Native Soldiers in the Army - 1778
Serving in the various regiments in Continental service during the first half of 1778 were probably over one hundred
Native American men. In addition to individuals serving in the different regiments, on the frontier borders of the new country,
various Native men fought in special units composed mostly of warriors from a particular tribe. Instances of these include
the Oneida and Tuscarora of upstate New York who had fought at Oriskany and in the Saratoga Campaign of 1777, the various
Maine tribes, Delaware's under Captain White Eyes in the Fort Pitt area, and the Catawbas of South Carolina. Additionally,
there were also border ranger units with a large percentage of Indian men as in Bedel's Rangers of northern New Hampshire (& Vermont - not yet a state).
Amongst the many New England regiments were dozens of individuals serving from their
home communities. Wampanoags from Mashpee, Pequots from Stoningham, Mohegans from Norwich, Narragansetts of Rhode Island and the
largest of all contingents, the Stockbridge Mohicans of western New England and New York.
Patrick Frazier's 1992 book, The Mohicans of Stockbridge, provides an in-depth
analysis of the role of the Stockbridge men throughout the war. This paper will not review the entire military history of
the Stockbridge men during the war, but will focus on their unique role during 1778.
Indian Company of 1778
The Stockbridge men had fought as a contingent on several occasions during the first years of the war, from the siege
of Boston to Burgoyne's Invasion of 1777. In October of that year, Abraham Nimham, with his company of Indians, made application to Congress, "to
be employed in the service of the United States;
who, in their proceedings, October 25, 1777, requested that they report themselves to Major General Gates for duty...(DeVoe,
While on duty with the Northern Army under Gates in 1777, the Stockbridge Indian contingent received supplies from
the quartermaster. From April 1777 to September 1777, the Stockbridge Indians
received forty-five muskets, forty-three powder horns, seven cartridge boxes, 192 flints,
thirty-one bullet pouches, twelve tomahawk belts, 1614 musket cartridges, gunpowder, musket balls and buckshot. On September 30, 1777, Captain Jehouakim Mtohksin returned eleven damaged muskets
to the quartermaster (National Archives, Military Stores Records collection, Roll 39).
After the winter season of 1777-78, Abraham wrote to General Gates requesting that all of the Stockbridge men from
the different regiments be allowed to serve together:
Brothers-I come ask
you a question hope you will help us. Now I mention that with which I have been concerned. I had some brothers enlisted into
the Continental service in several Regiments. Now Brothers I should be very glad if you will discharge them from their Regiments.
We always want to be in one body..when we are in service..do not think that I want get these Indians away from their soldierings..but
we want be together always & we will be always ready to go any where you want us to go long as this war stands &tc.
To the Most Honorable Although no
written records directing the Stockbridges to serve together under General Gates have been found, we do know that men from
Col. Jackson's 8th MA Regiment were with Gates as of the June, 1778. While the
regiment was preparing for the summer campaign, the following men from Capt.
Cleaveland's Company were "on command with Gen. Gates at
In July, these men are listed as "on command." Other Stockbridge men may have served with Abraham Nimham under Gates
in the early summer; the records are too incomplete to make any definitive conclusion. We do know that other native men were
with their respective regiments both in Washington's Main
Army and in the Hudson Highlands at this time (Appendix Five).
By late July, Washington's army was posted at White Plains
in Westchester County, just north of the
Kingsbridge area of the Bronx. As the army settled into its new post, Washington began to reorganize his forces. Orders for the 3rd and 6th CT to transfer from
the Highlands Department to the Main Army were issued on July 21 and on July 22 several regiments of the Main Army were transferred
to the Eastern Department with its focus on Rhode Island.
It was at this point of reorganization that Washington's
plan for establishing an effective light infantry corps was put into effect.
Saturday, August 8, 1778
For the Safety and Ease of
the army and to be in greater readiness to attack or repel the Enemy, the Commander in Chief for these and many other Reasons
orders and directs that a Corps of Light Infantry composed of the best, most hardy and active Marksmen and commanded by good
Partizan Officers be draughted from the several Brigades to be commanded by Brigadier General Scott...
