The Mohawk Valley Path Through History begins with the Revolutionary War - the sites and events related to this period in history.
The Battle of Johnstown or the 'Hall Battle.' Major John Ross and Captain Walter Butler with a party of 60 men do battle with Colonel Marinus Willett near Johnson Hall. Col. Willett defeats British.
"The spring of 1781 found the conditions in the Mohawk Valley pitiable in the extreme. Homes burned and crops ruined, the miserable inhabitants crowded into the forts, penniless, ragged and half-starved. The population of the valley was reduced to one-third of its former numbers. At the beginning of the Revolution the Tryon county Militia had an enrollment of 2500 men. In 1781 the number had been reduced to 800. This reduction was one-third by death or capture, one-third by desertion to Canada and one-third by removal to less exposed parts of the country. It is estimated at this time that 700 buildings had been burned in Tryon county, more than 600 people had deserted to the enemy, more than 350 families had left their home, nearly 200 had been killed and more than 100 had been taken to Canada as prisoners.
The troops in the forts were of very little use. They were nearly starved; their uniforms were in rags and in some of the posts, there was not a single pair of shoes.
When the raids occurred the troops were obliged to sit still and watch the devastation.
During the spring of 1781 two things occurred which were to change the complexion of things in the Mohawk Valley. Early in May, the upper Mohawk River went on a rampage, overflowed its banks and did serious injury to Fort Stanwix. A few days later what remained of the fort burned, the fort was evacuated and troops sent to Fort Dayton and Fort Herkimer.
The other occurrence was the appointment of Col. Marinus Willett to command all the troops in the Mohawk Valley and surrounding country. Willet was one of General George Washington's most efficient and trusted officers. With his arrival, moral improved and the militia showed themselves ready to go at a moment's notice to where the colonel ordered them. Willett took up headquarters at Fort Plain (then called Fort Rensselaer) accessible to all parts of the threatened valley.
Troops were concentrated in Fort Plain and scouting parties were kept on the move between the five forts in the valley. After several confrontations with the British forces, the patriot forces under Willet secured the valley.
On the morning of October 24, 1781, a small party of scouts, scouring the countryside southeast of Fort Plain, encountered a force of 700 Tories and British regulars under the command of Major John Ross and Captain Walter Butler.
Ross' command, awaiting a contingent of Indians which Sir John Johnson (son of Sir William Johnson) had been directed to send from Niagara, had been raiding the countryside in the area of Sharon Springs. When the help did not materialize the group marched down the Mohawk River through Fultonville and Auriesville, fording the Schoharie Creek near Fort Hunter.
The next day, (Oct, 25) they crossed the Mohawk River below Amsterdam and headed for Johnstown, plundering and burning as they traveled.
When Col. Willett learned of the raid, he left Fort Plain with a force of 416 men, in pursuit of the British force. He overtook them near Johnson Hall. Though Willet was outnumbered nearly one-to-one, he divided his own forces, sending Major Aaron Rowley (including a contingent of 60 men from his home stat of Massachusetts) with 200 men around the enemy to attack their rear.
The battle began before Rowley had reached his position, so Willett was opposed by a force four times his strength.
After some fierce fighting, Willet was forced to retreat, and he and his men fled to Fort Johnstown (the old jail located on Montgomery and South Perry Streets).
At the same time, Col. Rowley attached the British from the west. Heartened by the change, Willet's men reformed and returned to the field of battle, Rowley was wounded with a shot through the leg and carried from the field during the battle.
With night coming on, the British, pressed from both directions, broke and fled into the woods. The Americans lost 40 men, and the British lost about the same number and had 50 men taken prisoner.
The fleeing British camped about six miles west of Johnstown and the next morning traveled to Garago Creek and followed it north.
The British forces continued north, and on Oct. 30, crossing West Canada Creed around 2 pm, met with pursuing rebel forces who fired on their rear. One of the British officers, Captain Walter Butler, was killed during this engagement. Ross' troops continued on, arriving in Oswego on Nov. 6.
An interesting account, written by James Younglove of Johnstown in 1901, give a grisly description of the demise of the Captain Butler, vilified locally because of his part in the massacre at Cherry Valley in November 1778, where many civilians were slain and property destroyed.
"Pursuing the enemy's trail, the Americans came up with his main body on the north side of the Canada Creek. A running fight ensured, but the enemy made a very feeble resistance - exhibiting symptoms of terror and attempting to retreat at a dog-trot by Indian file."
"Late in the afternoon butler attempted to rally his forces and make a stand. A brisk engagement ensued, the parties being on opposite sides of the creed; during which about twenty men fell. Among them was their bold and enterprising but cruel leader, Walter N. Butler.
He was brought down by the rifle of an Oneida Indian, who, happening to recognize him as he was looking at the battle from behind a tree, took deliberate aim and shot him through his hat and the upper part of his head."
"Butler fell and his troops fled in the utmost confusion. The warrior who made the successful shot sprang first across the creek in the general confusion and running directly up to Butler, discovered that he was not dead but sorely wounded.
He was in a sitting posture near the tree and writhing in great agony. The Indian advanced and while Butler looked him full in the face, shot him again through the eye and immediately took his scalp. The Oneidas no sooner saw the bleeding trophy than they set up the scalp yell and stripping the body, left it laying upon the face and pressed forward in pursuit of the enemy.
The American forces and their Oneida allies pursued the British forces throughout the day, but abandoned the chase as night fell. Willet decided because of the bad weather, rough conditions, fatigue and lack of provision, the spirit of the British force was broken and they were no longer a threat in their retreat.
On their way back by the American forces "in repassing the battle ground, the body of Butler was discovered as it had been left; and there, without sepulcher (burial) it was suffered to remain.
"So perished Walter N. Butler, one of the greatest scourges, as he was one of the most fearless men of his native country. No other event of the whole war created so much joy in the Mohawk Valley as the news of his decease."