Captain Benjamin Vail and the Battle of Minisink

Benjamin Vail and Stephen Savy had much in common, though they never knew each other. Their lines would intertwine with the marriage of Hannah Vail Smith's daughter, Lucy Jane Smith and Frank Wayne Savey. Captain Vail was killed at the battle of Minisink, and Stephen Savy was captured by the British and Indians in a separate action conducted during the Sullivan Clinton campaign. The focal point of the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition was the eradication of the Iroquois Nation and the punishment of Brant for his daring raids - one of which resulted in the Battle of Minisink.

An abbreviated version describing a small portion of the Minisink battle including Vail's role is as follows.

"Brant killed Wisner with his own hand. Some years afterward he was heard to say that after the battle was over, he found Wisner on the field so badly wounded that he could not live nor be removed; that if he was left alone on the battle-field wild beasts would devour him; that he was in full possession of all his faculties; that for a man to be eaten by wild beasts while alive was terrible; that to save Wisner from such a fate, he engaged him in conversation, and shot him dead.

Captain Benjamin Vail was wounded in battle, and after the fight was over, was found seated upon a rock, bleeding. He was killed while in this situation, and by a Tory. Doctor Tusten was behind a rock attending to the necessities of the wounded when the retreat commenced. There were seventeen disabled men under his care, who appealed for protection and mercy. But the savages fell upon them, and all, including the Doctor, fell victims to the tomahawk and scalping-knife. Several attempted to escape by swimming the Delaware, and were shot. Of those engaged in the battle, thirty escaped, and forty-five, it is known, were killed. The remainder were taken prisoners, or perished while fugitives in the wilderness.

Major Wood, of the militia, though not a Mason, accidentally gave the Masonic sign of distress. This was observed by Brant, who interposed to save Wood's life, giving him his own blanket to protect him from the night air while sleeping. Discovering subsequently that Wood was not one of the Brotherhood, he denounced the deception as dishonorable, but spared his life. The blanket was accidentally damaged while in the prisoner's possession, which made Brant very angry.

One of the militiamen attempted to escape with the others, but was so far exhausted that he was forced to turn aside and rest. In a little while he saw several Indians, one after the other, pass by in pursuit of the militia, but managed to keep himself out of their sight. Presently a large and powerful Indian discovered him, when, raising his gun, he fired his last shot and fled. The savage did not pursue; he was probably disabled by the shot if not killed. Samuel Helm was stationed behind a tree, when he discovered the head of an Indian thrust from behind a neighboring trunk, as if looking for a patriot to shoot at. Helm fired and the savage fell; but Helm was immediately hit in the thigh by a ball from another Indian whom he had not seen. Helm dropped to the earth, but the savage did not immediately rush up to take his scalp, being anxious first to discover the result of his shot. This gave Helm a chance to reload which he did behind a natural breast-work which screened him from view. After dodging about a little the Indian made a dash for his scalp, but received a bullet instead, which put an end to his life. Helm said that the consternation of the Indian, on being confronted with the muzzle of his gun, was truly ridiculous."

See http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ny/county/orange/legends/index.htm for the entire "Legends of the Shawangunk" in html format.

 

 

The Minisink Battle in its entirety is described below in an excerpt from "Legends of the Shawangunk, by Philip H. Smith, Published: Pawling, NY: Smith & Co., 1887. It is fascinating reading. The entire book is online in straight text format at:

http://www.webroots.org/library/usanativ/lots0000.html

Legends of the Shawangunk - Pages 49-83

49

MINISINK BATTLE

BRANT and his fighting men were the scourge of the Shawangunk region during the entire War of the Revolution. His name was a terror to the inhabitants of that locality; and deeds of blood and cruelty, performed by him and under his direction, are told to this day that are too harrowing for belief.

