FRENCH ATTACK ON THE GERMAN FLATTS


The articles below about two separate French and Indian War attacks in the Mohawk Valley were prepared by Jack Peltier from separate volumes of "The Documentary History of the State of New York." One volume contained two passages from the "London Papers", including the attack on the German Flatts led by Capt Francois Marie Picoté, Sieur de Belestre, Chevalier de St Louis, who was the brother of Jack's grandmother many times removed. Jack provided us with a French version of the first affair from among the "Paris Papers". The separate attack described in Article 3 was made some months later near Ft. Herkimer by an unnamed French and Indian party. Many thanks to Jack for his notes and commentary, providing background information and a perspective many of us residing in the States aren't aware of.



"The first attack was lead by Capt Francois Marie Picoté, Sieur de Belestre, Chevalier de St Louis. Interestingly enough he had been captured in Virginia on his return from a raid on Fort Cumberland in the summer of 1757. He was interrogated by George Washington and George Croghan. He was either released or escaped and found his way to Montréal by early fall of 1757 and then lead his mixed party of troupes de la marine and Indians from Quebec to the area of present day Kingston, Ont where they turned east towards the Mohawk Valley. The distance he covered is hard to imagine. The raid was considered a considerable victory for the French in that a small force had penetrated into New York, virtually unopposed and managed to do a great deal of damage and capture a lot of supplies which were in very short supply for the French at that time.

Picoté de Belestre is considered a kind of Canadian Daniel Boone. He fought the British and Americans for 30 years, starting in 1745 in what is now Nova Scotia, as far south as Kentucky and Louisiana, in Minnesota and Michigan and was the last French commandant of Detroit. He later sided with the British and recaptured Fort St Jean from invading American forces in 1775. He was a colonel in the British Militia upon his death.

History is one of contradictions. Some 20 years after the attack by Belestre on German Flats some of my Servos (Palatines from the Mohawk area) lead a similar raid on the same area as part of the British Indian Department and Butlers Rangers."

Jack Peltier
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
May 2000



"The following are three articles extracted from "The Documentary History of the State of New York" arranged under direction of the Hon. Christopher Morgan, Secretary of State by E.B. O'Callaghan M.D., Albany, Weed, Parsons & Co. Public Printers, 1849. The first article is found in Volume 10 pages 672 to 674 and deals with the French perspective of the November 1757 raid on German Flats. The second article contained in Volume 1 pages 520 to 522 deals with the question as to whether or not the inhabitants of German Flats had been warned of the pending attack. The third article contained in Volume 1, pages 522 and 523 deals with another attack on Fort Herkimer in April of 1758 by a separate force of French and Indians. Both these attacks were typical of the French strategy of using "la petite guerre" i.e. hit and run guerrilla type tactics. This method of operation was adopted to conform to the country they lived in and to compensate for the fact the French population was very small compared to the British population at that time. For the most part these operations were carried out by detachments of les troupes de la marine and various Indian allies. These detachments were almost always lead by third and fourth generation French Canadians who spoke Indian languages and were familiar with the country, by virtue of military and fur trading activities and who were also familiar with the customs of their Indian allies.

The French Canadian officer leading the November 1757 raid on German Flats was François Marie Picoté, Sieur de Belestre, Chevalier de St Louis, an officer in les troupes de la marine (French Colonial Regulars). It is interesting to note that François Marie Picoté, Sieur de Belestre had been captured in June of that same year by a party of Cherokees and British troops when he was returning from a raid on Fort Cumberland, Virginia. He was then an Enseigne in les troupes de la marine operating out of Fort Duquesne (Pittsburg). After his capture he was examined by the Honourable Edmund Atkyn, His Majesty's Agent for and the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the presence of Col. George Washington and George Croghan, Deputy to Sir William Johnson. Belestre was either released or escaped after which he made his way to Montréal. "Vaudreuil (Governor of New France) went ahead with his raids in the traditional Canadian manner; such, for instance as that of the Sieur de Belestre of the Troupes de la Marine, in the direction of the Mohawk, in October and November. With a force made up largely of Indians, Belestre travelled up the St Lawrence to Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ontario), to examine the forts which once provided the stepping stones to Chouaguen (Oswego, New York). He found all of them abandoned, including that which was rebuilt on the site of Fort Bull. Then, descending the Mohawk River, he and his men attacked the Palatine settlement of German Flats. A number of inhabitants were killed, and the rest, about 150 men, women and children were taken prisoners. All the houses and buildings were burned, and the grain, cattle and horses, except what was consumed by the raiding party for their own subsistence, were brought back to Montréal 1" . The last French military command for Belestre was Detroit which he surrendered to the British in 1760. He was made a prisoner of war at that time and eventually taken to England where he was released and returned to Canada via France. He later served the English King and was a Colonel in the British militia in Québec. His last military campaign was to recapture Fort St Jean on the Richelieu River in Québec from an American invading force in 1775. He was later captured by American forces and spent time as a prisoner of war in Philadelphia."



