The Story of Butler’s Rangers of Niagara

The American Revolution was unlike other wars that preceded it such as those fought on European soil.  When we read our history books in school about the Revolutionary War, we often pictured two armies, one in blue, and one in red, facing each other on a battlefield somewhere in New Jersey or in South Carolina, and fighting European style over some terrain. Did that kind of thing happen? Of course it did. But this wasn’t a war of professional armies, one being sent from one country to another, to conquer territory. This was was PERSONAL. If you were a civilian living in the thirteen colonies this war was IN YOUR FACE.

As the seeds of discontent were sown, citizens began to turn against their provincial authorities. They began to form Committees of Correspondence, of Inspection, and Committees of Safety. These organizations eventually began to undermine and weaken the power of the Provincial Governors and his appointees like sheriffs and local county officials. Standing militias began to side with the Patriots. Soon you had to choose. Loyalty to King George III or to the Patriot cause. Before long, neighbors began to turn on each other.

As the Patriot cause took hold, and the enemies of the King found themselves more and more in charge of dispensing the law, and even defining what the law was, those Loyal to the king were denounced, routed out, expelled from their homes, jailed, tarred and feathered, and in some case they were murdered. The same happened in reverse in some of the southern provinces where the Loyalists, often called “Tories” were in greater strength. This type of house to house terror between former neighbors did not exist in Europe where wars were fought between armies on battlefields.

Such was the condition of the population in the Mohawk Valley of upper New York Province when the first Committee of Correspondence was formed in August 1774 in Tyron County near Schenectady. They drafted the Articles of Association, and required them to be signed in order to find out who were the Tories. By May 1775 the Palantine Committee began arresting Loyalists.  It was at this time that Sir Guy Johnson, along with John and Walter Butler, and Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant all fled the Mohawk Valley for the safety of Quebec.

In February 1776 John Butler was made Deputy Indian Agent by Guy Johnson who was now Governor General in Quebec. Butler made his headquarters at Niagara. With his newly formed Butler’s Rangers, made up largely or refugees from the New York Province who ran from the Committees of Safety, and all of whom had their homes, arms, and property confiscated and distributed to Patriot families, Colonel John Butler, along with his major Native American ally Joseph Brant and his Mohawks, marched back into the Mohawk Valley and took a bloody revenge.  When they saw their own homes inhabited by other families, and saw the fruits of their labors stolen by others, and themselves no longer welcome in their own homes, the mutilated ,scalped, and burned corpses of the inhabitants of  Cherry Valley, German Flats, and the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania were the results of the fury unleashed upon their one-time neighbors.  The name John Butler and Butler’s Rangers inspired fear along the Colonial frontier in “New York and beyond.

One of the fictitious characters in my book “Eighteen For Mercy“, Jonathan Symes, was a sergeant in Butler’s Rangers.  He was part of the contingent of Rangers assigned to Detroit under the command of Captain William Caldwell, another of Butler’s Rangers whose reputation brought dread to all whose path he crossed.  These were all men who, along with their families, were driven from their homes because they believed their King was right.  Before they were disbanded in Canada after the revolutionary war, they had won multiple battles and taken a terrible revenge.


2019-01-07T23:13:29+00:00December 30th, 2018|Eighteen For Mercy|