Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Capture Of George Cuck, Notorious Tory

The following is a true story based on History of Schoharie County, New York and Border Wars of New York by Jeptha R. Simms.

For those that have no idea what a Tory or a Whig is, let me briefly explain. A Tory holds a political philosophy (Toryism) based on a British version of traditionalism and conservatism. In politics, as the Loyalists of British America they opposed American secession during the American Revolutionary War. The Tory ethos has been summed up with the phrase "God, King and Country", and are opposed to the liberalism of the Whig faction. A Whig was a political party during the 1700's who fought for independence against England. "Whig" meant opposing tyranny.

The following incident transpired in the spring of 1780, in the Mohawk valley. The facts were related to the author by John S. Quackenboss, and Isaac Covenhoven, the latter one of the actors: George Cuck, a Tory who had become somewhat notorious from his having been engaged with the enemy at Oriskany, Cherry-Valley, and elsewhere, entered the valley of the Mohawk late in the fall of 1779, with the view of obtaining the scalps of Capt Jacob Gardiner, and his Lieut. Abraham D. Quackenboss, (father of John S.,) for which the enemy had offered a large bounty.

Cuck was seen several times in the fall, and on one occasion, while sitting upon a rail fence, was fired upon by Abraham Covenhoven, a former whig neighbor. The ball entered the rail upon which he sat, and he escaped. As nothing more was seen of him after that event, it was generally supposed he had returned to Canada.

At this period, a tory by the name of John Van Zuyler, resided in a small dwelling which stood in a then retired spot, a few rods south of the present residence of Maj. James Winne, in the town of Glen. Van Zuyler had three daughters, and although he lived some distance from neighbors, and a dense forest intervened between his residence and the river settlements, several miles distant, the young whigs would occasionally visit his girls. Tory girls, I must presume, sometimes made agreeable sparks, or sparkers, especially in sugar time.

James Cromwell, a young man who lived near the Mohawk, went out one pleasant summer evening in the month of March, to see one of Van Zuyler's daughters. Most of the settlers then made maple sugar, and Cromwell found his fair Dulcinea, boiling sap in the sugar bush. While they were sparking it, the term for courting in the country, the girl, perhaps thinking her name would soon be Mrs. Cromwell, became very confiding and communicative. She told her beau that the tory Cuck, was at their house. Cromwell at first appeared incredulous—" he is surely there," said she, "and when any one visits the

house, he is secreted under the floor." The report of his having been seen in the fall instantly recurred to his mind, and from the earnestness of the girl, he believed her story. Perhaps Cromwell was aware that the girl when with him was inclined to be whiggish - be that as it may, he resolved instantly to set about ascertaining the truth or falsehood of the information. In a very short time he complained of being made suddenly ill, from eating too much sugar.

The girl whose sympathy was aroused, thinking from his motions that he was badly griped (ill to the stomach), finally consented to let him go home and sugar off alone. Away went Cromwell pressing his hands upon his bowels, and groaning fearfully until he was out of sight and hearing of his paramour, when the pains left him. Taking a direct course through the woods, he reached the dwelling of Capt. Jacob Gardinier, some four miles below his own, and within the present village of Fultonville, about 12 o'clock at night, and calling him up, told him what he had heard. Capt. Gardinier sent immediatly to his Lieut. Quackenboss, to select a dozen stout hearted men and meet them as soon as possible at his house. The lieutenant enquired what business was on hand — the messenger replied — "Capt. Gardinier said I should tell you that there was a black bear to be caught." In a short time the requisite number of whigs had assembled, and the captain, taking his lieutenant aside, told him the duty he had to perform. He declined going himself on account of ill health, and entrusted the enterprise to his lieutenant. He directed him to proceed with the utmost caution, as the foe was no doubt armed, and as his name was a terror in the valley, to kill him at all hazards. The party well armed, set off on the mission.

The snow yet on the ground was crusted so hard, that it bore them, and having the advantage of a bright moon-light night, they marched rapidly forward. Halting a quarter of a mile from Van Zuyler's house, the lieutenant struck up a fire, and as his men gathered round an ignited stump, he addressed them nearly as follows: " My brave lads! It is said the villian Cuck, is in yonder house, secreted beneath the floor. The object of our visit is to destroy him. He is a bold and desperate fellow — doubtless well armed, and in all probability some of us must fall by his hand. Those of you, therefore, who decline engaging in so dangerous an undertaking, are now at liberty to return home."

