AMERICANREVOLUTION.ORG

Nimham's Indian Company of 1778
The Events Leading up to the
Stockbridge Massacre of August 31, 1778
by
Richard S. Walling

Richard S. Walling received his Baccalaureate degree and did his graduate work at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he is presently a teacher in Middlesex County, and has been named Teacher of the Year in 1996. He is also a Historic Preservation Planner, consulting for governmental agencies in New York and New Jersey, and has been a Consultant onThe American Revolution for The Learning Channel and The American Revolution for The History Channel. he is also the President of Friends of Monmouth Battlefield and Board member of the Native American Institute, Columbia-Greene Community College, Hudson, NY. Last but not least, he is the recipient of the Sons of the American Revolution Bronze Good Citizenship Award. He may be contacted by clicking on his name above.


 

Introduction

On a hot day in August, 1778 a fierce contest was fought between Patriot and British forces in the woods, fields and rock ledges of the Bronx, along the Westchester County border. Among the men who fought that day was a group of Native Americans who were formed into a special military unit; a unit that represented both the unique role of Native American warriors who fought in the Continental Army, and of the special bond of shared kinship and culture. This is their story.

Kinship and Culture in the Northeast

Prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution, a well established pattern of kinship and shared culture existed amongst the Native American tribes in the northeast. For example, as early as the 17th century, New England Algonquin peoples moved into the Hudson River Valley as a result of warfare and Euro-American colonial expansion and mingled with the Mohican.

In the early 18th century, this process accelerated, and was also influenced by the introduction of Christian missionaries such as the Moravians and Presbyterians. Families moved across vast distances with a freedom hard to imagine in the late 20th century to people accustomed to super-highways and airline travel. In practically every village from Rhode Island to western Massachusetts, to Iroquoia to the Ohio, Native Americans had family members and friendships along the way.

Examples of this network include the Moravian missions of upstate New York, Pennsylvania and the Ohio country. Delawares and Mohicans, Narragansetts and Mohegans all mingled together in mission communities such as Brotherton in New Jersey, Shekomeko in New York, Bethlehem in Pennsylvania and Gnadenhutten in Ohio. Traditional culture was also reflected in other communities in Indian Country, ranging from Schaghticoke near Albany to Coshocton west of Fort Pitt. Indians, traders, diplomats, soldiers and missionaries carried on an extensive cross-cultural and intra-cultural network which played a significant role in early American history.

Another example of this intra-cultural relationship was the association of George Washington with the Montour family of the northwestern frontier. While an officer with the Virginia militia during the French & Indian War, Washington was careful to cultivate extremely close relations with Andrew Montour, a Native American leader of Seneca and/or Delaware blood. Andrew died in 1774, but his son John Montour, was an important Delaware military leader on the Pennsylvania/Ohio frontier. Captain John Montour was a key figure in that region and commanded a company of Delaware Indians in the American Army. Montour's visit to the Oneida and Tuscarora community at Schenectady, New York in May, 1782 reflects the closeness of the Indian world.

This common kinship and culture was a key factor in the creation of the Indian Corps of 1778.

Valley Forge to White Plains - 1778

While a number of Native American men living in New England and New York communities served in local, state, and continental forces, a new initiative was proposed by George Washington in early 1778 focusing on a special corps of Indian troops. It was at this same time, during the depressing months of the Valley Forge encampment, that John Laurens and General Varnum had proposed to Washington the formation of a special corps of black soldiers. It is not coincidental that the Commander in Chief began to voice his ideas of utilizing Native warriors at this same time for special duties as part of the American Army.

Washington to the Committee of
Congress with the Army
Headquarters, January 29, 1778
...I shall now in the last place beg leave to subjoin a few Matters unconnected with the general subject of these remarks....The enemy have set every engine at work, against us, and have actually called savages and even our own slaves to their assistance; would it not be well, to employ two or three hundred Indians against General Howe's army the ensuing campaign? ...Such a body of indians, joined by some of our Woodsmen, would probably strike no small terror into the British and foreign troops....

