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The Flight of Simon Nelson [1777]


The following is an excerpt from the book: In Their Own Voices: Oral Accounts of Early Settlers in Washington County, New York by Jeanne Winston Adler.

Simon Nelson:

I was born opposite Stillwater on the east bank of the Hudson during the temporary sojourn of my family there [1765-1767] with the rest of the company who came over from North Ireland with Doctor Clark.

When the families fled from Salem in Seventeen Hundred and Seventy-Seven Father had only a span of horses to aid in our flight. Mother and the youngest child rode one of these. Some of our goods and Samuel -- who was sick at the time and but a small boy -- was taken on the other. I believe there were no wagons in the town at this time. We went down to Sancoick close by the the Dutch church. Froman or Vroman wanted Father and John Law to stay there and take charge of his place to allow him to fly to some more secure spot than that was for him, he being a committee-man and well-known. So they concluded to tarry there. He had commenced his haying and harvesting. We finished it. Suddenly word was brought us that the British army was coming that way. About a dozen Salem families were there. I remember Alex Simpson; the Wilsons -- Paddy and Joe, both old men then -- McWhorter, Joe Cooper and William Tosh were all there at Sancoick with their families.

Everything was packed up in haste and we were ready to start the next morning, the army being encamped this night at Cambridge. But James More came along and told us all to lay still and quiet in the houses, for then we would not be molested, whereas if we were found moving off all we had would be taken from us. So we concluded to stay. But early next morning all the Salem horses, thirteen in number, were sent a mile down the river, my brother Joseph and others taking them to keep them away from the British. But as ill luck would have it, a man driving away cattle was pursed by a party of Indians and Tories from Cambridge that morning. they followed him south to the Walloomscoick River without succeeding in taking him. Then giving over the pursuit they followed up the river to join the army at Sancoick and came thus directly upon our horses and seized the whole of them. Father applied to Skene for ours but ... [not recollected]. When the Indians passed back flying from Bennington Battle, I saw one of them riding by on one of our horses and wished with all my heart he would stumble and throw the Indian and escape from him.

Father and I went out in the morning to salt the sheep. Running to the top of the knoll and looking toward the house I saw Father entering it and the soldiers and the Indians all about the house and neighborhood like a swarm of bees. I had but one thought -- to run and join Father. I first passed through a party of Indians having no fears of them, having been used to the Stockbridge Indians before this. They patted me on the head saying "Poor little boy - Bostonian boy." I got into the house in safety. The soldiers were plundering it of whatever they could find. One of them told Father to open the oven door, in which was an oven-full of bread just baked. Father did so, but one of the officers said "Will you take the bread away from these children?" So they let it remain.

On the day of the battle we were ever and anon receiving reports at Sancoick, first that the rebels were beat, then that the Tories were beat, then again that the rebels were getting the worst of it, and so it went first for one of then for the other side.

Father and John Law happened to be among a party of Tories when they were all taken prisoner together. They were thus prevented from gathering any of the plunder of the battlefield in which work some of our neighbors were quite successful. They were confined three or four days when Doctor John Williams passing by asked "What are you doing there in that company?" On informing him of their misfortune, they were speedily released. Neighbor Simpson was quite diligent in gathering plunder. He moved his goods from home on an ox-sled, but had three full loads to bring back -- knapsacks, carts, wagons, et cetera.

When the discomfited British were retreating through Sancoick they destroyed all they could not take away. They knocked the hoops from a large quantity of flour barrels. We durst not gather up any of this flour fearing poison had been scattered amongst it but the hogs fared sumptuously on it.

Immediately after the battle, Father and I came up home to look to our property. Found all safe and unmolested. But that night the hogs broke into our cornfield and we had much trouble driving them out. Had we not come home as we did our corn crop would have been totally destroyed. A quantity of flour and, I believe some clothing was sent by Gates' order, I suppose, to Salem to be distributed among those who had fled from their homes and thus lost their crops, which were just ripe as we went away. I know our family drew half a barrel of this flour which we received at Salem Village.