The Sammons Brothers Are Captured
Not all of the men who fought either lived or died; some faced a terrible hardship when they were taken captive and dragged to Canada. The families didn’t know for sure, in many cases, for years if the person was dead or alive. Men, women and children were captured and taken to Canada it made no difference if they were innocent. It was not an easy trip to Canada, the captives had to walk to the portage places where they were loaded on boats and taken west to Niagara or north to Montreal.
This story is typical of those who had the courage to escape their captivity. It is a story of resourcefulness and courage. And it is a story about the determination to be free at all costs.
The Sammons brothers were among those who were taken captive. The father, Sampson Sammons was of German extraction originally and moved from Ulster County to Tryon County a few years before the war. In the first stages of the war he was a prominent and vocal member of the Committee of Safety. In 1777, a Corps of Exempts was organized under Colonel Jelles Fonda with Fonda himself acting as Captain. In this company, Sampson Sammons was the Lieutenant. In 1779 the corps was reorganized and enlarged. On the Muster Roll for 1779, Sammons was entered as an Ensign.
Sampson Sammons was well known to Sir John. Previous to the war, the families were very friendly and in the early stage of the war, Sampson had exerted himself to protect the Baronet from the violence of the angry Patriots or Whigs as they were called. But Sir John Johnson well remembered the incident of the Liberty Pole near Caughnawaga in 1775, and he was determined to make the Sammons family pay. He was especially angry to find the family living in Johnson Hall, his home. Sir John’s holdings were confiscated and sold because he was a Loyalist.
After five years of war, in May of 1780, the attacks on the area became increasingly more vicious. It was the lot of the local people to experience the wrath of the enemy, and to see their villages laid waste, fields destroyed and their dwellings reduced to ashes. Sir John had the help of his Loyalists friends; the Butlers, both John and Walter; and Joseph Brant the Indian Chief.
On Sunday the twenty-first of May, in the middle of the night, Sir John Johnson entered the northern part of Johnstown with five hundred men, composed of British troops, a detachment of his own Regiment of Royal Greens and about two hundred Indians and Tories.
Sir John entered the country by way of Lake Champlain to Crown Point, and went through the woods to the Sacandaga River. He arrived in the heart of the country undiscovered, except by the resident Loyalists, who were probably in the secret and assisted him with horses and supplies. Before he reached his former Baronial Hall at Johnstown, Sir John divided his forces into two detachments, leading one detachment himself to the Hall. He went through the Village of Johnstown while the other force was sent through a more eastern settlement, to strike the Mohawk River at or below Tripe's (Tribe’s) Hill. From there it swept up the river through the Village of Caughnawaga, to the Cayadutta Creek where the detachment was to meet with Sir John.
During the night march they attacked the dwelling house of Mr. Lodowick Putnam, who with his son, was killed and scalped. The next house they attacked was that of Mr. Stevens, which was burned and its owner killed. Arriving at Tripe's Hill, they murdered three men, by the names of Hansen, Platts, and Aldridge. An Indian to whom he had shown great kindness, and who had in return expressed much gratitude killed Hansen, who was a Captain of Militia.
Proceeding toward Caughnawaga, the men intent on destruction, arrived about daylight at the house of Colonel Visscher, occupied at the time by himself, his mother, and his two brothers.
The Visscher house was immediately attacked. Alarmed at the sounds outside, the Colonel seized his arms and with his brothers, decided to defend the house to the last man. They fought for a time, but the house was overcome. The three brothers were instantly struck down and scalped, and the torch applied to the house.
The enemy proceeded on their way up the river to look for more places to attack and burn.
Colonel Visscher was only wounded. After recovering from the shock of the hatchet taking off his scalp, he saw the house enveloped in flames and his two brothers dead by his side. Weak as he was, he succeeded in removing their bodies from the house. His own wounds were treated, he recovered and he lived many years afterward.
The Visschers were important men among the Whigs (Patriots) of Tryon County. There were four brothers at the start of the war. Frederick, (the Colonel,) John, William Brower, and Harmanus.
Here is a bit of background on the Visschers. William B. died of scarlet fever during the winter of 1776. A very bitter hostility existed against this family among the Loyalists dating from the autumn of 1775. Colonial Congress appointed Frederick Visscher a Colonel in the Militia. One of the Commissions of Captain was left for him to appoint and he appointed his brother John.
In the autumn of that year the Colonel directed his Regiment to parade for review on an elevated plain near the inn of Peggy Wemple, in Caughnawaga. While the Regiment was on parade, Sir John Johnson and his wife drove along the river road. Johnson ordered his coachman to drive up the hill to the parade ground. He demanded to know who had called the assemblage together, and for what purpose?
The reply was that Colonel Visscher had ordered his Regiment to parade for review. The Baronet stepped up to the Colonel and repeated the question. The Colonel of course, gave a similar reply. Sir John ordered the Regiment to disperse but the Colonel directed them to keep their rank. The Baronet, who was armed with a sword cane, raised his weapon to attack Visscher, but the latter grasped the cane, and in the scuffle the sword was drawn. Visscher grabbed the scabbard. Sir John threatened to run him through the body and the Colonel told him if he chose to make the attempt he might want to try, in other words he dared him to do it. Stepping up to his carriage, he directed Lady Johnson to rise that he might take his pistols from the box under her seat. His wife argued with him but to no purpose, and having obtained his pistols, the Baronet again demanded that the Regiment should be dismissed, for they were rebels. If not, he declared in a fit of temper that he would blow the Colonel through.
