Attack on German Flatts

On September 17, 1778 during the American Revolution, German Flatts was attacked by Loyalists and Iroquois.

A force of several hundred men from Butler's Rangers under the command of William Caldwell (ranger) and Brant's Volunteers under the command of Joseph Brant in mid-September planned to attack the most westerly inhabited settlement on the Mohawk River, German Flatts. It was defended by the 4th Regiment of the Tryon County militia under the command of Colonel Peter Bellinger. There were two main forts: Fort Dayton on the north shore and Fort Herkimer on the south bank of the Mohawk.

Colonel Peter Bellinger sent out scouts in the direction of Unadilla. The Loyalists overwhelmed the scouting party of nine killing two and scattering the rest. One of the survivors was Adam Helmer who ran non-stop nine miles to German Flatts to warn the settlers. Colonel Bellinger sounded the call to arms of his regiment, sent a request to Colonel Jacob Klock for the assistance of his regiment, and told the inhabitants to come into the fort for safety.

Brant and his men arrived at German Flatts that night, but delayed their attack onto shortly before dawn on September 17, 1778. He divided his force in half with each half proceeding on opposite sides of the Mohawk. They plundered what they could and burned everything in their path they could not carry. The raiders tried attacking Fort Dayton and Fort Herkimer, but were driven off.

Brant's forces destroyed sixty-three homes, a similar number of barns, three grist mills, and one saw mill. They drove off a large number of horses, cattle, and sheep, killing those they could not take with them. The only buildings left standing were the forts, a barn, the church, and the home of the minister and two known Tories. The raiders left at around noon. Klock's regiment did not arrive until after the raiders had left.

The militia took off after the raiders, but without success.

Because of Helmer's warning only three Americans were killed. Captain William Caldwell wrote "would have in all probability killed most of the inhabitants of German Flatts had they not been apprised of our coming by one of the scouts getting in and warning of our approach, and perhaps got to their forts".

At 6 a.m. on this day in 1778, Mohawk Indian chief and British Loyalist leader Joseph Brant leads a force of 150 Iroquois Indians and 300 British Loyalists under the command of Captain William Caldwell in a surprise attack on the area of German Flats, New York. German Flats, now known as Herkimer, New York, was left virtually undefended by Patriot troops prior to the raid.

The Indian and Loyalist raiders captured hundreds of head of cattle and sheep before setting fire to every house, barn and mill in German Flats. Despite the complete destruction of the town, including 63 houses, 57 barns, three gristmills and one sawmill, only three men were killed. The day before, four Patriot scouts had run into the Loyalists while on reconnaissance. Though only one, Adam Helmer, survived the encounter, he was able to run the nine miles back to the village of German Flats to warn the residents. As a result, the vast majority of the town’s people was able to seek safety in the area’s forts, Herkimer and Dayton, and survived the destruction of their town.

Joseph Brant ranked among Britain’s best commanders during the American War for Independence. He was an educated Christian and Freemason who studied directly with Eleazer Wheelock at Moor’s Indian Charity School, the parent institution of Dartmouth College. His older sister Mary was founding father Sir William Johnson’s common-law wife and played a significant role in colonial and revolutionary Indian affairs. At the close of the war, the Brants and their Iroquois followers left the United States for Canada, where they found land and safety with their British allies.