Betrayed by a Mason?

Brant, Butler, and Boyd – The Betrayal of a Brother?

Presentation Michael Karpovage made to Masonic Hobasco Lodge No. 716 in Ithaca, NY

SETTING: During the very last leg of the American Revolutionary War’s 1779 Sullivan-Clinton campaign, in what is now central New York State, a battlefield incident occurred between opposing forces that involved members of the Freemasons. The campaign was ordered by General George Washington as an invasion into Iroquois Confederacy lands in retaliation for several brutal massacres by British Rangers and Iroquois warriors against American frontier settlements supporting the fledgling Continental Army. Washington ordered Iroquois villages and crops to be destroyed in a scorched earth policy to disrupt their ability to wage war. Sullivan executed his orders to the fullest, ultimately destroying 40 villages. But during the end of that campaign, as Sullivan’s army approached the Seneca capital of Genesee Castle, the British and Iroquois surrounded a scout detachment led by Lieutenant Thomas Boyd, a young courageous yet cocky Freemason. His troops were surrounded and decimated. He was captured along with a soldier named Michael Parker and their Oneida Indian guide Hon Yost. Boyd, fearing for his life, saw the Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant – a captain in the British Army and also a fellow Brother Freemason – gave the universal sign and asked for protection under the fraternity’s obligation to save a fellow Brother’s life in distress. Boyd received that protection by the Native American chief, but a day later he was apparently betrayed by another Freemason, the British Colonel John Butler and given to the Indians to enact their revenge for the destruction the Continental Army laid against their villages. Ultimately, Thomas Boyd was tortured and mutilated for hours before being decapitated in one of the most heinous murders in the Revolutionary War.

PLAYER PROFILE: CHIEF JOSEPH BRANT: Chief Joseph Brant was a Mohawk Indian who led a contingent of Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Mohawk Indians in battlefield raids against American settlers in the wilderness frontier of what is now New York and Pennsylvania. Brant had persuaded many Iroquois to ally with the British instead of staying neutral. In fact, many Iroquois also looked down on Brant and labeled him a “monster” for getting them involved in the war. Chief Brant was raised and educated in British Tory schools, receiving the education of a civilized man, had read the Scriptures, and professed to be a Christian. He was the epitome of the ‘Noble Savage’ and had even visited the King of England in 1776. It was there he was initiated into the ancient fraternity called the Freemasons and had the distinction of having his Masonic apron given to him from the hand of King George III himself.

After the surrender of the American forces at the Battle of the Cedars on the St. Lawrence River in 1776, Brant exerted himself to prevent the massacre of the prisoners. In particular, one Capt. John McKinstry, a member of Hudson Lodge No.13 of New York, was about to be burned at the stake. McKinstry, remembering that Brant was a Freemason, gave to him the Masonic sign of appeal which secured his release and subsequent good treatment. He and Brant thereafter remained friends for life, and in 1805 he and Brant together visited the Masonic Lodge in Hudson, New York, where Brant was well received and on whose wall his portrait now hangs.

PLAYER: COLONEL JOHN BUTLER. A Freemason Tory Officer, Colonel John Butler was the leader of Butler’s Rangers, a British detachment based out of Fort Niagara. With Brant’s warriors, they were undeniably the fiercest combination of guerilla warriors the Revolutionary War had seen. Butler and Brant were co-commanders in the western New York and Pennsylvania wilderness and often did not get along. Although they distrusted each other and often vied for power, they did work for a common cause – to wreak havoc on the American frontier through guerilla and terroristic raids. And because of their battlefield actions Butler and Brant became infamous figures. The Americans despised them and placed a price on their heads. Their actions during several massacres in the Wyoming and Cherry Valley finally led to Washington’s decision to destroy the Iroquois homeland.

PLAYER: LT. THOMAS BOYD: Thomas Boyd was a young man of ordinary height, strongly built, fine looking, sociable and agreeable in all his manners, which gained for him many friends wherever he went. Brave almost to recklessness, he was endowed with the qualities which would command attention, without the cool judgment or firmness which would fit him for a leader. He was 22 years of age at his death after the Groveland Ambush in 1779. The very first account we have of him is in connection with Freemason Benedict Arnold’s famous march through the pine forest from Maine to Quebec. This was in September 1775. Here Thomas took active part in the assault upon the British works, Dec. 31, 1775, and was wounded and taken prisoner, but soon afterwards exchanged. After his release he returned to his home in Pennsylvania, where in the latter part of the winter of 1776 he again enlisted as a Sergeant in the Pennsylvania Regiment. While there he became acquainted and paid his address to a young lady by the name of Miss Cornelia Becker, a daughter of Bartholomew Becker a prominent and highly respected settler of this place. But before he let on the Sullivan Expedition to the north, there was a sad scene that transacted which left a stain upon his noble life.

