ePub 版

for a reason too sadly sufficient. Subsequent to the vattle of Oriskany, the entire settled portion of Tryon County, embracing within its original limits the country from Schenectady west, had been devastated by the raids of Indians and Tories; nearly every member of the Committee of Safety was either dead or in prison. The paralysis of despair and desolation had fallen upon the unhappy Mohawk Valley, whose citizens suffered more cruelly and continuously for their patriotism than the inhabitants of any other equally extended section of the Thirteen Colonies.

When such duties are not at once performed, they are generally neglected altogether. As the Mohawk Valley slowly recuperated from the effects of seven years of border warfare, her citizens passed on to new interests born of welcome peace. Pushing settlers from the New England States flocked into the valley in great numbers, and their influence rapidly dominated in the settlement. The body of Nicholas Herkimer had been buried in the family cemetery at Danube, and there it was safe if not forgotten. The action of the Continental Congress was certainly forgotten, and remained so for nearly fifty years. The story of its re-discovery is interesting, and I think the credit of it belongs to the late Judge William W. Campbell, of Cherry Valley, whose “ Annals of Tryon County,” published in 1831, was the pioneer of many subsequent efforts to gather into the form of recorded and authenticated history the story of the sufferings and the heroism of the Revolutionary dwellers in the Mohawk Valley. In a personal letter to the writer, dated October 5, 1878, Judge Campbell relates how he gathered the materials for his book by traveling up and down the valley, and calling personally upon the survivors of the war time. Their reminiscences comprise the bulk of the “ Annals”; Major John Frey, the last chairman of the Tryon County Committee of Safety, was still living, and in his attic, in an old corn basket filled with papers, Judge Campbell came upon the original copy of the Resolution of Congress, with the letter of Governor Clinton above alluded to. He does not state in what year he discovered these documents; it was probably previous to 1827, in which year Governor De Witt Clinton, in his annual message to the Legislature, called the attention of that body to the fact that it was the year of the semi-centennial anniversary of the battle of Oriskany. He quoted the Continental resolution, eulogized the character and services of General Herkimer, and urged the Legislature to take steps for the erection of the long-neglected memorial. A select committee was appointed and a bill drafted, which passed the Senate but failed in the Lower House. In his next and last annual message, Governor Clinton again directed the legislative attention to this subject. Again a special committee was appointed, which again reported a bill, which again failed. This bill provided for the erection of a monument at or near the place of General Herkimer's interment, proposed the names of three commissioners to supervise its erection, with power to determine its form, size, and inscription, and appropriated a blank sum of money for its erection.

Here the matter rested for another twenty years, without a single effort being made, so far as can be discovered, to carry out the resolve of Congress. In the year 1844, the Democrats showed a shrewd appreciation of the love of the dramatic in the people by arranging a great Polk mass meeting on the battle-field of Oriskany, to which the country people flocked in thousands from all the section round about. Thus a little of the fragrance of history was thrown into politics. In 1846, Judge Campbell was elected a member of the Twenty-ninth Congress from New York City. During his term of office he made a strenuous effort to secure a redemption from Congress of the pledge of 1777. At his suggestion the New York Historical Society sent a petition to Washington, asking for a fulfillment of the pledge. Judge Campbell presented it, and the committee to which the subject was referred made a unanimous report in favor of the appropriation of a sum four-fold the original amount specified, for the erection of the Herkimer monument. Judge Campbell, in the letter already referred to describes the manner of the failure of the measure which lay so near his heart. “There were in the House," he writes, “so many Representatives who were interested in having honors paid to colonels and majors and captains of the Revolution, that the amendments proposed sent the bill over, and it was finally lost, loaded down and swallowed up in a great maelstrom of unfinished business. We had at that time another war on our hands, that with Mexico, and that in a measure caused forgetfulness of duty to heroes of the past.” So time rolled on, and the brave hero of Oriskany slept on in his unnoticed grave for thirty years longer. The approach of the centennial year brought with it that memorable and most gratifying revival of interest in the Revolutionary history of the United States, which led to the magnificent series of centennial celebrations, beginning in New York at Kingston, where was celebrated the birth of the independent empire State, including Oriskany, Bemis Heights, Saratoga, Cherry Valley, Elmira, Newburgh, and culminating only recently in New York City, by the unveiling of a noble statue of Washington upon the spot where he took the oath of office as the First President of the United States.


The celebration of Oriskany occurred upon the precise spot where that sanguinary conflict was fought, and was attended by the largest gathering of people ever assembled in Central New York. The celebration was arranged and conducted by the Oneida Historical Society, an organization formed in the previous year largely through the stimulus of the approach of this anniversary, and which remains to-day one of the most vigorous, enthusiastic, and successful of the historical societies of the State. A complete account of the proceedings of the celebration appears in the publications of the Oneida Historical Society, and in the volume of “Centennial Celebrations,” published by the State of New York in 1880.

