The First Battle of Saratoga took place during King George’s War (1744-1748) in November 1745. A force of French and Native allies set out from Fort St. Frederic at Crown Point to attack English colonies in either New England or Albany.
When deep snow made travel into New England impractical, they turned toward Old Saratoga, now known as Schuylerville in Saratoga County, NY (near where the 1777 Battles of Saratoga would later take place during the American Revolution).
The community’s most prosperous landowner was Philip Schuyler’s grandfather, Johannes Schuyler (1668–1747), who had served as Albany’s 10th Mayor (1703-1706). His large estate and sawmill were left in the care of his oldest son Philip Johannes Schuyler (1695–1745).
On November 27th, Native allies of the French seized the Schuyler mill and went to the Schuyler house to request his surrender. Philip Johannes Schuyler responded by firing his musket several times, but was killed in the return volley. The estate was then destroyed, and almost all of the community’s enslaved and free people (over 100) were captured; Philip Schuyler became the family’s new heir.
They then moved on Fort Saratoga and the surrounding settlements.
Accounts of the Battle
Several accounts of the battle can be pieced together to provide an overall sketch of the action. Richard, a Schaghticoke (or New England) Native’s account provided the English version of battle, which appeared in the Boston News-Letter in December 1745. He was also deposed by the Indian Commissioners in Albany.
The French version was recorded by Monsieur Marin, who led the expedition, in an account found in the Schuyler papers at the New York Public Library.
Marin set out from Fort St. Frederic on November 20, 1745, with a force of “22 officers, 23 cadets, 6 volunteers, 235 inhabitants, 90 Abenaki, 100 Iroquois – [and an] equal number from the Sault [Caughnawaga] and the Lake [Lake of Town Mountains] – 23 Nisissings, 16 Huron” for a total of about 520 men.
Richard reported he was hunting in the vicinity of the carrying place at Fort Edward on November 26 with a small party of other Schaghticoke Indians. During the day, his companion was captured by Caughnawaga Indians and a Frenchman, identified as Monsieur de Bailleul in the Marin report.
That night Richard’s companion led a party of French to his cabin. The party consisted of five French (Mssrs. Lery, Bailleul, de Selle, Langy, de Niverville, and Jumonville) and 12 Abenaki warriors.
During his captivity, Richard learned that the French party had initially set out for New England, but turned to the west due to deep snow drifts. The French contingent split up, sending one group to attack the Schaghticoke and the other to Saratoga. For reasons unknown to Richard, the army merged again and set upon Saratoga.
An earlier French detachment led by Skenonton (likely a Huron chief) had already seized John Lydius and David Vanderheyden’s houses, taking captive Lydius’ son (aged 12 at the time), three out-scouts, two other “white men” and a Native person. Another New England Native man named Cockensenet (also described as “old Cohconshawit” in another letter) was killed at Lydius’ house.
For the moment, the captives were detained at Lydius’ home with a guard of 20 men under the command of Sergeant de la Prairie, having been laid low by poison ivy. Also remaining behind was the French chaplain, Father Francois Picquet.
Marin ordered the remainder of the men to move forward in two bodies on the morning of November 27, one by land under the command of M. de St. Pierre and another by canoe led by Marin himself. Along the route, the French attacked another house on the west side of the Hudson River occupied by a small family of seven.
About six miles north of the fort, M. de la Colombiere detained a wagon carrying flour led by a husband and wife. Colombiere took one of the horses for himself and charged an Abenaki to take the prisoners back to Lydius’ house. Before leaving, however, the woman reported that the fort was occupied by a detachment of nearly 200 soldiers.
For the remainder of the day, the two detachments tried to regroup under the efforts of M. Beauvais and eventually, they camped near an island and waterfall, perhaps near former Fort Burnet. A detachment of French, Abenaki, and Nissipings continued down the east side of the river while the main body advanced along the west side throughout the night.
During the evening, the force happened upon the Schuyler sawmill and house. The French had hoped to wait until dawn to attack, but the Native allies rushed forward in attack and quickly seized a mill hand and slave. A fight ensued amongst the Natives and St. Ours and Marin’s son over possession of the slave prisoner.
As the fight continued, the French overtook a blacksmith’s house south of Fish Creek, where a 12–14-year old child was killed. Monsieur Beauvais then found Philip J. Schuyler’s house, having been previously acquainted, and asked by him to surrender. Schuyler responded by firing his musket several times and shouting that Beauvais was a dog that he intended to kill.
Beauvais returned fire and killed Philip instead. Philip’s body was reportedly mutilated by the Native allies and much of the home pillaged and destroyed. Although perhaps exaggerated, by the time the news reached England, the newspapers declared that the French had “most inhumanly murder’d Col. Schuyler, jun. ripping open his Body, pulling out his heart, and cutting off his head.”
The French described Schuyler’s house as brick with loop holes on the ground floor and a cellar. The house contained a small store of lead and powder, and was maintained by several servants, but the house was left unguarded by English troops or their allies. The fort was “quite a considerable distance from the houses” and “[the French] found no one inside.”
