This story, written by the great chronicler of the Mohawk Valley, Jeptha R. Simms, was contributed by Stephan G. Dennie, a direct descendant of Godfrey and Jacob Shew. 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.
The Shews of Fish House, Part 1
extracted from Jeptha R. Simms'
LINEAGE TO JOHN SHEW
1. Godfrey Shew m. Katherine Frey
INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF JACOB SHEW - This is the narrative of the venerable patriot, Jacob Shew; of his own captivity, and that of 15 other captives made in the Mayfield and Sacandaga settlements. It was obtained from conversation's with him by the author, Jeptha Simms prior to 1850, at which time Mr. Shew was a resident of Fulton County, N.Y.
To follow the footsteps of a soldier, long after his fatiguing marches and counter-marches have ended, and with him, in imagination, fight his battles over again, sharing his dangers and privations; though it prove a thankless task, is nevertheless a profitable and pleasing one. If we are to know the true value of our liberty, we must learn its cost in blood, sweat, and tears, hunger, pain and privation; by following in our minds, the pioneer settler to his peril-encompassed log cabin. After all, the histories of interesting people and locations are to a nation, what inlets are to the mountain rivulet.
Godfrey Shew, the father of Jacob Shew, emigrated from Germany to this country, at the age of 19, and just before the French & Indian War. In that war he was an enlisted soldier under the command of Sir William Johnson, and was at the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, where he received a severe bullet wound in his right arm. At the close of the war, he went to Philadelphia, where he met and married a German girl named Katherine Frey, daughter of Henry Frey. (It is supposed she was not the only child of her parents). On arriving in this country, the Frey family landed in Philadelphia, at which time Katherine was nine years old and was sold into servitude for the next nine years to defray the expense of her passage. The man to whom she was indentured was one of two brothers, Michael or Randall Hutchinson, citizens of Philadelphia. Not long after Katherine was disposed of, her parents removed to the Wyoming Valley, with the understanding that at the expiration date of her time, they would return for her; but as they did not return, she supposed they had been murdered in the French & Indian War. Fortunately she was left in the good hands of the brothers who appreciated her merits, and from whom she received parental kindness.
Soon after their marriage, Godfrey and Katherine Shew removed to Johnstown, N.Y., and settled on a farm two miles west of Johnson Hall. They lived at this place eight or ten years, and then took up a farm of 100 acres under Sir William Johnson, 18 miles northeast of Johnstown, near Johnson's fish house. Mr. Shew took possession of the land with the promise of a permanent lease, occupying for a time a squatter's hut near the river. The Shew family erected and resided in a log dwelling in their pioneer residence at first, but they had hewn out timber for a framed building just as the Revolution began, and by its close, the timber was unfit for use.
THE SHEW FAMILY, AND OTHERS SURPRISED BY THE ENEMY - Godfrey and Katherine Shew raised seven children, five sons and two daughters, born in the following order:
John, Henry, Stephen, Jacob, Mary, Godfrey and Sarah
The girls, when grown, married Calvin and Alvin Jackson , brothers. When the struggle for liberty began, the Shew family were numbered among the patriotic ones of Tryon County; and although many of the frontier settlers left their homes for less exposed situations when Indian depredations began in 1777, the Shew family chose to remain and brave the dangers of their forest home. On the south side of the great Sacandaga Vlaie, some two miles westward from the Shews, dwelt Robert Martin and Zebulon Algar occupying the same house; and four or five miles still farther west lived Solomon Woodworth, who were also men of the times. They, too, remained exposed, after the British Indians were let loose.