"We are ready to follow where you dare to lead!" was the response of one and all. It is yet too early, said the lieutenant, and while they were waiting for the return of day, the plan of attack was agreed upon. At the stump was assembled Lieut Quackenboss, Isaac and Abraham Covenhoven, twin brothers, John Ogden, Jacob Collier, Abraham J., and Peter J. Quackenboss, Martin Gardinier, James Cromwell, Gilbert Van Alstyne, Nicholas, son of Capt. Gardinier, a sergeant, Henry Thompson, and Nicholas Quackenboss, also a sergeant It was agreed that the party should separate and approach the house in different directions, so as not to excite suspicion.

The appearance of a light in the dwelling was the signal for moving forward, and selecting Ogden, Collier, and Abraham J. Quackenboss to follow him, the lieutenant led directly to the house. As they approached it, a large watch dog met them with his yelping, which caused the opening of a little wooden slide over a loophole for observation, by a member of the family; but seeing only four persons, the inmates supposed they were sugar-makers. On reaching the door and finding it fastened, the soldiers instantly forced it — the family, as may be supposed, were thrown into confusion by the unexpected entrance of armed men.

"What do you want here?" demanded Van Zuyler. "The tory George Cuck!" was the lieutenant's reply. Van Zuyler declared 'that the object of their search was not in his house. The three daughters had already gone to the sugar-works, and their father expressed to Lieut Quackenboss, his wish to go there too. He was permitted to go, but thinking it possible that Cuck might also have gone there, several men then approaching the house, were ordered to keep an eye on his movement Abraham Covenhoven was one of the second party who entered the house. There was a dark stairway which led to an upper room, in which it was thought the object of their search might be secreted. Covenhoven was in the act of ascending the stairs with his gun aimed upward, and ready to fire, as Abraham J. Quackenboss, drew a large chest from the wall on one side of the room, disclosing the object of their search. Discharging a pistol at Nicholas Gardinier, the tory sprang out before Quackenboss, who was so surprised that he stood like a statue, exclaiming, "dimeter! dundcr! dunder!"

The wary lieutenant was on his guard, and as Cuck leaped upon the floor from a little cellar hole, made on purpose for his secretion, he sent a bullet through his head, carrying with it the eye opposite. He fell upon one knee, when the lieutenant ordered' the two comrades beside him to fire. Ogden did so, sending a bullet through his breast, and as he sank to the floor, Collier, placing the muzzle of his gun near his head, blew out his brains. Thus ended the life of a man, who, in an evil hour, had resolved to imbrue his hands in the blood of his former neighbors and countrymen.

When the first gun was fired, Covenhoven said the report was so loud and unexpected that he supposed it fired by Cuck himself, and came near falling down stairs. Had the party not divided into several squads, the peep from the slide window would have betrayed the object of their visit, and more than one would doubtless have fallen before the villain had been slain, for he had two loaded guns in the house, and a brace of well charged pistols, only one of which he had taken into his kennel. They also found belonging to him, a complete Indian's dress, and two small bags of parched corn and maple sugar, pounded fine and lumped together, an Indian dish, called by the Dutch qtcitcheraw — intended as food for a long journey.

After his death, it was ascertained that Cuck had entered the valley late in the fall — that he had been concealed at the house of this kindred spirit, who pretended neutrality in the contest, whose retired situation favored the plans of his guest, and was watching a favorable opportunity to secure the scalps mentioned, and return to Canada. The making of maple sugar he had supposed would favor his intentions, as an enemy was unlooked for so early in the season, and the persons whose scalps he sought, would probably expose themselves in the woods. He had intended, if possible, to secure both scalps in one day, and by a hasty flight, pursue the nearest route to Canada. As the time of sugar making had arrived, it is probable his enterprise was on the eve of being consummated; but the goddess of liberty, spread her wings in his path, and defeated his hellish intentions.

Van Zuyler was made a prisoner by the party, and lodged in the jail at Johnstown; from whence he was removed not long after to Albany. When they were returning home with Van Zuyler in custody, as they approached the sugar busk of Evert Van Epps, near the present village of Fultonville, one of them, putting on the Indian dress of Cuck, (which, with the guns and pistols were taken home as trophies,) approached the sugar makers as

an enemy, which occasioned a precipitate retreat. The fugitives were called back by others of the party, when a rope being provided, their prisoner was drawn up to the limb of a tree several times by the neck; but as he had been guilty of no known crime, except that of harboring Cuck, although suspected of burning Covenhoven's barn in the fall, his life was spared and he was disposed of as before stated. Cuck was a native of Tryon county, and was born not many miles from where he died

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