Sunday, July 24, 2022

ARP251 Waxhaws Massacre

We last left South Carolina in Episode 248 where the greatest American loss of the war led to the capture of the entire southern army under General Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston.  British General Henry Clinton had assembled one of the largest British armies of the war and used a cautious siege strategy to capture the entire American army inside the city.

Following that victory, General Clinton prepared to return to New York City with roughly one-third of his army, leaving the remainder under General Cornwallis to control the southern colonies now under British authority: South Carolina, Georgia, and East and West Florida.  Cornwallis also had authority to take North Carolina on his own initiative if the opportunity presented itself.

Clinton Plan for Peace

Clinton issued two decrees before leaving South Carolina. One threatened the seizure of the property of any person who continued in rebellion against the King. The other granted a full pardon to anyone who peaceably returned to the King’s rule, despite whatever past acts of rebellion he might have committed.  Although he had imprisoned the Continental Army officers and solders who were captured at Charleston, Clinton permitted the South Carolina militia to return home on parole, with only the promise that they never again take up arms against the King.

Battle of Waxhaws
Clinton had requested Charleston loyalist James Simpson determine the leanings of South Carolinians, particularly in the backcountry, following the fall of Charleston.  Simpson divided his fellow colonists into four groups.  The first, were the rather wealthy who had seen the problems living under independence and were more than happy to return to royal rule.  The second group were people who had no particularly strong political views, who had also become disenchanted by patriot rule and were perfectly willing to support the king. The third group were rebels who had become convinced the cause was lost and would now submit to the reality of British rule.  The fourth and final group consisted of unrepentant rebels who would continue the fight.  Simpson made these groups, but did not seem to guess at how large any of these groups were and admitted that he had no real direct communication with any of the third or fourth groups.  

Simpson’s conclusion though was that peace and order would continue to grow if, and only if, the British continued to provide support and protection via the regular army.  Failure to maintain a strong presence in the colony would only embolden the rebels and allow more to return to a state of rebellion.

Clinton sent three expeditions inland to secure pledges of allegiance and issue pardons.  His reports back to London indicate great success from the response of the locals.

Waxhaws Massacre

Clinton’s strategy of pardons for past wrongdoing, and threats of punishment for future wrongdoing seemed to be working well.  Most South Carolinians were either retiring to their homes, or outright joining the British in loyalist regiments.

There were still a few pockets of resistance. Governor John Rutledge and several other top rebel officials had slipped out of Charleston a few weeks before the city’s surrender.  They had met up with a small detachment of Continental soldiers under Colonel Abraham Buford who had been on their way to Charleston, but had not arrived by the time it fell. Buford commanded a little less than 400 men and two small field cannons.  The men at this point were fleeing the state, headed for North Carolina.

Even so, capturing the rebel president would be good public relations, and would remove another possible rallying point for the rebels.  The escaping rebels already had a week’s head start.  Cornwallis deployed his most aggressive field commander, Colonel Banastre Tarleton to capture the party.  With his typical enthusiasm, Tarleton pushed his cavalry, riding more than 100 miles in about two days, through the summer heat, in an attempt to capture the governor.

Tarleton's attack at Waxhaws
On the afternoon of May 29, Tarleton’s force of about 150 cavalry men caught up with Buford near the North Carolina border.  Tarleton’s cavalry were less than half the size of Buford’s force.  With customary bluster, Tarleton demanded Buford’s immediate surrender and claimed to have the Americans surrounded with a superior force.  Buford rejected the offer and put his men into a line of battle.  

Tarleton quickly formed three columns and charged the American lines.  The Continentals held their fire until the cavalry was only ten yards away.  They let loose a devastating volley, but it failed to break the charge.  Tarleton’s cavalry swept over the Continental lines.

During the melee, Tarleton had his horse shot out from under him, but his cavalry continued the attack.  Colonel Buford managed to flee the battlefield on his horse, leaving his men to their fates. The hand-to-hand combat quickly turned into a massacre. The stunned Continentals attempted to surrender, but were shot down anyway.  British soldiers used swords and bayonets to finish off the wounded who lay on the ground.

