Schaghticoke: An American Revolution Militia Rendezvous


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sgtkesauthierAt the juncture of well worn roads and trails, Schaghticoke became a hub of activity during September and October 1777. Schaghticoke is located east of the Hudson River in what was at the time Albany (now Rensselaer) County, opposite the hamlet of Stillwater. It was a stopping place for hundreds of militiamen who came and went to battle stations in the area.

Like other nearby communities, Schaghticoke was all but abandoned during late summer and fall of 1777. An 8,000 man British Army, invading the Hudson River Valley, was reason enough for most residents to flee to safer places. Many of these refugees went to Albany to escape the threats of war. This article describes the activities of New England militiamen in and around Schaghticoke during the Saratoga Campaign.

Unoccupied buildings were a blessing in disguise to thousands of weary New England militiamen who came to stop the invasion. After marching on bad roads for days, militiamen welcomed the opportunity for shelter and the bounty of un-harvested produce. Many undoubtedly resided in occupied barns and buildings while on the way to General Gates’ Camp or other posts. Caretakers of abandoned properties, few as they were, welcomed the security that militiamen brought. Buildings were assets that militiamen recognized as worthy of protection. Places of shelter in the Schaghticoke area were, for many, the last place of comfort before the rigors of camp life and dangers of guard duty became their daily routine.

Colonel John Ashley, commander of the First Berkshire Massachusetts Militia, most likely arrived at Schaghticoke around September 10, 1777. Ashley was on point for General John Fellows, brigadier of the Berkshire County Militia. General Horatio Gates, commander of the Northern Continental Army, was stationed in Stillwater at the time. He almost certainly ordered Ashley to post himself near Schaghticoke to receive and process militia units. He had ample time to make ready. Ten days later, he heard the lively sounds of fife and drum coming from men of 1st Berkshire. They began to arrive on about September 21 – too late for the Battle of Freemans Farm but ready for the next battle. General Fellows, escorted by a Sheffield Militia Company, arrived on about September 28.

Fellows immediately set up headquarters at a place called Tulls Mills (known locally as Tolls Mills). Buildings on the property, most likely idle at the time, may have been under the care of slaves, perhaps, itinerant militiamen. The property, once owned by Simon Tull, was transferred to his son Charles during 1775. The mills were located on Lot 28 of the Great Lots of Hoosac Patent. This lot was designated as the mill lot. Buildings were located near the Hoosick River, possibly north of present day Fishermans Lane in the Village of Schaghticoke. Unfortunately, any remnants of improvements on the property were likely swept away during flooding or are submerged.

An actual description of Tulls Mills has not been discovered. Because General Fellows identified his headquarters as “mills,” there was most likely more than a single mill in operation there; doubtless a grist mill and a saw mill. A typical grist mill of the period was constructed of stone and wood with an entrance of sufficient size to unload grain from a cart or wagon. Interior space would accommodate machinery and gears and a moderate quantity of grain. Space may have also been available on the lower level below the millstone. This space was used for storage of finished product.

Typical Colonial Mill (Courtesy of Library of Congress)A separate building for the saw mill may have existed but for convenience and efficiency it was most likely an open wall attachment to the grist mill. The whole complex may have included attached living quarters. If so, General Fellows lived in the lap of luxury. If not, his accommodations were makeshift but functional. A roof over his head was all he needed; furniture and a writing surface was a bonus. He probably slept on a bed of straw on the floor.

Nearly 2,000 Massachusetts militiamen bivouacked in the Schaghticoke area between September 25 and October 5. In the first contingent form Berkshire and Hampshire Counties, it is estimated that there were about 500 to 800 men. The second group was about 1,000 Worchester County men. These men went quickly to General Gates’ camp on Bemis Heights.

