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The Massacre of Jane McCrea, July 1777

The Massacre of Jane McCrea, July 1777

JANE McCREA, "the beautiful betrothed maiden of the Hudson," seems to have been selected by Providence as a sacrifice to arouse the drooping spirit of Liberty in the midsummer of 1777.

The Revolutionary War furnished no single incident which created more intense interest and sympathy, or aroused more desperate indignation, than the savage murder of this lovely girl.

Monument near the spot where Jane McCrea was killed.
Monument near the spot where Jane McCrea was killed.
Erected by the Jane McCrea Chapter, D.A.R.

Her youth, personal beauty, attractive qualities and the peculiar circumstances of the tragedy, invest the story with such romantic pathos as to attract the artist, poet and historian. Its interest is also enhanced by the fact that her murder contributed to the success of the Colonial arms in the memorable events which followed. It so thrilled and stirred the then discouraged patriots as to hasten bands of resolute men to the American camp, determined to resist to the death an invading enemy guilty of employing such savage auxiliaries.

How much the defeat of Burgoyne and the making of Saratoga one of the few decisive battles of all history may be attributed to this righteous indignation has been the subject of much speculation, but it is conceded to have been an important factor.

In the various records of this affair there is much that is conflicting, but the following brief sketch is submitted as fairly authentic: Jane McCrea was an orphan living with her brother, John McCrea, on a newly cleared farm on the Hudson River, below Glens Falls and near Fort Edward. She came from New Jersey, and was the daughter of a scholarly Presbyterian clergyman, who gave personal attention to the education of his daughter. At the time of her murder she was about eighteen years of age, "of middling stature. finely formed and uncommonly beautiful." Another writes of her as "graceful of manner, intelligent and lovely of features, and a favorite of all who knew her.

The Jones family were neighbors of the McCreas. in New Jersey, and following them to the wilds of the Upper Hudson became neighbors again. One of the Jones boys, David, was "a handsome, manly young man; brave, generous, and with a grace much in contrast with the rough-mannered youth of this wilderness region." "Jenny," as Miss McCrea was called, and David had been children together, and an early attachment in New Jersey ripened into fullness of devoted love on the banks of the Hudson. The long friendship between these families was broken by the war. John McCrea was a Patriot: David Jones was a Tory, and bitterness resulted.

When Burgoyne was making ready in Canada his great invasion of the Colonies in 1777, David Jones and his brother joined Burgoyne's army there and David was made a lieutenant, while John McCrea became a colonel in the Colonial army. Finally, Burgoyne, with his fierce Indian allies, reached a little north of Glens Falls and threateningly near Fort Edward. Here he remained some time and Lieutenant Jones was able to correspond with Miss McCrea. Despairing of securing her brother's approval, knowing her unhappy situation and sure that she would be removed with other settlers for safety to Albany when Burgoyne should advance,. it was arranged that she should join him and be married at once. Miss McCrea was to visit her friend Mrs. McNeil, of Fort Edward (a kinswoman of General Frazier, serving with Burgoyne), and on that fateful Sunday morning of July, 1777, she was to proceed alone, direct to the British lines, where the ladies, officers' wives accompanying the expedition, would arrange the wedding.

While it was believed she could proceed the short distance alone better than with an escort which would be likely to provoke attack, it was, however, arranged that Duluth, an Indian chief and the friend of Jones, with a few of his savage band, should steal his way through the woods to near Fort Edward, signal his presence to the watching girl and hover near her as she proceeded, but not to discover themselves unless danger threatened her. "Giving much care to her toilet and dress, putting on her best for her nuptials, she started from her friend's house." Going up the slope from the river, through the ravine where the railway now runs, she was startled by musketry and the war-whoop of savages at the top of the slope, and in fright ran back towards Mrs. McNeil's house.

Grave of Jane McCrea. Union Cemetery, between Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, NY. Not far from where she was killed.

A marauding band of savages, under Le Loup (The Wolf), returning from a murdering and plundering raid, came upon an American outpost. Lieutenant Van.Vechten, commanding, and others were killed, and the rest driven in. The savages saw Miss McCrea fleeing and pursued her. Capturing her, and placing her on one of their stolen horses, they hurried her back up the slope: and reaching the "Giant Pine," at the roots of which flowed a notable spring of water - resorted to by animals, Indians and woodsmen as to be the center of radiating trails they were confronted by Duluth and his band. Duluth explained his mission and demanded the maiden that he might get the promised reward for her safe delivery. Le Loup, coveting her attractive raiment, or desiring the reward himself, claimed her as his captive.

While Miss McCrea, knowing that Duluth was her lover's trusted, messenger, was calmly certain of soon reaching the British camp, the chiefs "hotly quarreled."' (The sketch is intended to represent the situation at this time.) Finally, Le Loup, in a frenzy of passion, rushed at Miss McCrea, and hurling his tomahawk with deadly skill, murdered her. He flourished her scalp with ferocious exultation, and his band stripping off her wedding raiment, all were hastened away by the returning outpost, reinforced from the garrison at Fort Edward.

The spring, known as the "Jane McCrea Spring," still gurgles forth its pure waters, but the "Giant Pine," after continuing a conspicuous and somber sentinel of the tragic spot For seventy-five years, was felled in 1853 and made into canes and curious boxes which were sold as souvenirs at the New York Crystal Palace Exposition.

Miss McCrea's remains, twice removed, now rest in the Union Cemetery at Hudson Falls, just over the brow of the slope where she was murdered. Over "the poor handful of earth " the affection of a niece has raised a graceful monument.

This artistic illustration is an excellent reduced reproduction of a painting by Mr. F. C. Yohn, owned by the Glens Falls Insurance Company.

The locality of this tragedy and the beautiful monument which marks the spot of Burgoyne's surrender at Schuylerville (then Saratoga) may be seen from the tower of the Glens Falls Insurance Company's building.

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