"Use your pleasure," was again the reply of Visscher.
At this moment, a young Irishman, in the domestic service of the Colonel, who was in the ranks, exclaimed-"By J--s, if ye offer to lift hand or finger against my master, I will blow you through."
The Baronet returned to his carriage, and drove away in great wrath. Since this incident, Sir John harbored ill feelings toward the Sammons family.
In May of 1780 Sir John proceeded with his division through the village of Johnstown and he arrived at the residence of Sampson Sammons. Sampson had three sons, Jacob, Frederick and Thomas who was eighteen. They all inherited the principles of their father and the whole family saw service in the course of the war.
The eldest of Mr. Sammons' sons was the lessee of the Johnson Hall farm, which had been sold by the Committee of Sequestrations. Sir John was aware of this and it made him angry to see the Sammons family on what he considered his property.
Thomas had risen at an early hour in order to feed his horses, and go over to the Hall to work with his brother. After coming down the stairs, he stepped out of doors half-dressed, to take a look at the weather. Day was just breaking. The thought occurred to him, that should any straggling Indians be prowling around, he would stand a poor chance of escaping. While deciding whether to proceed or wait for more light, he was startled by the glitter of steel before his eyes. Then he heard the words-"You are my prisoner!” The house was immediately surrounded by the enemy.
One of the officers, with several soldiers entered the house and ordered the family to get up and surrender themselves as prisoners. Jacob and Frederick, who were in bed in the second story, seized their arms. The officer, who was a Tory named Sutherland, and knew the family, called to them by name and promised quarters on the condition they surrendered.
Jacob inquired whether there were Indians with them. He said if there were, he and his brother would not be taken alive. Sutherland assured Jacob there were no Indians present and the brothers surrendered. Their father, Sampson, was also taken at this time.
While the soldiers were busy plundering the premises, the morning advanced, and Sir John Johnson came up with the remainder of the division. The women of the family were not taken as prisoners, but the father and sons were directed to make ready to march. The Sammons men well knew what this meant, a trip to Canada.
Thomas remarked to the soldier who stood sentinel over him, that he could not travel to Canada without his clothes, and especially without his shoes. He requested permission to get his clothing and shoes. The soldier refused permission but Thomas persisted and said that he must get his shoes at least. He was stepping toward the door, when the soldier made a plunge at his back with his bayonet. His sister was standing by, and she seized the weapon, and threw herself across its barrel, bringing it to the ground. An officer stepped forward and demanded what was the matter. The girl informed him of the attempt on her brother. The officer rebuked the soldier by the exclamation-"You d--d rascal, would you murder the boy?" Immediate permission was then given Thomas to get whatever articles he wanted.
Sampson Sammons, the father of Jacob, Frederick and Thomas, because of his patriotic activities, some of the officers tied him to a Negro, who was also a prisoner. Sir John discovered the indignity, and he countermanded the order. The hands of the young men were all closely tied and with their father were marched between soldiers.
The whole army now set their faces westward, burning every building not owned by a Loyalist, killing sheep and black cattle, and taking all the horses that could be found for their own use.
Returning again to Caughnawaga (Fonda), the torch was applied to every building except the church; a number of prisoners were taken, and several more persons were killed. From Caughnawaga, Sir John retraced his steps to Johnstown, passing the premises of Mr. Sammons, where applying the fire torch to all the buildings, he completed the work of destruction, leaving the females of the family homeless, and taking away the seven horses which were in the stables.
The prisoners were collected into an open field. The Tory families of the town came in large numbers to see their friends and relatives, who were part of the white troops of the invading army. Thomas Sammons, during the whole morning, had pretended to be lame and while loitering about the Hall he attracted the attention of the widowed lady of Captain Hare, one of the British officers who had fallen in the Battle of Oriskany. Mrs. Hare, since the death of her husband, had occupied an apartment at the Hall; and she asked Sir John for the release of several of her personal friends. He agreed to let her select friends for release. When she went to select them, she smuggled young Sammons into the group and led him away in safety.
Toward night the Militia of the surrounding country were observed to be clustering in the village, and Sir John thought it advisable to resume his march. He had collected a number of prisoners, booty and some eighteen or twenty of his Negro slaves whom he had left behind at the time of his flight in the spring of 1776. The next day Sampson Sammons applied to Sir John for an interview, which was granted.
Mr. Sammons asked that he be released. The Baronet hesitated. Sampson reminded Sir John of former events, and of the efforts of friendship which he himself had made in his behalf. He reminded him he had a part in seeing that his family was safe during the times the Whigs threatened to harm him and his family.
"See what you have done, Sir John, you have taken myself and my sons prisoners, burnt my dwelling to ashes, and left the helpless members of my family with no covering but the heavens above, and no prospect but desolation around them. Did we treat you in this manner when you were in the power of the Tryon County Committee? Do you remember when we were consulted by General Schuyler, and you agreed to surrender your arms? Do you not remember that you then agreed to remain neutral, and that upon that condition General Schuyler left you at liberty on your parole? Those conditions you violated. You went off to Canada; enrolled yourself in the service of the King; raised a Regiment of the disaffected, who abandoned their country with you; and you have now returned to wage a cruel war against us, by burning our dwellings and robbing us of our property. I was your friend in the Committee of Safety, and exerted myself to save your person from injury. And how am I requited? Your Indians have murdered and scalped old Mr. Fonda at the age of eighty years: a man who, I have heard; your father say, was like a father to him when he settled in Johnstown and Kingsborough. You cannot succeed, Sir John, in such a warfare, and you will never enjoy your property, more!"