Various accounts of Tulls Mills were given by local residents and militiamen. This place was known by different names but it was most often referred to as Tulls Mills. One reference was made by John P. Becker. He lived with his family in Saratoga (Schuylerville) until the Beckers fled to safety. Becker, a young boy at the time, recalled that his father moved the family from Stillwater to St Croix, also known as North Hoosick (probably during August 1777). He stated, “…we afterwards learned that at a place called Tull’s Mills, upon the very route we had taken, a man had been killed only two hours after we passed…”

No references to Tulls Mills were found by men in Berkshire County regiments but several accounts by other Revolutionary War veterans referred to it as follows:

  1. Pvt Samuel Merrick served in Capt. James Shaw’s Co., Col Charles Pynchon’s 1st Hampshire County (Springfield) Regiment and wrote in his journal on October 5 (Sunday) “marched in about five miles of the way at Tulls mills so called, lodged at one Tyashoke (Tiashoke).” And then October 6:Set out in the morning and arrived there (Tulls Mills) soon, found that our troops were… ordered up the River, Ordered to encamp until further orders…”
  1. Pvt Lemuel Bacon served in the 14th Albany under Lt. Tull. “He was stationed at Tulls Mills and then marched to Fort Edward when he was stationed and kept Garrison four or five weeks under Col. Warner than marched back to Tulls Mills and was stationed as guard until September…”
  2. Pvt Asa Cowles served in Capt. Jonathan Bardwell’s co., Col Elisha Porter’s Hampshire County Regmt during Sept/Oct 1777. He said, “…marched with his regiment to Tolls Mills over against Bemus Heights…” The mistaken reference to Bemis Heights may have been the heights north of Schaghticoke.
  3. Pvt John Ingram served in Lt. Noab Dickinson’s co., Col Elisha Porter’s Hampshire County Regmt during Sept/Oct 1777. He said, “…crossed the battle grounds (at Bennington) to Tulls Mills, so called: there remained some days, then through the woods, to North (Hudson) River opposite Saratoga…”
  4. Pvt James Mc Culloch served in Capt. Hugh Mc Callen’s co., Col David Wells’ Regmt during Sept/Oct 1777. He said “…then were ordered back to east side of North (Hudson) River to a place called Tulls mills: thence we went to Saratoga, from thence to destroy the boats laying about…”
  5. Pvt Caleb Hubbard “ …I again enlisted in Capt. Joseph Slarrow’s Company Col Wells Regiment, marched first to Tulls Mills was then appointed Quartermaster-Sergt; Zebina Montague Quartermaster; from thence to Batten Kill from thence to Fort Edward in Gen. (John) Stark’s Division and there continued until Gen. Burgoine surrendered on the 17th October…”

Except for Merrick’s account, specific dates were not stated.

On about September 13, 1777, some of General Stark’s men arrived on the high ground opposite Stillwater. Their camps probably dotted the hills around Schaghticoke. But Stark was absent. Lacking a regimental commander, Stark’s brigade reported to Colonel John Ashley, apparently the ranking officer at this time. The brigade consisted of unspecified New Hampshire men and Colonel John Williams’ Vermont militia. There were about 800 men in the brigade but they didn’t stay long. It was reported that the New Hampshire men left four days after arrival and the Vermont men threatened to leave as well.

Being closest to the action at Stillwater, men form Berkshire County were the first Massachusetts men to arrive near Schaghticoke. The First Berkshire Militia Regiment was mustered on September 19, 1777. They travelled about twenty miles per day; most walked but some rode horses. These men came from the southern and central part of Berkshire County. Those in the south part crossed Albany County via Egremont and Claverack while those in the central part went via Ghent, Kinderhook and Half Moon. They all followed the river road on the east side of the Hudson to Lansingburgh and finally to Schaghticoke. After a two to three day march they arrived on September 21-22.

