The rich flats along the Cobus Kill, in what is now the towns of Cobleskill and Richmondville, were home to about 20 families within a distance of three miles. All were believed to be whigs rebels who supported independence. Christian Brown commanded an organized company of militia and loyalists could be found a few miles north in New Dorlach. The revolution had begun and settlers of the frontier areas were threatened.
On or about April 20, 1778, Capt. William Patrick of Ichabod Aldens Massachusetts regiment were ordered to the Schoharie Valley by Gen. John Stark, commander of the Northern Department. Stark gave Patrick this instruction:
Sir, You will keep continual scouting parties in the adjacent country to where you are posted, to discover the motions and movements of our internal enemies. If any of them should be found under arms, aiding, assisting, or forthwith detect them (if in your power) and with their crimes send them to me or the commanding officer at this place. You will do the utmost in your power to find out if any British Officers should come to that country, as it is highly probable they will do, because they have there so many friends; and let no pains be spared in detecting them, making report of your proceedings, from time to time, to me or the commanding officer at this place.
On May 25, military authorities were informed that Seneca and Cayuga Indians were on the warpath. They knew something of what was going on, and that Col. Butler, the commander of Butlers Rangers, was planning a military movement.
In the latter part of May, several Indians were seen in the vicinity of the Cobus Kill and Capt. Christian Brown sent to Fort Clinton, near the northern boundary line of the present village of Middleburgh, for help. Fort Clinton was the nearest place with enough manpower to spare since it was the only site in the Schoharie Valley with a garrison of continental troops.
On May 26, Captain Patrick and Lieut. Jonathan Maynard, Sgt. Jonas Belknap, a drummer, a fifer and 29 privates 34 men in all arrived at Captain Browns residence. Browns farm was located about 1 miles east of present village of Cobleskill, near the old Becker farm. By this time, fifteen men of the 15th Albany County militia were at Browns farm.
Two days later, the Captain Patricks small force and Browns militia moved up the valley to the home of Lawrence Lawyer. Scouts were sent out to try to locate the enemy and on the 29th, three scouts encountered two Schoharie Indians and shot one dead.
JOSEPH Brant, a loyalist Mohawk, captain in the British Indian department, and one of the most feared men on the frontier, had been expected to strike Cherry Valley. Instead, on May 30, his forces approached the settlement along the Cobus Kill, apparently looking for provisions and cattle.
As Brants forces approached, Patrick marched his small force up the creek to the residence of George Warner, the most westerly house in the Cobus Kill settlement. It was located in the area known today as Warnerville. Patricks troops had been at Warners only a short time when about 20 Indians were discovered. Patrick pursued them although Captain Brown, by many accounts, feared the patriots were being led into an ambush. The enemy... had not been pursued a mile, before it was evident their numbers were increasing, wrote Simms.
David Freemoyer, one of Browns militiamen, said later that the soldiers were in such hot pursuit of the Indians that they [the soldiers] were precipitated upon the main body of [Indians]... who were lying in ambush.
The pursuit stopped and an engagement ensued with both parties fighting under the cover of the trees. Firing became intense. Patrick attempted to order a bayonet charge to break the Indian line but was shot before the charge could begin. Two of his soldiers were killed in an attempt to carry him from the field, several others fell in the battle and Brown took command.
At some time during the battle, Lieutenant Maynard is said to have been spared by giving a Masonic sign to Brant. Whatever the reason, he was taken captive and remained a prisoner in Canada until late 1782.
On hearing the firing of the enemy, families in the settlement sought safety in the forest or fled to Schoharie. Brown realized the Americans had been drawn into an ambush. Seeing that they were badly outnumbered, he ordered a retreat. Brants forces followed closely and the battle continued from tree to tree.
The death of Capt. Patrick and his Lieutenant so damped the ardor of the Americans and the enemy was found to be so much superior in numbers being about 300 or 350, while that of the Americans was only about 200 [that] Capt. Brown ordered a retreat, wrote David Freemoyer in his pension application. The retreat became a rout and continued until what was left of Browns force was well beyond the settlement. They retreated with great precipitation to Fort Clinton, said Freemoyer.
AS the soldiers streamed past Warners house, from which they had been drawn into an ambush, three of Patricks men and two of Browns militia took refuge inside. Their action cost them their lives but may have saved those who escaped. Being fired on from the house, the Indians halted to dislodge its inmates, by which the rest of the party gained time to make good their retreat. The house was set on fire, and three of its inmates were burned in its ruins, wrote Simms.
Two continentals were killed while attempting to make their escape from the burning building. One is said to have been taken alive and tortured to death. Simms wrote:
The party who first visited the scene after the battle, found this soldier not far from where the house had stood, with his body cut open and his intestines fastened around a tree several feet distant. In one hand was a roll of continental bills, placed there by the enemy in derision of our countrys almost valueless promises to pay.
