The Road to Kingsbridge

The Road to Kingsbridge: Daniel Nimham and the Stockbridge Indian Company in the American Revolution

Because of the pro-American leanings of their missionary, John Sargent, Jr., and the bitterness about the land claim case, the Stockbridge Indians joined the Continental Army right at the beginning of the Revolution. Indeed, 35 of these American Indians volunteered as minutemen even before the outbreak of war! As early as the spring of 1775, the Stockbridge sent emissaries to the Kahnawake Indian community in Canada, carrying messages from the American patriot Ethan Allen urging Mohawk neutrality.

At Albany in the late summer of 1775, the Stockbridge delegates assured the American commissioners that they were fully committed to the Patriot cause. They insisted: “Whenever you go we will be at your Side. Our Bones shall lay with yours. We are determined never to be at peace with the Red Coats while they are at Variance with you…. If we are conquered our Lands go with yours, but if we are our victorious we hope you will help us to recover our just rights.” Later, in November 1776, John Sargent, Jr. wrote the Continental Congress that his flock had no interest in remaining neutral and that they “have made themselves acquainted with the merits of the controversy, and have taken an active part in our [Patriot] favor.” He indicated that they had sent wampum belts to the Six Nations and the Shawnees to ascertain which of them were interested in allying their nations with the American cause.

Daniel Nimham was given a military commission as a captain in the Continental Army. Traveling to Indian communities in Canada and the Ohio Valley, he served as a diplomat attempting to bring these nations to the Patriot cause. Daniel’s son Abraham Nimham was put in charge of the Stockbridge Indian Company. The journal kept by the Hessian officer Johann Van Ewald of the Schleswig Jagr Corps. has the best description of the warriors in the Stockbridge Indian Company. According to this Hessian, the warriors had no facial or body hair since they had pulled them out by pincers; while their head was fully shaved except for the hair of their crown. The Stockbridge Indians also had rings through both their noses and ear lobes. The warriors wore hats of bast, body length shirts of coarse linen, long linen trousers down to their feet and deerskin shoes. The warriors carried a “musket, a quiver of about twenty arrows and a short battle axe [tomahawk]” which they knew “how to throw very skillfully.”

In the summer of 1778, the Stockbridge Company was sent to White Plains to serve under the overall command of General Charles Scott, a Virginian. The Saratoga campaign of the previous year had ended in disaster for the British, and the American Continental Army held sway from White Plains north in the Hudson Valley. New York City remained in British hands until the end of the Revolution. With the French entering the war on the side of the Americans and sending their navy to aid General Washington in June 1778, the British viewed the city, its great port and its environs as essential to maintaining its war effort in the North. However, the area around today’s Yonkers, N.Y., and south to the Bronx border was a no man’s land.

The Battle of Kingsbridge

The mission of the Stockbridge Indian Company as well as other units stationed in White Plains was to patrol the area of southern Westchester County right to the New York City line and to gather intelligence on British troop movements. Eleven days before the Battle of Kingsbridge, the Stockbridge Indian Company ambushed a British force under the command of Hessian Andreas Emmerick, killing one of his chasseurs or light cavalrymen and wounding another. News of the Indian force on the northern border of New York City spread. Two days before the Battle of Kingsbridge, General Scott gave orders to Allen McLane, an officer who had commanded Oneida Indian troops at the Battle of Barren Hill in May 1778, to coordinate his command with the Stockbridge Indian Company. Scott ordered McLane and his forces, Indians and non-Indians, to annoy the enemy and prevent them from making incursions into territory held by the American rebels. His soldiers were required to send all intelligence back to headquarters “in the most full and perspicacious manner,” and conduct themselves in a prudent manner.

Laurence M. Hauptman, a frequent contributor to American Indian magazine, is SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History.