When the fighting stopped, the British had suffered only five killed and fourteen wounded. The Continentals suffered 113 men killed and 203 wounded, a roughly 80% casualty rate.  The battle of Waxhaws, also known as Buford’s massacre, became a rallying point for the patriots.  It also sealed Tarleton’s reputation as a butcher.  Tarleton later claimed that the men went on a killing spree after he fell, because they assumed he had been killed and wanted to avenge his death. While that excuse may have been accepted by his superiors, it certainly did not fly with the patriots.  The term “Tarleton’s Quarter” became a call for no surrender - kill or be killed in battle.

Governor Rutledge managed to escape before the battle began and found refuge in North Carolina.  From there, he began lobbying the Continental Congress to send a new army to recapture South Carolina, and assisted with efforts to raise resources for resistance within the state.

Clinton’s Proclamation

Several days after the Waxhaws Massacre, General Clinton issued one last proclamation before leaving for New York.  In a prior declaration, Clinton had permitted all rebel militia to return to their homes on parole and receive pardon.  By custom, this meant that parolees were out of the war and could not fight for either side.

Clinton’s June 2 proclamation changed all that.  With the return of the King’s rule, all South Carolinians, including parolees, must swear allegiance to the King and rejoin the fight in the loyalist militias.  In hindsight, this decree has been heavily criticized.  But I can see why it made sense to Clinton.  

Gen. Henry Clinton

Several years earlier, when General Howe captured Philadelphia, he respected the neutrality of most of the local population.  The result was that many patriots simply laid low and remained in the area, meaning the British were never really able to secure the land more than a few miles from their garrisons.

By requiring the locals in South Carolina to pick a side, Clinton could be assured exactly who was with him and who was against him.  He would not have to tolerate thousands of patriots simply biding their time to strike in a moment of weakness.  Most locals would submit to British authority.  Those who did not would be dealt with right away.

But the impact of the proclamation was that many men who had returned home on parole now had a decision to make.  Prior to the proclamation, most of these men seemed to be of the opinion that the war was over for them.  They could return to their plantations and simply focus on rebuilding their lives.  They had a perfect excuse for not joining another patriot army since they had taken an oath not to do so while they remained on parole.

With Clinton’s new proclamation, toiling away on one’s farm under a quiet neutrality was no longer an option. These men had to decide whether they were willing to join a loyalist militia, and go to war against their friends and neighbors, or whether they were going to continue to resist British rule.  There was no in-between.  The result was that many paroled patriot militia returned to the field and became partisans.  

Clinton’s proclamation coming at the same time most South Carolinians received word of the Waxhaws massacre, stirred up war sentiment that had seemed extinct a week earlier.  Irregular partisan groups took to the swamps where they would resist British control of the area and continue the struggle.

Thomas Sumter

One new leader that emerged was Thomas Sumter.  Later known as the Gamecock, Sumter had been an old Indian fighter, before the war.  He was born and raised in Virginia.  Along with George Washington, and many other future leaders, Sumter served in the militia under General Braddock at the beginning of the French and Indian War.  Sumter also served under then-Colonel Adam Stephen in the Anglo-Cherokee war in the 1760s.  Following the war, Sumter accompanied several Cherokee leaders to London.

Thomas Sumter
Debts resulted in the young Virginian serving time in debtor’s prison.  He later settled in South Carolina.  There, he became a justice of the peace and ran a country store.  Soon after, he married into a local planter family allowing him to become a plantation owner.

Sumter was an early supporter of the patriot cause.  He helped raise a militia in early 1776, becoming the lieutenant colonel of the regiment, and later the colonel.  Sumter was leading a regiment of riflemen in Charleston during Clinton’s first attempt to take the city in 1776.  At that time, Sumter played no active role.  As the war raged in New England and then the middle colonies, there really was not much to do for a militia officer in South Carolina.  Sumter had participated in the efforts to invade Florida, which never really amounted to anything.  Sumter only managed to catch a bad case of malaria during the efforts.  In 1778, Sumter resigned his commission and returned home to his plantation.

When the British invaded Georgia and began sending soldiers into South Carolina in early 1779, Sumter remained at home, instead focusing on raising crops and farm animals to sell to the army.  He felt no obligation to return to military command.  Even after the British army began its full-scale siege of Charleston, Sumter remained on his plantation.  During William Washington’s escape from the battle at Monck’s Corner, his troops marched past Sumter’s plantation.  Sumter provided the soldiers with food and even a horse for Colonel Washington, but did so only because the army paid top dollar for the supplies.

