It’s a fact that we Americans love our 4th of July celebrations! We especially enjoy family gatherings and picnics, and big parades with lots of floats and marching bands. We look forward to fireworks with their beautiful colors and designs exploding in the night sky. We decorate our homes with flags and bunting. We salute, or respectfully place our hand over our heart, as our nation’s flag is carried past us by military veterans in parades. And, we recall the two important founding documents of our nation:
- Preamble to the Declaration of Independence: “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”
- Preamble to the U.S. Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America…”
What precious meaning these words have held as we take time to gaze backward to their origins, something I never tire learning about.
As I contemplated our nation’s celebrations, I thought about the effort and sacrifice it took from many to give us the freedoms we so often take for granted. I am so thankful for all we have in America which many around the world do not enjoy. But I also wondered if perhaps we have forgotten all that took place a long time ago, and if this day has simply become a traditional fun holiday, or just a holiday to besmirch. Though no nation or government has been perfect as far back as the beginning of time, the early days of a young nation’s beginnings provide perspective for today’s America, this bastion of freedom. So, it’s fitting that we ponder what part our ancestors played in the making of our great America some 247 years ago. And, I might add, one of the best parts of researching my ancestors was the great lasting friendships I’ve made with other descendants.
Several of my ancestors served in the Revolutionary War in various capacities, some of whom I researched more extensively than others. Originally, I did not plan to bring them into this article. But then it occurred to me that would be fitting. Knowledge of personal service and sacrifice often provides us with a greater understanding of the historical era and what our collective ancestors experienced.
Numerous events, political acts, and taxes over many years led to the First Continental Congress meeting from September 5 through October 2, 1774 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was held to counteract the British Parliament’s Coercive Acts (commonly called the Intolerable Acts by the colonists) which were intended to punish the colonists for their Tea Party held in Boston’s harbor.
But, among the early precipitators of the American Revolution was the import ban in 1774 against firearms and gunpowder enacted by the British government. Next came the order to confiscate all guns and gunpowder. The aptly named “Powder Alarm” took place on September 1, 1774 when Redcoats sailed up the Mystic River to capture hundreds of powder barrels stored in Charlestown. Taking the event seriously, 20,000 militiamen turned out and marched to Boston. Battle was avoided at that time, but ultimately took place the following spring at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Within these events lie the foundation of our Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as written by Thomas Jefferson in 1791: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
The Second Continental Congress began meeting in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775. That very same day, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys seized New York’s Fort Ticonderoga from the British after traveling west from Vermont.
On June 14, 1775, delegates from the Second Continental Congress created the Continental Army from colonial militia near Boston. The next day, they appointed an esteemed and experienced military and civic leader as commanding general of their new army, a humble man by the name of George Washington, congressman of Virginia. Nearly a month later, Washington arrived in Boston to take command on July 3rd. The Continental Congress then approved a Declaration of Causes on July 6th. This proclamation outlined why the thirteen colonies should stand united against Great Britain’s political clout and military force.
Through these early years, and with pressing urgency, the great minds of the day began formulating a bold statement of the burdens the colonists bore from an overbearing government an ocean away. Initially, the colonists were not looking to start a war; they simply wanted their concerns heard and addressed. But, revolt would be a relevant term regarding that which was festering. They felt the heavy hand of tyranny over them like a smothering umbrella with their king and his government’s over-reaching philosophy of “taxation without representation.”
It did not take much for congressional delegates to think back and recall the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770. Several colonials had taunted the ever-present British soldiers. Reinforcement soldiers shot into the crowd killing five civilians, injuring six others. Three years later, the Tea Act in May 1773 was followed by the Boston Tea Party on December 16th. The year 1775 began with several new tax acts put in place; labeled collectively as the Intolerable Acts, they were Britain’s answer to their colonists’ unrest. And then an auspicious delegation met in Virginia on March 23, 1775. Those present never forgot Patrick Henry’s speech and resounding words, “Give me liberty or give me death!”
