Diary of Captain Benjamin Warren at Massacre of Cherry Valley

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Diary of Captain Benjamin Warren at Massacre of Cherry Valley

by DAVID E. ALEXANDER, CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS

Remarkable Narrative of the Fearful Massacre Led by the Tories and Indians in American Revolution — Written by a Captain on the Battlefield in 1778 — Transcribed from the Jared Sparks Collection of Manuscripts Deposited in the Library at Harvard University.

Originally Published in the Journal of American History, 1909


THIS is the remarkable narrative of a soldier's experience at the massacre of Cherry Valley, in the American Revolution, in 1778. It was recently revealed while searching through the manuscripts of the priceless Jared Sparks collection, in the library at Harvard University, and by permission of the curator is accurately transcribed and recorded in these pages. This is undoubtedly one of the most valuable contributions to American history, bringing, as it does, new evidence to bear upon one of the most terrible massacres in American warfare. Moreover, the witness is one of the great Americans of the Revolution-Captain Benjamin Warren, who, it is said, refused a generalship to fight in the ranks. His experiences on the battlefield of Saratoga, one of the fifteen decisive battles of the world, were recorded from his own manuscript in the preceding issue of THE JOURNAL OF AMERICAN HISTORY, with a brief biography of Captain Warren. His experiences at the massacre of Cherry Valley add a new chapter to his brave career. It was on the tenth of December, in 1778, that the village of Cherry Valley, in central New York, was attacked and destroyed by seven hundred Tories and Indians. About fifty inhabitants were murdered without regard to age or sex. Many persons of refinement were among the victims, and it was such an atrocity as this, with that of the Wyoming massacre, that thoroughly aroused the patriots against the Tories. The testimony of this eye witness brings new and overwhelming evidence against the methods of warfare that have been the subject of discussion among historians ever since the American Revolution. The ancient manuscript is transcribed with the orthography of the times.

July-Friday 24th, 1778. This morning drew provision, cooked and took waggons on the south side river; loaded our baggage and marched for Cherry Valley[59] soon after we began our march, came on a heavy rain; about four o'clock arrived at the garrison, which was a meeting house picketed in with a large number of distressed inhabitants crowded in men, women and children; drew some rum for the men and placed them in their several quarters; the inhabitants received us with the greatest tokens of joy and respect and it was like a general goal delivery; they began to take the fresh air and move into the nearest houses, from their six weeks confinement in that place.

Saturday 25th. This morning shifted my linen and went out, having a very good nights rest after our fatigue, having marched now one hundred and eighty miles, with stopping but two days during the whole march paraded our men: called the roll; took breakfast and went down to the garrison; consulted with the officers the best method of fortifying and covering our men, they being distributed in barns.

Sunday 26th. This morning after roll call, went down to the garrison and from thence to the Cols. quarters; about eleven o'clock returned to the garrison, where we had a sermon preached by the Rev. Mr. Johnson[60] from these words; "Be of good courage and play the man for our people and to the cities of our God, and the Lord will do what seemeth him good."

Monday 27th. I was officer of the day to inspect the guards and relieved Capt. Coburn.[61]

Tuesday 28th. This morning it rained; did not go on the parade; about 12 o'clock, Ensign Charles,[62] went with a party to guard the waggons down to the river after provision. Nothing material or worthy of notice until August 10th; in the interim Col. Alden arrived.

August 10th On this day received intelligence of Brant[63] and his party's design of attacking this garrison by an express from Gen. Stark;[64] in consequence of which Capt. Ballard[65] with a party of 60 men was sent out to make discovery, who went to the butternuts.[66] 66 Took 14 tories of Brant's party, collecting cattle, and about 100 head of cattle and horses, 40 sheep; all the troops on the ground were employed fortifying.

August 16th. A small scout of six men went out near Tunaelefs;[67] fell in with a small party of the Indians; killed one, but the rest escaped.

"19th. On receiving intelligence by one of our scouts, that Brant and his party was to be at Tunaeliss, a party of 150 men, commanded by Col. Stacy, marched by the way of Lake Osago,[68] came to houses about 17 miles, and lodged there.

"21st. This morning about daybreak, paraded; marched through low and swampy ground; about ten o'clock crossed two creeks and twelve o'clock arrived on a mountain, looking down on Tunaeliss house; made no discovery of the enemy; sent a party each way to the right and left to surround the house; we then rushed down, found none of them, though a sumptuous dinner prepared for the enemy, who, on our arrival at the house, fired a gun in the woods near us and some was seen to run off ; the women would give us no information but a lad, being threatened, informed that some Indians had been there that morning; we made good use of the victuals and proceeded to the foot of Scuyler's lake; forded the creek and marched down to Scuyler's house about nine miles made no discovery of the enemy: lodged there.