It was only in late May of 1780, after learning that Banastre Tarleton was planning to arrest him that Sumter put on his uniform and left his plantation.  Tarleton’s men, frustrated at not finding Sumter at home, looted and burned his plantation.

To do anything, Sumter first had to raise an army.  He stayed ahead of British patrols, riding to find other men, many of whom had served under him in the militia regiment that had been disbanded a few years earlier.  General Clinton’s proclamation that required the men of South Carolina either to join Tory regiments being raised or be branded traitors, forced many men to join guerrilla units like the one Sumter was raising.  Since men could not remain neutral, they would join the patriots.

Sumter began a guerrilla campaign.  His men would hide in swamps. They would attack isolated British units or outposts when the opportunity arose.  They would harass and attack any loyalist plantations that they could target.  Within weeks of fleeing his plantation, the men elected Sumter as their leader and declared him to be a brigadier general of the South Carolina militia.

Francis Marion

Another leader who rose to the occasion was Colonel Francis Marion, later known as the Swamp Fox.  Marion was born in South Carolina and lived on his family’s plantation.  The most interesting story from his youth was the time a 16 year-old Marion boarded a ship for the west Indies.  His ship crashed into a whale and sank.  Marion spent days in a lifeboat, where several members of the crew died for lack of water.  After about a week in the lifeboat, another ship rescued them and he returned home.  

Francis Marion
Since South Carolina did not really play much of a role in the French and Indian War, Marion lived the quiet life of a planter.  Like all white men in South Carolina, Marion served in the militia, but he did not see active duty.  When the Anglo-Cherokee war began, Lieutenant Marion, serving in Colonel William Moultrie’s regiment, saw some action.  He was a witness to some of the brutality that attended that war with the Cherokee, and apparently came away from it with a profound distaste for military service.

Marion returned to the life of a farmer, growing his small plantation over time, largely avoiding any active role in politics.  But in 1774, he was elected to attend South Carolina’s First Provincial Congress, which was a challenge to British colonial authority.  When South Carolina established its patriot militia in 1775, Marion received a commission as a captain, again serving in a regiment commanded by Colonel William Moultrie.

In September, Captain Marion was part of the force that captured Fort Johnson in Charleston Harbor.  A few months later, Marion was part of the 1776 defense of Fort Sullivan against the British attack led by General Clinton.  Marion’s conspicuous efforts that day in defense of the fort led to a commission as a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army.  Marion commanded the second regiment, stationed in Charleston.  He got a reputation there as a no-nonsense officer who was quick to punish infractions.  More than ¼ of his regiment was subject to lashings for various violations during his leadership.  Colonel Marion was among the officers who argued with the civilian leadership who wanted to surrender Charleston to a British raiding party in 1779.

Colonel Marion led his regiment into combat at the failed siege of Savanna.  He led his men in a charge that saw a nearly 50% casualty rate.  After the battle, the Second Regiment was stationed about halfway between Charleston and Savannah.  It was not until January of 1780, after the British attack on Charleston became clear, that Marion returned to the city.

It is likely that Marion would have been taken prisoner, along with the rest of the Continental Army under General Lincoln, but for an accident.  Marion attended an officer’s party on March 19.  For some reason, he jumped out of a second story window and broke his ankle.  A few weeks later, as the British siege tightened, General Lincoln ordered all officers and men who were unfit for duty to leave the city, in order to conserve food and other resources.  Marion left for home only a few days before the British sealed off most of the escape routes around Charleston.

As a result, Marion was one of the few Continental officers in South Carolina who escaped capture at Charleston.  He could no longer recuperate from his injury at his plantation, as he became a wanted man under the new British authority.  He fled into the local swamps, avoiding capture by British patrols, and continued to wait for his ankle to heal.

Huck’s Defeat

Despite a few rebels hiding the swamps, from the British perspective, South Carolina had fallen.  Capturing the army under Lincoln in Charleston seemed to crush the resistance in the state.  The British set about the task of raising loyalist regiments to control the recaptured colony and crush any remaining signs of resistance.

Martha Bratton Threatened
Banastre Tarleton is often held up as an example of the brutality used to reassert British control.  But Tarleton was far from the only one who believed that harsh treatment was the only way to put down the rebellion.  Another such officer was Christian Huck.