Paul Revere’s midnight ride came the night of April 18/19, 1775 to warn of British ships arriving at Boston’s shores. [From the interstate, I have seen Boston’s diminutive North Church tucked beneath the shadows of modern “skyscrapers,” and walked the upper and lower decks of the U.S.S. Constitution from the subsequent War of 1812 – with a sailor in period dress uniform talking on a telephone!] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” (“Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…”) has been said to contain many inaccuracies; in reality, it was written 80 years after Revere rode out with several others on horseback, quietly alerting other Patriots, but it may also be that Longfellow simply wrote a flowing ode to Revere with embellishments as any poet is wont to do.
The British government was again intent on confiscating all weapons held by the colonists. Bands of British troops were sent to confiscate ammunition stores in Salem, Massachusetts and part of New Hampshire. Both times, Paul Revere, a silversmith, was among members of the Sons of Liberty who alerted townsfolk in advance of enemy troops, giving them sufficient time to hide weapons and frustrate the British military.
Desiring to alert citizens, Revere garnered assistance from Robert Newman, sexton at Boston’s North Church. To warn that the Redcoats were coming from the shorter water route across Boston’s inner harbor, Newman hung two lanterns from the steeple window. These lanterns were clearly seen by those in Charlestown, including the British, unfortunately. Newman must have felt tremendous fear as the Brits attempted to break into the church while he was still there. Reportedly, he managed to escape capture by quietly sneaking out a window near the altar moments before enemy soldiers entered the church to begin their search. And the very next day, April 19, 1775, the Minutemen and British redcoats clashed at Lexington and Concord with “the shot heard ‘round the world.’”
Two months later, June 17, 1775 saw the Battle of Bunker Hill (actually Breed’s Hill) on the Charlestown Peninsula overlooking Boston. Per military records, my ancestor John Caldwell McNeill was present as part of the Hampshire Line. As British columns advanced toward American redoubts, the colonists were reportedly told by their commander, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” The British were shot virtually pointblank and hastily retreated – twice. It was not until the third advance by the British that the inexperienced colonists lost to a superior military force. As the colonists’ limited ammunition ran out, hand-to-hand combat took place on that third advance. The redcoats took control with greater troop numbers despite their loss of over 1000 men, while the colonists counted over 200 killed and more than 800 wounded. Yet, the inexperienced Americans realized their dedication and determination could overcome the superior British military which, in turn, realized this little uprising was going to bring a long and costly war to the Crown.
With pressure mounting, the congressional delegation met the next year in the City of Brotherly Love. Here, they commenced to hammering out wording for what would henceforth be termed a declaration of independence.
“Monday, July 1, 1776, [was] a hot and steamy [day] in Philadelphia.” In a letter to the new president of Georgia, Archibald Bulloch, John Adams wrote, “This morning is assigned the greatest debate of all. A declaration, that these colonies are free and independent states… and this day or tomorrow is to determine its fate. May heaven prosper the newborn republic.” (John Adams, David McCullough, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, NY, 2001, p.125.) The delegates felt the tension amongst themselves in the debates and wording of their declaration, and the voting at the end of the day was not unanimous. Their tension was heightened that evening as news reached the city that one hundred British ships had been sighted off New York, with eventually more than 300 joining the initial fleet. The seriousness of what they were undertaking was felt by every man in the delegation for they knew their very lives were on the line.
July 2nd saw an overcast day with cloudbursts letting loose as the delegates met. The New York delegates abstained from voting while others joined the majority to make a unanimous decision. Thus, on July 2, 1776, twelve colonies voted to declare independence from Britain. More than anyone else, John Adams made it happen. His elation showed in writing home about the proceedings to his wife, Abigail. “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.” (McCullough, pp. 129-130)
News spread like wildfire throughout Philadelphia. A young artist, Charles Willson Peale, journaled that “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.” (McCullough, p.130) But, Congress still had to review what the delegation had written before an official statement could be made.
