Sunday, May 31, 2020

Episode 151 St. Leger Expedition

For the last couple of weeks, our attention turned to Philadelphia.  But before that we were following General Johnny Burgoyne as his army moved into New York and reached the Hudson River.  Burgoyne has also sent a second force on a different route led by General Barry St. Leger.  Today we are going to take a look at St. Leger’s campaign.

St. Leger Leaves Montreal

I gave a little background about General St. Leger back in Episode 143. Barrimore Matthew St. Leger was an Irish born son of a noble protestant family.  He had extensive experience in Canada during the French and Indian War and had risen to Lieutenant Colonel by the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  On this mission, he had a temporary rank as brigadier general and an independent command.

St. Leger movements in green. (from Rev War US)
General Burgoyne had been moving the main army from Canada down Lake Champlain to Fort Ticonderoga and then on to the Hudson River, where he planned to move on Albany.  At that same time, General St. Leger would take his smaller force up the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario.  From there, his force would move east through the Mohawk Valley with the intent of linking up with General Burgoyne’s army at Albany.

St. Leger’s smaller force consisted of two regiments of British Regulars, about 80 German Jaeger’s and about 100 French laborers.  But the bulk of his army consisted of local loyalists and Native Americans.

Sir John Johnson

Accompanying St. Leger was Lieutenant Colonel Sir John Johnson.  For Sir John, this trip was a homecoming. He was the son of Sir William Johnson who I had mentioned in earlier episodes. William Johnson had been the Indian agent in the region for many decades.  Sir William was an adopted member of the Iroquois tribe and had an Iroquois mistress.  He was also a large landholder in western New York and a major general in the Tryon County militia.

Sir John had been born and raised in New York.  He had close relationships with the Iroquois as well as his fellow colonists.  At the age of thirteen Sir John had gone off to war with his father, in the French and Indian War.  He also helped his father with the treaty negotiations following Pontiac’s Rebellion.  In 1768 he was present at Fort Stanwix when his father, as British agent, negotiated a treaty with the Iroquois defining borders for both the natives and colonists.

Sir John Johnson
(from McCord Museum)
Sir John had also visited England for several years and was knighted by George III.  When Sir William died in 1774, Sir John inherited his father’s vast estate in the Mohawk Valley.  He also inherited Sir William’s command of the Tryon County militia.  Sir John also assisted his cousin Sir Guy Johnson who inherited Sir William’s position as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in North America.

Like his father, John Johnson was an outspoken Tory and a supporter of the King.  As the patriots began to take power in 1775, Sir John remained in New York but kept a low profile.  He had to abandon his estates and flee to Canada in early 1776, escaping a patriot militia party sent to arrest him.

From Montreal, he organized the King’s Royal Regiment of New York, sometimes called the “King’s Yorkers.” This loyalist regiment comprised mostly fellow New York Loyalists who had fled their homes when the patriots took over the state.  Now, these soldiers hoped to reclaim their homes and secure the colony for the King.  About 350 loyalists joined St. Leger in his effort to take back western New York from the rebels.

Joseph Brant

Also joining the expedition was Joseph Brant, also known as Thayendanega, a Mohawk Chief who was the brother-in-law of John Johnson’s father. Sir William’s Iroquois mistress / common law wife was Molly Brant, Joseph’s older sister.

Brant fought in several battles during the French and Indian war under the leadership of Sir William.  Since his father had died when he was an infant and his stepfather died when he was a young teenager, Joseph became close to Sir William.  He was about the same age as William’s son John, so the two men grew up together.

Joseph Brant, 1776
(from Wikimedia)
Brant attended in Indian school in Connecticut, where he learned the English language and customs.  He also taught the Mohawk language to a missionary.  He had planned to attend King’s College in New York (later Columbia University) but just after Pontiac’s Rebellion, relations between Indians and colonists were not the best.  Instead, he opted to return to upstate New York.  Brant fought in several more military campaigns under Sir William, mostly against tribes that defied Iroquois rule.  During this same period, Brant took an Oneida wife and spent time translating the bible into Mohawk language.  With the support of Sir William, Brant became a Mohawk Chief in 1774.