 

Committee at Camp to Henry Laurens
Camp near the Valley Forge, Feb. 20th 1778
...We now, Sir, beg Leave to submit to your Consideration, a Proposition of employing a Number of Indians in the American Army. We have fully discussed it with the General, & upon the maturest Deliberation are induced to recommend it to Congress....
...As it is in Contemplation to form a Flying Army composed of light Infantry & rifle Men under the Direction of Officers distinguished for their Activity & Spirit of Enterprise, it is proposed to mix about 400 Indians with them; being thus incorporated with our own Troops, who are designed to skirmish, act in Detachments & light Parties, as well as lead the Attack...
...If it should meet with your Approbation, Col. Gist a gentleman of much Acquaintance & Experience with the Southern Indians will most cheerfully receive your Commands & is recommended to us by General Washington as a Man of approved Spirit and Conduct...
...The Situation of the Oneidas to the Northward is such, that perhaps it will be found our truest Interest to take them into Service...

 

Congress
March 4, 1778
Extract from the Minutes,
Charles Thomson, Sec.y

Resolved, That General Washington be impowered, if he thinks it prudent, to employ in the Service of the United States a body of Indians not exceeding four Hundred, & that it be left to him to pursue such measures as he judges best for procuring them, and to employ them, when procured, in such ways as will annoy the Enemy, without suffering them to injure those who are friends to the cause of America.

The plan to engage four hundred native warriors did not come to fruition. Troubles both in the deep south with the Cherokee who were predominantly pro-British, and with the fractured Iroquois League of west-central New York, precluded the raising of a significant number of Native American soldiers for service with the Main Continental Army.

In the winter of 1778, LaFayette had met with the Oneida in their territory and agreed to have a fort constructed for their protection. In May, about fifty Oneida warriors arrived at Valley Forge and they were assigned to LaFayette's advance to Barren Hill, just outside of Philadelphia. These men were under the direct command of noted cavalry commander, Allen McLane. After Barren Hill, the Oneida received word from their community that a major British offensive was threatening their homes, and by June 18th, they were escorted back to upstate New York by a young officer of the 1st New York. It was obvious the Oneida were not in a position to provide two hundred warriors for a special Indian regiment.

Nevertheless, the seed was sown in Washington's mind, with the approval of Congress, to engage a specific corps of Indian warriors to act in cooperation with the light infantry of the army. It was natural for Washington to draw upon men already in the army for this special mission, and to augment that force with additional warriors from Stockbridge.

During the Monmouth Campaign, Washington did not have the time to compose the corps of light infantry proposed earlier in the year at Valley Forge. In June, 1778, during the Monmouth Campaign he did send a corps of picked men ahead with General Scott to act as light infantry. After the Battle of Monmouth, once the Continental Army was settled at White Plains, Washington finally was able to implement the plan to establish the American Light Infantry.

Native Soldiers in the Army - 1778

Serving in the various regiments in Continental service during thefirst half of 1778 were probably over one hundred Native American men. In addition to individuals serving in the different regiments, on the frontier borders of the new country, various Native men fought in special units composed mostly of warriors from a particular tribe. Instances of these include the Oneida and Tuscarora of upstate New York who had fought at Oriskany and in the Saratoga Campaign of 1777, the various Maine tribes, Delaware's under Captain White Eyes in the Fort Pitt area, and the Catawbas of South Carolina. Additonally, there were also border ranger units with a large percentage of Indian men as in Bedel's Rangers of northern New Hampshire (& Vermont - not yet a state).

Amongst the many New England regiments were dozens of individuals serving from their home communities. Wampanoags from Mashpee, Pequots from Stoningham, Mohegans from Norwich, Narragansetts of Rhode Island and the largest of all contingents, the Stockbridge Mohicans of western New England and New York.

Patrick Frazier's 1992 book, The Mohicans of Stockbridge, provides an in-depth analysis of the role of the Stockbridge men throughout the war. This paper will not review the entire military history of the Stockbridge men during the war, but will focus on their unique role during 1778.

Indian Company of 1778

The Stockbridge men had fought as a contingent on several occasions during the first years of the war, from the siege of Boston to Burgoyne's Invasion of 1777. In October of that year, Abraham Nimham, with his company of Indians, made application to Congress, "to be employed in the service of the United States; who, in their proceedings, October 25, 1777, requested that they report themselves to Major General Gates for duty...(DeVoe, p. 189)."

After the winter season of 1777-78, Abraham wrote to General Gates requesting that all of the Stockbridge men be allowed to serve together:

1778
Brothers-I come ask you a question hope you will help us. Now I mention that with which I have been concerned. I had some brothers enlisted into the Continental service in several Regiments. Now Brothers I should be very glad if you will discharge them from their Regiments. We always want to be in one body..when we are in service..do not think that I want get these Indians away from their soldierings..but we want be together always & we will be always ready to go any where you want us to go long as this war stands &tc.

