On this day in 1778, Patriot Colonel Ichabod Alden refuses to believe intelligence about an approaching hostile force. As a result, a combined force of Loyalists and Native Americans, attacking in the snow, killed more than 40 Patriots, including Alden, and took at least an additional 70 prisoners, in what is known today as the Cherry Valley Massacre. The attack took place east of Cooperstown, New York, in what is now Otsego County.
Alden was a New Englander from Duxbury, Massachusetts, who began his military career in the Plymouth militia before serving in the 25th Continental regiment during the siege of Boston that followed the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775. Alden was then sent to command the 7th Massachusetts Regiment in Cherry Valley, New York, where he was strategically out of his depth in a state deeply divided between Loyalists and Patriots and with a significant Native American military presence.
Alden ignored warnings that local natives were planning an attack and left the 200 to 300 men stationed to defend Cherry Valley ill-prepared for the eventual arrival of 600 Iroquois under the adept command of Chief Joseph Brant and 200 men, known as Butler’s Rangers, under the command of Loyalist Major Walter Butler. (The Rangers had been trained by Walter’s father, Colonel John Butler.)
Ironically, on November 11, 1775, exactly three years before this so-called massacre executed by aggrieved Iroquois, the Continental Congress had engaged the missionary Samuel Kirkland to spread the “Gospel amongst the Indians,” and confirm “their affections to the United Colonies… thereby preserving their friendship and neutrality.”