The following post about how Catharine’s Town, New York was named is a guest submission by regular Exploring Upstate contributor Michael Brewster
The Story of Catharine’s Town, New York
Because only one battle and a handful of skirmishes were fought in the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign of the American Revolutionary War, it is relegated to the dusty backrooms of history by most historians and school textbooks. However, over two centuries later, the events of the Summer of 1779 echo across the lives of countless people, thousands of square miles of land and, as always, millions of dollars. Even in Upstate New York, where its impact has irrevocably changed the very landscape in which we live, most people have the wrong idea about the whats and hows. I am anything but ambivalent, and in sharing my research, I hope that more people will understand the complex web of our history.
One of the thickest & Most Miry Swamps I ever Saw
— Sgt. Moses Fellows
In Part I, I explored how Horseheads, NY (site of the first Sullivan Monument I discovered) got its name. Sullivan’s Army left there and pushed north to Seneca Lake. In this part, I’ll look at that journey. I’m organizing my writings based on roadside monuments dedicated to the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, specifically the large pink granite ones erected by New York State in 1929. Along the way, I’ll point out other memorials and relevant markers for fellow travelers.
Though I am using a variety of sources, my primary reference for the journals of Sullivan’s men is the 1887 book published by New York State: Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of the Indians in 1779 (ebook/pdf)
Monument Two: Catharine’s Town, She-Qua-Ga
Catharine Creek today is known for its outstanding trout fishing. The main inlet for Seneca Lake, it flows north, wending its way through a steep-sided swampy valley from the hills of Chemung County to its mouth at Watkins Glen. Along the way, it is joined by a creek flowing over Montour Falls, named She-Qua-Ga by the Senecas. If that name sounds familiar, yes, it and “Chicago” share origins.
Historian William Beauchamp gives some insight into the name:
Che-o-quock, Shughquago and Sheoquago are variants of the name of Catharine’s town, destroyed in 1779. Queen Catharine was one of the noted Montour family, from whom Montour Falls derives its name. The first form given suggests raccoon place.
She-qua’-ga. Thomas Maxwell applied this name of Catharine’s town to the falls near Havana (Montour’s Falls) and defined it “roaring or tumbling water.” He probably derived it from gaskonchiagon, a frequent name for waterfalls. The town was some miles away, yet might have been named in this way as a place in the vicinity. Aboriginal Place Names of New York, 1907
Following the Battle of Newtown, Sullivan’s army proceeded gingerly through this dense swamp, wary of ambush. Unbeknownst to them, the Loyalist-Iroquois forces were, for the most part, retreating northward. Nearly all of the Iroquois were quitting the fight emotionally, if not yet physically, after facing the cannons at Newtown. The Loyalist Rangers, led by John Butler, were scrambling to stem these losses and put pressure on Sullivan’s army.
As I follow NY Route 14 north from Horseheads through the peaceful sleepy Catharine Valley, it is difficult to reconcile the intense fear the Continentals must have felt, plunging deep into Iroquois territory.
From the journal of Lt. William Barton (p. 8-9):
Wednesday, September 1st— then came into a very thick swamp, chiefly white and spruce pines. After marching one mile in the swamp, was under the necessity of halting for one hour, until a road was cleared for the artillery to pass; then proceeded after halting, through difficulties of the way, for five miles, in which time we forded a creek, that ran through the swamp, fifteen different times.
This continued for the whole day…
Near dark again entered a swamp ; very difficult and bad marching, our pack and other horses still increasing the mud so as to make it impassable, through darkness, etc. Some, however, attempting it, were mired down with flour and baggage, where many lay all night ; in this manner the road was strewed for about four miles. Had the savages availed themselves of this opportunity, it must have proved very fatal to us, for they might with ease have destroyed a great part of our provisions, with a party very inconsiderable.
Finally, at midnight, they reached Catharine’s Town (aka ‘French Catharine’), named for Catharine Montour, the part-French, part-Mohawk leader of the Senecas.
Thus continued our march until 12 o’clock at night when we arrived at French Catharine, an Indian town, deserted by them a few hours before our troops came in; march as disagreeable as I have experienced ; sometimes up to our knees in mud and mire, and so dark as not to be able to keep the path by any other means than being close to our front man.
