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Berne Local

"Dating the Dietz Massacre: Correcting Two Centuries of Confusion and Error".


Dietz Massacre Revisited

During the Revolutionary War, the Beaver Dam, as the area around Berne was
then called, saw little action. The major threat to the settlers at the Beaver Dam would
have been from the west where the British and their Indian allies repeatedly attacked the
communities along the Mohawk Valley. The Schoharie Valley, even though protected by
three forts and a large militia, also suffered from repeated attacks by the British and
massacres by the Indians. Adam Chrysler, of Schoharie, who because of his British
sympathies had been forced to flee at the start of the Revolution, led a number of the
Indian massacres against his former neighbors.

The families at the Beaver Dam also had many British loyalists among them. At
the beginning of the Revolution the Third Regiment, First Rensselaerwyck Battalion, of
the Albany County Militia was composed entirely of men from the Beaver Dam,
Hellebergh (now Knox), and Basic (Westerlo). Officers on February 20, 1776 consisted
of Capt. Jacob Ball, First Lt. John Warner, Second Lt. Peter Dietz, and Ensign John
Shafer, all of whose fathers were among the very first settlers in the Beaver Dam area.
Like so many families at the time, members of the Ball and Warner families
found themselves on opposite sides in the Revolution; many Loyalists moved to Canada
and fought for the British, including Capt. Jacob Ball. In the fall of 1777 Peter Dietz, by
then a captain, was killed in the Battle of Saratoga, and his brother William was made
captain in his stead.

In October 1777 Sir John Johnson swept through the Schoharie Valley burning
homes and barns, and killing many of those not huddled inside the three Valley forts. The
following spring two wooden stockades were hastily constructed to protect the Beaver
Dam settlement, one to the east of Jacob Weidman’s saw and grist mills at the falls on
Fox Creek, and the other to the southwest in the Switzkill Valley.

Inexplicably the Switzkill stockade had been constructed leaving four farms
beyond its protection, one of which was the farmstead of Capt. Wm. Dietz, His aged
father Johannes and mother lived on the farm, he help care for his them.
Capt. Dietz, like all of the men of the third regiment, were farmers rather than full
time soldiers, subject to being called up for months when needed, but spending most of
the war farming their fields. Because of this, Capt. Dietz was working at home when a
band of Indians and Tories attacked the isolated homestead killing and scalping his
parents, wife, and their four young children, all under the age of ten.

The 1836 account by Priest places the massacre about 1778. Simms, writing in
1845, says it was the spring of 1782. William E. Roscoe, in his 1882 History of Schoharie
County, agreed with Simms. Howell and Tenny, in their 1886 account in The History of
Albany County, say it was 1780. William Leete Stone, in his 1895 Life of Joseph Brant,
says it was 1777. Henry Van Gelder in a July 21, 1899 article in the Altamont Enterprise,
says the massacre was 1778. Our Heritage, a 1977 history of the Town of Berne, says the
Indians struck in 1780. Surprisingly, it goes on to mention a 1936 account of the
massacre by Arthur B. Gregg, in Old Hellebergh, which correctly stated the both the year
and the month: ““None of these authors had perhaps ever seen document 3969 of the
Gov. Clinton Papers dated September 1781, which says reporting to Governor Clinton –

“A party of the Enemy consisting of fifteen Tories & Indians murdered Capt. Dietz’s
Father & Mother, his wife and four children with one Scotch Girl…””
A letter to Gov. Clinton a few days earlier on September 4, 1781 by Hugh
Mitchell, son of Major Andrew Mitchell, also reported, “…the murder of Capt. Teets
who lived at the Beaver Dam and was taken prisoner last Saturday night… The rest of
Capt. Teets family, consisting of his old Father and seven other persons were most
inhumanly Murdered, and his house and barn burnt.” [Source: Gov. Clinton Papers.]
Thus the massacre occurred on Saturday, September 1, 1781.