Abraham Nimham
Captn

To the Most Honorable
Major Genl Gates

 

Although no written records directing the Stockbridges to serve together under General Gates have been found, we do know that men from Col. Jackson's 8th Mass. Regiment were with Gates as of the June, 1778. While the regiment was preparing for the summer campaign, the following men from Capt. Cleaveland's Company were "on command with Gen. Gates at White Plains":

Joseph Chenequn

Benjamin _mehaueamen [Metacaman]

David Nauneehnauwalt

Jacob Pauhauwaupat

John Sepaubwank

John Nimham

Ebenezer Manawsett

Benjamin Wauohnauweet

In July, these men are listed as "on command." Other Stockbridge men may have served with Abraham Nimham under Gates in the early summer; the records are too incomplete to make any definitive conclusion. We do know that other native men were with their respective regiments both in Washington's Main Army and in the Hudson Highlands at this time (June, 1778).

By late July, Washington's army was posted at White Plains in Westchester County, just north of the Kingsbridge area of the Bronx. As the army settled into its new post, Washington began to reorganize his forces. Orders for the 3rd and 6th CT to transfer from the Highlands Department to the Main Army were issued on July 21 and on July 22 several regiments of the Main Army were transferred to the Eastern Department with its focus on Rhode Island. It was at this point of reorganization that Washington's plan for establishing an effective light infantry corps was put into effect.

General Orders
Headquarters, W. Plains,
Saturday, August 8, 1778
After Orders

For the Safety and Ease of the army and to be in greater readiness to attack or repel the Enemy, the Commander in Chief for these and many other Reasons orders and directs that a Corps of Light Infantry composed of the best, most hardy and active Marksmen and commanded by good Partizan Officers be draughted from the several Brigades to be commanded by Brigadier General Scott...

 

While no documentation has been found ordering the establishment of the Indian Corps to act in conjunction with the light infantry, such a special group was formed. Existing regimental muster roles are exact in this matter: In virtually all cases, native men in all of the New England regiments were pulled out of their companies and served "on command with the Indian Company." Men such as Jabez Pottage and Joseph Read of the 7th CT, who had fought at Monmouth, were ordered to the Indian Company. Amos Babcock, 5th MA of Mashpee, David Hatch of Mashpee, Benjamin Jones of Sandwich and Abel Supposon of the 12th MA were in the unit, as were the men of Jackson's 8th MA. To-date, many of the names of other men in the unit await further research as the muster rolls have not survived in the historical record.

The phases used in the muster rolls include, "in the Indian Company," "on command with Endan Comp," "with the Indians on the Lines," "on command with Nimham Indian Capt." Abimeleck Unkas of the 1st CT has an interesting notation on his National Archive's general index card; it refers to an additional record collection as "Indian Corps." Unfortunately, no one has been able to locate this additional record collection at the National Archives, nor have historians contacted ever seen this material.

An additional historical source is found in the Allen McLane Papers in the New-York Historical Society. McLane, of Wilmington, Delaware, was a well-known and much respected partisan officer who operated in various commands including Malcolm's Additional Regiment and later with Lee's Partisan Corps (cavalry). McLane had commanded the Oneida warriors at the Barren Hill skirmish in May, 1778 and was the first American officer to enter Philadelphia as the British were evacuating the city one month later. McLane operated with Dickinson's New Jersey militia during the Monmouth Campaign of late June and was on duty with the Main Army later that summer. Given his skills, daring and experience with Native American warriors, he was selected by General Scott, commander of the American Light Infantry, to coordinate command with Nimham's Company:

Sir

You will take charge of the party of Indians annex'd to the Light Corps & You will endeavor to render them as favorable as possible...

You will proceed with them to such place as you may think most opportune for the purpose in annoying the enemy and preventing their Landing or making incursion into the Country...

You will send all intelligence to me in the most full and perspicuous manner...

In all other matters you will conduct yourself in such a manner as your prudence & discretion may point out...

