Town of German Flatts

Herkimer County, NY

Contributed by Karen Palmer

House Rich with History at Mohawk

Shoemaker Tavern Was Where Patriot's Seized Col. Butler in 1777

Hideout of Tories

Now Age Is Disguised by White Paint; Used as Hotel

By Roy E. Fairman

Mohawk, July 13--Motorists traveling through this historic Mohawk Valley village, would have little reason to guess, from it's appearance, that a spic and span house of early American design, clad in snowy white and looking as it were built yesterday, antedates the Revolutionary War.

Yet it was in this house, which stands in Mohawk's principal street not far from Fulmer Creek, that Walter Butler was captured by Colonial soldiers on Aug. 12, 1777, while attending a rally of Mohawk Valley Tories.

The house, a tavern then operated by a Judge Shoemaker was a famous hideout for Tories during those days of internecine warfare when brother turned against brother and father against son and the Mohawk River ran red with the blood of white men and Indians.

Walter Butler, described as an "arch fiend" by early writers and many novelists, including the later Robert Chambers, has received kinder treatment from later historians, prominent among whom is Dr. T. Wood Clarke of Utica.

Dr. Clarke, in his "The Bloody Mohawk", contends that Butler has been painted much blacker than he actually was and that early writings were biased through hatred engendered by the strife between Mohawk Valley patriots and loyalists and their Indian allies.

Dr. Clark holds that Butler would have had to be omnipresent to be guilty of all the articles of which he has been accused. He says that exhaustive search of records reveals that Butler was in the Mohawk Valley but three times after he and the Johnsons fled to canada {sic}.

He was in the Battle of Oriskany in 1777, where he served with Butler's Rangers organized by his father, Col. John Butler. He led an attack on Cherry Valley the next year. At this battle the Indians got out of hand with a heavy massacre resulting, although Dr. Clarke points out, Butler did everything possible to prevent it.

His third and last appearance was at the Battle of Johnstown, the last battle of the Revolutionary War, in 1781. He was killed at West Canada Creek by an Indian while defending the rear in a retreat by the British, Tories.

Colonel Weston at Fort Dayton where the village of Herkimer stands, learned of the expedition and sent a force to surround Shoemaker's Tavern and Butler was captured. He was tried at Fort Dayton and condemned to death as a spy. His sentence was commuted and he was held a prisoner at Albany until he escaped and made his way in the dead of winter through deep snows to Canada.

It is singular that of the relatively few houses which have withstood both fire during the Revolution and the ravages of time, three are of frame construction and all and all prominently identified with the life of Walter Butler.

Near Fonda on a hillside overlooking the Mohawk Valley is a 200-year old rambling house, old and weather beaten but still strong and sturdy. It was in this house that Walter Butler was born.

A few miles to the north at Johnstown is Johnsons Hall baronial home of Sir William Johnson where Walter Butler was an almost daily visitor during his boyhood.

The third house in this list is Shoemaker's Tavern, from which Butler passed into the shadow of the gallows.

Shoemaker's Tavern, as it still is popularly known, though it has borne a dozen names, has had a vicarious existence, operated as a hotel at various times, at others standing vacant for long periods. During recent years it had fallen into disrepair until a year ago Manley White took over from a bank, repaired it, painted it, landscaped the grounds and today it is again in use as a hotel.

Except for an addition that was built about midway of the last century the old house is little changed from the summer day in 1777 when Walter Butler, haranging a crowd of Tories in the taproom, heard the call to surrender and was marched to Fort Dayton across the river between two files of Continental soldiers, some of whom were old neighbors from the Fonda area.

Men are still living in the Mohawk Valley whose ancestors assisted in the capture of Butler, but as years have passed the hatred which seethed against him at that time has died down and modern historian, looking at him from a different perspective, find him far less a villain than generation after generation has been led to believe.

Source: clipped newspaper article, newspaper unknown, published July 13, ca. 1940. Link to photo of tavern, courtesy of Karen Palmer and Darci.

Back to Town of German Flatts Section

Back to Herkimer/Montgomery Counties NYGenWeb

Back to New York State GenWeb

Created 2/23/05
Copyright © 1940 - 2005 Roy E. Fairman
Copyright © 2005 Karen Palmer
All Rights Reserved.
This genealogy site is part of the USGenWeb Project!