The Baronet made no reply, and the old gentleman was set free. He requested the restoration of a pair of horses. Sir John said he would if the horses were not in the possession of the Indians, from whom he could not safely take them. On making the inquiry, his horses were found and restored to him.
The two remaining sons, Jacob and Frederick, were carried into captivity, and suffered a severe imprisonment. Several of the aged prisoners besides Mr. Sammons, were permitted to return, one of whom, Captain Abraham Veeder, was exchanged for Lieutenant Singleton, who had been taken at Fort Schuyler by Colonel Willett, and was in Canada on his parole.
While Sir John was in the Hall he rescued some of the family silver. It was distributed among about forty soldiers, who placed it in their knapsacks and carried it to Montreal. These men could only carry so much weight on foot. Too bad they were loaded down with silver and not food. They suffered severe deprivations on the way back to Canada because of the lack of supplies.
Sir John was unchallenged by local Militia during his march on the morning of the 22nd, and undisturbed on his retreat. Before Sir John started his return march, the Militia had begun to gather at the village, a mile distant from the Hall. Colonel John Harper, who was known to be a very brave man, led them. With him was also Colonel Volkert Veeder. But they were not strong enough to engage the enemy; and when Thomas Sammons arrived among them after his release, this opinion was confirmed by his report that the forces of Sir John exceeded seven hundred men. Colonels Harper and Veeder marched back to the river, and the invaders left unmolested.
Governor Clinton was at Kingston at the time of the invasion. He hurried to Albany and he gathered Militia and other forces, then he went to Lake George to intercept Sir John. He thought the enemy might be near Oswegatchie. Colonel Van Schaick, with eight hundred men, followed Johnson by the way of Johnstown. Descending Lake George to Ticonderoga, the Governor was joined by a body of Militia from the New Hampshire grants. But the invaders had escaped. They went by Crown Point and to St. John's. The captives were transferred to the Fortress of Chamblee.
The prisoners at Chamblee numbered about forty. On the day after their arrival, Jacob Sammons decided to make a project of using his fellow prisoners to attack the guards and obtain their freedom. The garrison was weak in number, and the sentinels were less vigilant than is usual among good soldiers. The prison doors were opened once a day when an officer visited the prisoners, with four or five soldiers. Sammons had observed where the arms of the guards were stacked unguarded in the yard. His plan was that some of the prisoners should attack and disarm the visiting guard on the opening of their door, while the rest were to rush forth, seize the arms, and fight their way out. The idea was agreeable to his brother Frederick and one other man named Van Sluyck, but was considered too dangerous by the rest of the prisoners and they declined to be part of the plot. The brothers waited for a chance to escape.
Within three days the chance presented itself on the 13th of June. The prisoners were supplied with an allowance of beer. Two prisoners were sent daily to bring the cask from the brew-house, under a guard of five men who had with fixed bayonets. They figured the guards’ guns though charged, were not primed. That day the brothers arranged matters so they were together for the errand. They had an understanding that they were to dart from the guard and run for their lives. They hoped that in the confusion of the moment they could escape beyond the range of musket shot.
At the given moment, the brothers ran. The alarm was sounded and the whole garrison was after them in hot pursuit. Unfortunately for Jacob, he fell into a ditch and sprained his ankle. Frederick turned to his assistance but Jacob told him to run and leave him. Recovering somewhat from his fall, Jacob ran forward again with but his ankle slowed him down. He plunged into a clump of shrubs and trees, and hid himself between two logs before the pursuers came near.
Twenty or thirty shots had been fired. Probably because of the smoke from the guns, the guards did not see Jacob. They returned in about half an hour, halting by the bushes in which the other fugitive was sheltered, and near enough that he could hear their conversation. The pursuit was abandoned, the guards returned to the fort.
The brothers had agreed in case they were separated, to meet 10 o'clock that night. Jacob lay hidden in the bushes until night. He waited at the spot previously designated, and called out for Frederick. Caution forbid his remaining any longer. Later the brothers decided Jacob was too early and that is why he missed his brother Frederick.
Following the bank of the Sorel, Jacob passed Fort St. John's soon after daybreak on the 14th. He planned to swim the river and go homeward on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. Just as he was preparing to enter the water, he saw a boat, filled with officers and soldiers. It was the enemy!
Concealing himself again in the woods, he resumed his journey when he thought it was safe. This time he had not gone more than two or three miles before he saw a party of several hundred men getting timber for the fort. To avoid them he made a wide circuit. At about 12 o'clock he came to a small clearing where there was a house, and in the field he saw a man and boy hoeing potatoes.
They were called in to dinner by French speaking woman. Jacob had heard the French people were friendly to the American cause and he was driven by hunger and fatigue. He took a chance and made himself known to the French family. The family sided with the enemy. The man said he would bring him back to the fort. Sammons replied that he might act as he pleased, but that all the men in Canada could not make him a prisoner again.
The man returned with his son to the potato field and resumed his work. His compassionate wife gave Jacob a bowl of bread and milk, which he ate sitting on the threshold of the door. While in the house he saw a musket, powder horn and bullet-pouch hanging against the wall. He decided he needed these so he might be able to get food during the long march before him. He traveled far enough into the woods to conceal himself but returned to the French family’s house in the evening to steal the musket and ammunition.
