Two-hundred and thirty-three years ago, on August 31, 1778, British troops killed 40 Indians in the Bronx in what became known as the Stockbridge Indian Massacre during the American Revolution.
When the revolution began, members of the Stockbridge Indian tribe met at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to pledge their loyalty to the Americans, stating “Wherever your armies go, there will we go; you shall always find us by your side. Nor shall peace ever be made between our nation and the Redcoats until our brothers the white people lead the way.”
They formed a militia that served in the siege of Boston and the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775. Then, the militia disbanded, with some Indians returning home and others serving as scouts.
In 1777, a new Stockbridge Militia was formed from the 8th Massachusetts Regiment and other units under the command of Major General Horatio Gates. The loosely organized militia was led by Jehoiaikim Mtohksin and became part of the Continental Army.
Abraham Nimham, son of Daniel Nimham, a Wappinger sachem who moved his people to Stockbridge during the French and Indian War, was second-in-command. By 1778, they served in many campaigns, from the Battle of Saratoga to the Battle of Monmouth.
In July 1778, a group of Stockbridge Indians under Daniel Nimham joined the American army at White Plains, N.Y. Abraham Nimham, seeking to fight alongside his father, asked that all the Stockbridge Indians from several units be allowed to serve together.
In August, the Stockbridge Militia was stationed at an outpost in what is now Yonkers, N.Y. Their enemy were the Queen’s Rangers, an outgrowth of Rogers’ Rangers, in which many Stockbridge Indians served during the French and Indian War.
The scene of the action was Van Cortlandt Manor, a large estate between Broadway and the Bronx River. Midway between the river and the manor house was Mile Square Road, connecting the Albany Post Road with the hamlet of Mile Square in Westchester County.
On August 31, about 40 Indians, including Abraham Nimham, his father Daniel, and 12 other Stockbridge natives, were killed in an ambush by the Rangers in the area that is now Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.
The American forces were outnumbered nearly five to one. During the action, Daniel Nimham wounded a British officer. With enemy troops at the front and rear, the old chief called out to his men to retreat, but then shouted “I am old and can die here.”
The Indians fled through the fields, where they were chased down. Overwhelmed, they refused to surrender and fought fiercely, leaping onto horses and dragging off the riders. They used their knives and tomahawks because there was no time to reload their muskets.
The British soldiers called out for the fugitives to surrender, promising them their lives. Three Indians gave themselves up, but the British killed them. The site of this atrocity is known as Indian Bridge.
The British reported a total of 40 Indians and a small number of rebel soldiers killed or wounded, and 10 prisoners taken. Four British soldiers were killed and three wounded. The two Nimhams were dead, as were 12 more young Stockbridge braves from their mission village.
British Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe led the attack and, though he was wounded, the skirmish was a victory for the Redcoats. The bodies of the Indians were left on the battlefield. When local residents discovered the corpses scavenged by dogs, they buried them in a mass grave.
After the massacre, Hessian Captain Johann Von Ewald described the Indian casualties: “Their costume was a shirt of coarse linen down to the knees, long trousers also of linen down to the feet, on which they wore shoes of deerskin, and the head was covered with a hat made of bast.
“Their weapons were a rifle or musket, a quiver with some twenty arrows, and a short battle-axe, which they know how to throw very skillfully. Through the nose and in the ears they wore rings, and on their heads only the hair of the crown remained standing in a circle the size of a dollar-piece, the remainder being shaved off bare. They pull out with pincers all the hairs of the beard, as well as those on all other parts of the body.”
This battle, known as the Battle of Kingsbridge, was the last of the war for the Stockbridge Militia because their casualties represented a significant loss to the tribe. Most of the survivors settled in Oneida County, N.Y., and later moved to Wisconsin, forming the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe.
When they asked to return home to help the families of the dead, the Stockbridge Militia was paid $1,000 for its service and discharged by the order of General George Washington in September 1778.