In the forenoon, when the troops were preparing to leave Schoharie to join Gen. Clinton’s forces at Springfield, Miss Becker, whom Thomas had promised to marry, learning that he was about to leave, rushed to the encamping grounds in a state of mind bordering on madness, and approached her lover a short distance from his command, caught hold of his arm, and in tears besought him by the most tender entreaties to marry her before leaving. Thomas endeavored to put her off by promises, she, doubting his intentions, looked him squarely in the face, and in a decisive way, with trembling lips said to him, if he went off without marrying her, she hoped and prayed to the great God of heaven that he would be tortured and cut to pieces by the savages. In the midst of this unpleasant scene, which had compelled the troops to be waiting for their lieutenant, his colonel rode up and reprimanded Thomas for causing the delay. It mortified Thomas to be seen by his superior officer, importuned by a girl, and touched the pride of Thomas, and flying into a passion he instantly drew his sword and pushed the poor broken-hearted girl from him, and with it as if intending to make a thrust, threatened to stab her if she did not instantly leave him. After Thomas’s death Cornelia gave birth to a daughter of which he was the reputed father.  The child of Miss Becker grew up to womanhood and was named Catherine. She was a young lady of fine qualities and highly respected wherever she went. She afterwards became the wife of one of the settlers named Martinus Vrooman of Schoharie, N. Y.

Sunday morning, September 12th, was rainy, with thunder and lightning, The main army encamped nearly two miles north, on the flats southwest of Foot’s Corners. At the head of Conesus Lake was a soft, miry bottom along the south side of which ran the Indian path to the Genesee towns. This path crossed a sluggish inlet by a bridge, which Butler had destroyed on his retreat. On the west of the lake and running parallel with it is a steep bluff of considerable height, which reaches nearly to the water’s edge, at that time covered with trees, and then, as now, deeply gashed by several ravines which come straight down its face. The Indian path led up to the crest of the hill between two of these ravines, but with a southerly trend, following nearly or exactly the line of the present road. This was the place selected by Butler and Brant to surprise the Continental Army, and, if possible, to destroy it.

Gen. Sullivan, knowing Thomas Boyd to be a man of a courageous and daring disposition and a reliable young officer, immediately dispatched a messenger with a request for him to come to his tent as he had important business for him to conduct. After a short consultation with his commander, Boyd was given orders to select four of his most trusty comrades, and to go that night the 14 miles in advance of the main army and penetrate the Indian country, locate the capital of Genesee Castle and return before daylight. Gathering his men later that night Boyd disobeyed his commander’s orders. Instead of taking four he chose 26 men and two Oneida Indians, and then set out for his destination.

SEPTEMBER 13, 1779 – THE MOVEMENTS of BOYD’s SCOUTS. It was not yet break of day on Monday morning, the 13th of September, a day so fatal to most of the party, when Thomas accompanied by Timothy Murphy, a noted Indian fighter, stole away from their companions and entered a small Indian village along a path to the capital. Here they discovered four Indians approaching from the west. One of them was a wounded warrior and the other an uncle to the sachem Soh-nah-so-wah. A ball from Murphy’s rifle sealed the fate of the former, and the rest fled. Murphy, as it was his custom, took off the slain Indian scalp, his thirty-third trophy. The flying Indian, Thomas now was well aware, would at once make known his visit to the enemy, and thus defeat his purpose. He therefore resolved to rejoin the army without delay. On going back to his party he dispatched two messengers to Gen. Sullivan with a report of his operations while at the same time they were directed to inform the General that the scouts would return immediately. The messengers reached Gen, Sullivan’s camp early in the morning. The scouting party prepared to retrace their steps also. Hon Yost, an Oneida Indian, recommended his leader to follow a different route. But Thomas unwisely disregarded the advice of his faithful and intelligent guide.