August 22nd. About six o'clock this morning, paraded and marched down by Young's lake, through Springfield[69] that was burnt, to Cherry Valley about 60 miles lower; received intelligence that the French fleet was gone to Rhode Island to cover the landing of their troops, and to lay siege to that place. On the British General receiving intelligence there of the English fleet pursued them; on which an engagement ensued, in which the English fleet came off with loss and returned to York.

" 28th. This day was informed by a letter from Albany that the French fleet had returned to Rhode Island and had brought in 25 sail of vessels, prizes; viz; one sixty-four two frigates a number of tenders and transports to make up that number. By an English paper in the House of Lords in June it appeared that in 1777, the King of Britain had in the sea and land service in America 60 odd thousand and that by the returns it appeared that his army by being killed, wounded, and taken, deserted and sickness had diminished in America 28 thousand.

September 1778. We sent a scout down to Tunadilla,[70] who took three prisoners out of their beds and came off discovered; who gave information, on examination, Brant was to muster and arm his men the next day, and march for this place or the flats; that his party was about four or five hundred strong. The Col. on getting this intelligence, sent dispatches to the Gen. at Albany, to Germon Flats and to Seoharry;[71] which intelligence proved true: for about a week after the enemy came and attacked the flats in the night of the 17th burnt most of the houses and barns with grain, and drove off most of their cattle; killed or wounded but few of the inhabitants, they fled to the fort; and notwithstanding the timely notice, through the negligence of Capt. Clark, they had few men in the fort and his still greater negligence in not giving us timely notice, when they did come, the enemy escaped with part of their plunder. Immediately on our receiving intelligence, which was 24 hours after it was done, though but 12 miles distant, Major Whiting went out with 180 men; who pursued them as far as the butternuts, but could not overtake them; he took three of their party, tories and brought them in, with some stock they left in their hurry; meanwhile the enemy were at Germon flats, a party of our Oneida Indians went down from fort Stanwix : fell on Tunadilla, burnt and took the spoil and brought off a number of prisoners; some continentals they retook that were prisoners there. Brant's party fearing the country would be upon their backs, made what haste they could; a division of them arrived first at Tunadilla and found the place had been beset with our people, and put off immediately: the other coming in, found part of their party gone off: left all and followed them to Niagra, Col. Butler[72] of Seoharry sent down a scout and found they had fled: he marched with his regiment and riflemen and Indians to the number of 500 men immediately for Susquehanna.

October 1st Col. Alden received orders to arrange his regiment agreeable to the new establishment, which will take place from 14 inst. Oct. in the following order:

    1st Capt. Ballard, Lieut. Lunt, Ensign Parker.
    2nd Infantry Coburn, Lieut. Bufington, Lieut. Givens.
    3rd Capt Day, Adjutant and Lieut. White, Lieut. Day.
    4th Capt. Warren, Lieut. Maynard, Ensn. Bragnall.
    5th Capt. Reed, Lieut. Holden, Ensign and Paymaster Tucker.
    6th Capt. Lane, Lieut. Peabody, Eno and Q. Master Kindry.
    7th C: Capt. Lieut. Parker, Lieut. Trowbridge.
    8th L: C., Lieut. Curtis, Lieut. Carter.
    9th M: Lieut. Thorpe, Ensign Garrett.
Lieut. Billings[73] requested a discharge and Ensign Charles was dropt. Mr. Heckler[74] was chosen paymaster and had an appointment in the lines, but declined; on which Ensign Tucker's was chosen[75].

By intelligence from Albany we learn that the Brest fleet had arrived on our coast. By a young man belonging to the river, who was retaken at Tunadilla, we learn that Lieut. Maynard[76] was very ill treated by the Indians, Ensign arrived from Albany, who brings us information that our regiment was talked of to take Gansworts[77] place at Fort Stanwix, but he thought that Vansoits'[78] would and we should march down in about three weeks. Mr. Smith, the Commissary of Massachusetts stores arrived, which was a welcome visitor. At the sale of the tory effects, I bought a horse for 85 dollars. Gave Lieut. Billings an order on Tobez Elwell to take my mare and dispose of her for me, if said Elwell had not sold her; if he had, Billings was to receive the pay for me and keep it till called for, or pay it to my wife at Plymouth.[79]

October 10th. It began raining and lasted until the twelfth and snowed so that considerable was left on the ground.

