Revolutionary War Historical Article

The American Revolution Month-by-Month October 1780

By Compatriot Andrew "Andy" Stough

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted by Permission of the Gold Country Chapter No. 7 of the CSSAR and was slightly edited by the Sons of Liberty Chapter of the CSSAR

If Commander-in-Chief General George Washington and Congress thought they had permanently taken care of the Indian question then they must have been surprised when Spring came in 1780. It had been a hard winter for the Indians after the two punitive expeditions in 1779. They survived the winter on the bare necessities received from the British. With the coming of warm weather their vitality returned amid a smoldering resentment against the Americans and turned into a bonfire of hate and a desire for revenge.

Britain was aware of their feelings and put them to good use in their fight against the rebels. Sir John Johnson, Britain’s agent in the central valley, united the tribes and organized raids against the vulnerable American frontier. The raids began in April; first to suffer was the settlement of Harpersville, then attacks against the Dutch settlements along the Catskills. Villages and isolated farms were burned, their inhabitants killed or captured. In May 1780, the tempo increased and the Mohawk Valley was again brutally exposed to the Indians' wrath. Militia reinforcements were immediately sent to the affected areas. Militia protection was a deterrent but could not stop the Indian hit-and-run attacks. The raids continued sporadically until August when Canajoharie, New York, was attacked. Forts built to protect the inhabitants were ignored by the invading Tories and Indians. Inhabitants gathered within the forts were saved but everything outside the forts was burned. The Schoharie Valley was next to feel the Indian and Tory wrath. Every living thing outside the fort was destroyed.

In September, Johnson was in the vicinity of Montreal to begin the formation of an army consisting of "Greens", British regulars, Hessian jaegers, and 200 of Butler’s Rangers. Johnson marched to the Susquehanna where he was joined by Brant with a large number of Indians. On October 16th they attacked and laid siege to a fort referred to as the Middle Fort. Several days later, unable to overrun or batter down the fort, Johnson moved on to Lower Fort. Attacking it without success, he set about to burn all buildings and drive off or take any domestic animals, leaving the area barren.

The raiding stopped after a battle at a town called Stone Arabia which was sacked and burned. A force of 1,500 men and a large band of Oneida Indians under Patriot Brigadier General Robert Van Rensselaer arrived to reinforce the garrison of Fort Paris, which stood in the now destroyed town. The advantage now appearing to be on the Patriot’s side, Van Rensselaer convinced the commander of Fort Paris, Colonel John Brown, that he should attack with the promise that Van Rensselaer would circle behind and attack Johnson’s force from the rear. Brown marched out and attacked the enemy with great vigor but Van Rensselaer did not appear as promised. Although outnumbered 10 to 1, Brown’s men fought valiantly and did not retreat until a third of them had been killed, including Brown.

On October 19th, Johnson reappeared near the fort. Van Rensselaer was not present but his officers and the Oneidas engaged Johnson with such ferocity that Brant’s Indians broke and ran, Sir John and his troops following them. Van Rensselaer reappeared and assumed command. Instead of following up the advantage gained by Johnson’s rout, he ordered a retreat, failing to follow up the rout of Sir John’s forces. Had he done so it is probable that Sir John would not have escaped to fight another day. This was the end of Indian raids in the north until the spring of 1781.

Further south, John Sevier with 300 men, bolstered by 400 Virginians, descended upon the Cherokee, ravaging the countryside as well as destroying the towns of Chota and Chicamauga in the same manner as expeditions had in 1776.

October 2nd is noted by the hanging of Major John Andre. He went to his death as willingly as had Nathan Hale. Both died heroes, magnificent in their willingness to die for their separate causes. Both maintained great dignity as they arrived at the end of their separate roads.

Now to France and Commodore John Paul Jones. After a month of stormy weather had come to an apparent end, Jones was ready to complete his journey across the Atlantic. On Saturday, October 7th, Jones set Ariel on a course for America. On the 8th with Ariel not yet clear of the coast there was a sudden shift of wind and a storm such as no man on the crew had seen before. With his ship dismasted and near shoaling on the offshore reefs, Jones was in the greatest battle of his life to save his ship. Finally able to head Ariel into the wind, he spent the next two days staying off the rocks. Two days later on October 12th Ariel was again at anchor in Lorient for repairs, where she remained for the next two months.

British General Charles Earl Cornwallis in June had sent Major Patrick Ferguson with the American Volunteers (Tories) to occupy the back country in the district of Ninety-Six. (See note). From this point Ferguson began recruiting or accepting Tory Volunteers to join his Tory Regulars for an assault on the settlements in Tennessee. If anyone refused to pay allegiance to the King, the British promised to burn their homes or settlements, hang their leaders and put the rest to the sword and bayonet.

The Tennesseeans were outraged! A hardy breed who had stood their ground with Indians were not about to stand still for such a challenge from the hated British and Tories. Furthermore, they would not wait to be invaded. With around 1,000 men, they set forth over the mountains to take the war to the enemy on his own ground. Ferguson, being harassed by the "backwatermen", called on Cornwallis for reinforcements. Meanwhile he moved his troops to Kings Mountain. With a steep and rocky rise of 60 feet above the surrounding land it was a natural position for defense. Feeling secure, Ferguson issued the challenge that "he defied God Almighty and all the rebels out of Hell to overcome him."

On October 7th the Patriots encircled the position and with a war whoop signaled the assault as men began climbing the hill amidst a withering fire from above. For awhile Ferguson and his bayonets kept the top secure – still the Patriots came on! Avoiding the bayonets and firing from behind trees, the backwoodsmen were dropping Ferguson’s men like flies. Several white flags were raised by the Tories but the flags were cut down by Ferguson who refused to surrender to rebels and bandits. Ferguson tried to cut his way out of the battle but was shot from his horse and died. Tories crowded into a hollow but found no shelter there. To cries of "Tarleton’s Quarter and Buford" the infuriated patriots shot them down as they stood. Several attempts were made by the remaining Tories to parley, but to no avail. This was a long awaited revenge for the killing of patriots by the Tories in past years and could not easily be stopped.

It was all that the patriot officers could do to stop the carnage, but finally the killing ceased. Of the 1,000 Tories involved, 157 were killed, 163 wounded so badly that they were left where they fell, and 698 were made prisoners. The patriots lost 28 killed and 62 wounded.

The prisoners were taken to Gilberttown where a hue and cry was heard for a court to try those men who were known to have been involved in atrocities against the local population and in hanging of prisoners. Twelve were condemned and ten hanged. The remaining prisoners were delivered to General Horatio Gates at Hillsboro.

It was an all American battle. The only Briton present was Ferguson. Tory support for the King, once avid, now began a decline from which it would not recover.

Kings Mountain, coming on the heels of previous Patriot defeats, was an outstanding success, encouraging those who were on the verge of giving up hope of a victory against the British attack on American forces in the South. Congress would reconstitute the Southern army, calling on Commander-in-Chief General George Washington to name its commander.

The months ahead might not appear victorious for the Americans but any victories gained by the British would be hollow and debilitating of their strength, leading in another eight months to Yorktown and effectively the end of the war.

Note: For map readers, Ninety–six and other towns of note can still be found on current maps.


References: Arthur Meier Schlesinger’s "Almanac of American History"; Christopher Ward's "The War of the Revolution"; Samuel Elliot Morison’s "John Paul Jones"; Robert M. Utley's and Wilcomb E. Washburn's "Indian Wars"


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