Ballston Raid of 1780: Military Operation or a Time to Settle Old Scores

The First Settlement at Ballston, from William L. Stone, Reminiscences of Saratoga and Ballston (New York: Virtue & Yorston, 1875)

Around 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 17, 1780, four year old Melinda Gordon, asleep in bed with her parents Lt. Col. James Gordon, the local militia commander, and his wife Mary, was abruptly awakened by loud noises.  Melinda later recalled,

We were awakened by the breaking of both the windows in the room and looking up saw a number of muskets with bayonets protruding into the room.  My father arose and in his shirt, went to the hall and opening [the door] he found the hall filled with armed men and Indians.  As he opened it, a large Indian lifted his tomahawk and as it was descending, his arm was caught by Munro or Frazer (I forget which.)  My father was well acquainted with both of them and had befriended them.  He was then led out of the door and put under guard, – one Langdon had charge of him.  The Indians, male and female … commenced pillaging.[1]

Old neighbors and acquaintances, displaced voluntarily or otherwise from their homes, livelihoods and families by a raw and unforgiving civil war, had returned.

The Ballston Raid of 1780 was one of three coordinated raids launched primarily out of Canada in late September 1780 which struck upstate New York targets in Albany, Tryon, and Charlotte counties.  Subsequent to the failed British campaigns of Brig. Gen. Barry St. Leger and Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne in 1777, the war in New York State above the Hudson River Highlands for the next two years was a limited conflict fought primarily on the state’s western frontier south of the Mohawk River.

In 1780 the tempo of British military operations in upstate New York increased significantly.  Beginning with an Indian raid on Little Falls in the upper Mohawk Valley on March 15, a near monthly succession of British incursions would roil the Mohawk, Schoharie, upper Hudson and Champlain valleys until late October.  Despite the fact that the bulk of Britain’s military might shifted south in 1778 searching for that elusive decisive victory, more upstate New Yorkers would find themselves in greater direct peril in 1780 than when St. Leger and Burgoyne plodded with their armies through the wilderness in 1777. As a result of these British incursions, the borders of New York’s western and northern frontier would, by the end of the year, contract uncomfortably close to Schenectady and Albany.

This series of attacks has been viewed as daring and remarkable.  While they were for the most part well executed, the risks to the raiders were no more exceptional than faced by most military operations, and the odds for success lay strongly in favor of the British.

One of the British advantages was the element of surprise.  They were able to pick when and where they would strike.  The New York western and northern frontiers were large, thinly settled and extremely porous.  In the Mohawk Valley individual settlers and settlements were scattered, generally in pockets, over 4000 square miles.[2]  The Ballston raiding party operated in an area surrounding their target of over 400 square miles.[3]  Most of the territory traversed by these raiding parties was heavily wooded and inhabited by few people.  This allowed large numbers of men to remain undetected for long periods of time and was extremely difficult to protect.

A second advantage was local intelligence and assistance.  While the number of Loyalists across New York State has been estimated at a mere fifteen percent in 1776, in the Mohawk Valley and north of Ballston significant pockets of Tories resided.[4]  Around Johnstown there was a community of “contumacious Scotchmen” numbering several hundred individuals who were steadfastly loyal to the powerful Johnson family, whose fortunes were inextricably tied to the Crown.

John Munro (Wikimedia Commons)

Not only did these British incursions often operate in areas where they could expect local support and assistance, frequently the raiding parties were comprised of individuals who once lived in the very areas that became targets of attack.  When Sir John Johnson returned to wreak havoc in the Mohawk (his former home) and Schoharie valleys in the fall of 1780, Johnson and a number of his men knew well the area they were attacking and their victims.  Capt. John Munro’s command, which struck Ballston, also included former displaced residents of the area.

Another significant factor which favored British chances in these raids was the inherent reactive nature of the Patriot’s defense. This reactive defense was born from the hard realities that throughout the war New York did not have the military manpower, provisions or equipment to consistently keep an adequate number of dedicated troops stationed in these frontier settlements.

The state’s primary defense force was its local militias. Levies, Continentals, and associated exempts augmented the militias to varying degrees.  Abraham Yates, Jr., member of the New York State senate, wrote on July 20, 1780 to Gov. George Clinton, “the militia is the force of the frontiers as well as the levies.”[5]  The militias were citizen soldiers “called out when wanted; kept as long as wanted, and the soldiers then sent to their homes.”[6]  As a part-time force with a “day job”, militiamen tended not to want to be away from their homes for great lengths of time.  Yates keenly observed,

I have found by experience, that whenever the frontiers are attacked one [militiaman] from another place is worth two [local men]; they have not the same cares for their family or effects and as such they have a different and a more resolute way of thinking and acting ….[7]

Also limiting their effectiveness, the Patriot regiments were often parceled out as detachments, reducing their ability to fight large raiding parties.  These smaller detachments would frequently be used to man frontier forts which were found in most of the larger settlements.  When garrisoned, most forts did not contain enough men to fight a sizable raiding party outside of their walls.[8]  Forts could protect people; they could not protect farms and most of a settlement’s property.

