The Clinton-Sullivan Expedition: Indians Fleeing Chemung

It’s the heat of summer in August 1779 in the village of Chemung in the Cayuga Nation of Iroquois. Something has spoiled the serene daily life you, a 12 year old boy named Bruce Longboat, used to live. Adults are stirring, speaking in worried voices. Warriors from other Iroquois nations arrive while clan leaders assemble. The life you have known is about to change for ever.


I have had a meeting with several of the principal Chiefs of the Seneca Nation… . There is just now a party of Senakies come in who have had an action with a number of Rebel forces on the Ohio, in which the Indians … took two prisoners & thirteen scalps.

—Letter from Col. John Butler to Sir Guy Carleton

The war against the homes and farms of Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley was rooted in an episode during Burgoyne’s Saratoga campaign. Sir John Johnson’s frontier comrade in arms, Col. John Butler, had led the band of Indians and Tories who ambushed Brig. Gen. Nicholas Herkimer and his men in the ravine at Oriska. Governor Carleton, impressed by Butler’s performance, authorized him to raise a corps of eight companies of Tory Rangers “to serve with the Indians, as occasion shall require.”

At least two of the companies, Carleton said, had to have men capable of “speaking the Indian language and acquainted with their customs of making war.” Butler and his recruiters would eventually enlist more than nine hundred men of all ranks. The corps, known as Butler’s Rangers, would fight frontier Rebels in New York and Pennsylvania, in the wild Virginia territory that would become Kentucky and West Virginia, and in the Old Northwest, which would become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota.

Many of the earliest recruits were descendants of German immigrants who lived in the Mohawk Valley. Others included Loyalists who called themselves Refugees. They had entered Canada from New York and Pennsylvania, leaving behind homes and farms that Rebels then confiscated. While recruiting these Refugees and Loyalist Indians, Butler created a network of spies and operatives stretching as far as New York City and Philadelphia. One of his agents guided escaped British prisoners to the safety of Canada. Butler also made use of information gleaned from deserters from the Continental Army and runaway slaves drawn to the Tories by the promise of freedom.3 Butler’s own Indians spotted Oneida and Delaware—Indians friendly to the Rebels—attempting to penetrate Butler’s network.

Ranger headquarters was at Fort Niagara, which the British had taken from the French in 1759. The fort stood on the western bank of the Niagara River (now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada). Rangers’ families settled there, keeping livestock and growing wheat, oats, corn, and potatoes.5 Strategically the fort gave Butler and his Mohawk ally, Capt. Joseph Brant, an entryway to the fertile river valleys of northern New York. Butler and Brant had met with Indian leaders and, in Butler’s words to Carleton, they “express the greatest desire to join me in an attack on the Frontiers of the Rebellious Colonies.” The Indians had dealt with British officials for generations, building a sense of trust.

A frontier raid did not always produce a written record. In obscure places people fought, people lived or died, and tales of atrocities spread and grew by word of mouth. Raids were not battles to be chronicled in the history of a Tory regiment. But the record of one early raid does survive. In May 1778, about three hundred white and Indian Tories, led by Brant, pounced on Cobleskill, thirty-five miles or so west of Schenectady. The hamlet consisted of about twenty families living along a three-mile stretch of a small river valley. Tories marked Cobleskill as a Rebel outpost with its own militia. Unlike many other isolated communities, the town was not fortified.

People of the embattled valleys usually lived around a fort. Typically it would have bastions jutting out at corners or along a side as strongpoints of defense. Major forts encompassed a large-enough area to accommodate nearby families. Emergency makeshift forts were also built around stone houses or churches. Beyond the fort were earthworks and perhaps a stockade enclosing tents or cabins. During times of sowing or harvesting, when farmers were most vulnerable, families made temporary homes within the stockade or in the fort itself. Farmers went out to their fields in the morning, armed with their muskets or escorted by militiamen, and returned to the fort at the end of day.

At the sound of alarm—such as three shots from a cannon—people fled to the fort. Able-bodied men mustered, prepared to sally out and defend the fort; older men became a fort guard. Some women cared for babies and young children. Other women and older children prepared places where they would care for the wounded, or they built fires for heating iron pots for melting down lead, which they poured into bullet molds.

When militia scouts reported seeing Indians near Cobleskill in May 1778, there was no local fort to run to. The captain of the militia sent men to ask for help at the nearest fort, about ten miles away. Officers there immediately sent thirty-three Continental Army men under Capt. William Patrick of Massachusetts. The Continentals joined fifteen militiamen who had assembled at a house chosen as headquarters. Scouts went out, encountered two Indians, and shot one dead.

Two days later scouts reported a large force of Indians and white men approaching Cobleskill. Patrick marched his men toward the invaders and spotted about twenty Indians. Against the advice of the local militiamen, he pursued them. The militiamen’s instinct was right: Patrick had led his men into an ambush. Musket fire burst out of the forest.

The ambushed soldiers and their foes took cover behind trees, firing at close range. Men fell on both sides. Patrick was fatally shot, as were two men trying to carry him away. The surviving Continentals and militiamen retreated, sprinting when they reached open ground. Five men sought refuge in a house. It was vacant, as were all the other houses, because people had run into the woods at the sound of musketry. The pursuers stopped to focus on killing the men in the house and burning it down.

The rest of the soldiers were able to flee while the raiders concentrated on plundering and then torching the houses. They also burned down barns, set haystacks afire, and killed or stole livestock. Militiamen recognized some of the white Loyalists, but Butler was not among them. Later a Tory accused of helping the raiders was shot dead while attempting to escape from members of a Committee of Safety. He was one of several Tories killed by frontier Rebels dispensing their own justice.

Of the estimated twenty-five raiders who were killed in the firefight, most were Indians. Militiamen arrived after the battle and buried the bodies of fourteen of Patrick’s soldiers. The bodies of the five men who had entered the house had been “Butchered in the most Inhuman manner,” a militia officer reported. Ten houses and barns were in ashes, and “Horses, Cows, Sheep &c. lay dead all over the fields.” A total of twenty-two defenders were reported killed and six wounded. At least two were captured, including a Continental officer—whose life was said to have been spared when Brant, a Mason, saw him giving the secret Masonic sign that was an appeal for help.

Until July 1778 Wyoming Valley remained untouched by the raiders—but not by bloodshed. For decades the area had been the battleground of a civil war between Pennsylvanians and people from Connecticut who had settled in the valley in 1754 and later founded Wilkes-Barre. They had based their claim on Connecticut’s 1663 charter, which gave the colony land as far westward as the Pacific Coast. What became known as the Yankee-Pennamite War was punctuated by small battles and some wanton killings. The feuding people of the valley setaside the land dispute at the beginning of the Revolution but were still divided as Rebels and Tories.

The bountiful valley was called the breadbasket of the Revolution, making it a prime military objective. The valley also had strategic value: If Butler and his Tory-Indian force could gain control of the valley, western New York and western Pennsylvania would be open to attack from Canada. And Wyoming Valley, rich in crops but scarce of people, looked particularly vulnerable to Butler. Because of its clouded political status, neither Pennsylvania nor Connecticut was clearly responsible for protecting the valley.

Late in June, Butler assembled about four hundred Rangers and Sir John Johnson’s green-uniformed King’s Royal Regiment, along with about five hundred Iroquois, for his biggest and boldest raid. The invasion began when an advance party of Indians attacked men working in fields. The Indians killed and scalped three of them and took two prisoners whom they later tortured and killed. Survivors of the attacks slipped away and carried news of the invaders to two of the forts.

The next day, July 1, two men at Fort Wintermoot, on the Susque-hanna opposite Wilkes-Barre, volunteered to scout the area for the invaders. Longtime residents and members of the family the fort was named after, they were trusted neighbors. They were also secret Tories, and their scouting was for Butler, not their neighbors. They led him to a good bivouac site near, but not visible from, the fort.

The Wintermoot scouts returned to the fort with an officer from Butler’s Rangers. The gates were opened, and the three entered. The officer, in Butler’s name, demanded surrender, promising that Butler would not harm the fort’s men, women, and children. One man moved to resist. His wife was at his side, grasping a pitchfork. But they stood alone. The fort was handed over to Butler, who later appeared with most of his force and made Fort Wintermoot his headquarters. A detachment of Rangers, including some who were former local residents, went to a second, smaller fort, which also surrendered.

The strongest fort in the valley, Fort Forty, along the banks of the Susquehanna, became the headquarters of the Patriots’ armed defenders. The fort was named after its builders, the forty settlers who had come from Connecticut in 1770 to press that colony’s claim for the valley. Now it sheltered hundreds of women, children, and armed men. When Butler demanded that Fort Forty surrender, the settlers gathered there refused to give up.

On July 3 they assembled a defending force: “two hundred and thirty enrolled men, and seventy old people, boys, civil magistrates, and other volunteers.” As they marched from the fort, three men came galloping up on exhausted horses. They were two Continental Army officers, Lt. Phineas Pierce and Capt. Robert Durkee, and Durkee’s black servant, Gershom Prince. They had ridden through the night to reach Fort Forty and report that a company of soldiers was on the way. Seeing the fort’s defenders heading out to battle, they realized that the rescue force would arrive too late.

Durkee and Prince, like many people of Wyoming Valley, had been born in Connecticut and later settled in the disputed Pennsylvania land. They, along with Gershom Prince, were veterans of the French and Indian War. They had served at Valley Forge and the Battles of Brandywine and Paoli. The three joined the defense force, which had left the fort not quite sure where or when the battle would be. Then they saw flames rising from Fort Wintermoot and headed toward it.

Butler, expecting the fire to lure a rescue force, had drawn them into a trap. As the Fort Forty force neared Wintermoot, they saw the invaders in a clearing, arrayed in a line for battle. Butler had taken off his uniform jacket and hat and wore a black kerchief knotted around his head. The defenders formed a line themselves and advanced.

Hidden Indian marksmen cut them down. Every company officer was mortally wounded or killed at the head of his men. Indian musketry, tomahawks, and war whoops set off a rout. Durkee, wounded, was dragged away by another Continental officer who had made it to Wyoming Valley in time for the battle. Seeing that the officer had a chance to flee, Durkee told him to run on alone. The officer joined a number of other officers and men who managed to escape. As Durkee lay dying, an Indian tomahawked and scalped him. Nearby was the body of Gershom Prince. Afterward a powder horn was found. Inscribed on it was


Butler, in his report on the “incursion,” wrote, “Our fire was so close, and well directed, that the affair was soon over, not lasting above half an hour, from the time they gave us the first fire till their flight. In this action were taken 227 Scalps and only five prisoners. The Indians were so exasperated with their loss last year near Fort Stanwix that it was with the greatest difficulty I could save the lives of those few … indeed the Indians gave no Quarter.” Left unsaid was the amount of bounty paid for each scalp. In enumerating the scalps taken, Butler confined his estimate to armed foes, but local people claimed that many unarmed men, women, and children had been killed.