John and Henry Shew had several times been on militia duty in 1776 and 1777, as had Solomon Woodworth, who was a sergeant. In the afternoon of June 2, 1778, Woodworth having occasion to call on his neighbor Martin, found to his surprise, that his dwelling was tenantless, and conjecturing the family might be prisoners with the enemy; and armed with his unerring riffle, he went to the Shew's to communicate his suspicions; arriving there early in the evening. Shew's family were all at home except Henry, who had accompanied Zebulon Algar to Johnstown on an errand. As it was too late and hazardous for Woodworth to return to his own dwelling that evening, he tarried overnight at Shew's , and preparations were to give the enemy a warm reception, should the house be attacked in the night. As a precautionary measure adopted, a large pile of stones was deposited at the head of the stairway , and Jacob was stationed all night beside it, ready to cast down his cold shot upon the foe. The inmates of the house were not disturbed during the night, and after breakfast in the morning, Woodworth, Mr. Shew and his son John went out to discover , if possible, what had become of the Martin Family. Finding the house still deserted, the three proceeded in the direction of Summer House Point , two miles distant, in the hope of obtaining some trace of the absentees. On the way, John, who was a sportsman and a dead shot, saw a noble buck crossing his path, and forgetting his foes for the moment, he raised his rifle and shot it. Leaving the animal where it fell until their return, where it probably rotted, the trio proceeded onward, but in a short distance they were surprised by a dozen Indians who had been encamped nearby; now drawn to the spot by the young hunters rifle. Woodworth was about to flee, when the elder Shew, observing the Indians poise their rifles, seized and held him, fearing if he started he would be shot. It now turned out that about 100 of the enemy, Indians and Tories led by Lieut. (afterwards Major) Ross, had come from Canada by the northern route, many of them to remove their families thither. They were also desirous of taking back some patriots as prisoners, with the plunder their dwellings might afford. That they should not be thwarted in the main object of the expedition, they crossed the Sacandaga two miles below the Fish House, where they concealed their canoes, and from thence proceeded with great circumspection to the river settlement near Tribes Hill, where most of their friends resided. They avoided doing any act that might betray their visit to any of the little forts in the neighborhood and elicit pursuit and having collected the Indian and Tory families sought, as expeditiously as possible, they were gathering to take their canoes, when fortune gave them the three prisoners named; having confined their range for prisoners and plunder to the dwellings of the outsiders of civilization.
In Philadelphia bush, north of Tribes Hill, they captured Charles Morris and his son John, George Cough, and his son Henry, and an old gentleman named Eikler, who, for some unknown reason, was liberated; and passing through Fonda's Bush they added to their prisoners, John Putnam, Joseph Scott, John Reese, Herman Salisbury, and Andreas Bowman. The prisoners named in this connection, as also Robert Martin and David Harris, a lad aged 16 years then living with the latter, were made captives on the 2nd day of June; and the Shews and Woodworth, on the following. On the night of the 2nd, the enemy was encamped with their prisoners at a little distance southeast of Summer House Point. After securing Woodworth and his companions, the enemy proceeded directly to Mr. Shew's dwelling, which they had intended to visit on breaking up their camp in the morning.
When his father left home, he charged his son Jacob Shew to keep a good lookout up the river for the foe. Mr. Shew's house was situated in a ravine between two gentle elevations, upon which Mr. Rosevelt and Mr. Grinnell erected nice dwellings about the year 1840. On the westerly one near the site of the Grinnell mansion, Jacob took his station. His vigils had lasted perhaps two hours, when he descried a canoe containing several Indians coming sown the creek from Summer House Point. (1) He had not heard the report of his brothers rifle some time before, and on seeing the canoe he ran home to report his discovery; where the party with the prisoners named had already arrived from an opposite direction. Jacob and his brother Stephen now increased the number of prisoners to 16. Jacob, one of the youngest captives, was born April 15, 1763, being 15 years old when taken.
COULD NOT POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND - Several Indians among the invaders, the most of whom were Mohawks, were not only old acquaintances, but long and professed friends of Mr. Shew; from whom they had received numerous favors. The vicinity of his location being a great resort for fisherman and hunters; at times a dozen Indians slept at his house in a single night, partaking, while there, the hospitality of his table. He was assured by Aaron and David, two of his Indian friends who were brothers, when they followed the fortunes of the Johnson Family to Canada, that for the numerous favors they had received from their "white brother", as they called him, he should be duly notified of impending danger, and not be injured or captured in his isolated retreat. This promise of the Indians was heard by young Jacob. Accordingly, pretending not to consider himself a prisoner on reaching home, the elder Shew was very attentive to the wants of his quondam friends.