Article 1: Volume 10 pages 672-674: French Attack on German Flats (Département de la Guerre, Paris) Summary of M. de Bellêtre's Campaign, 28 November 1757

"M. de Bellêtre with his detachment of about 300 of the Marine Troops, Canadian and Indians, arrived notwithstanding all the obstacles of the season and the great scarcity of provisions, at the River la Famine, where he met 7 or 8 Nontagués who, on a message which he gave them in the General's name (General Montcalm) expressed delight in uniting with him. He continued his route and after inexpressible fatigues and suffering, reached the vicinity of the Oneida Village, whither he sent 4 influential Indians as bearers of the General's word. He continued his march as far as the River Corlaer, and had the satisfaction of examining five English forts abandoned, by command, for that erected, since the reduction of Chouaguen (Oswego) on the site of old Fort Bull. The Indians when informed that there was a garrison of 350 men in a fort named Kouari situate on the said river about a quarter of a league from the village of the Palatines, did not fail to exhibit fear, but M. de Bellêtre having told them that their Father dispatched a picked detachment, so well selected, only to strike a blow of some interest, they recovered their courage and evinced a lively ardour, except some young warriors and aged men who gave in, already fatigued by a weary march. The four Indians sent to the Oneidas returned with the six warriors of that tribe, who joined our detachment, and told M. de Bell&tre that they had no other will than that of their Father. November 11: At three o'clock in the afternoon M, de Bellêtre, preceded, as was his custom by scouts, crossed the River Corlaer with his detachment, partly swimming, partly in the water up to the neck. He encamped at nightfall in the woods, a league and a half from the first of the five forts that covered the Palatine settlements. November 12: At three o'clock in the afternoon he gave his detachment the order to march and attack, so as to surround the said five forts and the entire Palatine village consisting of sixty houses. Though M de Bellêtre knew that the English got notice the day preceding, yet, in order that the courage of the Indians may not receive the least check, and to show them that he would not rashly expose them, he liberated an Indian of the Five Nations whom he had until then detained under suspicion. But this Indian could not injure M. de Bellêtre. Because he commenced at the same time to attack the five forts and the Palatine's houses. At sight of the first fort he determined to take it by assault. The enemy kept up the most active fire of musketry, but the intrepidity with which M. de Bellêtre, with all the officers and Canadians of his detachment, advanced, coupled with the warwhoop of the Indians, terrified the English to the degree that the Mayor of the village of Palatines 2, who commanded the said fort, opened the doors and asked for quarter. M de Bellêtre lost no time in repairing to the second, the third, the fourth and fifth, which were not less intimidated than the first by his intrepidity and the cries of the Indians. They all surrendered at discretion and were entirely burnt. During this time a party of Indians and Canadians ravaged and burnt the said 60 houses of the Palatines, their barns and other out-buildings as well as the water-mill. In all these expeditions about 40 English perished; they were either killed or drowned. The number of prisoners is nearly 150 men, women and children, among whom is the Mayor of the Village, the Surgeon and some militia officers. We had not a man killed; but M. de Lormier, an officer, was wounded in the right side by a ball, and three or four Indians slightly. The damage inflicted on the enemy is estimated, according to the representations of the English themselves, to wit : in grain of all sorts, a much larger quantity than the Island of Montréal has produced in years of abundance, the same of hogs, 3,000 horned cattle, 3,000 sheep. All these articles have been sent, in a few days, to Corlaer. 1500 horses, 300 of which 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. The Mayor of the village alone has 400,000. The French and Indians have acquired as rich a booty as they could carry off. They have in specie more than 100,000 livres. One Indian alone has as much as 30,000. There was likewise plundered a quantity of wampum, silver braclets etc, scarlet cloth and other merchandise, which may form a capital of 80,000 more. All this damage could not be done short of 48 hours. M. de Bellêtre made provision to be always able to resist the enemy, who, as has been observed, were to the number of 350 men in the said Fort Kouari, about a quarter of a league from the field of battle. In fact on the 13th, at 7 o'clock in the morning, 50 Englishmen, accompanied by some Mohawks, left the said fort, but as soon as they were perceived, our Frenchmen and Indians went to meet them double quick, and forced them to swim across the river, after receiving several discharges of musketry. The number that perished cannot be estimated. At noon, the same day, M. de Bellêtre gave orders to his detachment to commence their return march. On the 15th he sent an Oneida, who is much attached to the General, with some chiefs from the Sault and St Francis, to bear his message to the Oneidas, by which he communicated to them the success he experienced; invited them to persevere in their good sentiments and not to fear the English. Our Onedia delegate rejoined M. Bellêtre at the River Au Sable, and told him that the Five Nations had sent three belts to the Onedia villages, which they wished him to take as a present to the General. By these they demand assistance to resist the English, being about to experience their resentment, inasmuch as they refused to allow four of their chiefs to enter Fort Kouaria, having fired several shots at them. This had obliged the Oneidas to withdraw their women and children from the lake side, hoping their Father will protect them."

