In Upstate New York, few tragedies have the cache of the death of Jane McCrea. In the summer of 1777, British armies were pressing southward through New York to Albany, with the goal of dividing the rebellious colonies.
On July 27, 1777 a young woman named Jane McCrea was killed in the vicinity of Fort Edward. There are conflicting stories about what happened, but most accuse Ottawa or Mohawk allies of Burgoyne in her death.
The murder of the young Loyalist bride changed the public perceptions of the war. General Gates wrote Burgoyne a scathing letter. Sir Edmund Burke, a Whig member of British Parliament, used the tragedy to rail against the Crown’s policies regarding its Indian allies.
The murder of Jane McCrea became propaganda against the British, who had claimed they would protect Loyalists from the violence of the Revolution. McCrea’s murder inspired New Yorkers to take up the Patriot cause and helped grow the ranks of the Continental Army, at a time when desertion was otherwise high. This rush of enlistments would contribute to the victories of the Saratoga Campaign.
Jane’s body was buried near Fort Edward. It would be moved several times before reaching its current resting place in Fort Edward’s Union Cemetery.
Illustration: John Vanderlyn’s “The Death of Jane McCrea,” described as “a classic depiction of American attitudes toward Indian savagery.”