Observing they were reserved and stoical, he took occasion to remind them of their former promises. David, with a guttural grunt and shrug of the shoulders, replied in his native dialect, "Yok-tah cock-a-rungkee!" (I dont understand you!). Proving for once, at least, the old adage false, which said an Indian could never forget a favor. Owing to a combination of circumstances, the enemy were more humane than usual in this invasion, as no women or small children were either killed or carried into captivity. The dwellings of all the captives, except that of Woodworth, which was several miles out of the way, were plundered; and after taking from Shew's house whatever they desired, the enemy suffered Mrs. Shew and her three youngest children to remain on the premises, but left them houseless; for now being out of danger of pursuit, as they believed, the torch was applied and the house mostly consumed before the incendiaries left it. The barn would have escaped destruction as the party had all moved forward, but for William Bowen, a Tory present, who also had received many favors from the Shew family. Looking back, the knave exclaimed "What, are you going to let the cursed rebels barn Stand?". He then ran back some rods back to the burning house, got a fire-brand, set the barn on fire and soon it was a heap of ruins.
The invaders under Lt. Ross, who was a British Officer, were all Indians but five, and well known to the Shew family. They were two brothers named Bowen, James Lintz, Sweeny and Louks. The latter was painted and clad like an Indian, but Mr. Shew recognized him soon after his capture and told him he need not paint to disguise his real character. Finding himself detected, he washed off his paint and did not use it again during his journey, to Canada. Among the plunder made at Shew's, was about 500 pounds of maple sugar, which the family had made that spring and were husbanding with care to make it last through the year. The Indian's tomahawks were put in requisition, and soon all the enemy were running about with large cakes, the family not being allowed a morsel of it. This looked cruel to the children, who's mouths watered in vain for the saccharine plunder.
Mrs. Shew, after seeing her husband and two sons led off into the forest, and her buildings and their contents destroyed or carried away, set out for Johnstown, 18 miles distant, with feelings none can justly realize at this late day. A Tory squatter, an old Irishman named Kennedy (2), aided Mrs. Shew and her children in crossing the Kennyetto at Summer House Point, from whence they proceeded to the house of Warren Howell (3) , a pioneer settler in Mayfield, 8 miles from the ashes of her own home. The fugitives were kindly treated at Howell's, considering the bias of the family, and remained there over night. On the following day they set forward , and were met at Philadelphia Bush by Mrs. Amasa Stevens and Miss Hannah Putman (4), daughters of Lodowyck Putman, on horseback. They had heard of Mrs. Shew's misfortunes, and thus proceeded to meet and assist her in getting to a place of safety. Mrs. Shew tarried all night with the hospitable Putman family, and arrived the next day with her children at the Johnstown Fort.
Mrs. Martin and Mrs. Algar, with their children, were kept in the enemy's camp on the night Martin was captured (possibly where the families of other captives were) and the following morning were set across the Kennyetto at Summer House Point, in the canoe which Henry Shew had left there, and proceeded on by Sir William Johnson's road (5) via Philadelphia Bush to Johnstown, where they arrived before Mrs. Shew.
Of the plunder taken along by the enemy, were four good horses, one of which belonged to Algar, the others to the Shew family. From Shew's place the party proceeded down the river to their canoes. Increased, as the party was, by 20 or 30 Indian families, from Tribes Hill, and the prisoners, the watercraft -- some 20 canoes, including the one from Summer House Point -- was found insufficient, and two large elm trees were cut down, from the bark of which two canoes were made and put afloat in about three hours, each carrying four or five men with their packs. A part of the warriors swam the river with the horses and proceeded along its northern shore, while the remainder, with their prisoners and families, floated down the river in canoes. At the rapids, about 20 miles from the starting point and near the present village of Conklingville, the party halted for the night, the canoes being all drawn out to shore.