Historians differ as to whether Col. Joseph Brant was a half-breed or a pureblood Mohawk. The traits of character developed in his career would seem to indicate the latter as being nearer the truth. He had one sister, Molly, who became the leman of Sir William Johnson. Brant was placed, through the influence of Sir William, at a school in Lebanon, Connecticut, where the lad was educated for the Christian ministry. It would appear, however, he adopted an entirely different mode of life. At the age of twenty he became the secretary and agent of Sir William, through whose influence he was induced to espouse the cause of Great Britain in the revolutionary trouble that was brewing. Through the same influence he was created a Colonel of the British army; and by reason of his birth was a warrior-chief of the Iroquois. Having had the advantages of a liberal education, he became, in consequence, an influential personage among them, and was treated with much consideration by the British monarch. He organized and sent forth the predatory bands of Indians which devastated the frontier from the Water-Gap to the Mohawk river. Same of these irruptions he commanded in person, particularly those which visited Wawarsing (Ulster county) and Minisink. In 1780 he boasted that the Esopus border was his old fighting ground.

His personal appearance is thus described: "He was good looking, of fierce aspect, tall, and rather spare, and well-spoken. He wore moccasins elegantly trimmed with beads, leggings, and a breech-cloth of superfine blue, a short, green coat with two silver epaulets, and a small, round laced hat. By his side was an elegant, silver-mounted cutlass; and his blanket of blue cloth (purposely dropped in the chair on which he sat, to display his epaulets) was gorgeously adorned with a border of red."

Brant has been denounced as an inhuman wretch. Even an English author attributes to him the atrocities of Wyoming. Although in battle he generally gave full scope to the murderous propensities of his followers, it cannot be denied he endeavored to mitigate the horrors of war whenever he could do so without destroying his influence with his own race.

During the summer of 1779, Brant with about three hundred Iroquois warriors set out from Niagara. About the middle of July they appeared on the heights on the west of Minisink, like a dark cloud hanging on the mountain tops, ready to break upon the plain below. Just before daylight, on the morn-

50

ing of the 20th, the inhabitants of the valley were awakened from their slumbers by the crackling of the flames of their dwellings. Cries of dismay, the shrieks of the victims of the tomahawk and scalping knife, and the war-whoop of the savages, broke upon the morning air in all their terror. Some managed to escape to the woods with their wives and children, and some to the blockhouses. The savages and Tories plundered, burned and killed as they were disposed.

After destroying twenty-one dwellings and barns, together with the old Mamachamack church and a grist-mill, and killing an unknown number of patriots, the enemy disappeared loaded with spoil. They did not attack any of the block-houses, for which the red men entertained a wholesome fear.

On the evening of the same day Col. Tusten, of Goshen, received intelligence by an express of the events of the morning. He immediately issued orders to the officers of his command to meet him the following morning (the 21st) with as many volunteers as they could raise. One hundred and forty-nine men were at the place of rendezvous at the appointed time.

A council of war was held to consider the expediency of pursuit. Col. Tusten was opposed to risking an encounter with the noted Mohawk chief, especially as his followers outnumbered the Goshen militia, two to one.

Besides the militiamen were not well supplied with arms and ammunition, and the Colonel counseled that they wait for reinforcements which were certain to arrive. Others, however, were for immediate pursuit. They affected to hold the Indians in contempt; and declared that they would not fight, and that a recapture of the plunder was an easy achievement. The counsels of reckless bravery, untempered by reason and intelligence, are not always wisest to follow. The deliberations were cut short by Major Meeker, who, mounting his horse and flourishing his sword, vauntingly called out-"Let the brave men follow me; the cowards may stay behind!" This appeal decided the question; it silenced the prudent. The line of march was immediately taken up, following the old Cochecton trail seventeen miles, where they encamped at Skinner's mill.

The pursuit was commenced come time in the night. Tradition and the testimony of old papers show that the party reached the house of James Finch, at what is now Finchville, where they took breakfast, Mr. Finch slaughtered a hog, which he roasted and served up to his guests. The patriots partook of a hurried meal, gathered up the fragments of the hog into their knapsacks, and continued their march over the mountain. They told Mr. Finch not to accompany them, but to stay and have dinner ready for them on their return, as the would be gone but a few hours. Their way led them along the depression where the present highway is laid, past the burial ground where the dead of the settlement were formerly buried; and from the summit of the pass nearly half of their number took their last view of the eastern slopes.

