On August 6, 1777 an American relief column was marching to Fort Stanwix, then under siege by a mixed British/Loyalist/Native American (predominantly Seneca) force commanded by British Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger. On August 6th, the American column, predominantly consisting of Tryon County Militia, were ambushed in very heavy fighting. The American relief column was turned back, but inflicted absolutely devastating casualties on the British forces, and the Seneca nation in particular never recovered from the losses they sustained. At the same time, the Americans launched a successful sortie from Fort Stanwix that destroyed considerable materials in the British camps. The result was that St. Leger’s attempt to move down the Mohawk River valley and join Burgoyne in Albany failed.
Oriskany was a great tragedy for the Iroquois Confederation, as Seneca fought Oneida, and the Iroquois Confederation collapsed in 1777.
The Americans were accompanied at Oriskany by no less than sixty members of the Oneida Nation. the newspaper Pennsylvania Journal & Weekly Advertiser of Sept 3, 1777 described the participation of Oneida Han Yerry in the battle: “… a friendly Indian, with his wife and son, who distinguished themselves remarkably on that occasion. The Indian killed nine of the enemy, when, having received a ball through his wrist that disabled him from using his gun, fought with his tomahawk. His son killed two and his wife, on horseback, fought by his side with pistols during the whole action.” Han Yerry’s wife, Tyonajanegen aided her husband on the field of battle by loading his gun for him. For six hours, the duration of the fight, she fought side by side with her husband.
In late September 1777 a large contingent of Oneidas joined the American Northern Theater Continental Army at Saratoga. They played an instrumental role in winning the outpost war fought between the British works at the American works from the Battle of Freeman’s Farm to the Battle of Bemis Heights (late September through early October 1777). This daily series of raids, ambushes, patrols and skirmishes resulted in the Americans denying the British freedom of movement and intelligence, inflicted daily casualties upon the British army (which they could not replace), and caused considerable disruption to the British camp that degraded their morale and combat readiness.
The Oneida Nation contributed their full share to the defeat of the British at Saratoga, and thus to American independence. The Oneida Indian Nation continued to fight with the Continental Army. A contingent of Oneidas arrived at Valley Forge on May 13, 1778. They participated in the action at Barren Hill in May 1778. This was an attempt by the British army garrison in Philadelphia to jump a strong American Advanced Guard commanded by the young Major General Lafayette. Several tough skirmishes were fought, the British had an excellent plan to trap Lafayette, but the Americans smoothly slipped away. The Oneida Indians were with Lafayette, and fought in a outpost skirmish on May 20th that was one of several that alerted Lafayette to the nature of the British movement, and enabled him to successfully escape.
The Oneidas continued to support the American patriot movement in the Mohawk Valley throughout the rest of the war. During the 1779 Sullivan Campaign, Oneidas again served as scouts and guides for the Continental Army’s expedition to punish the enemy of both nations- the Senecas. An Oneida warrior is credited with killing the Loyalist leader, Walter Butler of Butler’s Rangers, at the Battle of West Canada Creek in November 1781. During the American Revolution, the nation lost many of its members as casualties, suffered considerable losses of property, and several of their Mohawk valley communities constructed only with great labor were destroyed.
Don Troiani has done a fine painting of The Oneidas at the Battle of Oriskany. If anybody is looking for some great artwork, I highly recommend it, and a purchase of this painting benefits and supports the modern Oneida Nation.
The National Park Service has an excellent on-line discussion regarding the Oneida Nation in the Revolution.
For further reading on the Oneidas at Saratoga, please read my article: Douglas R. Cubbison, “Petit Guerre: Saratoga’s Small War” Patriots of the American Revolution 4:5 (September/October 2011), 1-6.
There have been two superb book-length histories of the services of the Oneida Nation in the American Revolution recently published:
Joseph T. Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin, Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006); and
Alan Taylor, The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.
I have read both books, they are solid histories, I found “Forgotten Allies” to be the more valuable and better written of the two. If anybody is interested in learning more about the role of our nation’s allies, the Oneida Indian Nation, I strongly urge that you read “Forgotten Allies” which can be located at most libraries, and is still for sale at most large book stores and on-line.