Revolutionary War Historical Article

Private Nicholas P. Bovee

By Donald N. Moran

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the May 2000 Edition of the Liberty Tree and Valley Compatriot Newsletter

“I am often asked how I endure the discomfort of wearing my heavy Revolutionary War uniform at so many patriotic events and spending so many hours driving to and from those events. The answer is many fold, but when it becomes difficult or trying, all I have to do is think about one of my many times great-grandfathers, a Revolutionary War veteran, and what he suffered. It makes my discomfort disappear. I stand a little taller knowing he was one of my forebears, and I want to tell you his story. He was a common soldier, a private, but his story makes him a giant!”


Nicholas was baptized on August 26th, 1744, in the Dutch Reform Church at Schenectady, New York. He was the eldest son of Phillip and Cornelia Bovee, and descended from an old Dutch family that traces it’s origins to Jerome Beaufils (later changed to Bovee) who arrived in New Netherlands on board the De Bonte Koe (The Spotted Cow) on April 16th, 1663.

A little over a year later (August 26th, 1664) the English, under Sir Richard Nicolls, with a fleet of ships forced New Netherlands Governor Peter Stuyvesant to surrender the colony. The Bovee family found the changes being imposed on the Dutch under British rule unacceptable, and migrated as far away as they could, to the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York.

Family members were involved in the horrible 1690 attack on the village of Schenectady, in which Indians killed sixty-two men, women and children and captured another twenty-seven which they took to Canada. That was more than one third of the total population of Schenectady. During the French and Indian Wars (1756-1763) the family was forced to leave their farms to the mercy of the Indians and take refuge in fortified Albany. After that bloody war, the Bovees cleared a plot of land on the Hoosick River, some thirty miles east of Albany.

When word of the fighting at Lexington and Concord reached the Albany area, the colonists did not pick up their muskets and head east to join the battle, but rather looked to the northwest, toward Indian country. They had much to be concerned with. If the Iroquois sided with the British, the frontier would again be faced with fearful consequences. This justified concern caused the local counties to immediately mobilize the militia. Captain John A. Brandt raised a company of Rangers, to be known as “Brandt’s Rangers”. Nicholas was one of the first to enlist. These Rangers were involved in numerous scouting missions, rounded up Tories and escorted supplies.

In January of 1776 Colonel James Clinton, later a Major General and Governor of New York, organized the 3rd New York Regiment of the Continental Line. The men were recruited from local Militia and Ranger units, and among those was Nicholas Bovee. Although the transfer from the Rangers to the Continental Line was officially approved, years later Nicholas would find he was listed as a deserter from the Rangers - a bureaucratic error.

The 3rd New York, under Colonel Peter Gansevoort was ordered to Fort Stanwix. The fort which had been built during the French and Indian war was abandoned in 1763 and had fallen into ruin. The fort was critical for the defense of the Mohawk River because of the expected invasion from Canada which had been aborted in 1776.

The British, under Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, were massing a large force in Quebec, Canada. The American strategy was for Fort Ticonderoga to defend the Lake route and Fort Stanwix the route from the West. The British plan of attack was in three parts. General Burgoyne was to invade from the north, capture Fort Ticonderoga and move on Albany. Colonel Barry St. Leger was to attack from the West and capture Fort Stanwix, then on to Albany, and General William Howe was to attack up the Hudson from New York City. If successful, the combined British forces would capture the Hudson Valley and divide the colonies, thereby ending the war.