Crossing the mountain, they reached the house of Major Decker, then pushed on over an Indian trail seventeen miles further. How many of our

51

strongest men, in these effeminate days, could endure such a tramp, encumbered with guns and knapsacks?

On the morning of the 22nd they were joined by a small reinforcement of the Warwick regiment under Col. Hathorn, who, as the senior of Tusten, took the command. At Halfway brook they came upon the Indian encampment of the previous night, and another council was held. Colonel Hathorn, Tusten and others were opposed to advancing further, as the number of Indian fires, and the extent of ground the enemy had occupied, were conclusive evidence of the superiority of Brant's force. A scene similar to that which had broken up the former council was here enacted, with the same results. The voice of prudence had less influence than the voice of bravado. It is said that the officer to whose tauntings this last rash act is attributed made quite a display of his bravery while on the march, but, with his company, was only within hearing while the engagement lasted, and could not be induced to go to the relief of his countrymen.

It was evident that Brant was not far in advance, and it was important to know whether he intended to cross the Delaware at the usual fording-place.

Captains Tyler and Cuddeback, both of whom had some knowledge of the woods, were sent forward with a small scouting party to reconnoitre Brant's movements. What they saw led them to think Brant had already crossed, as there were savages and plunder on the opposite shore, and an Indian was then passing over, mounted on a horse that had been stolen from Major Decker. The two scouts fired at this fellow, and, it is said, wounded him fatally. But they mere immediately shot at by some savages in their rear, and Capt. Tyler fell dead. Cuddeback succeeded in reaching the main body of the militiamen, and reported what he had seen and heard. Tyler's death caused a profound sensation among his fellow soldiers, but it only served to add fierceness to their determination.

After leaving the mouth of the Halfway brook* (now Barryville) it is believed that Brant followed the river bank to the Lackawaxen ford, to which he had sent his plunder in advance. Hathorn resolved to intercept him at the crossing, and to do so attempted to reach the ford first by a rapid march over the high ground east of the river. As they approached the ground on which the battle was fought, Brant was seen deliberately marching toward the ford. Owing to intervening woods and hills, the belligerents lost sight of each other, when Brant wheeled to the right and passed up a ravine known as Dry brook, over which Hathorn's route lay. By this stratagem, Brant was enabled to throw himself into Hathorn's rear, cutting off a portion of Hathorn's command, deliberately selecting his ground for a battle, and forming an ambuscade.

The battle-ground, says Quinlan, is situated on the crest of a hill, half a mile northeasterly from the Dry brook at its nearest point, three miles distant

* We follow the description given by Quinlan, in his admirable History of Sullivan, as the best yet given of the battle.

52

from Barryville and one from Lackawaxen. The hill has an altitude of twenty-five or thirty feet above its base, and two hundred above the Delaware, and descends east, west and south, while there is a nearly level plateau extending toward the north. This level ground is rimmed (particularly on the south side) with an irregular and broken ground of rocks. On that part of the ground nearest the river the Americans were hemmed in, and caught like rats in a trap.

The battle commenced at nine in the morning. Before a gun was fired, Brant appeared in full view of the Americans, told them his force was superior to theirs, and demanded their surrender, promising them protection. While engaged in parley, he was shot at by one of the militiamen, the ball passing through Brant's belt. The warrior thereupon withdrew and joined his men.

The battle opened and the forces were soon engaged in deadly conflict. Above the din of the strife, the voice of Brant was heard, in tones never to be forgotten by those who survived, giving orders for the return of those who were on the opposite side of the river.

A part of the Americans kept the savages in check on the north side of the battle-ground, while others threw up hastily a breastwork of stones about one hundred and fifty feet from the ledge which terminated the southern extremity of the plateau. Confined to about an acre of ground, screened by trees, rocks, flat stones turned on their edges, or whatever opportunity offered or exigency demanded, were ninety brave men, who, without water, and surrounded by a host of howling savages, fought from ten o'clock to near sundown on a sultry, July day.