Before the war Huck had immigrated to Philadelphia from a German state.  In his new home, he studied law and became an attorney.  When the war came, Huck was decidedly a loyalist, but like many loyalists in Philadelphia, kept quiet about it to avoid attack by patriot mobs.  When the British took control of the city in late 1777, Huck gladly assisted the army.  

After the British evacuation back to New York in 1778, Pennsylvania added Huck’s name to a list of traitors who had actively assisted the British during the occupation.  The state confiscated his property and threatened to punish him as a traitor if caught.  Huck had seen that his activities during the occupation would not sit well and had already left the city. In June 1778, he received a commission as a captain in a German-speaking loyalist regiment raised in New York.

Huck’s regiment came south with Clinton’s army to take Charleston.  His loyalist infantry fought under Colonel Tarleton at Waxhaws. Huck got a reputation as a tough fighter and a fervent loyalist who had no sympathy for traitors to the crown.  After Waxhaws, Captain Huck operated independently in the backcountry.   His orders were to recruit more loyalist soldiers. 

Huck developed a reputation for a foul mouth and a violent temper, one that did not tolerate anyone who refused to provide unequivocal support to British authority.  Several accounts have him threatening to kill uncooperative civilians as he attempted to capture fleeing rebels.  He and his soldiers burned numerous plantations and other property belonging to suspected patriots.  One account said that his men shot and killed a boy who was just sitting by the road, reading the bible.  I’m sure there is more to the story than that, but clearly these were soldiers who fought for keeps.

You can find several more paintings
related to Hucks Defeat at this link. 
They are modern works to which I
could not get copyright permission
to display here.
In July, Huck led a force of about 120 men, who encamped on the Williamson plantation in York County.  There, they captured five patriots hiding in the corn crib.  The loyalists camped around the plantation house for the night.

One of their targets was Colonel William Bratton, a local patriot militia officer.  Huck had personally threatened to kill Bratton’s wife Martha in an attempt to get her to give up her husband’s location.  Martha managed to get a slave to send a message to her husband, who was camped nearby.  

Bratton marched a force of about 200 South Carolina militia and attacked the loyalists at the Williamson plantation at dawn on July 12.  The battle was over in minutes as the surprised loyalists mostly fled into the woods.  The attackers shot Captain Huck in the head, killing him as he attempted to mount his horse.

The problem with the British treating the patriots so brutally, is that it often resulted in receiving similar treatment from the enemy when the tables were turned.  The militia chased down the loyalists and took out their wrath on those they found.  The loyalists under Huck suffered 85% casualties that day, while the Americans suffered only one killed and one wounded.

Huck’s defeat was one example of many that the British pacification of South Carolina was far from over.  That there were still men ready to fight, and that their numbers would seem to grow over time.

Next week: We head to London where the Yorkshire Association challenges the King’s rule, and the Gordon Riots burn London.

- - -

Next Episode 252 Gordon Riots

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Further Reading


Brown, Alan S. “James Simpson’s Reports on the Carolina Loyalists, 1779-1780.” The Journal of Southern History, vol. 21, no. 4, 1955, pp. 513–19. JSTOR,


Battle of Waxhaws (Burford’s Massacre):


Huck’s Defeat:

Battle of Williamson’s Plantation (Huck’s Defeat):

Battle of Huck’s Defeat:

Brinkley, W. David Back to the Future: the British Southern Campaign, 1780-1781,  School of Advanced Military Studies, 1998.

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

McCrady, Edward The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 1780-1783, New York: The Macmillan Co. 1902.  

Ramsay, David The History of the Revolution of South-Carolina, from a British province to an independent state, 1749-1815, Vol. 2, Trenton: Isaac Collins, 1785. 

Simms, William G. The Life of Francis Marion, New York, Derby, 1854. 

Weems, M. L. Life of Gen'l Francis Marion, New York: J.W. Lovell Co. 1882 (originally published 1809). 

Weigley, Russell Frank The Partisan War: The South Carolina Campaign of 1780-1782, Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1970 (borrow only). 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Bass, Robert D. Gamecock: The Life And Campaigns Of General Thomas Sumter, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961 (Read on

Buchanan, John The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas, Wiley, 1999. 

Edgar, Walter B. Partisans and Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolution, New York: Morrow, 2001. 

Ferling, John Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. 

