Daniel T. Weaver
Shortly before one in the afternoon on Sunday, April 11, 1779, Albert Harmanus Vedder, who after the American Revolution would become the founder of what is now the City of Amsterdam, New York headed east from Fort Johnson on the turnpike that paralleled the Mohawk River. He was on his way to see Justice William Harper and Colonel John Harper at Daniel Claus’s house. Claus’s manor, which he called Williamsburg, was about a mile away (near the current Amtrak station) from Old Fort Johnson which Vedder had been renting from The Tryon County Committee of Sequestration since the previous year. A little farther down the valley was Colonel Guy Johnson’s house, occupied by Fergus Kennedy. The Tryon County Committee of Safety had confiscated the three manors because their owners were Loyalists.
About a third of the way to Harper’s house Vedder saw several armed Indians running toward him. They surrounded him, took his coat, handkerchief and the buckles from his pants and shoes. Then they took him to the rest of their raiding party, a short distance from the road.
Vedder recognized four other prisoners. He also knew two Tories among the raiders, John Roach and Barent Wemple, and one Indian named Pete who only had one arm. Pete is undoubtedly the same Indian who killed Jane Fonda’s ancestor, Douw Fonda, in the May 1780 raid by John Johnson on Caughnawaga (Fonda).
Vedder’s captors intended on taking the prisoners to Canada. They went about three miles back up the road where they camped for the night. They tied their prisoners up, put Albert’s great coat over him so he could stay warm and made him sleep between the two Tories. Albert asked Wemple where they had come from and how many men were in the raiding party. Wemple said they had come from Canada and “were sprad all over.”
During the night, Vedder was able to get loose while everyone was asleep and sneak away. He made his way to Justice Harper’s house and reported what happened. Harper forwarded Vedder’s story to Governor George Clinton.
The capture of Vedder and others near Fort Johnson was not a random, isolated incident. The raiders were part of a body of about 60 men who split into groups to simultaneously attack three locations. One of the parties killed two men and took four prisoners at Sacandaga.
Though a seemingly minor raid, numerous documents show it caused consternation for Mohawk Valley residents. The raiders near Fort Johnson came close to capturing Lt. Colonel Marinus Willett, one of the Revolution’s outstanding officers. Major Stephen Lush reported to Clinton, “Lt. Colo. Willett passed this Place on his way to Fort Schuyler but about twenty Minutes before the Inhabitants were taken off.”
The raid revealed the vulnerability of valley residents. Writing to Clinton on April 15, Jelles Fonda begged, “For God Sake, Do all you Can to Send our Trupes up to our Relefe; we Sertenly live in Danger.”
It also raised the issue of valley residents’ discontent with the Albany Commissioners for Detecting Conspiracies. Harper complained that the commissioners were letting suspected Tories go without fully examining them. He suggested that some of the Indians involved in the raid at Sacandaga were previously suspected of being spies but had received safe conduct passes anyway. In response Clinton told Harper he should bring charges against the commissioners.
The raid was one of a series in the Mohawk Valley, and people were beginning to wonder if it wasn’t time for the inhabitants to leave. If the valley above Schenectady were vacated, Harper wrote Clinton, it would be a pity because the wheat crop has never looked “so well at this time of year as it now doeth.” Valley wheat helped feed Washington’s army.
Whether Canada was ruled by the French or English, it meant only one thing to valley residents—suffering. Vedder’s grand-father, Albert, and grand-father’s brother, Johannes, as teens survived the death march to Canada after the Schenectady Massacre in 1690. His cousin was taken there following the Battle of Beukendaal in 1748. Another relative, Christian Vedder, died in Canadian captivity.
Albert had all that to think about when he lay between the two Tories. He also had a wife, Anna Quackenbos, and nine children at Fort Johnson, and she was pregnant with their tenth. Five weeks later, she gave birth to Alexander, probably the first American born in Johnson’s house. I can’t help but think that Vedder’s family history and his wife’s condition gave him the motivation to escape his captors–and his ancestors’ fate.
Note: This is just one of sixty stories in my new book, Between the Cracks: Forgotten Stories of Amsterdam, NY and the Mohawk Valley.