In early May, 1775 the Revolutionary War was underway on largely local scale. The attack on the British forces leaving Lexington and Concord had happened less than a month earlier, and 4,500 British troops had landed in Boston.
The lightly defended Fort Ticonderoga was taken on the morning of May 10, 1775, in a surprise attack by the Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, with the help of Benedict Arnold. The fort had been held by the British for 16 years, since it was taken from the French in 1759.
In mid- and late-May, 1775 many communications were sent by the Albany Committee of Safety, Protection and Correspondence (the Albany Committee of Safety) to various quarters pleading for gunpowder. Albany had little, and some of that was spoiled. A large quantity of powder seized at Fort Ticonderoga was likewise spoiled and it was felt that the Fort’s defense could not be sustained without a sufficient supply being sent there immediately.
Among those called upon to supply the necessary gunpowder where the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), who still then commanded (at least militarily) much of New York State. They voiced objections to their powder supply being diverted.
On May 22nd, John Roseboom read a message to the Albany Committee on behalf of Mohawk Chief Tigoransera (known as Little Abram and probably located in Canojoharie). It said in part:
“We hear that … Troops are coming … to apprehend and take away by violence our Superintendent [William Johnson’s nephew, Colonel Guy Johnson, who had been appointed in 1774] and extinguish our Council Fire, for what reasons we know not. Brothers, we shall support and defend our Superintendent and not see our Council Fire extinguished. We have no … purpose of interfering in the dispute between Old England and Boston, the white People can settle their own Quarrels between themselves, we shall never meddle in those matters.”
John Bleeker, Henry Bleeker and John Ten Eyck were appointed to meet with Tigoransera. All three were fur traders who regularly dealt with the Mohawk.
On June 1, 1775 a message was sent to Colonel Benedict Arnold asking him to quickly send the spoiled powder at Ticonderoga to Albany as a powder mill had been built that might be able to save it. Twelve British soldiers were then being held prisoner at the Albany jail.
On June 6th, the Sheriff of Albany County advised all the Freeholders (men who owned land outright and therefore could vote) of Albany and Tryon Counties that they were to nominate candidates for New York’s first state election.
General Philip Schuyler was nominated for governor, General Abraham Ten Broeck for lieutenant governor, Abraham Yates Jr., Rynier Myndertse, Dirck Ten Broeck and Anthony Van Schaick were nominated to the Assembly by the Albany Committee.
Also on June 6th, the New York Provincial Congress recommended the appointment of Philip Schuyler as major general of the Northern Department of the Colonial Army and sent those recommendations to the Continental Congress.
General George Clinton finished first in the statewide balloting for governor; Schuyler second. Clinton became New York State’s first governor. Alexander Hamilton would later accuse Clinton of “robbing” the election by forcing all of the soldiers under his command to vote for him.
On the 10th of June, three Mohawk men appeared at Albany with the same concerns as before that they were to be attacked and their Superintendent taken away. By now the Committee knew that Guy Johnson was trying to undermine their position with the Iroquois, and they again assured them that the charge of a planned attack was groundless.
On June 12th the Albany Committee mandated a “Night Watch.” At that meeting a letter was read from John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia urging support for the defense of Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Albany sent more supplies, tools and construction workers to Benedict Arnold at Fort Ticonderoga.
That same day the British (about 6,000 strong) were finalizing their plan to break out of Boston, which was being besieged on three sides by some 15,000 revolutionaries. They were under the command of General Thomas Gage, and with the only navy in the fight, were so easily resupplied through the harbor that it was felt they could hold the city indefinitely.
The hills around the harbor overlooked it however, and it was here that the Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775. (It was also with this in mind that Henry Knox would be sent to Fort Ticonderoga for the artillery that had been captured there and at Crown Point.) On June 19th, the Continental Congress appointed Philip Schuyler a major general and Commander of the Northern Army.
