Continental Dragoons in the Schoharie Valley

The War Years (1775-1783)

August 12, 2013
by Gavin K. Watt Also by this Author


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Map of New York and New Jersey (1778). Homann Heirs' edition of Claude Joseph Sauthier celebrated map, containing a tremendous amount of information that appears for the first time on a printed map, particularly in the northern parts of New York. Sauthier notes that "the Mohawk Valley and County of Tryon are laid down according to an actual survey and other manuscripts generously communicated by Governor Pownall [the esteemed cartographer and former Massachusetts governor]. Source:
Map of New York and New Jersey (1778). Click to enlarge. Homann Heirs’ edition of Claude Joseph Sauthier celebrated map, containing a tremendous amount of information that appears for the first time on a printed map, particularly in the northern parts of New York. Sauthier notes that “the Mohawk Valley and County of Tryon are laid down according to an actual survey and other manuscripts generously communicated by Governor Pownall [the esteemed cartographer and former Massachusetts governor]. Source:
The strategy approved by King George and his government for the defeat of the American rebellion in 1777 was to invade upstate New York from Canada supported by a thrust up the Hudson River from British-occupied New York City. The Canadian attack was to have two prongs.

The first would have Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne lead some 8,000 Anglo and German troops south on Lake Champlain supported by a substantial train of artillery, hundreds of Canadiens and 900 native warriors. While on the lake, Burgoyne would be protected by a formidable flotilla that the year before had gained naval superiority. He was to reduce the fortifications at Ticonderoga and march to Albany where his army would be joined by a large detachment from General Sir William Howe’s (Commander-in-Chief America) garrison in New York City.

The second prong would be a small expedition led by Brigadier Barry St. Leger from Montreal. He would ascend the St. Lawrence River to Oswego and lay siege to Fort Stanwix on the upper Mohawk River. St. Leger would have four light artillery pieces, 250 British and 100 German infantrymen, 400 Provincials and 800 Iroquois and allied warriors. Once Stanwix succumbed, St. Leger would pacify the Mohawk Valley and recruit additional Provincials on his march to join Burgoyne at Albany.

The assumption behind this plan was that, once Burgoyne and Howe formed a junction at Albany, they would have effectively divided the rebellion in half, thus allowing it to be defeated in detail in a second campaign. The fact that Howe ignored the government’s instructions and instead campaigned in Pennsylvania is another issue altogether and beyond this article’s scope.


This article is a partial account of a Tory uprising in the Schoharie Valley which runs south of the Mohawk Valley near Schenectady, New York. This event occurred simultaneously with Burgoyne’s advance down the upper Hudson River and St. Leger’s siege of Fort Stanwix.

To place the uprising in a time frame – Burgoyne’s army had seized the forts at Ticonderoga on July 6 and, on August 9, Brunswick Colonel Baum began his ill-fated march of his German and Loyalist column towards Bennington, Vermont. By August 12, Burgoyne’s main army was at Fort Miller on the upper Hudson River.

On August 3, St. Leger had arrived at Stanwix and unsuccessfully summonsed the Continental defenders. Tryon County responded to the invasion by calling out its militia brigade which marched the next day to relieve Stanwix’s garrison. St. Leger received intelligence of the brigade’s approach and sent most of his warriors, with a body of light infantry, Jägers and rangers led by Sir John Johnson and John Butler, to cut it off. This blocking force performed admirably and the 800-man militia column was shattered on August 6 in a classic native ambush at Oriskany.

After the repulse of the Tryon militia, loyalist elements in the Schoharie Valley region decided to take action to support St. Leger in the expectation of joining his troops as they marched through the Mohawk Valley.