October 12th. Cleared up cold and froze hard-13th it continued cold and blustering; yesterday Serjeant Bartlett joined the company from West Point; informed that the regiment was likely to be removed from here soon: Mr. Hicklen left the regiment to go down after money for the regiment, by which means the Artillery company was put under my charge.

About the first of November Gen. Hand,[80] who was ordered to the command of the Northern Department came to direct us to determine on the expediency of quartering the troops here the winter. He called for a return of what ordinance stores, amunition, &c, I had in the garrison; meanwhile an express arrived from Fort Stanwix, informing that one of the Oneidas was at a Council of war of the enemy's, in which it was determined to visit Cherry Valley. The General had the regiment turned out and reviewed them; he payed us a high compliment in orders and in consequence of the express, he went down and ordered Col. Klock[81] to send immediately 200 men to reinforce us, which the Gen. wrote was to have been here the 9th of November and ordered up a large quantity of provision and amunition stores, which however did not come to hand nor any reinforcement of men and on Wednesday, the 11th, about 12 o'clock, the enemy to the number of 650, rushed upon us, surrounded headquarters and the fort immediately and pushed vigorously for the fort, but our soldiers behaved with great spirit and alertness; defended the fort and repulsed them, after three hours and half smart engagement. Col. Alden in endeavouring to reach the fort was killed; Col. Stacy made prisoner together with Lieut. Holden,[82] Ensign Garrett,[83] the surgeon's mate, and a serjeant, about 12 or 14 of the regiment: twelve of the regiment besides the Col. killed and two wounded.

November 12th. No reinforcements till about 9 or 10 o'clock. The Indians came on again and gave a shout for rushing on, but our cannon played brisk; they soon gave away: they then went round the settlement burnt all the buildings mostly the first day and collected all the stock and drove the most of it off; killed and captivated all the inhabitants, a few that hid in the woods excepted, who have since got into the fort.

November 13th. In the afternoon and morning of the 13th we sent out parties after the enemy withdrew; brought in the dead; such a shocking sight my eyes never beheld before of savage and brutal barbarity; to see the husband mourning over his dead wife with four dead children lying by her side, mangled, scalpt, and some their heads, some their legs and arms cut off, some torn the flesh off their bones by their dogs-12 of one family killed and four of them burnt in his house.

Saturday 14th. The enemy seemed to be gone; we sent out to collect what was left of cattle or anything; found some more dead and buried them.

Sunday 15th. This day some provision arrived being the first supply after the first attack when we had not a pound for man in garrison, for four or five days, but a trifle of meat. In the afternoon a scout we thought had been taken by them, a serjeant and eight men arrived in safe. By some they took prisoners they let go again; informed they had a number wounded and we saw a number of them fall, so that we have reason to think we killed more of them than they killed of our regiment, though they butchered about 40 women and children that has been found. It came on to storm before the engagement began: first with rain, but for this day past, it has been a thick snow storm.

Monday 16th. The snow continued falling & is almost knee deep on a level.-The Col. was buried the 13th with - - - under arms with all the honors of war.-Though there was 300 men, between this and the river,[84] most of them together before we were attacked, yet they came within four miles and laid there until they were assured the enemy was gone off. Col. Butler, though near 40 miles off, marched and got near and, would have been the first to our assistance, had we not sent him word they were gone off: we are here in a shocking situation, scarcely an officer that has anything left, but what they have on their back.

Tuesday 17th. The weather continued stormy; scouts were sent off, but no discovery made of the enemy near.

Wednesday 18th. Nothing material; still stormy.

Thursday 19th. A party of our men out discovered tracks on the mountains, not far off.

Friday 20th. Some stores and amunition arrived from the river.

Saturday 21st. This day a scout from Col. Butler's came in from the river; informed that Eight houses were burnt south west from fort Planks[85] & 3 men made prisoners by the enemy: still stormy: Major Whiting got him a new house built and moved in this day: Having cartridge paper come employed the Artillery men making cannon cartridges; received intelligence of Capt. Coburn's arrival at Albany with clothing for the regiment. I wrote by Major Desine to bring them forward immediately unless the Gen. should order us from this place, in consequence of our request for that favor.

Sunday 22nd. This day by request of the Major, I took charge of a party to fix the guard house with chimney &c; wrote to the Gen. by request of the Major for a relief of the regiment and to have us join our Brigade.

Monday aid. From this to the end of the month, fatigue parties making --- round the fort.