The chase was kept up for some distance, the Indians succeeding in alluring the scouting party near the enemy’s lines laying in wait to ambush the main Continental Army. They allowed Boyd’s party to approach sufficiently near enough to draw his fire, but kept themselves out of danger. British Colonel John Butler, hearing the firing on his right, as his force was arranged facing Conesus Lake, and fearing that he had been discovered, and that an attempt was being made to surprise his camp, hastened to the spot, where he found Boyd’s party still following the Indians. Without being aware of their presence, Boyd was already within the fatal embrace of the enemy, and before he was aware of it, Butler had given such orders as to completely surround him. There were four hundred under the command of Brant and Butler.

THE FIGHT. The scouting party of Boyd were at once taken to a small grove of trees for cover after becoming surrounded. Boyd realized his only chance of escape was to strike at some given point and cut his way through the ranks of the enemy. It was a bold measure; but there was no alternative, and he made three attempts to accomplish his purpose. In the first, several of the enemy fell, without the loss of a single scout. But Boyd was repulsed. The Indians stood their ground nobly. In the second attempt upon their line by Boyd, his whole party fell except himself and eight others. The firing was so close before the brave party was destroyed, that the powder of the enemy’s muskets was driven into their flesh. Though a majority now lay dead, a third attempt was made and the enemy’s lines were breached. Timothy Murphy tumbled a huge warrior in the dust who obstructed his path and led forth the little band of escapees. Thomas Boyd tried to follow but had been wounded. He, and two others, Sergeant Michael Parker and the Oneida scout Hon Yost, were taken prisoner. Hon Yost immediately received a tomahawk in the skull from his brother (who was fighting with Brant) and was then hacked to pieces by the Indians for being a traitor.

The British and Indians then hastily retreated upon hearing General Sullivan’s Army approaching after the scout escapees raised the alarm. They left behind a wagon load of packs, blankets, hats, and provisions.

In the words of John Salmon, who was a friend and fellow-soldier of Boyd, the incident continued as follows: “…When Lieut. Boyd found himself a prisoner, he solicited an interview with Brant, whom he well knew commanded the Indians. This chief, who was at that moment near, immediately presented himself, when Lieut. Boyd, by one of those appeals which are known only by those who have been initiated and instructed in certain mysteries, and which never fails to bring succour to a ‘distressed brother’, addressed him as the only source from which he could expect a respite from cruel punishment or death. The appeal was recognized, and Brant immediately, and in the strongest language, assured him that his life should be spared.”

ANOTHER description — On finding himself a prisoner, Thomas obtained an interview with Brant, who as well as himself was a Freemason. After they had exchanged the magic sign of brotherhood, Brant assured him that he should not be injured.

ANOTHER description — Boyd approached Brant under the sign of a Freemason, of which ancient fraternity both were members, that the chieftain recognized the bond of brotherhood and promised him protection.

“Lieut. Boyd and his fellow-prisoner Parker were immediately conducted by a party of Indians to the Indian village called Beard’s Town…, Brant, their generous preserver, being called on service which required a few hours absence, left them in the care of the British Colonel Butler of the Rangers—who as soon as Brant had left them, Butler commenced an interrogation to obtain from the prisoners a statement of the number, situation, and intentions of the army under Gen. Sullivan….”

Thus it would seem that Brant, the “savage”, was more charitable in his actions toward his patriot Brothers than were the British Tory Freemasons with whom he was in league – in particular the commander Colonel John Butler. One can only wonder why Brant did not release or at least protect Boyd and Parker after he had agreed to spare them, or why he did not have greater influence and control over his Indians to prevent the execution of these unfortunates at Butler’s hands.

INTERROGATION description — From John Salmon – Butler placed the prisoners on their knees before him with a warrior on each side firmly grasping their arms. A third Indian stood at their back with a raised tomahawk. Butler began to interrogate them about the purposes of General Sullivan, threatening them with savage torture if true and ready answer were not given. Butler then three times asked of Boyd information which his loyalty to his commander would not permit him to give. ‘Boyd’, he said, ‘ Life is sweet, you had better answer me’. ‘Duty forbids’, was Boyd’s reply, ‘ I would not if my life depended upon the word.’ Boyd three times refused, relying confidently upon the Masonic assurances of the generous Mohawk chieftain. Butler delivered him to Little Beard and his clan, the most ferocious of the Seneca tribe, who put him and Parker to death with terrible torture, he remaining faithful to the last to his trust, (and) forfeited his life rather than yield up his integrity.”