Adam Crysler, a Loyalist friend of Brant who became a lieutenant in Butler’s Rangers, went beyond Butler’s casualty figure. In his journal Crysler wrote, “I went to Wyoming, New York, where we killed about 460 of the enemy.” By Patriot estimates about sixty invaders were killed, but Butler reported to Carleton the deaths of only one Indian and two Rangers.

After the rout Fort Forty surrendered. Under the surrender terms “property taken from the people called Tories” was to be returned, and the Tories themselves were to “remain in peaceable possession of their farms, and unmolested in a free trade throughout this settlement.”

Although Butler had promised that non-Tory homes would not be plundered, the raiders burned down every structure in sight. In his report he said he and his men “destroyed eight pallisaded Forts, and burned about 1000 Dwelling Houses, all their Mills &c., we have also killed and drove off about 1000 head of horned Cattle, and sheep and swine in great numbers, took away all the cattle they could drive, and killed the remainder.”

Butler later insisted that he could not control pillaging. Tales of looting, torture, and atrocities spread panic throughout the region. Survivors claimed to have seen a local Tory fatally shoot his Rebel brother as he attempted to surrender. He was one of the numerous men said to have been killed after asking for quarter—a long-honored plea for mercy. One of the stories told by survivors involved a regal Indian woman who ordered sixteen captured militiamen to sit in a circle, and then, passing behind them, smashed their skulls, one by one, with her war club. Men who survived the battle identified her as Queen Esther, a matriarch of Seneca and French descent well known in the valley. A powerful woman among the Seneca, she was given the title “queen” by settlers. One of her sons was identified as a raider.

After the attack people swarmed out of the area, clogging roads and crowding into boats to escape down the Susquehanna. “I never in my life saw such scenes of distress,” a Patriot wrote. “The river and roads leading down it were covered with men, women, and children fleeing for their lives.” A woman and her daughter, both widowed by the battle, walked all the way to their native Connecticut. Many other civilians temporarily fled into the marshes and mountains, where an unknown number died.

Washington soon learned what had happened at Wyoming Valley. He sent Col. Thomas Hartley, like Durkee a Pennsylvanian veteran of the Brandywine and Paoli battles, to the area of the raid. Hartley’s orders, as he described them, were “to make war on the savages of America instead of on Britain.” Leading about 250 men on a two-week expedition into Indian country near Wyoming Valley, Hartley killed at least ten Indians while losing four of his men. He rescuedsixteen persons captured by Indians in raids along the Susquehanna River and destroyed four Indian towns, including one said to have been ruled by Queen Esther. He also took about fifty head of cattle, twenty-eight canoes, and an assortment of items claimed to have been stolen by the Indians. To pay for the expedition he auctioned off his acquisitions, some of which had belonged to indignant people who had to bid for their own goods.

In September, Captain Brant and his Loyalist Indians reacted to Hartley’s war on the savages with an attack in the upper Mohawk Valley. Brant’s target was Andrustown, a fertile tract of farmland called the German Flats, after the immigrants whose axes had cleared the land. Brant especially despised Andrustown because many of its residents were militiamen who had killed his Indians at Oriska. The village was all but deserted; many of its fearful residents had moved closer to Fort Herkimer, returning to their farms only when they had to.

On September 17 a few people were in Andrustown gathering hay when a large group of Indians and Tories suddenly appeared. Indians fatally shot a father, his son, and another young man, then took their scalps. More raiders followed and, after ransacking the houses for booty, burned every building. Andrustown was never rebuilt. Details of the attack reached British headquarters in New York, where an intelligence officer noted, “Indians wanted to subdue German Flats … indeed at all times the Indians Scalped all the Rebels they met, but Joseph [Brant] restrained them.”

The following month an improvised force of Continentals and militiamen avenged Andrustown by attacking Brant’s headquarters, Unadilla. The large village, fifty miles west of German Flats, was at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Unadilla rivers. As soon as Brant and his Mohawks learned of the coming attack they abandoned Unadilla. “It was the finest Indian town I ever saw; on both sides of the River; there was about 40 good houses, Square logs, shingles & stone chimneys, good Floors, glass windows, etc.,” a Continental officer reported. The avengers burned the forty houses, torched two thousand bushels of corn, and destroyed a sawmill and a gristmill.


Vengeance would soon follow vengeance in the person of Capt. Walter Butler, John Butler’s son. Walter, the spy who had been captured by Benedict Arnold, had been held prisoner in Albany under a reprieved death sentence. He was first thrown into a nasty jail infamous for its wormy food. Then, after feigning illness, he was transferred to a private Albany home that happened to belong to a Tory. He easily escaped and rode off on a donated horse. Traveling by night and aided by Tories along the way, he reached Ranger headquarters at Niagara seething with a desire for revenge. While he had been a prisoner, Guy Carleton, citing Walter’s “loyalty, courage and good conduct,” appointed him a captain who was to “serve with the Indians.”

Walter’s choice for a raid, blessed by his father, was Cherry Valley, fifty miles west of Albany, and, like Wyoming Valley, a thriving farming region. Walter mobilized two hundred Rangers, fifty British Army volunteers, three hundred Seneca warriors, and three hundred of Brant’s Volunteers, a mix of whites and Indians. Brant led them reluctantly because, as a veteran leader, he resented being under young Walter’s command.

By the time a typical raid began, people, warned beforehand, had fled to safety in a fort, leaving nearby houses virtually deserted. But this raid was a surprise, and the makeshift fort guarding the area was ill prepared. Many civilians and officers—including the fort commander, Col. Ichabod Alden—lived in cabins outside the fort. Alden had ignored warnings that an attack was imminent.

On November 10, 1778, the raiders arrived silently, shrouded in a thick fog that rose from the snow-covered ground. While some attacked the fort, others surrounded the cabins, killing Alden and other officers as they rushed out to defend the fort. The raid turned into a rampage. One officer had boarded with Robert Wells, a judge who had been a close friend of Walter Butler’s father. After killing the officer, raiders slew Wells, his wife, his brother and sister, three sons, and his daughter. Judge Wells was said to have been killed by a Loyalist who knew him, perhaps Walter Butler himself.

People in the fort could hear screams and see flames rising from cabins and barns. The next day, after the attackers had left, men were sent out from the fort to bring in the dead. “Such a shocking sight my eyes never beheld before of savage and brutal barbarity,” one of the officers wrote in his diary. He saw a “husband mourning over his dead wife with four dead children lying by her side, mangled, scalpt, and some their heads, some their legs and arms cut off, some torn the flesh off their bones by their dogs—12 of one family killed and four of them burnt in his house.” There were thirty-two bodies of civilians, most of them women and children. Sixteen soldiers were also killed. The burning of the valley left 182 settlers homeless.

The murders were blamed on Indians, but survivors said they saw Loyalists amid the carnage. A man identified as a Tory sergeant named Newbury was seen murdering a young girl by driving a tomahawk into her skull.42 In a letter to Major General Schuyler of the Continental Army, Walter Butler later denied responsibility for the murders: “I have done everything in my power to restrain the fury of the Indians from hurting women and children, or killing the prisoners who fell into our hands.” He went on to make his prisoners essentially hostages to the fate of his mother and young siblings, who had been held by the Patriots ever since Walter and his father fled to Canada in 1776.

“I am sure you are conscious that Colonel Butler or myself have no desire that your women or children should be hurt,” he continued in the letter. “But, be assured, that if you persevere in detaining my father’s family with you, that we shall no longer take the same pains to restrain the Indians from prisoners, women and children, that we have heretofore done.” Schuyler had been relieved of his commission, so the letter was answered by Brig. Gen. James Clinton, who referred to what Butler had written as a threat. But Clinton began making the arrangements that would eventually send Mrs. Butler and her children to a reunion with John Butler.


Stirred by outcries over the Wyoming and Cherry valley raids, Congress directed Washington to send the Continental Army against the Indians and their Tory allies. Washington responded by ordering what would be history’s first large-scale attack on Indians by an American armed force. He put Maj. Gen. John Sullivan in command of an expedition “against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents.”

Washington ordered “the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground & prevent their planting more.” He went on to suggest that his attacks be “attended with as much impetuosity, shouting, and noise, as possible” and that the troops “rush on with the war-whoop and fixed bayonet. Nothing will disconcert and terrify the Indians more than this.” If any Indians tried to negotiate a peace, he said, they were to be dealt with only if they showed their sincerity “by delivering up some of the principal instigators of their past hostility into our hands: Butler, Brant, the most mischievous of the Tories.” Sullivan led more than twenty-three hundred troops, most of them Continentals. At an Indian village called Tioga Point (now Athens, Pennsylvania), he rendezvoused with Brigadier General Clinton, who added his fourteen hundred Continentals to the campaign of retribution and destruction. On the Fort Pitt frontier to the west, a third, smaller expedition was ordered to head up the Allegheny River valley to begin a similar slash-and-burn foray against the western villages of the Six Nations.

While Clinton was in Canajoharie, New York, waiting for his troops to assemble, local militiamen captured two Butler Rangers—Sgt. William Newbury and Lt. Henry Hare—lurking near Clinton’s troops. The spies had lived in the area until they went off with recruiting parties to Canada. Tried by a court-martial, they were found guilty and sentenced to death for spying. The hangings, Clinton wrote his wife, “were done … to the great satisfaction of all the inhabitants of that place who were friends of their country, as they were known tobe very active in almost all the murders that were committed on the frontiers.” Before being hanged, Newbury, the father of six, confessed to the tomahawk slaying of a young girl during the Cherry Valley raid. Hare admitted that he had killed and scalped one of the girls slain outside Fort Stanwix in 1777.


Butler’s Rangers. They were Loyalist forces recruited in 1777, during the Revolutionary War, by the fugitive Mohawk Valley Tory, Major John Butler. The men were mostly Loyalist elements from around Niagara, New York. The Rangers were both feared and despised along the New York and Pennsylvania frontiers, fighting with the British alongside Joseph Brant in the Wyoming and Cherry Valley Massacres, in 1798.