A show of force had been secretly planned for several months by three prominent Tories. Spanish John McDonell farmed along the Charlotte River in southern Tryon with many other Scottish emigrants. Their allegiance was to Sir William Johnson, who had been their sponsor and mentor for the immigration, and Johnson’s family were strong supporters of the established government. Spanish John had been chosen by Sir William’s son, Sir John Johnson, as a captain of his embryonic royalist regiment that he had been clandestinely raising, but McDonell had been unable to escape to Canada when Sir John was forced to take flight. Spanish John continued to recruit his company and it was these men that he would lead into the Schoharie Valley.

Adam Crysler was a prominent Schoharie mill owner and a firm friend of the local natives who were a sept of the Mohawks. Crysler had also established a network of recruiting and was expecting to be joined by McDonell at the appropriate time.

The third loyalist was more subtle, perhaps timid, than McDonell or Crysler. George Mann, the owner of a large brick tavern, was a militia captain of the local 15th Albany County regiment. His plan was to lie low and declare his position at the exact moment of the uprising, then literally drag his militia company into supporting the Crown.


One of the more fascinating aspects of this little affair is the participation of a troop of Continental Cavalry. When the uprising broke out in the Valley, Colonel John Harper, a southern Tryon landowner and firm supporter of the cause of independence, set out from the Whigs’ tiny refuge, a stone house christened “Fort Defyance.” He rode to Albany to request assistance, but the Whig authorities were overwhelmed by Burgoyne’s approach and offered no help. Yet, Harper persuaded a troop of Sheldon’s Second Continental Light Dragoons to divert to aid Schoharie. It is their incisive intervention that quelled the uprising. This small action is said to be the first instance of United States Cavalry fighting Indians, and here our story begins.

August 13, 1777

Mann’s Tavern, Schoharie, NY. Courtesy of Irmgard Buess.

On Wednesday morning, the loyalists camped at Mann’s Tavern were paraded to hear a loyal oration from Captain Mann,[1] but his tirade was cut short by the startling notes of a buglehorn[2] as Dragoons thundered into the tavern’s yard with sabres drawn. The Tories were overawed by the blaring horn and flashing naked steel. Mann ran off to save his skin, which did nothing to sustain his men’s spirits.

The Dragoons’ impetuous French adventurer/leader, Captain Jean-Louis De Vernejoux, delivered a threatening rebuke in broken English. Mann’s cowed wife declared she had no idea about her husband’s whereabouts. The recently-gilded Tories, many of whom had been coerced into taking a loyal oath, were pardoned for their actions and quickly removed their red cockades. Those of stronger convictions were carefully guarded.

The tavern and grounds were thoroughly searched and troopers ran sabres through the hay in the barrack. While these activities were underway, David Ogeyonda, an unsuspecting Schoharie Indian, rode up to the tavern with a message from McDonell and was quickly secured.

The Dragoons then mounted up and rode a short distance east to Snyder’s public house where they rested their mounts and took refreshment. Word of the cavalry’s arrival had flashed through the valley and many Whigs who had hidden from Mann arrived bearing arms to join the turncoat loyalists. Colonel Harper assumed command of all the locals. Their meal finished, the Troop remounted and set off for Fort Defyance, six miles to the south.[3]


That morning, McDonell marched northwards. As the loyalists and natives progressed up the road, they burned the properties of Whigs who had opposed the call to the King’s arms. This reprisal was halted when a fugitive from the debacle at Mann’s tavern arrived with news of the rebel cavalry. It was decided to retire to Crysler’s property where a good defence could be established in the low, swampy ground in front of the house.[4]

The loyalists’ disappointment at this turn of events must have been palpable. Not only were they denied Mann’s support, but no word had come about Sir John Johnson’s advance through the Mohawk Valley, nor from the three other groups of loyalists they had expected to join them. Their small party was on its own.


De Vernejoux had the bit in his teeth. His dragoons trotted down the road towards Fort Defyance with the militiamen jogging to keep up. Ogeyonda was secured to a Dragoon by a thong around his wrist. About three miles below Mann’s, the party came to a swamp where the Indian slipped his bonds and sprinted into the bog. De Vernejoux ordered the wetland surrounded; his troopers swiftly obeyed his instructions while the sweating militiamen searched the swamp.