Very soon after he entered the house in the evening, he heard voices. He laid flat upon the irregular floor, and looking through the boards, saw eleven men who came for milk. His situation was now exceedingly critical. The churlish man might inform against him, or betray him. But neither event occurred. The unwelcome visitors departed in due time, and the family all retired to bed, except the wife. As Jacob descended from the chamber, she gave him with another bowl of bread and milk.
The woman begged her guest to surrender himself and join the ranks of the King, assuring him that his Majesty must certainly conquer in the end. She reminded him in case the Loyalists would win, the rebels would lose all their property, and many of them be hanged in the bargain. Finding all her efforts to convert a Whig into a Tory fruitless, she told him, that if he would hide himself two days longer in the woods, she would furnish him with some provisions. Her husband was going to the fort the next day, and she would ask him to provide Jacob with a pair of shoes.
Jacob was uncomfortable with this plan and left. He did not have it in his heart after such kindness to seize her husband's arms, and he left without the gun. Arriving once more at the water's edge at the lower end of Lake Champlain, he discovered a party of soldiers all soundly asleep. A canoe was by the shore. He quietly and carefully took the canoe and paddled himself up the lake.
But his hopes were dashed the next night. At the Isle au Noix he spotted a fort. The soldier’s bayonets sparkled as the moon shown on arms of the sentinels who were pacing their tedious rounds. The lake was narrow at this point and he decided both sides were fortified and the attempt to go through between the forts would be very unwise. His decision was to run ashore and resume his travels on foot. Without shoes, without food, it promised to be a long journey through a wilderness. He started his journey along the eastern lakeshore toward Albany. During the first four days he existed on birch bark, chewing the twigs as he went. On the fourth day, while resting by a brook, he heard fish swimming in the water. He caught a few of these, but with no way to make a fire, he ate one of them raw but one raw fish was more than enough and the others he threw away.
Jacob’s feet were cut, bruised, and torn by thorns, briars, and stones. He could hardly walk because of his feet and hunger was constant. On the fifth day he was attacked by swarms of mosquitoes while crossing a swamp. On the same day he fell upon the nest of a black duck. The duck was sitting on her eggs until he caught her. The bird was killed and then he ate the whole duck, including the head and feet. There were nine eggs, which he scooped up and took with him. When he broke open an egg, he found a little half-made duckling. His stomach revolted, and he threw away the eggs.
On the tenth day he came to a small lake. His feet were so bad he could scarcely crawl. Some relief came by soaking them in the lake. For a time it seemed as though he could never rise upon his feet again.
But he was somewhat refreshed and he decided to continue on his way. While raising his right leg over the trunk of a fallen tree, he was bitten in the calf by a rattlesnake! With his pocketknife, he made a cut in his leg and removing the wounded flesh. He dug deeper than the fangs of the serpent had penetrated to be sure he removed all the venom he could. His next business was to find and kill the venomous snake, then dress it for eating.
Feeling somewhat strengthened again, but knowing that he could not travel farther in his present condition, he stayed where he was for a few days. He also ate a dry fungus from the trunk of a maple tree. When he succeeded in making a fire his comfort was increased. He had to creep on his hands and knees to gather fuel. On the third day he was in a state of severe exhaustion that he could no longer manage to move about. Figuring his death was very near; he crawled to the foot of a tree. He carved his name in the tree so his bones would be identified and his family would know what had happened to him.
On the fourth day he began to gain strength, and he ate the last of the snake. He decided to resume his journey. But he could not do so without protection for his feet. He cut up his hat and waistcoat and bound this on his feet for some protection.
On the following night he felt he was not far from habitation. Strengthened by this impression, he resumed his journey on the following morning and in the afternoon, on the 28th of June; he reached a house in the town of Pittsford, in the New Hampshire Grants. These grants now form the State of Vermont. He stayed there for several days, to regain his health, and to hear word about his brother. But no news came. Frederick was good woodsman. Jacob figured sickness, death, or recapture, must have interrupted his journey. Jacob traveled to Albany, and then to Schenectady, where he rejoined his wife and family.
Not less amazing is the story of Frederick Sammons’ survival and escape. The flight from the fort at Chamblee was just before sunset, and this accounts for the chase having been abandoned early by the soldiers at the Chamblee fort. On entering the edge of the woods, Frederick met a party of Indians returning to the fort from duty.
Deciding he was a fugitive, they fired, and called out “We have got him!" They were mistaken, although he had been close before he saw them, by turning a short corner and running hard, in ten minutes he was entirely clear. He sat down to rest, the blood gushing from his nose because of the hard run. At the time appointed to meet his brother Jacob he went to the agreed place of meeting. The moon was bright and he called loud and often for his brother but he did not get an answer. He called out so much so that the guard from the fort was turned out to check the disturbance. His concern was great for his brother's safety; but not knowing what happened to him he decided to attend to his own escape. He approached the fort and in case he met anyone, disguise himself and ask whether the rebels had been taken. But a flash from the guard’s musket, and the noise of a second pursuit, compelled him to proceed again with all available speed.
Frederick planned to cross the Sorel, and return to Albany on the east side of the river and lake. But there was a misunderstanding between them as to where to cross the river, above or below the fort. Frederick went to where he thought was a place of crossing, below the fort. There he waited for his brother until near morning.
