Upcoming Events

Nov 21

Willett, the Battle of Johnstown, and the Death of Butler

Marinus Willett on the Battle of Johnstown and the Death of Walter Butler

Terry McMaster

Thursday, November 21, 2019

6:30 PM

at the Fort Plain Museum

389 Canal Street, Fort Plain, NY 13339

The Battle of Johnstown and the death of Walter Butler are two of the most important events in the final phase of the Revolutionary War in the Mohawk Valley.  More than any other events in his life, these two took Col. Marinus Willett from being seen a competent officer to being called “The Hero of the Mohawk Valley.”

Col. Willett wrote several letters about the Oct. 25, 1781 “Hall Battle” as it was sometimes called, having taken place adjacent to the baronial mansion John Johnson inherited from Sir William.   We will examine his letter to Lord Stirling, as well as other written accounts of the battle and the skirmish five days later that sent Walter Butler to meet his maker.

Walter Butler by this point in the war was considered a scoundrel, if not a monster, following his incompetent command of the British force at Cherry Valley, in which over 30 women and children were brutally murdered.  A young man of 29 years, he was the eldest son of Col. John Butler, the former principle Indian agent to Sir William Johnson, later Indian agent for British forces at Niagara and founder of Butler’s Rangers.  The Butlers were bred-in-the-bone Loyalists who had served well and lived on the coattails of the Johnson Dynasty, their large estate and modest house of Butlersbury lying just south of Johnstown.

Walter Butler, who began his career as an attorney, had made a name for himself by volunteering to go behind enemy lines shortly after the Battle of Oriskany, leading a detachment of soldiers and Indians to German Flats to recruit Loyalists for the British cause.  Young Butler carried a white flag of truce, and yet was openly recruiting British sympathizers in an area that was solidly in Rebel control.  The Tryon Co. Militia had received a drubbing at Oriskany and were in no mood to tolerate this Loyalist upstart.  Arrested and sentenced to be executed, he was instead confined in the Albany jail and then in a private home, from which he escaped and returned to Canada.

We will examine the Battle of Johnstown and the hunt for the retreating British force, whose trail the Oneidas found and tracked, ending with Butler’s fatal conclusion at West Canada Creek on Oct. 30, 1781.

Terry McMaster is an independent researcher, studying the settlement patterns, family connections and border warfare along colonial New York’s frontier in the 18th century. He is especially interested in the immigration of Ulster Scots to New England and New York, and their sizable impact on the War of 1776.   Terry is also involved in a Y-DNA project that traces Scots-Irish genetic change and population patterns from Scotland and Ulster/Northern Ireland to America.  He has presented his research on Genealogy Day at Ft. Plain Museum’s "American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley" conference, and at the Ulster-American Heritage Symposium at the University of Toronto.  Terry’s ancestors helped settle the western frontier in the Unadilla region prior to the Revolutionary War, and they were living at Cherry Valley when the settlement was destroyed on November 11th 1778.

Terry is a researcher, artist/photographer and an addiction therapist at Professional Counseling Services, Inc., in Camillus, NY.  His ancestor Capt. David McMaster was a member of the Tryon Co. Committee of Safety, led the 6th company of the 3rd Regiment, Tryon Co. Militia, and fought at the battles of Oriskany and Johnstown.