Holbrook, Stewart Hall The Swamp Fox of the Revolution, Random House 1959. (borrow on

Lumpkin, Henry From Savannah to Yorktown: the American Revolution in the South, Univ. of SC Press, 1981 (borrow on

Oller, John The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution, Da Capo Press, 2016 (borrow on

Russell, David Lee. The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies. McFarland & Company, 2000. 

Ward, Christopher The War of the Revolution, Macmillan Company, 1952. 

Willcox, William B. Portrait of a General; Sir Henry Clinton in the War of Independence, Knopf, 1964  (borrow from

Wilson, David K. The Southern Strategy: Britain’s Conquest of South Carolina and Georgia 1775-1780, Univ. of S.C. Press, 2005. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

ARP250 Mohawk Valley Raids

We last looked in on the Indian warfare in upstate New York back in Episode 230.  

The Iroquois under leaders like loyalist John Johnson and Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), had been terrorizing settlers in New York who had sided with the patriots.  These patriots had forced all loyalists to flee to Niagara, or further north into the Quebec territory, or face arrest and property confiscation if they failed to swear allegiance to the new independent state government.  

Postcard depiction of Mohawk Valley Raid, 1780
In addition to the Iroquois, many loyalist New Yorkers of European descent also fled to Canada. Many of these formed loyalist units, including Butler's Rangers, under the command of John Butler and often led by his son Walter Butler.  The Rangers, the Iroquois and loyalists waged a campaign attempting to destroy food and property, as well as capture or kill patriots, in an attempt to get the patriots to cede the region.  These raids had already resulted in numerous massacres, including the Wyoming Valley Massacre and the Cherry Valley Massacre. 

In response, General Washington ordered an equally harsh response by the Continental Army.  He ordered General Sullivan to take an army through the heart of Iroquois territory and visit devastation on all the Iroquois villages, other than the Oneida and a few others who had cast their lot with the patriot sides.  Many of the Iroquois had attempted to remain neutral.  But these neutral villages provided support to fellow Iroquois who were raiding patriot homes and villages.

The Continentals hoped that by burning Indian villages and destroying their food, that they would have no choice but to abandon the region entirely.  The Sullivan Campaign did exactly that.

Hard Winter

As I’ve mentioned in other episodes, the winter of 1779-80 was an exceptionally cold and snowy one.  The Continental Army clung to bare survival at Morristown, New Jersey.  To the north things were at least as bad, if not worse.

Native Winter Encampment
The Sullivan Campaign had wiped out grain stores in New York and sent thousands of Iroquois refugees to the Niagara area, desperate to feed their families and find shelter in the harsh winter.  These joined thousands of other loyalist refugees who had already fled New York and also needed assistance.

More than 5000 Iroquois, more than half of them women and children, had fled to Niagara with little more than the clothes on their backs.  By October of 1779 these refugees were already consuming the food rations that would not have supported even a smaller number of people over the winter.  As fall pushed into winter, food became even scarcer. 

Mary Jemison - a former white captive who lived with the Senecas, wrote down her recollections of that hard winter years later: 

The snow fell about five feet deep, and remained so for a long time, and the weather was extremely cold; so much so indeed, that almost all the game upon which the Indians depended for subsistence, perished, and reduced them almost to a state of starvation through that and three or four succeeding years. When the snow melted in the spring, deer were found dead upon the ground in vast numbers; and other animals, of every description, perished from the cold also, and were found dead, in multitudes. Many of our people barely escaped with their lives, and some actually died of hunger and freezing.

Frederick Haldimand

The British Governor General Frederick Haldimand complained regularly to London over the winter that everyone was starving and that grain was almost impossible to find.  Heavy snowfall and ice made it impossible to get any supplies to the refugees.  In addition to the lack of food, there was nowhere to shelter all of the people.  There were not enough tents, which even if their were would have been inadequate for the brutal Canadian winter where witnesses reported snow drifts of over eight feet.  Many refugees attempted to build crude shelters from wood or stone, or dig holes into the earth in order to avoid the brutal winds.  These shelters were not close to adequate protection.

Many hundreds died over the winter.  Some simply starved or died from diseases related to the lack of food, such as scurvy.  Many others literally froze to death, living outside in the elements without winter clothing.  Dr. James McCauseland of the King’s Eighth Regiment made futile attempts to assist the many dying around him every day, but could do little more than report on the wide array of diseases that were killing the people.  By the time the first signs of spring thaw came around, there were not even enough healthy people to bury all the dead. Soldiers simply poured quicklime on the bodies and buried them in shallow mass graves in order to prevent the rotting corpses from killing even more people.