July 3rd blessed the city with a drop of 10 degrees following cloudbursts the day before. Tensions had even begun to ease among the men, but still there was much work to be done. More discussion and Deliberation ensued as they reviewed the language of their declaration. (McCullough, pp. 130-135) Much had to be cut and reworded to make it a more concise document which then boldly declared, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America. When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Benjamin Franklin offered encouraging and comforting words to the now-silent Thomas Jefferson whose many words were debated and cut. When their work was finished, it was still Thomas Jefferson’s words, however, which have held a firm and tender spot in the hearts of Americans ever since. To Jefferson goes the credit for writing “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” (McCullough, p.130-136)
Thursday, July 4, 1776, dawned cool and comfortable. The tension was gone from the weather just as it was now from among the men of the delegation. Discussions were again held through late morning when a final vote was taken. New York still abstained, but the other twelve colonies voted unanimously to support the hard work they had wrought in this Declaration of Independence. Ultimately, the delegates from all thirteen colonies, including New York, signed the document in solidarity. (McCullough, p. 136)
Celebrations began on the 8th when the published Declaration was read to the public. Thirteen cannon blasts reverberated throughout Philadelphia, bells rang day and night, bonfires were lit everywhere, and candles shone bright in windows. The news reached Washington and his troops in New York City the next day where the Declaration was read. More celebrations sprang up as the crowds pulled down the equestrian statue of King George III. (McCullough, p.136-137) But, their elation was not long in lasting.
In reality, it would be several more years before celebrations of this magnitude would again be held. In reality, though the hard work of writing such a declaration was finally completed, even harder efforts and sacrifices of thousands of men and boys on battlefields were about to begin. In reality, the conflict about to begin would affect every man, woman and child living within the thirteen colonies in ways they could never have imagined. And, ultimately, their great sacrifices gave rise to the freedoms which we enjoy and tend to take for granted today.
The lives of the men who signed this declaration were also forever affected. If the new America lost its war for independence, every signer of said document faced charges of treason and death by hanging for actions against their king. In signing, they gave “support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, [as] we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
There were 56 representatives from all thirteen colonies who signed, ranging in age from 26 to 70 (the oldest being the esteemed Benjamin Franklin). Over half were lawyers, but the men included planters, merchants and shippers. Most of them were wealthy men who had much to lose should Britain win. Though none of them died at the hand of the enemy, four men were taken captive during the war by the British, with one-third of the signers being military officers during the war. And, nearly all of them were poorer when the war ended than when it began.
There was much at stake in the days and years ahead after the Declaration of Independence was signed and the war began in earnest. Some men abandoned the battle lines, their friends, and what once seemed like worthy ideals, and simply walked home. Many suffered untold pain and suffering as prisoners of war. Many suffered deprivations of food and clothing along with disease and death within their own military camps. Many fought family and friends in the same community as Patriot was pitted against Tory, i.e. Loyalist. Schoharie County, New York, considered by historians to be “The Breadbasket of the Revolution,” provided an abundance of food for Washington’s northern troops. To frustrate the colonists’ efforts, the British and their Loyalist supporters, including many Native Americans, destroyed and burned crops and buildings as they captured, killed and scalped settlers throughout the Mohawk and Schoharie Valley and along the western frontier during the war.
In reality, however, we likely would not have won our independence if it were not for Washington’s spies. Barely two months after the Declaration was signed, a 21-year-old Yale graduate by the name of Nathan Hale from Massachusetts eagerly volunteered to spy for Washington. He intended to go behind enemy lines on Long Island and in New York City to infiltrate the British strongholds. Instead, not being sufficiently familiar with the area and its people, and likely having a New England accent, he was caught and found to have sketches of fortifications and memos about troop placements on him. Without benefit of legal trial, he was sentenced to death. His requests for a clergyman and a Bible were refused. Just before being hung on September 22, 1776 in the area of 66th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan, Hale was heard to say with dignity, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” (George Washington’s Secret Six, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Penguin Group, New York, NY, 2013, p.1.)
George Washington knew that he desperately needed spies, but he needed them to work in such a way that they would not be discovered. His tender heart for his fellow countrymen deplored that even one should die for the cause of freedom. Yet, he also knew that such loss was inevitable. And, thus was born Washington’s spies so aptly named, “The Secret Six.”
Out of the realization that Gen. George Washington desperately needed spies, and hating to lose even one more life after the hanging of Nathan Hale, a ring of trustworthy spies was gradually pulled together. Washington’s “Secret Six” included five men and one woman embedded within and around New York City and Long Island, each familiar with the land and its people. They reported to Washington on British movements and military plans in a timely fashion.
