The Escape of Amos Stafford from the Wyoming Massacre to Saratoga .


"And Summer was the tide and sweet the hour

When sire and daughter saw, with fleet descent,

An Indian from his bark approach their bower,

Of buskin’d limb, and swarthy lineament."

CAMPBELL’S Gertrude of Wyoming .


AMOS STAFFORD, the father of the late Amos Stafford, of "Stafford’s Bridge," and one of the earliest settlers in the town of Saratoga Springs, was the son of Steutly Stafford, of Rhode Island, who served as Lieutenant in the old French war, coming home, at its close, to die of small-pox contracted in the army. Thus deprived of his protector in early boyhood, Amos was sent to his uncle, John Stafford, of Wyoming, Penn. Mr. John Stafford (the great-grandfather of John T. Carr) was a great hunter, and the wild woods had more attractions for him than the old settled country at the East. Indeed, he could live anywhere in the Susquehanna mountains by the aid of his rifle and hunting-knife. When his nephew reached him, the disputes between the New England and Pennsylvania settlers had ripened into open warfare. Mr. Stafford, however, was a peaceful man, and did not enter into the war. By thrift and industry he accumulated considerable property, so that, upon the breaking out of the Revolution, he was among the most respected and prosperous farmers of the Susquehanna Valley.

From that moment, however, the extended frontiers of the colonies, reaching from Lake Champlain around the northwest and south to the Floridas, were harassed by the savage foe. There was a conventional understanding between the General Government and the people of Wyoming that the regular troops enlisted among them should be stationed there for the defence of the valley; but the exigencies of the service required their action elsewhere, and the only means of defence consisted of militia-men, upon whom devolved the duty both of cultivating the land and of exploring the thickets, in order to guard against surprise from the wily Indians and their yet more vindictive Tory allies. The little stockaded defences yclept "forts," moreover, had no artillery save a single four-pounder kept at Wilkesbarre as an alarm-gun. Thus weakened by the absence of its most efficient men and material, Wyoming presented a point of attack too favorable to escape the attention of the British and Indian commanders in the country of the Six Nations and in Canada. Under these circumstances, the ever-memorable expedition of Col. John Butler, with his own Tory Rangers, a detachment of Sir John Johnson’s Royal Greens, and a large body of Indians, was undertaken against Wyoming in the summer of 1778, and, alas! was but too successful.

This is not the place for dwelling either on the details of this expedition or on the frightful massacre that followed the attack of the Indians, in which more than three hundred men, women, and children were literally butchered in cold blood. Our task is to follow one of those who fortunately escaped. This was Amos Stafford, the nephew of John Stafford, who, although a patriot in feeling, yet, on account of his advanced age, was removed from the valley and placed among the non-combatants.

During the battle, Amos Stafford, then a youth of nineteen, made one of a reserve of riflemen, who, however, did not participate actively in the engagement. Just before the fate of the day was decided, the third man from him fell – then the second – then the next to him. Watching for an explanation of this mystery, he observed, when the last of his three companions fell, a whiff of smoke rising from behind a log. An Indian was picking off the reserve! Accordingly, the next time that a head peered above the log he sent a bullet through it, and the danger from that quarter was at an end. Soon after, the order was given to retreat. Stafford waited to reload his rifle, and then ran to a neighboring wheat-field, where he hoped to lie concealed until, under the friendly mantle of night, he could make good his escape. In this, however, he was disappointed; for the Indians suddenly stumbling upon him, he was forced to jump up and again fly. He expected to be shot dead, but such was the confusion of the Indians at this unexpected apparition, that he had time to bound away like a wild deer and put several feet between himself and the savages before they had recovered from their astonishment. Glancing his eye over his shoulder, he found himself closely pursued by an Indian with raised tomahawk. Too near to turn and fire, he could only trust to his fleetness of foot (in which he excelled) to gain on his pursuer sufficiently to use his rifle. The opportunity soon came. A brush fence stood in his path. This he leaped at a bound, wheeled, and, when the Indian, standing on the top of the fence, presented a fair target, he fired and killed him. Then, throwing his rifle into the rushes, he plunged into the river, and amid a shower of bullets sent after him by the rest of his pursuers, who had now come up, but which he avoided by diving, he struck out boldly for the opposite shore. When in the middle of the stream, he perceived that another savage was following him in the water. His first impulse was to turn and drown him by diving and catching him by the feet – a feat which he jocularly called playing "leap-frog" – but observing that his opponent carried a spear, he gave up this design, and gained the shore. Here picking up some stones, he waded back into the river prepared to give his foe a warm reception. The latter, however, fearing to "measure swords" with such an adversary, turned and swam back. Running a few rods up the river behind a ridge which concealed him from sight, he sank down into a marshy spring. While thus hidden, an Indian came up to where he lay, but, the water which he had at first roiled having meanwhile become clear, the savage, not dreaming of his proximity, passed on his way and left him unharmed. During the first night of his concealment, he heard the cries and shrieks of the garrison of Fort Forty, on the opposite shore, who were being massacred after having accepted quarter – the painfulness of the scene being increased by the sight of the bodies of one or more of his neighbors which had been thrown upon the burning pile –

