For sale: A plea for help after 1690 attack
SCHENECTADY The letter is an urgent request for help.
“The enemy doth surround us on every side, murdering some of our people in a most cruel & barbarous manner,” it says. “We are every moment in fear of our life.”
The unsigned manuscript, written by survivors of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre, will be sold Oct. 10 by New York City-based Swann Auction Galleries, which specializes in works on paper, such as maps, books, prints and drawings.
The massacre took place on Feb. 8, when an army of French-Canadian soldiers, aided by Native Americans from the Sault and Algonquin tribes, attacked what was then a frontier settlement, killing 60 men, women and children. An additional 27 settlers were taken as captives to Canada, and the town was burnt to the ground. Over the next decade, the survivors attempted to rebuild, but were subjected to smaller raids by the French and Indians.
In the letter, the settlers “seem to be asking for help from the Colonial government,” said Rick Stattler, an Americana specialist at Swann Auction Galleries.
The Schenectady County Historical Society is aware of the letter, according to Melissa Tacke, the organization’s librarian/archivist. “With regard to the content, it echoes some of the information we’ve found in documents from that time period,” she said, noting that the settlers remained fearful and under threat in the years following the massacre.
“The massacre had a major, major impact,” Tacke said. “So many people here were killed.”
Tacke said that in 1698, the Colonial governor, Richard Coote, sent a mapmaker to Schenectady to assess the possibility of building a large fort to protect the settlement; the fort was never built, but the project seemed to have been a response to the complaints of the settlers.
The letter is one-and-two-thirds pages long.
Stattler described it as a “sheet folded in half,” written in English, with brief notes in Dutch near the end.
The document opens with a note stating that it is from the “subscribed freeholders & inhabitants of the town & township of Schenectady,” and then goes on to complain about the hardships imposed by “the enemy surrounding us on every side, hiding himself & spying us.” Anyone who goes out to the fields to “plant our somer corn” runs the “risque & danger of being killed or taken by surprise.”
The letter, which has never been published, was addressed to Major John Alexander Glen of Scotia.
“Glen helped protect the survivors after the original massacre,” Stattler said. “We think a few of them retreated to his farm.”
Stattler said that the letter came to Swann via a private collector.
The auction house estimates that the letter will sell for between $1,500 and $2,500.
“We expect that the bulk of interest will come from your area,” Stattler said. “The Schenectady Massacre was of tremendous importance to Schenectady. But in the grander sweep of Colonial America, or even the history of the (French and Indian War), it was not a huge event.”
Tacke said that the Schenectady County Historical Society would love to acquire the letter.
“Anything that shows us more information about the lives of people who lived here is useful to our holdings,” she said. “With that being said, the auction price … is beyond what we could scrape together.” Ideally, a donor would purchase the document and give it to the Schenectady County Historical Society, she said.
“We rely on donations for virtually all of the material in our collection,” she said.