Plans to Recapture Upstate New York

Loyalist and Iroquois leaders, however, only saw the suffering as an incentive to redouble their efforts to take back Iroquois lands in New York the following spring.  Of course, the leadership did not suffer nearly as much as the warriors or civilians.  Many war chiefs lived as guests in the home of Johnson, Butler, or other prominent men.  

Brant, who owned his own farm near Niagara, even found time to get married that winter.  His new wife, Catherine, had a white father named George Groghan, a Pennsylvanian who lived on the frontier and who had been with Washington when he made his first forays as a young man into the Ohio Valley.  Catherine knew none of that, having been born years later.  The 20 year old woman had been mostly raised by her Mohawk mother and spoke little English.

John Johnson had his own regiment drawn from local Tories, New York loyalist John Butler still commanded Butler’s rangers, composed primarily of New York loyalists.  Walter Butler, his son, had led the Rangers in the Field.  Joseph Brant worked with several other war chiefs to keep the Iroquois prepared for a new offensive into New York.  Also in late 1779 Guy Johnson returned from London.  Britain’s Indian agent for the region, Johnson also had authority to provide gifts to native warriors to encourage an active campaign against the New York patriots.

One of the targets would be Oneida homelands.  The Oneida had solidly backed the patriots.  Their fellow Iroquois felt a particular betrayal by this and wanted to send a message.  Even in late 1779, Brant was planning a raid on the Oneida villages.  As he organized his raiding party, he captured three Oneida warriors near his camp near Niagara.  Under interrogation, the Oneida revealed that they had been made aware of the planned attacks from a Cayuga refugee living near Niagara and that Oneida war chiefs had sent them to spy on the attackers.  Realizing that he had lost the element of surprise, Brant called off the attack for the fall.

Brant’s Spring Raid

While the fierce winter storms limited any military activity over the winter, Tory and Iroquois leaders were determined to do something.  By February, some of the worst snows had subsided.  Brant and several hundred warriors held a war dance at Guy Johnson’s home.  Johnson supplied the warriors with snowshoes, blankets, and other supplies, in hopes that they might conduct a winter campaign.

Guy Johnson
The warriors set off, but the poor weather and difficult conditions led to much of the force falling ill. It also didn’t help that there were no friendly villages along the way to provide supplies.  The work of the Sullivan Campaign the previous year had succeeded in that.  Brant reported several weeks into the winter march that more than half of his war party was too sick to continue but that he was continuing with about 200 warriors.

Marching through the snow was slow going.  One of their targets had been three forts near Schoharie, just south of Oneida lands.  Brant’s warriors took all of March, arriving in Harpersfield, a few miles away, in the beginning of April.  There, the attackers encountered a group of twelve local militia.  They killed three and captured the remainder.

The warriors wanted to kill their prisoners, but Brant prevailed on them to send the captives back to Niagara.  The prisoners told Brant that there was a garrison of 300 Continental soldiers at Schoharie.  This was not true, but it dissuaded Brant from launching an attack.

The warriors then burned Harpersfield and captured several more civilians.  Brant released one of the prisoners with a letter, saying that he had heard that the patriots were mistreating loyalist prisoners, and that he would return similar treatment on his prisoners if this did not change.

The warriors built canoes to travel down the Delaware River, looking for food and looking to help any local Tories who remained in the region.  They passed through Oquaga, which had been obliterated by the Sullivan Campaign, with no people or buildings remaining there.

Brant divided his already small force into raiding parties that could attack or capture isolated homes or villages in the region.  One raiding party returned with only two of its members, saying they had captured prisoners, but that the prisoners escaped at night and killed the rest of the raiding party.  The warriors hearing this then wanted to kill their own prisoners, but once again, they were talked out of it.

On April 24, a war party of 79 Iroquois and two Tories once again attacked the village of Cherry Valley, the scene of the 1778 massacre that had been a key trigger for the Sullivan Campaign. The attackers killed eight settlers outright, and captured another fourteen.  They burned all of the buildings that had survived the earlier attack, or had been rebuilt, and left no one living in the community.

