This story, written by the great chronicler of the Mohawk Valley, Jeptha R. Simms, was contributed by Stephan G. Dennie, a descendant of John Shew's brother Jacob. Stephan is taking a novel approach to chronicling his families' early history and times, seeking out family stories in early books and including them with his other research on his lineage. Several other of Simms' stories about Stephan's early Mohawk Valley families will be posted on our site this winter.
1. Godfrey Shew m. Katherine Frey
THE TRAGIC DEATH OF JOHN SHEW -- In the spring of 1780, John Shew, one of the Fish House family of Shews, went upon the farm of Capt. Peter Service, to work it, situated a few miles southwest of Johnstown and adjoining the Cayadutta; as agricultural pursuits, owing to the constant calls for provisions to supply the army, paid better than military service. Capt. Service had two sons , Peter and Phillip, who both went to Canada early in the war and remained in the British service to its close. He also had a pretty daughter, named Maria, which communicated to the homestead a peculiar attraction for young Shew; and on that fact is suspended a tale. Maria Service was of middling stature, with very fair skin, brown hair, and soft blue eyes. She was charmingly formed and unusually good looking. At the period under consideration she was about 22 years old and blessed with blooming health.
Resolution is the mainspring to almost every successful undertaking, and John Shew resolved to win the girl who had, possibly without suspicion of it, won him. He took her father's farm to work upon shares; an arrangement which was easily made with her father; abandoned as he had been by his sons, who preferred the camp of the enemy to the domestic circle. Before the harvests of autumn were gathered , young Shew had gained the affections of Maria, and looked forward to the day they would marry. That matters were thus progressing between the young couple seemed very gratifying to Mr. Service; who, as any good parent would, desired to see his daughter the wife of a man worthy of her.
I have elsewhere hinted that John Shew was a celebrated hunter and when the season of fall hunting returned he could not resist the temptation to indulge in his favorite sport, although peril might beset every footstep. Accordingly, sometime in October of 1780, having said good-bye to her parents and embracing Maria for a parting kiss, John threw his rifle carelessly over his shoulder and gained the public road to Johnstown through which he intended to travel to Ballston Spa.
THE SURPRISE-- He proceeded to the Ballston settlements some 25 miles from home, and put up at the house of Isaac Palmatier, another hunter of good repute and an acquaintance of our hero. Not far from Palmatier's residence, chestnuts were abundant, and as deer are fond of them, a visit at that early day to a chestnut grove was sure to reward the hunter for his journey. The two friends took an early start in the morning to a favorite deer's haunt, where they were surprised by a party of seven Indians in ambush for them; who had been apprised of their intended visit by a Tory named John Parker, the latter having entered the settlement with the enemy, and been informed by a Tory settler named Tuttle, of the intended movement of the hunters.
The late William A. Smith, of Glen, assured the writer, that Mina Vrooman, a Tory who returned to the Town of Mohawk after the war, informed him that he was present when Shew was captured, and also at his death. Vrooman said that Shew agreed to be disarmed only on condition that they (the Indian captors) constituted the whole party of invaders; but he was soon taken to the camp of the enemy of whom there were a large number. When Shew was killed, Vrooman said he was picking wintergreen berries, and turned his head so as not to see the fatal hatchet, but he heard it crash through John's skull.
James Scott, of Ballston, describes the capture of young Shew as follows: Shew discovered his approaching foes just in time to regain his trusty rifle; seeing this, and knowing his skill as a marksman, they called to him to lay down his gun and surrender himself to them; promising if he complied to treat him as a prisoner of war. As they stood but two to seven, Shew was induced by their fair promises to be disarmed; but in the next moment regardless of their solemn assurance of safety he was, as Isaac Palmatier informed Sherman Batchellor, bound to a tree and slain by tomahawks hurried at his head.
It was understood subsequent to the war that Parker had informed the enemy that Shew was one of the number which pursued and killed the Indians who attempted to burn the Sacandaga Blockhouse. Such was not the fact, and Parker, no doubt, knew it, but the lie subserved his purpose. (1)
A few days after John's death, news of it reached Fort Plain, where his brothers, Henry and Jacob, were on duty; and obtaining leave of absence from Capt. Putman, who furnished them provisions for the journey, accompanied by John (Bi)?kler, a fellow soldier furloughed for the purpose, they went to the place of massacre, intending to bear the remains of their brother and friend to Johnstown; but being unable to obtain boards to make a coffin, they had to leave his body where some unknown hands had buried it.
Maria Service married Henry Fizbeck in 1784.
Facts of John's death were also corroborated by Jacob Shew & Nicholas Stoner.
(1) Parker was subsequently arrested and executed, as is related elsewhere.
Many thanks, for this contribution and others, to Stephan G. Dennie, a direct descendant of Jacob Shew, brother of John. Stephan, whose ancestry includes notable families such as the Wemples, Veeders, Mabies, Putmans and Van Ness's, would like to hear from others researching these surnames at early dates in the Mohawk Valley and Tryon County area.
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