In 1775, Brant traveled to London to meet with Lord Germain.  Their talks focused on the colonial encroachment onto Iroquois land.  Germain promised Brant and the Iroquois the support of the British government against the colonial land grabs.  While in London, Brant met with King George III and joined the Freemasons.  Confident in the support of the government, Brant returned to America in 1776 with the British fleet that was headed to New York.  Brant fought at the Battle of Long Island.

After that, Brant made his way back to Iroquois territory.  There, he raised an army of about 300 warriors and 100 loyalists who opposed patriot movements in their territory.

After about a year of this, Brant participated in an Iroquois council to determine whether the Iroquois Confederation would remain neutral in the war between the British and colonists, or whether they would support the British government.  Brant was a strong supporter of the latter, arguing that sitting out the war would mean the government would be less inclined to protect tribal lands later.  The colonists were taking land.  The British government vowed to protect their land.  Brant thought supporting the British was an easy call.  The Council could not really come to any agreement.  In the end, some of the tribes, particularly the Mohawk and Seneca fought with the British.  The Oneida and Tuscarora for the most part threw in their lot with the patriots.

Brant departed the conference in time to bring hundreds of Mohawk warriors to the St. Leger expedition.  He caught up with the expedition after it had left Montreal.

With Brant’s arrival, the native warriors made up more than half of the roughly 2000 man force under St. Leger.  Because of the close relationships between native and colonial leaders like Johnson and Brant, there was a much better level of cooperation between the two groups than we would see in Burgoyne’s army.  St. Leger had little experience commanding native warriors, but relied on his colonial officers to keep the diverse collection of soldiers working and fighting together.

Indian Warfare in the Northwest

Before St. Leger’s army reaches its goal, I think it is important to give a little more attention to the role of Native Americans in the fighting.  As the examples of John Johnson and Joseph Brant provide there were many men who were comfortable living in both the provincial and native cultures. In many ways these two cultures were greatly intermingled.  Both relied on trade with the other.  There was a great deal of interaction.  Neither group lived in isolation of the other.  Many got along quite well and even intermarried.

Fort Detroit (from Detroit Public Library)
At the same time, there was a reasonable amount of fear and distrust of the other. Native tribes were continually in fear of settlers taking more of their land, despite treaties to the contrary.  Many settlers lived in fear of Indian attacks, sometimes as part of a larger campaign, other times just isolated renegades looking to rape and pillage.

As the rebellion grew, both sides attempted to get local tribes to ally with their side, or at least not join into an alliance with the enemy. As I mentioned earlier, Guy Johnson served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  Guy came to America from Ireland as a young teenager to join his Uncle William in the Mohawk Valley.  He married Sir William’s daughter whose mother was one of Sir William’s many Iroquois mistresses.

Guy is critical to British-Native relations in this region, but was sidelined for the coming events.  He had traveled to London a couple of years earlier along with Joseph Brant. He had gone because another British Indian agent in Canada, John Campbell, claimed jurisdiction as Superintendent there.  Guy went to plead his case to officials in London, but they upheld that Sir Guy’s authority covered only New York, not Canada.  When he and Brant returned with the British fleet to New York City in 1776, the patriots had taken over upstate New York.  Guy was asked to remain in New York City rather than go back to Canada for fear of getting into a leadership tussle with Campbell.  So Guy was stuck in New York City while the entire Burgoyne and St. Leger armies were deployed in upstate New York.

I mention all this to underscore the fact that native support was not simply an afterthought.  The British gave great attention to maintaining good relations with the native tribes in times of peace and encouraging their cooperation in times of war.  We mostly hear about the natives when they are serving alongside British soldiers, as they were in the St. Leger Expedition.  But this was only one small part of much larger British efforts to make use of their Indian subjects.