At length, he was lucky and found a boat. He crossed over to the eastern shore, and landed just at the morning cock was crowing. He went directly to the barn where he supposed the cock had raised his voice, but found no fowl on the premises. The sheep looked too poor by the dim twilight to serve his purpose of food, but a bullock presented a promise of food. Frederick succeeded in cutting the animal's throat. He cut off one of the hindquarters; he shouldered it and marched off with the meat. At a safe and convenient distance, he stopped to dress his beef; cutting off what he figured would be enough for the journey. Forming a knapsack from the skin, with the aid of bark peeled from the moosewood, he set off on his journey once more.
A French family lived about five or six miles away and here he tried to get some bread and salt, along with a gun and ammunition. But he couldn’t obtain provisions, or make the people understand a word. He prepared some tinder so he could light a fire and then he entered the woods. Frederick went in a southerly direction; he thought he had passed St. John's. After stopping for the night he started a fire and occupied himself until morning by drying and smoking his beef, cutting it into slices for that purpose. By using the same process, he cured his knapsack of rawhide.
Prepared as much as he could be, he hid himself until the third day, when he killed a fawn. He crossed the Winooski, or Onion River on the next day. There he bent his course for its shores, where he found a canoe with paddles. With the canoe he had the prospect of lessening the time and difficulty of his journey. But he had hardly started out on the river with the canoe, when it split, and he had to continue his march by land.
At the close of the seventh day he figured he was two days travel from a settlement. Here he started a fire, and lay down to rest in fine health and spirits. But at dawn he awoke with racking pains, which proved to be an attack of pleurisy. A drenching rain continued for three days and he was not able to shelter himself from the rain and cold. During this time he lay helpless, racked with fever, without a fire, or shelter, or food of any kind.
On the fourth day, his pain lessened, he tried to eat, but food was offensive to him and he could not eat at all. To quench his thirst, he discovered a pond of water near by, to which he crawled. It was a stagnant pool, swarming with frogs. He was not fussy, and used the frogs for food. Too weak to start a fire, he ate them raw. He lay in this wretched and helpless condition for fourteen days. Figuring he might die, he succeeded in hanging his hat upon a pole, with a few papers; hoping if discovered his family would know what happened to him. He was on a high bluff, in full view of the lake. The hat served as a signal, which saved his life. Men on a boat sailing past, noticed the hat and sent a boat ashore find the cause. The boatmen discovered the body of a man, out of his mind and speechless and transferred him to the boat.
With the aid of medical attention, he was slowly brought back to his senses. After informing the Captain who he was, he had the uncomfortable fate of learning that he was on board an enemy's ship, and at that moment the ship was laying at Crown Point. Here he remained sixteen days. He learned from a party of Tories coming from the settlements, that his brother Jacob had arrived safe at Schenectady and joined his family. He was also told of Jacob's sufferings, and of the bite of the serpent, which took place near Otter Creek, very near the place where he had been sick for so many days.
Frederick's recovery was very slow. Before he was able to walk, he was taken to St. John's, partly on a wheelbarrow and partly in a wagon. He was carried back to his old prison quarters at Chamblee, experiencing much rough usage by the way. On arriving at the fortress, the guards saluted him by the title of "Captain Lightfoot," and there was great joy at his recapture.
It was now about the 1st of August. As soon as his health was better, he was heavily ironed and kept in close confinement until October 1781, fourteen months, without once seeing the light of the sun.
No other prisoners were in irons at Chamblee, and all but Sammons were taken upon the parade ground twice a week for the benefit of fresh air. The irons were so heavy and so tight, it wore into the flesh of his legs. So angry was Captain Steele, the officer of the 32d Regiment at the escape of his prisoner, that he would not allow the surgeon to remove the irons to dress the wounds until an order was sent for that purpose from General St. Leger, who was then at St. John's. The humanity of the surgeon prompted this the plea to St. Leger to loosen the bonds or else the doctor was afraid he might lose the patient. Even then Captain Steele would only allow the leg irons to be knocked off, still keeping on the handcuffs. The dressing of his legs was a severe operation and very painful. The irons around his legs had eaten down to the bone, and the gangrened flesh had to be removed. There was nothing to dull the pain for the operation. One of his legs healed, but the other one never entirely healed.
November 1781, the prisoners were transferred from Chamblee to an island in the St. Lawrence, called Prison Island, which was situated in the rapids above Montreal. Sammons was compelled to travel in his handcuffs, but the other prisoners were not cuffed. There were about two hundred prisoners on the island, all closely guarded. In the spring of 1782, Sammons organized a conspiracy with nine of his fellow prisoners, to make their escape. They were discovered and Sammons as he was the ringleader, once more was placed in irons.
But at the end of five weeks the irons were removed, and he was allowed to return to his hut. Impatient, Frederick was still bent on escaping. He enlisted a fellow prisoner, by the name of M'Mullen, to join him in swimming the river and taking their chances of making the other shore. The two made the attempt on the 17th of August. The prisoners were allowed to walk to the foot of the island, but under watch of guards. Sammons and M'Mullen, watched for an opportunity when the nearest guard turned his back and then quietly slid beneath a shelving rock, and plunged into the stream. They held up a waving hand in token of farewell to their fellow prisoners, as the surge swept them rapidly down the stream. The guard was about six rods away when they threw themselves into the river, and did not discover their escape until they were beyond reach of his gunfire.
Three quarters of a mile below the island, the rapids were too large for boats. This was the worst part of their voyage. Both were expert swimmers and by diving as they approached the surge, they succeeded in making the dangerous passage. The distance of this rapid was about one hundred and fifty rods. As they plunged into these rapids, they had little hope of meeting each other again in this world. But heaven ordered it otherwise, and they emerged from the experience, very near each other.