While no documentation has been found ordering the establishment of the Indian Corps to act in conjunction with the
light infantry, such a special group was formed. Existing regimental muster roles are exact in this matter: In virtually all
cases, native men in all of the New England regiments were pulled out of their companies
and served "on command with the Indian Company." Men such as Jabez Pottage (7th
CT) and Joseph Read (5th CT),
who had fought at Monmouth, were ordered to the Indian Company. Amos Babcock, 5th MA of Mashpee, David Hatch of Mashpee, Benjamin
Jones of Sandwich and Abel Supposon of the 12th MA were in the unit, as were the men of Jackson's 8th MA. Men from various
Connecticut tribes including Tunxis, Mohegan and Pequot served alongside Mohicans, Wappingers
and Oneidas. Peter
Keyhole and Daniel Mossuck were two Tunxis men from western Connecticut
and John Chops was from the Pequaonnock tribe. To-date, many of the names of
other men in the unit await further research as the muster rolls have not survived in the historical record.
The phases used in the muster rolls include, "in the Indian Company," "on command with Endan Comp," "with the Indians
on the Lines," "on command with Nimham Indian Capt." Abimeleck Unkas of the 1st
CT has an interesting notation on his National Archive's general index card; it refers to an additional
record collection as "Indian Corps." Unfortunately, no one has been able to locate this additional record collection at the
National Archives, nor have historians contacted ever seen this material.
Johann von Ewald, captain of the Jager Corps or Hessian light infantry, was on station in the Kingsbridge area of the
Bronx during the summer of 1778. From his diary
for August 9, he noted that after a tour of scouting up to the Westchester border, one of
the British spies reported that Ewald had narrowly escaped an ambush by twenty Indians and three hundred Americans. This reference places the Indian Company on the lines by early August.
In addition, from records of the Army quartermaster, Captain Nimham received two muskets, two bayonets and 770 musket
cartridges at the White Plains camp on August 20, 1778.
in – seventy eight, Capt Williams commanded our Company, and Coll Sprout the Rigement.
That while we were under the last mentioned officers, the Army was encamped at White Plains State of New York, and
Capt Nimham by express orders from Gen: Washington took us out of our said Company, not however without the knowlidge and
consent of our said officers. From that timeforward we served under Captn Nimham,
until he with a number of others of our brave Warriors, fell in an engagement with the British Light horse near the above
mentioned White Planes…
An additional historical source is found in the Allen McLane Papers in the New-York Historical Society. McLane, of
Wilmington, Delaware, was
a well-known and much respected partisan officer who operated in various commands including Malcolm's Additional Regiment
and later with Lee's Partisan Corps (cavalry). McLane had commanded the Oneida warriors at
the Barren Hill skirmish in May, 1778 and was the first American officer to enter Philadelphia
as the British were evacuating the city one month later. McLane operated with Dickinson's New Jersey militia during the Monmouth Campaign of late June and was
on duty with the Main Army later that summer. Given his skills, daring and experience with Native American warriors, he was
selected by General Scott, commander of the American Light Infantry, to coordinate command with Nimham's Company:
You will take charge of the party of Indians annex'd to the Light Corps & You will endeavor to
render them as favorable as possible...
You will proceed with them to such place as you may think most opportune for the purpose in annoying
the enemy and preventing their Landing or making incursion into the Country...
You will send all intelligence to me in the most full and perspicuous manner...
In all other matters you will conduct yourself in such a manner as your prudence & discretion may
Given under my hand at Philips Borough Aug. 29th 78
Chs Scott B Genl
Another document regarding the Indian Company is the short, personal narrative of Private Lewis Hurd of the Second CT. Now on
file at Valley Forge National
Historic Park, Hurd’s
narrative includes the following passage:
Marched from Munmoth about the first of July into the State of New york I was
Drafted into General
Hands Scots Light Infantry in Col. Hands Regiment and Lay on the Loins near Kings Bridg
on Volintines hill and other Towns and Places with Constant Marches and forteagues but with Little Loss. Some time in August thair was a Companey of Indians Came from Stockbridg and Joined us Commanded by Capt. Nimham…
|Supplies for Nimham's Company, Saratoga Campaign