On the 24th of June, the Albany Committee met with representatives of the Oneida. Tenussa Teaundeantha told them that Colonel Guy Johnson had sent messages to them, as well as the Onondagas, telling them that the “Boston People” were coming for them and had already taken his towns. They said that Guy Johnson had surrounded himself with armed Mohawks and that he told them that there were goods intended for them at “Schonectada” (Schenectady) but that the delivery was blocked by the colonists. Colonel Johnson had asked for a rekindling of the Council Fire at German Flatts so that he could meet with the Haudenosaunee.
The Iroquois said when they told Guy Johnson that they had consulted among themselves and decided that they were determined to live in peace, Johnson became very angry. When a group of men (Ochquagoes, from the village of Ochquago) arrived dressed in “Warrior Hue, with guns and their Death Moll,” Johnson exclaimed: “These appear like men.” Teaundeantha reported that this angered the Oneidas and they responded: “Why did not you compleat the Sentence and tell us we were a pack of Old Women?” Teaundeantha told the Albany Committee “the Chiefs of the Five Nations are much chagrined at the Conduct of their [Indian] Superintendent [Guy Johnson].”
The Albany Committee voted to give the Oneidas, (Tenussa Teaundeantha, William Tahtequese, Kristiaen and Cleenis) trade goods including 12 pounds of tobacco, 3¼ pounds of soap, 4 pieces of gartering, 4 pairs of shoes, 4 straw hats, 4 small straw hats, 5 blankets, one piece of Strouds, 4 shirts, 4 pairs of stockings, one dozen knives, 2 bridles, 4 pairs of scarlet stockings and 4 pairs of pinch back shoe buckles for their chiefs: Senussis, Kanagguaissu, Knenerodagh and Sughnagearat, and 40 shillings cash, which was advanced by Leonard Gansevoort.
The Albany Committee also decided to attend the meeting at German Flatts and Peter Yates, Jacob Cuyler, John Ten Eyck, Abraham Ten Broeck and Leonard Gansevoort were appointed to prepare a speech explaining the situation between Britain and the colonies. Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, Peter P. Schuyler, Stephen Schuyler and John J. Bleecker were assigned to attend the meeting. Leonard Gansevoort advanced funds to allow the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, Missionary to the Oneidas, who had been expelled by Sir John Johnson (the son of Sir William Johnson, who had died in July 1774), to attend the Provincial and Continental Congresses and inform the delegates of the situation.
Other items discussed at the meeting included return of the loyalty petition, called the “Association,” which was being circulated in each district with note made of all who refused to sign. John Bleecker was authorized to provide four barrels of pork to the troops at Ticonderoga.
On July 1, 1775 the Committee received a communication from the Boston Committee of Safety describing the battle at Charlestown, Massachusetts (Bunker Hill). The Boston Committee said that the British had attacked their incomplete fortifications and had been repulsed twice before the Patriots ran out of powder and the British drove them back. They said that the British had then burned all 500 houses in Charlestown.
Other Albany Committee actions included authorizing Leonard Gansevoort to pay the troops as well as to pay for blankets, guns, tomahawks and powder horns for the troops. The Committee authorized reimbursement to Gansevoort. Several other complaints from troops for lack of guns, blankets and food were read. A letter also was read from Philip Schuyler requesting 30 ship carpenters to work on the defenses at Ticonderoga. A letter was read from Abraham Yates at the Provincial Congress requesting that arms and 173 barrels of pork be sent to Ticonderoga.
On July 6th the Albany Committee sent an address to General Philip Schuyler congratulating him on his appointment as major general. Schuyler was ordered to go immediately to Ticonderoga, shore up its defenses and prepare to attack British forces in Canada. Schuyler was also appointed chairman of the Indian Commission and instructed to deal with the problem of John and Guy Johnson and their Loyalists west of Albany. Schuyler stopped at Albany to discuss the problem with the Albany Committee.
