“…the trampling of feet about the house and a yell of complicated voices announce the Indians’ arrival. Struck with horror…the little family crowded together in the center of the hall. …with a thundering peal of strokes they demanded entrance. Cornelia’s husband, giving all for lost…unbarred the door and that instant received a fatal ball in his bosom…the savages running in with great shouts, proceeded to mangle the corpse,…they tugged off his bloody scalp with barbarous triumph. ..An Indian, hideously painted, strode ferociously up to Cornelia and cleft her white forehead deeply with his tomahawk.” This is just the beginning of an attack by savage Canadian Indians on the Kittle family of Schaghticoke in 1746, which ended with several other murders, the kidnapping of Maria Kittle and two others and their transport to Canada, and their ransom and rescue by her husband Daniel.
Wait, does this sound familiar? In my last post, I described the Indian attack on the brand new settlement of Schaghticoke in 1711, and the murder and kidnapping of several members of the Kittle family, all documented in a letter in the Colonial records in the NYS Archive in Albany. The first paragraph here is a quote from a novel, based on fact, The History of Maria Kittle by Ann Eliza Bleecker, written around 1779, first published in 1790. In fact, Mrs. Bleecker based her novel very closely on the Kittle massacre of 1711, but unfortunately for later historians, she set the novel some years later than it actually happened, causing endless confusion. Both Sylvester in his History of Rensselaer County in 1880 and Kloppott in her History of the Town of Schaghticoke in 1980, recorded the 1746 massacre described in the novel as the truth. The details are just too close for there to be more than the one earlier event.
Who was this Ann Eliza Bleecker? And how did she come to write about an event in tiny Schaghticoke? Mrs. Bleecker was born in 1752 in Albany, a child of privilege. Her parents, Brandt and Margaretta Schuyler, were members of the Dutch New York elite. She was well educated and loved to write and socialize. In 1769 she married John Bleecker, and shortly after they moved to the frontier of Schaghticoke, which she called by an alternate name, “ Tomhanick,” “a beautiful, solitary little village eighteen miles above Albany.” Apparently they lived along the Tomhannock Creek, though we are not sure quite where, but surely in the area around the Knickerbocker Mansion, the Albany Corporation Lands. Over the next few years, the Bleeckers had two daughters. Mr. Bleecker farmed, but Mrs. Bleecker was surely not the typical farm wife. They definitely had servants, and probably a couple of slaves, a common thing for well-to-do Dutch families of the time. Mrs. Bleecker wrote poetry and corresponded by letter with friends, but complained of loneliness.
When the Revolutionary War began, Schaghticoke became a very dangerous place to live, especially during the summer of 1777, as Burgoyne’s army advanced down the Hudson Valley towards Saratoga. During that summer, many residents evacuated the area, and Eliza’s husband, John Bleecker, went to Albany to arrange for a place for his family to move. Ann Eliza heard that the British and their Indian allies were within two miles of the village, “burning and murdering all before them.” This was not the truth, but she did not know that. It is true that in July, Major Dirck VanVeghten of the local militia went home to Schaghticoke to check on his property. He was killed and scalped by a marauding band of Tories and Indians. Certainly Eliza would have known of that. At some point during the summer, with her husband still away, she fled on foot and by wagon to Lansingburgh, where her husband rescued her and took her on down the Hudson River to Red Hook. Enroute her infant daughter was taken ill and died. Eliza and her surviving daughter joined her mother in Red Hook, but her mother soon died, as did her sister.
The Bleeckers returned to Schaghticoke after the battle of Saratoga, but surely rumors of British and Indian activity continued. In 1781, Mr. Bleecker was kidnapped while working in his fields either by a Loyalist raiding party or by some rebellious Vermonters. He was quickly released in Bennington, but Eliza, pregnant, went into labor, delivering a premature baby, which died. She never recovered, mentally or physically, from this and the earlier episodes, including the deaths of so many relatives. She died in Schaghticoke in 1783.
Mrs. Bleecker put all of her emotions and fears into writing. The History of Maria Kittle is full of melodrama, horror, and graphic and gruesome violence. She also wrote an account of an ax murder that occurred in the Yates family in Schaghticoke in 1781. It is interesting to me that Mrs. Bleecker knew in such detail of the Indian attack some 60 years earlier, but she lived very close to where it happened, and a number of the same families still lived there as in 1711. It certainly was a memorable event, maybe a story recalled and retold in the light of the new dangers brought by the British invasion.
The History of Maria Kittle is important both as a very early American novel, and as the first gothic novel by a woman. There were quite a few true accounts of similar Indian kidnapping episodes, but Mrs. Bleecker really novelized hers, describing for the first time in literature both the stereotypes of the “noble savage”- typified by the Indians who helped the Kittles, and the “vicious savage”- of course typified by the attacking Indians who gruesomely murdered members of the Kittle family. Ann Eliza Bleecker and Schaghticoke play an important part in the history of literature in the United States.
Bleecker, Ann Eliza, Posthumous Works, reprinted 1970.
Broderick, Warren, “Fiction based on ‘Well-Authenticated Facts’ “, Hudson Valley
Regional Review , 1987.
Giffen, Allison, “Ann Eliza Bleecker”, American Women Prose Writers to 1820