There is no way to know which companies arrived first but Captain Sylvanus Willcox’s Co., from the Great Barrington area, was in the vanguard. This company most likely arrived on about September 21, 1777. My ancestor, Pvt Eleazer Barrett II, served in Willcox’s Company. Within a few days, a large group of Hampshire County militia arrived in the area and many more were on the way. The Hampshire men reported to General Fellows at Tulls Mills instead of going to General Benjamin Lincoln at Pawlet. About 100 men from the Third Berkshire also arrived there on about September 25.

Colonel Ezra May, from the Town of Goshen, Massachusetts, was commander of the 2nd Hampshire County Militia Regiment. He arrived on about September 27 and his regiment quickly grew to around 400 men. He stayed near Schaghticoke for only a short time before joining Gates on the other side of the Hudson.

By the end of September, there were between 500 and 800 men stationed in and around Schaghticoke. All of them were under the command of General Fellows at Tulls Mills. Local historians recorded that many militiamen camped on hills around Schaghticoke. Their camps were probably the same places that General Gates ordered General Stark to occupy during early September. Gates wanted these hills secured to insure that the British would not establish batteries on high ground anywhere in his rear. Stark declined the order but Colonel Ashley and General Fellows stepped in to fill the void.

Another Berkshire militia officer, Colonel John Brown who was previously at Pawlet, arrived in Schaghticoke on October 1. After meeting with General Fellows, he stayed only briefly. He and his men were destined for Gates’ Army at Bemis Heights.

General Fellows watched men come and go as Gates prepared for a conclusive battle. The importance of maintaining an intercepting force on the east side of the Hudson increased with each passing day. Fellows wrote that he retained only 250 men with him at Tulls Mills and outlined other maneuvers that his men recently undertook. His letter to Lincoln is shown below:

Camp at Tulls mills: Octo’r 1’t , 1777

Dear Sir,

I receiv’d yours of the 29th instant wherein you wrote to have 400 men detached for a privet expedition &c: – my self and Col (Jonathan) Warner were out reconnoitering som advantageous post according to the general order: but Col. Robinson the commanding officer on receiving the orders prepared the men ready for a march (Sept 30) but on intelligence of the enimy crosing river at this bridg and want of provition to furnish the party: thought proper to postpone the moving the men untill this morning: which is now completed and the men march’d

Col (John) Mosley (3rd Hampshire) and Col (Jacob) Gail Regts (New Hampshire) I have stopd here for the present: on account of the small number of men here on the ground: as may appear from the returns hereinclos’d which is as exact as can be had at present

I have further to inform you: a small scout which ware sent out yesterday (Sept 30) to make some discovery: have this moment returned and report that they found the enimy ware giting timber down to the river and some were very large sticks.

I remain yr very humble ser’t        John Fellows

n. b. col. Mosely & col gail regt’s both consist of 250 men only

This letter suggested that about 650 men were present in the Schaghticoke area on September 30.

Lt Colonel Timothy Robinson, who Fellows sent to the vicinity of a British floating bridge, was in charge of the Hampshire County brigade (400 men). His secret mission was apparently to destroy the floating bridge. Robinson and his men, while some distance north, remained under the immediate command of General Fellows still at Tulls Mills.

At a time when Fellows’ men were straining the resources around Schaghticoke, 1,500 more men from Pawlet, Vermont, were ordered to come to Stillwater. Fortunately, these men proceeded quickly through Schaghticoke on the way to Bemis Heights. This substantial force was previously assigned to General Lincoln and Colonel Warner. The men were mainly from New Hampshire and Hampshire County, Massachusetts. Among them were a few men from the 2nd and 3rd Berkshire Militia and Capt Enoch Noble’s Company from Sheffield, Massachusetts. Capt Noble’s seventy man detachment was enlisted for ninety days and probably remained with General Fellows at Tulls Mills.