John Butler had only about three hundred Rangers to oppose the mighty Sullivan-Clinton force because his Indian allies, preferring retreat to annihilation, offered little resistance to any of the three armies. Brant and Walter Butler set up an ambush to slow down Sullivan. But, outmaneuvered, the ambushers fled northward to Niagara as the troops swept through the Iroquois country, burning villages and crops, sometimes avenging past atrocities with a few of their own. Some soldiers scalped Indians they had killed. An officer told of finding two dead Indians whose bodies he then had skinned “from their hips down for boot legs … one pair for the Major the other for my-self.” Civilian Rebels joined the troops one day, locked an old Indian woman and a boy in a cabin, and set it afire.

After one of the few armed encounters, surviving Indians went off with two captured Continentals. Comrades later found their bodies: “The Indians … tied them up & whipped them prodigiously, pulled out their finger and toe nails, cut out their tongues, stuck spears and darts through them & set the Leuts [lieutenant’s] head on a log with the mouth open: we could not find the other head.”

As part of the Sullivan expedition, a detachment marched from Fort Stanwix and crossed Oneida Lake to raze the principal settlement of the Onondaga, who had not taken either the Tory or Rebel side. Leaders of the Oneida, allies of the Patriots, begged the Continentals not to attack the Onondaga, stressing their neutrality. But expedition officers dismissed the claim. The Continentals reported slaying twelve Onondaga, destroying about fifty log houses, burning “a large quantity of Corn and Beans,” and killing “a number of fine horses & every other kind of Stock we found.” The attack turned the Onandaga into foes of the Patriots.

Sullivan went about as far north as Genesee, New York. His expedition produced devastation as methodical as Washington had ordered. In a report to Congress, Sullivan said that “every creek and River has been traced” and “not a single town left” in the Iroquois country. His men had wiped out at least forty villages and, by Sullivan’s “moderate computation,” had destroyed at least 160,000 bushels of corn. In one large village soldiers cut down fifteen hundred peach trees.

Indian families, fleeing before the soldiers and carrying few belongings, sought refuge at the British base at Niagara, more than one hundred miles beyond Genesee. Thousands became homeless people seeking help. By the time the first of them reached Niagara, the chill of autumn was in the air, a prelude to the most severe winter in memory. The Butlers and other Loyalists built huts around the fort for the more than five thousand Indians gathered there. Food was scarce, and hunters risked freezing to death when they sought game. Hunger, cold, and disease killed an unknown number of the Indian refugees—perhaps hundreds.

Originally Washington had hoped that the western force sent up the Allegheny River valley would link up with the Sullivan-Clinton expedition in a great sweep that would subdue the entire Iroquois Nation. But, fearing that he would be overextending his forces, Washington changed his mind and left the western commander to venture on his own. The Allegheny Valley expedition, which did not lose a man, reported extensive destruction, burning down thirty-five houses, including some large enough to shelter three or four families, and putting the torch to fifteen hundred acres of corn. The western Indians also fled toward Niagara. In their flight, they left behind packets of trade pelts and other valuables, which the invaders seized as booty.

The western campaign turned that frontier into a cauldron of competing foes. Virginia and Pennsylvania argued over where their boundary should be drawn. Settlers, thinking the frontier had been freed of the Indian menace, began heading westward. Among them were Tories escaping persecution and seeking the protection of territory around British-held Detroit. Patriots feared that Tories would seize lead mines, vital to Rebel ammunition production, on the western Virginia frontier. A Virginia militia force swooped down on a Loyalist settlement near the mines and reported, “Shot one, Hanged one, and whipt several.” The Virginia House of Delegates confiscated the Loyalists’ land and lauded the militiamen for “suppressing a late conspiracy and insurrection on the frontiers of this State.” Skirmishes between western Tories and Rebels would continue through the war.

The Sullivan-Clinton expedition inspired small hit-and-run vengeance raids that began soon after the new year. Then, in May 1780, Sir John Johnson mobilized a force of more than five hundred men, made up of Indians and companies of his own King’s Royal Regiment. Loyalist boatmen took the raiders down Lake Champlain to a landing below Crown Point, where they went ashore to begin an overland trek. One detachment went directly with Johnson to his birthplace, Johnstown, New York. At Johnson Hall his men dug up two barrels of family silver plate that he had buried before his flight to Canada in 1776. The treasure, carefully inventoried, went into Loyalist knapsacks for the return trip.

A second detachment struck settlements south of the town, burning 120 houses, barns, and mills. They killed or wounded several men who were considered special enemies or were simply defending their homes. Some Tories were also killed and scalped by mistake in a frenzy of looting and burning. At sunset, on a hill in one settlement, lost dogs from smoldering homes joined the dogs of missing masters, and the forsaken pack howled deep into the night.

Rebel militiamen and Continentals belatedly responded to the raid. Johnson eluded them, even though he was burdened by his silver plate and a couple of dozen prisoners. He had also rounded up 143 Loyalist men, women, and children who had been living fearfully in Rebel territory. Pursuers finally got on Johnson’s trail as his fiery nineteen-day invasion was ending. When Johnson, his men, and their guests boarded bateaux for their return voyage, the pursuers were right behind. But they had neither the boats nor provisions to continue their pursuit.

The Johnson raid raised Loyalist morale in the borderland, deprived the Continental Army of food, and aided recruitment. With their families safe at Niagara, many of the Tory men Johnson had rescued signed up for the King’s Royal Regiment, completing the muster of one battalion and starting a second.

Sir Frederick Haldimand, Guy Carleton’s successor as “Captain General and Governor in Chief in and over our Province of Quebec in America,” believed that, in the wake of Burgoyne’s stunning defeat, a new invasion of Canada was likely. He saw the Rebel settlements of the frontier as a potential staging area for a strike across the border.60 To diminish that threat—and stop the flow of grain to the Continental Army—he ordered attacks on the people and crops of the Schoharie and Mohawk valleys.

Haldimand, born in Switzerland in 1718, became an officer in the Prussian army at the age of twenty-two. On the eve of the French and Indian War, as a soldier of fortune, he joined the Royal Americans, who included deserters from, or veterans of, European armies, along with Swiss and German settlers of Pennsylvania. After distinguished service in the war, he remained in the army and in America, assuming commands in posts from Massachusetts to Florida. His varied postings and familiarity with American ways made him one of Britain’s most experienced North American officials.

Under his direction, Sir John Johnson assembled a main force of nearly one thousand men, including about 180 British Army Regulars, twenty-five Hessians; 150 Rangers, under Col. John Butler; about two hundred men of the King’s Royal Regiment; many Tories in independent companies; and about 580 Indians. Haldimand rounded up an additional 970 men for diversionary raids near Saratoga and down the Richelieu River route to the Hudson River.

Scouts went out to alert Tories along the routes, assuring them that they would be escorted to Canada and resettled in safety if they believed they had endangered themselves by aiding the invaders. A scout from the King’s Royal Regiment, sent specifically to seek out Loyalists who might join the invasion, was caught, tried as a spy, andhanged, as was a Continental Army deserter who was caught recruiting Tories.

Men took down their muskets and went off to join the side of their choice, leaving wives and children behind. A Mohawk Valley man wrote about his father, who left his farm to join Butler’s Rangers: “It was a momentous struggle, a frightful warfare… . The farms were left to the care of the women, who seldom ate the bread of Idleness… . They spun, they wove, they knit, prepared their own flax, made their own homespun gowns, the children’s dresses, they churned, made cheese, and performed all the various duties of domestic and social life … my father’s mind was at ease about the affairs of the Farm.”

Three forts defended the verdant Schoharie Valley, Johnson’s first objective. The Lower Fort, as it was called, had as its core a stone Dutch Reformed church. Surrounding it was a stockade encompassing about an acre of land dotted with small huts. The fort’s powder was stored beneath the pulpit, and in the belfry was a platform for lookouts and rifle marksmen. Outside one of the two corner blockhouses was a tavern. The Upper Fort was about fifteen miles south, near the village of Schoharie; the Middle Fort was just below Mid-dleburg.

On October 16 Johnson’s expedition camped near the Upper Fort, which was built around a farmhouse and barn, its stockade surrounding about two and a half acres. The next morning a soldier outside the fort spotted the Loyalist force and ran to give warning. A signal gun boomed. Hearing it, Johnson ordered the destruction to commence. Flames and smoke began rising from barns and deserted houses. Cattle and pigs lay dying, their cries and their blood drawing dogs and vultures.

The invaders broke into houses, took what they wanted, and torched them. Some people stayed to defend their homes, which in this prosperous farmland were framed and painted wooden buildings, not log cabins. The raiders moved on quickly, heading for the Middle Fort through a day that was growing gray under wind-whipped sleet and snow. Johnson set up two small cannons that began firing at the fort as his Rangers and Indians cautiously approached it. After a whilethe firing stopped, and men in the fort saw a white flag appear in the enemy ranks. The flag bearer began walking forward, flanked by an officer in the green coat of Butler’s Rangers and a fifer playing “Yankee Doodle,” still a mocking tune to the ears of a Rebel.

The commander of the Middle Fort, a Continental in charge of militiamen accustomed to having their own officers, ordered the gates opened to the flag of truce. Timothy Murphy, a militiaman, defied the order. He was a sharpshooter, one of Morgan’s riflemen in the Battle of Saratoga. Now he shot at the flag party—to warn them off, not to hit them. He told his stunned commander that he believed that the white flag was a ruse to allow the officer to assess the fort’s garrison. If the Ranger did enter, he would see how few defenders there were. The flag party turned back, then came forward two more times, and each time Murphy fired a warning shot. Murphy’s defiance undermined the authority of the Continental officer, who threatened a court-martial but finally turned over command of the fort to a militia colonel.

Johnson decided to march on, bypassing the fort to continue destroying every Rebel farm in his path—while sparing Tory property. After another bivouac in the Schoharie Valley, he headed for the Mohawk Valley, pursued by frustrated and outnumbered Rebel militiamen only able to “hange on their Rear.” As soon as Johnson left, outraged Rebels burned the untouched Tory farms, completing the absolute destruction of the valley’s crops and livestock. Tories fled northward, joining Johnson’s followers.

At the Mohawk River the raiders split into two detachments to loot and raze along both sides of the river, camping for the night near the town of Root. On the morning of October 19 the main force crossed the Mohawk and headed for the German village of Stone Arabia, the center of an area settled by immigrants from a part of Germany known as the Palatinate. At nearby Fort Paris, Col. John Brown mustered about three hundred men, including a few Oneida Indians, and, astride his small black horse, led them toward Johnson’s force. Brown was killed in an ambush. His men fled, leaving behind the fallen to be scalped.

