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Reading 3: Effects of the Battle of Oriskany
The retreat of General St. Leger returned the Mohawk Valley to an uneasy peace which would not last for long. In late August, General Benedict Arnold offered to pardon any Tories who turned themselves in and joined the Rebels saying:
Whereas a certain Barry St. Leger a Brigadiergeneral in the services of the -------- George of Great Britain, at the head of a banditti of robbers, murderers, and traitors, composed of savages of America, and more savage Britons (among whom is noted Sir John Johnson, John Butler, and Daniel Claus) have lately appeared in the frontiers of this State, and have threatened ruin and destruction to all the inhabitants of the United States. They have also, by artifice and misrepresentation, induced many ignorant and unwary subjects of these states, to forfeit their allegiance to the same, and join them in their crimes, and parties of treachery and parricide.¹
Pierre Van Cortland, writing to New York Governor George Clinton on August 25, 1777, was confident that the British strategy to capture New York was failing:
I have great reason to believe that Genl: Burgoyne will soon follow the example of St. Leger, and my greatest fear is that he will be equally fortunate in getting off without a second drubbing, as the militia do not turn out with that alacrity which might be expected. A proper spirit on this occasion would enable us totally to destroy the enemy in the quarter, and secure peace and safety to this part of the country. The enemy are in our power, could the militia only be prevailed on to believe it.²
Van Cortland was correct that the British force led by General Burgoyne would not succeed; on October 17, 1777, after failing to break through the Rebel lines protecting Albany, and suffering from lack of supplies, General Burgoyne surrendered his entire army at Saratoga. General Howe never committed his full army to the third thrust up the Hudson Valley, but instead attacked Philadelphia.
New York was no longer threatened by three British armies, but it continued to suffer the trauma of civil war. Sir John Johnson and Joseph Brant returned to the Mohawk Valley with their Tory forces repeatedly, raiding and destroying villages, crops, and livestock, and massacring enemies and innocents alike. The Rebels retaliated on Tory strongholds, most notably when General Sullivan led his troops through western New York destroying everything in his wake. When the Oneidas requested that neutral Onondaga villages be spared, their pleas were ignored and they were destroyed along with villages aligned with the Tories.
In 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the war between the United States and Great Britain. It was followed in 1784 by the Treaty of Fort Stanwix which ended the war between the United States and the Iroquois Confederacy. The ancestral lands of the Oneida and Tuscarora Nations were preserved and protected by the federal government under the terms of this treaty, in recognition of their support during the American Revolution. However, the Mohawks, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas were confined to a small reservation, punished for supporting the Tory cause.
Although New York was enjoying true peace again, Tories of European and American Indian heritage were faced with a difficult decision, either to remain in the new United States and accept its government or to leave the country. While some Tories chose to stay in the United States, many moved. Some went to the British and Caribbean Islands, but the vast majority moved to Canada and settled there on lands granted by Great Britain. Today there are still large numbers of Canadians of European and Native American extraction who can trace their ancestry to the United States and the Revolutionary War. Descendants from the tribes that made up the Iroquois Confederacy have worked for years to restore their lost unity and relight the Central Council Fire.
Questions for Reading 3
1. Find out about Benedict Arnold's career. Re-read his address to the Tories of New York. Does it help you to understand his character better? If so, how?
2. How do you think the people in central New York reacted to news of the Battle of Oriskany? Consider each of the following groups in your answer: German, Dutch, European-American Tories, American Indian Tories, American Indian Rebels.
3. How did the battle affect life in central New York for the remainder of the war?
4. What do you think was the significance of the Battle of Oriskany to central New York? To the outcome of the Revolutionary War? To the fate of the Iroquois Confederacy? To world history? Why?
5. Which groups benefited the most from the Rebel victory and American independence in the short term? Explain your answer.
6. Which groups benefited the most from the Rebel victory and American independence in the long run? Explain your answer.
Reading 3 was adapted from Barbara Graymont, The Iroquois in the American Revolution (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1972); Isabel T. Kelsay, Joseph Brant, 1743-1807: Man of Two Worlds (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1984); Philip Ranlet, The New York Loyalists (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986); and W. Max Reid, The Mohawk Valley: Its Legends and its History, 1609-1780 (New York: G. P. Putnam's & Sons, 1901).¹ John Luzader, The Construction and Military History of Fort Stanwix (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1969) 52.
²Pierre Van Cortland to Gov. George Clinton, August 25, 1777, Public Papers of George Clinton (Albany: State of New York, 1900) 253-254.