…When we arrived, our situation still disagreeable, not having our baggage or any covering, and in expectation of being attacked every moment until morning, — men exceedingly fatigued, having marched fourteen miles with fifteen days’ flour on their backs, exclusive of their other pack…
Their nerves on end, their muscles exhausted from carrying their own supplies through a dense swamp that disabled the pack horses, these men expected to be attacked at any moment.
From the journal of Dr. Jabez Campfield (p. 57):
Sept. 1, 1779
This days march was so exceeding difficult, … it being totally dark & through a thick swamp and this expecting momentarily an attack from the enemy, our army totally unacquainted with the situation of the place & knowing the enemy were there.
From the journal of Major John Burrowes (p. 45):
French Catharines Wed, Sept. 1.
We reach this place at eleven o’clock at night, a march of 14 miles, thro roads that cant be described, eight miles of the way was a most horrid swamp, the last four miles the army had to ford one creek seventeen times mud holes were excessively bad — Our pack-horses tired out. sticking fast in the Swamps, the packs in the mud. The men giving out, they having fourteen days provisions on their back exclusive of their other baggage. We make up a fire, and roast corn for our supper and layed down about one o’clock to sleep with the heaven to cover us.
(Observations ) — We never had so bad a days march since we set off, but what will not men go through who are determined to be free.
Such dreamless sleep that could be had that night probably didn’t refresh the men at all. However, with a large body of the enemy feared to be amassing ahead, they prepare to strike out. And then they find an old Iroquois woman…
From the journal of Major Jeremiah Fogg (p. 96):
2d. Early this morning we found in a bark hut an awful object and upon examination it appeared to be Madam Sacho, one of the Tuscawora tribe, whose silver locks, wrinkled face, dim eyes and curvitude of body denoted her to be a full blooded antideluvian hag!
Like many of the men on this Expedition, Fogg describes the Iroquois with particularly dehumanizing language, though he is the only person to ascribe this woman a name.
From the journal of Lt. Erkuries Beatty (p. 28):
…this morning a very aged Squaw was found in a Corn field who was not able to get of with Age she was brought in and She told us that the warriors had stayed in the town till Near night before they went away likewise told us that a great many Squaws & Children was over a hill somewhere near Seneca lake 4 or 5 Mile of in consequence of which Col. Butler with a Detachment of 3 or 400 Men and the Cohorn went of about 12 oCIock in pursuit of them and returned in the evening with[out] seeing anything of them… the old Squaw after She was examined at Hd. Quarters they was going to send her to the Indians but she was so old she could not ride, from her looks and what we could learn she must be I think above 120 years old. Our Indians built a house for her & we Gave her provision & left her.
From the journal of Major John Burrowes (p. 45):
French Catharines 2nd Sept 1779 Thursday.
One of the soldiers found at this place this morning an old squaw in a bunch of bushes, she not being able to go off with them, was hid there to be safe. She is the greatest picture of old age I ever saw. The General sent for her, she was carried to his marque. The poor old creature was just ready to die with fear, thinking she was to be killed. She informed the General that there was a great debate between the warriors their squaws and children. The squaws had a mind to stay at home with their children. It was carried to such a length that the warriors were obliged to threaten to scalp the women if they did not go. They sent them off about the middle of the afternoon. The warriors themselves staid till after sunset the evening we got in.
When I first read about the finding of this old woman, I was mildly surprised that the Army provided her with food and shelter, rather than taking her prisoner or leaving her to the elements. The official account from General Sullivan is quite close to what his men recorded:
Major General John Sullivan’s Official Report to Congress (p. 297-8):
[Aug 31-Sept 1]
We arrived near Catherine’s Town in the night, and moved on, in hopes to surprise it, but found it forsaken. On the next morning an old woman belonging to the Cayuga nation was found in the woods. She informed me that on the night after the battle of Newtown, the enemy, having fled the whole night, arrived there in great confusion early the next day; that she heard the warriors tell their women they were conquered and must fly; that they had a great many killed and vast numbers wounded. — She likewise heard the lamentations of many at the loss of their connections. In addition to this, she assured us, that some other warriors had met Butler at this place and desired him to return and fight again. But to this request they could obtain no satisfactory answer, for, as they observed, “Butler’s mouth was closed.” The warriors who had been in the action were equally averse to the proposal, and would think of nothing but flight, and removal of their families; that they kept runners on every mountain to observe the movements of our army, who reported early in the day on which we arrived, that our advance was very rapid ; upon which all those who had not been before sent off, fled with precipitation, leaving her without any possible means of escape. She said that Brant had taken most of the wounded up the Teaogo in canoe. I was, from many circumstances, fully convinced of the truth and sincerity of her declaration, and the more so, as we had, the day we left Newtown, discovered a great number of bloody packs, arms and accoutrements, thrown away in the road, and in the woods each side of it Besides which, we discovered a number of recent graves, one of which has been since opened, containing the bodies of two persons who had died by wounds.