"I am glad to see you," said Sammons to his friend; "I feared we should not meet again."
"We have had a merry ride of it," replied the other; "but we could not have stood it much longer."
When they tried to land about two miles below the island, the current was so intense that they were driven two miles farther down the stream. They landed at a place on the north side of the St. Lawrence, called by the Canadians "The Devil's Point." A cluster of houses stood near the river. Needing provisions they decided they had to try there. They had hidden a knife and tinderbox in their waistcoat pockets. One of the first tasks after arming themselves with substantial clubs was to get a supply of tinder. They entered a house and rummaged through the old lady's workbasket.
The good woman, frightened at the appearance of the two ragged and dirty visitors, ran out and told the village, the inhabitants were French. In the meantime they searched the house for provisions, firearms, ammunition, but found none of the latter, and only a single loaf of bread. They also plundered the house of a blanket, a coat, and a few other articles of clothing. By this time the people began to collect in such numbers, that it seemed wise to leave. M'Mullen, was grabbed by two Canadians and was released after blows from Frederick's club.
They both ran into the woods. Sammons, encumbered with his plunder fell, and the loaf of bread rolled away from him. The peasants rushed them. Their only choice was to fight, which they prepared to do in earnest. Seeing their determination and desperation, the pursuers wanted nothing to do with them and they retreated rapidly. This gave the fugitives time to collect and arrange their plunder, and leave. Taking to the woods, they found a resting place, where they stayed until night. They left once more in search of provisions, which they needed before crossing the river and starting on their journey. On the opposite shore of the river, there were no settlements where they could obtain supplies.
The cattle fled at their approach; but they came upon a calf in a farmyard, which they captured. A canoe was tied in the river; they stole it and used it to cross over to the southern shore. In the middle of the stream their paddle broke, and they were at the mercy of the water, which was hurrying them toward the rapids or falls of the Cedars. Nothing came easily for these men, it seemed that at every turn whatever could go wrong was sure to go wrong.
There was an island above the rapids, from which a tree had fallen into the river. Fortunately, the canoe was swept into the branches of this treetop, and it became entangled. The canoe was upset, but they were near shore, and the men made it to land without losing the calf. Striking a fire, they dressed their veal. On the following morning, by towing their canoe along shore round to the south edge of the island, they succeeded in crossing to their own side of the river.
They went directly into the unbroken forest, extending from the St. Lawrence to the Sacandaga, and after a journey of twelve days they emerged from the woods within six miles of the point for which Sammons had laid his course.
Their provisions had lasted but a few days, and the only food for the rest of the journey was roots and herbs. The whole journey was made almost in a state of nudity; both were without pants. Having worn out their shoes, they used their hats, which they bound on their feet. Even this wore out and the last three days they traveled barefooted. Long before their journey was ended, their feet were cut and swollen.
After arriving at Schenectady the settlers were alarmed at the wild and half naked men, with long beards and matted hair that presented themselves. The people gathered round these strange curiosities; but when they made themselves known, a lady named Ellis rushed through the crowd, and grasped the hand of Frederick. She was so much affected at his appearance that she fainted and fell. The welcome fugitives were supplied with whatever of food and clothing was necessary for the remainder of their journey.
When Frederick reached Johnstown, his family was not there. Young Sammons learned that his father and family had moved back to Marbletown, in the County of Ulster, where they had previously lived before moving to Johnstown.
The Sampson Sammons family had long given up Frederick as lost. On the morning after his arrival at Schenectady, Frederick sent a letter to his father, by way of an officer on his way to Philadelphia. The officer left it at the house of a Mr. Levi De Witt, who lived five miles from the residence of the Sampson Sammons family. The same night the letter was left, Jacob dreamed that his brother Frederick was living, and that there was a letter from him at De Witt's announcing the joyful tidings.
The dream was repeated twice, and the contents of the letter were so strongly impressed upon his mind that he remembered it when he awoke. The next morning he repeated to his family what he believed were the contents of the letter and that it was at DeWitt’s house. His family, his father in particular, laughed when he told them about his dream. Jacob insisted his brother Frederick was safe. Jacob went to the place designated and asked for the letter. Mr. De Witt looked for it, but replied there was no letter. Jacob requested a more thorough search, and the letter was found behind a barrel where it had fallen. Jacob requested Mr. De Witt open the letter, and look at it while he recited its contents. He did and the dreamer repeated it word for word!
Source material: Life of Joseph Brant-Thayendanegea Including the Indian Wars of the American Revolution by William L. Stone. Volume II; Buffalo: Phinney & Co., 1851.
Notes: Sampson Sammons and his sons were wood craftsmen, they built Dutch barns. Originally they lived in the Marbletown area and returned there after the war. They built good Dutch Barns, which are still standing today. Here is something from the Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture newsletter about the barns the Sammons family built.
“In studying the marks on the columns, the second bent column and the third bent column are carved with the initials "SS" and the date "1750". (see HVVA vol. 5, no. 5). Curiously above one of the carved inscriptions it is also written in ink; "SS 1750". Jim Decker while studying Shawangunk church records, found that the only SS in the 1750's to be that of a Samson Sammons. No one else from that time had the initials of SS. Was Samson Sammons a barn builder of the area? There were others by the name of Sammons in the Shawangunk area and the name of Sammons was found on muster rolls for Ulster County.
There were other ink marks on the columns. An "RS" appears on one of the anchor beam braces. Could this be another Sammons? Along another brace in ink it is marked "This barn built 1750" and appears in the same hand as the "SS" ink mark.”