An Indian chief named Peter Sword, who made known his sir-name to the prisoners by significantly extending his right arm, appeared to share the command with Ross; having, much of the time, most of the say. The prisoners were assembled every night and morning and counted in a novel manner. Peter, standing upon his feet, would drop his hands upon his knees, strain open his eyes like a monkey, and for every prisoner give a shrill whoop, to be numbered by another of the party. He seemed pleased when, at the end of his labor the first night, the invoice ran up to sixteen. He also made a speech every morning to the Indians, just before or just after numbering the prisoners. In counting the captives at the first morning's dawn, the tally fell short one; when Peter sprang up from his recumbent position in evident surprise, and hastily scanning the prisoners he exclaimed in no very good humor- "Ump! Yankee gone!". The most of his prisoners were German.
The prisoners were bound nights, and usually an Indian slept on each side of every captive; but early in the evening, after his capture, Woodworth feigned sudden illness with choleramorbus, and he was loosened to vomit, or rather try to, with no little contortion of body and visage, and he was, to all appearances, very sick, having often to run to the bank of the river, whither no one followed him, he was not rebound. His illness only lasted, however, until his foes were all asleep, who flushed with their recent success, did not practice their usual vigilance. Proceeding to the river, Woodworth set a canoe adrift -- not recovered by the enemy -- to make them believe he had crossed the stream; but instead of doing so he struck off up the river on its easterly shore, arriving near the site of the present village of Northville early in the morning -- 25 miles from where he had been obliged to abandoned his trusty rifle. At this point he forded the river, returned home, to the great joy of his family, and with it he arrived in Johnstown in the evening of the day after his captivity.
The water party consisting of part of the enemy, most of the prisoners and the removing families, went down the Sacandaga to the Hudson, crossed that river and transported their canoes to the shore of Lake George. In a carrying place about a mile distant from the lake, they found a three-handed bateau, which they took along. They floated north through Lakes George and Champlain to St. Johns, always encamping on the shore at night. The party on land with the horses proceeded along the western side of the lakes, and at the south end of Lake Champlain both parties came together. John Shew, known by the enemy to be a good woodsman, was taken with the party on land. The Algar horse having broken a leg on the uneven ground, was killed and eaten by its new owners. The best horse of the three taken at Shew's, was owned by young Stephen. When the parties united, Stephen again saw his favorite animal grazing with its fellows, and could not give up the idea of its being his property. Pointing to it he observed to an Indian who had the care of it -- "That is my horse!" "Umph ! He mine now!" replied the Indian, by way of comfort to the boy.
The food of the water party and probably that of the other, consisted principally of fresh mutton, beef, poultry, etc., obtained as plunder on the premises of the prisoners. The meat was soon fly blown, but the Indians made soup of it. Jacob Shew carried the saddle of a sheep from the Sacondaga to Lake George. The prisoners generally had food enough, although Indian's fare, but for two days near the end of their journey, the water party fasted: enjoying the occupation of eating moldy biscuits--several barrels of which had been left in that neighborhood by a cut-off party of Burgoyne's men the year before. While the enemy were without food, says George Cough, they thought seriously of killing the elder Shew to replenish their larder. After a halt of one day at St. John's, the parties united, set out for Montreal. At an Indian village situated some miles above Montreal, called Caughnawaga, all the prisoners were obliged to run the gauntlet. The lines were composed principally of Indian men armed with birch gads, who loosened the jackets of the prisoners, but none were seriously injured.
The captives were 12 days going from the Fish House to Montreal, where a British officer paid twelve dollars and a half each for these of them the Indians chose to give up. Mr. Cough and his son, John Shew, Scott and Bowman were not given up with the rest as prisoners of war, but were retained by the Indians and taken to their homes. What reward, if any, was paid for their capture is unknown. At the time of this invasion, the enemy were desirous of getting prisoners for exchange, and offered a more liberal bounty for prisoners than for scalps; this probably accounts for there having been no blood shed by Ross's party; believed to have been an unparalleled instance of humanity exercised by Canadian invaders during the war.
The 10 captives retained as prisoners of war were kept at Montreal for several weeks and then sent up to Quebec on a sloop, from which they were transferred to the ship Maria, under the command of Capt. Max, and remained on board of her at that port two or three months. While there, a British sergeant drew up at their request, a petition to Sir John Johnson, which the ten Johnstown prisoners and perhaps others signed; proposing as they were held ready for an exchange, they would return home across the lakes and send back a number of the enemy then prisoners with the Americans, equaling their own number. To this proposition Sir John would not agree, but went on board the ship and told them in person that "If they would join his corps, they would all return together to posses their Johnstown lands."