The disposition of the militia, and the effectual manner in which every assailable point was defended, reflects credit on the mind that controlled them. By direction of Hathorn there was no useless firing. Ammunition was short, and it was necessary to husband it carefully. A gun discharged in any quarter revealed the position of its possessor, and left him exposed until he could reload. With the exceptions indicated, every man fought in the Indian mode, each for himself, firing as opportunity offered, and engaging in individual conflicts according to the barbarian custom.

The annals of modern times contain no record of a more stubborn and heroic defense. In vain Brant sought for hours to break through the line. He was repelled at every point.

What the fifty men were doing all that eventful day, who were separated from their companions during the morning, no one can now tell. We will put a charitable interpretation on their conduct, and suppose they were driven away by superior numbers. Their movements are veiled in oblivion, and there let them remain.

As the day drew to a close, Brant became disheartened. The position of the brave patriots seemed to be impregnable, and it is said he was about to order a retreat when the death of a militiaman opened the way into the American lines. This faithful soldier had been stationed behind a rock on the north-

53

west side, where he had remained all day, and kept the savages in check. Brant saw the advantage his death afforded, and, with the Indians near him, rushed into the midst of the Goshen militia. The latter seeing the savages swarming into the centre of the hard-fought field, became demoralized, and sought safety by flight. Many of them were killed or wounded in the attempt. Some incidents of the battle are worth repeating.

Brant killed Wisner with his own hand. Some years afterward he was heard to say that after the battle was over, he found Wisner on the field so badly wounded that he could not live nor be removed; that if he was left alone on the battle-field wild beasts would devour him; that he was in full possession of all his faculties; that for a man to be eaten by wild beasts while alive was terrible; that to save Wisner from such a fate, he engaged him in conversation, and shot him dead.

Captain Benjamin Vail was wounded in battle, and after the fight was over, was found seated upon a rock, bleeding. He was killed while in this situation, and by a Tory.

Doctor Tusten was behind a rock attending to the necessities of the wounded when the retreat commenced. There were seventeen disabled men under his care, who appealed for protection and mercy. But the savages fell upon them, and all, including the Doctor, fell victims to the tomahawk and scalping-knife.

Several attempted to escape by swimming the Delaware, and were shot. Of those engaged in the battle, thirty escaped, and forty-five, it is known, were killed. The remainder were taken prisoners, or perished while fugitives in the wilderness.

Major Wood, of the militia, though not a Mason, accidentally gave the Masonic sign of distress. This was observed by Brant, who interposed to save Wood's life, giving him his own blanket to protect him from the night air while sleeping. Discovering subsequently that Wood was not one of the Brotherhood, he denounced the deception as dishonorable, but spared his life. The blanket was accidentally damaged while in the prisoner's possession, which made Brant very angry.

One of the militiamen attempted to escape with the others, but was so far exhausted that he was forced to turn aside and rest. In a little while he saw several Indians, one after the other, pass by in pursuit of the militia, but managed to keep himself out of their sight. Presently a large and powerful Indian discovered him, when, raising his gun, he fired his last shot and fled. The savage did not pursue; he was probably disabled by the shot if not killed.

Samuel Helm was stationed behind a tree, when he discovered the head of an Indian thrust from behind a neighboring trunk, as if looking for a patriot to shoot at. Helm fired and the savage fell; but Helm was immediately hit in the thigh by a ball from another Indian whom he had not seen. Helm dropped to the earth, but the savage did not immediately rush up to take his scalp, being anxious first to discover the result of his shot. This gave Helm a chance to reload which he did behind a natural breast-work which screened him from

54

view. After dodging about a little the Indian made a dash for his scalp, but received a bullet instead; which put an end to his life. Helm said that the consternation of the Indian, on being confronted with the muzzle of his gun, was truly ridiculous.