British agents in the western frontier had spent much of 1776 encouraging native tribes to attack colonists living in their territories.  Traditionally, warriors had avoided larger attacks on towns for fear that the British would send armies of devastation and take even more tribal land.  This had been a common trend as I’ve discussed previously.  See, Episode 15 the Anglo-Cherokee War, Episode 19 response to Pontiac’s Uprising, Episode 44 Lord Dunmore’s War, and Episode 102 The Cherokee War as examples.  Most tribes knew that going to war against colonists usually would end badly for the tribes.

But with the British government encouraging war now, many warriors were emboldened to act, at least in smaller raids.  A great many Shawnee, Mingo and Delaware warriors began attacking settlers in outposts throughout the Ohio Valley.  This includes modern day West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and even parts of western Maryland and Pennsylvania.  The Americans had considered sending in armies of retaliation, but were concerned that doing so might only encourage the much larger numbers of warriors who had remained neutral to take up arms against the patriots.

By early 1777 Congress deployed newly promoted Brigadier General Edward Hand, who had fought with distinction in the Princeton campaign, to go to Fort Pitt in Western Pennsylvania.  They also deployed several regiments and much-needed munitions and supplies in preparation for raids into the Ohio Valley if necessary.

Around this same time, Lord Germain was sending orders to General Carleton about Burgoyne’s mission and orders to Carleton to encourage friendly tribes to engage in raids along the Pennsylvania and Virginia frontier so that the Continentals would have to divert more men and resources there and away from upstate New York.

In 1775 London had created civil offices for lieutenant governors for western outposts.  These  included Detroit, in what is today Michigan, Vincennes, in what is today Indiana, and Kaskaskia in what is today Illinois.  The main job of these officials was to encourage tribes in their areas to support the King and go to war against the rebels.

Sir Henry Hamilton
(from Wikimedia)
In June 1777, Henry Hamilton, who was stationed in Detroit, convened a council of tribes to encourage warriors to attack the rebels.  He provided weapons and gifts.  Some of these warriors went to Montreal to join up with Burgoyne and St. Leger, but most would attack outposts in the Ohio Valley.  To encourage this, Hamilton offered to pay for rebel scalps, a practice for which he later became known among the Indians as “hair buyer.”

While these attacks became a terror for settlers living on the frontier, they remained an irritant to the American war effort overall.  The Americans would eventually have to respond, but that will be at a later time.  I will cover those more in future episodes.

The patriots also attempted diplomatic efforts with various tribes, although they did not have the diplomats and ability to provide gifts and incentives that the British did.  As a result, the patriots focused mostly on encouraging only the tribes who lived most closely among them to ally themselves, or at least agree to remain neutral in the fighting.

General Philip Schuyler had spent a great deal of his command meeting and negotiating with the Iroquois and other tribes in upstate New York.  The patriots were on fairly good terms with the Oneida tribe, which was one of the smaller Iroquois tribes, but whose land would be the main area where St. Leger’s army would confront the Americans.

Fort Stanwix

The first target of the St. Leger’s army was Fort Stanwix, which the Americans had renamed Fort Schuyler.  The fort sits in what is today known as the town of Rome, NY.  British General Stanwix had built the fort during the French and Indian War to protect access to the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers from a western attack.  After the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, the fort was abandoned as it was inside Iroquois territory.

The unoccupied fort fell into disrepair over the next decade.  The patriots reoccupied the fort in 1776 as part of their efforts to prevent a British invasion from Canada.  By early 1777, the fort still was not in terribly good condition.  The garrison attempted to rebuild defensible walls and brought back cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to use for the fort’s defenses.

Peter Gansevoort

In May 1777, Continental Colonel Peter Gansevoort took command of the fort.  Gansevoort was a young officer in his twenties.  He had come for a Dutch family that had lived in New York for generations.  His brother served as a member of the New York Provincial Congress as a strong advocate for the patriot cause.