Because they knew the area, and were known by the people, they were readily accepted as they maneuvered amongst the enemy. That is not to say, however, that they didn’t come close to being found out. They lived in constant fear of such, not to mention the fear of losing their own lives and destroying their families in the process. At times they were emotionally frail, depressed and despondent. But, because of their passion for the freedom movement afoot, they came together for the greater benefit of all.
At one point, Washington’s army was entirely surrounded by the British in New York City. With tips from his spies, and being a man given to much time and prayer with God, his troops managed to quietly evacuate the city under the cover of night at an area not under guard. With dawn, however, came the realization that a large contingent still remained behind and would be very visible to the enemy. An answer to prayer was soon forthcoming to allow the balance of his men and equipment to leave the city – an unexpected and extremely dense morning fog enveloped the area, allowing them to continue crossing safely over into Jersey with the British unable to do anything about the Continental Army’s escape from their clutches.
Because of the work of Washington’s spies and the “important memos” he managed to have planted with false information behind enemy lines, the Americans were able to surprise the enemy at Trenton, New Jersey on Christmas Day night 1776 after the British had relaxed their guard and celebrated the day in style. Needless to say, the Americans enjoyed a vital and rousing victory.
Because of the spies and their efforts, accomplished with great fear for their own lives and that of their families, warning was given to Washington of 400 ships arriving from England. The spies’ insider knowledge that the British were planning to attack and scuttle the French ships and troops coming to Washington’s aid allowed him to turn the tide in a timely manner. He was able to fool the British into thinking he was readying an imminent attack on New York City, causing them to leave Long Island Sound, thus allowing the French time to land and move inland to safety in Connecticut without battling the British at sea before they even disembarked.
Because of the spy who owned a print shop which seemingly supported King George, important plans were heard and passed on to Washington. Other spies were privy to the upper level of command amongst the British military at parties in a particular merchandise shop and a certain coffeehouse. A circuitous route was set up for their messenger across Long Island to Setauket where packets with concealed or innocuous-looking papers written in invisible ink and code were rowed to the Connecticut shore in a whale boat (while being pursued by the British) where another member took the seemingly innocent packet of merchandise and rode his horse overland to Washington’s camp in New Jersey. At times, someone simply traveled out of New York City to visit relatives in northern New Jersey and met up with another dependable link to pass the information along to Washington’s headquarters.
Because of their courage and resolve, the spies assisted in uncovering the Crown’s Major John Andre` (who, himself, ran a British spy ring) as he worked with Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, American commander at West Point. Despite a prior stellar military record, but due to personal bitterness, Arnold was in the process of handing West Point over to Andre` and the British. Through a series of blundering mistakes, because of the spies’ knowledge given to Washington at just the right moment, and because of the quick thinking of a couple of patriotic guards on a bridge leading back into New York City, Andre` was captured and later executed. Arnold’s hand-over was thus thwarted, although Arnold managed to escape behind enemy lines and ultimately fled to England.
Because of the supposed loyal British support by the owner of said print shop, a little book was obtained through his work as an undercover spy. This inconspicuous little book contained key information on British troop movements at Yorktown, Virginia. With important knowledge gained of the enemy’s military plans, Washington was able to redirect appropriate troops and ships to Yorktown. General Cornwallis surrendered for the British on October 19, 1781 in an American victory where total defeat for the Americans would have otherwise taken place.
Because they swore themselves to secrecy, no one knew the full involvement of all six spies, nor all of their names. Only gradually over the last few hundred years has their identities become known, the fifth not confirmed until recently. All five men are now known, but the woman’s identity is not; she is simply known as Agent 355. It is believed she was captured and became a prisoner; but, there is no hard evidence by research even to prove that conjecture.
The efforts of the six spies as they secretly obtained information and passed it along (devising their own specialty codes, using a unique invisible ink, and more) enabled them to maintain total secrecy. Nor did they ever seek accolades for their work after the war was over. The secrets to their successful accomplishments have been among the methods still taught and used successfully by our CIA today.