Upstate New York Patriots had a general idea of the dangers they faced in 1780.  Within the first two weeks of April, urgent, pleading letters began to pile up on Gov. George Clinton’s desk regarding the imminent peril casting a shadow on the state’s northern and western frontiers.  Tryon County Militia Col. Jacob Klock in a letter dated April 5 wrote to Continental Col. Goose Van Schaick in Albany,

Last Monday the 3d Instant about Forty of the Enemy broke out at Remsnyder’s Bush and took Nineteen of our People Prisoners and burnt a Mill.  The same Day seven more of them made their Appearance at Sackandaga Block house … Us and Remsnyder’s Bush People moves all away (except a few that lives in a Fort there where I have kept a small Guard).  Therefore, if we don’t get People soon to assist us here we cannot pretend to stand it. [9]

On April 15, militia Gen. Abraham Ten Broeck wrote the governor, “the Situation [on the Northern and Western Frontiers was] truly distressing.”  He wanted to send some of his brigade to the frontier “but I am unhappy to inform your Excellency that there is a real Scarcity of Provisions in this Quarter.[10]

Colonel Van Schaick the same day sent the governor a letter summing up the difficulties facing the frontier and lamenting the fact that succor could not be sent due to “want of provision.”  The colonel told the governor, “the Purchasing Commissarys in this quarter, have not during the course of last Winter been enabled to purchase provision for the want of money, nor are they yet for the want of money, enabled to lay in supplies ….”[11]

As New Yorkers fretted about their frontier safety, plans for Sir John Johnson’s first raid into his Mohawk Valley homeland in 1780 were underway.  In late May Johnson with a party of over 500 regulars, loyalists and Indians successfully attacked the settlements and areas surrounding Caughnawaga and Johnstown.  It would not be long before they would return to the valleys.

Sir Frederick Haldimand (Wikimedia Commons)

Pressure was being applied to upstate New York, and it would continue.  The individual primarily responsible for bringing that pressure to bear resided in the Chateau St. Louis in Quebec.  His official title was Captain General and Governor in Chief in and Over Our Province of Quebec in America.[12]  Swiss born Lt. Gen. Frederick Haldimand landed in Quebec on June 26, 1778 to take over command of the province.[13]

Haldimand, an under-valued British commander during the Revolution, was familiar with service in North America.  He had fought and seen duty in upstate New York and Quebec during the French and Indian War, including a useful stint at Fort Edward where part of his duties included commanding Robert Rogers and his rangers.[14]  In 1773 and 1774 Haldimand became acting commander-in-chief in New York during Thomas Gage’s absence and rose to second in command when Gage arrived in Boston in June 1774.[15]

A modern assessment of Haldimand notes,

He was not only an energetic and forceful personality, but a wisely intelligent and generous one, and his knowledge in his own profession was equaled by his knowledge of men.  He promptly executed boldly-conceived plans, and an unusual capacity for work made it possible for him to be well informed on all aspects of a question.[16]

That generous view of the general is offset by another historian who opined,

From the viewpoint of officers in provincial corps, [Guy] Carleton was the more sympathetic superior.  Haldimand viewed most provincials with misgivings and suspicion…he [Carleton] placed more confidence in the abilities of colonials than did his successor, Gen. Frederick Haldimand.[17]

The latter assessment proves limited given Haldimand’s extensive military use of Loyalist leaders and troops in his operations against New York.  His robust secret service network, which was very active in New York and the New Hampshire Grants, was primarily run and carried out by Loyalists.  While the constant bickering amongst Loyalist commands may have tried his patience, Haldimand masterfully used his provincial assets to great effect.[18]

An important part of Haldimand’s strategy was to keep upstate New York off balance and in constant turmoil.  This was in part to tie up as many troops in northern New York as possible so they would not be available to assist against the major British military efforts in the south and to lessen the chances for a second American attempt to take Canada.  In a January 31, 1780 letter to Sir Henry Clinton, Haldimand shared some of his thinking with the commander-in-chief,

Upon hearing that the Enemy were collecting Troops, and calling together the Militia to Reinforce Mr. Washington, I sent out a strong scout towards Albany to alarm that Frontier and distress the Country … the officer who commanded reported that he had destroyed great Quantities of grain, horses, cows & stock of all kinds.  Scouts are continually kept out for the same purposes.[19]

Creating “alarm” and causing “distress” on New York’s western and northern frontiers guided Haldimand’s actions throughout 1780.

Following Sir John Johnson’s May raid into the Mohawk valley, the next major opportunity to bleed the New York frontiers offered itself up in August.  An August 21 letter from Johnson to Haldimand set the wheels in motion for a return to the valleys.  Johnson wrote,

A Party sent to the Mohawk River is also returned with fifteen recruits, they would have brought off more, but were obliged to come away sooner than they intended on account of the Oneida Indians coming down the Mohawk Valley, they are upwards of three hundred men, women and children.[20]

Sensing an opportunity to deal a blow to the problematic Oneidas and to maintain pressure on the New York frontiers, Haldimand’s reply was swift.  On August 24 he replied to Johnson,

The Treachery of the Onidas and constant obstacles they present to our Scouts on any attempt upon the Mohawk River makes it a matter of serious consideration to compel them to relinquish the Rebel Interest, or to cut them off.  The present seems a favorable opportunity for this undertaking, not only to effect that purpose, but to destroy the Crop, from the favorable appearance of which the Enemy promise themselves a large supply … another Concurring Circumstances is the situation of the armies below which will render it impossible for the Rebels to spare a Reinforcement from thence.[21]

Johnson was ready to return home.  This time General Haldimand had a more ambitious plan to roil New York.  While Johnson led a 900 plus man raiding party consisting of regulars, Loyalists and Indians into the Schoharie and Mohawk valleys, his incursion would be coordinated with two other diversionary and punitive expeditions along New York’s northern frontier.[22]  The three incursions would be spread out over a fifty plus mile front considerably reducing the Patriot’s ability to react.  As a commander with an attention to detail, Gen. Haldimand’s hand would be strongly evident in the preparations for the three raids.

