The Road to Kingsbridge

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

As a result, on the morning of August 31 a Continental Army force composed of non-Indians commanded by Colonel Mordecai Gist of Maryland ambushed a green-uniformed Hessian company in what is today’s Yonkers. Six Hessians were killed and six others wounded. The Hessians were forced to retreat back to the New York City line. By this time, the British command had already drawn up a plan to retaliate against the Indians around the same area where the Hessians had retreated to safety. They gathered an imposing force that included 500 British regulars, Hessians and Loyalist troops. They now set a trap. Three of its high-ranking officers were involved in implementing the plan. Andreas Emmerick, a professional German soldier from Westphalia who had served the British since the French and Indian War, commanded the Hessians; John Graves Simcoe was the commander of the Queen’s Rangers. (After the war he had an illustrious political career in British Canada, becoming Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada). Simcoe’s close friend, Banastre Tarleton, was the most notorious of the three.

He had won fame by capturing Continental General Charles Lee at Basking Ridge in December 12–13, 1776. Tartleton was referred to during the war, among other names, as the “Butcher” and “Bloody Ban.” Later, in 1780, he was accused of massacring Continental soldiers after they surrendered at the Battle of Waxhaws in South Carolina. A stylish dandy, Tarleton was known for wearing a leather helmet with antique-style applique and a plume protruding from its upper front side that later became standard issue for all British light cavalrymen. All three officers were colonels and commanded combined units of cavalry and infantry, although Tarleton’s Dragoons were best known as cavalrymen.

The British set their trap on Cortlandt’s Ridge on the northern end of what today is Van Cortlandt Park, right on the Bronx side of the border with Westchester County. The Stockbridge Indian Company, composed of 60 warrior-soldiers, fell into it. The sight of Emmerick’s forces drew the Indians into the open. Then Simcoe’s infantry struck and hit the left flank of the Indians. Surrounded and outnumbered more than eight to one, the Indians attempted to fight back in what became hand-to-hand combat. Simcoe, who was wounded, later described the bloody scene in his journal: “The Indians fought most gallantly; they pulled more than one of the Cavalry from their horses.” According to Simcoe’s journal, Daniel Nimham called out to his warriors that “he was old and would stand and die there.” He was cut down and killed by Private Edward Wight, a British light cavalryman.

Then Tarleton’s light cavalry, the First Dragoon Guards, composed of 175 sabre-rattling horsemen, entered the battle and broke the Indians’ line of defense. Many in the Stockbridge force, now in retreat, were hunted down by Tarleton’s cavalry and killed. Some of the Indians survived by making their escape over Tibbetts Brook. Subsequently, General Scott reported to General Washington about their return to White Plains: “There are no more than 14 Indians Yet com[sic] in. Among the missing is Capt. Nimham and his father….” Three other Indians, who were captured during the fighting, were later freed in prisoner exchanges. Simcoe’s joint British-Hessian-Loyalist command lost two cavalrymen; six besides Simcoe himself were wounded. Estimates vary about the number of Stockbridge Indians killed since some died fleeing British forces outside of the immediate battlefield or subsequently died of their wounds. Estimates of the dead range from 17 to 40. It appears that one of the larger estimates is the most accurate.

Aftermath

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