These circumstances, when added to that of so many warriors being left, dead on the field, a circumstance not common with Indians, were sufficient to corroborate the woman’s declaration, and to prove what I before conjectured, that the loss of the enemy was much greater than was at first apprehended.
The Army marched onward, making camp at Peach Orchard, in the current town of Hector, on the night of September 3, 1779. This camp is currently the site of Wickham’s Tango Oaks peach orchard, home to some of the best peaches I’ve ever tasted, attesting to hundreds of years of continual cultivation in this location.
Within three weeks, most** of Sullivan’s army would be back in Catharine’s Town, marching on their way back to Easton, PA with their goal of having destroyed the breadbasket of both the Iroquois and British, who planned on the bounty of Iroquois Country to sustain them through the winter.
There is some mystery about what the Army found in Catharine’s Town on their return September 23. Historians are divided*** about the details of a supposed incident, but I am fairly certain that the original journals provide enough evidence to at least lay out the basics.
Lieut. Col. Adam Hubley (p. 164):
Thursday, Sept. 23rd.- About 8 o’clock this morning the army marched, and arrived at Catharines town about 2 o’clock, P. M., where we made a small halt. We found at this place the old Indian squaw who was left here on our march up the country. General Sullivan gave her a considerable supply of flour and meat, for which, with tears in her savage eyes, she expressed a great deal of thanks. During our absence from this place a young squaw came and attended on the old one ; but some inhuman villain who passed through killed her. What made this crime still more heinous was, because a manifesto was left with the old squaw positively forbidding any violence or injury should be committed on the women or children of the savages, by virtue of which it appears this young squaw came to this place, which absolutely comes under the virtue of a breach of faith, and the offender ought to be severely punished.
While not all of the 26 journals published in the Journals of the Military Expedition record this incident, I have compiled every reference to the original finding of the old woman on the army’s advance north and also on its return. Sixteen journals record finding the old woman at Catharine’s Town. Most don’t seem to be eyewitness accounts, but five say she was found in the woods or fields. One says she was in a bark hut, but that was probably the one built for her. Two journals mention a second woman: Beatty says “another Squaw found in the woods who pretended she was lame” (p. 28)— she vanishes into the woods, avoiding capture— the other says “two squaws..being old” (p. 186).
Nine of the journals record the old squaw on Sept. 23, six of which also mention a second, dead, woman.**** So what really happened? The writer Barbara Alice Mann would have us believe the worst:
[T]he officers quickly discovered that even though Grandmother Sacho was still alive, albeit on the verge of starvation, her young attendant had been murdered. Although unrecorded, it is most likely that she was killed resisting rape. Her corpse was discovered 220 yards from Grandmother’s hut, shot through and thrown down a ditch into a “mud hole” where she lay, caked in slime, obviously about four days dead. It was generally assumed by the officers that one or some of their soldiers had committed the crime on the sly. It is just as likely that the culprits thereafter stole Grandmother’s food stores, leaving her to die of hunger. (George Washington’s War on Native America p. 92)
Based on the journals, I can concur that a second, dead woman was found. Apparently, she was younger, and may even have been the “lame” woman recorded by Beatty. It is most plausible that if she were avoiding the army on Sept. 2 and then returned to the village, she would then stay with the old woman. Later, on or about Sept. 19, she was shot and her body dumped in the mud. Is it likely she was raped? Probably. Is it likely that one or more of the soldiers left at Fort Reed (Elmira) or passing through as a courier were responsible? Again, probably. Did these soldiers steal the old woman’s food? Considering that the only mention of what the old woman knew or said is in the journal of Lt. Samuel M. Shute, which is unique in this collection as having its entries jotted quickly and then expanded (contemporaneously) with more detail, let’s look closely at his eyewitness account:
LIEUT. SAMUEL M. SHUTE (p. 273)
Thursday Sept. 23d Marched at 7 A.M.. 9 miles to Catharines Town
We found the Old Squaw in the place we had left her— her provision & wood was exhausted & she in tears & was not able to get more, but was much rejoiced at the sight of the army— “her friends ” as she called us. We found likewise a younger squaw at some distance shot and thrown into a ditch & half covered with mud. The old Squaw said that she did not know of the other one. The General left her about 100 lbs of flour & 50 lbs of Beef.
