Saturday, August 29, 2009
"Thomas" Oneida Sachem unknown Hero Fort Schuyler
Most people that read this probably remember Gen Herkimer when wounded at Oriskany Battle said"let me face the enemy", from this position propped against his saddle he directed the militia to a successful day. did you know the rest of the story--
The campaign of 1777 had long been contemplated by the British ministers, Sir Henry Clinton and Gen Burgoyne, with the southern and northern armies would unit at Albany N. Y. cut off all communication with the eastern provinces. Gen Burgoyne, with 7500 well disciplined troops and a large train of artillery, accompanied with numerous body of Canadian militia and Indians, arrived at Ticonderoga 3rd July 1777. Garrisoned by 3000 continental soldiers and militia under Gen St Clair, finding themselves unable to defend the fortress against such a superior force with drew under the cover of darkness to Fort Edward and joined Gen Schuylers bolstering there combined colonial force to 4000 here we stop for a moment.
Allied with Clinton and Burgoyne was Brig Gen Barry St Ledger famous for offering $20.00 for each scalp the Indians could get, was to join them at Albany by way of the Mohawk Valley further splitting New York..
Meanwhile15 July a unsung hero comes into play. Thomas Spencer a highly respected Oneida sachem had returned from the Indian castle Cassassenny, Canada from a joint meeting of the British and Iroquois nation. Addressing the Committee of safety Thomas remarked:
Col Claus invited the Indians to join his expedition to Fort Schuyler, mentioning that Sir John Johnson now at Oswego with 700 Indians, 400 white men and 600 Tories lying on a island at Oswegatchie Now then is your time, brothers to awake and not sleep longer otherwise Fort Schuyler will go as already Ticonderoga without a shot fired. The Oneidas will remain loyal but if you continue to sleep they will have to join the British and the valley will be reduced to ashes. Pleas brothers show yourselves as men to defend your country and march at once to clear brush at the Fort and fell trees in wood creek to slow there advance. If you show no effort we can stay not much longer on your side. But by alert already Brant and butler are guarding the road from the east to Fort Schyler to stop any reinforcements.
These pleas fell on half closed ears in the spring of 1776 Col Dayton had been order to build a fort at Rome N.Y. to protect the forage place. called Fort Stanwix, the local militia was mustered to help. The fort was renamed Fort Schyler in April of 1777 Col Gansevoort, with 3rd rgt New York line was ordered to Fort Schyler, were he stubbornly defended the position.
A few days before Thomas's communication, the committee of Safety ordered 200 militia to aid Fort Schyler but only a few showed up. on the 17 July Brig Gen Nicholas Herkimer issued a decree all men 16 to 60 should prepare there equipment to be ready a moments notice to assemble and march.
on the 30th July the committee received a message from Thomas dated at Oneida 20 Jul 1777 "at a meeting of the chiefs they tell me there is but 4 days remaining of the time set to take Fort Schyler, and they think it might be sooner. the chiefs desire it not by another Ticonderoga, they hope you will be courageous in defending your homeland. Let all the troops that come to Fort Schyler take care on the march as there is a party of Indians to stop them below the Fort, about 80 or 100 we hear they bring their cannon up fish creek. we hear there will be 1000 men to take the fort. to many for so few to defend Thomas added "it looks to me the troops are near, hope all friends to liberty and that love their families will not be backward, but exert themselves as one resolute blow would secure the friendship of the six nations and nearly free this part of the country from incursions of the enemy"
Already a string of Batteaux, and men were in route, Gen Schuyler upon receiving this ordered out the militia.
4 Aug 1777 Gen Herkimer gave the alarm and 800 men answered the call including several of my direct ancestors,Thomas Lendersen, his father John Lendersen, Micael Bauder. also a Thomas Spencer who urged Herkimer to post advanced scouts and keeping out flanking parties but some of the other officers were making remarks , imputing cowardice and urging Herkimer to advance as rapidly as possible, which he did. this was a 50 to 60 miles march extremely hot day and rough teran on 6th Aug. as the came down a slop to a swampy area know as Oriskany, where the road had been elevated, well into the ravine, the blood curtailing scream of the Iroquois shattered the quiet of the forest and all hell broke out the first volley about 100 men were wounded or killed my ancestor Michael Bauder was killed, 100 hundred of Thomas's Oneida Indians killed, about 30 Seneca Indians, Herkimer was shot in leg and his horse killed. he was moved to a higher spot on the side of the ravine that he might face the enemy. No official record was kept as to the British losses but it must have been nearly the same. Things were going bad every time a militia man shot, a Indian would charge the position and tomahawk the man Herkimer gave the order to place two men at each spot one man could fire while the other waited as a result many Indians were killed. the ambush was mid morning and lasted over 5 hours the militia was nearly our of ammunition when all of a sudden "Johnson Greens" entered the battle, these were the hated Tory friends that had left the area and was now returning to do as much damage as possible. That was all the spent militia needed it was as if they were suddenly infested with magical power, they sprang from there concealed positions and attached these Tories using bayonets, and rifle's as clubs and bare hands, in a matter of 10 to 15 minutes they had bare handed killed 60 or more. at about the same time Gen Willet hearing the musket fire sallied out from the fort with several hundred men to save Herkimer and the supplies, they rapidly carried back to the fort the wounded and as much of the supplies as possible.
The fort was still under siege, Gen Arnold at Schenectady learned of ambush and siege and set out immediately for the scene a few miles from the fort, Thomas Spencer joined him with a suggestion to be sent to St Ledgers command.
St Ledger question Thomas about Arnolds forces and he made the famous statement "I know not how many were with Arnold but they were as thick as the leaves on the trees" on the 22 day of August St Ledger having failed to make the fort Capitulate gave up and left for Canada. Arnold arrived at Fort Schyler on the 24th.
There is much to be written about the vengeance and horror of the Indians torturing and eating of the militia in retaliation for the friends they lost in the battle, but this is about Thomas Spencer Sachem In his quiet way shamed our ancestors into making an effort to stand up and fight, then he faded into history to be overlooked far all he contributed
After his visit with St Ledger there seems to be no other record but I am sure his speeches to the Committee of Safety helped arouse an interest in defending the Mohawk Valley and think history has been very unfair to this Indian ally, certainly 100's could have been saved at Oriskany if Herkimer had paid attention to his words. I have always favored to Oneida nation, it was my honor to have been made a blood brother of the Oneida in 1964 at a very impressive ceremony, The headdress and many gift items are still in my collection, my Oneida name was "Standing Tall Pine".