The remains of [Martinus] Fester fell into a tub of soap in the cellar, and were known by his tobacco box, and those of [John] Freemire were identified by his knee buckles and gun-barrel.
Following the battle, the Indians burned all dwellings in the settlement except an old log cabin belonging to George Warner, a Committee of Safety member who they may have hoped to capture when he returned home. The enemy laid waste the whole settlement on Cobleskill by burning houses, barns, stables & shooting such horses as they could not conveniently catch to take away with them, said Freemoyer in his pension application.
Simms says that ten dwellings were burned at this time: those of George Warner, his son Nicholas, George Fester, Adam Shafer, William Snyder, John Freemire, Lawrence Lawyer, John Zeh, John Bouck and John Shell, the latter owned by Lawrence Lawyer. With the barns and other out buildings, the total burned was 20, said Simms, citing a record of the Lutheran Church at Schoharie.
Many sources agree that 22 men including Captain Patrick were killed, two wounded and two taken prisoner. Of the approximately 350 Indians consisting mostly of Senecas, Schoharies, and Oquagos, and loyalists, approximately 25 were killed. Simms wrote that a mulatto, who was with the enemy at this time and returned after the war, stated that 25 of their number, mostly Indians, were buried in a mud hole near David Zehs. He also stated, that seven of the enemy who were wounded in the battle, died on their way to Canada. The mud hole or marsh is said in Kenneth Fakes 1937 Official History of the Town of Cobleskill to be located on the Route 7 right-of-way about midway between Richmondville and Warnerville. The battle took place a short distance below this marsh, towards Warnerville.
Bodies were buried in pits dug near where the George Warner house had stood, not far from the battle scene. Those of several soldiers were not discovered until some days later, even though scouts had been sent out to reconnoiter and look after the wounded.
One of those wounded was Sergeant Belknap of Aldens command. Simms relates that after being wounded, Belknap discovered a hollow log into which he crept.
The next day he backed out of his resting place cold and stiff, and while seated upon a fence, reflecting upon the events of the last 24 hours, he discovered two Indians laden with plunder approaching him, having two dogs. Unobserved by them, he let himself fall into a bunch of briers. The Indians halted near him, and their dogs placed their paws on the fence and growled. He supposed himself discovered, but soon one of them took out a bottle, from which both drank, and he had the satisfaction of seeing them resume their march, without noticing the irritation of their canine friends. Casting his eye along the beautiful valley, and surveying the ruins of the preceding day, he discovered the old house of Warner, on the west side of the creek, still standing, to which he made his way. He found it unoccupied, but victuals were on the table, and after eating, he laid down, faint and sad, upon a bed which the house also afforded. In the afternoon, two men came and conveyed him to the Schoharie Fort where his wound was properly drest and he recovered.
Following the attack, surviving residents hid in the forest. Most who sought safety in the forest would spend a rainy night there and not leave until the next day. Simms says that the wife of Lawrence Lawyer and three others stayed in the woods three days and finally came out near the mouth of the Cobus Kill.
This report was sent to General Stark the day following the battle:
Schoharry 30th May 1778
Honble Sir, As part of our Regiment of Militia with the Continental Troops have been attacked by the Tories and Savages and being not able to stand them, they gave way and eleven or twelve of the Continental Troops are returned, the Capt. & Lieut. are killed and how many of the militia are missing we are not able to give an exact account, but shall as soon as we are able. Cobus Kill is destroyed. We hope you will send us Reinforcement as soon as possible, and some ammunition as we are much in want of it. We have a small Field Piece. I hope you will send some Grape shot for it and we remain Your most humble Servts.
William Dietz, Esq.
Thomas Cheson, Major.
Jost Becker, Major.
N.B. the number of the Enemy as near as we can Learn is about three or four hundred,
One Oclock at night.
Col. Abraham Wemple of the Schenectady militia came to Schoharie with 119 men and wrote the following to Gen. Abraham Ten Brock:
I have buried the Dead at Cobus Kill, which is 14 in number; found five more burnt in the ruins of the house of one Yurry Wainer [Warner] where the engagement has been; they were Butchered in the most Inhuman manner; burnt 10 houses and Barns, Horses, Cows, Sheep &c. lay dead all over the fields.
I shall leave a guard of 70 men at the lower fort of Schoharie, all the rest of my force I shall keep at the upper part of the Settlement. Please to send the bearer 2 quire of paper.
I am Dr Genl. Your Obt hum. Servt
Schohary 6th June 1778
Dr Sir, I forgot to mention in mine of this date that the people of Cobus Kill, whose houses and Effects are burnt, only came off with what they had upon their backs, have applyd to me for provisions. I shall be glad to know wether they can draw out of public stores or so.
Something like a reign of terror prevailed on the frontier following the Cobleskill raid, wrote Alexander Flick, the state historian, in his History of the State of New York. The Mohawk Valley was in panic and Albany also feared an attack. All available state militia were ordered to Schoharie Valley by Gov. George Clinton and Flick says that parts of eleven regiments were sent.