February 8/9, 1690
|The Schenectady Stockade - 1680's (from a tabletop rendition by Edwin G. Conde)
* From Tales of Old Schenectady by Larry Hart, Chapter 8, Page 37-40
The fate of Schenectady was sealed in the middle of January, 1690, when 114
Frenchmen and 96 Sault and Algonquin Indians, most of whom had been
converted by the Jesuits, started from Montreal to attack English outposts to the
south. It was part of a master plan of Count Frontenac, governor to Canada, to
fulfill the commission of French King Louis XIV to "build a new empire in
They came down across the frozen reaches of the St Lawrence and over the ice
of Lake Champlain and finally, in about six days, down to a point at what is now
Fort Edward, where the French officers held council on the plan of attack. It was
here that they began to compromise with the Indian leaders on the feasibility of
attacking Schenectady instead of the original objective, Fort Orange (Albany).
Another journey of about 17 days down to the Mohawk Valley brought the war
party scarcely two miles from the fur-trading post beside the Binnekill on Feb. 8.
It was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon and a blizzard came howling down from
the north-west, icy winds swirling snow about the would-be attackers as they
huddled in a final council near what is now Alplaus.
The French leaders, Lts. Le Moyne de Sainte Helene and Daillebout de Mantet,
ordered Indian scouts to cross the Mohawk River and see what precautions the
Dutchmen had made against enemy attack. The French were well aware that
attack warnings had been posted in the valley communities and they did not know
how well the Schenectady stockade might be garrisoned.
The Dutchman's fireside on that night of Feb. 8, 1690, glowed with the radiance
of humble content. Within the raftered room, its floor and ceiling reflecting
Holland cleanliness, he warmed himself before the crackling logs. He was smugly
certain that his house was safe from attack - on a night such as this, even the
foolhardy Frenchmen would not be expected from the frozen north regions.
The scouting party sent to spy on the objective returned to the Alplaus
encampment about 11 p.m. and reported to the French commanders that no one
was guarding the stockade; even the north gate facing the river had been left
open. This information, and the extreme cold, prompted the decision to attack at
once rather than wait until 2 a.m. as originally planned.
The half-frozen invaders crossed the Mohawk River on the windswept ice and
soon were inside the stockade, forming a cordon around the houses that now
were quiet with sleep. Suddenly the high-pitched war cries of the warriors split
the silence, the signal for a bloody massacre that was to last fully two hours.
Houses were quickly put to the torch and inhabitants who came stumbling out in
their nightclothes were shot or tomahawked and their scalps taken by the
shrieking Indians. Neither woman nor children were spared, and soon their
bodies lay along the snow-covered streets, illuminated now by the fitful glow of
the burning dwellings.
Adam Vrooman, whose house stood on the west corner of Front and Church
Streets, fought so desperately that his life and property were spared by the
French. It was a tragic stand by the valiant Dutchman, however. His wife and
child were killed and his son Barent and a Negro servant were carried away as
About 60 persons were killed outright, including 10 women and 12 children.
Some managed to escape from the burning stockade area to seek shelter with
families some miles distant. It is said that many of these died of exposure in the
bitter cold before they got far.
The ride of Simon Schermerhorn to warn Albany of the French invasion often is
sited as a testimony to the stamina of the Dutch settlers. When the massacre
started, Simon mounted a horse and managed to escape by the north gate.
Though wounded, he made his way through the snow-drifted Niskayuna Road
until he reached Albany about 5 o'clock the next morning. Later, a party of
Albany militia and Mohawk warriors pursued the northern invaders and killed or
captured 15 or more almost within sight of Montreal.
A grim scene greeted the first streaks of dawn as the French rounded up their
prisoners and spare horses and supplies to begin the long trek back to Canada.
The ruins of the burned homes were steaming mounds beside the blackened
chimneys; victims still lay in blood-stained snow where they had been killed or
A party had been sent across the river early that Sunday morning to the Sanders
mansion in Scotia. "Coudre Sander" (John A.) Glen was told that he would have
the privilege of choosing his relatives from among the prisoners in return for
having been kind to some French captives when they were in the hands of the
Mohawks a few years earlier. Glen claimed as many "relatives" as he dared.
The French and Indians left early in the afternoon with 27 prisoners and 50 good
The utter helplessness of the Schenectady inhabitants during the massacre - many
offered no resistance since they had no time even to seize their weapons - was
shown by the fact that only two of the enemy were killed and one severely
wounded. However, aside from the fact that a long and difficult sortie into the
English territory had been accomplished, it is doubtful that French authorities
considered the mission a great success.
By capturing Albany, and perhaps destroying it, the French might have succeeded
in detaching the Iroquois from the English besides holding the key to the
navigation of the Hudson. But it was not done, and now the whole English
province was stirred up like a hornet's nest over the carnage wrought at
* * *
The Dutch village which had begun its settlement in 1662 had suffered a setback
so severe, that nearly three decades later, there was some doubt it would be
rejuvenated. The uncertainty of future safety of border inhabitants and the utter
dejection which prevailed after the massacre raised serious doubts among the
survivors as to the expediency of rebuilding the village and cultivating the soil.
The township had been depopulated since the massacre. Records of 1698, for
example, listed 50 men, 41 women and 133 children - or a total of 224 persons -
living in the area from Niskayuna to the Woestyne.
So for the decade that followed the massacre and closed out the 17th century,
Schenectady and its inhabitants presented an unhappy, but industrious, picture of
a settlement determined to rise like a Phoenix out of the ashes.
* Please note that the Mohawk River is portrayed in upper left corner.