In April of the following year, Brant started from Niagara with another force to invade the frontier. At Tioga Point he detailed eleven of his warriors to go to Minisink for prisoners and scalps. With the remainder of his force, he started to invest the fort at Scoharie. Here he captured some prisoners who made him believe that the place was garrisoned by several hundred men-a bit of strategy that foiled even the wily Indian chieftain. Brant turned back, and shaped his course down the Delaware. One day his command was startled by the death-yell, which rang through the woods like the scream of a demon. They paused, waiting for an explanation of this unexpected signal, when, presently, two of the eleven Indians who had been sent to the Minisink emerged from the woods, bearing the moccasins of their nine companions. They informed their chief that they had been to Minisink, where they had captured, one after the other, five lusty men, and had brought them as far as Tioga Point and encamped for the night. Here, while the eleven Indians were asleep, the prisoners had freed themselves from the cords which bound them, when each took a hatchet, and with surprising celerity brained nine of their captors. The other two savages, aroused by the noise of the blows, sprang to their feet and fled; but as they ran, one of them received the blade of a hatchet between his shoulders. Thus was the death of the slain heroes of Minisink avenged.

For forty-three years the bones of those heroes slain on the banks of the Delaware were allowed to molder on the battle-ground. But one attempt had been made to gather them, and that was by the widows of the slaughtered men, of whom there were thirty-three in the Presbyterian congregation of Goshen. These heroic ladies set out for the battle-field on horseback; but, finding the journey too hazardous, they hired a man to perform the pious duty, who proved unfaithful and never returned.

In 1822, the citizens of Goshen were led to perform a long-neglected duty by an address of Dr. D. R. Arnell at the annual meeting of the Orange County Medical Society, in which he gave a brief biography of Dr. Tusten. A committee was appointed to collect the remains and ascertain the names of the fallen.

The committee at once set upon the duty before them. The first day they traveled forty miles through the wilderness. At Halfway-brook, six miles from the battleground, the party left their horses. The vicinity was an unbroken wilderness, with no trace of improvement of any kind, and the danger of attempting to ride was so great that they chose to clamber over the rough ground on foot.

The committee were astonished at the route taken by the little army; the descents were frightful and the country rugged beyond conception. The majority of the bones were found on the spot where the battle was fought and

55

near a small marsh or pond a few rods east. This fact shows that the militia, made reckless by thirst, went for water and were killed. Some were found at a distance of several miles. They were the remains probably of wounded men, who had wandered away and finally died of their wounds and hunger. Wild beasts may have removed others. The skeleton of one man was found in the crevice of a rock where he had probably crept and died. The whole number of bones collected by the Committee was about three hundred; other bones were subsequently found by hunters and brought in.

It may be suggested that all of the bones collected may not have been the remains of the white soldiers; that it would be impossible to distinguish, so long afterwards, the skeleton of a white man from that of an Indian. It should be borne in mind that it was the rule of Indian warfare, when successful, to gather up and carry off all their slain. On this occasion the survivors saw the Indians engaged in this very duty.

The gathered remains were taken to Goshen, where they were buried with imposing ceremonies in the presence of fifteen thousand persons, including the military of the county, and a corps of Cadets from West Point under the command of Major Worth.

This monument gradually fell into decay and no measures were taken to preserve it. In 1860, Merrit H. Cook, M. D., a resident of Orange county, bequeathed four thousand dollars for a new one, which was dedicated on the 83d anniversary of the battle, on which occasion John C. Dimmick, a native of Bloomingburgh, officiated as orator of the day. Mrs. Abigail Mitchell, a daughter of Captain Bezaleel Tyler (slain at the battle of Minisink), was present, and witnessed the ceremonies. She was five years old at the time of the battle, and had resided the greater part of her life at Cochecton. On the 22d of July, 1879, the one hundredth anniversary of the Minisink battle; a large and enthusiastic gathering was held on the battle-ground. Although the approach to the place was rough and exceedingly difficult, it being necessary to cut a road through the woods for the occasion, upwards of two thousand persons were present at the ceremony. A monument was set upon the ground sacred to the blood of the slain heroes, and dedicated in commemoration of their services.

56

It was on one pleasant morning in June that we left the hotel at Lackawaxen before the people were astir, and crossing the Delaware and Hudson aqueduct, began the winding ascent of the mountain. After a brisk walk of about two miles we came to the residence of Mr. Horace E. Twichell, to whom we had a letter of introduction. That gentleman kindly volunteered to go with us to the battle-ground, which lies partly on his premises, and locate the points of interest.