This celebration was of immense service in many ways to the cause of American historical research. It led to the gathering up of the scattered and tangled threads of authority which establish the true and pivotal importance of the battle of Oriskany, in achieving the discomfiture of Burgoyne's splendid scheme for the dismemberment of the Central Colony of New York. It directed public attention to the careless and indifferent manner in which the early records of the Mohawk Valley were preserved; it placed the Oneida Historical Society upon a firm foundation as a competent and valuable receptacle and guardian of documents and data relating to that history, and the whole record of the origin, progress and development of Central New York, and finally it set the ball in motion, which kept moving until at last this graceful and permanent monument marks and dedicates the spot where was exemplified the spirit and the purpose which lie at the root of American institutions, and which afford us the guarantee of their perpetuity. It remains to record the successive steps by which the funds for the Oriskany monument were secured ; to describe it briefly, and to allude to some of the curious historical questions that have been brought to light in consequence of its erection.

The first president of the Oneida Historical Society was ex-Governor Horatio Seymour, whose portrait forms the frontispiece of this Number of the Magazine. He has been continued in that office from year to year since 1876, and to his efforts and influence chiefly are due the Oriskany monument. Immediately after the Oriskany celebration, the Oneida Historical Society appointed a special committee, consisting of John F. Seymour, Alexander Seward, S. G. Visscher, Charles W. Hutchinson and S. N. D. North, to procure the funds and supervise the erection of a monument upon the battlefield of Oriskany. This committee, working under the direction and inspiration of the president of the society, resolved, if possible, to secure the redemption of the pledge of the Continental Congress. Hon. William J. Bacon, then member of Congress from the Oneida district, and one of the vice-presidents of the society, introduced a bill appropriating $4,100 for the Oriskany monument. The sum fixed upon was the original $500 pledged, with simple interest reckoned to the date of the introduction of the bill--one hundred and three years. The bill failed in that Congress, but in the next, when Hon. Cyrus D. Prescott represented the Oneida district, the bill passed, very largely because of the aid and sympathy of Hon. Anson G. McCook, the chairman of the Military Committee of the House. In the meanwhile, private subscriptions had been secured to the amount of several thousand dollars. One subscription list, especially compelling notice on account of its originator, and which aggregated one thousand dollars, was almost exclusively composed of one dollar subscriptions from residents in the Mohawk Valley, whose ancestors had participated in the battle of Oriskany. It was collected by that devoted student of Mohawk Valley history, the late Jephtha R. Simms, of Fort Plain, a worthy disciple of Judge Campbell and Nathaniel Benton, in gathering and publishing the Revolutionary chronicles of the valley. Mr. Simms was not a man of the broadest culture, and his “ History of Schoharie County and Border Warfare in New York,' first published in 1845, which he expanded into the two large volumes entitled “The Frontiersmen of New York,” the last published after his death, is full of defects from a literary point of view, but fuller still of value as a conservatory of the personal experiences of the pioneers of the valley. Mr. Simms had the erection of a monument to General Herkimer near at heart for a quarter of a century before there appeared any probability of its consummation. He abandoned with reluctance the original idea of erecting it at the grave of the hero in Danube; but the committee acknowledges an indebtedness to him and an encouragement from his enthusiasm, second to that of no other.

In the meanwhile, Governor Seymour and others, recalling the earlier acknowledgment of a duty on the part of the State to aid in the building of a monument to Herkimer, appealed again to the Legislature, and at the session of 1882 secured the passage of an act appropriating $3,000 for the monument, to be available whenever the treasurer of the Oneida Historical Society should certify to the Controller that an equal amount for the same purpose had been raised by private subscription. This certificate it was possible to make in April, 1882. Thus an aggregate of $10,100 was secured, representing the combined generosity of nation, State and individuals; and with this sum the committee undertook to construct the monument. The Legislature of 1882 also passed an act donating to the society for monument purposes, the limestone taken from the weigh lock of the Erie canal at Utica, which was removed by the State in the summer of that year. There was enough of this limestone to build the foundations of the monument and to complete the entire shaft.

A plot of four acres of ground was purchased as a site and to form hereafter a monument park. The formation of the country singularly facilitated the plan to locate the monument upon the precise ground over which the Oriskany battle was fought. It adorns a knoll which is the highest point of ground in the neighborhood, within easy access of the public highway, and overlooking the Erie canal and the New York Central Railroad. The wilderness road, almost unbroken except for an occasional corduroy across a swamp, along which the straggling columns of Herkimer's rustic militia passed with fatal disregard to discipline, has become the highway of a nation's traffic and travel. Millions of American eyes will rest each year upon the monument which recalls the story of what it cost to keep the valley free. The site of the monument is west of the second of two ravines, in the first of which the ambuscade into which the Tryon County militia fell is believed to have hidden. The battle surged to and fro over considerable ground, and the fiercest of it is known to have occurred at this spot. The exact place where General Herkimer sat upon

« 上一頁繼續 »