Unable to find sufficient food to survive, the warriors began marching back to Niagara with their prisoners.  One account says that one of the prisoners was unable to keep up.  They killed and scalped the prisoner, leaving his body for the wolves.  One of the killers teasingly dangled the man’s scalp to some of the other prisoners, including his two grandsons.

After a nearly three month campaign, Brant’s warriors returned to Niagara.  Brant had to send word to Haldimand that he was returning with prisoners. Haldimand used a pretext to get most of the Indians out of the area.  Otherwise, he knew they would attack the prisoners.  Sentiments were so hard after the devastating winter that even women and children would attack prisoners being marched into camp.

Johnson Raids Johnstown and Caughnawaga

Brant was not the only active loyalist raider that spring.  While Brant’s campaign was still marching toward its targets, a loyalist scout returned from Johnstown with word that the patriots were planning to force all men of military age to enlist in militia companies to fight for the patriots, or be sent to jail and have their homes confiscated.

Sir John Johnson
Haldimand suggested to Sir John Johnson that he should send a small contingent into the region and lead loyalists still there back to join loyalist regiments, before they could be taken prisoner or forced to fight for the rebels.  Johnson opted to take a much larger force of about 300 Regulars and loyalist militia from Montreal, down Lake Champlain to Crown Point, near the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga.  He also sent scouts ahead of his main force to warn local loyalists to be ready to move when he arrived.  In doing so, he managed to recruit more than 120 men for his battalion.

With a force growing to nearly 500 men, including a fair number of Iroquois warriors, the force marched south, picking up recruits and burning the homes and farms of any patriots they encountered.  

Johnson’s force arrived at a small village just north of his boyhood home of Johnstown on May 21.  There, he divided his force, leading a portion to his boyhood home in Johnstown, with the other force moving east toward Caughnawaga.  

At around midnight on May 23, the two divisions entered Johnstown and Caughnawaga.  The raiders looted and burned the homes of known patriots.  They killed three patriot militiamen.  One of the men killed was a militia captain, according to local lore, killed by an Indian that he knew and to whom he had shown great kindness in earlier times.

Another nearby home, that of militia Colonel Frederick Visscher.  The colonel was in his home with his mother and two brothers.  The men were determined to defend their home to the last.  After a brief but determined struggle, the raiders entered the home.  They killed and scalped the men and tied their mother to a chair.  

Colonel Visscher had survived the initial attack and scalping, but had tried to play dead.  An Indian warrior noticed he was still alive and slit his throat with a knife.  After a brief ransacking, the attackers set the home on fire, leaving Mrs. Visscher tied to the chair inside the burning home. Amazingly, Col. Vissher managed to survive having his throat slit.  After the attacker left, he managed to pull his mother, and his brothers’ bodies, from the burning home.  He also recovered from his wounds, which is the only reason we have this story to tell.  Similar attacks took place in many other homes in the town, often leaving no survivors.

The devastation would have been even worse had not militia Major Van Vrank managed to ride ahead of the raiders and warn many of the locals to flee their homes and escape into the woods.  The raiders burned every building in Caughnawaga except for the church, killing many of the inhabitants, including nine elderly men over the age of 80.  They did take some prisoners.  As they continued their march, they looted and destroyed every building they encountered, taking what they could, and killing any livestock or burning any property that they could not carry. Marching through a four mile arc south of Caughnawaga, the attackers burned an estimated 120 buildings and burned tons of food.

In response to these raids, Governor George Clinton quickly called out the militia, which joined up with a force of Continentals under the command of Colonel Goose Van Schaik.  The 800 man force quickly assembled and set off to capture Johnson’s raiding parties.  Johnson managed to slow the enemy by leaking the fact that Joseph Brant and Butler’s Rangers were about to launch their own raid south of the Mohawk River.  Several prisoners escaped and alerted the patriots.  This was a ruse, Brant and Butler were still back in Niagara. But this gave Johnson’s raiders time to march north and avoid an encounter with a much larger enemy.

The loyalist raiders managed to make it back to Crown Point and embark on ships before Schaik’s army and a second army from New Hampshire which had been assembled to cut off their escape, could arrive.  A combined patriot force of 1700 men might have turned the raid into a British defeat.  But the quick escape ahead of this force up Lake Champlain gave Johnson a great success.