The battle-field comprises several acres of table-land, bordered by an abrupt descent on all sides except a narrow neck at its northern extremity. It is thickly strewn with pieces of slate rock, which the brave heroes turned to good account in standing upon their edges, and lying behind their friendly shelter during the engagement. Some of these stones still remain in the position in which they were then left.

On the neck of land there is a huge boulder. Behind this natural rampart, a hunter had taken his position on the day of the fight, and while his comrades loaded the guns for him, he so effectually swept the only available approach to the battle-ground as to keep the whole force of Indians at bay during the entire contest. At length the hunter was killed, and the Indians, taking advantage of the circumstance, rushed in and the battle became a rout.

A few yards from this rock, screened on all sides by the contour of the ground and the protecting ledge, the spot was pointed out where for years lay the skeletons of the brave Dr. Tusten and his seventeen slain companions, who were all tomahawked and scalped after the battle was over. Further on stands an old pine tree, on which are the initials "J. B.," believed to have been cut in the bark by the Indian fighter, Joseph Brant. An incident of the battle was related to me while rambling over the field. A soldier was assisting a wounded comrade to escape. The Indians were heard in close pursuit, and the wounded man soon saw that all efforts on his part were fruitless. So taking his pocket-book and papers he handed them to his companion, with the request that he give them to his wife at Goshen, and bade him leave him to his fate. The man made good his escape, and delivered the package and money as directed.

Mother McCowan, still living at Handsome Eddy, used to see the skeletons around the spring to the east of the battle-ground, and remembers seeing some of the soldiers that were engaged in the battle.

Mr. Isaac Mills, about forty years ago, found a skeleton about three- fourths of a mile from the battle-field. Judge Thomas H. Ridgeway, of Lackawaxen, informed us that he remembers going to pick huckleberries on the mountain seventy years ago, when the skeletons of the slain Minisink heroes lay thickly scattered about among the bushes, and distinctly recalls his childish fears of the bones.

Near the foot of the monument, entirely covered up with loose slate, was found the skeleton of a man. This was probably the work of the Indians, who, for some reason, gave this man a sepulture.

57

The round stone on the top of the monument is a white flint boulder, found in the Delaware river near the spot where the Indian was shot by the scouts previous to the battle.

BRANT AND THE SCHOOL-GIRLS

THE name of Brant was sufficient to strike the hearts of the early pioneers with terror. Fears of an attack from the Mohawk chief and his red warriors kept the settlements in a continual ferment. Stories of pillage and murder, carried on under Brant's direction, were passed from lip to lip-some doubtless without foundation, others greatly exaggerated-still the chieftain had committed deeds of blood sufficient to merit the reputation he bore.

As might be expected, there were many false alarms, on which occasions the women and children would take refuge in the nearest block-house, while the men would arm themselves and prepare for defense. The young people were particularly alert, and at the least unusual noise in the woods would sound the alarm. A young man in Sullivan county ran breathless into the nearest village declaring that his father's house was surrounded by more than twenty savages. The men turned out with their guns; but on reaching the scene of the supposed danger, they discovered the enemy to be only a number of hoot-owls.

The dread of Indians overcame all other fear. It is related of Mrs. Overton, of Mamakating valley, that, during the temporary absence of her husband, the young mother would abandon her log-cabin at night, and taking her children with her, sleep in the woods or in a rye-field. Tradition says that her youngest child was but a few weeks old and very cross and troublesome; but it was observed that at such times it was very quiet.

But if the people were sometimes needlessly alarmed, at other times it would have been greatly to their advantage to have been more on their guard. The day before the massacre at Minisink, the notorious Brant, with a body of Tories and Indians, attacked the settlement in the present town of Deerpark. Such of the inhabitants as were warned of their danger in time, fled to the blockhouse for shelter. Others were surprised in their homes and in the field, and were either captured or slain.