Maj. Christopher Carleton of the 29 Regiment of Foot was picked to lead a party of 700 plus regulars, Loyalists and Indians down the Champlain and upper Hudson River valleys.  John Munro, a senior captain in the King’s Royal Regiment of New York, was chosen to command a third party.

Munro’s mission was outlined in a letter from Sir John to Haldimand dated September 11:

I have advised with Colonel Claus and think the best Route for the Mohawks to take not only to favour our intentions, but to render service, will be by Crown Point to Saratoga/Still Water and Balls Town, and from thence, if properly timed, they might join us upon the Mohawk River; all which may be very easily accomplished if any diversion is to be made to the Eastward, and about one hundred of my Regiment be sent with the Mohawks, under the Command of Captain Munro, who is well acquainted with that country[.]  they should be there by the 8th of next month at furthest, if they could remain concealed till they heard of our arrival, it would be best ….[23]

Capt. John Munro’s command was the smallest of the three raiding parties with just under 200 men.  It was composed of: 131 members of the 1st Battalion, King’s Royal Regiment of New York, 34 men of Capt. William Fraser’s Independent Company of Rangers and about 30 Fort Hunter Mohawks commanded by Capt. John Deserontyon.[24]  Munro’s force was the only one of the three without a contingent of regulars.  The Mohawks would be accompanied by an unknown number of their women.[25]

John Munro was an interesting pick to lead this raid.  As Johnson noted above, Munro was not only “well acquainted” with the area in which he would be operating, he also knew some of the Patriots who lived in the area.  At age fifty-one, Munro was the oldest of the leaders of the raiding parties by over a decade.[26]

Scottish by birth, Munro came to America as a sergeant in the 48th Regiment of Foot during the French and Indian War.  He stayed in Albany County after his service and was given a tract of land in what is now the Shaftsbury, Vermont area.  Munro married well and appears to have been successful in business.  He was also politically connected.  Through a friendship with Sir William Johnson, Munro became an Albany County justice of the peace.[27]  As justice of the peace he actively upheld New York’s claims in the disputed area of the New Hampshire grants.  The frequent legal and physical tangling with Ethan and Ira Allen, the Green Mountain Boys and other anti-Yorker neighbors prior to the war left a toll on Munro.  On Nov. 24, 1772, he resigned his position of justice of the peace writing, “what can a justice do when the whole country combines against him.”[28]

Between 1775 and late 1777 Munro played a dangerous game with the Patriot authorities which would come with a price.  On August 22, 1775, the Albany Committee of Correspondence was informed that Munro “had a captains commission in the Kings service under Collo. Allan Maclean.”[29]  The Albany committee forwarded the information to the Committee of Cambridge District, closer to where Munro lived.  Notable was the committee’s solicitous guarding of Munro’s reputation in their letter to the Cambridge committee,

We doubt not of your prudence in the management of a Case so delicately circumstanced for should Mr. Munro be innocent of this charge we do not incline that he should in the least suffer in his Person, or property, or even by the least whisper of it abroad, as he might be prejudiced in the estimate of the public upon a bare suspicion of such Conduct.[30]

The Albany Committee on September 4 reported that Munro was interviewed and “offered to make Oath, he never received any such Commission, he was willing to give us all the satisfaction we might require.”[31]  It was noted, “During the whole Transaction, Mr. Munro’s behaviour was very manly, & we cannot think he is in the least guilty & have entirely discharged him on that account.”[32]  It is worthy to note John Munro received a captain-lieutenant’s warrant from Lt. Col. Allan Maclean to recruit for the Royal Highland Emigrants on June 13, 1775, about two months before his interview.[33]  On April 30, 1776, Munro was brought before the Albany Committee where he signed the following oath,

I do promise on the Word and Honor of a gentleman that I will hold no manner of correspondence or conversation on political matters with any person or persons that are inimical to measures now pursued by the United Colonies of America.[34]

By May 1776 Patriot authorities had become aware of and had their fill of John Munro’s inimical activities.  Orders were issued on May 24 to “apprehend John Munro, and treat him as a common enemy to the liberty of America.”[35]  The next day he was under arrest.  Over the following year Munro spent time confined at Albany, in Connecticut and at Kingston, New York.[36]  In August 1777, shortly after the Battle of Bennington, local Patriot authorities sent an officer to Munro’s home to “seize all his Land and affects … together with all his movable effects … excepting two milch [milk] cows & such affects as are wanted for the support of said Munro’s family.”[37]

The Albany Committee of Correspondence resolved at their September 2, 1777 meeting that John Munro & family be sent to “the enemy” with Gen. Horatio Gates’ permission.  The Bennington Committee of Safety, on January 30, 1778, permitted Mrs. Munro “to remain in possession of the house & farm formerly the possession of her husband (John Munro) until further orders.”[38]  Munro was by this time in Canada serving as a captain in Sir John Johnson’s King’s Royal Regiment of New York.  His former life as a successful businessman living comfortably and a pillar of the community, was in ruins.  Munro, like his colonel, would soon be in a position to extract some revenge upon some of those who had dramatically altered his life.