In the interest of sharing the spies’ courage which undoubtedly helped us win the Revolutionary War, their story (as briefly described above) has been extensively researched and written by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger in George Washington’s Secret Six, The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution. It was one of my Christmas gifts from my husband a few years ago, and I highly recommend it to other history buffs. It’s a read you’ll find difficult to set down!
So, why is history important to us? To quote David McCullough in the Reader’s Digest, December 2002, author of the books, John Adams and 1776: “Who are we, we Americans? How did we get where we are? What is our story and what can it teach us? Our story is our history, and if ever we should be taking steps to see that we have the best prepared, most aware citizens ever, that time is now. Yet the truth is that we are raising a generation that is to an alarming degree historically illiterate… While the popular cultures races loudly on, the American past is slipping away. We are losing our story, forgetting who we are and what it’s taken to come this far.”
“The best way to know where the country is going is to know where we’ve been…But why bother about history anyway? …That’s done with, junk for the trash heap. Why history? Because it shows us how to behave. [It] teaches and reinforces what we believe in, what we stand for. History is about life – human nature, the human condition and all its trials and failings and noblest achievements… Everything we have, all our good institutions, our laws, our music, art and poetry, our freedoms, everything is because somebody went before us and did the hard work… faced the storms, made the sacrifices, kept the faith… If we deny our children that enjoyment [of historical story telling]… then we’re cheating them out of a full life.”
As I contemplated our nation’s celebrations, I thought about the effort and sacrifice it took from many to give us the freedoms we so often take for granted. I am so thankful for all we have in America which many around the world do not enjoy. But I also wondered if perhaps we have forgotten all that took place a long time ago, and if this day has simply become a traditional fun holiday. The United States of America came to be with God’s hand working a miracle behind the scenes, and within the hearts of men and women who were very involved in its forming by putting their lives, legacy and financial support behind the movement for independence.
Though no nation or government has been perfect as far back as the beginning of time, the early days of our young nation’s beginnings provide perspective for today’s America, this bastion of freedom. So, it’s fitting that we ponder what part our ancestors played in the making of our great America some 246 years ago. And, I might add, one of the best parts of researching my ancestors was the great lasting friendships I’d made with other descendants.
Several of my ancestors served in the Revolutionary War in various capacities, some of whom I researched more extensively than others. Originally, I did not plan to bring them into my article. But then it occurred to me that it would be appropriate. Knowledge of personal service and sacrifice often provides us with a greater understanding of the historical era and what our collective ancestors experienced.
While researching my ancestry over 20 years ago, I purchased Revolutionary War pension application files of several ancestors who had served. For those whose government files I did not purchase, their data was obtained from Schoharie County Historical Society, various Revolutionary War books, CDs, and documents proving their service. Hoping that my family research might provide us a closer glimpse of the war for independence through their experiences, I share their legacy.
1) Frantz/Francis Becraft/Beacraft, bp. 06/12/1761, Claverack, Columbia Co., NY – Private, 3rd Comp., 3rd Regiment, 1st Rensselaerswyck Battalion, Albany County New York Militia, on muster roll from Berne in 1782, 1790 census at Berne. In an 1839 affidavit, Francis Becraft of Berne stated that he “served as a Private in a company commanded by Capt. Adam Dietz in the County of Albany…” Frantz/Francis married Catherine Dietz (sister of said Capt. Adam Dietz), my g-g-g-g-grandparents.
In researching my ancestors, I discovered an apparent familial tie to the notorious Tory Becraft/Beacraft. This man felt no remorse in aligning himself with Joseph Brant’s Indians to capture, kill and scalp Patriots throughout Schoharie County, known to have brutally killed and scalped a young boy in the Vrooman family who managed to escape the house after his family had been murdered. After the war ended, Becraft/Beacraft had the audacity to return from Canada to Schoharie County where he was immediately captured by ten men. In meting out a punishment of 50 lashes by whip, the men supposedly reminded him of his infamous acts against the community, his former neighbors. Roscoe notes that death did not linger for him after the final lash, and his ashes were buried on the spot. Of the ten men who swore themselves to secrecy, apparently only five are known. (History of Schoharie County, William E. Roscoe, pub. D. Mason & Comp., 1882, pp.250-251.)