Some savages entered James Swartwout's blacksmith shop. In the shop were Mr. Swartwout and a negro who assisted at the forge. Swartwout directed the negro to stay in the shop as the Indians would not be likely to molest him, while Swartwout crawled up the forge chimney and concealed himself there. Scarcely had he done so when the savages rushed into the shop, and appeared much disappointed at finding no one but the negro present. They, however, contented themselves with rummaging about the shop, tumbling everything over, and making havoc of whatever came in their way. Presently

58

one of them, spying the bellows handle, caught hold of it. Finding it would move, he began to operate the handle, which of course made the sparks fly. He now began blowing at a furious rate, and the other savages gathered round to see the operation. Swartwout, being directly over the fire, was nearly suffocated by the heat and smoke. The negro, apprehensive that Swartwout could not much longer retain his position, called upon the savage to desist, crying out with a voice of authority-"Stop, or you will spoil that thing." The Indian respected the caution, and ceased to blow.

Not far away, near the fort of the Shawangunk, was the log school-house. The savages raided the settlement while the school was in session. While the fathers and mothers were fleeing for their own safety, they thought of their children, a mile or more away, and hoped the school-house might escape the attention of the savages. But in this they were doomed to disappointment. The Indians entered, killed and scalped the teacher, Jeremiah Van Ankeu, in the presence of the scholars. Some of the larger boys shared the same fate, being cut down with the tomahawk; others succeeded in escaping to the woods. The girls stood by the slain body of their teacher, not knowing where to turn or what to do.

Presently an Indian came along, and dashed some black paint on their aprons, bidding them hold up the mark when they saw the Indians coming, and that would save them; and with the yell of a savage he sprang into the woods. This Indian was none other than Brant; and as the savages ran about from place to place, murdering and scalping such as came in their way, on seeing the black mark they left the children undisturbed. The girls induced the boys to come out of the woods, and the children arranged themselves in rows, the girls with the marked aprons standing in front. As the Indians passed and repassed they would hold up the palladium of safety, and were suffered to remain unharmed.

59

Major John Decker resided in the Mamakating valley, and tradition says the Indians raided it for the purpose of obtaining his scalp, for which the British had offered a handsome reward. He was Major of the Goshen Regiment of Foot of Orange county.

The Major's house was constructed of wood, with logs laid up by way of fortification, and was closed by a heavy gate. It was the month of July. The risen were at work in the harvest field, and no one was in the house except the aged mother and a child. The Major's wife and a colored woman were at a spring washing.

A Tory entered and told the mother they were going to burn down the house, and proceeded to build a fire in the middle of the floor. Two pails of water stood in the kitchen; the old lady poured this on the fire and extinguished it. The Indians told her not to do that again or they would kill her. Mrs. Decker attempted to run across the fields to another fort, but Brant sent a savage to bring her back; coolly informing her that his object in having her brought back was that she might see her husband's house burn down; at the same time assuring her that she would not be harmed.

"Can I save anything?" cried the terrified woman.

"Yes, anything you can," was the response of the Mohawk chief.

Mrs. Decker rushed into the Burning dwelling, caught up two beds and bedding, one after the other, and, with the assistance of some young Indians that Brant sent to help her, brought them to a place of safety. That night the family of Major Decker slept on the banks of the Neversink, with no other covering than the canopy of heaven.

The Major was absent that day at a funeral; it was on his return that he had seen from afar the smoke of his burning dwelling. He put spurs to his horse, and presently met a party of Indians in the road. The Major rode directly through the party without being fired at. Then, probably through fear of encountering a larger force, he wheeled about and rode back again, when he was fired upon and wounded. His horse becoming unmanageable, he rode into a tree-top, closely pursued by the savages. Here he left his horse and took refuge in a cave, at a place near where the Erie railroad now passes. The Indians followed to the opening in the rock, but did not find the object of their search. That night he made his way on foot through the mountains to Finchville, where he found his son, who was one of the lads that had escaped slaughter at the school-house.

This son, on running away from the Indians at the time of the attack, found a child a year and a half old, which had been lost by its mother in the confusion. He took up the little child, found his father's cow by following the sound of the bell, gave the little one some milk, and restored it unharmed to its mother.

 

Courtesy of: WebRoots.org Nonprofit Library for Genealogy & History-Related Research A Free Resource Covering the United States and Some International Areas


Eden's Tree Genealogy
www.edenstree.com