Schuyler’s appointment, at Gen. George Washington’s recommendation, was based on his military experience (he had been a colonel in the French and Indian War and served under Colonel John Bradstreet at Ticonderoga). But Schuyler was also appointed because of his administrative ability and the funds that he and his extended family (which included the Van Rensselaers and Livingstons) were willing to commit. Schuyler could assure that troops were paid, food was delivered, lumber (most from his own lumber mill), carpenters and tools were provided. It’s suppose that any northern general required to man Ticonderoga, Fort Ann, Fort George, Fort Edward, Fort Miller, Saratoga and Fort Stanwix near Rome, New York, who did not have the support of Albany would have his troops hungry, un-provisioned and unpaid.
When Schuyler arrived at Ticonderoga, he quickly realized that most of the troops at Ticonderoga considered themselves volunteers who could do pretty much what they wished and leave when they wanted.
The Albany Committee received fifty casks of gunpowder from Philadelphia and forwarded it to Ticonderoga. Additional communication was read from the Native People east of Albany, the Stockbridge and Cagnawagas, who were questioning the situation. The Committee responded by meeting with them and giving them a written explanation of the Albany Committee’s position and a gift of three sewant belts. They left with a message to bring to one of their chiefs in Canada.
At St. John’s, Canada, they were stopped and their saddlebags searched by British troops, who found the sewant belts and written message. The British tied-up thier captives and left them in a bateau overnight. The British told them that they did not care a “snap of the fingers” about Native People and threatened to hang them. The intermediation of other sachems in Canada however, secured their release and they returned south to Crown Point.
On July 10th , 1775, a directive was received from the Provincial Congress authorizing ten shillings for every soldier who enlists in the Continental Army and provides his own musket. A letter was received from Philip Schuyler saying that he was purchasing 100 cattle for provisions and asking for “500 barrels of flour and peas or rice.”
Jeremiah Van Rensselaer was authorized to go to Ticonderoga and pay the troops. Also, at the request of Peter Vrooman, and to prevent “evil consequences from happening,” a resolution was passed recommending “all tavern keepers … sell spirituous liquors to the Indians as sparingly as possible, so as to prevent their getting Drunk.”
The Committee also appointed representatives to attend the Provincial Congress: Abraham Yates, Jr., Robert Yates, Abraham Ten Broeck, Jacob Cuyler, Henry Glen, Francis Nicoll, Peter Silvester, Dirck Swart, Walter Livingston, Volkert P. Douw and Robert Van Rensselaer.
On July 13, 1775, Philip Schuyler, now at Ticonderoga requested ten more carpenters.
On the 14th they received a letter from Christopher Yates, chairman of the Schenectady Committee, telling them that a Peter S. Dygert had told him that Guy Johnson had eight or nine hundred Indian allies and was making ready to attack homes south of Little Falls in an effort to divide the province in two. Yates said that they did not have powder for 300 men and, due to the start of the harvest, could not send many. He implored that a message be sent to General Schuyler for help.
Schuyler ordered that Captain Van Dyke’s company, which included Albany and Schenectady militiamen, to confront Johnson. Before this was done however, Hendrick Roseboom advised the Committee that he had met Johnson and some of the his Indian allies at Oswego had assured him that they were not going to attack.
On the 22nd they received another letter from Yates saying that Alexander White, the Tryon County Sheriff, a Loyalist, had confined John Fonda for supporting the Colonial effort, but that 100 neighbors had rescued him. They then went to confront the sheriff at Pickens House but a gun battle erupted. Five or six hundred men were now protecting Fonda, and the sheriff was barricaded in Colonel Johnson’s house. Yates requested that cannon be sent up to fire on Johnson’s house. The Committee sent Abraham Yates and Peter Silvester to try to reconcile the situation.
On July 25th two Oneida men, Oneynya Egat and Theugeveyndack, arrived in Albany to assure the Albany Committee that they would not attack the settlers in the German Flatts area. They were given shirts, blankets, hats, knives, shoes, stockings and breeches.