Ogeyonda was seen running among clumps of alder toward the Schoharie River. A dragoon spurred forward and put a pistol ball in his back. De Vernejoux ordered a militiaman to finish the fugitive off, but when he pulled the trigger, his musket misfired. Damning militia arms, the Frenchman drew a pistol, but it misfired. Ogeyonda had been calmly staring at his foes, but turned away while they fumbled with their arms. Yet, another pistol snapped. A fourth gun was levelled and a ball thudded into the man’s head. The troopers’ blood was up and they hacked at the body with their sabres.

Preceded by the trumpeter’s raucous horn, the column clattered up to Fort Defyance. The tiny Whig garrison was overjoyed. The Tory prisoners were pushed up a ladder onto the roof and two guards set. Soon, a woman was seen approaching and De Vernejoux motioned her forward. She fled in an awkward run and two troopers were sent after her. Local men recognized her as an eccentric of the Staats family and, when questioned by a militia officer, she said McDonell had many men at Swart’s place and would soon march on the stone house and capture it.

Now, the Whigs hesitated. Men were ordered to break-up fences to build a breastwork, but this work was scarcely begun when the officers decided their strength must match the Tories and they should advance. The dragoons and militia marched to Swart’s only to discover that the Tories had decamped.[5] Realization dawned that the Staats woman had been a ploy to buy McDonell time for an orderly retreat.

De Vernejoux visualized catching the Tories fleeing along the road – an ideal opportunity for a classic cavalry action. With no time to be lost, he pushed the Troop forward, quickly outdistancing his militia infantry. The dragoons crossed the Schoharie River and pounded up the west shore road towards Crysler’s place.

When the troopers arrived at Crysler’s, there was no sign of the Tories and Indians, who were cunningly hidden in the swamp’s undergrowth below the slope in front of the homestead. This wetland gave the skirmish its name, ‘die Flache’ or the Flockey.

A crashing volley sprang the ambush and unhorsed five riders.[6] De Vernejoux, an experienced combat officer, rallied his men and ordered them to charge before the enemy could reload. The Trumpeter blew the Charge and the dragoons spurred off the road and through the stream and bog. As they drove forward, Tories and natives leapt from cover and surged up the slope through the rushes and bushes, their flight goading the cavalrymen who hurtled towards the fleeing men, firing pistols and brandishing sabres.

Suddenly, McDonell’s concealed second line fired and emptied another ten saddles. A Dragoon lieutenant was taken down by a Tory marksman.[7] In the confusion of panicked horses, the Tories and natives ran for the woods where they knew the cavalry would have difficulty manoeuvring. In this rush, Spanish John abandoned his personal baggage.[8] Although a few of the retreating men may have offered some desultory fire, the Tory uprising was over.


Contemporary records make no mention of Tory casualties or prisoners taken at the Flockey. Crysler stated that the Tories and natives had “killed one, wounded three men and nine of their Light Horse.”[9] Whig sources noted the lieutenant’s death and the wounding of two other troopers, one of whom died three days later.[10] Crysler must have thought that every empty saddle represented a casualty without considering that men were often unhorsed in combat because of startled or wounded animals. Nonetheless, this meagre accounting of casualties suggests that Spanish John’s tactics had outwitted the impetuous de Vernejoux.

One of McDonell’s Scotsmen recalled that the loyalists had “beat off” the “American Light Horse;”[11] two other Scots agreed the cavalry had been driven off.[12] If so, the affair was a perfect example of winning a skirmish and losing a campaign – for the uprising had fizzled.


Crysler noted that “a great shower of rain” prevented an immediate pursuit.[13] By the time the Dragoons reformed, the Tories were deep in the forest.

