"FORT HUNTER" and "THE MASSACRE OF GERMAN FLATS"
By Leslie W. Devereux
This newspaper article was apparently columns on "Mohawk Valley History", by
Leslie W. Devereux, published in the Utica Dispatch, 1932. They were cut out by someone and
placed in a scrap book, which the Orlando, FL library now has on its shelves. There are many more pages, many
covering various portions of the Rev. War history, and some Oneida county history. The "Fort Hunter" caught my
eye... seemed like an interesting description! This appears to be one article, the description of Fort Hunter giving
background about the forts.
"Fort Hunter is situated on the borders of the Mohawk River and is of the same form as that of Cannatchocari (Canajoharie) with the exception that it is twice as large. There is likewise a house at each curtain. The cannon at each bastion are from seven to nine pounders. The pickets of this fort are higher than those of Cannatchocari. There is a church or temple in the middle of the fort; in the interior of the fort are also some 30 cabins of Mohawk Indians, which is the most considerable village. This fort, like that of Cannatchocari, has no ditch: there is only a large swing door at the entrance.
"Leaving Fort Hunter, a creek (Schoharie) is passed at the mouth of which the fort is located. It can be forded and crossed in batteaux in summer, and on ice in winter. There are some houses outside under the protection of the fort, in which the country people seek shelter when they fear or learn that an Indian or French war party is in the field.
"From Fort Hunter to Schenectadi or Corlear is seven leagues. The public carriage way continues along the right (south) bank of the Mohawk River. About 20 to 30 houses are found within this distance, separated one from the other about a quarter to half a league. The inhabitants of this section are Dutch."
After a description of Schenectady and Albany, the spy describes the roads and villages on the north bank of the Mohawk. He reports a ford near Fort Williams (present Rome) and a marshy path which can be traveled only on foot or horseback as far as present North Utica; Raxetoth Creek at Schuyler, which can be forded and where there were the ruins of two burned houses; and a fairly good road from there to Palatine village. He states that it would require one day to go by river in batteaux from present Rome to the Palatine village and three days to return; and an additional day to continue to Schenectady and one and a half days to return.
Crossing Canada Creek
Palatine village, the report continues, consisted of 30 houses which were destroyed and burned the previous year by the French. Between there and Little Falls were eight houses. At Little Falls was a portage of a quarter of a mile, from which a foot path, difficult to travel even on horseback, continued as far as Canada Creek, where there was both a ford and ferry to connect with the high road which went around the south of the falls. After fording Canada Creek and continuing along the north bank, a road passable for carts led to Fort Johnson (Amsterdam), along which were about 500 houses, built mostly of stone. From there to Schenectady was a good road for all kinds of vehicles with about 20 houses on the way and a ford and ferry at Schenectady.
This report of the French spy gives us a good idea of the houses and forts and conditions of travel in the Mohawk Valley in 1758, at the end of the great French and Indian War and 17 years prior to the Revolution.
The year 1757, during the French and Indian War, found the Mohawk Valley fairly well prepared for the conflict. An army of 10,000 British and Americans had been mobilized at Albany by Lord Loudoun and General Abercrombie. Three forts had been built by Sir William Johnson: Fort Canajoharie and Fort Hendrick (named after King Hendrick, the Mohawk chief, who was killed in the battle of Lake George), both at Canajoharie; and Fort Herkimer, which was built around the home of Johan Jost Herkimer, father of the Revolutionary general. This was the farthest advanced frontier post at the time and housed a garrison of 250 men. In addition to these new forts, there were in existence Fort Johnson (Amsterdam), Fort Schenectady, Fort Hunter and Fort Harrison (at Palatine Church). It is doubtful if Fort Frey at Palatine Bridge was completed at this time.
Yet in spite of these fortifications and the comparatively large army which had been assembled, the Americans had one great disadvantage in the weakness and incompetence of their commanders. Sensing this, Montcalm, who was in command of the French forces, determined to take advantage of the situation. In 1756, he succeeded in capturing Fort Oswego and in November, 1757, he sent a raiding party to invade the German Flats section of the Mohawk Valley, centering around Fort Herkimer.
The Massacre of German Flats
A war party of 300 French, Canadians and Indians, under M. de Belletre, made their way to the Mohawk Valley. They were seen and reported by Oneida Indian Scouts, but, incredible as it may seem, the Palatine settlers did not believe the warning and made no preparations. This was partly due to a false alarm the previous spring and partly because they did not think the enemy would dare to penetrate so far into the valley for an attack.
