the first of his three wives by his companion-in-arms, Colonel John Butler, formerly a justice of the peace, to a daughter of Colonel Croghan, a British officer, by an Indian woman. Brant had lived with this woman for some time before he was married. He lived in English style, on the valuable tract of land given him by George Ill., in a good two-story house at the head of Lake Ontario, north of the beach which separates the lake from Burlington Bay. His surviving wife, however, would never fully conform to the usages of civilized life, but after his death went to the Grand River, and there lived with part of her children in a wigwam, while others of them remained behind in the comfortable dwelling of their father where he died, November 24, 1807, aged sixty-four years and eight months. He was patient and resigned during his last sickness, and was buried in Mohawk Village, on Grand River, by the Episcopal Church be had built there, of which Christian communion he was a member.

His sons, Joseph and Jacob, went in 1800 to Hanover, New Hampshire, to be educated there in Dartmouth College; while John, the fourth son, who succeeded his father as chief, with his sister, Elizabeth, for many years hospitably entertained in the family mansion those who called upon them there after their father's death. My learned and venerable friend and recent neighbor, Rev. Dr. Ostrander, of Saugerties, New York, who entered the ministry of the Reformed Dutch Church in 1800, told me that in 1810, he, in company with Rev. Dr. Sickles, formerly of Kinderhook, called on Brant's family, in their home on Lake Ontario, where they were kindly received. His son John visited England in 1822, and was chosen a member of the Colonial Assembly of Upper Canada in 1832.

Dartmouth College began its existence in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1769, on the removal there of Moor's Charity School from Lebanon, Connecticut, or rather, by the removal there of Rev. Dr. Wheelock, principal of the school, with twenty-four pupils, six of whom were Indians. The school in Lebanon was incorporated and continued there. Dr. Wheelock having died during our Revolutionary War, his son John, then serving in the army, left it, and took his father's place at the head of the college. Joseph and Jacob Brant were in the family of James Wheelock, a brother of the President, and did well as to conduct and study, until in the spring of 1802 a quarrel arose between the young Brants, and Joseph left college to return there no more. Jacob also went home, but returned in the fall, and was in college some time longer. Jacob married a Mohawk girl in 1804. Isaac, the oldest son of Brant, died of a wound from his father's hand, which he richly deserved. John Brant was in most of the battles of the war of 1812, was active and brave ; and when in England, in 1821, he convinced Thomas Campbell, the poet, that he had done great injustice to his father, Joseph Brant, in his poem "Gertrude of Wyoming," inasmuch as Brant was not then at Wyoming at all. Campbell acknowledged his error in an edition of his poems published soon afterwards. Elizabeth Brant married her cousin, Mr. Kerr, of Niagara, a grandson of Sir William Johnson and Molly Brant; and they lived in the family mansion on Lake Ontario.

Previous Chapter | Back to the Index | Next Chapter

Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery