The Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley

The Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley, The St. Leger Expedition of 1777
by Gavin K. Watt
with research assistance by James F. Morrison.

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The author, a leading authority on the American Revolutionary War, has studied the history of this period for more than 30 years. He enlisted the combined experience of others with special knowledge of The St. Leger Expedition and the events surrounding it to compile this authoritative history.

Chapters include:
1. A Seed is Sown
2. 1776 - A Year of Manoeuvring, The Ruins of This Nice, Strong and Beautiful Fort
3. The Launch of the Expedition, In Readiness to Embark
4. Not Quite As Planned, Fort Ticonderoga... Abandoned by the Rebels
5. Too Little, Too Late
6. The March of the Tryon Militia
7. Ambuscade at Oriskany, Indians Rose with a Dreadful Yell
8. Tryon County Smiled Through Tears
9. The Stand-off
10. The Puny Siege
11. The Ignominious End of the Siege
12. Retracing Its Steps, An Astonishing Detour
13. The Curtain Falls, This Damned Place - Reduced to Ashes

Buyers of this book have also purchased the companion book from the same author: The British Campaign of 1777, The St. Leger Expedition, The Forces of Crown and Congress, Second Edition and The Flockey, 13 August 1777, The Defeat of the Tory uprising in the Schoharie Valley.

429 pages. Softcover (perfectbound) 6 X 9. Illustrated, maps, comparative chronology, bibliography, endnotes, index.
Published by Dundurn, Toronto 2002
ISBN 0-55002-376-4


 

 

REVIEWS AND COMMENTS
Allan Joyner, Ottawa, ON. Amazon.com (2002)
One of the best things about a well written history is its ability to bring the participants to life. Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley does just that for a little known battle of the American Revolution. From the patriots (or rebels depending on which side you feel yourself on) to the Loyal Americans fighting for their very homes and farms I now understand not just what motivated a group of people on both sides who lived through one of the most important events in world history, but I also now know a lot about how they lived, fought and felt. This was war between neighbors, friends and even family and this book's descriptions of that fact bring a whole new dimension to the story.

The author, a Canadian, and the American researchers and historians who contributed to his work have produced a balanced and colourful work. Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley clears up many long held misconceptions about this important battle and the events that surrounded it.

The illustrations and maps are very helpful. When combined with the descriptions of the places, people and events in the book I came away with a clear image of the events it describes and explains. The author clearly knows the time period and the locations in the book very well indeed.

One of the best features of the book are the extensive footnotes and the bibliography. From here one could go on to explore the entire American Revolution. It opened my eyes to the other side's view of the war and made me see this part of it in a much more open way, I'm anxious to do just that.

I'd highly recommend this book to anyone from early teens on in age because regardless of your degree of knowledge or interest in this particular battle of the revolution the quality of the storytelling alone makes it worth the read.

I just wish I could meet some of the people I came to know.


Dr. Todd E. Harburn, Lansing, MI. Amazon.com (2002)
Gavin Watt's latest contribution to the history of the American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley in New York (Rebellion in the Mohawk) is a wonderful account and the research matches that of his previous books. A very well-written, smooth reading account and once again, the author's research is impeccable. What is particularly appealing (to both scholars and the general reader) is the extensive footnotes which provide the little known (or previously unknown) background details that Watt and his co-author/researcher James Morrison provide along with deductive reasoning and especially the interjection of various small details of original accounts that add "spice" and some levity to the book; for example Watt including this rare quote from original documents relating "the Royal Yorkers being ordered not to wear their shoes when fishing!". Such aspects provide one with a true sense of what it would have been like at that time.

Overall, another excellent addition to the library of those interested in the American Revolution, irregardless of the exact phase; again a fine job by the author. I highly recommend it.


Ron Atkins, Newmarket, ON. Amazon.com (2002)
This book by Gavin Watt marks the current peak of his writings. "Rebellion In The Mohawk Valley" is but the latest in his series of extremely thoroughly researched histories during the time of the American Rebellion.

This correctly and highly detailed, well balanced book is executed so well, that it is extremely readable; and quite a story as well. It was such a marvel to read that I was loath to put it down. I simply consumed it! It occupies a special place amongst my historical reference books. I can't wait to read it again!


John Pulinski, Youngstown, NY. Amazon.com (2002)
This book does an outstanding job of describing the events that took place in central New York 225 years ago(1777). The reader is shown how these events tied into the main British advance from Canada and eventual defeat at Saratoga.

Gavin Watt does not only talk about the key players like Barry St. Leger, John Johnson and Peter Gansevoort but he also shows how the little person fit into the picture. You get the feeling of what the common soldiers and their families were thinking and experiencing. The training, equipping and discipline problems on both sides are discussed. Also, the loss of property, dignity and dangers faced by the local loyalists; the influence and power that the local Committees of Safety wielded. All these were contributing factors to some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire war and it was fought between former friends and neighbors.

The Indians of the Six-Nation confederacy were also discussed in detail. Much like their white contemporaries theirs was a fight of brother against brother, which ended with the breakdown of the Iroquois nation. Great war captains like Joseph Brant are portrayed as the great leader that he was and how much impact he actually had on the overall campaign. You will also get and understanding on how the Indians suffered which is often overlooked or touched on just in passing in other books.

I recommend this book to anyone that has an interest in the American Revolution and wants to read about something other than what happened on the main stage. It is written in a very readable and understandable manner so you don't have to struggle with it--it just flows.


Peter W. Johnson UE. The Loyalist Gazette (2002)
Rebellion In the Mohawk Valley deals with the Crown Forces' victory at Oriskany, and failure to take Ft. Stanwix. There's also some time spent on American perceptions of Oriskany. Essentially, portions of the Tryon County Militia were almost wiped out by a force made up of British Regulars, Loyalists, including the King's Royal Yorkers, Native Allies, and German troops. Estimates of the Rebel casualties range from over two-hundred to almost five-hundred. Naturally the British give the higher range, and the American historians focus on the smaller number. Whatever the number, the Militia was decimated, and it has been said that every family in the region was touched one way or another by loss of a family member or relatives. Even Rebel leader Nicholas Herkimer succumbed to his injuries. There is one curious story, which states that his damaged leg was amputated and buried, and later, recognizing that death was approaching, he requested the disinterment of the leg, as he would soon join it. (p.233). While Canadians are not likely to shed too many tears for Nicholas Herkimer, it's worth noting that his brother Hans Jost Herkimer was a Loyalist. His house was looted by an especially virulent Rebel named Peter Deygart, whose activities were such that even his fellow Rebels called them into question. (p 322). Hans Jost Herkimer later settled near Kingston ON.


Only the Americans could take the destruction of the Tryon County Militia at Oriskany and with some convoluted logic [and] recast it as a great Rebel victory, (rather like they do with Hubbardton.) Gavin spends some time examining this phenomenon, but finally, it is just another part of the American myth-making process, all too familiar to Loyalist descendants.

In this account, certain Loyalist leaders emerge in a rather good light. Joseph Brant is simply amazing. John Butler earns our admiration and Sir John Johnson does quite well too (and I repeat, I am not a descendant of his, so don't look for that bias.) Daniel Claus is eager to contribute his talents, but with certain rivalries centred on Butler and Carleton, Claus is more often frustrated than pleased. Crown Forces commander St. Leger is well-meaning, but is dogged by bad luck and missed opportunities, and some might argue, incompetence. Perhaps the expedition was in doubt from the beginning, as artillery heavy enough to deal with the fortifications of Ft. Stanwix was not transported. One comment in this regard, which I had not heard before, is that St. Leger may have believed that Stanwix would fall as easily as Ticonderoga had to the British a little earlier, so heavier artillery would not be required. Ft. Stanwix turned out to be no Ticonderoga.

To soothe wounded pride over Oriskany, Americans have made much of the sortie from Ft. Stanwix, which destroyed the Crown Forces' camp, while most of the army was destroying the Militia at Oriskany. Gavin notes that little is said, when the same Rebel Force fails to take the initiative against the retreating St. Leger Forces, when they were at their most vulnerable.


April O'Flaherty, Hamilton. (2003?)
Watt had a story to tell that was fascinating in and of itself, and I'd recommend this book to certain history buffs. There is action, intrigue, treachery, murder, and losses and victories everywhere. It is most thrilling to read of famous Canadian Native Joseph Brant and of his growth as a leader among his people, and it was chilling to read the account of the Oriskany massacre. That said, I found his constant need to editorialize and postulate most annoying and there were many occasions when I had trouble remembering which leaders, soldiers, and Native supporters belonged to which side. I spent several days ploughing through this book, and normally I can tear through a book twice its size in a full day. This should tell you something of how complicated it is.

About a third of the way through the book I re-read the press release to see if this book supported the American side or the Canadian one: it was the Canadian one.

It isn't that it is a bad book, far from it. Watt really did his research, as the over 900-item bibliography shows. My only concern is that the writing lacked clarity and I often found myself feeling as lost and confused as the soldiers of 1777 must have felt on the run in the dark woods.

This is a book Canadians should read, for the inclusion of Joseph Brant and the inspiring if tragic story of the British contingency that held on and fought valiantly for King and Crown to the bitter end before raising the white flag.


Peter W. Johnson, Frankford, ON. Amazon.com (2003)
The book goes into great detail about the victory at Oriskany by Crown Forces, balanced with their failure to take Ft. Stanwix. It is interesting to note how casualty estimates vary according to which side was reporting, and how the Americans have taken the destruction of the Tryon County Militia and somehow cast it into a Rebel victory. There is, however a balance to the book, and people favouring either side can feel at home reading it.

Great military history. Well written. Great bibliography. Definitely one for anyone interested in that time period.


John Helmut Merz, "The Hessian," Hamilton, ON. UEL Mailing List, Rootsweb (2004)
If you want to read a real good account of the Battle of Oriskany, and what happened before and after, including the death of General Herkimer, [you] should read the book by Gavin K. Watt "Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley…."

It is highly recommended by me, and Rod, you know I do take the American Revolution seriously.


Thomas F. DeLucco III, Massachusetts. (2004)
I found it to be one of the best written history books that I've read in the last six years. Your style of writing was informative without being academically "dry." You interjected certain "human" elements into your book, by using first person accounts that brought it to life. I found myself having a hard time putting it down.


Tom Vanderlaan, Book Review Supplement, Canadian Military History. (Summer 2004)
Gavin Watt is known for his exhaustively researched and meticulously referenced (this one contains nearly a thousand endnotes) accounts of early Canadian military history. He never lets that get in the way of readability, however, and this account of one episode during the American Revolution follows in that tradition.

After his comprehensive analysis of the campaign itself, Watt embarks on the difficult task of sorting out the mythology that grew up afterwards. To take one example, he looks at Oriskany, a defeat which was turned into a victory in revolutionary mythology to the point that the US Navy named an aircraft carrier after the engagement in 1945. Watt's real skill here is in judiciously weighing the many (and often conflicting) contemporary sources, and coming up with what must surely be the best available figures for casualties on both sides. For any historian who has dealt with eighteenth-century military records, this is no mean feat.


Mickey J. Wind, Douglastown, NY. Amazon.com
Spectacular
Leave it to Gavin Watt to get the point across with dash. The book is very well researched and the research shows in the writing.
We are introduced to many people in such a way that you feel you can shake their hand. The events mentioned are told with such passion that you can feel the action taking place around you. It is all real.

This is the best book I have ever read about the campaigns in this region of NY. As a serious student of loyalists and a reenactor with the Butler's Rangers, this gives me a better understanding of how a person in my "real" unit would have behaved in the wilds of NY in 1777.


Eric Williams, Southeastern PA. Amazon.com (2008)
I decided to read this book because it has great reviews and it covers a subject I am interested in. Essentially this book is about the Operational Level of Command. The commander in question is LTC Barry St. Leger and his mission is to drive from Canada via Fort Niagara through the Mohawk Valley and link up with Burgoyne and Clinton at Albany. St.Leger's command was in many ways a thoroughly modern version of coalition warfare. His force consisted of British regulars, loyalist militia, Amerindians, and German Regulars.

The book is well researched and even though it is written by a Canadian it is fair and balanced in its approach and in its descriptive language. It is a valuable addition to the literature about this operation and to the Battle of Oriskany as well. It does a very good job of explaining the upfront and the behind the scenes maneuvering on both sides mixing the personal, the political, and the military deftly. However it is in that mixing that one of the two problems from my point of view with the text occurs.