"By the smoke of their ashes to poison the gale."

It was a night of terror; for he heard

"Sounds that mingled laugh, and shout, and scream,

To freeze the blood in one discordant jar.

Whoop after whoop with rack the ear assailed,

As if unearthly fiends had burst their bar;

While rapidly the marksman’s shot prevailed;

And aye, as if for death, some lonely trumpet wailed!"

The second and third nights found him ensconced in the hollow trunk of a fallen tree. The woods were alive with the savages; and once, while thus concealed, two or three Indians came along and seated themselves upon the log in consultation. He heard the bullets rattle loosely in their pouches. They actually looked into the hollow log, suspecting he might be there; but the examination must have been slight, as they discovered no traces of his presence. The object of their search, however, in after-life, attributed his escape to the labors of a busy spider, which, after he crawled into the log, had been industriously engaged in weaving a web over the entrance. Perceiving this, the savages supposed, as a matter of course, that the fugitive could not have entered there. Thus a second time was he almost miraculously preserved.

After remaining in his place of concealment as long as nature could endure the confinement – three days without food, destitute of clothing (for he had stripped himself while swimming the river), and chilled to the marrow, although the 6 th of July – Stafford crept forth, resolved to give himself up to the first persons he should meet. These happened to be a party of Tories, painted and disguised as Indians. Deceived by the plausible story told them by Stafford, and which was soon after confirmed by a Tory friend of his who had deserted to the enemy before the battle, and who now upon seeing him exclaimed, "God bless you, Amos! how came you here stark naked?" His captors offered him protection, and supplied him with clothing from their knapsacks. Food, consisting of milk diluted with water, was next administered to him at the house of the mother of the celebrated Frances Slocum who was carried into captivity by the Delaware Indians. {Giles Slocum, the brother of Frances, afterwards settled near Mr. Stafford, in the vicinity of Fish Creek – the old homestead, which he built, being yet known as the "Slocum Place." ( See chapter upon Mrs. Dwight’s visit .) Thus refreshed, he turned his thoughts toward escaping. This he effected the second night of his capture, under cover of the darkness and a terrific thunder-storm; and, tarrying on the way only to bid farewell to his uncle, he arrived the following morning, without further adventure, at the American camp, and was the first one to bring tidings of the defeat and massacre at Wyoming. At first the commanding officer refused to credit his statement, at which Stafford was deeply hurt, remarking that, "he thought it rather hard, after all he had suffered, to have his word doubted." When, however, the General heard his story, told with so much feeling and earnestness, he believed him even before the official despatches confirmed it in all particulars. Soon after, his term of enlistment having expired, he removed to Dutchess County, New York, and married Sarah Wagman, a daughter of Henry Wagman, of "Nine Partners." {Subsequently, the entire Wagman family removed to Saratoga, on to the place still called the "Wagman Farm."

