A combined force of 1,000 British regulars, Hessians, Loyalists and Indians, led by Loyalist Sir John Johnson and Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant, attempts an unsuccessful attack upon Middleburgh (or Middle Fort), New York, on this day in 1780.
Only 200 Continental soldiers under Major Melanchthon Woolsey were defending the fort, and unknown to the British, the Continentals were low on ammunition. In their ignorance of the Patriots’ weakness, the Loyalist forces retreated in the direction of the Schoharie Valley, contenting themselves with destroying everything in their path and continuing the civil war raging in upstate New York.
Johnson was the son of Sir William Johnson, Britain’s superintendent of Indian Affairs, who lived in the Mohawk Valley. The younger Johnson inherited his father’s sizable estate in 1774 only to relinquish it when he led a group of his tenants and native allies in flight to Montreal, Canada, after the outbreak of war between the colonies and Great Britain in 1775. Johnson’s cohort created the King’s Royal Regiment of New York, which fought throughout the war. For his efforts, Johnson became a British brigadier general in 1782.
Joseph Brant ranked among Britain’s best commanders during the American War for Independence. He was an educated Christian and Freemason who studied directly with Eleazer Wheelock at Moor’s Indian Charity School, the parent institution of Dartmouth College. His older sister Mary was Sir William Johnson’s common-law wife and also played a significant role in colonial and revolutionary Indian affairs. At the close of the war, the Brants and their Iroquois followers left the United States for Canada, where they found land and safety with their British allies.