Capt. William Fraser, a senior officer who participated in the Munro raid, had his own difficult history with Patriot authorities.  A resident of the Ballston, New York area, he and his brother Thomas actively recruited Loyalists for their neighbor Daniel McAlpin’s American Volunteers in 1777.  In May 1777, William and his brother attempted, along with forty recruits they had gathered, to join General Burgoyne’s approaching army.  Their plans were foiled when Col. James Gordon, the Ballston area militia commander, caught wind of the scheme and sent a force led by Capt. Tyrannus Collins, another Ballston resident, to intercept the Loyalists.  The Frasers, along with their recruits, were captured.  Colonel Gordon, who lived about two miles away from William, testified against the brothers. The brothers were sentenced to one year in the Albany jail for having “wickedly, traitorously, and treasonably levied war against the State.”[39]  The Frasers escaped in July and joined Burgoyne’s army.[40]  William and Thomas lost their farms as a result of their allegiance to the Crown.[41]

General Haldimand’s planning for the three expeditions was well underway by the middle of September 1780.  Writing to BG Henry Powell on September 17, Haldimand instructed,

I must desire that you will, from the British Regiments most contiguous to Ft. Johns, form a party to consist of about 340 men besides what number of Provincials you shall be able conveniently to assemble, & have them in readiness to embark by the 27th or 28th instant, that they may arrive at their destination to co-operate with Sir John Johnson on or before the 8th of next month.  A detachment of the Royal Regiment of New York with the Mohawk Indians [Capt. Munro’s party] destined to form a junction with Sir John, will proceed this party if possible ….[42]

The following Thursday Haldimand’s aide reminded Lt. Col. Daniel Claus, “His Excellency depends upon your having the Mohawks there [Isle aux Noir] by that time [September 28], & desires you will communicate particularly to the Brigadier & to Capt. Munro the route he is to take, and give him every kind of information that you think may be favorable to him in cooperating with Sir John Johnson.”[43]

On September 28 Major Carleton, Captain Munro and their men set sail up Lake Champlain.  Early on the morning of October 7 the parties arrived near Crown Point.  Munro’s group parted company with Carleton’s, and sailed across Bulwagga (West) Bay to the western shore.[44]  What Munro did not know was that Sir John Johnson was delayed in his departure from Oswego.  Johnson wrote General Haldimand on October 1 from Oswego that, for a variety of reasons, he had been detained and didn’t expect to leave until the next day.  Johnson noted “I fear it will not be in our Power to Co-operate with the other Scouts from Canada, unless they have also been delayed.”[45]

Munro and his men set off through the woods over a series of Indian trails on a seventy to eighty mile trek through the wilderness.  The captain noted they marched only seven miles the first day.  At that point his men complained “of the great weight of their Provision & Ammunition.”[46]  Munro, in his first after action report, made the accommodating decision to reduce their burden and “complete them to 50 Rounds pr. Man and 30 days provisions and leave the remainder of the Ammunition and one days Provision at this place.”[47]  His estimate of the amount of rations needed proved wrong.

On October 11 Munro reached the Sacandaga River.  At that point he was about twenty miles north of Ballston, over twenty northwest of Saratoga (today’s Schuylerville), thirty northeast of Schenectady and thirty-five miles northeast of Johnstown.  He may have camped near “Tory Rock,” a notable landmark on Daley Creek near where it empties into the Sacandaga River.  As he was sitting in the woods two of his men who were left with Major Carleton arrived with word that the major had taken Forts Anne and George and was retiring northward.[48]

The following day, October 12, Capt. William Fraser returned from a scout of his old neighborhood, Ballstown, with the unsettling news that there was no word of Johnson’s movement, and a deserter “from Major Roger’s Corps” alerted the area that a Loyalist force was somewhere in the vicinity.[49]  This caused a unit of the Schenectady militia to be sent to the small fort at Ballston.

At this point Munro and his command moved by a known Indian trail on a fifteen to twenty mile trek over the Kayaderosseras Mountains, past Lake Desolation and likely stopped in the area of what is now known as the towns of Galway and Milton in Saratoga County. Most of the few inhabitants of this part of the country were staunch Loyalists.  Munro again sat in the woods for three or four days trying to figure out what to do.

Munro faced several dilemmas.  His primary mission was to “co-operate” and “form a junction” with Johnson.[50]  The hopes of accomplishing this faded the longer he was in enemy country.  He had no word of Johnson and not a clue to his whereabouts.  Little did Munro know that Johnson was about forty-five miles southwest of the captain and had still not made his first attack. The ticking clock was not Munro’s friend.

His second dilemma was caused by the deserter alerting the Patriots that an enemy force was on their northern frontier.  As Major Carleton to the east had already struck and retired to Crown Point, the captain’s force was at the southern end of a disturbed hornet’s nest.  Munro was now vulnerable to mobilized enemy forces on his east and to his south.  Afterwards the captain wrote that he considered and dismissed the idea of attacking Saratoga (Schuylerville).  He declined “owing to the great number of Women & Children which were lodged in the Barracks and having their husbands in my Detachment, would of course follow them, and not knowing that General Schuyler was arrived there.”[51] Attacking Saratoga was probably never a viable option for Munro as he would have been moving toward an area already on alert due to Carleton’s activity, and it is doubtful he had much intelligence regarding the disposition of Patriot forces to his east which would have made such a move in that direction very risky.