Mr. Stafford now looked around for some place where he could settle permanently. The passage of Burgoyne’s army down the Valley of the Hudson to the Heights of Saratoga, and the subsequent mustering of the yeomanry from the different colonies to intercept its progress, had brought the country around Lake Saratoga into public notice; nor was it long before Mr. Stafford, hearing exaggerated reports of the productiveness of the land in that vicinity, came with his wife and two children to Saratoga, and settled near the Lake on that which is now known as the "French Farm." {Mr. Stafford was not the only one who availed himself of these reports to settle in this section of the country. Even some of the enemy did the same. There is yet standing, near Jno. B. Haskin’s place on Friend’s Lake, at Chester, Warren County, New York, the cabin of a deserter from Burgoyne’s army, who settled there in 1777. The cabin was built in 1783, as the figures cut into the stone lintel attest. Mr. Charles H. Faxon, of Chester – a gentleman whose patriotic tastes are well known – did his best to have this cabin bought for the State and preserved as an heirloom for the county.} A younger brother of Mr. Stafford – Samuel, who had also served in the war – accompanied him, and settled in the neighborhood, owning and living, in fact, on what is now known as the "Ramsdell Farm." He afterward removed to Canada, attracted by the liberal offers made to settlers by the British Government. The date of Mr. Stafford’s immigration to Saratoga was 1783; and for many years afterward he was obliged to come to the "Springs" on horseback, along a narrow foot-path. Mr. Stafford remained on his first location seven years, when he moved to Fish Creek, and settled on the land, which yet retains the name of the "Stafford Farm." The house which is still standing, although enlarged in 1810, is the same one which Mr. Stafford built in 1797, and was for a long period, before the division of the town, the central point where the town business was transacted.

At the time of Mr. Stafford’s coming to Saratoga, the country, it is perhaps needless to say, was a complete wilderness, and so infested with wolves that the keeping of sheep was almost impossible. Accordingly, large bounties were offered for the destruction of the former, amounting (inclusive of state, county, and town bounties) to sixty dollars per capita . But this very fact was of advantage to Mr. Stafford; for, being skilled in the use of the rifle, he was enabled eventually to pay for a large portion of his farm (some thirteen hundred acres) with the bounty he received on the wolves that he shot in its vicinity – receiving, indeed, in one winter alone the handsome sum of five hundred dollars. The veritable rifle with which this feat was accomplished I was allowed, through the kindness of his son, to use in my first deer-hunt in the Adirondacks. It is now, I believe, in the possession of his grandson, Professor Amos Stafford, of Saratoga Springs.

Mr. Stafford, also, learned to imitate the cry of the wolves so accurately, that those animals would answer his call. A neighbor, doubting this, rode out with him one day to test the question. Soon, in answer to Mr. Stafford’s cry, a reply was heard, and a big, shaggy wolf raised his head over a log not far distant. The doubter "stood not on the order of his going," but, springing upon his horse, "went at once." Again, on another occasion, Mr. Stafford was awakened at midnight by the barking of his hounds. Seizing a fowling-piece, he rammed down a ball, and rushed outside, where he saw by the moonlight, and in a field near the house, a huge wolf which had been frequently seen but hitherto had eluded pursuit. The ball, in the haste of loading, not having been "sent home," burst the gun in its discharge, and the wolf escaped. He afterwards, however, caught it in a trap. This was a cause of great rejoicing, since the wolf, which was as big as a yearling calf, had committed great havoc among the sheep. Nor were wolves the only wild animals that were troublesome. When Mr. Stafford "camped out," he invariably kept a fire burning to guard against panthers, and was even compelled to take this precautionary measure when merely setting his wolf-traps. Mrs. Stafford, also, had her share of annoyances. On first settling in Saratoga, she suffered greatly from the howling of the wolves at night and from fear of the Indians, bands of whom were continually hovering around. One night, in particular, she was aroused from sleep by the crackling of a fire on the hearth, in front of which stood a stalwart savage cooly baking a corn-cake he had just prepared! Mrs. Stafford quietly awakened her husband, who, seizing the rifle that always hung at the head of his bed, demanded "What he was doing there?" The Indian, who was recognized as one that had been lately seen prowling about the neighborhood, at once slunk away, muttering as he went.