The French believed that the attacks at the Schuyler mill and house alerted the soldiers at the fort who quickly abandoned their stronghold. However, it is more likely that the fort was not garrisoned at the time. In the early autumn, Governor George Clinton (the Royal Navy Officer) ordered a small detachment from the Independent Company to Saratoga at the request of the Albany government.
Clinton expected Albany to have made sufficient repairs to the fort to make it habitable. The detachment was composed of Sergeant Convers, Corporal ****, David Mahany, William Schaw, Benjamin Schaw and seven other privates. According to later testimony at an inquiry, the fort lacked a well and oven, the roof leaked, the floors were unfinished, and there was no way to keep powder, clothing, equipment, or men dry within the blockhouse.
Captain John Rutherford, commanding the Independent Company at Albany, complained to Colonel Schuyler and the Indian Commissioners concerning the state of the fort to no avail. According to his estimony, he ordered the withdrawal of the detachment, perhaps as early as May 1745, but not after two of the company’s best men had already deserted. At best, there may have been a small garrison of local militia, volunteers, or nervous settlers who took shelter at the fort, but when the French arrived, there were no trained soldiers.
Marin had the fort and surrounding settlements burned including all the houses, barns, and stables; as well as four mills, with stockpiles of more than 10,000 planks and joists, and all of the cattle and crops within 15 miles of the fort seized or destroyed. The barns were described as full of wheat, “corn” (buckwheat perhaps), and maize. The French believed that many of the area’s traders had already left to spend the winter in Albany, or else their attack would have had greater effect. Colonial newspapers reported that the apple orchards were also destroyed, and that over £15,000 in damages were sustained.
The prisoners numbered about 100, including men, women, children and African slaves. About 12 others were killed or burned in their houses. Richard and the other earlier captives were kept at the carrying place under a detached guard of about 100 men.
By noon of November 28, the marauders began to return with additional captives, continuing until nightfall. The captives were moved upstream of Lydius’ house where they spent the night. The captives overheard the enemy plan for their escape northward to Crown Point where a large garrison remained at the fort, suggesting the prisoners were to be killed if the enemy pursued. The next morning after a march of about two miles, Richard and three other Schaghticokes escaped leaving behind approximately 60 other prisoners.
The prisoners were given to the Natives and taken to the settlement at St. Francis Xavier du Sault mission (Caughnawaga) and Becancour (a settlement between Quebec and Montreal), and the remainder left in the hands of the French who took them to Quebec.
By the spring, the English began to ransom the prisoners, moving them to Quebec where the governor paid the ransom fees. Among the prisoners noted to have made it to Quebec, but later perished, were Lawrence Platter, who was among the first to die there of an outbreak of disease in October 1747, Gratis Vanderveriske, Martha Quackenbush (a “girl”), and Jacob Quackenbush and his son Isaac.
The first group to return from captivity included Jacob, John, and Fredrick Fort, Richard Crawley, John Hemstrait, John Clute, Richard Vanderheyden, Hartwright Quackenbush, Garret and Mary Vanderberck, Isaac Powderkirk, Killian (de) Ryder and James Schoolcraft who all arrived in Boston in August of 1747. Other captives included a mixed family of a black father and Native mother and their young son, Lewis Cook. The family stayed in Canada at the conclusion of the war.
One of the first to arrive at the razed fort was John Lydius with a company of 12 volunteers, who found that the enemy destroyed his house and “were drunk at my House” after consuming his provisions. While searching about “the ruins of that Miserable Object” he located evidence of the enemy’s tracks. According to Lydius there “was not as much as a fowl alive even my apple trees the enemy hath destroyed.”
Word of the French attack at Saratoga spread like wild fire through the English colonies and beyond. The Indian Commissioners at Albany immediately sent out dispatches to the Iroquois to inform them of the attack and to beg for their assistance as out-scouts and warriors. However, many of them declined to become further embroiled in the war.
By January of 1746, however, the Mohawk offered a small detachment of warriors to stay at the “rebuilt Fort at Seragtogha.” More formal invitations were sent out shortly afterwards to the remaining Iroquois nations by the Indian Commissioners through the interpreter Arent Stevens with an inducement of £20 for every male French prisoner and £10 for every scalp. However, the other Five Nations members were reticent to engage the French.
The Colonial Assembly enacted a law in February authorizing such activity “to commence and be in force from the commencement of that inhumane practice of scalping begun by the enemy lately at Saratoga” Despite the rhetoric, it appears scalping had been common practice well before the French raid at Saratoga.
In the meantime, the colonial government scrambled to re-fortify the frontier, especially as it left Albany particularly vulnerable to a surprise attack. In fact, there is archeological evidence that the city erected a waterfront stockade in 1745 to help further protect it from a French assault.
The governor in December 1745 requested funds and troops to rebuild the fort at Saratoga, as well as a more substantial, stone fortification at the Carrying Place (Fort Edward). Once again the Assembly demurred.