Johnson’s “Destructionists,” as raiders were sometimes called, kept on swooping down on farms. Among his men were settlers who had lived in these houses, built these barns, tilled these fields. But now they were Tories on a mission, and to them, somehow, this rich valley had become an alien land. A farmer, hidden in the woods with his family, watched his own farm vanish in flames. He saw the Indian Tories move on, swinging firebrands over their head until they blazed, then touching them to barns full of grain. After the Indians left, the farmer found seven hogs dead in their pen, killed by a pitchfork taken from what had been a barn. And so it went, farm after farm.

British soldiers in the attack force sometimes guarded prisoners to protect them from the Indians, whose behavior was unpredictable. At one farm Indians took a woman and her seven children out of their house, then loaded them and armfuls of loot into a horse-drawn wagon. Around that time Johnson was told that Continentals and militiamen were on their way from Albany and Schenectady. He released the woman and her children, except for her fourteen-year-old son, presumably kidnapped to become a future Ranger.

About nine hundred Rebels, most of them militiamen, caught up with the raiders toward the end of day. In a twilight skirmish Johnson tried to set up a battle line but failed to hold off a Rebel charge. Men of Johnson’s own regiment were driven back—” running promiscuously through and over one another” in the dark, a Tory said. As the Johnson Destructionists settled for the night near the battlefield, the Rebels’ commander inexplicably ordered his men to camp about three miles away. He planned to strike the next morning. By then Johnson and his force were well on the way toward Canada.

The diversionary raids were as successful as the main raid. Maj. Christopher Carleton, a nephew of Sir Guy Carleton, headed a force of nearly one thousand Regulars, Indians, and Tories down the Champlain Valley into the upper Hudson River valley. Carleton was knowledgeable about Indian culture, had had himself tattooed, and attimes wore a ring through his nose. He had taken an Indian mistress before marrying the sister of his uncle’s wife. He knew the frontier wilderness trails as well as an Indian. He was an inspiring leader in a stealthy campaign that called for night marches and fireless camps.

Early in the three-week expedition, near the southern shore of Lake George, a King’s Ranger spotted about fifty Rebel soldiers leaving Fort George. A mixed force of Rangers, Indians, and Regulars surrounded the men and swiftly killed twenty-seven. Eight men were captured. The rest escaped into the woods. The fort surrendered. After looting and burning it, the raiders marched on, their prisoners carrying the Indians’ plunder. By the loose rules of raiding, Indians, male and female, were given looting rights, some becoming quite discerning. One settler told of an Indian who stole plates from a dark house. Once outside, he discovered they were pewter, not silver, and disdainfully threw them away.

A party of militiamen was sent to the area later to bury the dead. “We found twenty-two slaughtered and mangled men,” one of them remembered. “All had their skulls knocked in, their throats cut and their scalps taken. Their clothes were mostly stripped off… . The fighting had been mostly with clubbed muskets, and the fragments of these, split and shivered, were laying around with the bodies.”

A diversionary raid aimed at Schenectady, led by a former merchant in that town, shifted to the village of Ballston after militiamen mobilized on the route ahead. In Ballston, Indians broke into cabins and killed two men. Tory officers intervened, feeling that the Indians were turning too violent. In one cabin, an officer grabbed an Indian’s upraised arm, protecting an unarmed man defending his family. After the usual burning and looting, the Indians, Rangers, and Tory followers headed back to Canada with a string of prisoners.

Carleton’s men burned down a second Rebel fort and captured 148 Rebel soldiers, a large loss in a frontier of sparse garrisons. The raiders destroyed thirty-eight houses, thirty-three barns, six saw mills, and a grist mill. They estimated that they had torched fifteen hundred tons of hay. A detachment of Indians burned down thirty-two houses and their barns.81 Such inventories of desolation continued, year after year, raid after raid. At least twenty-nine raids struck towns in the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys in 1781 alone.

Col. Marinus Willett, a Continental Army hero, writing to Washington from Fort Herkimer in the German Flats in July 1781, estimated that one-third of the people on the New York frontier had been killed or carried off, one-third had fled the frontier but remained Patriots, and “one third deserted to the enemy.” Postwar records show that about 380 women became widows and some two thousand children lost their fathers. About seven hundred buildings had been burned and 150,000 bushels of wheat destroyed. Some twelve thousand farms had been abandoned. There is no reliable estimate of how many prisoners were taken. Some were exchanged; some did not return until a year or more after the war. Many died. Others, lured by offers of free land, became Tories and remained in Canada.

“I am really at a loss to know how to feed the troops,” the senior Continental Army colonel in New York wrote to Governor George Clinton, General Clinton’s brother, in September 1780. Two months later, reacting to the continuing loss of grain and flour from “the country which has been laid waste,” Washington told Governor Clinton that “we shall be obliged to bring flour from the southward.”

To the west, in the wild Ohio Country, under orders from Lord Germain in London, bands of Tories and Indians raided settlements on the Pennsylvania and Virginia frontiers and in the area that would become Kentucky. Germain, saying “it is The Kings command,” had instructed an obscure colonial official to “assemble as many of the Indians of his district as he conveniently can, and placing proper Persons at their Head, to … restrain them from committing violence on the well affected and inoffensive Inhabitants, employ them in making a Diversion and exciting an alarm upon the frontiers of Virginia and Pennsylvania.”

The official was Henry Hamilton, an Ireland-born veteran of the French and Indian War, who in 1775 had been made lieutenant governor and superintendent of Indian affairs at Fort Detroit (site of today’s Detroit). Hamilton was one of five lieutenant governors appointed to manage the Province of Quebec, whose boundaries had been extended by the Quebec Act of 1774 to include an immense expanse of land between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

Germain also authorized Hamilton to raise Tory regiments and offer each recruit the postwar promise of two hundred acres of land. With his Tories and Indians, Germain wrote, Hamilton might be able “to extend his operations so as to divide the attention of the Rebels, and oblige them to collect a considerable Force to oppose him.” Following Germain’s orders, Hamilton sent Tory-Indian raiders into a territory that Britain had prohibited its colonists from settling. But, defying the Crown, colonists had settled there. Their disobedience had marked them as Rebels, though there were enough Tories among them for Hamilton to find recruits.

White men had been paying bounties for enemies’ scalps since the French and Indian War. But Rebels on the frontier singled Hamilton out as the “Hair Buyer,” a label that found its way into numerous narratives. Hamilton himself routinely mentioned scalps in his reports. Early in 1778, for example, he wrote to Governor Carleton, saying that his Indians had “brought in seventy-three prisoners alive, twenty of which they presented to me, and one hundred and twenty-nine scalps.” Later that year Hamilton told Carleton’s successor, Frederick Haldimand, that “since last May the Indians in this district have taken thirty-four prisoners, seventeen of which they delivered up, and eighty-one scalps, several prisoners taken and adopted [by Indians] not reckoned in this number.” Neither letter mentions bounties for the scalps.

One of Hamilton’s operatives was Simon Girty, who had been captured by French-commanded Indians as a child in 1756 and raised by Senecas. He was freed after eight years and married a young woman who had been a captive of the Delaware tribe. Girty became an officer in a Pennsylvania militia and an Indian interpreter at Fort Pitt. When the Revolution began, by one story, Girty was confined to the fort as a suspected Tory; by another, he defected because he was disgusted with American treatment of Indians. Whatever the reason, he endedup in Detroit and became not only a captain and interpreter in the British Indian Department but also the most notorious Tory on the western frontier. Like Hamilton, Girty would get a label: “White Savage.” His infamy was based on his witnessing but not trying to stop the heinous torture of a Patriot—” they scalped him alive and then laid hot ashes upon his head, after which they roasted him by a slow fire.”

Virginia governor Patrick Henry feared that Hamilton’s raids would drive settlers out of the territory and give the British control over the western frontier. One of the frontier leaders was Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark, a lanky, red-haired militia officer from the first region west of the Allegheny Mountains settled by American pioneers (later Kentucky). In 1778, with Henry’s support, Clark and his force of frontiersmen headed over the mountains to capture the bases from which the raiders struck. He also wanted to establish American claims to a territory nearly as large as the thirteen colonies.

Clark easily took three British outposts. But the most important—Fort Sackville in what would become Vincennes, Indiana—was retaken by Hamilton and a mixed force of Indians, Tory militia, and Regulars.95 Hamilton decided to wait until spring to attack Clark and roll back the frontier to east of the mountains. Clark surprised him by leading about 175 men to the fort, through seventeen winter days of snow and icy streams. At Vincennes his men captured five Indians carrying American scalps. To terrify Hamilton’s men Clark bound the captives and tomahawked them in full view of the garrison. Hamilton surrendered the fort and was taken to Williamsburg, where Governor Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry’s successor, called him a “butcher of men, women and children,” put him in irons, and treated him as a criminal, not a prisoner of war. After eighteen months, through the intervention of Washington, he was finally freed in a prisoner exchange.

From New York to the Ohio country, the Indian-Tory raids on frontier settlements continued, becoming a war unto itself. To the west, in March 1782, Pennsylvania militiamen swooped down on the missionary village of Gnadenhutten. The Delaware Indians there, converted to Christianity, were suspected of being Loyalists. The militiamen rounded up the unarmed Indians and killed sixty-two adults and thirty-four children by smashing their skulls with mallets. Two boys escaped and spread word of the massacre. In an act of vengeance three months later, Delaware braves tortured a captive militia officer who had nothing to do with the raid and then burned him at the stake. After the Revolution ended, Fort Detroit in the west, like Fort Niagara in the east, remained a British garrison and a Tory haven. But George Rogers Clark’s thrust beyond the mountains did establish an American claim on territory that would become Kentucky and West Virginia. And in 1803 President Jefferson looked farther westward, asking Congress for approval of an expedition that would travel to the Pacific. As one of it leaders, Jefferson would pick William Clark, George Rogers Clark’s younger brother.

* In 1761 Crown Point was a British fort on the west side of Lake Champlain, evacuated by the French in 1759 after the British captured Ticonderoga.