But Mr. Stafford’s visits from Indians were not always of this informal character. He was once the recipient of a call from the celebrated Mohawk chieftain, Joseph Brant ( Tha-yen-da-ne-gea ), who was endeavoring to ascertain a point along Fish Creek where, as he asserted, some treasure had been hidden during the Revolution. In the course of the evening spent with Mr. Stafford, he stated that the clearing-up of the country had so changed the "appearance of things" that he could not describe the exact spot, though his host gathered from his description that it must have been opposite the site of the Avery Lake House. He also enquired particularly where the first house had stood, remarking that "he was completely lost." {This "first house" for which Brant enquired, and which was burned during the Revolution, stood south of the Stafford barn-yard, near the banks of Fish Creek. Up to within a few years the remains of the chimneys were still visible. Indian arrow-heads and stone pestles are often found on the place.

At the time of Mrs. Stafford’s coming to Saratoga, there were plenty of herring in the Creek, as well as great quantities of pigeons on its banks; so that Mrs. S. used frequently to remark that it seemed as if they were sent by Providence for the benefit of the settlers. ( Letter from Mrs. Gerrit G. Lansing, of Half Moon, New York, to her niece, Mrs. Mary Stafford Rouse, of Bacon Hill, New York .) Mrs. Lansing is nearly eighty-nine years old, and still in remarkable possession of her faculties.} Whether, however, he succeeded in finding the object of search never transpired. {This visit of Brant must have been during one of his trips to Albany, either in 1802 or 1806. See Stone’s Life of Brant .}

Mr. Stafford, like his son, the late Amos Stafford, was a man thoroughly practical, of strict integrity, and of sterling good sense. It was his intention, had he lived, to have drained the Fish Creek marshes by dredging and deepening that stream. This he thought thoroughly feasible; and, had his plans been fully matured and carried out, the low, malarious marshes that now lie along the creek would be fertile and beautiful meadows. Aided also by Ebenezer Fitch (the father of the late Major Edward Fitch), he built the present bridge across Fish Creek, which bears his name. It was at that time very long, extending over the ground occupied by the present causeway. Inasmuch, moreover, as his land was heavily timbered, he was accustomed to make yearly visits to New York City, with rafts of saw-logs, the sale of which assisted him in paying for his land and procured the necessary supplies for his family. Indeed, this custom was the incipient cause of his death; for, hardly had he recovered from an injury received by the falling of a tree upon him, when, in jumping from one raft to another, he was precipitated into the water, the entire raft passing over him. From these two accidents he never fully recovered.

Many were the adventures that befell Mr. Stafford in the first settlement of the country, and many have been the hours I have listened to his son while he has told me stories of his father’s and his own early life. Of some of these I do not retain a sufficient recollection to venture to state them. One, however, which I remember well, and which will be of interest to the present generation, is the following:

In the front door-yard of the "Stafford Farm-House" stood a noble poplar, which for many years was a landmark of the surrounding country, and the cynosure of all eyes as they passed that way. An idea of its size may be formed when it is stated that some eighteen feet from the ground the trunk had been cut away, leaving a space within the tree in which Mr. Stafford’s grandsons, Amos and Harvey, constructed flooring and seats capable of containing fifteen people. A pair of steps conducted to this romantic eyrie ; and when once in, through the interstices of the surrounding foliage a magnificent view of the entire Lake, with Fish Creek winding like a silver-scaled serpent at the foot, was presented to the visitor. For the sake of this enchanting view alone, the ride was well worth taking.