The above copied from Captain Warren's Original Diary lent to me by Mr. Daggetts, of New York. J. S.


NOTES:

  1. Cherry Valley, a village in Otsego County, New York, about sixty ei ht miles west of Albany. The present County of Otsego, is a portion of the Tryon County of the revolution.
  2. The Reverend William Johnston, was the first settler of Sidney, New York. In 1778, he with four other "rebel" families, were warned by Brant to leave the settlement within forty-eight hours, which they did, removing to Unadilla. On the arrival of Colonel Alden's regiment at Cherry Valley, he was made chaplain. He died sometime during 1783. (Halsey, Old N. Y. Frontier, p. 58: Stone, Life of Brant, vol. 1, p. 180, et seq.)
  3. Asa Coburn, 1st Lieutenant of Danielson's Massachusetts Regiment, May to December, 1775; 1st Lieutenant, 5th Continental Infantry, 1st January to 31st December, 1776; Captain 7th Massachusetts, 1st January, 1777, and served to June, 1783. (Heitman, Officers Continental Army, p. 129.)
  4. Joseph Charles, Ensign 7th Massachusetts, 19th November, 1777; resigned 30th September, 1778. (Ibid, p. 121.)
  5. Joseph Brant was a Mohawk of pure blood. His parents made their home at the Canajoharie Castle, in the Mohawk Valley; but he was born while his parents were on a hunting expedition, in 1742, on the banks of the Ohio. Brant was well educated, having attended the school of Doctor Wheelock, in Lebanon, Connecticut. From 1762 to 1765, he was a missionary interpreter, and did much for the religious instruction of his tribe. At the outbreak of the Revolution, Brant was head war chief of the Six Nations, and he espoused the British cause. Toward the close of 1775, he went to Canada, and then to London, England, where he was received with great courtesy by the nobility; due in a great measure to his intimacy with Sir William Johnson. After a sojourn of several months there, he returned to America. During the revolutionary war, he was mostly engaged in border warfare in New York and Pennsylvania, with the Johnsons and notorious Walter Butler. He held a colonel's commission from the King, but was generally known as Captain Brant. After the conclusion of the war, he again visited England, and upon his return devoted himself to the social and religious improvement of the Mohawks, who were then settled in Upper Canada. He died at his residence, at the head of Lake Ontario, November 24, 1807. (Stone, Life of Joseph Brant: Lossing, Field Book, vol. 1, p. 256 note.)
  6. John Stark was born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, August 28 1728. While on a hunting expedition in 1752, he was taken prisoner by a party of St. Francis Indians, and was ransomed by a friend for the sum of one hundred and three dollars. During the French and Indian war, Stark was a first lieutenant in Roger's corps of rangers, which was raised in New Hampshire. After the disastrous battle at Fort Ticonderoga, in 1758, in which he participated, he returned to his home, and saw but little active service again during the war. He hastened to Cambridge on hearing of the battle of Lexington, in April, 1775, and was appointed colonel of one of the regiments organized soon after. He fought with great bravery at the battle of Bunker Hill. In 1776, he was with Washington in the battles of Trenton and Princeton, and in March, 1777, he resigned his commission. Later in the same year, he was selected to command the New Hampshire militia, ranking as a brigadier-general; and in August of that year, he decisively defeated the British and Hessians at Bennington. For this victory Congress appointed him brigadier-general in the Continental army. He commanded the Northern department in 1781, with headquarters at Saratoga. He was made major-general, by brevet in 1783. General Stark died May 8, 1822. (Headley, Washington and his Generals, vol. 2, p. 200; et seq : State of New Hampshire, Memoir of General John Stark.)
  7. William Hudson Ballard, Captain Frye's Massachusetts Regiment, May to December, 1775; Captain 6th Continental Infantry, 1st January to 31st December, 1776; Captain 7th Massachusetts, 1st January, 1777; Major 15th Massachusetts, 1st July, 1779; resigned 1st January, 1781. (Died -December, 1814.) (Heitman, Officers Continental Army, p. 73.)
  8. The Butternuts, a creek so named from the great number of butternut trees growing along its banks.
  9. The house of John Tunaeliffe stood in what is now a part of Richfield, New York. He was one of the early settlers of that village.
  10. Lake Otsego.
  11. Springfield, a small town situated at the head of Otsego Lake, ten miles west of Cherry Valley.