This is that there is little warning that we are going to shift our focus from one point of view to another. The transitions from person to person from side to side are helter skelter. It seems to be a case of trying to get too much out in a small space. The book suffers from poor organization of the narrative within the story as it were. Some readers may have no problem with this but I found it to be a bit distracting. I would have preferred to not do everything across the spectrum at the same time but rather shape it more like a novel. Shape it by following a thread to a point just before the climax of the story. Do this with each aspect and thread and then meld them maybe at the climax of the story. I think this would make the book easier to read and understand and make the story better for those who pick up the book as a casual read.

The other aspect I did not like was that the author has done a poor job of introducing the actors in the drama. At some level he must feel that the reader of this book would be familiar enough with the actors that they need no introduction or perspective. He does several times introduce the actors on the stage and then later on fill in some data as he deems it pertinent to the story. I think perhaps by altering the organization as aforementioned would allow him to introduce briefly the actors for that segment up front. This becomes important when several actors are related and share names and other characters not related also have similar or like names. A relational chart for the various sides or an order of battle with command figures would really be helpful.

Otherwise if you are interested in learning more about the Battle of Oriskany, Burgoyne's campaign, The Siege at Fort Stanwix, or the Northern Operations of 1777 this is an excellent addition to a reading list.


Gail Stuart Rowe, Greeley, CO. Amazon.com (2010)
Gavin Watt knows this Revolutionary war theatre better than any other historian, and his work here is excellent. He manages to tell a compelling story while constantly shifting focus from raids against inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley to individuals in England and Fort Niagara plotting larger strategies. The details he offers his readers of individual attacks upon settlements large and small are constant reminders of the brutality of the ongoing campaign in the Mohawk Valley, and the suffering that occurred for all involved. Besides being a significant contribution to the military literature of the American Revolution, Watt's work is a fine addition to local history in New York. This is a book students of the American Revolution in general and the Mohawk Valley in particular will want on their bookshelf.


George Scheck, former Naval War College in Newport, RI and reenactor in the Light Company, Royal Welsh Fusiliers
I have read your book "Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley" and it was the very best and detailed account of the Oriskany battle and Ft Stanwix that I have read. I was impressed by your description of the man Arnold sent into St Ledger's indian camps. Every other account I have read use the halfwit description.

I am presently reading "A Dirty Trifling, Piece of Business."


Brian Mack, NYS (January 12, 2011)
Excellent view of the Mohawk Valley in 1777
Mr. Watt did an excellent job writing this book. His writing makes it easy to imagine what times were like in 1777 in the Mohawk Valley. Mr. Watt also does an excellent job using both views, American and British when describing battles, etc... Mr. Watt's narrative of the Battle of Oriskany makes you feel like you are actually there.


Chuck writes a "Goodreads" Review (February 2011)
Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley is an interesting read. Christopher [sic] Watt combines tremendous expertise with a bit or revisionism to come up with an excellent book about the Battle of Oriskany and the Mohawk Valley Campaign of 1777.
The Battle of Oriskany was one of the bloodiest battles during the American Revolution. It was also a critical battle in that it, with brilliant work by some of the best American leaders in the Revolution, Philip Schuyler, Benedict Arnold, Peter Gansevoort and Marinus Willet, helped lay the groundwork for the defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga later that year. Burgoyne's defeat helped convince the French to openly intervene on with the American's side.

In this book, Mr Watt impressed me with his tremendous knowledge of the Mohawk Valley during the Revolution. His nearly one thousand footnotes also highly impressed me. Not because of the large number, but in the unique way Mr Watt used them.

Many historians use footnotes solely to identify their information sources. Mr Watt used them to provide additional depth and insight into the history he was describing. Many of his footnotes include a paragraph or more of text. The text might describe how several different primary sources view the same event from different perspectives. Or the text might describe how one writer's journal provided a partial description of an event which raised a series of questions. And then how Mr Watt turned to other sources to answer those questions.

Mr. Watt describes the Battle of Oriskany and events leading up to and following it. He provides a very careful and thoughtful analysis of the battle itself. And provides details and insight that is lacking from most histories. I found his tactical descriptions and map quite informative and useful.

Mr. Watt is also a bit of a revisionist. Most histories describe Oriskany as a hard fought victory for the American forces. (Fred Alexander's delightful history of the Seven Years War excepted.) Mr. Watts' theory is that the battle was, at best, a draw, more likely a tactical victory for the English. And that it resulted in the destruction of the Tryon County militia and the ensuing depopulation of the Mohawk Valley. For example, his description of the attack by McDonell's company of the King's Royal Regiment of New York shows how far they penetrated into the American's line. A point glossed over, or missed, in most histories. His view is quite defensible, and well presented.