A Whig report said the troopers pursued the Tories for a time. As the retreat had been so precipitous, stragglers might be found and Crysler’s outbuildings were searched, but it was too risky for a prolonged search in the woods where ambushes were easily laid. When darkness fell, the dragoons yearned for a rest after their all night ride from Albany and the exertions of the day.


At Mann’s tavern that evening, a young Whig militiaman remained on guard in case the Tory captain returned. When a sudden downpour started, he took shelter under the hay barrack’s roof and was shocked to discover the very man he had been ordered to capture or kill, who begged for mercy. The youngster was confused. Just days before, he had been a family friend. Recognizing the lad’s confusion, Mann scrambled down and ran off. The boy recovered his wits and fired at the disappearing Tory, but missed.[14]


[1] Stone, William L., Life of Brant (2 Vols, Brant, I, 315.

[2] Hayes, John T. The French Horn at the Flockey (Ft. Lauderdale: Saddlebag Press, 1984) 24. The trumpeter possibly carried a French horn-style of instrument. Note the scrimshawed powder horn illustrating a French horn in the hands of a light horseman in Peterson, Harold L. The Book of the Continental Soldier (Harrisburg: Stackpole, 1968) 194.

[3] Simms, Jeptha History of Schoharie County, and the Border Wars of New York… (Albany: Munsell & Tanner, 1845) 245.

[4] Loyalist Narratives From Upper Canada [Crysler Journal], James J. Talman, ed. (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1946) 57.

[5] Simms, Schoharie, 248.

[6] Hayes, 30.

[7] The marksman was named Marcus Sheafer, later a grenadier in McDonell’s company of grenadiers. Cruikshank, Ernest A. & Watt, Gavin K., The History and Master Roll of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York (Milton, ON: Global Heritage Press, 2006) 256; Simms, Schoharie, 248. “one Shafer, a royalist” shot Lieutenant Wirt of the Dragoons.

[8] New York State Library, Mss and Special Collections, Jacob Abbott Collection: ALS BA9691: 363. [McDougall letter] Provides a full transcript of McDougalls’ letter to John McDonald [i.e. McDonell.)

[9] Crysler Journal, 57. Does Crysler’s oddly worded summary mean that the militia took three casualties, or were those three of the independent French adventurers collected by Harper in Albany? Whig sources do not mention any militia casualties; Hayes, 38. Three wounded men of the 2nd Troop were in hospital in Albany on 27Aug77. They were likely Flockey casualties.

[10] Simms, Schoharie, 248; Strength report of the 2nd Troop, 2nd Light Dragoons, 27Aug77. Gates Papers, New-York Historical Society, Ms Department.

[11] Monroe, John D. Chapters in the History of Delaware County New York (Delaware County Historical Association, 1949) 121. From Hugh Fraser’s petition to the British government.

[12] Monroe, 66.

[13] Crysler Journal, 57.

[14] Stone, Brant, I, 316-17&317fn. After a period of exile in a local cave, Mann returned home; Simms, Schoharie, 249-50.

A complete account of these events may be found in Gavin K. Watt, The Flockey, 13 August 1777 – The Defeat of the Tory uprising in the Schoharie Valley (Milton, ON: Global Genealogy Press, 2013)


  • Sometime during the day on October 15, 1777 Captain Jean Louis de Vernejoux disappeared from the American camp around Saratoga. The French commander had never impressed Horatio Gates as being much more than a dandy, and there was probably not much to be done when a foreign volunteer decided to seek more comfortable quarters for the coming cold weather. Gates simply added this to his long list of annoyances that would need attention in the coming days. But given his performance in the Schoharie Valley it seems odd to me that de Vernejoux would have just gone AWOL. Where does he turn up next?

    1. He really doesn’t turn up again, except in orders for his arrest. By October of 1777 Lt. Seymour had been officially promoted to Captain and put in command of the Troop. I’ve never come across any other mention of de Vernejoux in connection with the Continentals after that date.