THE TORTURE. Mary Jemison, a white woman captured as a girl and raised by the Indians and living in the Genesee Castle, was there at that time and gives the eyewitness details from which this account is drawn. The prisoners were seized, stripped and bound to trees, and severely whipped with prickly ash boughs. The Indians commenced a series of horrid cruelties directed especially toward Thomas. When all was ready Little Beard lifted his hatchet, stained with recent blood, and with steady aim sent it whistling through the air and in an instant it quivered within a hair’s thickness of Thomas’s head. The younger Indians were now permitted to follow the chief’s example, and from right, front and left their bright tomahawks cleaved the air and trembled above the unflinching persons of the victims. Wearied at length of this work a single blow severed Parker’s head from his body, and mercifully ended his misery. Poor Thomas however was reserved for a worse fate. After amusing themselves sufficiently in this way, a small incision was made in his abdomen, and the end of one of his intestines taken out and fastened to the tree. The victim was then unbound, and driven round the tree by brute force, until his intestines had all been literally drawn from his body – and wound round its trunk. Again pinioned his mouth was enlarged with a knife, his nails dug out, his tongue cut away, his ears severed from his head, his nose hewn off and thrust into his mouth, his eyes dug out and the flesh cut from his shoulder, and then sinking in death after their enormities, he was decapitated and his disfigured head after being partly skinned raised by the frenzied savages upon a sharpened pole and a knife stuck into body when it was found.

BETRAYAL? COVER UP? MISLEADING STATEMENTS? -British Colonel John Butler’s report to Lieutenant Colonel Bolton-Buffaloe Creek 14th Septemr 1779

“We left Canawagoras on the 12th instant in the afternoon, and took Possession of the ground where we meant to Surprise the Enemy early the next morning. “The Rangers by desire of the Indians were intermixt amongst them. We lay for a few hours undiscovered near the Enemy, who were busily employed in making a Bridge over a Swamp which lay in their Front, and it was our Intention to have let part of them pass the Swamp, and then to have attacked them in such a manner as to make it difficult for the others to Support them. While we were waiting with impatience for the Enemy to begin to pass their Bridge, we were allarmed by a firing above us to the Right, which Continuing for some time, the Indians called out that we were surrounded, and we immediately pushed for the Place where the firing was. upon coming up I found that a Scout of the Rebels, 30 in number had fallen in with the Right of our Line, and 22 of them been killed by the Rangers & Indians in that Quarter. A Lieut. who commanded the Party and a Private were taken. The Officer who is a very intelligent Person Says, their Army consists of near 5000 Continental Troops- 1500 of which are Rifle Men, commanded by General Sullivan and Brigadiers Hand, Poor and Clinton. They have but a month’s Provisions, and intend, according to his account, to come no further than Genessee- They have four Pieces of Cannon (the largest a Six Pounder) a Cohorn and a Howitzer- They are building a strong Fort at Tioga and mean to keep a large Garrison there. “This affair having discovered us to the Enemy, and by that means frustrated our Designs of surprising them, the Indians insisted upon retreating to Genessee, to which I agreed as we were but 400, and could no expect to effect any thing against so numerous an enemy- We found by our Scouts that they had followed us closely, and had encamped on the opposite side of the Genessee River about two miles from the Village. At Day Break this morning, as the Enemy were in motion, and all the Indians , except about 60, moved off, I found myself under the necessity of leaving the Place, which the Rebels took Possession of, in less than two hours after. I am now on my march to Niagara, and all the Indians with their Families are moving in, as their Villages & Corn are Destroyed, and they have nothing left to support themselves upon. “The Indians say, that after they have moved their Families to a Place of Safety, they will then go and take Revenge of the Enemy.”

John Butler

In this letter, Butler claims Boyd gave up this intelligence during his interrogation, which refutes the earlier description of him NOT giving up the information under threat of death. So, why then if Butler gained this information would he then give Boyd up to the Indians to exact their revenge with torture? Butler then allegedly made a statement that he knew Masonic obligations were overruled by the duty of an Army officer to serve his King and not be involved to protect rebels. This seems proof that he knew some type of Masonic transaction had occurred between Brant and Boyd, otherwise why justify it. Furthermore, Butler apparently made another verbal statement claiming that after his examination Boyd was sent forward with a guard to Niagara; but, while passing through Genesee, an old Indian rushed out and tomahawked him. Was this new description of Boyd’s fate a way of covering the betrayal that he, Butler, had committed? Continental soldier John Salmon refutes the latter claim, saying Boyd was put to death by the most cruel tortures, and so says many of the journal entries by other soldiers who found the bodies, as well as the official report of General Sullivan. And the torture was even corroborated by eyewitness Mary Jemison. It seems Butler’s story in inconsistent with several defensive statements.