Raid on the Oneida

The loyalists were far from finishing their attacks.  In July, Joseph Brant, in cooperation with British regulars, launched a raid on the Oneida who had remained allied with the patriots.  Brant had convinced a small number of Oneida and Tuscarora to join the refugees at Niagara, threatening them with destruction if they refused.  Some of these natives sought refuge at Fort Stanwix.

Butler's Rangers

In June, a delegation of Mohawk Warriors and Butler’s Rangers arrived at Oneida Castle, an entrenched area with high walls, deep in Oneida territory.  They attempted to get the Onondaga, Tuscarora, and Oneida still their to abandon their alliance and join the rest of the Iroquois at Niagara.  They managed to convince about 300 warriors to leave, by 90% of these were Onondaga and Tuscarora.

One July 11, Brant’s Iroquois warriors and a small number of British regulars marched against those who had refused to join them.  Among the raiders were several dozen warriors who they had just forced to return to Niagara.  These warriors were forced to show penance for their rebel tendencies by joining the punishing force that would lay waste to those who did not surrender.  

Brant’s force came across about 400 Iroquois taking refuge near Fort Stanwix.  Most were able to flee into the fort, although some were captured and forced to return to Niagara.  Brant’s forces laid siege to the fort for a few days, but were not prepared for a longer siege.  The warriors continued on, laying waste to any abandoned Oneida homes and villages they encountered.  They drove off horses and cattle, and burned crops.

In early August, the raiders destroyed the Oneida village of Canowaraghere and also the settlement at Canajoharie.  Alert settlers became aware of the attack and managed to escape to Fort Plank.  Brant’s raiders could not take the fort and were not prepared to besiege it.  They destroyed the homes in the area, but were not able to kill or capture many of the inhabitants.  They poured through the Schoharie Valley, largely unopposed, laying waste to isolated farms and small villages, including the town of Vrooman, where they burned more than twenty homes.

By the end of August, Brant returned to Niagara with another devastating and successful raid complete.

Loyalist and Iroquois raids into New York were far from over.  The raids would become even worse in the fall of 1780, but we will have to leave those for a future episode.  Many of the Oneida who survived the raids became refugees among the patriots, settling on land closer to Schenectady, where they hoped to remain out of range of future raids.  The Mohawk Valley remained an armed encampment, where small forts dotted the region every few miles.  Nervous locals remained on edge, ready to seek the protection of the forts at a moment’s notice.  But they remained determined to defend the region.

Next week: we return to South Carolina for the battle of Waxhaws.

- - -

Next Episode 251 Waxhaw Massacre

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Further Reading


Refugees of Niagara 1779-1780: The Winter of Hunger:

Aikey, Michael “Ballston Raid of 1780” Journal of the American Revolution, Dec 6, 2017

Horton’s Historical Timeline for 1780:

Raid on Johnstown:

Frederick Visscher

History of the Mohawk Valley: Chapter 68: 1780, Raids at Cherry Valley, Johnstown, Fort Plain, Vrooman's Land

Tiro, Karim M. “A ‘Civil’ War? Rethinking Iroquois Participation in the American Revolution.” Explorations in Early American Culture, vol. 4, 2000, pp. 148–65. JSTOR,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Cruikshank, E. A. The Story of Butler's Rangers and the Settlement of Niagara, Welland, Ont: Tribune Printing, 1893. 

Efner, William B. (ed) Warfare in the Mohawk Valley; Transcribed from the Pennsylvania Gazette 1780, 1781, 1782 and 1783, Schenectady, NY: self-published, 1948. 

Seaver, James E. A Narrative of the Life of Mary Jemison: De-he-wä-mis, The White Woman of the Genesee, New York ; London : G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1910 (originally published 1824).

Stone, William L. Life of Joseph Brant-Thayendanegea, Vol. 2, New York, A. V. Blake, 1838. 

Swiggett, Howard War out of Niagara: Walter Butler and the Tory Rangers, Columbia Univ. Press, 1933. 

Walker, Mabel Gregory “Sir John Johnson”  The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 1916. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Graymont, Barbara The Iroquois (Indians Of North America), Chelsea Press, 2005 (Borrow on

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

Watt, Gavin K. For Want of His Silver Plate, Sir John Johnson's Raid of May 1780, Dundurn, 1997. 

(Buy at Fort Plain Bookstore)

Watt, Gavin K. The Burning of the Valleys: Daring Raids from Canada Against the New York Frontier in the Fall of 1780, Dundurn, 1997 s_tl

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.