"When the d--l will that be?" interrogated the elder Shew, in no very good humor.
The Tory chieftain was unwilling to believe the war would terminate so disastrously for his future prospects, and soon after left the ship. A few days after, Johnson sent for Mr. Shew to know if any of the prisoners of his acquaintance would be likely to enlist into his Majesty's service. Shew told him he thought they would not, but that he could try them if he chose. After a request from Sir John that he would exert his influence in that direction, the prisoner returned to the ship.
A CHANCE TO ENLIST - The next morning a recruiting officer, a Sergeant, named Hilliard, who had removed from Johnstown to Canada, and who knew some of the prisoners, visited the ship to beat up for recruits. The prisoners were all on deck, and, agreeable to his instructions, he waited upon Mr. Shew to make known the nature of his errand. As the young captives gathered round the old gentleman, he said to them, "Here is a recruiting officer come to enlist you into the British service! My lads, if any of you want to sell your country for a green coat with red facings, and a cap with a lock of red horse-hair hanging down one side of it, you now have a good chance!" The reader is aware that the force of an argument depends much on the time and manner of its utterance. That the one of Mr. Shew had its desired weight, may be inferred from the fact that after numerous luring inducements and golden promises of reward in his Majesty's service, Sergeant Hilliard gathered up his papers and left the ship, without having added a single recruit. Thus much for the principles of the back woods men of western New York in the hour that tried men's souls.
When the Maria was moored under the Heights of Abraham, the British in the fortifications would play "Yankee-Doodle" to irritate the prisoners. Many of them who were in good spirits, however, would throw up their hats, hurrah for the cause of liberty, begin a jig on the ship's deck and shout to the enemy to play away and they would dance for them. Early in September the Maria was ready to sail for England, via New York, where she was to land her prisoners, some 60 in all. Of the number were Lieut. Col. Frederick Bellinger, and Major John Frey, officers who were made prisoners at Oriskany the summer before. When the ship was about to sail, those officers were told that they could remain at Quebec or go to New York. Major Frey said he would rather remain on the vessel with his countrymen and share their chance to get home, and Col. Bellinger expressed the same views, and they remained on board. After a pleasant sail down the St. Lawrence and into the gulf, the vessel was brought to Newfoundland, to inquire if any Yankees had been there lately; an inquiry known, there, to apply to privateers. They were informed that some had left that port only the day before.
Soon after leaving the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Maria fell in with a privateer, which immediately gave chase. The pursuit lasted for two days, and the British vessel escaped by being a better sailor than her antagonist; but she was driven directly out of her course; and after a sail of several weeks, being part of the time nearer Europe than America, and not daring to run down to New York, she returned to Halifax, there landed her captives and sailed directly from thence to England. The trip to sea was a novelty in the life of the Johnstown settlers, the most of whom were very sea-sick for several days; often lining the ship's side and casting up their dinners without the aid of stomach-pumps. Capt. Max was a gentlemen, and treated the prisoners while on his vessel, as though he was born with a soul, a contingency that does not always happen in the birth of naval commanders.
Nearly 1,300 captives were then assembled at Halifax, and two ships were fitted out to take them to Boston to be exchanged. Several prisoners had effected their escape from Halifax, by having good knives; and when the Johnstown prisoners were confined there, their knives were taken from all of them except the elder Shew. They had to cook their own meat in a large kettle set in an arch, and often were allowed but a scanty supply of fuel to do it with. Not infrequently the grease was skimmed off to increase the flame, and at times an old garment was tucked under the kettle. If the meat was not half cooked, as was frequently the case, it had to be eaten in its raw state, with the peas of beans soaked with it--the meat having to be pulled apart with the fingers. Jacob Shew chanced to find a piece of an iron hoop, and with an immense rubbing upon a stone, he made it supply the needs of a knife to the mess which included him. An old tar who had managed to retain his knife, exposed it to a sentinel from motives of mischief, who demanded its surrender to him. The prisoner refused to part with it, and the soldier was taking measures to get it by force, when the old salt, knife in hand, fell back among the prisoners, and the sentinel not daring to leave his post, bit his lip in anger to see his authority set at defiance.