Further proof of Boyd’s torture contradicting Butler’s claim that one Indian tomahawked him came a year later with the following account: On the 27th of March 1780, a party of Indians captured Lebbeus Hammond , Thomas Bennett with his son Andrew, a lad of thirteen or fourteen years of age, in the Wyoming valley of Pennsylvania. The lead Indian said he led the party that ambushed and took Thomas Boyd up near the Genesee River, and he further said, “Boyd brave man – as good a soldier as ever fought against the red man.” He then brought out a sword and said, “There, Boyd’s sword.” Hammond examined the sword and discovered the initials of Thomas Boyd’s name stamped on the blade near the hilt. The Indian said they tortured Boyd, cut off his fingers and toes, plucked out his eyes, etc., “still brave Boyd neither asked for mercy nor uttered a complaint. Ah! brave Boyd knew very well the character of the Indians.” That night Bennett and his son rose up on their captors, killed FIVE OF THE SEVEN of them as they slept, and returned safety to Wyoming. The sword was brought away by Lebbeus Hammond, and was afterward presented to Lieutenant Boyd’s brother, Colonel John Boyd.

As soon as the main Continental Army division had heard of the scout ambush situation of Boyd, they moved forward — arriving however only in season to bury the 13 bodies of the slain. This tragic occurrence took place on the 13th of September in the area of what is now Groveland, NY. On the 14th, the army continued its advance, and crossed the Genesee River. Arriving at Little Beard’s town, they found the mutilated bodies of Boyd and Parker, which were buried on the bank of Beard’s Creek, under a clump of wild plum trees. The heads of these two men were at once recognized by their companions to whom Thomas’s features, though partially skinned, were so familiar, and Parker was identified beyond doubt from a scar on his face and his broken front teeth. They burnt the Indian villages on the Genesee flats, and destroyed all their corn and other means of subsistence.

After the conclusion of this tragedy, the Indians decided to leave their possessions, for the preservation of their lives and those of their families. The women and children were thereupon sent away in the direction of Niagara, while the warriors remained in the forests about Little Beard’s town, to watch the motions of the Americans.

Immediately after these events the army commenced its march back, by the same route that it came, to Tioga Point; thence down the Susquehanna to Wyoming; and thence across the country to Morristown, New-Jersey, where we went into winter quarters.

EPILOGUE. This was not the end of Boyd and Parker’s story. In 1807 robbers looted the graves at Groveland, taking clothing as relics. In 1830 the grave was opened again and four Revolutionary War, U S Army uniform buttons were found, authenticating the site. In July of 1841 Professor Samuel Treat gave a speech saying that it was shameful that there was no monument to honor these soldiers. On August 19, six canal boats filled with five military companies, invited guests and journalists went down the Genesee Valley Canal to Cuylerville to bring the remains back to Rochester’s new Mount Hope Cemetery. Boyd’s men, also buried in Groveland, were brought back as well to be buried in honor on Patriots Hill in Mount Hope Cemetery. Emotions were so high that the descendants of the 1807 grave robbers returned what had been taken. With even more ceremony in Rochester the wooden urn containing Boyd’s and Parker’s remains, and the wooden sarcophagus containing the massacre victims were placed next to a temporary wooden monument in Mount Hope. The very next day the Democrats accused the Whigs of burying bear bones, instead of the remains of Boyd and Parker. This controversy raged for years, inspite of the fact that those at the Cuylerville watched as the grave was opened. Meanwhile the wooden urn and sarcophagus sat on the ground, exposed to Rochester’s weather, until a cemetery caretaker saw the bones lying on the ground, and buried then in potter’s field in 1864. Members of the Irondequoit chapter of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution researching the Boyd & Parker story in 1903, found the remains in potter’s field and they were reburied, again. The site marked with a marked with a granite boulder and a bronze plaque.


One Response to “Betrayed by a Mason?”

  1. Marvelous info concerning this subject, thanks a lot for sharing with us.

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