The captain’s third and most critical problem was that he had run out of food.  Despite having “30 days provisions” a bit over a week ago, his men now were “in great want of Provisions.”  To make matters worse, he also noted they were “distressed for everything having wore out all their Shoes, Mockosins, Trowsers, Leggings, &c ….”[52]

It was decision time.  His men were getting hungry, his original mission seemed unlikely to be accomplished, and the Patriot militia was alert and on the move – John Munro had to do something soon.  The closest target with a decent northern escape route and with the possibility of providing food was the nearby settlement at Ballston.  It is doubtful that any discussion over attacking Ballston was lengthy.  It is very possible Munro and some of his band wanted to set upon the settlement when they first arrived at the Sacandaga River on October 11, because from their camp on the river the trail to Johnson’s probable location led west along the Sacandaga River. Munro had chosen to move south.

The reasons to attack Ballston became simple: it was the closest source of food, and it was a great opportunity to settle scores.  In particular, William Fraser and the Ballston area men in Munro’s command now had the opportunity and means to exact their pound of flesh.  Munro made his decision and “found it necessary to make a decent on Balls Town, and proceed to Join Major Carleton without loss of time.”[53]

Captain Munro’s targets in the settlement were the homes and farms along what is now the Middle Line Road, which runs south to north rolling over a series of ridges in a fairly straight line up hill toward the Indian trail in the Kayaderosseras mountains.  Guided by local Loyalists his force moved south in the darkness on the evening of October 16 from where they had been camping.  They proceeded on a course running parallel and to the west of their objectives.   Around midnight they turned east to their first targets – Colonel Gordon and Captain Collins who lived near each other.  Melinda Gordon’s father, the colonel, would soon be in their old neighbors’ hands.

Once the pillaging, looting and gathering of prisoners began the raid was well executed.  The fort with the Patriot militia lay about a mile and a half southeast of Gordon’s home.[54]  With that in mind the raiding party quickly gathered their prisoners, ransacked the homes, took livestock, and then moved on to the next victim, heading north away from the fort.  When they felt they were far enough away the raiders began burning the farms.  Just before dawn, Munro’s men reached the last settlement on the road near the Kayaderosseras Creek, about five miles north from where they began the raid.  Munro had taken thirty captives, looted about seventeen homesteads and set fire to several.

The raiding party crossed the creek and stopped at the foot of the mountains “during the forenoon” to rest and have breakfast before resuming their march.[55]  They slaughtered some of the captured animals for food.[56]  After a two to three hour respite, the party with their prisoners ascended the mountains and traveled about ten miles before making camp just before sunset.  The following morning, October 18, Munro freed four prisoners who could not keep up.

Munro’s return march went pretty much without incident, and again by the march’s end his force suffered from the lack of food.  Josiah Hollister, one of the prisoners, wrote, “we were eight days marching through the wilderness, and having provisions for only three days.”[57]  Captain Munro’s party arrived at Bulwagga Bay on October 24.  The return trip took two more days than the march out.  The extra time may be accounted for by having to move with prisoners and having to carrying their loot.

Was Captain Munro’s incursion a success?  The answer is both no and yes.   He failed to accomplish his primary mission of cooperating and joining with Sir John Johnson.  However, he successfully attacked a settlement close to Albany and returned with a number of captives including the local militia commander.  Given the distance, Johnson’s disrupted timetable, and the challenges of communicating between the two forces, it may have been unrealistic for Munro to have linked with Johnson’s party.  Captain Munro probably did not need much of an excuse to move on to Plan B – attacking Ballston, given his movements and the close proximity of an enemy responsible for the personal sufferings of a number of his party.  While the execution of the raiding party’s movements during the attack on the settlement was generally skillful, the lack of food on the marches to and from Ballston exhibited the captain’s poor logistics abilities.

Munro, in an unusual and contrite second after action report, wrote “I cannot say how far he [Haldimand] may approve of my Conduct.”[58]  This strongly suggests someone in his chain of command was not happy with his actions.  Although Haldimand’s aide informed Munro that the general “fully approved his conduct and the good behavior of his officers and soldiers,” Munro never again led an independent field command on the New York frontier.[59]

The successes of the three raids validated General Haldimand’s approach to waging war on the New York frontier.  Munro’s incursion, and to varying degrees the other two raids, were excellent examples of how the British advantages of being able to pick where and when to attack, the aid of local, sympathetic Loyalists and the mixed quality of Patriot militias worked in the King’s favor.  Munro’s force was able to move through the wilderness and get near its destination without detection.  They camped for several days close to their target with relative ease. As the captain noted, “I traveled Ten Miles thro’ Friendly Inhabitants before I got in the centre of Balls Town; many of whom served as guides.”[60]  Munro was also able to tie up 200 militiamen who proved ineffective in stopping the raiders.  It is not clear when the fort was notified of the enemy’s presence.  If they were made aware of the attack early in the morning of the 17th, they chose not to engage an enemy of unknown size in the dark.  A pursuit was not mounted probably due to word filtering back from the raiding party that the lives of the hostages would have been in jeopardy if Munro was attacked.