Given under my hand at Philips Borough Aug. 29th 78

Chs Scott B Genl
Capt Allen McLane

 

Numbers & Composition of the Indian Company

As we have seen above, Native American men from the various New England regiments were withdrawn from their units and brigaded together under the command of Captain Abraham Nimham. As to the total number of men involved, we may never be certain. Eyewitnesses place the number from between 40 (General Scott) to 60 (Col. Simcoe). Descriptions of the Indian troops include:

"...It was a corps of Indians of the Stockbridge tribe and was commanded by their chief, Nimham. They fell upon the front and both flanks of this outpost so quickly that only two men escaped. The chief, his son, and the common warriors were killed on the spot..."
Adjutant General Baurmeister
Morris's House, Sept. 5, 1778

"...they found themselves attacked in the rear by a body of infantry, and in front by the retreating light horse who had returned to the charge: - nineteen of the Indians are missing, six of who have been found dead on the field of action, the others are supposed to be taken Prisoners; we have likewise lost a Capt. and six soldiers in that affair..."
Col. Udny Hay to George Clinton
White Plains, Sept. 2, 1778

 

From the various accounts, the number of men engaged appears to be between forty and sixty. In addition to the men whose names survive in the historical record, we also have a list of Pequot men who died in military service in 1778. As stated in The History of the Town of Ledyard, the following names of men who died during 1778 while in the military appear.

Were any of these men at the Stockbridge Massacre?

Janner Charles

J. Comwass

Joshua George

Moses George

John Tobey

 

Casualties of the Stockbridge Indian Massacre

The terrible and bloody fight on August 31, 1778 is the subject of a number of works and will not be recounted here. In short, on that day Col. Simcoe of the Queens Rangers led a combined force of more than five hundred loyalists and Hessians in an ambush targeted at the Indian Company. When the skirmish was over, most of the warriors were dead and the British had dealt the Americans a hard blow. One month later, Baylor's dragoons would suffer a similar fate across the Hudson River.

All the reports associated with this bloody skirmish share the same key elements: Simoce's ambush, the des-perate fight put up by the Indians, and the large number of Indians killed. Simcoe puts the number of Indian dead at "near forty," and a contemporary account in Rivington's Gazette states thirty-seven and another in the same paper stated nineteen Indian dead. Scott reported that as of the evening of the battle, fourteen of the forty Indians had returned, leaving some twenty-three unaccounted for.

One source which may bear more weight is that of Thomas F. DeVoe, the 19th century historian who wrote the first critical account of the affair in the Magazine of American History in 1880. A descendant of the DeVoe Family upon whose farm the battle raged, DeVoe had walked the battle-field with his grandmother in the early 19th century. She had been eighteen at the time of the battle and was an eyewitness to the fight and its aftermath. In his 1880 article, DeVoe wrote,

"The greatest struggle, was on the second field north of Daniel DeVoe's house, where the bodies of some seventeen Indians lay, cut and hacked to death; besides many others, who were killed and wounded in their attempt to escape in several directions. It was a terrible conflict, or rather a slaughter of about thirty Indians...Many years afterwards, this fight was a frequent subject of conversation by those of the families who had visited the fields immediately after the conflict..."

How many men were killed? No one can be certain. Given the fact that the Nimham's Indian Company had approximately forty to fifty men, and most were killed in the struggle, a number approaching thirty is not unrealistic. As DeVoe wrote in 1880, the bodies of men found in the woods after the battle, including Daniel Nimham, were taken to a portion of the field, interred and stones placed on top, "not as a monument, but to protect the bodies from further desecration (DeVoe, p. 194)."

As for men captured in the battle, Stockbridge historian Lion Miles has determined that the American officer captured was Nathan Goodale of Massachusetts. Unfortunately for Goodale, due to problems in exchanging officers, he was to remain in the Sugar House Prison in lower Manhattan for many months. As for the two Stockbridge men reported captured, research has identified these men. What participants at that time did not know was that both men were not of the Stockbridge tribe, but were Native men of Connecticut.

Jabez Pottage - Pension Account

7th Connecticut, Res. - Windham

"In the Spring of the Year 1777 he again inlisted a private Soldier for three years into the Continental Army in a Company commanded by Capt. Vine Elderkin in Col. Herman Swift's Regiment in the Connct Line of the American Army, the sd. Company was afterwards commanded by Captain Convers - and in said Company & Regiment he faithfully served against the common Enemy, till the Spring of the year 1780 when he was discharged from service and during the sd three years he was in several skirmishes & in the battle of Monmouth, and afterwards while in a scouting party & near Kingsbridge he was taken prisoner by the enemy & carry d into New York and there kept in the sugar house four months & two days and was then exchanged, and again joined said Company & served the whole term of the three years aforesaid.

his + mark

sworn in 1818 when Jabez was 68 years old

The second Indian man taken at the Massacre appears to be Joseph Read of Fairfield, Connecticut. Read was also in the 7th CT and the monthly company returns state the following:

Bradley's Regt./Lacy's Co. August 1778

Joseph Read on Comd with Indian Corps September 1778

Joseph Read Captivated, Septemr _th 1778

With this research, we have been able to identify the three men captured as mentioned by contemporary accounts.

