French and Indian Raiders Attack Schenectady, NY; Massacre Ensues

 
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French and Indian Raiders Attack Schenectady, NY; Massacre Ensues

Today in Military History: February 8-9, 1690

In the early history of America, settlers of competing countries often waged brutal conflicts with each other when their homelands went to war. One such example occurred in 1690, when French militia and their Indiana allies raided into what is today the State of New York. The result was the “Schenectady Massacre.”

Background

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England’s Catholic King James II was deposed in 1688 by the “Glorious Revolution.” Consequently, William of Orange, ruler of the Netherlands, took over the throne. [William was married to Mary Stuart, daughter of King James.] Shortly afterwards, England joined the League of Augsburg (later renamed the “Grand Alliance”) against the Kingdom of France, ruled by Louis XIV. War commenced in 1689, and was labeled “the War of the Grand Alliance.” The conflict boasted several theatres scattered over Europe, mainly on the borders of France. One campaign occurred in Ireland, where the deposed James tried to invade the British Isles and was defeated by William of Orange in 1690 at the battle of the Boyne.

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Meanwhile, the war made its way to North America, where the English colonists were threatened by the French of Canada and their Indian allies. This version of the conflict was called King William’s War (1689-1697), the first of the French and Indian wars in America. The British crown concentrated mainly on the European theatres. However, most of the English forces in the New World were concentrated on protecting the British West Indies (Jamaica and Barbados mainly) from attack by the French. English officials did give guns and ammunition to their Iroquois allies. This act resulted in an August 1689 raid of a suburb of Montreal, where 1500 Iroquois attacked the settlement of Lachine, killing a total of 24 Frenchmen and capturing 70 others (some 50 of the captives were later tortured and cannibalized). The French in Montreal and Quebec had not even received word of the beginning of hostilities in Europe.

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Preparations

After the Lachine attack, the French governor of Canada (or “New France” as it was termed) decided to take revenge on the English pioneers. He ordered 114 French militiamen and their 96 Sault and Algonquin Indian raiders to form near Montreal. [Nearly all the Indians had recently been converted to Catholicism by Jesuit missionaries.] The force was commanded by Lieutenants. Le Moyne de Sainte Helene and Daillebout de Mante, and left Montreal in mid-January of 1690. They crossed the St. Lawrence River, crossing a frozen Lake Champlain. After a journey of six days, the raiders paused and held a council of war.

Their original target was Fort Frederick (present day Albany). However, the Indians apparently balked at the possibility of attacking a fortification. Scouts had reported that close by was the settlement of Schenectady, a Dutch-settled fur trading post. [Remember your American history, gentle readers; the colony of New York was formerly New Amsterdam, founded and settled by the Dutch before it was captured by the English in 1664.] Hoping to take this lesser target by surprise, the French agreed that Schenectady presented a good target. The raiders marched another 17 days, arriving about 2 miles from Schenectady in late in the afternoon of February 8.

At this point, the weather took a turn for the worst, sending a howling blizzard from the northwest, with icy winds, freezing temperatures, and swirling snow. The French commanders sent scouts to ascertain the situation, directing to cross the Mohawk River and see if the settlers were alert and watching for enemy troops. [The French knew that attack warnings had been posted in the Mohawk Valley communities.] A few hours later, at about 11 pm, the scouting party reported that no one was guarding the stockade at Schenectady. The Dutch settlers had even left the north gate of the stockade open. The raiders decided, despite the bitter cold, to attack at once.

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Schenectady had a population of some 100-150 people. The settlement was surrounded by a 10-foot tall palisade of pine logs. In the northwestern part of the town was a stockade fort, boasting a garrison of 24 Connecticut militia.

The Schenectady Massacre

Marching quickly through the wind and snow, the half-frozen raiders crossed ice-choked Mohawk River and surrounded the settlement a little past midnight. The attackers divided up into two groups, each group intending to enter one of the two gates. However, the one group could not locate the south gate, so the two groups entered the open north gate. The invaders quickly gathered around individual homes, five or six to a dwelling. Then, an ear-splitting war cry signaled the attack. The French and Indians broke into the houses, killing men, women and children. Most were in night clothing and had no time to arm themselves. The dead were then mercilessly scalped. Then, the attackers burned houses and barns, taking what supplies they could.