However, in “Families (to 1825) of Herkimer, Montgomery, & Schoharie, N.Y.,” a genealogical source on many early families by William V. H. Barker, it is noted that the Tory Becraft/Beacraft was Benjamin, born about 1759, brother of my ancestor noted above, Frantz/Francis Becraft. If this is accurate and they are indeed brothers, they were both sons of Willem/William and Mareitje (Bond) Becraft. Another source, “The Life of Joseph Brant – Thayendanegea…” notes Becraft survived his whipping and left the area (pg. 64), just as other undocumented sources indicate he survived and returned to Canada to live with his family. So, I am uncertain as to whether Tory [Benjamin] Becraft actually died from his whippings or survived and left the area.
2) Johannes/John Berlet/Berlett/Barlet, b. 05/08/1748, Schoharie, Schoharie Co., NY – Private, Tryon County Militia, 3rd Reg’t, Mohawk District. He married Maria Gardinier, b. about 1751; their daughter Eva/Eveline Barlett married Martin Tillapaugh, b. 1778, my g-g-g-grandparents.
3) Johann Hendrich/John Henry Dietz, bp 05/10/1722, Nordhofen, Vielbach, Germany – served in Lt. John Veeder’s Company, Rensselaerswyck, later under Capt. Sternberger’s Company at Schoharie. He married Maria Elisabetha Ecker, bp. 1725; their daughter Catherine Dietz, b. 1761, married Frantz/Francis Beacraft above, my g-g-g-g-grandparents.
As per my research article on Chemung County’s Newtown Battle, the Indian/Loyalist raids and massacres also touched my ancestral families in New York. In Beaverdam (now Berne), New York near the Switzkill River on September 1, 1781, the Johannes Dietz family was attacked. Johannes’ son, Capt. William Dietz was captured and forced to watch his elderly parents, wife, four young children and a Scottish maid be killed and scalped. (see “Old Hellebergh,” Arthur B. Gregg, The Altamont Enterprise Publishers, Altamont, N.Y., 1936, p. 24; signed by Gregg, in Roorda’s collection from her father.) Capt. William Dietz’s father, Johannes, was an older brother of my ancestor noted above, Johann Hendrich/John Henry Dietz.
4) Johan Dietrich Dallenbach/John Richard Dillenbach, b. 1733 per cemetery records, Stone Arabia, NY; father Jorg Martin Dallenbach born Lauperswil, Bern, Switzerland (emigrated with 1710 German Palatines with mother and first wife). John Richard Dillenbach married Maria Mynard; their son Martinus took name of Martin Tillapaugh (my lineage), married Eva/Eveline Barlett as above. Dillenbach reported for duty March 20, 1757 when Sir William Johnson called local militia out to protect Fort William Henry on Lake George for the British. The Seven Years’ War, or the French and Indian War, began in 1754 and ended with the European peace treaties of 1763 during which year Dillenbach again reported to defend Herkimer with the Palatine District Regiment.
James Fennimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans about the siege of Fort William Henry. Roughly 2300 colonial troops were protecting the British fort when the French arrived with about 8000 troops in August 1763 and heavily bombarded the fort. With additional supporting troops not found to be on their way, the garrison was forced to surrender. The men were to be protected as they retreated by generous treaty terms. However, as the Indians entered the fort, they plundered, looted, scalped and killed about 200 colonials, many of them too sick to leave. In desecrating graves of those who had died before the siege, the Indians exposed themselves to smallpox, taking the germs back to their homes. The French destroyed the fort before returning to Canada. Fort William Henry was reconstructed in the 1950s. Visiting this fort in 1972 with the Lounsberry Methodist Church youth group, I was unaware at the time that my Dallenbach/Tillapaugh ancestor had walked that ground, having been involved in the siege and survived.