Aftermath

In September, Washington wrote to Jedidiah Huntington of the Connecticut Brigade requesting that he release the four remaining Stockbridge Indians from their regiments due to the severe setback suffered by the tribe at Kingsbridge. This example of shifting of men and the initial process of detaching various soldiers from their home regiments to serve in the Indian Company caused confusion in the military records. In the aftermath of the Massacre several men were reported as deserted from their regiments, when in fact, they were allowed to go home.

Of the other men in the Indian Company, most returned to their regiments. Upon his return from captivity, Jabez Pottage served out the war with the 7th CT as did friend Joseph Read. When discharged after three years of service, Pottage joined Sheldon's Dragoons in 1781. In fact, the entire corps of Light Infantry was disbanded in the early fall, and the men went back to their regiments in preparation for going into winter quarters.

And so came an end to what Washington had planned as the creation of a "Flying Army composed of light Infantry & rifle Men mix[ed with] about 400 Indians with them; being thus incorporated with our own Troops, who are designed to skirmish, act in Detachments & light Parties, as well as lead the Attack..." The anticipation made by Washington in the desperate days of Valley Forge was altered by the events of that year. The Oneida warriors were at home, defending their families and property from their pro-British brethren, and the arrival of the French army and navy in July, 1778 lessened the necessity of employing special forces such as the Indian regiment. Finally, with winter approaching and the decimation of the Indian Corps at Kingsbridge on August 31, there was no practical method of rebuilding and sustaining this unique strike force.

To be sure, the Stockbridge Indians and their fellow Algonquin and Iroquois neighbors and relations continued to play crucial roles in the remaining years of the war. The Oneida and Tuscarora bore the burden of internecine warfare on the border when their villages were burned out in retribution for Sullivan's Expedition in 1779. Later in the war, many of these refugees found comfort with the Stockbridge in Massachusetts. The Delaware Indians tried to remain neutral on the frontier, until Captain White Eyes was murdered, the Americans could not sustain them as allies, and the brutal extermination of Moravian converts at Gnadenhutten in 1782.

The story of the Stockbridge Mohicans continued well past the war and extends into the present. The shared kinship and culture were evident in the years just after the Revolution when New England and New York Indians shared in the effort to adapt to the realpolitik world of a culture bent on land acquisition and the exploitation of nature. The establishment of New Stockbridge and Brothertown, all on land gifted by the Oneida after the war, is a clear demonstration of the communal bond that, while predating the American Revolution, was fastened forever by the blood shed by the Indian men who had fought and died together on a hot summer's day in 1778.

 

Sources:

Avery, Rev. John: History of the Town of Ledyard 1650-1900; Noyes & Davis, Norwich, CT 1901.

Baker, Henry A.: History of Montville; Press of Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co.; Hartford, CT 1896.

National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution: Minority Military Service series:
Connecticut 1988
Maine 1990
Massachusetts 1989
New Hampsire/Vermont 1991
Rhode Island 1988

Miles, Lion: Stockbridge Indian Massacre Continued; Journal of the Native American Institute, Coumbia-Greene Community College; Vol. 2., No. 1, Winter, 1999

National Archives Records, American Revolution Series

Walling, Richard S.: Death in the Bronx; the Stockbridge Indian Massacre, August 31, 1778; Journal of the Native American Institute, Coumbia-Greene Community College; Vol. 1., No. 2, Spring,1998

Walling, Richard S.: Men of Color at the Battle of Monmouth; Longstreet House Press, Hightstown, NJ 1994.

Appendices

Compilation of Native American soldiers from New England by state. (CT - 90, MA - 162, RI - 25, NH/VT - 21, ME - 240: 538 total)

Primary Source documents

George Washington Papers, Library of Congress

Allen McClane Papers, New-York Historical Society

LaFayette Papers (published)

Horatio Gates Papers

Brodhead Papers, Draper Collection, Wisconsin Historical Society

Papers of the Continental Congress, Library of Congress

American Revolution Series, National Archives Records

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