This set into motion a period of political discord in colonial New York that pitted the governor against the Assembly, the Indian Commissioners, the residents of Albany, and many other traders reliant on the French and their Native allies for their livelihood, most notably Robert Livingston. The Lords of Trade were so vexed by the political machinations of the colony they ordered an inquiry after the war.
A court of inquiry was established at Albany on December 11, 1745, to ascertain the reason for the loss of Saratoga. The garrison just before the raid was commanded by Captain Hubert Marshall with troops under the command of Captain Thomas Clark, Lieutenant John Lindsey, Lieutenant John Marshall, and Stephen Eastwick.
The governor, having assigned a detachment of regulars to the fort including a sergeant, corporal and ten privates in 1744, also requested that the fort be repaired to accommodate his troops alongside the militia, but by 1745, the fort was largely unfinished and uninhabitable.
Testimony to the facts was provided by Sergeant Convers, David Mahany, William Schaw, and Benjamin Schaw, all present at the fort along with Captain Rutherford and Lieutenant Edmund Blood who had visited the fort. Lieutenant Blood urged Captain Rutherford to recall his men from the moldering fort, but the troops remained until the spring. The depositions strongly suggest the fort was abandoned by both regulars and militia when attacked by the French.
The governor gleefully scolded the Assembly and laid the complete blame for the condition of the Saratoga fort on their shoulders. Upon his learning of the loss of Saratoga, Clinton immediately wrote an open letter to the Assembly; “of such like misfortunes I have given you repeated warnings, and as to what heed you have given them I leave to your own serious reflection…”
Finally, after several letters from Colonel Philip Schuyler, the Indian Commissioners, and the Albany government, the General Assembly was persuaded to act and provided £150 to rebuild Saratoga. Still, there was great reluctance on the part of the local militia to leave the confines at Albany and venture to rebuild the fort there.
This was neatly summarized by Captain John Rutherford, who traveled to the city of New York to petition the Assembly not to pass an act compelling to Albany militia to garrison the frontier due to the unpopularity of the proposed action.
Rutherford spoke from his own experiences, as in February of 1745 he sought the return of five deserters from his Independent Company who were raised from the Philadelphia area. Further complicating matters for the New York government was the abandonment of Hoosick and other frontier settlements at the same time.
Despite the difficulties presented, Colonel Philip Schuyler worked feverishly to complete the repairs to the fort, starting just before the close of 1745. The work conducted at the fort was undertaken by a small cadre of workers, later enumerated in the Assembly papers for compensation.
However, Colonel Nicholas Schuyler complained of the lack of support from the militia and Indian allies in providing cover for the fort during construction. The situation appears to have been rectified by the Indian Commissioners who entreated the Mohawk to send 40 men to the fort.
To Governor Clinton, the re-construction of the fort at Saratoga was a necessary step in the larger scheme to reduce Crown Point and the threat of continual French expeditions into the heart of New York.
Writing to the Lords of Trades in November 1745, Clinton declared “I have been endeavoring to set on foot a scheme to engage the Province therein for the reduction of a fort at Crown Point… I received an Account the 19th inst: by express from Albany, that a party of French and their Indian allies had cut off a settlement in the province called Saragtoge, about fifty miles from Albany, and about twenty houses with a fort (which the Publick would not repair) were burned to ashes, thirty persons killed and scalped, and about sixty taken prisoners.”
He again asked the Assembly for more funds, which had previously voted an “inconsiderable sum towards building a small Fort in the Frontiers to be garrisoned by some militia.” Many of the militia retired from the fort due to a smallpox outbreak, compounding staffing problems further. The governor continued to press the Assembly, to no avail, in the early part of 1746 decrying their “voting £150 for building a Fort in the frontiers burnt down by the Enemy” as inadequate.
The French continued to press even deeper into New York with French forces reaching as far as Fishkill and Woodstock, about 90 miles south of Albany, which “cut off” up to 200 militiamen stationed there and effectively prevented significant reinforcements from moving northward to help protect Albany and the Saratoga frontier.
The First Battle of Saratoga would be followed by three more over the next several years.
Illustrations, from above: Johannes Scuyler and his wife Elizabeth Staats Wendell Schuyler (New-York Historical Society); Map colonial claims in North America in ca. 1750; Lewis Evans map of the English colonies in 1749 (reprinted 1752) – Fort Saratoga/ Fort Clinton is labeled as Saratoga; View of the Mission of Sault-Saint-Louis (Library of Congress); and a map of Albany, New York, 1758 (Library of Congress).
This essay was drawn, Inventory King William’s and King George’s Wars Battlefields: 1689-1697 and 1744 to 1748 (June 2015), a report prepared by Matthew Kirk, Elise Manning-Sterling, Walter R. Wheeler, and Tracy Miller of Hartgen Archeological Associates for the Natural Heritage Trust for the National Park Service, American Battlefield Protection Program. You can read the full report, which includes the full notes and additional information here.