  12. Tunadilla was the Indian name of the present town of Unadilla, New York. It is situated on the Susquehanna River, about forty-three miles north-east of Binghamton Schoharie, the county seat of Schoharie County, situated about thirty-eight miles west of Albany.
  13. Binghamton Schoharie, the county seat of Schoharie County, situated about thirty-eight miles west of Albany.
  14. "Soon after the battle of Monmouth, Lieutenant-Colonel William Butler, with one of the Pennsylvania regiments and a detachment of Morgan's riflemen, was ordered north, and stationed at Schoharie. Butler was a brave and experienced officer, especially qualified for the service upon which he was appointed.' (Stone, Life of Joseph Brant, vol. 1, pp. 355-56.)
  15. Benjamin Billings, Lieutenant 7th Massachusetts, 1st January, 1777; discharged 30th September. 1778. (Heitman, Officers Continental Army, p. 86.)
  16. William Hickling, Paymaster 7th Massachusetts, 1st January, 1777; resigned 30th September, 1778. (Ibid, p. 219.)
  17. Joseph Tucker, Ensign 7th Massachusetts, 1st January, 1777; Lieutenant, 9th February, 1780; Paymaster of regiment, 1st January, 1777 to June 1783. (Ibid, p. 405.)
  18. Jonathan Maynard, Lieutenant of Nixon's Massachusetts Regiment, May to December, 1775; 1st Lieutenant 7th Massachusetts, 1st January, 1777; taken prisoner at Young's House, 3d February, 1780; exchanged 22d December, 1780; Captain 25th January, 1781; retired 1st January, 1783. (Died 17th July, 1835.) (Ibid, p. 289.)
  19. Peter Gansevoort, was a native of Albany, where he was born, July 17, 1749. In June, 1775, he was commissioned major of the Second New York, and later in that year accompanied Montgomery in the campaign against Canada. On November 21, 1776, he was promoted to the rank of colonel, and for his successful defense of Fort Schuyler, against St. Leger's force in August 1777, he received the thanks of Congress. In March, 1781, Gansevoort was appointed brigadier-general of the New York militia, which he held until the close of the war. After the war, he was for many years military agent of the Northern department. On February, 1809, he was commissioned brigadier-general in the United States Army. He died July 2, 1812, aged sixty-two years.
  20. Goose Van Schaiek, Colonel 2d New York, 28th June, 1775; Colonel 1st New York, 8th March, 1776; By the act of 10th May, 1779; it was "Resolved, that the thanks of Congress be presented to Colonel Van Schaiek, and the officers and soldiers under his command, for their activity and good conduct in the late expedition against the Onondagas." Brevet Brigadier-General, 10th October, 1783; served to November, 1783. (Died 4th July, 1787.) (Heitman, Officers Continental Army, p. 409.)
  21. Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  22. Edward Hand was a native of Kings County, Ireland. In 1774, he came to this country with his regiment (the Eighteenth Royal Irish), then serving as a surgeons-mate. He re resigned his commission shortly after, refusing to fight against an oppressed people. Upon leaving the regiment, be proceeded to Pennsylvania, where he practiced medicine for a short time. At the commencement of hostilities, he offered his services to this country, and was appointed lieutenant-colonel of Thompson's Pennsylvania rifle battalion. He was promoted to be brigadier-general in the Continental Army April 1, 1777, and early in 1781, to be adjutant-- general. After the war he held several civil offices of trust, and his name is attached to the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790. In 1798, his name appears as major-general in the United States Army, he was honorably discharged July 15, 1800. General Hand died on September 3, 1802.
  23. Jacob Klock, Colonel of Tryon County militia.
  24. Aaron Holden, 2d Lieutenant 6th Continental Infantry, 1st January to 31st December, 1776; 1st Lieutenant 7th Massachusetts, 1st January, 1777; taken prisoner at Cherry Valley, 11th November, 1778; Captain, 1780; was a prisoner when retired, 1st January, 1781. (Died , 1810.) (Heitman, Officers Continental Army, p. 224.)
  25. Andrew Garrett, Ensign 7th Massachusetts, 1st October, 1778; taken prisoner at Cherry Valley, llth November, 1778; Lieutenant 25th October, 1778; transferred to 6th Massachusetts, 1st January, 1783, and served to 3d June, 1783. (Ibid, n. 787.)
  26. The Mohawk.
  27. Fort Plank was established in 1776, and was situated two and a half miles west of Fort Plain. The fort was in reality the house of Frederick Plank, which was palisaded by a square inclosure, with a block-house on each corner. Troops were constantly stationed here during the Revolution, and it was considered a post of importance. (Simms, Frontiersmen of New York, pp. 573-74.)