On July 3rd, 1777, Colonel Gansevoort sent out a work party to gather sod to be used to cover the roofs of the Fort’s buildings. This work party was commanded by Ensign John Spoor and consisted of Privates James Empson, Adam Shades, Aaron King, James Rogers, Thomas Wilson and Nicholas Bovee. Rogers and Bovee were selected to stand guard, while the others loaded sod into the two ox carts. A raiding party of some 40 Mohawk Indians lurked in the nearby brush. They had been sent by St. Leger to capture prisoners for which they would receive a bounty. They fired from ambush at the two armed guards. Rogers was shot dead, and Nicholas Bovee was hit twice in the right arm. The entire work party ran for the protection of the Fort. Bovee, unable to use his right arm and handle his musket also ran. A pursuing Indian threw his tomahawk, striking Bovee in the right hip. Bovee fell to the ground and was immediately overpowered by the Indians, scalped and left for dead. Spoor, Empson, Shades, Jones and King were cut off from the Fort and were captured. Later, while enroute to St. Leger’s headquarters at Oswego, New York, Aaron King tried to escape and was killed. All forty of the Indians, having suffered no casualties on this raid, arrived at Oswego, with four prisoners and three scalps, Rogers', King's and Bovee's.

Colonel Gansevoort responded to the sound of the musket fire and dispatched a detachment of the 3rd to rescue the work party. By the time they organized and covered the three quarters of a mile to where the work party was located, all they found was the scalped body of Private James Rogers, and a barely alive Nicholas Bovee. They carried them back to Fort Stanwix.

The Hospital at Fort Stanwix was located under the Southwest bastion, a dank, dark,windowless room. There Regimental Surgeon Hunloke Woodruff and his Surgeon’s Mate, Jonathan Elliott, set about to save Bovee’s life. The two wounds in his right arm were apparently superficial, as neither bone nor arteries were severed. The hip wound, resulting from the thrown tomahawk was another matter. They probably cauterized it. The medical treatment for scalping was simple, bandage it and make the victim as comfortable as possible, as infection would surely set in and he would be dead in a few days. But, Nicholas Bovee was from hearty Dutch stock, and he survived.

On July 27th, three local girls, picking raspberries 500 yards from the Fort, were attacked. Two were killed and scalped, and one wounded, but managed to escape. Colonel Gansevoort realized that the situation was now too dangerous for noncombatants, so the next day, he ordered a wounded girl, the other women of the garrison and Nicholas Bovee, to be transported by bateau to safer Fort Dayton, closer to Albany.

As soon as it was safe for Nicholas to be transported again, he was sent, via boat, to the Army Hospital at Albany. On April 1st, 1779 Private Bovee was declared an invalid and granted a pension of sixty dollars per annum. His mother and uncle came from Hoosick, with a wagon, equipped with a mattress and carried him home. Once in Hoosick, he immediately married his girl friend, Polly Cottrell (April 15th 1779), which obviously encouraged his recovery. His mother made him a leather skull cap to cover the terrible scarring left by the scalping. His hip never fully recovered and he remained crippled. Nicholas, now a family man, was able to work, as long as it did not involve a great deal of walking. He returned to his prewar occupation of being a wheelwright.

In June of 1781, George Washington’s Army and that of the French Army under the Conte de Rochambeau were to leave their fortification around New York City and Newport, Rhode Island and make their way to Yorktown, Virginia. The French, realizing they needed to hire numerous wagons and teamsters, and other support personal, and at the same time, maintain a high level of secrecy, decided that all the Americans they would hire had to be former American soldiers, and many were semi-invalids - - - unable to soldier anymore, but still able to work.

Although we can not be sure, our Nicholas Bovee seems to have been the Nicholas Bovee shown in the French records. He was a wheelwright, and met the other requirements set down by the French. Obviously if he accepted the position he would not have made it public for fear of losing his pension. He already fought and won a battle with the pension folks and knew first hand how difficult they could be. The other known Nicholas Bovee did not mention the Siege of Yorktown in his records. We conclude it was Scalped Nick that learned the French needed a wheelwright to keep their long baggage train moving, traveled down the Hudson River, and offered his services to the French Army. He was hired.

For Nicholas Bovee, so terribly wounded, it had to be the greatest day of his life when he saw Lord Cornwallis’ entire army surrender at Yorktown.

After the war, Nicholas fathered ten children, worked as a wheelwright, and was nicknamed “Scalpenick” which is Dutch for “Old Scalped Nick”. Nicholas died on March 11th, 1796, at age fifty-two at his home in Schenectady, New York. Nicholas Bovee’s documented sacrifices make him an ancestor to be proud of and one to be honored.


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