Peter Gansevoort
(from Wikimedia)
Before the war began, Peter had joined the Albany County Militia.  Because of his commanding presence and his family connections, General Schuyler had recommended him for a commission as a major in the Continental Army when it began in 1775.  Major Gansevoort participated in the Quebec campaign, but was one of the thousands of soldiers who fell ill and was lying in a sick bed in Montreal when General Montgomery launched the failed attack on Quebec.

After the withdrawal of the American forces in Canada, Gansevoort took command of Fort George in New York.  In November 1776, Congress promoted him to colonel and gave him command of the Third New York Regiment.  Gansevoort had recruited the regiment himself.  In May 1777, Gansevoort took command at Fort Stanwix, which again, the patriots had renamed Fort Schuyler, but I’m going to continue to call Fort Stanwix.

Gansevoort commanded a garrison consisting of his regiment plus other local militia and anyone else they could find, totalling about 550 soldiers at Fort Stanwix.  His second in command was Lieutenant Colonel Marinus Willett, who you may recall played a key role during the Peekskill Raid a few months earlier, see Episode 133.  The Americans had received intelligence about the British expedition to Lake Ontario, and expected that the expedition would attempt to take Fort Stanwix.

Siege of Fort Stanwix Begins

The fort received word of the loss of Fort Ticonderoga and the retreat of the Continental Army.  In June and July, there were several attacks near the fort, including two soldiers who were shot and scalped.  One of them, Captain Gregg, feigned death while being scalped.  After the raiding party had left, Gregg’s dog ran off and found help, getting two civilians fishing nearby to come to his rescue and bring him back to the fort.  A few weeks later, a group of Indians fired on a group of young girls picking berries in the woods, killing two of them.  These attacks were by warriors who had not joined the St. Leger expedition, but were operating on their own, preying on isolated individuals or small groups rather than larger or entrenched garrisons like the fort itself.

Fort Stanwix (modern reconstruction) (from Wikimedia)
Fort Stanwix was in Oneida territory.  The Oneida were friendly toward the patriots, and still maintained their neutrality in the war.  The Oneida were in regular communications with the fort garrison and were just as outraged by these attacks as the garrison itself.  It was believed that these attacks were from other tribes who were working in concert with the British who were scouting the territory.  However no one ever identified any of the attackers.

By July 27, 1777 St. Leger’s expedition had reached Lake Ontario and launched its force inland toward Fort Stanwix.  Less than a week later, on August 2, the advance of the column came within sight of Fort Stanwix.  They arrived just in time to see the last of a supply train enter the fort, raising the garrison’s numbers to over 700 defenders and with enough arms and ammunition to withstand a siege of up to six weeks.  The fort had sufficient food and ammunition, although limited gunpowder would restrict use of the cannons.

On the morning of August 3, General St. Leger demanded the surrender of the fort. After being refused, he began his siege.  Without sufficient cannons to take down the fort walls from a distance, St. Leger relied on his Indians to surround the fort and pick off defenders with their rifles.  Similarly, the defenders used rifles to pick off attackers, leading to a contest of sharp shooters over the following days.

The fort was in a good position to hold out, but ultimately, it would have to fall to the superior force unless a relief column came to its aid.  At this point General Burgoyne had chased most of the American forces to the Hudson River where the Americans were still trying to regroup and defend against this attack by the larger army. The Continentals did not have forces to spare to send to Fort Stanwix.

With neither side able to defeat the other in a direct attack, the two sides settled into a siege.

- - -

Next Episode 152 Fort Stanwix and Oriskany

Previous Episode 150 Howe Leaves New York

Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account.

You may also donate via VenmoZelle, or popmoney (send to

Click here to see my Patreon Page
You can support the American Revolution Podcast as a Patreon subscriber.  This is an option for people who want to make monthly pledges.  Patreon support will give you access to Podcast extras and help make the podcast a sustainable project.