Article 2, Volume 1, pages 520 - 522 : A Summary Narrative of the Conduct of the Oneida Indians (living at the Upper Town) Previous to the Attack of the French and Their Indians Upon the North Side of the German Flats, in the Province of New York, in November 1757: 3

A few days after this Massacre and desolation had been perpetrated, Sir William Johnson despatched Geo. Croghan, Esq; Deputy-agent, with Mr Montour, the Indian interpreter, to the German Flats, where he understood several of the Oneida and Tuscarora Indians were assembled, in order to call upon those Indians to explain themselves why they had not given more timely notice to the Germans of the designs and approach of the Enemy; it having been reported, that no intelligence had been given by the Indians, until the same moring the attack was made; and as these Indians might naturally be supposed, from their situation and other circumstances, to have had earlier knowledge of the Enemy's design and march.

Before Mr Croghan could get up to the German Flats, the aforementioned Indians were on their road homewards, but he was informed the Chief Sachem of the Upper Oneida Town, with a Tuscarora Sachem and another Oneida Indian, were still about four miles from Fort Harkeman: upon which he sent a messenger to acquaint them, that he was at the said fort.

The aforesaid Indians returned, and on the 30th of November at Fort Harkeman, Conaghquieson, the Chief Oneida Sachem, made the following speech to Mr Croghan, having first called in on Rudolph Shumaker, Hanjost Harkman, and several other Germans, who understood the Indian language, and desired them to sit down and hear what he was going to say.

Conaghquieson then proceeded and said:

'Brother,
'I can't help telling you that we were very much surprised to hear that our brethren the English suspect, and charge us with not giving them timely notice of the designes of the French, as it is well known we have not neglected to give them every piece of intelligence that came to our knowledge.

'Brother,
'About fifteen days before the affair happened, we sent the Germans word, that some Swegatchi Indians told us, 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 Swegatchi, 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 4, and secure their women, children, and effects, and make the best defence they could; and the same time told them to write what I had said to our brother Warraghiyagey (Sir William Johnson 5) but they paid not the least regard to what I told them; and laughed at me, slapping their hands on their buttocks, saying they did not value the Enemy; Upon which I returned home, and sent one of our people to the Lake (meaning the Oneida Lake) to find out whether the Enemy were coming or not; after he staid there two days, the Enemy arrived at the Carrying-Place, 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 any thing of their design. As soon as the man I sent there heard this, he came on to us 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 6. This is the truth, and those Germans here present know it to be so.'

The aforesaid German did acknowledge it to be so; and that they had such intelligence.

            GEORGE CROGHAN

Article 3, Volume 10 pages 522 & 523: Extract of a Letter From Albany Dated the 13th Instant, Being a Relation of the Murder Committed at the German Flatts, near Fort Herchamer, by 80 Indians and 4 Frenchmen.

(N.Y. Mercury, May 22, 1758)

About 12 o'clock, on Monday the 30th of April last an Oneida Indian acquainted Captain Herchamer that a Party of 80 Indians and four Frenchmen, were nigh his Fort, and would certainly come down and attack the settlements that Day, and advised Capt Harchamer to go into the Fort and take as many of the Inhabitants with him, as he could collect. About 3 o'clock, most Part of the Inhabitants, having Notice from Capt Herchamer, left their Houses, and assembled at the Fort; four Families, that fled from Henderson's Purchase, in the spring for fear of the Enemy, could not get in, and had in their Houses two Indian Traders, of the name of Clock, and six Waggoners that were carrying Capt Gage's baggage to the Fort. At 4 o'clock, all of a sudden, the Houses were attacked; and the Waggoners being surprized, run up stairs, the better to defend themselves. The Indians immediately rushed into the house, and killed and scalped all that were below; some of the Indians attempted the stairs, but they were knocked down by the Waggoners; they then fired up thro' the Loft, and soon were joined by more Indians, who fired many shot quite thro' the House, and proposed to set it on fire, which intimidated John Ehel, a Waggoner, to such a Degree, that he leap'd out at a window, thinking to make his Escape, but was soon killed; the other five defended themselves with great Intrepedity, having killed one Indian, until they were relieved by a Party of Rangers, who came to their assistance, and after exchanging a few Shot, the Indians fled, seeing our People have the advantage of a Log Fence.... Capt Herchamer says he saw four or five of the Indians drop, but were carried off. In the above affair, 33 of the Inhabitants were killed, & Lieut Hair, of the Rangers, received a slight Wound in the Breast.... Next day some Oneidas came down to Trade, and met the Enemy going off, who told them they had 6 of their Company killed, and 9 Wounded. Next Morning a Woman came into the Fort that had been scalped, besides having her Nose almost cut off, with a Wound in her Breast, and another in her side. She is likely to recover, related all that happened till she was scalped, and says there was Onondado Indians amongst them.


