The Schenectady Massacre was a Canadien attack against the village of Schenectady in the colony of New York on 8 February 1690. A party of more than 200 Canadiens and allied Mohawk nation, Saultn, and Algonquin warriors attacked the unguarded community, destroying most of the homes, and killing or capturing most of its inhabitants. It was in retaliation to the Lachine massacre, and related to the Beaver Wars in North America and King William's War between France and England.
In much of the late 17th century, the Iroquois and the colonists of New France engaged in a protracted struggle for control of the economically important fur trade in northern North America. In August 1689, the Iroquois launched one of their most devastating raids against the French frontier community of Lachine. This attack occurred after France and England declared war on each other, but before the news reached North America.
New France's governor the Comte de Frontenac organized an expedition from Montreal to attack English outposts to the south, as punishment for English support of the Iroquois, and as a general widening of the war against the northernmost English colonies. The expedition was one of three directed at isolated northern and western settlements, and was originally aimed at Fort Orange (present day Albany). At what is now Fort Edward, the French officers held council on the plan of attack.
The leaders were Jacques Le Moyne de Sainte-Hélène and Nicolas d'Ailleboust de Manthet; the second in command was Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, who later founded Louisiana. The raiding expedition consisted of about 160 Canadiens, mostly frontier-savvy coureurs de bois, with 100 Indian warriors, primarily Catholic Mohawk, Sault, and Algonquins. They made their way across the ice of Lake Champlain and Lake George toward the English communities on the Hudson River.
Fort Orange appeared to be well defended, and a scouting reported on February 8 that no one was guarding the stockade at the small frontier community of Schenectady to the west. Schenectady and Albany were so politically polarized in the wake of the 1689 Leisler's Rebellion that the opposing factions had not agreed on the setting of guards.
The village of Schenectady ("beyond the Pines") was located on a patent to farm on the Great Flats of the Mohawk River originally granted by the Dutch in 1661. It was located about seven miles beyond the western border of Rensselaerswyck.
Finding no sentinels other than two snowmen and the gate ajar according to the tradition, the raiders silently entered Schenectady and launched their attack two hours before dawn. The invaders burned houses and barns, and killed men, women and children. Most were in night clothing and had no time to arm themselves. By the morning of February 9, the community lay in ruins - more than 60 buildings were burned. Most of the residents were dead or taken prisoner, with some survivors managing to flee as refugees to the fort at Albany. Symon Schermerhorn was one of these. Although wounded, he rode to Albany to warn them of the massacre. In commemoration of this, the mayor of Schenectady repeats the ride every year. Most mayors have done so on horseback, though a few have preferred the comfort of an automobile.
The 60 dead included 38 men, 10 women and 12 children. Of those who managed to escape from the burning stockade area to seek shelter with families some miles distant, many died of exposure in the bitter cold before they got far. The raiders departed with 27 prisoners and 50 horses. Dominie Petrus Tessemacher, pastor of what became the First Reformed Church of Schenectady and the first Dutch Reformed Church pastor ordained in the new world, was killed in his house. The community took many years to recover from the attack. John A. Glen, who lived in Scotia, across the river from Schenectady, had shown previous kindness to the French. In gratitude, the raiding party took the Schenectady prisoners to him, inviting him to claim any relatives. Glen claimed as many survivors as he could, and the raiders took the rest to Canada. Typically those captives who were too young or old or ill to keep up along the arduous journeys were killed along the way. As was the pattern in later raids, some of the younger captives were adopted by Mohawk and other Indian families in Canada; others were ransomed by communities in New England.
A party of Albany militia and Mohawk warriors pursued the northern invaders and killed or captured 15 or more almost within sight of Montreal.
Reynier Schaets and his son were among those killed in the Schenectady raid. Schaets was a son of Gideon Schaets, dominie of the Dutch Reformed Church at Albany. Reynier was a surgeon, who had been appointed Justice at Schenectady by Governor Leisler on December 28, 1689. His wife Catharina Bensing and three other children: Gideon, Bartholomew and Agnietje, survived.
The attack forced New York's political factions to put aside their differences and focus on the common enemy of New France. As a result of the attack, the Albany Convention, which had until then resisted Jacob Leisler's assumption of power in the southern parts of the colony, acknowledged his authority. With the assistance of Connecticut officials, Leisler organized a retaliatory expedition from Albany to attack Montreal. Led by Connecticut militia general Fitz-John Winthrop, the expedition turned back in August 1689 due to disease, lack of supplies, and insufficient watercraft for navigating on Lake Champlain.
In 1990, the city of Schenectady commissioned composer Maria Riccio Bryce to create a musical work to commemorate the tricentennial of the massacre. The resulting piece, Hearts of Fire, followed the lives of Schenectady townspeople through the seasons of 1689, set against the ominous backdrop of the French march from Montreal to Albany. The settlers, though they find their home in ruins, elect to stay and rebuild, honoring the memory of their fallen relatives.
- Hart, Larry. Tales of Old Schenectady, Chap.8, pp. 37-40
- Bielinski, Stefan. "Schenectady", New York State Museum
- Wells, Robert V. (2000).Facing the "King of Terrors": Death and Society in an American Community, 1750-1990. Cambridge University Press, p. 28. ISBN 0521633192
- Schenectady Massacre, 9th of February 1689, Dutch Colonies Mail List (reprint)
- John Demos, The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America, ISBN 978-0679759614
- Journal of Robert Livingston, a settler Digital History, 2012, accessdate 6 January 2013.
- Detailed story, an online book[dead link]
- Detailed story, Van Patten website
- Why Schenectady was destroyed in 1690. A paper read before the Fortnightly Club of Schenectady, 3 May 1897, accessdate 6 January 2013.
- Symon Schermerhoorn's ride, February 8/9, 1690, writ from facts and traditions as set down in ye old records of ye massacre of Skinnechtady; and in commemoration of Symon Schermerhoorn's ride to save ye inhabitants of Albany from ye French and Indians, Privately printed, 1910, accessdate 6 January 2013.