Far worse than Roscoe getting the date wrong, was his misidentification of Capt.
William Dietz. He thought Capt. William, of the Beaver Dam, was the William Dietz of
Schoharie, who died there in 1782, and who he said was the son of Johannes. Roscoe
immediately went on to list by name William’s children, all of whom were grown and
living in Schoharie at the time of the massacre. He ignored completely all contemporary
accounts saying Capt. William’s four young children were killed and scalped in the
massacre!

William of Schoharie, born 1712, was not the son, but rather the brother of
Johannes Dietz of the Beaver Dam. Roscoe was correct that this William had moved to
Schoharie from the Beaver Dam, and was a blacksmith. As a prominent and respected
citizen, during the Revolution he was appointed to the Schoharie Committee of Safety.
Before the end of the War he became a Justice of the Peace. Roscoe should have realized
that William of Schoharie was much too old to have been a Captain in the Revolution.
Having faith in Roscoe, the authors of The Dietz Family, a family history and
genealogy, (a copy of which is in the library at the Old Stone Fort), also ignored William
of Schoharie’s advanced age, and twisted the massacre facts to explain how he was Capt.
William Dietz. The authors suggested that Capt. William’s four young children were
actually William of Schoharie’s grandchildren. This revisionist history proposed that
William of Schoharie, and his wife, Dorothea Wanner, and their four grandchildren, were
visiting their “grandfather” Johannes at the Beaver Dam on the fatal day of the massacre.
Since Schoharie Lutheran Church records recorded the death of Dorothea Wanner on
February 7, 1782, that became the date of the massacre.

William of Schoharie died shortly after writing his March 25, 1782 will, which
was recorded in Schoharie. The Dietz family researchers decided that he must have
written it in captivity at Fort Niagara, and had it witnessed by fellow prisoners, one of
who must have brought it back to Schoharie to be recorded and probated on June 6, 1782.
This despite the fact the will gave no evidence of having been written by a man in prison,
nor was any of the witnesses ever a prisoner.

In 1977 the Town of Berne Bicentennial Commission published Our Heritage, the
history of Berne. In it the story of the Dietz family repeated the errors in Roscoe’s
History of Schoharie County, and The Dietz Family history. Capt. William Dietz, and all
of the first generation of Dietz siblings who settled in Berne and Schoharie, are
mistakenly called the children of Johannes Dietz and his supposed wife “Eugeltie
Weiner.”

Thanks to the research of Henry Z Jones, who in 1991 published More Palatine
Families, it is now clear the Dietz siblings were actually children of Johan Peter Dietz
and Eva Becker. Johannes, of the Beaver Dam, and William, of Schoharie, were two of
their children.

Capt. William Dietz of the Beaver Dam was actually the son of Johannes Dietz
and Maria Oberbach. His November 17, 1747 baptism was recorded at the Germantown
Reformed Church, Columbia County. A few years later his parents moved to Beaverdam
to join his brothers who had lived there for a decade. By 1774 William was married to
Maria Magdalena Cregeler. He and his wife and their four young children, all less than
ten years old, were living on his parents' Switzkill farm when the family was massacred
in 1781. Because Capt. William’s baptism was not recorded in Schoharie along with his
contemporaries, neither Roscoe nor Dietz researchers recognized him as the William
Dietz who became captain of the Beaverdam Militia upon the death of his brother, Capt.
Peter Dietz, in the Battle of Saratoga.

In 1926, near the site of the massacre, the Daughter’s of the American Revoltion
dedicated a monument as a memorial to Johannes Dietz and seven members of his family
who were massacred in September 1781. It is my opinion that the monument should more
appropriately have been dedicated to Captain William Dietz, since he was the target of
the massacre, and it was he who lost his parents, wife and children. Both reports of the
massacre to Gov. Clinton said that Capt. William Dietz was captured and his family
massacred. In neither report was Johannes mentioned by name, but rather was referred to
simply as Capt. Dietz’s father.

Now, well over two centuries after the Dietz massacre, the true facts are known
and the identities of the participants are clear.