During the American Revolution, British loyalists frequently raided the farms and homes of their former friends and neighbors in what is now Herkimer County, NY, with the support of their Native allies.
Among the communities raided were Andrustown (July 18, 1778), Rheimensnyders Bush (April 3, 1780, also known as Yellow Church), Shells Bush (August 6, 1781) and Little Falls (June 1782). The Loyalists knew the landscape well, for many of them had lived there for a generation or two. Many were relatives and friends of the recently deceased Sir William Johnson who had been Commissioner of Indian Affairs for North America.
One of these raids resulted in what has become known as the Battle of West Canada Creek, which occurred in September 1781.
Fort Dayton, near the confluence of the West Canada Creek and the Mohawk River, a short distance from Fort Herkimer (now Herkimer, NY), was a safe haven for the German Palatine farmers and English speaking colonials who supported the American Revolution. It was well fortified and had a garrison of regular militia in addition to supplemental forces of rangers and irregulars, many of whom were from the area.
Thirty-three-year-old Solomon Woodworth, a native of Salisbury, Connecticut, was living in Mayfield, now in Fulton County, at the beginning of the war. Enlisting as a private in 1776 in the Third Regiment of the Tryon County Militia, he had fought in many military actions and was made a Lieutenant in Colonel Marinus Willett’s Regiment on April 27, 1781.
On Thursday, September 6th, 1781, Lt. Woodworth, a noted scouter, marched his company of 46 hand-picked men from the Regiment along with six Oneida men from Fort Rensselaer (present day Fort Plain) to Fort Herkimer and then on to Fort Dayton.
The following morning, Friday, September 7th, Woodworth and his contingent left Fort Dayton, forded West Canada Creek and proceeded to scout for the ever-present enemies forces. They soon picked up a freshly made trail on the ridge along the eastern side of the West Canada Creek. Some of the men suggested a messenger be sent back to Fort Dayton asking for Captain Garrett Putnam to send reinforcements. Woodworth however, feared waiting for support to arrive would allow the enemy to escape.
Rather than wait for reinforcements, Woodworth led his detachment about three miles northeast of Fort Dayton. In a deep ravine, they spotted a lone Indigenous man near a fire pit that had used the previous night and they rushed forward and fired. Woodworth is said to have yelled “Hurrah men, the rascals run.”
Unknowingly, they had been lured into an ambush. Lieutenant John Clement, of Colonel John Johnson’s King’s Royal Regiment, and about 80 Onondaga, Cayuga and Stockbridge warriors under Daiquanda, an Onondaga chief, lay hidden in the thickets. They had formed a semicircle around the unsuspecting revolutionaries (this was similar to what had happened to General Nicholas Herkimer at the Battle of Oriskany in 1777).
The first enemy volley killed Woodworth and 10 of his men. The Indian warriors then rushed forward and the ambush became a massacre. Of the force that had left Fort Dayton only hours earlier, 22 were now dead, including two officers. One man was wounded and nine were captured and taken to Canada. Just 14 escaped the ambush, making their way back to Fort Dayton. One Oneida man was wounded early in the fray and was carried back to the Fort by his brethren. On the Loyalist side, two Onondaga were gravely wounded.
On the following day, Captain Garrett Putnam and his company, along with the survivors of Woodworth’s detachment, returned to the site of the ambush to perform the grim task of burying the dead. The exact location of the ambush and the burial ground remains unknown. We do know that the ambush occurred in a ravine southeast of Kast Bridge, in the vicinity of today’s Smith Road approximately three-quarters of a mile from Shell’s Bush Road and one-half mile east of the West Canada Creek. Today, the area is open farmland and is privately owned.
A monument honoring the fallen soldiers is located on Smith Road. It was erected in 1959, New York State’s Year of History, by the Herkimer County Board of Supervisors. The monument was dedicated in ceremonies conducted by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The plaque reads:
MARKS THE SITE
LT. SOLOMON WOODWORTH
AND HIS MEN
FELL IN BATTLE
ON SEPTEMBER 7, 1781
DURING THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
Photos, from above: West Canada Creek Monument photo courtesy Dale K Benington via Historical Marker Data Base (2012); the ravine southeast of Kast Bridge where the Battle of West Canada Creek is believed to have taken place; and the monument.
A version of this article, provided by the Little Falls Historical Society, was first published in Herkimer Times Telegram on May 2, 2020.
Amber Brockett says
Thank you for sharing this history. I enjoy learning about what happened in my own backyard to form what we now experience.
Wally Day says
Pete Shew says
Good Story! My direct ancestor Jacob Shew from Fish House on the Sacandaga was 18 at the time and was one of the 14 survivors who got away, and related his story to Jeptha Simms in 1849 who wrote it up in his book Frontiersmen of New York. They give the date as July 1, 1781 rather than Sept 1.
Louis Baum says
Your family history relating to this event is quite interesting. The date I mentioned for the battle, September 7, 1781, was used in several histories of Herkimer County written in the mid to late 1800s and also was used on the commemorative marker placed near the site in 1959.
Pete Shew says
Hi Louis, I have no idea what the correct date was. I’m sure the memory of the survivors & others 50 years later may not have always been very sharp. I know mine isn’t. Regardless, a good story, and I appreciate your presenting it. Pete
Roy Crego says
Interesting article that shows the war was still very active in the North in the 1780s.