A few of the Dutch settlers managed to grab a weapon and put up a fight. One settler, Adam Vrooman, kept up a brisk fire and kept the raiders at bay. He fought so desperately that his life and property were spared by the French. It was a tragic stand by the valiant Dutchman, however. His wife and child were killed and his son Barent and a black servant were carried away as captives. One other house was spared, that of a widow with six children, who had attended to a wounded French officer.

By the morning of February 9, the community lay in ruins – more than 60 buildings were burned. Most of the residents were dead or taken prisoner, with some survivors’ managing to flee as refugees to the safety of Fort Frederick. Symon Schermerhorn, the mayor of Schenectady, was one of these. Although wounded in the thigh, he rode to Fort Frederick to warn them of the massacre. Other survivors, trying to reach nearby friends or neighbors, died of exposure in the howling blizzard.

Aftermath

All told, 60 settlers lay dead in the snow, including 38 men, 10 women and 12 children. The raiders departed at about 11 am on February 9, with 27 prisoners and 50 horses. The raiders only lost 2 killed and one severely wounded. As the French and Indians crossed the river, they stopped at the homestead of John A. Glen, who lived in Scotia, across the river from Schenectady. Glen had shown previous kindness to French captives who had been in the hands of the Mohawks a few years previously. In gratitude, the raiding party took the Schenectady prisoners to him, inviting him to claim any relatives. Realizing that many of the captures were likely “dead men walking,” Glen claimed as many survivors as he could, and the raiders took the rest to Canada. Typically those captives who were too young or old or ill to keep up along the arduous journey were killed along the way.

Footnote #1: Because of the ride of Symon Schermerhorn, 50 local militia and 140 Mohawk Indians from Fort Frederick began to pursue the French and Indians. After a few weeks’ pursuit, the militia and Mohawks caught up with the raiders just outside of Montreal, killing or capturing at least 19 of them before they found safety inside the walls of the city. The Mohawks brought 13 French and Indian captives back to Albany, where they were tortured to death.

Footnote #2: In commemoration of the ride of Schermerhorn, the mayor of Schenectady repeats the ride every year. Most mayors have done so on horseback, though a few have preferred the comfort of an automobile.

Footnote #3: The French in Canada likely considered the raid a failure, as the original main target of Fort Frederick was left intact. By capturing the fort, and perhaps destroying it, the French might have succeeded in detaching the Iroquois from the English, besides holding the key to the navigation of the Hudson River. But it was not done, and now the whole English province was stirred up like a hornet’s nest over the carnage wrought at Schenectady.

Footnote #4: The surviving inhabitants rebuilt Schenectady, but it was a slow process. The town was attacked by the French and Indians again in 1748. In 1898 a plaque was erected to commemorate the Schenectady Massacre (see below).

Plaque from 1898

Footnote #5: Well-known “speculative fiction” author Harlan Ellison has stated that anytime a fan or interviewer asks him the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” he replies “Schenectady.” Also, the Marvel Comics super-villain Doctor Octopus was born in Schenectady.

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Comments

5-1-2011 i am doing research on the massacre and you filled in alot for me. I am interested in Simon Van Ness or Symon Van Ness who was one of the people who went after the French after the massacre.
Glen gpierce9@comcast.net

I am interested in the survivors. I am looking into the surname Burghardt (Burgett), namely Jehoiakim, son of Peter.

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Hi
there is French documentation for catholic baptism of Barent (Jean Baptiste Wroman) son of Adam Vrooman in 1693 and for "Andre Wroman" 1694 who is not identified but likely is Adam Vrooman son Hendrik as he signed the document with "H+V" plus a signeture that is supposed to mean "Andre Wroman" This changes nearly all stories (Jonathan Pearson et al.). the oroginal documents and translations are on website of Scott Hager" The Hager/McClanahan Family "

Barbara :vanboerum2@hotmail.com

I have been looking for a picture of Adam Vrooman he was one of the Bulter Ranger thanks for any thing on him.

I have a picture of Adam Vrooman from JOhn J. Vrooman: The promised Land. but can not attach it here.

Ensign Albany Militia 1690, pursued French and indian raiders who destroyed Schenectady along with Mohawk Indians.....have pedigree material and some documentation re this man, Willing to share.

Please send me any thing you have on him looking for his picture thank you
AprilaStray@yahoo.com

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