Thursday, February 7, 2019

Nicholas Herkimer (1728-1777) : Hero of The Battle of Oriskany

Nicholas Herkimer, son of a Palatinate immigrant and tragic hero of the Battle of Oriskany, is regarded as a noble figure in the pantheon of heroes of the American Revolution. His family had an intriguing relationship with the Colony of New York that displays the best and worst of the early American dream. In 1709 the first contingent of Palatinates settled along the Hudson River, the plan failed and they up stakes and moved to the Schoharie Valley where they bought land from the Native Americans. They did not secure patents for the land from the Colonial Government and a group of unscrupulous land speculators scooped up the land and required the Palatinate settlers, some 170 or so families, to pay rent on land they believed they owned. The injustice of this move convinced many of the settlers to remove to the colony of Pennsylvania. The remainder of the settlers moved further west and settled on a land patent known as Burnett's Field. Herkimer's father, Johan Yost Hercheimer, obtained lot #36. 

Johan Yost Hercheimer
Johan was an industrious man who made the most of what had been a bad situation. The family tradition claims Johan walked from Schenectady to German Flatts with his wife, Catherine Petrie, infant son Nicholas and 50 lbs of wheat.  The year, 1722. Johan built a house for his growing family and a flourishing business. He transported goods for the local Natives, the military and merchants and traders. By 1756 he built a large stone mansion at Fort Herkimer and by 1760 he deeded his son Nicholas 500 acres of land upon which he built his home.  Johan Yost died in 1775.

Personal Life
Herkimer's beautiful mansion near Little Falls
Not much is known about Herkimer's personal life. He married twice; his first wife was Lany Dygert. After her death he married her niece Myra Dygert. He had no surviving children.

Nicholas Herkimer first served in the militia during the French and Indians Wars. He was given the rank of Lieutenant and helped defend the town of German Flatts when it was attacked in 1756. In the run up to American Revolution, Nicholas, a rich, important man, was head of the Tryon County Committee of Safety. He held the rank of General and was put in charge of the entire Tryon County militia. 

In late July of 1777 Herkimer led a party of county leaders to meet Unadilla with Mohawk leader and Tory Joseph Brant. Joseph had been friends with Herkimer and the others who hoped to sway him back to their side. It was not to be.

In August of the militia was call up to escort a supply train to the besieged Fort Stanwix. Encircling the fort was a force of British Regulars under Lt. Col. Barry St. Leger and Native forces. Herkimer marched with 800 men straight into an ambush led by Joseph Brant near Oriskany Creek.  The fighting raged for several hours, only stopping for a thunderstorm. It is said friend battled friend as Tory and Patriot neighbors clashed. In fact, Johan Yost Herkimer, younger brother of Nicholas, fought at Oriskany alongside Joseph Brant and other Loyalists.

The Battle of Oriskany was one of the bloodiest of the American Revolution. Percentage wise more Patriots died in this battle than any other.
Nicholas Herkimer's bedroom

During the battle a musket ball torn through Herkimer's lower leg. Propped up against a tree, he continued to direct the battle. At battles end, both sides withdrew, leaving the dead where they lay. They transported Herkimer to his home near Little Falls. The wound festered and the brigade surgeon made the fatal decision to amputation the limb. Unfortunately, he did not ligate all the blood vessels and the General bleed to death.

Herkimer died on the 16th of August, 10 days after the battle of Oriskany. He left behind a young wife but no children.

Read my novel, BLOOD IN THE VALLEY, which include the Battle of Oriskany and the death of the heroic General Herkimer.

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