GAZ-2975 “Tiger” or Russian Tigr Part I

The GAZ `Tigr’ or `Tiger’ is a Russian 4×4, All-Terrain Infantry Mobility Vehicle manufactured by GAZ, first delivered to the Soviet Army in 2006. Primarily used by the Russian Federation’s armed forces, it is also used by numerous other countries. The Tiger was first shown at the IDEX exhibition in 2001, and production started in 2004 with ninety-six vehicles. The Russian Army officially adopted the GAZ- 2975 into service at the end of 2006 and was then officially manufactured in 2007. China co-produced the GAZ Tiger with Russia after it initially refused to grant them a full license. 110 Tigers were delivered from 2008-2010 and are in service with the Chinese Public Security Police. Some saw use publicly in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and in the 2009 Xinjiang riots. Five Tigers, fully assembled, were delivered with five more in kit form for assembly while 100 were assembled in China under Beijing Yanjing Motor Company. Yanjing Motor-made vehicles are known as YJ2080C and YJ2081C, the difference with the engine installed and the weight.

During the 2010 Interpolitex exhibition, MIC presented the upgraded version of GAZ Tiger-the VPK-233114 Tiger-M-with a new YaMZ-534 diesel engine, additional armour and an NBC protection system. This new GAZ Tiger-M entered service with the Russian army during the irst half of the 2013. Mass production and the export version have already been launched with a 205hp engine. Tiger armoured cars were reported to be among the AFV’s deployed by Russia in the Crimean crisis. They seemed to belong to the Russian Naval Infantry, but that combat arm had not been previously identified as a Tiger user, suggesting that the examples spotted near Sevastopol on the night of February 28, 2014, were vehicles transferred or on loan from their primary military user, the Russian Army. In early March 2015, OSCE inspectors spotted `a camoulaged GAZ Tiger-type armoured personnel carrier guarding a DPR Checkpoint, close to the village Shyrokyne east of Mariupol, and since 2015, Tiger vehicles have been used by the Syrian Army in fight with opposition and extremist groups.

In January 2017, Tiger-Ms entered service with the Russian Army mounting the Arbalet- DM remote weapon station (RWS). This can hold a Kord 12. mm machine gun carrying 150 rounds of ammunition or a PKTM 7.62mm machine gun carrying 250 rounds. The module has TV and thermal imaging cameras allowing target identification out to 2.5km and 1.5km respectively, an integral laser rangefinder, and the ability to lock on and track targets. The vehicle was designed to transport troops and various equipment quickly on road and of-road. It has a chassis frame construction, with a traditional layout of front engine, middle crew compartment, and rear cargo area. Standard features include: power steering, independent all- wheel torsion suspension with hydraulic shock absorbers and stabiliser bars, a transfer case with a locking centre differential, limited slip differentials, two-speed transfer case, automatic tire inflation, engine block heater, and electric winch. The GAZ-233001 has optional air conditioning, stereo, electric windows, and an anti-lock braking system. Armoured versions of the Tiger feature 5mm or 7mm for the SPM-2, heat-treated and stress-relieved armour plates. The Tiger can also carry a half ton of cargo. In 2011, the Tula Instrument Design Bureau demonstrated an upgraded Kornet-EM anti-tank missile system. Two such units were mounted on a modified chassis of the SPM-2 Tiger. The machine is equipped with two retractable launchers for eight missiles and gunnery equipment (remote weapons control with screens to display images from the sighting systems), as well as eight additional missiles. Designed for performance in mountain, arctic, and desert environments, the Tiger is capable of operating at ambient temperatures ranging from -14-50 °C (7-122 °F).

GAZ Tigr

GAZ Tigr (Tiger)

Tigr GAZ-2330 light armored vehicle personnel carrier

GAZ-2975 “Tiger” or Russian Tigr Part II

The GAZ-2975 Tigr (“Tiger”) is Russia’s new standard light armored utility vehicle, akin to the US HMMWV. It is typically fitted with one or two 7.62mm Pecheneg machine guns on pintle mounts, or, an AGS-17 30mm grenade launcher.

A GAZ Tigr-M in Moscow during rehearsals for the 2019 Victory Day Parade, for which it sports the orange and black St George’s ribbon with tricolour star decal along the side. Note the Arbalet-DM remote weapon station, with a 12.7mm Kord machine gun and four smoke grenade launchers. The turret includes regular and thermal-imaging cameras and a laser range finder.

The armoured Tigr has become one of the workhorses of the Russian Army. It is especially well-geared for cold weather conditions, able to operate in temperatures from +50 to -50 centigrade.

Gaz-2975 Tigr-M 4×4 Multi-purpose Vehicle can be mounted with a number of weapons modules act as escorts in the Military Parade. This one is armed with Kornett ATGMs

In Russia, Arzamas developed the Tigr; a family of vehicles ranging from 7.4 to 8.8 tonnes gross weight offering payloads of between 0.9 and 1.2 tonnes. The version more apt for military purposes is the Armoured Special Purpose Vehicle 232014, which can accommodate two crew members and four more soldiers in the rear, and can be armed with a Pecheneg 7.62-mm, a Kord 12.7-mm machine gun or with an AGS-17 30-mm automatic grenade launcher. Powered by a six-cylinder 205-hp engine it is equipped with independent wishbone and torsion bar suspensions.

The workhorse is the GAZ Tigr (`Tiger’), a domestically produced 4×4 LMV in service since 2006. Rugged and lightly armoured, the Tigr has seen service in Crimea and the Donbas as well as Syria, and in 2013 an improved GAZ-233114 Tigr-M was introduced. This replaced the original diesel with a YaMZ-534 engine, added additional armour and protective systems, and has since become the Russian military standard LMV. Able to carry up to 11 soldiers as well as its crew, the Tigr is 5.7m long, 2.4m wide and high, and masses 7.2t. It can be fitted with a pintle-mounted 7.62mm PKP Pecheneg machine gun, a 12.7mm Kord heavy machine gun or a 30mm AGS-17 grenade launcher, as well as the new Arbalet-DM (`Crossbow-DM’) remote-controlled turret with either the Kord or 7.62mm PKTM machine gun and thermal imaging sights. Widely used by other Russian services, the Tigr is also the platform for a range of specialist vehicles and now also produced in China and Belarus.

The new standard Russian military LMV is the Gaz Tigr (Tiger), in both the GAZ-233014 STS and Tigr-M versions. This version was seen during the initial seizure of Crimea in 2014, and although deployed alongside Naval Infantry, its number plate demonstrated that it came from the Southern Military District. This suggests that it was actually part of the 22nd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade, not least given the Guards badge in the door – signifying a unit that fought with distinction in World War II. It mounts a PKP machine gun and an AGS-17 grenade launcher. The VPK-3927 Volk (Wolf) is a new design, which is being introduced in limited numbers in both short- and long-wheelbase versions. Designed with particular attention to the threat from mines, the Volk comes in a variety of models, with a particular emphasis on reconnaissance and patrol missions. This is the short-wheelbase 4×4 version fitted as a communications vehicle, assigned to the 24th Spetsnaz Brigade operating out of Irkutsk.

Vitus Jonassen Bering I

RCHKG8 Fur Traders of the Russian-American Company. Museum: State Central Navy Museum, St. Petersburg. Author: Pshenichny, Igor Pavlovich.

On November 5, 1724, Peter the Great waded waist-deep into the icy waters of the Gulf of Finland to help rescue some sailors whose boat had capsized. Fever and chills followed, later developing into pneumonia; his friends and advisers gathered round. Yet even as he lay dying, he made one last grand gesture, which – in keeping with a monarch who seemed incapable of any inconsequential act – would lead to discoveries of imperishable renown. Andrei Nartov, an associate, recalled:

I was then almost constantly with the Emperor, and saw with my own eyes how eager this Majesty was to get the expedition under way, being, as it were, conscious that his end was near. When all had been arranged he seemed pleased and content. Calling the general-admiral (Count Apraksin) to him he said: “Recently I have been thinking over a matter which has been on my mind for many years, but other affairs have prevented me from carrying it out. I have reference to the finding of a passage through the Arctic Sea. On the map before me there is indicated such a passage bearing the name of Anian. There must be some reason for that. In my last travels I discussed the subject with learned men, and they were of the opinion that such a passage could be found. Now that the country is in no danger from enemies we should strive to win for her glory along the lines of the arts and sciences.”

On December 23, as the expedition assumed final shape in his mind, Peter drew up brief instructions to the Admiralty College for the selection of its chief personnel. He wanted geodesists with first-hand knowledge of Eastern Siberia, hardy shipwrights, experienced mariners, and, if possible, “a navigator and assistant navigator who have been to North America. If such navigators cannot be found in the [Russian] Navy, then immediately write to Holland via the Admiralty Post and request two men who are familiar with the sea north toward Japan.”

The Admiralty opted for their own and immediately settled on Vitus Bering, a Dane in Russian service, as the expedition’s commander. They assigned him two lieutenants: Martin Spanberg (also a Dane, who ran the packet boat that shuttled regularly between Lübeck and Kronstadt), and Alexei Chirikov, an instructor of cadets at the Naval Academy. None of these men had ever been to America, but Bering had been to the East Indies in his youth, and all three were exceptionally capable and expert seamen.

Bering hastened to the capital from Vyborg, where he had a small estate, and on January 26, 1725, Peter signed his orders and scrawled terse instructions to various officials to give Bering and his staff whatever help they required. The tsar’s instructions to Bering himself, however, though no less imperious and brief (according to his style), were cryptically phrased:

1. In Kamchatka or some other place build one or two boats with decks.

2. On those boats sail near the land which goes to the north which (since no one knows where it ends) it seems is part of America.

3. Discover where it is joined to America, and go as far as some town belonging to a European power; if you encounter some European ship, ascertain from it what is the name of the nearest coast, and write it down and go ashore personally and obtain firsthand information, locate it on a map and return here.

Two days later, Peter died. In his place, the empress Catherine I, his widow and successor, confirmed the orders and had them conveyed to Bering on February 5, 1725, inaugurating one of the most remarkable sagas in the history of exploration.

Born at Horsens, Denmark, in 1681, Vitus Jonassen Bering had joined the Russian Navy as a sublieutenant at the age of twenty-three, and had served in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the Baltic with distinction during the Great Northern War. His direction of transport and logistical operations earned him steady advancement, and by the end of the conflict he had made captain of the second rank. Under the patronage of two fellow Danes with considerable standing in the Admiralty, Peter Sievers and Cornelius Cruys (both primary architects of Peter’s new navy), Bering’s future prospects seemed bright. But at the conclusion of the war he was unexpectedly passed over for promotion, a casualty of the developing struggle in the naval high command between a faction led by Sievers and another (momentarily favored by the tsar) headed by Thomas Gordon, a Scot. Gordon’s star subsequently waned, and that of Sievers rose, with the support of Admiral Apraksin. But meanwhile, in disappointment, Bering had retired from the navy and withdrawn to his Vyborg estate.