While detained at Halifax, Putman, Salisbury and the elder Morris were taken sick and died. The rest of the Johnstown prisoners who had been on board the ship Maria, were landed in Boston, where young Morris also died. Reese left Boston, but as he never reached home, his friends supposed he died on the way. The three Shews, father, Stephen, and Jacob, left Boston together, the latter with the small-pox just developing. Dr. Farrell, of Rhode Island, and Moses Hicks, of Virginia, fellow prisoners, journeyed with the Shews from Boston to Roxbury. As the three latter sat down much fatigued by the wayside in Massachusetts, opposite a nice house, to rest their wearied limbs, some 15 or 18 miles from the city, a little black girl was sent out to inquire if they were deserters. "If you are deserters," said she "master said you should come in, but if you are not, he does not wish to see you." Such was the comfort meted by wealthy Tories, to men suffering in the cause of freedom.
On arriving in the town of Sudbury, nearly 20 miles from Boston, Jacob Shew gave out, sat down by the way-side, and told his friends he could go no farther. After seeing him well cared for, they journeyed on, found friends on the route who supplied their necessities, and arrived in Johnstown on January 1, 1779. Jacob fortunately fell into Samaritan hands, was cured of his loathsome disease, and reached Johnstown on the 17 of March following his capture, it being "St. Patrick's day in the morning."
HOW SHEW AND SCOTT MADE THEIR ESCAPE - I have observed that several of the Johnstown prisoners were retained among the Indians. John Shew and Joseph Scott, known by their captors to be good hunters, the former being a celebrated marksman, were taken some distance north of the St. Lawrence, where they were retained not far apart. They were allowed to hunt for their new masters to supply them with food, and several times met in their excursions. At one of those accidental meetings the two friends agreed to take French leave of the forest and return home. Securing what food and ammunition they could, they met by concert and set their faces toward Johnstown, distant several hundred miles. On arriving at the St. Lawrence, they luckily found a tree canoe on shore, in which they crossed the river. Fearing they might be on an island, they concealed the canoe in the bushes, but they were soon undeceived and resumed their march. They had secured hooks and fish-lines, and with those and their fire arms they, for several days, were well fed.
While journeying along the western shore of Lake Champlain, they became straitened for food, and seeing a British vessel not far from the shore, they resolved to obtain a supply from her. Making a signal, a boat was sent for them and they were soon on ship-board. They stated that they were Tories (it is a wonder the lie did not choke them), going to see their suffering families in a frontier settlement, and there chanced to be no one on board who knew them, they were believed, obtained a good supply of food, were again set on shore, and meeting with no hindrance, they arrived in a few days at Saratoga, where they were arrested as British spies.
Gen. Schuyler, who was then in command there, was informed in the evening that two spies had been taken. "Bring them in tomorrow morning for examination," said the General.
In the campaign of 1777, John Shew had become acquainted with General Schuyler, and when himself and his comrade were taken into his presence in the morning, the latter instantly recognized his Johnstown friend.
"What, John, are you here as a spy?" said he in a friendly manner, advancing and offering his hand.
"I suppose you knew," said the wearied soldier, "that I was some weeks ago made a prisoner, with my friends and neighbors, and taken to Canada." At his request, Shew related the manner of his own and his friends' capture and conveyance to Canada; how, on their arrival, they were separated; how he and Scott had escaped from their captors; and how, when in want of food they had obtained it of their foes, etc., etc., all of which deeply interested the General; and learning that they desired to go directly to their friends, he supplied their immediate wants and gave them a parting blessing. They arrived in Johnstown some five or six weeks after their capture.
Many thanks for another great contribution from Stephan G. Dennie, a direct descendant of Godfrey Shew through his son Jacob Shew. 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.
Last Updated: 2/11/98
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