On October 4, 1777, Fellows, then at Tulls Mills, wrote the following to General Gates:

yesterday (October 3) about four o’clock in the afternoon a small party of Indians, about twenty in number came down to the road about a mile & half west of this incampment; and fired at the inhabitants as they ware at work near a house. They pushd a little forward, and fell upon som scatering men; killed and scaulpd four; and took off two prisoners. which ware inhabitants. One of the slain belong’d to this camp and the other to the camp at Stillwater…the scout that returned yesterday; report that they discovered several scouting parties: consisting of regulars tories and Indian some distance from the enemys camp. Some of their scouts appear’d to be about one hundr’d in number—

This morning I have ordered out two hundred men as scout which are to advance near to the enimie bridge and there to lay twentyfour hours and it appeared to me that if some scouts ware sent out that way from camp at Stillwater we might prevent the enemy scouting parties that are out this way ever returning.

I remain dear Sir your humbl’ sivt’  John Fellows

British Bridge of Boats (Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration)The attack described by Fellows on inhabitants, about a mile and one-half west of Tulls Mills, most likely took place on a farm located near Stillwater Bridge Road somewhere east of Brown Road. Tories were enemies who were loyal to the King and supported the British. Local Tories, who knew the lay of the land, often acted as scouts during foraging expeditions. Militiamen and other inhabitants who came to the rescue of the hapless farmers, themselves, became the target of the raiding party. These patriots were overrun by a superior force and four were killed and two taken prisoner. The second skirmish probably occurred east of the first. No other details about the attacks have been discovered except for a brief account by Pvt Oliver Boardman. He stated in his journal, “We hear that 6 of our men were killed & sculp’t at Scatta Hook on way to Bennington.” At the time of this tragedy, Fellows already ordered Hampshire and Berkshire County militia companies (about 600 men) to other places. Most of the Berkshire men under Colonel Ashley already crossed the Hudson to Stillwater and most of the Hampshire men went to Batten Kill. This left the Schaghticoke area vulnerable. Recognizing this weakness, Fellows requested that Gates send scouts from Stillwater to prevent a similar incursion. He obviously suspected that his enemies or camp followers would continue to forage within his jurisdiction.

The casualty from Fellows’ camp may have been Pvt Oliver Smith who served in Capt Cook’s Company in Col Woodbridge’s 1st Hampshire Regiment. While no cause or place of death was given in the company return, he was the only reported casualty under General Fellows.

A critical need in successfully fending off another attack was having properly armed men. Accordingly, Fellows wrote the following letter to General Benjamin Lincoln:

Camp at Tulls mills October 4, 1777

Dear Sir,

I have sent to Bennington for the ammunition …cant git even a suffitiancy for twenty rounds a man…men are continuly coming in; destitute of powder and ball; you will please to order some powder and a quantity ball; to this post; as we are most destitute of ball then powder

And if it is possible; let us have some rum so that the scouts might have even a little.

I am sir your very humble sevt’ John Fellows

It was not unusual for militiamen to show up for duty with little or no ammunition or powder. They took advantage of any opportunity to stock their haversacks. What they didn’t use in battle would serve just as well back home. Frosting on the cake was rum! Soldiers had an insatiable thirst for this beverage. It was a rare commodity but a week earlier Colonel Brown captured several barrels of rum during raids on British outposts. With any luck, some of it was shared with Fellows’ men. As for powder and ball, Bennington was a supply depot and a Continental Army arsenal. Hopefully, Lincoln would expedite these supplies.

General Fellows, preparing to relocate from Tulls Mills on October 5, 1777, wrote to General Gates:

Dear Sir

I omit writing the particulars as to the scout that ware sent out to cut away the bridge as Major (Robert) Cochran, (2nd NY Van Courtlandt’s Regmt,) who commanded the partis will be able can give you every circumstances relative to the scout

If it should be consistent I should be glad that Majr’ Cochran might return to this camp as he is acquainted with this part of the country. He is able to give singular assistance.