The Sammons Family
The pioneer of the family, Sampson Sammons, was born in Greenwich (now a part of the City of New York), on December 4, 1722. The family moved to Ulster County, where he married Rachel Schoonmaker.
In 1769 Sampson Sammons moved to Tryon County, and no doubt his education and opportunities of mingling with the more cultivated portion of the colony gave him at once a marked distinction. There is no doubt Sampson Sammons and his sons were leaders, their names appear in many stories about the Revolutionary War. Life was difficult for the Patriot family; Johnstown was the home of many people who because of Sir William Johnson, remained loyal to the crown.
We learn from Stone's Life of Brant that Sampson Sammons was, during the early part of the Revolution, one of the famous Tryon County Committee of Safety members, which controlled the military operations of Central New York. When the state was able to elect a Governor and Legislature, they took over the tasks that fell to the committee. Stone also mentions that Sampson Sammons was the first man west of the Hudson River at whom a shot was fired in the Revolutionary struggle when the Patriots tried to capture Alexander White, the Tory Sheriff.
When the Revolution began Sammons was appointed to take charge of the confiscated property in Tryon County, and in that capacity he resided for a time at Johnson Hall. No doubt this incurred the wrath of the Johnson family. Nor was the part played by his son, Jacob Sammons any less important.
At a public meeting the Whigs (Patriots) had called to erect a Liberty Pole, the most hateful object at that time in the eyes of the Loyalists, and to sympathize with those slain at the battle of Lexington, Sampson Sammons and his two sons Jacob and Frederick were present. Before they had accomplished their purpose they were interrupted by the arrival of Sir John Johnson, accompanied by his brothers-in-law, Cols. Claus and Guy Johnson together with Col. John Butler and a large number of their people, armed with swords and pistols. The story is covered under the title of the Liberty Pole. Jacob did not hesitate to speak out clearly for his beliefs and did not let himself be intimidated by Sir John Johnson. In fear over the scene between Johnson and Sammons, the crowd dispersed with the exception of the families of the Fondas, Veeders, and Visschers. A major confrontation did not occur because both sides backed down, the time had not yet come for fighting.
Jacob became a Lieutenant in the New York Lines, and rendered much valuable assistance to Col. Marinus Willet, the hero of Oriskany, in his forays against the Indians, who in the pay of the British constantly menaced the northern border. His son Jacob, Jr., was in the war of 1812, under General Wool and did a lot of hard fighting. In the Civil War Colonel Simeon Sammons led the 115th, the Lion Hearted Regiment. The family is known for bravery in the face of battle.
Sampson Sammons was in his fifty-third year when the troubles began, and was therefore legally exempt from military duty. The exempts served as a home guard, to protect both young and old, and to protect the wives and mothers left home from the danger of a Tory or a Indian attack. Incursions by the enemy were a frequent occurrence, and whenever the sentinels or scouts gave the alarm of an approaching enemy, the women and children would flee from their homes to some place of safety. The latter might be a church, a blockhouse, or a fort, but at all places of retreat, the veteran Corps of Exempts gave them protection.
The Militia was very busy through out the entire war, keeping the residents as safe as they could manage. It is sad to note the soldiers who served in the Continental lines earned much more pay than the local Militia.
It was not just hard on the fighting men, but often the family of the soldier suffered. Sammons was not a quiet man and his family was made a special target and subjected to more punishment than others around them.
Sammons was taken prisoner by the enemy, together with three of his sons. He was released and so was his youngest son, but the two older sons, Frederick and Jacob made an unwilling trip to Canada. Their property was destroyed, buildings burned, and Sampson’s wife and daughters left in distress, destitute even of the most basic clothing. Such was the nature of the border warfare in the Valley of the Mohawk and the lot of many others.
Jacob Sammons left a record of his wartime experiences. He served in the Oriskany campaign, and it appears that he fired the last shot on that bloody battlefield.
The following extract is part of Jacob’s deposition to apply for a pension in 1832:
"I was in what is called General Herkimer's Battle or Oriskany Battle about four miles from Fort Stanwix went in with about 900 men. This time I went as a Volunteer. I suppose as Bloody a battle as has been Fought During our Contest the Enemy being greatly Superior to us in number & Commanded by General Sent legor, Sir John Johnson and Col Butlor. We Fought them from about nine in the morning till 3 in the afternoon. When our people Was gone Except a Few with the wounded and we was Fixing a Blanket on two sticks to carry him off which was all the way we Could Contrive and left some on the field of Battle that was not dead as we had not men to carry them all. I saw 3 Indians Come to us & it appeared they took us for their people. I & two others shot them all & it happened that I Fired the last gun. General Harkimer died of his wound after he got home. We lost many of the (best) men in the County our Provision being all taking by the Enemy. As we went home I saw a man with his Troath cut laying with his head on his pack. I took his pack & found a loaf of bread & about Five pounds of pork which tasted very sweet to me and my comrades."
After the Johnson raid at Johnson Hall that put Johnson under arrest was over, Sampson Sammons was lessee and occupant of Johnson Hall under the Committee of Sequestration, at an annual rent of three hundred pounds.
He entertained at the "Hall" the council whose session was held at that place March 9, 1779. Its members were some of the well-known men from the Revolutionary War: V. P. Douw, James Duane, General Philip Schuyler, and also the French General Lafayette. It formed a very remarkable body of earnest and devoted Patriots.