Eight weeks later he was recalled to active duty, elevated to captain of the first rank, and given the assignment that was to govern the remainder of his days. At the time, he was forty-four years old.

Bering departed St. Petersburg upon receipt of his instructions and hastened to catch up to an advance contingent of the expedition which had left the capital twelve days before. From Vologda, they proceeded together across the Urals to Tobolsk, before embarking down the Irtysh River in May 1725. After pausing at Yeniseysk, where the party grew to ninety-seven with the addition of thirty carpenters and blacksmiths, they worked their way up the shoals and rapids of the Yenisey and Upper Tunguska rivers to Ilimsk. There the party divided, Spanberg going overland with the heavier supplies to Ust-Kut, where he supervised construction that winter of fifteen barges for conveying men and supplies down the Lena River to Yakutsk; and Bering heading south to Irkutsk, to assemble provisions for the next stage of the expedition and to plot the best route from there to Okhotsk.

Thus far, over the course of a year, and in spite of transport difficulties and little or no cooperation from Siberian officials, Bering had managed to move his men and equipment across 4,500 miles of mountain, forest, and steppe. But a still more trying road lay ahead. In the spring of 1726, more carpenters, blacksmiths, and two coopers were added to the force, and the whole party (reunited at Ust-Kut) embarked down the Lena River to Yakutsk. They made good time with sails and sweeps, and when the wind blew against them used an ingenious device called the watersail, made of larch logs lashed together and sunk lengthwise under the boats where the current acted upon it like the wind upon a sail. At Yakutsk, it was agreed that Chirikov remain for the winter to collect additional provisions, while Spanberg conveyed the heaviest and most unmanageable materiel (like rigging, tackle, iron, and tar) by boat to Yudoma Cross (at the headwaters of the Yudoma River). Bering himself, with two thousand leather sacks of flour, among other supplies, was to proceed on horseback directly to Okhotsk at the head of a baggage train.

The Yakutsk-to-Okhotsk Track – a deadly obstacle course of forests, rapids, marshes, icefields, bogs, and crags – was the roughest in Siberia, and after a forced march in which most of his packhorses died and tons of flour had to be cached along the way, Bering barely reached his destination before winter set in. Meanwhile, in early November Spanberg’s boats became ice-bound near the mouth of the Gorbeya River, short of Yudoma Cross and 350 miles from Okhotsk. The men disembarked, built dogsleds to carry the most vital stores (which they had to haul themselves), and to fend off starvation “consumed not only their horses, but their leather harness, clothing and boots.” From the raw horsehide itself they made new coats and shoes, having first “burnt off the Hair from their Skins with Lime.” Even so, they survived only because they found the flour Bering had cached, and because, when Bering learned of their predicament, he immediately dispatched dog teams for their relief. Meanwhile, to make better time, Spanberg had stored his own supplies in four different locations along the uninhabited trail. “And during his whole Passage,” Bering later recalled, “the poor People had no other Relief in the Night-time, or when the cutting icy Winds blew, than to cover themselves as deep as they could in the Snow.” The following spring the stashed provisions were retrieved, but there was no way to salvage the materiel which had been left on the boats, despite all the effort it had taken to bring them 5,000 miles from St. Petersburg.

And there was no way to make up for them either in Okhotsk, which was a refuge only in name. Located on “a current-ridden, empty waste of water,” the settlement consisted of eleven huts housing ten Russian families, a meager stock of powdered fish, and no home-grown foods, for not even rye, it was said, could ripen on its damp and windy shores. The men managed to build their own shelters, but construction of a proper ship was difficult because no stout trees like oak or elm grew in the vicinity, and the whole remote area “lacked all marine and other stores.” As a result, the decked boat they built for themselves (the Fortuna) was tied or “sewn” together with leather strips instead of being hammered together with nails. Such makeshift craft were common enough in Siberia because of the scarcity of technical supplies, but it was not the kind of vessel the naval officers were used to, or in which they had intended to cross the Okhotsk Sea. Nevertheless, in two trips with full cargos in the hold, the Fortuna served to convey them in July 1727 safely across to Bolsheretsk, the “capital” of Kamchatka. Located on the north side of the Bolshaya River, Bolsheretsk itself was still scarcely more than a stockade, garrisoned with about forty-five troops. Outside the fort there was a chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas, a lodging belonging to the church, and about thirty houses on the various islands of the delta, among them a saloon and a distillery. The settlement was no place for a dockyard, so with the help of natives impressed into transport duty with their sleds and dogs, the expeditionary force crossed the rugged mountains to Nizhnekamchatsk, 600 miles away, on the eastern coast. Furious blizzards beleaguered the operation and clouds of sleet “rolled like a dark smoke over the moors.” At night, “or when-ever they had a Mind to rest,” they slept in deep trenches without cover, which they dug in the snow.

At Nizhnekamchatsk, Bering paid off the surviving Kamchadals with a little tobacco and train oil extracted from a whale that had washed up on the beach.

After years of unrest, a period of calm had ensued on the peninsula. Government agents, furnished with comprehensive written instructions, annually came and went; priests arrived to provide spiritual guidance for the unruly Cossacks and to convert the heathen; attempts were made to regularize yasak collection; and a census was taken of the native population and their property. But resentment toward the Russians smoldered underneath, and order would not be completely established until the 1730s, after many of the Kamchadals and Koryaks had been decimated by epidemics and new insurrections crushed.

In 1726, Bering’s overwhelming impression of Kamchatka was of a “strange place, which lies so far out of the Reach of the rest of Mankind, that it could never have been visited, much less planted and possessed by any but the Russians.” He realized its potential strategic importance, but conceded it had little to attract colonists, and in a rather backhanded compliment supposed that “if a sufficient Number of People were sent thither to cut down the vast Forests with which it is incumber’d, and enabled to till, manure, and cultivate the Earth, it might be render’d a Place far enough from being despicable.” At the time, the Russian presence was still pitifully small. There were only seventeen dwellings in Verkhnekamchatsk, and fifty in Nizhnekamchatsk, the two main settlements after Bolsheretsk. During the whole time Bering was there, no more than 150 servitors lived in all three forts, and their primary function was not to colonize but to collect the fur tribute from the Kamchadals. Native and Russian alike lived on fish, roots, berries, and wild birds, and the only agricultural initiative Bering could discover was at a local hermitage, where monastics had managed to coax turnips, barley, radishes, and hemp from the soil. In the spring, after working all winter on a new seaworthy vessel for the voyage, his vitamin-starved workmen frantically scrounged for wild garlic beneath the melting snow.

To provision the expedition and meet its other needs, Bering had to improvise. Hauling lumber for the ship on dogsled, he made a tar substitute from the sap of the local larch, and “instead of Meal or Corn, he furnished himself with Carrots or other Roots. By boiling the Sea-water, he procured as much Salt as he wanted. Fish Oyle served instead of Butter, and dry and wet Salt-fish took the Place of Beef and Pork. Having collected a vast Quantity of Plants and Herbs, he also distilled from them a pretty strong Spirit, upon which he was pleased to bestow the Name of Brandy, and of this he laid in a plentiful Stock.”

Vitus Jonassen Bering II

Post-mortem reconstruction of Vitus Jonassen Bering’s face.

On July 14, 1728 – three and a half years after leaving St. Petersburg – Bering’s newly constructed ship, the St. Gabriel, stocked with enough food to sustain its crew of forty for a year, sailed from the mouth of the Kamchatka River. Following the coast of the peninsula northward for five days, Bering turned northeast, and on the next day encountered land again just above 60 degrees north latitude. This was the underside of the Chukchi Peninsula (not clearly delineated on his map), and with some perplexity he coasted along it for about two weeks. On August 1, he lingered to explore a bay, but a week later encountered eight Chukchi, who approached the ship in a hideskin boat. “When we invited them to come aboard,” recalled Bering, “they inflated the bladder of a large seal, put one man in it and sent him out to us to converse.” Later, the Chukchi brought their own boat alongside and through the two interpreters Bering had brought with him learned that the land, trending in a northeasterly direction, soon turned back to the west, and that there was an island nearby in the sea. On August 10, Bering sailed past it, noticing dwellings but no people, and named it St. Lawrence, “since it was his feast day.”

By August 13 the ship had rounded the southwesternmost point of the Chukchi Peninsula. A few days later, without realizing it, Bering passed through the narrow strait between Asia and America which now bears his name. Although in clear weather (at the strait’s narrowest point) it is possible to glimpse both continents at the same time, on that historic day fog hid the American coast, and as far as Bering knew, it was 1,000 miles away. Without pause he steered due north (into the Bering Sea), but after the Asiatic coast disappeared from sight on the 15th, he decided to consult with Spanberg and Chirikov as to whether to continue the voyage or return to Kamchatka before cold weather set in. It was Spanberg’s advice that the expedition sail on for no more than two days, “because we have reached 65 degrees 30’ of the northern region and according to our opinion and the Chukchi’s report have arrived opposite the extreme end and have passed east of the land.” And so, “what more needs to be done?” Chirikov, on the other hand, argued that they could not know with certainty whether America was separated from Asia unless they went “to the mouth of the Kolyma River,” or at least until their path westward around the peninsula was blocked by ice. So they ought to follow the land, if possible (and as their instructions required), to see if it led to America.

Bering agreed with Spanberg. The Chukchi had told him the coast turned north, then west, and was surrounded by the ocean – and in fact, as Bering could see, the coast bent away to the west as he proceeded farther north. It seemed pointless to him to verify the obvious, at mortal risk to his ship and crew. Further delay might oblige him to winter among the Chukchi on the peninsula’s forbidding coast, which, so far as he could tell, consisted of nothing but great ridges of snow-covered rocks quite bare of trees with which to build winter huts.

Bering turned south. Once again the coast of Asia came into view, but by an unlucky chance, as he threaded the strait, Bering failed a second time to see America through the mist, though he discovered one of the Diomede Islands. Four days later the crew bartered rather profitably with forty Chukchi who came out to the ship in boats – the Russians trading pins and needles for “a good Quantity of dry’d Flesh, Fish, Water contain’d in Whale Bladders, 15 Fox Skins, and four Narval’s Teeth.” Without further incident, on September 2, the St. Gabriel returned safely to port.