The reaction of Gen. Philip Schuyler to Haldimand’s October 1780 raids speaks clearly to their effect.  In a letter to Gov. George Clinton from Schuyler at Saratoga dated three days after Ballston was attacked, the general declared, “the panic that has seized the people is incredible; with all my efforts I cannot prevent numbers from deserting their Habitations.”[61]  General Haldimand successfully managed to keep a wide swath of New York’s frontier in turmoil during much of 1780 through a series of active, coordinated incursions.  Capt. John Munro and his command not only contributed to Haldimand’s strategy, but they were able to exact a degree of personal revenge against former colleagues and neighbors who had turned against them in what for many New Yorkers was an ugly civil war.

 

[1] “The Raid on Ballston, 1780. Memoranda of Reminiscences by James Scott, September 6, 1846,” The Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, 7, no. 4 (July 1946): 21.  Mrs. Melinda Walker, daughter of Colonel Gordon, related her account to Scott on September 10, 1846.

[2] The area of the modern counties comprising the Mohawk Valley are: Oneida, 1,258 sq. miles; Herkimer 1,458 sq. miles; Fulton 533 sq. miles; Montgomery 410 sq. miles and Schoharie 626 sq. miles.

[3] Ballston was a settlement about thirty miles north of Albany in what was then Albany County.  Today it is part of Saratoga County.  The area of the townships in modern Saratoga County which the Munro raiding party operated within are: Ballston, 30.04 sq. miles; Charlton, 32.8 sq. miles; Milton, 35.75 sq. miles; Galway, 45 sq. miles; Greenfield, 67.69 sq. miles; Corinth 58.13 sq. miles; Hadley 41.09 sq. miles, Edinburgh 67.1 sq. miles and Providence 45.09 sq. miles.

[4] Philip Ranlet, The New York Loyalists (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986), 186.

[5] New York (State). The Public Papers of George Clinton (New York: AMS Press, 1973), 6: 34.  Subsequently referred to as the Clinton Papers.

[6] James A. Roberts, New York in the Revolution as Colony and State, 2nd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996), 1: 10.

[7] Clinton Papers, 6: 34.

[8] Gen. Abraham Ten Broeck’s militia brigade return dated November 19, 1779 breaks down the number of his troops, by regiment, that were stationed at various frontier forts: Fort Paris, 99; Remsnyder’s Bush, 35; Fort Plank 102; Sacandaga Block House 60; Fort Dayton 96; Johnstown 70; Fort Herkimer 82.  Clinton Papers, 5: 365.

[9] Clinton Papers, 5: 631.

[10] Ibid., 5: 630.

[11] Ibid., 5: 628-629.

[12] Stuart R. J. Sutherland, Pierre Tousignant, and Madeleine Dionne-Tousignant,  “Haldimand, Sir Frederick,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, Univ. of Toronto, 2003; accessed January 18, 2017.

[13] Gavin K. Watt, Dirty, Trifling, Piece of Business (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2009), 29; Sutherland, et al.  “Haldimand, Sir Frederick.”

[14] Sutherland, et al.  “Haldimand, Sir Frederick.”

[15] Ibid.

[16] Gustave Lanctot, Canada and the American Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 174.

[17] Mary B. Fryer, King’s Men (Toronto and Charlottetown: Dundurn Press Ltd., 1980), 17-18.

[18] Haldimand’s importance and contributions to the war through his activities against New York have historically been overlooked or minimized.  Most general histories of the American Revolution contain little or no reference to the man.  Examples: Ferling, Almost a Miracle (1); Wood, The American Revolution (0); Middlekauff, The Glorious Revolution (0); Higginbotham, War of American Independence (0); Palmer, Way of the Fox (0); Ward, War of the Revolution (1); Bobrick, Angel in the Whirlwind (0).  Even in modern histories of New York State in the Revolution give him little notice. Examples: Daughan, Revolution on the Hudson (2); Key to the Northern Country: The Hudson River Valley in the American Revolution (0); Tiedemann, The Other New York: The American Revolution Beyond New York City (4 – mainly regarding the Vermont intrigue).  The few works offering a fair assessment of Haldimand include Theodore Corbett, No Turning Point, and Canadian historians Mary Fryer, The King’s Men and the many works of Gavin Watt.

[19] Haldimand papers. Library and Archives Canada. Additional. Manuscripts. 21807, ff 115-116.  Subsequently referred to as the Haldimand Papers.

[20] Ibid., Add. Mss. 21818, f 181.

[21] Ibid., Add. Mss. 21819, ff 129-130.

[22] Gavin K. Watt, Burning of the Valleys (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1997), 164.

[23] Haldimand Papers, Add. Mss. 21818, f 187.

[24] Watt, Burning of the Valleys, 95.

[25] “The Raid on Ballston, 1780,” 21.

[26] Munro was born, ca. 1728 or 1729; Johnson 1741 and Carelton 1749.

[27] Stefan Bielinski, “John Munro”, exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov/albany/bios/m/jomunro1526.html, accessed July 5, 2018.

[28] E. B. O’Callaghan, The Documentary History of the State of New York (Albany: Weed, Parsons & Co., 1850-1851), 4: 486.

[29] Albany Committee of Correspondence (N.Y.), Minutes of the Albany Committee of Correspondence 1775-1778 (Albany: University of the State of New York, 1923-1925), 1: 208.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., 1: 228.

[32] Ibid.

[33]Walter T. Dornfest, Military Loyalists of the American Revolution (Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Co., 2011), 255.

[34] Minutes of the Albany Committee of Correspondence, 1: 393.