A purchase that Sampson Sammons made at this time might not have been a good purchase, the slave, William who had assisted in burying Sir John's valuables. Later, the same slave aided in finding the buried treasure in 1780, when it was brought out of its place of concealment and restored to its former owner. William remained in the service of his new master until the estate was sold by the Committee of Sequestration. The Sampson Sammons had seven daughters, all of whom married men who served in the Army of the Revolution, such being their father's special request.
Jacob and also his father, were in the Battle of Oriskany, where the former had a Lieutenant's commission. Frederick, the second son, was born in Ulster County, July 4, 1760. He came to the Mohawk Valley with his father, and was also an officer. He was a witness of the bloody scenes in Sir John Johnson's raid in 1780, and saw old Douw Fonda butchered in cold blood, a tragedy, which was vivid in his memory until the last. He was a member of the State Legislature, and was also a Presidential elector in 1836.
As a recognition of the great losses and extraordinary suffering endured by Frederick Sammons, as well as his great services, the State of New York by Legislative Enactment granted him a special pension of one hundred dollars a year. He also received under the Act of Congress an Officer's Pension of one hundred and thirty dollars, to which was added one hundred dollars a year as the pension of an invalid soldier. He suffered to his last days from the injuries received while a prisoner, from having one of his legs worn to the bone by a chain. The knee joint was permanently stiff and was useless. Such were the cruelties sometimes endured by the Patriots of that trying time.
Jacob Sammons was sent forward as a scout when the notorious Tory, Walter Butler was being chased after the Battle of Johnstown.
Trying times indeed, and sometimes they brought out extraordinary courage by the participants. When Frederick and Jacob returned from captivity in Canada, they found their family had moved back to Ulster County. They rejoined their family and lived in that area for some time. Apparently they returned to the Mohawk Valley at a later time, they were buried on the homestead.
Benjamin Sammons was born in Shawangunk Township, Ulster County, New York on December 5, 1758. He served under Captain Nicholas Marselis of the City of Albany Regiment of Militia in August 1780.
Frederick Sammons was born in the Town of Chainwinking in Ulster County New York on July 4, 1760. He served as a Private under Captain McMaster, Fisher and Veeder of the Mohawk District, of Militia. He had two sons and ten daughters. His eldest son, Jacob, was Lieutenant in the war of 1812, and distinguished himself in the storming of a battery at Queenstown Heights, October 13th of the same year, under command of Captain, afterward General Wool.
Thomas, the youngest son, was born in Chainwinking Township, Ulster County on October 29, 1762. He had Benjamin, Jacob and Frederick for brothers. He held several military commissions under various Governors of the State of New York, and was also a member of the "Council of Appointment," a feature in our government, which held vast importance. He represented the district in Congress from 1803 till 1807, and was again elected in 1809 and 1811. His congressional services terminated in 1813, and sixty-four years afterwards his grandson, Commodore John H. Starin, took his seat as Representative of the same district. Thomas Sammons was also honored by other marks of public confidence and honor. He died Nov. 20, 1838.
The homestead of this distinguished family was the farm later occupied by Col. Simeon Sammons from the Civil War. He lived on the land settled by his grandfather.
Sampson Sammons, the veteran pioneer, died October 17, 1795, being then seventy-four. His son Thomas died Nov. 20, 1838, at age seventy-six. Frederick Sammons, whose suffering been of so intense while he was a prisoner, lived to see his seventy-eighth year. He died May 22, 1838, and also was buried on the homestead with his brothers.
When Sampson Sammons saw the return of peace and assumed the duties of civil life, he probably little dreamed that his descendants would be called to more bloody conflicts in their country's defense.
Reference has already been made to his son Jacob, and also grandson of the same name, who fought at Queenstown, and it may be also added that fourteen of his descendants bore arms under the Union flag during the Civil War.
Prominently among the family members who served their country is the name of Colonel Simeon Sammons, whose father (Thomas) was so long honored with the Congressional Seat of this district. The latter had seven sons. One of these (who bore his father's name) had five sons in the Union service, one of whom (Adam) was among the victims of the war. Another (William) had two sons and a son-in-law in the same service. Another (Frederick) also, had two sons in the service, one of whom (William) was also a victim, while Stephen, another son, held the rank of Major in the 153rd Regiment.
Here is a little look ahead to see the story of the Civil War and the Sammons family.
The 115th New York Volunteer Regiment of the Infantry was mustered into service on August 26, 1862 at Fonda. Its companies were from Saratoga, Montgomery, Fulton and Hamilton.
There were 1,040 enlisted men and 20 officers who left Fonda on August 29, 1862. They fought in many battles all over the South. They mustered out on July 6, 1865 with less than 200 of its original members. For this great loss the 115th was called the Iron Hearted Regiment.
On February 19, 1864, they were at Barber’s Plantation, east of Olustee. The next day they marched toward the swampy fields of Olustee, also called Ocean Pond. The 115th Regiment lost over one half of their men in killed, wounded and missing in the Battle of Olustee.
Colonel Sammons was wounded in the foot in this rebel ambush, where the 115th men fought against 15,000 rebel troops. This was a huge victory for the south.
The Regimental banner was presented to the 115th by the State of New York when they left Fonda in 1862. It was of silk with an eagle and shield in the center. The national motto was in a scroll, beneath the thirty-four stars in the field above, bearing the inscription "115th Volunteer Regimental Infantry."
Source: Articles by WASHINGTON FROTHINGHAM and William L. Stone and Beers' History of Montgomery & Fulton Counties, 1878.
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