Dan Weiskotten's Turtle Tree Bunk!
(by Tom C. 7/14/1998)
What is the story of the American Soldiers under Capt. Walter Vrooman
that were captured at Canaseraga on October 23, 1780? The monument
at the location of the "Turtle Tree" on Chittenango Creek says there was
a fort there and a lot of men were caught there after destroying the British
boats while the British were making a raid on the Mohawk Valley. Is this
true? I'm told that some of the survivors came back and lived on Indian
lands when the war was over. Where did they live?
Dan Weiskotten's Answer (7/18/1998)
The story told by the monument
and local historians is so screwed up that it is very far from many of
the original facts of the story. Walter Vrooman and sixty men were captured
on October 23, 1780 while being sent to destroy British boats, but the
story does not unfold as local tradition tells. The little, locally produced,
publications such as Clara Houck's "Turtle Tree Incident" and Barbara Rivette's
stories are terrible and have perpetuated a fable that has gotten far from
the original track. Houck and Rivette (following the lead of earlier researchers
who were wrong) insist that the dozens of sources that state that the British
boats were at Onondaga Lake are wrong and that Chittenango Creek was meant
instead. Baloney. Take a look at Gavin K. Watt's (1997) Burning of the
Valleys, Daring Raids from Canada Against the New York Frontier in the
Fall of 1780 published by Dundurn Press, Toronto (through University
of Toronto Press). This is a fascinating book put together by the experts.
It is unbiased by the local tradition and gets its facts from the original
source materials. I've studied the story from the point of view of the
original documents (Vrooman's orders and other papers captured during the
raid, as well as accounts of British and American participants) and none
corroborates the version told by the local folks. Even local historical
sources show that the version told today is very incorrect in several major
themes but local researchers, including Houck and Rivette, did not use
them properly in telling their version of the story, and thus the corruption.
First, the monument is in
the wrong place for the capture took place at the abandoned Indian village
of Canaserga which was always located on NY Route 5 just east of Chittenango.
There was no fort at the location of the monument on Chittenango Creek
but there had been a blockhouse at Canaseraga although it was probably
long gone before the American Revolution. The spot where the monument stands
was used by the Indians for many centuries as a fishing spot, but it is
far from the route taken by Vrooman and had no fort that we know of (not
a strategic location).
Second, the "settlers" that
came back to the area and in 1793, before they were said to have been burned
out, were living on the Dyke Road in the Chittenango Creek valley just
a short distance below Chittenango Falls. John Lincklaen mentioned a group
of "squatters" there when he came back to settle the village of Cazenovia
in 1793. Among the squatters was said to be the widow of General Herkimer,
the fallen hero of the Battle of Oriskany. A little historical marker set
up on Route 5 in the hamlet of Canaseraga is wrong not only because the
setters did not live there but also because the area was a Tuscarora community
from at least the 1740s to about 1810!
Third, although the Oneidas
complained to the Governor about 1794 to have the squatters removed, the
only action that I see having taken place to settle the problem was for
the state, in 1796, to chop off a big chunk of prime Indian land and give
it to the squatters. The piece of land lies just north of the Cazenovia
town line and includes the Chittenango valley and beautiful land along
the Ridge Road and East and West Lake roads.
There is a lot more to the story
and it is unfortunate that the monuments are entirely wrong. It is also
unfortunate that local historians, even in the face of overwhelming contradictory
evidence, have perpetuated the myths that grew up around what really is
a fascinating story. This story is not the only one that we have to deal
with, for just over the hill in the northeast corner of the Town of Fenner,
is Nichols Pond, where some people insist, despite incredible evidence
to the contrary, that Samuel Champlain made an unsuccessful attempt against
the Iroquois in 1615. A good historical story should have at least some
evidence to support it, but this one has none - it is all bunk!
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