Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Battle of Beukendaal

Translated to English from Dutch, Beukendaal means Beech Dale and that area around Sacandaga and Spring Road in Glenville was known for the number of Beech trees growing. The area is notable for being the only battle of King George's War to occur in the Mohawk Valley, the Battle of Beukendaal in 1748. The Battle of Beukendaal is often referred to as the Beukendaal Massacre (I mistakenly referred to it as a massacre in the last post), but this gives the wrong image of what actually happened at Beukendaal. It was more of a failed Schenectady militia campaign than a massacre.

The main cause of the King George's war had to do with events that occurred in Europe, the War of Jenkin's Ear and the War of the Austrian Succession. The conflicts of the War would eventually spread to the colonies in the form of territorial disputes between the British and their Indian allies and the French and their Indian allies. It was the third of four French and Indian Wars and took place mainly in Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia.
The British siege of the French fortress at Louisburg in Nova Scotia was one of the hallmarks of King George's War. British forces captured the fort in 1745 after a six week siege. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
A precursor to the Battle of Beukendaal came dangerously close to Schenectady. On November 16, 1745 the settlement of Saratoga was raided by the French and their Indian allies. Over 100 inhabitants were either killed or captured during this attack. This attack caused many of the settlements north of Albany to be abandoned. The attack on Saratoga worried many in New York and a draft of 200 men were sent to Albany and Schenectady from the militias of Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, Westchester, Queens, and Suffolk.

Another scare came to Schenectady in 1746 when two slaves were captured by a party of French Indians.  A party of men from Albany and Schenectady pursued the raiding party and came upon the house of Simon Groot. The raiding party had set fire to Groot's house, taken a prisoner, murdered and scalped a boy, and shot a man who was attempting to escape. The militia was unable to further track the raiding party. The raid on Groot's house and the increasing amounts of violence in the area was likely a cause of Abraham Glen requesting permission to raise a company of 100 volunteers for the defense of Schenectady and the frontier. There wouldn't be any battles near Schenectady until July 18, 1748 when three Schenectady men were attacked by French Indians in Glenville. This would spark the events of the Battle of Beukendaal.

Much of what we know about the Battle of Beukendaal comes from a letter to William Johnson from Albert Van Slyck who who fought in the battle, but there have been several other accounts. Van Slyck wrote that a group of men gathered to raise the frame for a barn by the Mohawk River in Scotia on July 18, 1748. Three of the men, Captain Daniel Toll, Dirk Van Vorst, and Toll's slave, Rykert departed to gather some horses that wandered off. Shortly afterward, the others raising the barn heard gunshots and Albert's brother, Adrian, sent his slave to Schenectady to warn the residents there and to try to gather men.
The DeGraaf Barn that Toll, Van Vorst and Rykert were working on was eventually raised after the Battle of Beukendaal. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
A group of Connecticut Militia members were stationed at Schenectady and upon getting the news, immediately crossed the river. Others in Schenectady joined making the total around 60-70 to the 100 French and Indians who made the attack. Unfortunately, the Schenectadians were too unorganized and gathered in four small groups who attacked at separate times. The first group reached the Kleykuil, a clay pit lying between Sacandaga and Spring Roads, and found Daniel Toll propped against a tree waving to the group. As they approached Toll, they supposedly found him lifeless with a crow tethered to his arm (this story has been unverified and doesn't show up in Albert Van Slyck's letter). This group was then ambushed and fired upon from the nearby woods. The second group met up with the first and retreated to the nearby DeGraaf house to stage their defense.

Corn growing at the site of the Beukendaal Battle in 1997. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
The men in the DeGraaf House pried of the clapboards and fired on their enemies from the house. The attackers allegedly tried to set the house on fire a few times, but nothing succeeded in driving them from their defense. The third group eventually arrived, took a good look at the situation, and decided that battle wasn't for them so they turned around and retreated.  Those in the DeGraaf house managed to hold off the attack until the fourth group joined and drove off their attackers.

Photo of the DeGraaf house where the Schenectady Militia defended themselves against the French Indian attackers. The house was demolished in 1915. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
Twelve Schenectadians were killed along with seven Connecticut soldiers, including their commander Lieutenant John Darling. Thirteen others were captured and taken to Canada. Dirk Van Vorst had managed to escape captivity and joined up with the third group (Van Vorst's reluctance at being recaptured, or killed after escaping the first time may have played a role in the third group's unwillingness to join the battle.) With the battle over, the bodies of the dead were brought back to Schenectady and placed in Abraham Mabee's barn which was located at present day 10 and 12 North Church Street. The number of French and Indian casualties were never confirmed, but are thought to be minimal.

In 1929, the Schenectady Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution installed this monument to those who were killed during the Beukendaal Battle. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection
It's tough to visualize now, but Schenectady County was once on the frontier. Attacks like the Battle of Beukendaal highlight the danger that settlers were constantly in and how difficult it was to protect residents in the area.

1 comment:

  1. I lived in the area most of my life. This is the first I had heard of this (7/18/2017).

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