The Murder of a Patriot: Douw Fonda (1700/1-1780)

The widower was in his eightieth year and he lived in large stone mansion with a small number of servants.  In his long life in the Mohawk River Valley he had witnessed a great many battles, some carefully orchestrated campaigns and some minor skirmishes or raids. He had never before seen, however, a winter as harsh as the one that had just passed.  It was May now, and spring was returning to the valley.  The widower and his neighbors knew that the blue skies and warmer temperatures were a mixed blessing, as they would probably be accompanied by an invasion from the Redcoats who were encamped a few days march to the north in Quebec.

The British Governor-General Haldimand had received intelligence reports that the Rebels were forcing men of fighting age to take up arms against the British crown.  The Governor was upset by this persecution of Loyalists and began to work with Sir John Johnson to muster a unit to safely escort these men to British-controlled Quebec.  Johnson was in full agreement with Haldimand’s sentiment, and also saw the mission as a chance to strike a blow against the rebelling colonists.

The Mohawk River Valley was a Whig stronghold, and the community fully supported the cause of Independence.  They had received word that the British were planning a raid, but they didn’t know when and they didn’t know how.  The widower, Douw Fonda, volunteered his home as a makeshift fortress, and stakes and pickets were planted around its circumference.  Not only was the mansion a formidable structure, but its owner was a patriarch of a family that was respected throughout the region, by Whig, Tory, and Indian alike, and perhaps this respect would temper the actions of the raiding forces.

In the middle of May 1780, Johnson put together a raiding party of 528 whites and Indians.  The party made its way south, down Lake Champlain and then marching southwest from Crown Point.  As the invaders began to pillage the northern settlements, the alarm was sounded.  The young men of the village who would have otherwise protected their farms, homes and families were off fighting the British as part of the Continental Army or militia.  Because the settlement had been left defenseless, its residents ran for the protection of the wooded hills, knowing that their homes would be destroyed, but that, perhaps, their lives would be spared.  The British and the Mohawks did not pursue the terrified villagers, but those that refused to abandon their property were locked inside their burning homes.

The elderly Douw Fonda, however, refused to flee.  When the alarm first sounded he grabbed his gun and turned to the young Scottish girl who was his personal attendant and said, “Penelope, do stay here with me, for I will fight for you with the last drop of my blood!”  Penelope Grant did her best to talk him out of this foolish plan, and encouraged him to escape with her to the hills.  When she realized that her protestations were to no avail, she knew that if she wished to survive she would have to leave the old man to his fate.

At first the Mohawks intended to spare the Douw mansion and the old man who owned it.  Many of them knew Fonda personally, had enjoyed his hospitality in the past, and were aware that he was a close friend of Sir William Johnson, the head of Indian affairs in the northern colonies.  The Tories, however, were intent on inflicting as much suffering as possible to this Whig stronghold, and commanded their Mohawk allies to do the same.  As the invaders burst through the blockaded front door, the musical clock that stood in the front hall began to play its chimes.  On a marble table was a statue of Indian, whose head was on a pivot, which from the slightest motion was “Niding, nodding, and nid, nid, nodding.”  The Mohawks believed that the strange music and the nodding statue were signs that the spirits approved of their rampage.

Douw Fonda was relieved of his weapon before he had fired a single shot.  He was led from his home, carrying a book and a cane, by an Indian known as “One-Armed Peter,” and then taken to the river and tomahawked and scalped.  When Peter was later chastised for this murder, he protested that he believed that Fonda’s fate had already been sealed and that “he might as well get the bounty for the scalp as anyone else.”

Several other villagers were killed that day, and ten dozen barns and homes were burned.  Sir John Johnson gathered 143 Loyalists, including women and children, and twenty slaves and made the trek back to Quebec.  The Rebels mustered Continentals and militias to pursue Johnson’s party, but the pursuit had to be abandoned due to rumors that the Mohawk chief Joseph Brandt was planning an attack from the south.

Two days after the raid the dogs of several families whose homes had been ravaged and burned, and whose masters had been killed or taken prisoner, gathered on a hill just north of the Slingerland home and began to howl.  A howling by a greater number of dogs has never been heard before or since.  The unearthly baying began at sunset and continued for several hours as the dogs mourned their lost masters.  Eventually, the surviving villagers returned and rebuilt the town that would become known as Fonda, New York.

Douw Fonda was my Great (x6) Grandfather
Adam Lowe Martin (son of) - Allen Martin - Margaret Persse (daughter of) - Edwin Theophilus Persse (son of) - Margaret Alida Schuyler (daughter of) - Maria Wemple - Douw Wemple (son of) - Margrietje Fonda (daughter of) - Douw Fonda