[35] Ibid., 2: 1078.

[36] Ibid., 1: 503, 690-691, 717.

[37] Hazel C. Mathews, Frontier Spies (Fort Myers, FL: Hazel C. Mathews, 1971), 45.

[38] Mathews, Frontier Spies, 45.

[39] Katherine Q. Briaddy, Shadows: the Life and Times of Eliphalet Ball, the Founder of the Town of Ballston (Katherine Q. Briaddy, 1991), 66-67.

[40] James E. Richmond, War on the Middleline (James E. Richmond, 2016), 120-121.

[41] Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch U.E.L., The Loyalists of the Eastern Townships of Quebec (Stanbridge East, Quebec, Canada: Sir John Johnson Bicentennial Branch U. E. L., 1984), 203.

[42] Haldimand Papers, Add. Mss. 21795, ff 200-201.

[43] Ibid., Add. Mss. 21774, f 142.  The letter to LTC Claus was sent Sept. 21, 1780.

[44] Elizabeth Cometti, editor, The American Journals of Lt. John Enys (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1976), 37.

[45] Haldimand Papers, Add. Mss. 21818, f 195.

[46] Ernest A. Cruikshank & Gavin K. Watt, King’s Royal Regiment of New York (Toronto: [publisher not identified], 1984), 55.

[47] Ibid., 55.

[48] Ibid., 56.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Haldimand Papers, Add. Mss. 21791, f 102; Add. Mss. 21818, f 187.

[51] Ibid., Add. Mss. 21821, f 167-168.

[52] Ibid., Add. Mss. 21821, f 167-168.

[53] Ibid., Add. Mss. 21821, f 167-168.

[54] “The Raid on Ballston,” 16.

[55] Ibid., 19-20.

[56] Ibid., 20.

[57] Watt, Burning of the Valleys, 133.

[58] Haldimand Papers, Add. Mss. 21821, f 167-168.

[59] Watt, Burning of the Valleys, 136.

[60] Haldimand Papers, Add. Mss. 21821, f 167-168.

[61] Clinton Papers, 6: 325.

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11 Comments

  • Glad you pointed out the considerable activity taking place in the region. Most histories, at best, gloss over or, at worst, ignore the northern theater after Burgoyne. No major battles happened but that belies the number of raids and constant movement of parties from both sides throughout the area.

    At the same time as the Ballston raid, about 300 Indians with a few whites raided northern Vermont. There are many similarities between the two events–an attempt to destroy sources of supply, revenge, capturing notable Patriots, and support from local kingsmen, for example. Like the Ballston party, the Vermont raiders’ plans went awry. The locals knew of the approaching party and had gathered together to meet them. The raiders heard of the gathering and turned south attacking, instead, the White River valleys, most notably Royalton, before returning north.

    For those interested in more detail on the post-Burgoyne activities, in general, and the New York theater, in particular, Gavin Watt’s books are a treasure trove of info.

  • Actually there was very little activity in the Vermont region after the Nov. 1778 incursion by Major Christopher Carleton. Some felt that the secret negotiations with Ira Allen about prisoner exchange and a possible change of allegiance of Vermont to the Canadian side might have prevented or at least delayed more activity in Vermont.

    • Indeed, beyond constant scouting parties from both sides, not a lot happened in Vermont. The Haldimand negotiations dealing with VT joining with the British in Canada did have some impact on activity but, those secret talks did not begin until late 1780 right at the time of the Oct. raid. Of more import prior to that is the fact that the area north and west of a line from Newbury, VT, on the upper Conn. River to Rutland to Albany had become pretty much a no-man’s-land. Vermont simply did not offer much of a threat to the British in Canada. Vermont itself had minimal troops and showed no aggressive tendencies toward Canada. Also, no large Continental forces held posts in the area–only Warner’s GMB along with Whitcomb’s and Lee’s companies of rangers spent time there. The largest concentration of troops sat in Albany, well south and east of Vermont.

      The British did, however, worry about Vermont providing a base for a second incursion into Canada so did conduct a few raids–fall, 1778; fall, 1779; and two in the fall of 1780. In each case, the primary reason for the move can be traced back to preventing the build-up of stores and an attempt to locate the potential incursion route known as the Bayley-Hazen Road leading out of the upper Conn. River region.

      • Mike,
        This is true with regard to the Grants’ occupants (there was no “Vermont” until 1791 as this region was still a part of NY colony) dealing with suspected external threats. But by this time the settlers’ leaders had turned inwards creating an internecine war with peaceful Yorkers trying to maintain a low profile. That was definitely distasteful period, with Ethan Allen and company relentlessly in their pursuit as sequestration and confiscation efforts took their property and mercilessly harassed them. None of this was in accord with the vaunted 1777 “constitution” (itself an extra-legal piece of propaganda) and which many even today remain in denial of.

        • Very true. I had only the external affairs with the Brits in mind when I made my comments. Internally, Vermont certainly had a lot going on. The west and two east unions must have made for particularly interesting times (how many folks today know Charlestown, NH, served as VT’s capital for a bit?). I’ve often wondered how often govs.-gen. Carleton and/or Haldimand et al (whomever “al” was) had moments wherein they sat around watching Vermont and discussing how it might well implode at any moment. I know they considered it a useful distraction to the Rebels.

          “Extra-legal” can be said about much of Vermont at the time.