I would strongly recommend this book to those interested in military history, the American Revolution or the history of the Mohawk Valley.


F. Stieber, Arlington, VA (2011)
An account very rich in detail with excellent research but with an unorganized stream-of-consciousness style that makes the book read like a stat sheet. Tightening up the loose ends at the conclusion of the book would help immensely.


David G. Snell, Bronxville, NY (October 2011)
Dear Mr. Watt,

As the descendant of an Oriskany vet (the sole surviving Snell, among 7, according to family tradition) I read your "Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley" with great interest. It's scrupulously researched and highly informative.

I was especially impressed with your use of primary sources, particularly the 34(!) New York Pension Applications listed in the bibliography. I download my ancestor's application (Snell, Peter, R9897) from Fold3 and while I was delighted to see a photocopy of the historical document, it was slow going wading through the sometimes illegible handwriting.

Do you know of any sources of transcribed versions of the pension applications of Tryon Militia men? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks very much for your help.


Les de Belin, Sydney, Australia (July 2013)
I have just purchased and read your book “Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley” in which Stephen WATTS gets several mentions. It was a very enjoyable book which I read as a classic novel rather the reference book it really is.


Ron Barrons, Hamilton, ON (July 2015)

I just finished reading Rebellion In The Mohawk Valley, which had been recommended and pointed out to me by Park Ranger Dan at Oriskany Battlefield.

As a descendant of Sarah Kast McGinness and her son George that time period and that area of the Mohawk Valley are of primary interest of my Loyalist studies.

I am now looking at patriot family connections, Adam Helmer was a grandson of Sarah and Henry Staring was a brother-in-law of George.

In conversation with Park Ranger Dan, the idea of a list of those deaths on the British side would be appropriate to the battlefield. I felt fortunate to have met Dan who spent a fair bit of time giving a good lay of the land at Oriskany. This was well appreciated when reading your book.

Speaking of books, I am looking at your list. I have another ancestor Daniel Morden who was with the KRRNY, so your maybe your book The History and Master Roll of the King's Royal Regiment of New York should be on my wish list.

Anyways, thanks for providing the well researched account leading up to and inclusive of the Battle of Oriskany. It’s been a great benefit to my understanding that time and place.


Roberta Woodward, New York State (July 2015)

You may be interested to know that it was the Park Ranger at the National Park at the Oriskany Battlefield that highly recommended that I read your book for my research. I am very glad that he did! I enjoy reading your books, not only from the aspect of research for my DAR supplemental applications, but I find the topics highly interesting.


Harry Maher, Elk River, Minnesota – a Barnes & Noble review

"If the lover of history is looking for a detailed (almost day-by- day) history of the American Revolution in upper New York’s Mohawk Valley, he cannot go wrong with Gavin Watt’s four books:  (1) The Rebellion In The Mohawk Valley, The St. Leger Expedition of 1777, (2) The Burning of the Valleys, (3) A Dirty, Trifling Piece of Business, and (4) I Am Heartily Ashamed.  A Canadian himself, Gavin Watt still delivers a balanced work, presenting the view from loyalist, native, and rebel perspectives.  The terror of imminent attack and the tedium of the decimating winters of the northern valleys are felt.  When one’s ancestral roots are in the Mohawk and nearby valleys, these books strike close to home even when one is personally far away.  I loved every page, and I heartily recommend these books and look forward to new works by this author."

Nicholas Westbrook, Director Emeritus, Fort Ticonderoga. Old Lyme, Connecticut, USA. January 2017

I have been studying the St. Leger campaign (peripherally) for 50+ years, while trying to keep my focus firmly on his targets: Saratoga and Ticonderoga. Watt unveils repeated surprises, and kept the grand narrative tied together at the same time.

What a page-turner! Watt succinctly builds the foundations of the story with adept mini-bios of key players, and then adds vivid descriptions of terrain, troops, command-and-control, and consequences. Just a tour-de-force! I cannot recall any close competitor to Watt’s book since Cornelius Ryan's THE LONGEST DAY (1959).

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