An alternative to Patreon is SubscribeStar.  For anyone who has problems with Patreon, you can get the same benefits by subscribing at SubscribeStar.

Click here to go to my SubscribeStar Page

Further Reading



Mary Brant:

Sawyer, William The Six Nations Confederacy During the American Revolution:

Henry Hamilton:

Peter Gansevoort:

Scott, John Albert. “JOSEPH BRANT AT FORT STANWIX AND ORISKANY.” New York History, vol. 19, no. 4, 1938, pp. 399–406:. JSTOR,

Bryce, P. H. “SIR JOHN JOHNSON: BARONET; SUPERINTENDENT-GENERAL OF INDIAN AFFAIRS 1743-1830.” The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association, vol. 9, no. 3, 1928, pp. 233–271. JSTOR,

Walker, Mabel Gregory. “Sir John Johnson.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 3, no. 3, 1916, pp. 318–346. JSTOR,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Anbury, Thomas Travel through Various Parts of North America, Vol. 1, William Lane, 1789.

Bird, Harrison March To Saratoga General Burgoyne And The American Campaign 1777,
Oxford Univ. Press, 1963

Brandow, John H. The Story of Old Saratoga; the Burgoyne Campaign, to Which is Added New York's Share in the Revolution, Brandow Printing, 1919.

Burgoyne, John A Brief examination of the plan and conduct of the northern expedition in America, in 1777, T. Hookham, 1779.

Clay, Steven E. Staff Ride Handbook for the Saratoga Campaign, 13 June to 8 November 1777, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2018 (US Army Website):.

Digby, William The British Invasion from the North: The Campaigns of Generals Carleton and Burgoyne from Canada, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1887.

Hudleston, Francis J. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne: Misadventures of an English General in the Revolution, Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1927.

Luzader, John Decision on the Hudson, National Park Service, 1975.

Nickerson, Hoffman The Turning Point of the Revolution; or, Burgoyne in America, (Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1928 (

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe Historical Considerations on the Siege and Defence of Fort Stanwix, in 1776 [1777], New-York Historical Society, 1846.

Stone, William Leete (ed) Orderly book of Sir John Johnson during the Oriskany Campaign, 1776-1777, Albany: J. Munsell's Sons, 1882.

Stone, William L. Border Wars of the American Revolution, Vol. 1, Harper & Brothers, 1845.

Stone, William Leete, The Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne  and the expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger, Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1877.

Tracy, Marion Emma Fort Stanwix and our Flag, Utica, N.Y., The Utica Deutsche zeitung printing house, 1914.

Walworth, Ellen H. Battles of Saratoga, 1777; the Saratoga Monument Association, 1856-1891, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1891.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Boehlert, Paul A. The Battle of Oriskany and General Nicholas Herkimer: Revolution in the Mohawk Valley, History Press, 2013

Furneaux, Rupert The Battle of Saratoga, Stein and Day 1971.

Kelsay, Isabel Thompson Joseph Brant, 1743-1807, Man of Two Worlds, Syracuse Univ. Press, 1984.

Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga, Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Henry Holt & Co, 1997.

Logusz, Michael O. With Musket and Tomahawk, The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777, Casemate Publishing, 2010.

Logusz, Michael O. With Musket and Tomahawk. Volume II: The Mohawk Valley Campaign in the Wilderness War of 1777, Casemate Publishing, 2012 (book recommendation of the week).

Luzader, John F. Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution, Casemate Publishers, 2008

Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates, Yale Univ. Press, 1990.

Mintz, Max. M. Seeds of Empire: The American Revolutionary Conquest of the Iroquois, NYU Press, 1999.

Ranzan, David A and Matthew J. Hollis (eds) Hero of Fort Schuyler: Selected Revolutionary War Correspondence of Brigadier General Peter Gansevoort, Jr., McFarland, 2014.

Watt, Gavin K. Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley: The St. Leger Expedition of 1777, Dundern, 2002.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

No comments:

Post a Comment