I am Sir yr’ humbl servt  John Fellows Brig’r General

Obviously, Fellows’ men attempted to destroy the floating bridge that the British constructed at Kromma Creek. This bridge not only provided the enemy access to farms on the east side of the Hudson but also was its potential escape route. By mentioning that Major Cochran should return to the Tulls Mills camp, Fellows named the man that he wanted to command the reinforcement at Schaghticoke. Cochran was an aide to General Gates. Lincoln, however, designated General Jacob Bayley to take command at Tulls Mills.

On October 7, Bayley reported that he arrived at Tulls Mills by way of White Creek. Bayley, the Brigadier of the Vermont Militia previously served under Lincoln at Pawlet. Bayley’s force consisted of about 600 men from New Hampshire and Vermont. After a quick assessment, Bayley reported his situation to Lincoln and requested the equipment described in the letter below:

Dear General.

I this moment arrived here from Paulett by the way of White Creek for to take Post here agreeable to your order.

I brought with me from Paulett about 380 Troops from the Cohass (Coos) County (New Hampshire) about 200 whom are gone with Capt. Whitcomb upon an escort & the remainder to Tifts mills (near Greenwich). 

Number more are hourly expected from the same parts I have ordered those that shall come by the way of Pawlett to Sd. Tifts mills by this way (of White) and those that shall arrive at Manchester for this place.

I understand there is but few Troops here but more hourly expected. A part of the Troops here are uneasy (and) want to go home as you will more fully understand (from) Major Ranslhlear (Renselear). You will please to give orders concerning them.

There is great want of Camp Kettles’ here (also) Salt and Ammunition

I remain Dr. Sir yr. most obedient Humble Servt      Jacob Bayley

N B. about 2000 Wt. flower brought from the Cohass (Coos) County upon Harper & 27 Head Cattle are gone on with the Troops to Tifts mills

Battle of Bemis Heights (Courtesy of southwilliamstown (dot) org)During his brief stay at Tulls Mills, Bayley heard the thunderous noise of cannon at Bemis Heights. The sounds of war had to instill fear and apprehension in his men. Some, no doubt, wanted to join the fight but others were content being a safe distance away. That night, all of them celebrated the defeat of the British at the Battle of Bemis Heights.

Sometime on October 8, 1777, Bayley received orders from General Fellows to march his men to Tifts Mills on Batten Kill. The British were in retreat and Gates wanted them to block an attempted crossing of the Hudson at Batten Kill. Just 100 New Hampshire militiamen were to remain at Tulls Mills. Knowing that more New Hampshire men were on the way, Bayley sent orders to St Croix to direct the new reinforcements straight to Tifts Mills instead of Tulls Mills.

A week later, the dreaded invasion of the British was all but finished. Restless New England militiamen sensed that the fight was over. They had chores to do before winter set in. Unimpressed by surrender formalities, many of them packed their gear and left for home. Between October 13 and the end of the month, New England militiamen disbursed, heading east, north and south. Their primary duty during the Saratoga Campaign was to reinforce continental units and protect property. They did this from staging areas near Stillwater and around Tifts Mills and Tulls Mills. Along with Stillwater, Schaghticoke became a memorable place for many men from Berkshire, Hampshire and Worchester Counties as well as those who came from Vermont and New Hampshire. As they departed, the militiamen couldn’t have known the importance of their service but undoubtedly never forgot the significance of the Schaghticoke rendezvous.

Illustrations: From above, map showing location of Schaghticoke (NYS Museum); a typical colonial mill (HABS/Library of Congress); British bridge of boats (National Archives); and “Assault on Balcarres Redoubt, October 7, 1777″ by Andy Thomas.

One thought on “Schaghticoke: An American Revolution Militia Rendezvous

  1. Chris

    Thank you SO much for this! My Revolutionary forebearers lived in Schaghticoke during the Revolution , and both father and young son served in the Fort in Albany (mainly guard duty). I’ve always wondered what part the town served in the War, especially as farther east in “Pownal” (nearer to or in Bennington) was mainly Loyalist. (Indeed, several of their cousins were Loyal and later “removed” to Canada.) Thanks for the well researched story!!

    Reply

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