  • I am surprised to see Jeptha Simms’ “History of Schoharie County” (1845)and William L. Stone’s “Life of Joseph Brant” (1838) as sources. Both of these 19th century writers are known to promote legend and myth over fact. Legitimate primary sources would have been far more satisfying and convincing. Interesting topic.

    1. I agree entirley with Hugh Harrington’s comment. Simms and even Stone’s works are to be consulted with care; however, this by no means suggests they should be ignored. If used with care, they still have much to offer. And, let’s face it, primary sources are not always available, nor do they contain some of the “little bits” of history.

  • Hi Gavin, welcome to this site, Todd and company do a great job with all things Rev War. Great article, enjoyed it much.

  • Hi Hugh, I would be more inclined to go with Simms however both tried getting the story out there the best they could with what they had. Simms Frontiersmen of NY published in the 1880’s is better as he corrects some things from his Schoharie book. I myself prefer Lossing from that era.

    1. Thanks for the compliments, Brian. Be careful about Lossing. I heard from multiple historians recently that Lossing is an unreliable source. Lots of legend and lore through him. All this may be the inspiration for a great article or list about the most reliable 19th century sources on the American Revolution.

    2. Hi Brian,
      Simms later book “The Frontiersmen of New York Showing Customs
      of the Indians, Vicissitudes of the Pioneer White Settlers, and Border
      Strife in Two Wars, With a Great Variety of Romantic and Thrilling
      Stories Never Before Published,” vol. 2, Albany, NY, George C. Riggs,
      Publisher, 1883,isn’t any better than his Schoharie book. Note in the title “Romantic and Thrilling Stories Never Before Published”…that’s a clue. Stick with the primary sources whenever possible. If you haven’t seen it you may find my article on Timothy Murphy of interest – Simms and Stone appear there. Glad you’re enjoying Journal of the American Revolution.

      1. And we should always remember that even primary sources may be biased and that history is an interpretation with various perspectives.

  • I enjoy articles like this that cover lesser known aspects of the War in an enjoyable style. As a New Yorker I’ve been fascinated by the clash among Loyalist, Rebel and tribes of the Iroquois League in upstate NY west of the Hudson. As with some battles in the South in 1778 and beyond, conflicts like this one had no Redcoats in sight and point out the harsh confrontations of colonials. The article mentions William Johnson. Anyone interested in this period should read about this unique British aristocrat and the impact he had in establishing the Tory influence and strength in the Mohawk region.

    1. Well put Steve, as Johnson had a great level of influence on the region in the decades prior to the Revolution. One could argue as well that the ideals of liberty were also set by the feudalistic approach to much of the settlement along the Mohawk and Hudson – that the manner in which they were settled as encouragement of immigrants whom may have fled oppressive homelands could be counter to this however. While there may have been more loyalty to the Johnson family and subordinates as well as a way of life than a cause. Perhaps, and a conjecture at best that I am sure Mr. Watt or others could elaborate further on, those of the Palatine settlements or even Irish (as Johnson himself) would have cause to question authoritative domain from a distant monarchy.
      Also, consideration to the political spectrum, strife with the DeLancy faction, etc. in loyalties of the valley.
      So far as Tory factions within the valley, resentment of the disruption of the status quo by upstart “rebels” played out much like it would throughout the colonies. How much of this civil war was about ideology? How much was it about economics or social and political control?

  • Hi Todd and Hugh,
    I agree with you both, Simms, Lossing, etc. used a lot of myth and primary sources should always be used when researching this subject. Thank you both for your work here and look forward to the book in November.

  • Gavin,

    Good to hear the other side’s views. Capt Dej. returned to France on leave and later died of an illness. It is believed he may have had consumption.
    He did not get on well with major Tallmadge who states he ran away but other documents from the Colonel seem to support him being sent home. Remember in war the truth usually lies somewhere in between the two sides.

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