War Comes to Oneida County
The British Campaign of 1777
* Excerpted from “The Oriskany Battle of Oneida Hanyery and Mohawk Joseph Brant,” by Historian Anthony Wonderly. Click here for the full text and end notes.
To win the war the British thought they could squeeze New England, the hotbed of rebellion, off from the other American colonies. The plan:
Burgoyne and troops move south from Canada across lakes George and Champlain;
St. Leger’s force would secure Fort Stanwix and the Mohawk Valley;
Howe’s army in New York would, as planned, move up the Hudson Valley to join other forces.
An Incident Outside Fort Stanwix
A teenage boy of Oriska, Paulus, met Joseph Brant outside of Fort Stanwix. It’s a meeting that is long remembered in Oneida tradition:
“…When [Paulus] was alone & in the woods some miles in advance of the fort, he discovered the enemy approaching in the distance-- & they discovered him at the same time. … Brant insinuatingly offered him a large reward & aplenty as long as he should live, if he would only join the King's side & induce other Oneidas to do so, & help the British to take Fort Stanwix. Paulus firmly rejected any such blandishments, saying he and his brother Oneidas had joined their fortunes with those of the Americans, & would share with them whatever good or ill might come. … …Oneidas used to say, if they had not been there to aid in its defense, the fort might not have been saved."
The Battle of Oriskany
Learning of St. Leger's invasion, American volunteers of the Mohawk Valley (Tryon County Militia) rushed west to relieve their besieged comrades at Fort Stanwix.
On August 6, 1777, they blundered into an ambush set by the British around a small ravine two miles from Oriska. A tremendous slaughter of Americans occurred during the opening minutes of the engagement. The survivors gathered around their commander, Nicholas Herkimer, on a plateau west of the ambush ravine. They and their Oneida allies fought the British and Tory Indians to a standstill in the ensuing battle.
Joseph Brant at Oriskany
On Aug. 5, 1777, British forces besieging Fort Stanwix were able to set an ambush for the approaching milits because they received timely warning of the American advance form Brant’s sister Molly.
“The fifth, in the afternoon, accounts were brought by Indians, sent by Joseph's sister from Canajoharie, that a body of rebels were on their march and would be within ten or twelve miles of our camp by night. A detachment of four hundred Indians was ordered to reconnoiter the enemy.” — (British expedition member Daniel Claus, 16 October, 1777)
Brant was at the battle but the precise role he played is unknown. At the time no one claimed he was an important position of command or that he chose the site of the ambush. According to an elderly Seneca veteran, Brant had 50 to 60 Mohawks in the battle.
he and his Mohawks were compelled to flee in a dispersed condition through the woods, all suffering from fatigue and hunger before they arrived at a place of safety. Their retreat began at nightfall. They were pursued by a body of Oneidas, who fought with General Herkimer. The night was dark and lowery. Exhausted by the labors of the day, and fearful he might be overtaken by the pursuing Oneidas, Brant ascended a branching tree, and planting himself in the crotch of it, waited somewhat impatiently for daylight.
Hanyery at Oriskany
Hanyery led the Oneidas of Oriska and possibly other villages into battle as a chief warrior. Probably in his fifties, he was "too old for the service, yet used to go fearlessly into the fights," an Oneida later recalled. Hanyery and other Oneidas apparently fought on the main plateau of the battlefield. Hanyery's widow, Tyonajanegen, reported her husband lost two blankets in the battle. This suggests Hanyery stripped off his outer clothing to fight "Indian style."
Oneidas interviewed in 1877 remembered the tradition that Hanyery and other Oneidas - a good many, said one; perhaps a hundred, said another - were in the Oriskany battle.
According to an account originating from Tyanajanegen:
Hon Yerry was shot through the right wrist so as to disable him from loading his gun (he on horseback), when his wife repeatedly loaded it for him, & he managed to aim its contents at the enemy. He had a sword hanging by his side, indicative of his rank as a captain or war leader. His wife had a gun also and used it too in the fight. So she related, and added that there was a good deal of close intermixing between Americans and British, and American and British Indians, & she could see the British all around.
Much of this story was confirmed in the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser (Sept. 3, 1777, page 2).
See also: The American Revolution Center
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