The history of this tree is both curious and interesting. When Samuel Stafford, the younger brother of the late Mr. Stafford, was paying his addresses to the lady who afterwards became his wife, and who then resided near the present mansion of Mr. Fitch on the right bank of Fish Creek, he was in the habit of riding over on horseback to see her. One evening, after returning home and putting his horse in the barn, and while walking to the house, he stuck a twig, which he had broken off from a poplar for a riding-whip, into the ground. Some time afterwards, observing that it had taken root, he allowed it to grow, until, like the "grain of mustard-seed which a man took and sowed in his field," it became the tree I have described. {In front of the "Old Martin Tavern" in Corinth, on the Luzerne road, stands an enormous tree, the history of which, in one or two features, resembles that of the "Stafford poplar." It was planted by Frederick Parkman in 1801. Mr. Parkman had been over in Washington County on horseback, where he cut a stick for a riding-whip. When he reached home he said to his wife: "Hannah, I’m going to plant this stick in front of the house, and I shall live long enough to see my children get up in the branches and read the Gospel from it." Parkman’s prophecy was fulfilled. The tree grew, till now it is a landmark seen from afar. Mr. James Dewell says he has known the tree for sixty years, and thinks it is a species of cotton-wood or poplar. Sixteen inches from the ground it measures seventeen feet and four inches in circumference. Its branches are wide-spreading, covering an area of about one hundred feet across. At a point about twelve feet from the ground are four giant limbs that measure not less than six feet in circumference. It is a magnificent specimen, and is observed with wonder every season by hundreds who visit the picturesque region in which it is situated.}

Mr. Stafford, who died in 1813, and his son, the late Amos Stafford, are buried in the family grave-yard, which lies a few rods east of the house, on a gentle knoll of the high plateau that overlooks Fish Creek. The latter died in the autumn of 1850; and, in company with the late James H. Westcott, I attended the funeral.

If one wishes to see true respect shown to the dead, let him not visit a city interment, where the "pomp of power" and the gorgeous trappings of an empty pageant either mock real grief, or else serve as a flimsy disguise for the seething and tumultuous passions that perchance are raging in the breasts of the seeming mourners. Rather let him quietly, and by "lonely contemplation led," make one at a country burial. There the number of carriages – unlike in the city, where the equipages are limited only by the investment of money – is a genuine mark of regard. Mr. Stafford was a man universally respected; and, on this occasion, the road for a distance of a quarter of a mile, or to the farm-house of John Ham, was blocked by vehicles of every description – from the field-wagon, with rough board seat and chains on which to rest the feet, and drawn by oxen, to the handsome chariotee of the wealthy farmer. The simple services ended, no hearse with nodding plumes and attended by hired mutes in sable garments bore him to the grave; but, carrying out the original and real significance of bearers , the plain coffin, covered with a black pall, was borne on the shoulders of those who loved its occupant in life from the house to its final resting-place.

"The next, with dirges due, in sad array,

Slow through the church-yard path we saw him borne."

The space here consecrated for the repose of the family’s dead has been thus occupied for more than three-quarters of a century.

"Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,

Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;

Along the cool, sequester’d vale of life

They kept the noiseless tenor of their way."

There is no clustering of houses adjoining this hallowed spot. There are spreading elms around, and one within the enclosure, which is as funereal in its appearance as the yew-tree. It is true, as the beautiful poet above quoted intimates, that neither "storied urn" nor "animated bust" can call back the "fleeting breath," nor the flattery of inscriptions, deserved or undeserved, "soothe the dull, cold ear of death," and it is also a sad, a melancholy reflection, how very short a period do nearly all the memorials reared to the memory of the dead by the hand of surviving friendship and affection endure! A few, a very few brief years, and the head-stone has sunk, the slab is broken, the short column or pyramid overturned; yet while they do remain, they are often mementos of many interesting incidents or endearing recollections.

Thus my friend, James H. Westcott, and myself mused returning homeward in the gloaming of that autumnal afternoon – the wailing of the wind in the tall pines of the Bear Swamp and the leaden clouds overhead adding not a little to our gloom. And yet, alas! a comparatively short time elapsed, and he to was numbered with the dead! {The late Amos Stafford was, it is believed, the first white child born in the County of Saratoga north of the Kayaderosseras Creek, having been born on the 30 th day of January, 1789. John A. Waterbury, born in Greenfield, July 27 th of the same year, was the second. Henry Stafford – a brother of the late Amos Stafford – was for a time in business in Saratoga Springs. In 1814, he removed, with his family, to Western New York, and died a few years since at his residence near Dundee, N.Y. His wife is still (1875) living at an advanced age with her son, Col. H.G. Stafford.}



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