  • “Extra-legal” or not Vermont did declare itself an independent republic in January 1777, and denounced their allegiance to the King, New Hampshire and New York. They established a democratic government and yes the capital changed a number of times but they functioned in support of the Continental government tho they were not given statehood. I disagree that there was no Vermont until 1791.

    • With all due respect, being an attorney who has spent a huge amount of time in the archives researching and writing about this (another book is on the way) there was NO Vermont until Congress said there was a Vermont and that did not happen until March 3, 1791. And the Grants’ occupants definitely did NOT support the Continental government, but were so thoroughly obstructionist (recall the treasonous Haldimand Affair) that Washington was going to send troops into the region to quell the problems. The literature on this is out there, you’ll just have to search it out, but feel free to start with Slade’s Vermont State Papers. Just because a bunch of rebels decide not to abide by the law, not only NY, but also the Confederation mandates, and call themselves a state hardly makes them a state (just ask the Continental Congress where there is, again, much documentation to suppport the above.

    • Interesting contrasting views expressed here on whether or not Vermont existed–the dejure presented by the legal mindset of Mr. Shattuck and the defacto by the practical mindset of Mr. Haugh. And, both are right. Vermont existed legally only in Vermont until accepted as the 14th state in 1791. However, long before that all sorts of people referred to Vermont in conversation and writing. By 1781, Even the Continental Congress began to use the name without a qualifier along the lines of “so-called.” Congressional committees in their reports and delegates in their communications used “Vermont” long before that.

      I must say I have a problem with calling Vermont a republic. I believe that is a creation of nineteenth-century historians. As far as I know, nobody in Vermont’s formative years used “republic” in relation to Vermont. Most used “state” or “independent state.” And, I will freely admit that I used to commonly make that claim but some years ago realized that I had never seen the term in primary sources. On occasion, I still catch myself saying “Republic of Vermont” but try to cut myself off or correct the comment. If someone has some primary source(s) in support of calling independent Vermont a republic, I really like to see it.

      • Nice points, Mike. But the issue from day one (reaching back to 1749 with the first Wentworth grant) was always the legal basis for the existence of this part of New York called the New Hampshire Grants. The name Vermont is attributed to Dr. Thomas Young around 1777 when the “constitution” was being drafted (and which, by the way, used the the name of New Connecticut and not Vermont). The law itself was such an overriding issue that even after the settlers’ “declaration of independence” when they said they were in a “state of nature” and without law they turned around and adopted Connecticut law and then the common law of England. It was always law, law, law they talked about.

        Yes, the Grants’ settlers called themselves Vermont and it was eventually taken up as a shorthand term for the Hampshire Grants, but the final, legal identity, which is what everybody sought, did not happen until 1791. As far as the use of “republic” I suspect you are right that it arose in the nineteenth century. I have not seen it used in any of the eighteenth century primary sources.

  • Michael,

    You have presented a fair and balanced summary of John Munro, a man that has suffered greatly in the historiography when one considers only that generated by the Grants’ settlers acting in opposition to him. If we were to accept that interpretation only, it would seem that virtually all of the problems arising in the area east of Albany were because of his actions. I can’t speak to his conduct during the Ballston Raid, but with regard to his earlier efforts a close examination of the primary sources paints a much different picture.

    Munro was a justice of the peace and in that role he was responsible for the enforcement of a wide range of frontier activities in Albany County and was a member of a cadre considered, as one commentator describes, “beyond shadow of a doubt the foundation stones of the whole scheme of law enforcement.” These were the individuals charged with not only trying the many petty disputes taking place (valued at under five pounds), but also served as the very face of New York’s authority when events escalated to more violent levels.

    Additional duties of the justice included the enforcement of game regulations (both wild and domestic), oversight of lesser public officials, and assuring the quality of goods produced by tradesmen. When the New York Supreme Court of Judicature was conducting its circuit duties, it was the local justice of the peace responsible for attending to its needs (albeit, there is no record of the court making any transit of the Grants’ counties of Cumberland, Gloucester or Charlotte between 1768 and the outbreak of the war). Making the work of a justice of the peace even more difficult should he neglect to execute his many duties in some regard, the law even allowed suits to be brought against him for his inaction. Clearly, these essential tools of the frontier justice system walked a difficult, tenuous line. Nonetheless, they were deemed “the rulers of the county” and “no matter was too small for them, none was so important that they did not have some part in its enforcement.”

    The Grants’ settlers’ main beef with Munro concerned his interference with their settling in the area without the necessary legal clearances. As the law provided, upon receiving notice of a property dispute, his credentials authorized him to proceed to the scene of the confrontation, arrest the offender(s) if the problem persisted, and accumulate information, called “a record upon review,” that could then be used in court. However, the difficulties attending such actions within this remote region when only a single justice might respond (and when not otherwise fearful of losing his life in the process) frequently made such an affirmative demonstration of the king’s authority an extremely hard proposition. However, this did not stop Munro in October 1769 from responding to the call of Albany-based surveyors whose work was being interfered with by Grants’ settlers. He conducted himself admirably, reading the Riot Act to the Bennington farmers and ultimately quelled a volatile situation that could have resulted in physical injury.

    Munro is a man to be admired and he was hardly the mean-spirited individual that Ethan Allen and his crew tried to portray him as. Thank you again for presenting Munro in a responsible manner and correcting the disparaging characterizations that have accompanied his, and others, work in the difficult Hampshire Grants.

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