HOW A MADMAN HELPED
SAVE THE COLONIES

August 22, 1777. The militia had marched and been defeated. Behind the stockades of the New York frontier, many widows wept, not for their dead husbands only but for their still living children. The invader, Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger of His Majesty's Thirty-Fourth Foot, did not lead a civilized army; his troops were largely cruel Iroquois. In star-shaped Fort Stanwix on the banks of the Mohawk a few militiamen remained in arms, but a tunnel dug under the direction of British engineers approached the mud walls to the sound of scalping knives being sharpened. Casting around for a source of hope, the settlers found no comfort in the fact that Hon Yost Schuyler, a half-insane Tory in feathers, was raving by the hostile council fires.

Three weeks before, the fort's 750 defenders had watched 800 Tories and British regulars and roughly a thousand Indians surround the wilderness clearing in which Stanwix stood. That night great shadows of primeval trees, thrown by a hundred campfires, flickered and interwove. If, as a patriot looked over the walls, his head was silhouetted against one of the encircling fires, muskets cracked.

At the present site of Rome, New York, but then far beyond the confines of ordinary settlement, Stanwix guarded a wilderness entry to the embattled colonies. Northward ran Wood Creek, the narrow water- course through almost unbroken forest down which St. Leger had traveled from Canada; eastward the Mohawk stretched 110 miles to Albany and the populous Hudson Valley.

For a century and a half, settlement on the Mohawk had been impeded by the Iroquois nations that were now besieging Stanwix. The few villages huddled around stockades into which the inhabitants could flee with their cattle when war whoops sounded. Yet mansions stood by themselves surrounded with ornamental grounds, for the great families

____________________
An earlier version of this essay appeared in American Heritage, 7, No. 2 ( February 1956), 26-30, 101.

-229-

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