My reading of this is very straightforward. The old woman is certainly happy to see the army again, or probably anyone, and knows she won’t be killed. Her provisions are replaced generously, despite the army having been traveling on half-rations augmented by Iroquois crops for three weeks. I find it unlikely that some unknown soldier stole her meager supplies after raping and killing the younger woman, leaving her alive as a potential witness. I also find Mann’s explanation of the woman’s word’s untenable:
When questioned, Grandmother Sacho disclaimed knowledge of what had befallen her young companion. This might well have been true, since she was not ambulatory and the girl’s body had been found at some distance yet Grandmother might also have been afraid to name men who had already shown themselves capable of vicious crime. (p. 92)
When a writer resorts to “although unrecorded, it is most likely that…” and “…yet Grandmother might also have been…” it is clear that she is pushing forth a speculative agenda filled with wildly biased interpretations. I will leave it to the reader to decide whether she is credible.
And what of Catharine Montour? Again, with conflicting historical information it is difficult to know for sure. Most sources cite Moravian missionary David Zeisberger’s 1791 account that “Cathrine, and several of her friends, live not far from Niagara over the lake.” (p. 149) However, historian A. Tiffany Norton relates an interesting detail that resonates:
On the approach of Sullivan’s force, “Queen Catharine” fled to Niagara, where she was treated with marked attention by the British officers. After the war she returned to Catharinestown, where she was visited in 1796 by the French King Louis Phillippe, then an exile from his native land. (p. 132)
This rings true because Catharine was descended from a French-Canadian family on her mother’s side and also because there is a marker placed at Montour Falls:
Prince Louis Philippe spent about four years (1796-1800) of his exile in the United States prior to becoming King in 1830. Though that sketch doesn’t appear on a search of the Louvre’s website, (and this article may explain why) both the historical marker and Norton place the him in She-qua-ga. In 1797, he and his brothers visited Pittsburgh, Buffalo & Niagara Falls, and returned to Philadelphia by way Geneva, where they took a boat down Seneca Lake (p. 91). Additionally, an 1894 article about Havana, NY’s history (Havana being an early name for Montour Falls) says:
George MILLS subsequently became one of the most prominent, influential and enterprising men among the early inhabitants and it was at his humble little [house /inn] in the village that Louis Phillipe, then an exile in this country, and then soon after became the King of France, found food and shelter, with his companions for a day and night, while on the way from Buffalo to Philadelphia on horseback — their route, at the time, having been a great portion of the way through the dense wilderness, with no better roads than Indian trails and bridle paths.
The next Sullivan Monument is just off Route 414 in the Town of Lodi. Part III of my series will start there and follow the route north to Geneva and west to Canandaigua.
* The use of the word “squaw” is universally regarded as derogatory. I will not change the original quotes of the journals on the basis of historical accuracy, and I won’t use the word myself (see OxfordDictionaries.com). Ironically, Mann goes on a long diatribe about the word’s extremely offensive nature and proceeds to use it six times on page 89 of her book.
** Detachments are sent down the west side of Seneca Lake, east and west side of Cayuga Lake and to Onondaga (near Syracuse).
*** Several even use unverifiable accounts. See Max M. Mintz Seeds of Empire (1999) and Barbara Alice Mann George Washington’s War on Native America (2009).
**** I have posted the relevant excerpts from each journal on Medium
Born and raised in Central NY, Michael Brewster has traveled the US extensively, but is most at home in the Finger Lakes. The beauty and history of Upstate NY continue to marvel and fascinate him. He enjoys local food, beer and live music. Find him on Twitter @brewcuse