On August 10th, 1775, Robert Yates wrote from the Provincial Congress that five or six British Men-of-War had landed on Long Island and tried to purchase provisions. When the residents refused, they told them that they would take the provisions by force.
Abraham Ten Broeck, Jacob Cuyler and Robert Yates sent the Committee a report from the Provincial Congress dated August 8. In it they directed that as many arms as possible be purchased and sent to the Continental Army; they directed that more troops be raised at a dollar per man; and that since there are now “a number of Oneyda Indians in this City … and the pernicious Tendency of Rum among them is obvious to everyone of Reflection, and more especially when public Business is to be transacted with them – It is therefore recommended … to use the Indians Hospitably and Civilly but … do not presume to sell them any Rum.”
The Committee received an August 10th letter from Benjamin Franklin, President of the Committee of Safety for Philadelphia, sending 2,400 pounds of powder to be sent on to General Schuyler at Ticonderoga and inquiring about lead shot that might have been acquired at Ticonderoga.
The Committee ordered John Van Ostrander, Town Sergeant, “to make a Proclamation throughout the City desiring all Persons not to sell any Spirituous liquors to the Indians upon Pain of being deemed as acting in Contempt to this Board” (Safety Committee). Also, a letter was sent to General Schuyler informing him that Sheriff Alexander White of Tryon County was now in custody in Albany having been taken off a ship because of a “due process of law having been served against him for a just debt.”
The Committee also summoned John Munro to appear before them, as they had heard that he had accepted a King’s commission to serve in the British Army in Canada. Jeremiah Van Rensselaer was again authorized to pay the troops.
Schuyler recognized the need to determine the position of the Haudenosaunee and who they would support in the war. In late August, Schuyler headed a group of five dignitaries who met in Albany with sachems of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy to advise them of the formation of the Continental Congress and the impending war with England. Schuyler urged, “We desire that you remain at home and join neither party, but keep the hatchet deeply buried.”
The Haudenosaunee informed them that a meeting had been held at Oswego by Guy Johnson who had informed them that the road westward would be closed. He also told them that their minister (Rev. Samuel Kirkland – later founder of Hamilton College) had been expelled because he was not a minister and had left to be a military officer.
The Haudenosaunee also said that Johnson had told them that he was in contact with General Thomas Gage in Canada and that his explanation of the situation was very different from the Committee’s. They also complained of two parcels of land that were taken without compensation at Ticonderoga.
The Committee assured the Iroquois that there were no plans to close the road westward and said that the land taken was needed for constructing Fort Ticonderoga and this issue had been addressed previously, but they would look into it again.
The conferences with the Haudenosaunee were held alternately in Albany’s Dutch Church and at the Presbyterian Meeting House. Daniel Bratt reported to the Committee that he and several others had armed themselves and entered and searched the home of John Munro and had spoken to him and were convinced that he had not accepted a commission from the King. Also, it was reported that several new companies, including one headed by Robert Van Rensselaer, had been formed. Lewis Clement and Peter Brown were sentenced to three months in jail for aiding Tryon County Sheriff White.
The next several months (the late summer of 1775) were spent forming more companies of militia and appointing officers. Abraham Ten Broeck was recommended to the Continental Congress to be appointed brigadier general in command of the Albany volunteer militia. Samuel McKay was expelled from the county for voicing support for the King.
That fall, the Colonial Army would mount a two-pronged invasion of Canada.
This article is part of a short series about the experience of Albany, NY during the American Revolution. You can read the entire series here.
Illustrations, from above: An idealized version of the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga attributed to Alonzo Chappel probably ca 1853 (courtesy Fort Ticonderoga); Guy Park Manor in what is now Amsterdam built in 1774 for Guy Johnson near the Mohawk River (2020 photo by Wikimedia user Beyond My Ken); Portrait of Philip Schuyler by Jacob H Lazarus (1822-91) from a miniature painted by John Trumbull on display at the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site; and a map of Fort Ticonderoga during the American Revolution.