Despite apparent confidence in having accomplished his mission, Bering had misgivings, and throughout the winter he consulted with a number of Cossack veterans and others knowledgeable about the local geography. Advised by several that land was supposed to lie not far off the coast – as evidenced by birds flying eastward and unfamiliar trees floating in the sea – toward the end of June 1729 he steered the St. Gabriel due east from the mouth of the Kamchatka River, and explored the seas for a radius of about 130 miles. He might have ventured farther, but storms cut short his quest. That done, from Nizhnekamchatsk he sailed around Cape Lopatka at the peninsula’s southern tip – “which Thing was never done before” – crossed over to Okhotsk, and began the long overland trek back to St. Petersburg, where he arrived on March 1, 1730.

While bering and his men had been in Kamchatka, a companion expedition of sorts, with tasks resembling those given originally to the Great Kamchatka Command, had been authorized by the Senate and the newly created Supreme Privy Council. Led by Afanasy Shestakov, a Cossack leader based in Yakutsk, it involved an army of fifteen hundred men (huge by Siberian standards) in a bid to strengthen Russian control over the entire northeast. Part of the force was placed under the command of Dmitry Pavlutsky, captain of dragoons in Tobolsk and Russia’s foremost Chukchi fighter, but the results of the expedition were not commensurate with the efforts made. Quarreling between Shestakov and Pavlutsky hindered the operation, and Shestakov’s attempts to pacify the Koryaks ended in disaster when he was killed in a battle in March 1730, and a contingent coming to his support was wiped out. Shestakov’s dried head was preserved long afterward by the natives as a trophy of their victory.

Encouraged by these developments, some Kamchadal leaders also began to consider ways to drive the Russians from their land. Bering, it seems, had left Kamchatka just in time. Although the area had never been free of lawlessness and misrule, the transport burdens placed upon the native population by his expedition had certainly contributed to the unrest. In 1731, rebellions occurred in the vicinity of Bolsheretsk and Verkhnekamchatsk; and then, around Nizhnekamchatsk, the Kamchadals coalesced under a baptized native named Fyodor Kharchin and captured the fort. A few survivors managed to make their way to a Russian ship about to sail for the Anadyr, and the crew hastily disembarked and dragged their cannon to the fortress walls. When the Russians began blasting through, the defenders panicked, and Kharchin himself made his escape disguised as a girl. Others, however, fought on, until a shot ignited the powder magazine and the entire fort blew up. Enraged by the rape of their women (mostly native concubines), the Cossacks killed their prisoners to a man. A month later Kharchin himself was seized, but some of his accomplices and their families chose mass suicide rather than fall into Russian hands.

In St. Petersburg, the authorities decided that Kamchatka was too remote from Yakutsk to remain under its effective jurisdiction, and transferred responsibility for the peninsula to Okhotsk. An official was also dispatched from Tobolsk to restore order; after investigating the causes of the revolt, he executed and otherwise punished with impartial justice a number of Russians as well as Kamchadals.

Meanwhile, after Shestakov’s death, Pavlutsky had taken over the expedition’s command and had made Anadyrsk his base for a conquest of the Chukchi. Although the Russians defeated these indomitable warriors in several battles, they could not subdue them, and the most tangible (yet elusive) result of the expedition turned out to be geographical – the search for the “Big Land” supposed to lie opposite the East Cape of the Chukchi Peninsula. Pavlutsky organized an expedition to find it, and placed the expedition under the direction of Mikhail Gvozdev, a metallurgist, with Ivan Fedorov as pilot. They appropriated Bering’s St. Gabriel for the purpose and assembled a crew of thirty-nine. Sailing from the mouth of the Anadyr in July 1732, they paused briefly at one of the Diomede Islands, and then continued eastward, apparently coming within sight of Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska. Drawing near, they saw that it was quite large and covered with forests of poplar, spruce, and larch. After skirting the coast for several days, they found “no end to it in sight.” At one point, “a naked native paddled out to the vessel from shore on an inflated bladder,” and through their interpreter asked them who they were and where they were going. They replied that they were lost at sea and were looking for Kamchatka. The native promptly pointed in the direction from which they had come. They did not make a landing, however, and because after their return they failed to collate their notes and make an adequate map, their voyage did not come to official attention until a decade later, in 1743. By then the priority of their discovery had become a technicality, since far more momentous events had transpired.

Upon his return to St. Petersburg in March 1730, Bering had reported to the Admiralty. From that moment on, criticism of his voyage began. Until quite recently, the consensus of posterity was that he had failed, out of excessive caution bordering on cowardice, to fully carry out his instructions. He had found the strait he was supposed to find, but had not absolutely proved that Asia and America were not joined by land – as he might have had he followed Chirikov’s advice. The passions expressed on this point for many years reflected the intense interest of statesmen, merchants, and academicians in a Northeast Passage; but a reexamination of the fundamental documents suggests that a very different conclusion should be drawn. As a leading scholar points out, the orders Peter the Great drafted “say nothing about a strait or a search for one,” but rather in their own somewhat cryptic but definite fashion demand that Bering follow “the land that goes to the north,” which “it seems is part of America.” If it led to America, he was to proceed if possible to a European settlement, and also reconnoiter the coast. What land was Peter talking about? To fully understand his orders requires a map – the one, that is, that Bering was given on February 5, 1724.

In all probability, this was the so-called “Homann map,” created around 1722 at Peter’s request byjohann Baptiste Homann, a German mapmaker and copyist in his employ. It included the first printed presentation of Kamchatka as a peninsula, and two unknown lands (cut off by the frame) off the North Pacific coast of Asia. One was apparently meant to represent the “Big Island” in the sea of which the Chukchi spoke, the other “Juan de Gama Land,” sometimes portrayed as being linked to America. So, depending on how Peter’s orders were interpreted, “the land which goes to the north” could be the land off Kamchatka (Da Gama Land), the finger of land north of that off the Chukchi Peninsula, or the coast of Asia itself. Actually, no one knows for sure, but Bering seems to have tested all three hypotheses. He sailed north along the Kamchatka coast, then northeast in search of the Big Island (only to run into the Chukchi Peninsula, not known to project as far out into the ocean as it did), and then, the following summer, subsequently sailed east of Kamchatka where the other land was supposed to be.

In fact, the location of a strait (which Peter was already sure existed) was subordinate to his larger mission, which was to find the way to the western coast of America. Bering didn’t go to America because the coast he followed to the north didn’t lead there; and if he failed, it was because the cartographical information he’d been given was imprecise. Bering had followed the Homann map as best he could, but found it completely erroneous in placing the Chukchi Peninsula directly north of eastern Kamchatka, instead of projecting far to its east. In trying to make his experience fit with the map he had, which was supposed to guide him, Bering correctly assumed that he had passed the utmost part of East Asia and that the two continents were not joined.

“Having become a naval power,” as one authority notes, “Russia need no longer look on the ocean as a barrier to continued eastward expansion. Other powers had to sail halfway around the globe to reach the North Pacific. The Russians were already there.” Peter’s secret long-range intention was colonial conquest – to reconnoiter the American coast with a view to gaining a foothold (as the French, Spanish, and English had already done) in the New World. The supposed geographical objective, as publicized to foreign ambassadors, cartographers, and others (like Andrei Nartov, who dutifully spread the word), was part of what today would be called a disinformation campaign, designed to mislead other governments by appearing to pursue the question with which they were preoccupied. “There is no doubt,” remarks a student of Bering’s voyage, “that Peter looked upon the annexation of the unknown lands of the northwest coast of North America as a continuation of the colonization of Siberia.” Nevertheless, he had to proceed covertly, so as not to prompt other powers to block his designs.

Bering had explored and mapped the coasts of both Kamchatka and the Chukchi Peninsula, and he had confirmed the existence of a strait. Although criticized by some for not having rounded the Chukchi Peninsula westward to the Kolyma River (to prove a Northeast Passage did exist), and by others for not having been more venturesome in attempting to discover how far America actually was from Siberia’s coast, posterity’s grumblings have little to do with the Admiralty’s own estimate of Bering’s accomplishment, for he was promoted to the rank of captain-commander (the third highest rank in the Russian Navy) and given a 1,000-ruble reward.

A new map of the Siberian northeast prepared by his staff also more accurately depicted that corner of Asia as a large double-headed peninsula, shaped like a “bull’s horn.” As for the land he had conjectured slightly to the east of Kamchatka, and which he had sought in vain in the summer of 1729 – it was, in fact, there. But it was not the “Juan de Gama Land” of the speculative maps, nor the America of which he dreamed. It was a lonely, uninhabited little island. And it would be the land where he would die.


For three decades, the seventeenth-century Mbundu queen, Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba, defended her West African kingdom against the Portuguese with an in-your-face combination of warfare and diplomacy. In short, she was what one observer described, with admiration, as “A Cunning and Prudent Virago.”

When the Portuguese established a trading colony on the coast of what is now modern Angola in 1575, the kingdom of Ndongo was the second largest state in central Africa. Its population of roughly one hundred thousand people lived under the rule of local lords called sobas, who owed their allegiance to the central ruler, the ngola, who lived in the capital city of Kabasa.

At first, relations between the Portuguese and Ndongo were friendly. The ruler at the time, Ngola Kiluanji, welcomed trade with Europeans and his kingdom flourished in the early days of the Portuguese slave trade. By the time Njinga was born in 1582, Ndongo was at war with Portugal. The two states would remain in conflict for her entire life.

Njinga was a granddaughter of Ndongo’s founder and the kingdom’s fourth ruler. According to her biographers, she displayed intellectual and physical prowess as a child. She showed particular talent for wielding the battle-axe that was the royal symbol of Ndongo. With her father’s approval, she sat in on his judicial and military councils and studied the military, political, and ritual arts taught to the sons of Mbundu rulers. At the same time, as a privileged young woman at court, she paid careful attention to her appearance, which she would use as a weapon of another sort throughout her career. At some point during the reigns of her two immediate predecessors—her father, Mbande a Ngola, and her brother, Ngola Mbande—Njinga became a war leader in her own right.

In 1617, Ngola Mbande overthrew their father and named himself ngola. In order to consolidate his position, he killed all potential rivals, including Njinga’s only son. To prevent the birth of new rivals, he ordered Njinga and her two sisters sterilized: a horrifying process in which oils combined with various herbs were thrown “while boiling onto the bellies of his sisters, so that, from the shock, fear & pain, they should forever be unable to give birth.” It appears to have worked: none of the three women gave birth thereafter.

With his position as ruler secure, Ngola Mbande set out to restore his kingdom to the wealth and power it enjoyed under his predecessors. He fought a losing battle against the Portuguese for four years.

In 1621, a new Portuguese governor, João Correia de Sousa, arrived in Luanda, in the colonial capital. Hoping a change of governor offered a chance for peace, Mbande sent Njinga to Luanda to negotiate a treaty with the Portuguese.