1 New France, The Last Phase 1744 - 1760, George F.G. Stanley. p. 164.

2 Johan Jost Petrie is supposed to have immigrated to this country in 1710, and to have moved to the German Flats in 1720. His is the first name in the patent of that tract, where he was a leading man. He remained in Canada, a prisoner until the close of 1758, and died before the breaking out of the Revolution. He was one of the co-patentees of the tract called Henderson's purchase, in the present towns of Columbia and Warren. Benton's History of Herkimer County, 176 - Ed.

3 Lyman C. Draper., of Phil., has had the politeness to communicate this "Narrative."

4 A Stockaded Work around the church, and a block-house, with a ditch, and a parapet pallissadoed, thrown up by Sir William Johnson, a year ago, upon an alarm then given.

5 They never sent this intelligence to Sir William.

6 The Indians who brought this belt of Wampum finding the Germans still incredulous, the next morning, just before the attack began, laid hold on the German Minister, and in a manner forced him over to the other side of the river; by which means he and some who followed him escaped the fate of their brethren.



More From Jack About François Marie Picoté, Sieur de Belestre, Chevalier de St Louis

"Here are some words on François Marie Picoté, Sieur de Belestre, Chevalier de St Louis. François Marie, son of François Marie Picoté, Sieur de Belestre and Marie Catherine Trotier dit Desrivières was born in Lachine Québec 17 Nov 1716 and died 30 March 1793 at Montréal. His family were members of the minor nobility of France. He followed his father in a military career in les troupes de la marine and was first involved in battle in 1739 in a campaign to subdue the Chickasaw Indians. His military career included participation in the battle to recover Louisburg from the English in 1746, various skirmishes with the Indians in the "pays en haut" (just about anywhere west of Montréal) in 1747, served as commandant of Fort St Joseph in 1748, sent to France in 1749 to report to the Minister of the Marine on affairs in the west, maintained a fur trading business from 1749 to 1759 in Michigan, lead a raiding party to the Carolinas in 1756 where they destroyed a village etc, participated in Montclam's victory at Fort George in New York, captured by British and Indians in the summer of 1757, lead the raid on German Flats in 1757, appointed commandant at Detroit in 1758, participated in the French effort to relieve Fort Niagara in 1759 and ended his French military career in 1760 when he reluctantly surrendered Detroit to the British, a year after the fall of Québec. He was lead away in chains and sent to England where he was released and went to France. In 1764 he returned to Canada where he later became a member of the British Legislative Council for Québec. He took up arms again in 1775 to recapture Fort St Jean from an invading American force. He was later captured and was held a prisoner of war. As a recognition for his services in the Revolutionary War he was made a Lieutenant Colonel in the Québec Militia. He married twice. François-Louis, a son by the first marriage, followed his father into les troupes de la marine and later settled in Louisiana."



My interest in your part of the world arises primarily from my mother's ancestors, the family of Christianus Servos who arrived in New Jersey in 1726 and moved to the Mohawk River area circa 1778. The family was torn apart by the Revolutionary War, which in many ways was the first American Civil war. The Servos family, like many others, was faced with the situation of brothers fighting brother and the family splitting between the 8 or 9 Servos men who served with the Indian Department, Butlers Rangers, Kings Royal Regiment of New York etc and who later came to Lincoln County, Dundas County and Stormont County in Ontario. Christopher Thomas Servos was killed (British say murdered) in 1778 for being a tory supporter - there is no doubt he was one. There are legends of his two sons Daniel and Jacob (grandfather many times removed) returning to avenge their father's death and in taking part in raids on Cherry Valley, German Flats etc. What is really interesting is that patriots in the Servos family later came or would have come to Canada if certain lands had been available and ardent Servos Loyalists later returned to the US to live, including the famous spy/scout Johan Servos (He claimed land in Canada as a Loyalist, having served in KRRNY and claimed a US Army Pension for previously having served in some unit or other in the New York militia. His experience is not unique.

My wife and I visited the Mohawk Valley area late last summer and toured Sir William Johnson's two homes (forts) etc. It is interesting to speculate how events might have turned out differently if he had not died in 1775. He was a staunch Loyalist and had a great influence on the Indians and on the community at large.

Jack Peltier
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
May 2000




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