John Fiske

The first party consisted of 114 French Canadians skilled in all manner of woodcraft, and 96 Christian Indians; their leaders were French noblemen, among them the famous LeMoyne d'Iberville, founder of Louisiana. The march of seventeen days was attended with terrible hardships. It was an alternation of thawing and freezing. On one day they were struggling against a blinding snowstorm, on another they were half drowned in the mud and slush of treacherous swamps, on another their ears and toes were frozen in the icy wind. Their coats and blankets were torn to shreds in the stubborn underbrush, and their stock of food, dragged on sleds, was not enough, so that they had to be put on starving rations. They could not have encountered more hardship if they had been a party of scientific explorers, and they fought their way through it all with the tenacity and the ferocious zeal of crusaders. Their original plan was to strike at Albany, but as the limit of human endurance was approaching before they could accomplish the distance, they turned upon Schenectady, some fifteen miles nearer.

This little Dutch village was the extreme frontier outpost of the New York colony. Its population numbered about 150 souls. It was surrounded by a palisade and defended by a blockhouse in which there were eight or ten Connecticut militia. The Leisler affair had bred civil dudgeon in this little community. Most of the people were Leislerites. The chief magistrate, John Glen, an adherent of Schuyler, was held in disfavour, and out of sheer spite and insubordination the people disobeyed his orders to mount guard. They left their two gates open, and placed at each a big snow image as sentinel. The idea that they could now be in danger from Canada, harrowed and humbled as it had lately been by their friends the Iroquois, they scouted as preposterous. It was argued that the beaten French were not likely to be in a mood for distant expeditions.

And so it happened that toward midnight of the 8th of February, 1690, in the midst of a freezing, lightly whirling and drifting snowstorm their fate overtook them. The French war-party, haggard and glaring, maddened with suffering, came with crouching stealth and exultant spring, like a band of tigers. Noiselessly they crept in and leisurely arranged themselves in a cordon around the sleeping village within the palisade, cutting off all escape. When all was ready, a terrific war-whoop awoke the inhabitants to their doom. "No pen can write and no tongue express," said brave old Peter Schuyler, "the cruelties that were wrought that night." The work was sharp and quick. About sixty were killed, and the other ninety captured. Then the butchers paused to appease their famine out of the rude cellars and larders of their victims, and to sleep until morning the sleep of the just.

The Connecticut militia were all among the slain. The magistrate was strongly fortified in his house on a hill outside the enclosure, but he was not attacked. He had more than once rescued French prisoners from the firebrands of the Mohawks, and in requital of this kindness Iberville not only spared him and his family, but in a spirit of chivalry gave back to him about sixty out of the ninety prisoners with polite and edifying speeches. Before noon of the next day, leaving Schenectady a heap of ashes, mangled corpses, and charred timbers, the party started on its return march to Montreal, carrying the other thirty prisoners to be tortured to death in a leisurely and comfortable way. The news of the disaster spread quickly through the Mohawk valley, and a sturdy company of warriors of the Long House pursued the French party with sleuth-hound tenacity until near Montreal, when at last they overtook them and partially amended the reckoning by killing fifteen or twenty.


The Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America by John Fiske, pages 193-195
Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York, 1899