Moses Van Campen

The summer following the Wyoming Valley Massacre was payback time for the Iroquois. In August of that year, a two-pronged incursion into Indian country was launched. In the western part of the state, a force of Americans under the command of General Daniel Brodhead sallied out of Fort Pitt on an expedition up the Allegheny to attack and destroy the upper Allegheny villages. At about the same time, a much larger expedition left the Wyoming Valley under the command of Major General John Sullivan. and proceeded up the Susquehanna, following roughly the same route taken the year before by Butler's Indians and Tories when they invaded the Wyoming.

Moving into New York, the Americans were successful in engaging and decimating the enemy, who lay in ambuscade in the hills above the town of Newtown. The surviving Indians and Tories fell back in panic, deeper into the interior of New York, the stronghold of the Iroquois.

Aside from the battle at Newtown, Sullivan found the Indians unwilling to engage his forces, and spent most of the campaign destroying abandoned Indian towns, including vast acreage containing crops ready for harvest, in order to effectively make the area uninhabitable for the hostile Iroquois during the coming winter.

The Indians and Tories continued to retreat into the western interior, heading for the Iroquois strongholds in the Finger Lakes area. Sullivan's forces captured and destroyed the Seneca capital of Kannadasaga without firing a shot.

The Americans moved deeper into Indian territory without further resistance. On September 13, while the army was engaged in the destruction of the Indian town of Conesus, General Sullivan sent a scouting party led by Lieutenant Thomas Boyd to scout ahead to the town of Chennusio, with orders that he promptly return the next day bearing intelligence; orders that specifically provided instructions to not engage with the enemy unless it was absolutely unavoidable.

Unfortunately for Lieutenant Boyd's party, they did not follow those orders; it has been said about Lieutenant Boyd that he was an ambitious young officer more interested in seeking glory in battle than wasting his talents on such a mundane reconnaisance mission. And the Indians were experts in exploiting such weaknesses of leadership.

Whatever Boyd's reason for ignoring orders, it was his downfall. Instead of maintaining the integrity of their recon mission, Boyd's party was tricked by one of the oldest Indian tricks in the book, that of sending a small party of Indians to lure the Boyd party into an ambush. And Boyd took the bait. When Boyd pursued the Indians, he and his party found themselves beset by nearly three hundred Indians. The result was the massacre of Boyd's party. Lieutenant Boyd was taken prisoner as was Sergeant Michael Parker.

OK, so why am I interested enough in this story to relate it here? Once again, because the actions described in Allan W. Eckert's "The Wilderness War" specifically mention one of my relatives, Moses Van Campen, in his narrative of what happens next:

The following description comes from Allan W. Eckert's novel The Wilderness War - Bantam Books, 1982.

Sections quoted directly from this book are in italics.

As soon as the town's destruction was completed, the march was resumed for Chenussio. Within an hour or so they crossed the Genesee, nearly a hundred feet wide here and, though not over waist deep, still so swift that the men had to cross by platoons with arms interlocked to avoid being swept off their feet. On the west side of the river they had climbed to the plateau above and then almost universally gasped at the beauty of what lay before them. As Sullivan himself had just said, this had to be considered one of the most beautiful places in all America.

Fully ten to fifteen thousand acres of superb grasslands and cornfields stretched out before them. There were no bushes or scrubby growths anywhere - only occasional islands of stately trees rising here and there as if they were dark ships on a bright green sea. A mile and a half ahead lay Chenussio, positioned between the large folds of the Genesee River on the east and the smaller folds of Little Beard's Creek on the west. The great Seneca longhouse dominated the center of the town, an enormous building of peeled logs, two stories high, with gabled roof and painted bright red. Surrounding it were one hundred and twenty-eight of the most elegant houses yet encoun tered, with fine trees growing near them and expansive orchard areas all around the town. It was an incredible sight. In the Seneca tongue, Chenussio meant "The Beautiful Valley" and it was certainly not misnamed.

Almost as impressive was the sight the army itself made as it moved immediately into battle formation and ad vanced toward the town. In all of its marching on this campaign, this was the first time that the entire army was visible all at once in its complete formation. Battle flags were flying, fifers piping and drums rattling, and there was a deeply stirring sense about the whole picture of this army wading through deep grass toward its destination in the warm glow of the sunset.

The only living people in the town were a white woman and her eight-month old baby. Her name was Sara Lester. She and her husband bad been captured near Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, the previous November and she had lived here ever since with the Indians. Her husband had been killed in the attack. She told them that two days before, all the squaws and children and old people had been sent off toward Niagara and only a few of the warriors had remained. Now, even they were gone. Beyond that she knew nothing. She was dazed and acted strangely; Little more information could be gained from her. At length she and her child, both suffering malnutrition, were turned over to the care of Dr. Campfield.

Carefully, moving from building to building slowly and guarding against being shot at from unexpected quarter, the army infiltrated the town and searched it. An abundance of furniture and belongings had been left behind and whole buildings were filled with husked and unhusked ears of corn. There were animal skins and lanterns, mocca sins and jackets and leggings, even a few blankets and broken weapons. But there were no Indians.

Two soldiers of General Clinton's brigade - Moses Van Campen and Sanborn, found the remains of Lieutenant Thomas Boyd and Sergeant Michael Parker. The sight never left their minds after that, nor the minds of any others who saw them. General Sullivan was informed before anything was touched and he came to the spot quickly and even he paled at what he saw and only through great will power was he able to restrain himself from vomiting.

The physical damage done to the pair was practically beyond belief and reconstruction of how it must have occurred indicated that both men had lived for a long time through the torture. Except for one major difference, the injuries suffered by both men were alike. Each had been stripped and tied to a post and severely whipped until the back was badly welted and bruised. Then the torturing had evidently begun with the ears being cut off, followed by the noses. All the nails of fingers and toes had been pulled out. The right eye was gone, apparently simply gouged out with a thumb and thrown away. Chunks of flesh were cut off the shoulders. Then the tongue was cut out. It seemed apparent that the men had still been alive at this point, but how much longer they lived with what followed there was no way of knowing. Certainly it couldn't have been too long and it was clear that many more outrages had been perpetrated after their deaths. The genital organs had been severed and hung pendulously from a mere strip of tissue a foot below where they belonged. Boyd's chest had been opened and his heart had been cut out and then fastened into his right hand. Both bodies had been stabbed repeatedly by spears, as many as twenty times each, and practically every major area of flesh was severely lacerated. The skin and flesh of the chest had been stripped away so that the bare ribs were exposed. A knife was still projecting from near the center of Boyd's back. The one major difference in the treatment of the bodies was that the head of Sergeant Parker was missing and could not be found. Boyd's head had been cut off, too, but it was scalped and then almost completely skinned and positioned on a log with its mouth open.

Immediately upon having viewed the remains, General Sullivan ordered that the two men be buried at once with full military honors. A detail from Captain Simpson's company of riflemen dug the grave nearby and the remains were placed inside as well as could be done. The grave was located just to the side of a clump of wild plums beside Little Beard's Creek where it was crossed by the main trail. A brief eulogy was spoken by Simpson and the captain then thrust his own sword into the head of the grave as a marker.

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