The End Of The Iroquois


The guides were by no means acquainted with the country, mistook the road in the night, and at daybreak fell’in with … a few Indians, killed and scalped two, the rest fled. Two runners were immediately dispatched to me with the account and informed that the party were on their return. When the bridge was almost completed some of them came in and told us that Lieutenant Boid and men of his party were almost surrounded by the enemy; that the enemy had been discovering themselves before him for some miles; that his men had killed two and were eagerly pursuing the rest; but soon found themselves almost surrounded by three or four hundred Indians and rangers. Those of Mr. Boid’s men who were sent to secure his flanks fortunately made their escape; but he with fourteen of his party and the Oneida chief being in the center, were completely encircled. … It appears that … Mr. Boid was shot through the body, and his men all killed except one, who, with his wounded commander was made prisoner.

The bodies of Lieutenant Boyd and his sergeant, Michael Parker, were later found in a village, beheaded and horribly mangled.

Though Boyd had perhaps brought about his own death by exceeding his orders, he served the expeditionaries well. Brant and the Butlers had laid an ambush where the army’s new causeway emerged from the Conesus swamp and where the path led up a steep bluff beyond. The firing revealed the enemy’s position. Having lost the advantage of surprise, and being greatly outnumbered, Indians and Tories turned and fled westward, nor did they stop until they reached Niagara.

Sullivan now came to his goal, the Genesee country. This was and is a natural garden. In the riverside meadows the grass stood higher than a man’s head; the corn and vegetables were monstrous. The soldiers wrote ecstatic accounts in their diaries, and vowed someday to return. In the meantime they had their work of destruction to do. In the principal Indian village—over a hundred well-finished houses, “mostly very large and elegant,” standing a little southwest of the present Geneseo—they collected an immense quantity of corn and threw it into the river or packed it into the houses, which were then burned.

Colonel Brodhead and his supporting force never kept the rendezvous with Sullivan. After working his way north from Pittsburgh to the New York state line somewhere near the modern Olean, Brodhead had been obliged to turn back, largely because his men were literally barefoot.

Sullivan said later that at the Genesee he had contemplated pushing on to attack Niagara. It is surely fortunate for him that he did not. It was now September 15, the nights were chill, the men unprovided with blankets and clothing for an autumnal campaign. A siege of the French-built stone stronghold of Fort Niagara with three three-pounders and a coehorn, and very little ammunition, would have been mere folly. Caution, and the long delays on his road, preserved the General from such a venture. His mission, in any case, was now accomplished. He turned about and headed for his base, retracing his outward course and destroying villages neglected on the westward journey. At Kanadesaga he detached considerable bodies of men, one to lay waste the Indian settlements eastward to the Mohawk, others to raid both sides of Cayuga Lake and rejoin the main body by way of the site of Ithaca. They did their work well; at Aurora they destroyed 1,500 peach trees. (So they reported; but what Indians could have picked and consumed such a quantity of peaches?)


In Catherine’s Town the army found the old crone whom General Sullivan had befriended a month before. The kindly General presented her with a keg of pork and some biscuit. The favor “drew tears from her savage eyes,” but none from the indignant soldiers.

A few miles farther on, the pack horses, emerging from the long swamp, were in such bad condition that a hundred or so were shot. Later the Indians, following some rite or fancy, arranged the skulls along the path. To this day the village on the site is proudly named Horseheads. A sturdy cow that had made the whole campaign showed more stamina than the horses. To her “we are under infinite obligations for the great quantity of milk she afforded us,” wrote a Lieutenant Colonel Hubley.

On September 24 the army came out of the swamps and the wilderness to the fort erected in their absence on the site of Elmira. The men’s clothes were in rags, their feet half-bare and bleeding. As they approached the fort they were ordered to shave, to deck their hats with evergreen brandies, and to powder their hair. Since not an ounce of flour remained for hair powder, the commander of the fort sent out a horseload of it for their adornment.

At the fort General Sullivan decreed a triumphant feu de joie . The phrase baffled the soldier diarists, who rendered it as a “fudie joy,” a “futu u yoy,” or even a “future joy.” The men paraded in line from right to left and back again, and each in turn discharged his musket The cannon roared, and the General, plying whip and spur, galloped and curvetted the length of the line. Then five fat bullocks and five gallons of spirits were distributed, one to each brigade. The day closed “with civil mirth” and with appropriate toasts, such as “May the kingdom of Ireland merit a stripe in the American standard” and “May the enemies of America be metamorphosed into pack horses, and sent on a western expedition against the Indians.”