September 17

This Day in History

American Revolution

Sep 17, 1778:

Indians and Loyalists burn German Flats, New York

At 6 a.m. on this day in 1778, Mohawk Indian chief and British Loyalist leader Joseph Brant leads a force of 150 Iroquois Indians and 300 British Loyalists under the command of Captain William Caldwell in a surprise attack on the area of German Flats, New York. German Flats, now known as Herkimer, New York, was left virtually undefended by Patriot troops prior to the raid.

The Indian and Loyalist raiders captured hundreds of head of cattle and sheep before setting fire to every house, barn and mill in German Flats. Despite the complete destruction of the town, including 63 houses, 57 barns, three gristmills and one sawmill, only three men were killed. The day before, four Patriot scouts had run into the Loyalists while on reconnaissance. Though only one, Adam Helmer, survived the encounter, he was able to run the nine miles back to the village of German Flats to warn the residents. As a result, the vast majority of the town's people was able to seek safety in the area's forts, Herkimer and Dayton, and survived the destruction of their town.

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 founding father Sir William Johnson's common-law wife and 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.

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