One of the great misconceptions about the American Revolution is that it was a struggle of old white guys. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The Stockbridge Mohican Indians provided exceptional service to the Continental Army from 1776 to 1778, fighting at the Battle of Valcour Island, serving at Saratoga and Valley Forge, fighting at the Battle of Monmouth, and they provided exceptional service in the defense of Fort Ticonderoga in October 1777, and in the outpost war in Westchester County, New York during the summer of 1778. Proportionally, their nation suffered devastating and overwhelming casualties in service to the United States of America.
The Mohican Indians of Stockbridge, Massachusetts had always been great friends and allies of the colonists. The Mohican Indians were originally known as the “River Indians,” for they inhabited both sides of the Hudson River from New York City to above Albany. However, a disastrous war with the Mohawk Nation of the Iroquois Confederation in the 1620s had driven them to the eastern bank of the Hudson River, and the Mohican Nation would eventually establish a large community at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. During the Seven Years War, a number of companies of Stockbridge Mohicans served with Rogers Rangers from 1756 to 1760. In fact, the great skills that Rogers Rangers demonstrated in woodland fighting were in no small measure obtained from training and experience provided by the Stockbridge Mohicans serving within their ranks.
With the outbreak of the War of American Independence, the Mohican Indians had chosen to actively support the American patriots. During the 1776 campaign, a Company of Stockbridge Mohicans under the command of Capt Ezra Whittlesey was posted at Mount Hope, a large entrenchment constructed by the Continental Army to protect the landing at the La Chute River at Ticonderoga. The Stockbridge Mohicans went on numerous scouts and raids, that prevented the British from gaining any intelligence of the American activities at Ticonderoga/Mount Independence during the summer and fall of 1776. They accompanied Arnold’s fleet to Valcour Island, and played an important role in the Battle of Valcour Island on October 11, 1776. In fact, Mohican scouts were the first to detect the approach of the British fleet and alert Arnold.
The role of the Mohican Company is documented in my recent book on the 1776 Northern Theater Campaign: Douglas R. Cubbison, The American Northern Theater Army in 1776: The Ruin and Reconstruction of the Continental Force. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishers, 2009).
During the Saratoga Campaign of 1777, another company of Stockbridge Mohicans commanded by Captain Abraham Nimham served with the Northern Army under General Horatio Gates, and contributed significantly to American victory by restricting British patrols from effectively scouting the American defensive positions and by keeping the British army in a state of nearly continual alarm. In October 1777 the Mohicans serving with the Continental Army were organized into a single Mohican Company, commanded by Captain Abraham Nimham. This company of Stockbridge Mohicans began serving in West Chester County on outpost duties, and shortly began causing the British outposts and patrols considerable problems, inflicting numerous defeats and heavy casualties upon them.
In late July 1778 the Company of Stockbridge Mohicans had surprised Lt. Colonel Simcoe, Colonel Tarleton, and Captain Johann Ewald of the Hessian Jaegers on a scout near Daniel Devoe’s farmhouse. Simcoe and Tarleton’s cavalrymen were defeated in a sharp skirmish and driven in hasty retreat, and Simcoe and Tarleton were both nearly captured. To gain revenge, Simcoe and Tarleton planned an ambush of the Mohicans. The British deployed no less than 500 men, including Hessian Jaegers, the Queen’s Rangers, and various Dragoons under the command of Tarleton. All this to defeat one small company of American Indians. On August 31, 1778 the British sprung a complex ambush on the Mohicans. The Jaegers engaged the Indians, and then retreated down a stone wall fence lane in apparent disarray and confusion, exactly as they had less than a week previously. The Stockbridge Mohicans raced after them, and were in turn ambushed on the road, while the British Cavalry added a moving component to the ambush and swung in behind them to cut off the Mohican’s retreat. In very heavy fighting, the British cavalry suffered heavy casualties, but the Stockbridge Mohicans were badly outnumbered and surrounded and were eventually overwhelmed. The total strength of the Stockbridge Mohican Company was between 40 and 50 men, and they had lost 25-30 killed. Captain Daniel Ninham was killed.
For the Stockbridge Mohican community, this was a devastating blow. George Washington permitted the Mohicans to return home to their community, and the company was never reformed.
The battlefield is now located at Van Cortlandt Park, the Bronx. A very nice memorial is located at the park. The battlefield is not marked, but survives within the park. I had the honor and great privilege of participating in a memorial ceremony at this park with the Stockbridge Munsee Nation of Wisconsin while I was at West Point. I am proud and honored to count members of the nation among my friends.
Today, nearly every male member of the Stockbridge Mohicans (and many women also) is a veteran of the US Armed Forces, and they still have a proud tradition of serving our nation.
The Stockbridge Mohicans have been stalwart allies of the United States since before we were even a nation.
These Native American warriors fully participated in our nation’s struggle for freedom and independence, and they deserve full recognition and our hearty thanks for the sacrifices that their nation made on our behalf.
There is considerable scholarship on their service available. If you are interested in a book-length history, I refer you to: Patrick Frazier, The Mohicans of Stockbridge (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992). This book is readily available in paperback format.
A Native American Historic Context West Point report that I worked on regarding the history of the Stockbridge Mohicans is available (I wrote the Historic Context and was the Project Manager for the study effort).
For more on this, see my article: Douglas R. Cubbison, “An Ambush at Indian Field, Westchester County, New York, August 31, 1778” Patriots of the American Revolution 4:4 (July/August 2011), 14-17.
The August 31, 1778 fight is also documented in:
- Lieutenant Colonel J. G. Simcoe, Simcoe’s Military Journal pages 80-86; and
- Captain Johann Ewald, Diary of the American War, A Hessian Journal pages 144-145. If any of you haven’t read this spectacular account of the American Revolution, I highly recommend that you do so.
Excellent articles on the Stockbridge Mohicans in the Revolutionary War are:
- Richard S. Walling, “Death in the Bronx”
-Richard S. Walling, “Nimham’s Indian Company of 1778” ;
- Thomas F. De Voe, “The Massacre of the Stockbridge Indians, 1778.” Magazine of American History, 5 (September 1880), pp. 187-195;
- Richard S. Walling, Men of Color at the Battle of Monmouth June 28, 1778 (Hightstown, New Jersey: Longstreet House, 1994). Readily obtainable, really just a brochure, very affordable; and
- Richard S. Walling, “Patriot’s Blood, The Indian Company of 1778 and its destruction in the Bronx” The Journal of America’s Military Past XXVII: 3 (Winter 2001), 15-26. I understand that this article has also been published as a brochure.
For further reading on the actions of the Stockbridge Mohicans at Saratoga, refer to my article: Douglas R. Cubbison, “Petit Guerre: Saratoga’s Small War” Patriots of the American Revolution 4:5 (September/October 2011), 1-6.