Fully conscious of the power of symbols, Njinga arrived with an impressive entourage of soldiers, musicians, slaves, and waiting women, and a new title, Ginga Bande Gambole—Njinga Mbande, official envoy.

Governor de Sousa was equally aware of the value of symbols in diplomatic situations. When Njinga entered his audience chamber, he greeted her from the governor’s throne and gestured for her to sit on a cushion on the floor before him—the typical arrangement when African notables met with the Portuguese governor. Njinga refused to take the posture of a supplicant. She gestured for a female slave to come forward. The woman knelt on her hands and knees. Njinga sat on the woman’s back as if she were a human chair. She was ready to negotiate, equal to equal.

Njinga remained in Luanda for several months and negotiated a peace treaty on her brother’s behalf. For a brief time, her mission appeared to be a success, but neither side honored their agreements. Soon Ndongo and the Portuguese were at war once more.

In spring of 1624, Ngola Mbande died. Everyone agreed he was poisoned. The Portuguese said it was murder and pointed at Njinga. Angolan oral history claims he committed suicide in a moment of despair. Either way, Mbande made arrangements before his death for the care of the young son who was his heir. Recognizing the dangers of a child ruler, for both the young king and the kingdom, Ngola Mbande divided the responsibility in two parts. He named Njinga regent, with the power of governing Ndongo in the boy’s minority. He put the boy under the guardianship of an ally named Kaza. In theory it was a brilliant solution to an age-old problem, but it didn’t take into account Njinga’s ambition. Njinga convinced Kaza to turn the boy over to her, using a combination of lavish presents and an offer of marriage. Once she had control of the child, she poisoned him, then pushed through her immediate election as the new ngola of Ndongo.

Njinga spent the next thirty years in warfare and diplomatic wrangling with the Portuguese. Between 1626 and 1655, the queen commanded her own forces against the Portuguese army. In 1630, she conquered a new kingdom, Matamba, which she used as a base for attacks on settlements under Portuguese control.

A new player entered the political and economic scene in 1641: the Dutch East India Company.

On April 20 of that year, twenty-two Dutch ships attacked and conquered the Portuguese colonial capital of Luanda. Njinga celebrated as soon as she heard the news, then sent ambassadors to propose an alliance. The Dutch were willing allies. Together Njinga and the Dutch almost brought Portuguese rule in Angola to an end.

By August 1648, Njinga and the Dutch seemed on the verge of driving the Portuguese out of Angola. But reinforcements were on the way from Rio de Janeiro in the Portuguese colony of Brazil. A fleet of fifteen ships and nine hundred men arrived in Luanda’s port and bombarded the city with cannon fire. After a few days of heavy shelling, the Dutch East India Company surrendered all Dutch positions in Angola to the Portuguese.

With the Dutch defeated and in flight, Njinga retreated to her base at Matamba, from which she continued her guerilla campaign against the Portuguese and their African allies until 1654. According to one Portuguese observer, she launched at least twenty-nine invasions against sobas in Portuguese Angola and surrounding kingdoms between 1648 and 1650 alone.

Njinga was forty-two years old when she succeeded her brother as the ngola of Ndongo. In December 1657, when she was nearly seventy-five she led her army into battle for the last time. Before the battle she prepared her soldiers—many young enough to be her great-grandchildren—by leading them in the customary war dance, a rigorous military exercise with arrows and spears.

When Njinga died in 1663, she left behind a thriving kingdom, which survived as an independent state until 1909, when the Portuguese finally succeeded in making it part of the colony of Angola.

In the 1960s, Angolan revolutionaries turned to oral traditions about Njinga for inspiration and celebrated her as a national hero who had united her people in an epic struggle against the Portuguese.

South Korea Sends Its Forces Into The Strait Of Hormuz After Iran Seizes Tanker

By Thomas Newdick and Joseph Trevithick January 4, 2021

Iran has been demanding South Korea release frozen assets and the seizure also comes amid a flurry of Iranian threats aimed at the United States.

The South Korea’s government says it has dispatched military forces into the strategic Strait of Hormuz after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, seized a South Korean-flagged tanker ship earlier today. Officials in Seoul are also demanding the immediate release of the vessel, which Iranian authorities say they detained over alleged maritime pollution.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry issued the statement regarding the chemical tanker MT Hankuk Chemi on Jan. 4, 2021. The vessel, which Iran says is carrying 7,200 tons of “oil-based chemicals,” had been traveling from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates when the IRGC took control of it at around 10:00 AM local time. Official pictures of the operation show multiple small Iranian boats swarming the commercial ship, which is now anchored near the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. The entire crew, 20 individuals in total, including 5 Korean nationals, 11 sailors from Myanmar, two Indonesians, and two Vietnamese, has also reportedly been arrested.

The IRGC said that it had seized the ship, which has a gross tonnage of 9,797 tons, after receiving a request from the country’s Ports and Maritime Organization, which was acting on a warrant issued by the coastal Hormozgan province’s prosecutor’s office. Hormozgan is situated along the Strait of Hormuz.

The incident was further confirmed by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) body, which monitors maritime security in the region. “As a consequence of this interaction, the vessel made an alteration of course north and proceeded into Iranian territorial waters,” it said in a statement.

The Hankuk Chemi’s South Korean-based operator, DM Shipping, has denied the ship violated any environmental protocols.

It’s unclear what forces South Korea has now sent the area and what actions they may be authorized to take. In January 2020, South Korean officials announced that they would expand their Cheonghae military unit, which has previously been focused on anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden in cooperation with the U.S. Navy-led Combined Task Force 151, to also cover operations in and around the Strait of Hormuz. South Korean Navy destroyers make rotational deployments in support of the Cheonghae unit, and form the core of that force, but it is unclear which of the country’s warships is in the region now.

The South Korean military is not technically part of the U.S.-led International Maritime Security Construct, which was established in 2019 specifically to patrol in and around the Strait of Hormuz and elsewhere in the Middle East and monitor Iranian activities.

This is certainly not the first time the Iranians have seized a foreign-flagged tanker in the region. In July 2019, the IRGC notably took control of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero, officially over allegedly breaking maritime rules. On the same day, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards also briefly detailed the Liberian-flagged tanker Mesdar, which is owned by a British company. Iranian officials later claimed they had only stopped that ship to inform the crew of environmental and other maritime regulations.

The seizure of the Stena Impero was seen as direct retaliation for British authorities in Gibraltar detaining an Iranian tanker, then named Grace 1, earlier in that year. The U.K. government released Grace 1 in August 2019 and Iran let Stena Impero go the following month.

This latest incident comes as Iran and South Korea are currently at loggerheads over the status of Iranian funds worth $7 billion that are frozen in South Korean banks due to sanctions imposed by the United States. South Korea’s deputy foreign minister was reportedly planning to visit Tehran soon to discuss Iranian demand for the release of the funds.

It’s also worth noting that South Korea, one of the world’s top 10 oil importers, had been a major customer of Iran’s before agreeing to halt those purchases in May 2020 under pressure from the U.S. government. The IRGC detaining the Hankuk Chemi could offer a way to put pressure on both countries simultaneously, or even seek to drive something of a wedge between them, especially over the issue of sanctions.

The incident comes amid a surge in geopolitical friction between Iran and the United States. On Jan. 3, the Pentagon announced that the supercarrier USS Nimitz would return to Middle Eastern waters in response to threats from Iranian officials, including some directed specifically at President Donald Turmp, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the U.S. military’s killing of IRGC General Qassem Soleimani. An American drone strike killed Soleimani, then-head of the Quds Force, the IRGC’s external operations arm, in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2020.

Trump himself reportedly directed Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller to order the carrier back to the Middle East. Just days earlier, Miller had announced that the Nimitz, which had been sailing in the Indian Ocean in support of the withdrawal of American troops from Somalia, would be heading home after a particularly lengthy deployment. That move was also said to be aimed to be a de-escalatory move after weeks of signaling to the regime in Tehran in the form of multiple long-range B-52 bomber sorties and the extremely rare public transit of the Ohio class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia through the Strait of Hormuz.

The U.S. intelligence community has reportedly seen a recent increase in the alert posture among Iranian military units, including air defense and maritime elements. However, it is unclear whether or not this in preparation to respond to any American retaliation to an attack from Iran or its regional proxies or if this is a reaction to threats from the U.S. government, real or otherwise.

Iranian-backed militant groups throughout the Middle East have issued their own calls for justice and revenge while commemorating the anniversary of Soleimani’s death. In Iraq, in particular, militias that Tehran supports have stepped up rocket and other attacks aimed at U.S. interests in that country in recent weeks.

There is also the matter of Iran resuming enriching uranium at up to 20% purity, reducing the time it would take for the regime in Tehran to produce weapons-grade level material for use in a weapon, should it choose to do so. The enrichment work is being carried out at Fordo, in a site buried within a mountain, which provides significant protection from aerial attack.

This is in clear violation of the controversial international deal that Iran made with the United States, as well as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, in 2015. In May 2018, Trump announced that the U.S government would pull out of that agreement and the U.S. government subsequently reimposed sanctions against Tehran.

Iran informed the United Nations about the uranium enrichment last week, after a parliamentary decision in response to the killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. The details of this assassination, which Iran has blamed on Israel and claimed involved a gun in either a remote-controlled or entirely automated mount on a pickup truck, is something The War Zone has discussed in detail in the past.

Iran actions with regards to its nuclear program, as well as other activities, such as the seizure of the Hankuk Chemi, could be part of an effort to prepare the ground for the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has indicated that it would be willing to rejoin the nuclear deal. The Biden offering has been billed as a “compliance for compliance” deal, which would see economic sanctions on Tehran lifted if the country accepted the restrictions outlined in the original deal, including uranium enrichment.

No matter what the IRGC’s exact reasons for seizing the Hankuk Chemi may have been, and how it might be intertwined with the large geopolitical picture, this incident, as well as South Korea’s immediate response to move military forces into the area, underscores just how complex and potentially dangerous the situation in the region is at present.


The U.S. State Department, in a statement to South Korean news outlet Yonhap, has now also called for the immediate release of the Hankuk Chemi.

“The United States is tracking reports that the Iranian regime has detained a Republic of Korea-flagged tanker,” a State Department spokesperson said, using South Korea’s official name. “The regime continues to threaten navigational rights and freedoms in the Persian Gulf as part of a clear attempt to extort the international community into relieving the pressure of sanctions. We join the Republic of Korea’s call for Iran to immediately release the tanker.”

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) also told ABC News that it was monitoring the situation.