5) Timothy Hutton, b.11/24/1746, New York City, married 2nd) Elizabeth Deline b.1760. Their son George b.1787 married Sarah Wyckoff b.1793 (descendant of Pieter Claessen Wyckoff who cared for Pieter Stuyvesant’s bouwery/farm, today’s bowery district of New York City, with his Wyckoff House Museum on Clarendon Road, Brooklyn, NY still standing), my g-g-g-grandparents. Timothy served as Ensign in Philip Schuyler’s Regiment of Albany County Militia, at defeat of Gen. Burgoyne in Saratoga October 17, 1777; appointed Lieutenant in New York Levies under Col. Marinus Willett; defended Schoharie County from burnings and killings by British, Loyalists and Indians. This Timothy is not to be confused with a nephew of same name and rank, b. 1764, which many have done, including an erroneous columnar grave marker in Carlisle, NY. Sorting their military service out was part of my extensive thesis and documentation in researching and publishing two lengthy articles on the origins and descendants of this Hutton family in the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record in 2004-2005.
My Timothy’s nephew William Hutton served extensively in the Revolutionary War throughout New York City, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley. My Timothy’s nephew Christopher Hutton of Troy, NY served as Ensign, promoted to Lieutenant, member of the elite Society of the Cincinnati. My Timothy’s nephew, Timothy Hutton b.1764, served as Lieutenant in New York Levies under Col. Willett, enlisting 1780 at age 16 in the Albany militia. My Timothy’s nephews, Isaac and George (brothers of Christopher and the younger Timothy, all sons of George Hutton, the older brother of my ancestor Timothy Hutton), were well-known influential silversmiths during the Federal period in the late 18th/early 19th centuries in Albany. Hutton silver has been on display at museums in Albany, New York.
6) Johannes Leenderse (John Leonardson), b.06/18/63, Fonda, Montgomery Co., NY – enlisted as private in 1779 at age 16, Tryon County Militia, 3rd Reg’t; Corporal in 1781; served on many expeditions in the Mohawk Valley and at forts; joined Col. Willett’s company on march to Johnstown October 1781 in successful battle against enemy who had burned and killed throughout Mohawk Valley; re-enlisted 1782. Married Sarah Putman b.1773. Their son Aaron Leonardson b.1796 married 3rd) Lana Gross, parents of Mary Eliza Leonardson b. about 1732 who married William Henry Ottman, my g-g-grandparents.
7) John Caldwell McNeill, b. 1755, Londonderry, Rockingham Co., NH – at Bunker Hill (actually Breed’s Hill) on Charlestown June 17, 1775 per purchased military pension file. As Sergeant under Col. Timothy Bedel of the New Hampshire Line, John bought beef to pasture and butcher as needed for the troops. Bedel’s regiment joined “Corp.1, Co. 1, New York Reg’t” on mission to Canada against British; McNeill taken captive with cousins and friends at The Cedars near Montreal, an island in the St. Lawrence; soldiers were stripped of clothing, belongings and food, and released in cartel negotiated by Gen. Benedict Arnold before becoming a traitor. John served at and discharged at Saratoga, NY. He married cousin Hannah Caldwell b.1762; removed to Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York ca. 1794; their son Jesse McNeill m. Elizabeth Ostrom, my g-g-g-grandparents. (Neighbor was Thomas Machin who built the Great Chain across the Hudson River to keep the British ships from sailing north. A granddaughter of McNeill married a Machin grandson, removing to the Midwest.)
8) George Richtmyer, bp 04/23/1738, Albany Co., NY – Captain from 1775 through end of war in 15th Reg’t of Albany Militia, defending Cobleskill and Middleburg, Schoharie Co., NY. Married Anna Hommel; their son Henrich/Henry married Maria Beacraft (see above), my g-g-g-grandparents.
9) Hendrick/Henry Vonck/Vunck, b. 03/06/1757, Freehold, Monmouth Co., NJ – served as private and Corporal in New Jersey and New York City; carried papers for American Gen. Charles Lee; joined units marching to same area of Canada as John C. McNeill; on return became ill with smallpox with others at Lake George when news of the Declaration of Independence was made; honorably discharged; called to serve again at Sandy Hook, NJ; captured by the British at Sandy Hook, taken to a prison ship, then to the [Livingston] stone sugar house in Manhattan, then another prison ship, the Good___ (writing illegible on the early 1800s pension document, possibly Good Hope). After “one year and one month” as prisoner, he was exchanged and released. “Having suffered while a prisoner great privations and disease and in poor clothing and severely unwholesome provisions many prisoners died in consequence of their treatment.” (Per 1832 affidavit of military service for pension.) Conditions suffered as a prisoner left Henry in poor health the rest of his life; removing later to Montgomery County, NY. He married Chestinah Hagaman; their daughter Jane Vunck married James Dingman, my g-g-g-grandparents.
