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The Schenectady Massacre
Digital History ID 88

Author:   Robert Livingston


Robert Livingston (1654-1728) offers a vivid account of an attack by the French and their Indian allies on the Dutch and English settlement at Schenectady in New York on February 8 and 9, 1690. The attack came in retaliation for a series of devastating Iroquois raids on Canada, which had essentially stopped the French fur trade for two years. The raid was an attempt to punish the English for supplying arms and ammunition to the Iroquois and to bolster the morale of the French Canadians and western tribes with an easy victory since the Iroquois were impossible to defeat.

Approximately 60 people were killed in the raid on Schenectady (including 10 women and 12 children) and between 80 and 90 were taken prisoner. The Schenectady raid was part of a three-pronged French attack on isolated northern and western settlements. The two other prongs of the attack were at Salmon Falls, New Hampshire, where 30 were killed and 54 prisoners were tortured to death and Fort Loyal (today, Portland, Maine), where the inhabitants were killed or taken prisoner. Overall, the raids convey a strong impression of cruelty on the part of the French and their allies and carelessness and greediness on the part of the English and Dutch.


This sad story should not pass from our memory but remain engraved on it and we should grieve over our sins rather than bewail our loss, for it is clearly shown that when the measure of our iniquities is full, we are cut down and almost exterminated, of which the present smoking ruins of houses and barns bear ample witness before the eyes of our few remaining people. As to the causes of this bloody war, which they pretend originated with us, jealousy arising from the trading of our people...seems to be the principal one, for the Indians, that is to say, the Five Nations, were very friendly disposed toward us. The French begrudged us this and therefore made every effort to make them hostile to us.... The French...invited several Indians to come into the[ir]...fort to be entertained...but they met with a different reception, for as soon as they entered the fort they were bound securely and carried off to Cubeck [Quebec], to the number of 60.... Having at once assembled an army, [the French]...marched against the Indians...with the intention of destroying them, but this failed. The Indians were so embittered by this that like madmen they fell upon the French farmers, murdering and burning to revenge this breach of faith, so that many suffered great loss and damage. Showing themselves greatly perturbed about this and holding us responsible for it...they [the French] found and cruelly murdered the Dutch, saying: "The Dutch are urging you to fight against us, therefore we shall excuse you"....

The bloodthirsty people [the French and their Indian allies], then, to accomplish their evil purpose, according to their own statement made the journey from Canada to this place in 11 days.... They divided themselves into three troops and after they had everything well spied out and found that the gates were open and that nowhere there was any sentinel on duty and that on account of the heavy snow which had fallen the day before no one had been in the woods by whom they could have been detected, the full wrath of God was poured out over us. Having posted three or four men before every house, they attacked simultaneously at the signal of a gun. They first set fire to the house of Adam Vroman, who when he offered resistance was shot through the hand. After several shots had been fired, his wife, hoping to find an opportunity to get away, opened the back door, whereupon she was immediately shot dead and devoured by the flames.... His eldest daughter...had her mother's child on her arm.... Asked...whether the child was heavy...she said yes, whereupon [one of the invaders]...took the child form her and taking it by the legs dashed its head against the sill of the house, so that the brains scattered over the bystanders....

The women and children fled mostly into the woods, almost naked and there many froze to death.... Oh, we poor, miserable people, how we were scattered during that dreadful night, the husband being separated from his wife and the children from both, one hiding for 2 or 3 days in the woods and in swampy and marshy land, where God in His mercy nevertheless did not forget them....

The rest, then, who escaped the bloody sword, were condemned to be prisoners, but here again God's guiding hand clearly appears, for many sorrowful women and children and some old men, seeing this dreadful journey ahead of them, which meant practically death, doubtless offered up their prayers to God, who from the depths of their woe granted them delivery.... Considering that the old men and children and also the women would be a hindrance to them in their flight, they [the French and their allies] discharged them from their place of confinement to the great joy of all....

In all as many as 60 people have been murdered by these fiends and 40 houses and 22 barns, all filled with cattle, have been almost completely destroyed.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Robert Livingston, February 9, 1689-90, Livingston Papers

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