On November 11th, the French and Indians crossed the Mohawk in water up to their necks and camped about a mile and a half away from the nearest of the five forts in German Flats district. The following morning they attacked the first fort at Palatine Bridge and the rapid fire of the French, combined with the Indian war whoops, so terrified the inhabitants that they mayor ordered the gates to be opened and asked for mercy. M. de Belletre then turned his attention to the other forts, which all surrendered and were burned. Meanwhile, Indians and Canadians were ravaging and burning some 60 houses which were located in the Palatine district outside of the forts.
About 40 colonists were killed in the attack and nearly 150 prisoners taken, including men, women and children. The French invading party did not have a single man killed and only one officer and three or four Indians wounded. The damage inflicted upon the district was terrific and the entire German Flats settlement was practically wiped out.
Much Booty Taken
The French report, which was probably exaggerated, claimed that they had inflicted the following damage: "In grain of all sorts, a much larger quantity than the island of Montreal had produced in years of abundance. The same of hogs; 3,000 horned cattle; 3,000 sheep. All these articles were to be sent in a few days to Corlear (Schenectady); 1,500 horses, 300 of which were taken by the Indians, and the greater number consumed for the support of the detachment.
"The property in furniture, wearing apparel, merchandise and liquor might form a capital of 1,500,000 livres ($277,500). The mayor of the village alone has lost 400,000 ($74,000). The French and Indians have acquired as rich a booty as they could carry off. They have in specie more than 100,000 livres ($18,500). One Indian alone has as much as 30,000 ($6,560). There was likewise plundered a quantity of wampum (beads used for Indian money), silver bracelets, etc. scarlet cloth and other merchandise, which form a capital of 80,000 more."
Even if this report was grossly exaggerated, the German Flats district was one of the richest of the entire valley and the fruits of the labor of the settlers were entirely wiped out. It was a terrific blow to the Mohawk Valley and many of the settlers who were not caught in the raid proceeded to desert the valley.
Indians Told of Attack
What seems most unbelievable in connection with the massacre was the ease with which it was accomplished and the total lack of preparedness on the part of the settlers, in spite of the fact that they had been warned. An Oneida chief testifed that 15 days before the attack he had "sent the Germans word that some Swegatchi Indians told us that the French were determined to destroy the German Flats, and desired them to be on their guard. About six days after that we had a further account from the Swegatchie, that the French were preparing to march. I then came down to the German Flats and, in a meeting with the Germans, told them what we had heard and desired them to collect themselves together in a body at their fort, and secure their women, children and effects, and make the best defense they could; and, at the same time, told them to write what I had said to our brother Warraghiyagey (Sir William Johnson). But they paid not the least regard to what I told them and laughed at me, saying they did not value the enemy. Upon this, I returned home and sent one of our people to the (Oneida) lake to find out whether the enemy were coming or not; and, after he had stayed there two days, the enemy arrived at the carrying place (now Rome) and sent word to the castle at the lake that they were there and told them what they were going to do; but charged them not to let us at the upper castle know anything of their design. As soon as the man I sent there heard of this, he came to us with the account that night, and, as soon as we received it, we sent a belt of wampum to confirm the truth thereof to the flats, which came here the day before the enemy made their attack; but the people would not give credit to the account, even then, or they might have saved their lives. This is the truth and those Germans here present know it to be so."
There appears to be no doubt that this was so and that the settlers at German Flats might have prevented the massacre and burning of the district if they had believed the Oneida sachem. There was also a garrison of aboaut 250 men, just across the river at Fort Herkimer who might have been enlisted to help defend the settlement. As it was, these troops stayed at Fort Herkimer during the attack.
In the following year the enemy attacked the settlements on the south side of the river and killed 30 settlers, burning the houses and property of the inhabitants. Instead of surrendering the fort, however, as had been done in the Palatine district, Captain Nicholas Herkimer (later the Revolutionary War general) sent out a body of rangers who defeated the enemy and forced them to return to Canada. Unfortunately, however, much damage had already been done to the outlying settlements and many of the inhabitants killed or wounded. The day after the attack, there came to the fort one woman who had been scalped, her nose cut off, and wounded in her breast and side. This gives an idea of the horrors that were often perpretrated by the Indians.
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