From 1776 to 1783 the British made use of decommissioned ships (incapable of going to sea) as floating prisons. At least 16 rotting hulks were moored in Wallabout Bay, the inner harbor along the northwest shore of Brooklyn, now part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Among the ships were the Good Hope, Whitby, The Prince of Wales, Falmouth, Scorpion, Stromboli, Hunter, and the most infamous HMS Jersey, nicknamed Hell by the men. Over 10,000 men, perhaps at least 11,500, died on these ships due to the deliberate deplorable conditions. Men were crammed below decks with no windows for lighting or fresh air. There was a lack of food and clothing, with vermin and insects running rampant, and a lack of other humane efforts to aid the ill, all leading to the death of thousands.
Prisoners died virtually every day, reportedly as many as fifteen a day. Some were not found right away, their bodies not disposed of until days later. Often, those who died were sewn into their blankets (if they had one) to await pick up by cart the next morning. Many were buried in shallow graves along the shore (unearthed during major storms) or were simply tossed overboard, later washing ashore. With development of Walloon Bay area over the last two centuries has come the discovery of their bones and parts of ships. To commemorate these soldiers’ lives and what they gave in the fight for independence, the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument was built. Located in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, it was dedicated on April 6, 1808 with improvements made to it several times since.
At least another 5-6000 men died in the sugar houses, bringing the total who died as prisoners to more than 17,500 in the sugar houses and ships, more than double the battlefield losses. Sugar houses were buildings meant to store sugar and molasses. Affidavits by my ancestor, Henry Vunck, and friends note he was held for a few months in the “stone sugar house.” This could only mean the Livingston Sugar House, a six-story stone building built in 1754 by the Livingston family on Crown (now Liberty) Street in Manhattan. Demolished in 1846, buildings No. 34 and 36 are now on the site.
A second sugar house, the Rhinelander, a five-story brick warehouse, was built in 1763 at Rose (now William) Street and Duane Street. This building was eventually replaced and is now the headquarters of the New York City Police Department. A third, Van Cortlandt’s sugar house, was built about 1755 by the early Dutch family of this name at the northwest corner of the Trinity Church in Manhattan. It was demolished in 1852.
10) Hans Georg Jacob Dubendorffer (George Jacob Diefendorf), b. 01/23/1729, Basserstorff, Switzerland – a Loyalist during Rev War, he left Mohawk Valley for Philadelphia and New York City, returned to a daughter’s home in Canajoharie, NY after the war rather than remove to Canada. A patriotic son disowned his father, taking his middle name (his mother’s maiden name) as his new surname, removing to Virginia. George Jacob married Catharine Hendree; their son Jacob Diefendorf married Susanna Hess, my g-g-g-g-grandparents.
On February 3, 1783, the British government acknowledged the independence of the American colonies. The next day, they formally agreed to halt all military operations. A preliminary peace treaty was ratified in April, and Canada offered free land that summer to Loyalists who sought a new life. Still, the British military maintained a presence in Manhattan. When Britain signed the Treaty of Paris September 3, 1783 to end the war, the hated Redcoats finally and slowly began to abandon their New York City stronghold.
Next would begin the task of establishing the government and president of this new nation, the United States of America. George Washington rode into Manhattan on November 25, 1783 with his officers and troops, eight horses abreast. At the same time Washington’s parade began, British soldiers and ships were setting sail for their homeland across the Pond.
Flags were joyfully waved, church bells rang in celebration, and cannons were fired in honor of those who had fought and for those who had lost their lives, all for the independence of this fledgling nation. The war had definitely taken its toll; but, on this day, great joy was felt in every heart for what had been accomplished. And that is why we continue to celebrate our 4th of July heritage in style – as we remember and commemorate those who gave so much that we might enjoy so much. And, I trust we will never forget what their efforts wrought for us in America!
Linda Roorda writes from her home in Spencer.