This historical marker on the front of St. James’ Episcopal Church reads:
“Here Bishop Frederic Cammerhoff and David Zeisberger, Moravian missionaries, built “The Pilgrims’ Hut at St. John’s Beach” on St. John Baptist’s Day, 1750.
“Here also Col. Gansevoort’s hundred men bearing the American flag, rested September 22, 1779, on their eastward march from Sullivan’s Army.
“Erected by the Onondaga Historical Association and the Women’s Village Improvement Association, 100th year, St. James’ Parish, 1915”
John Frederick Cammerhoff (1721-1751) was born in Germany and studied in England. In 1746, he was consecrated as a bishop and sent to the American colonies as a missionary. He preached to the settlers of Pennsylvania and New York, and to the Native Americans. His sincerity made an impression; the Iroquois adopted him into the Turtle tribe of the Oneida nation, giving him the name of Gallichwio, or “A Good Message.”
David Zeisberger, by John Valentine Haidt, 1771
David Zeisberger (1721-1808 ) was born in Moravia (today part of the Czech Republic), and spent his childhood in Germany, and in the Moravian community at Savannah, Georgia. In 1739, he helped to develop a Moravian community in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and in 1745 lived for a time among the Mohawk, learning their language. He was ordained as a Moravian minister in 1749.
In 1750, the two men set out on a visit to Onondaga, the capital of the Six Nations, a trip of 1,600 miles, on horseback, on foot, and by canoe. On the night of June 24th, they came to the foot of Skaneateles Lake and made a bark hut as a shelter. In his journal, Cammerhoff wrote:
“The day was St. John’s Day so we named our quarters ‘The Pilgrims’ Hut at St. John’s Beach.’ We spent the evening in singing hymns together and then slept well.”
Aside from this quiet evening, the trip was arduous, at times perilous. In August, they returned safely, but Cammerhoff’s health was shattered and he died soon after, at the age of 29. Zeisberger continued his missionary work all his life, in spite of threats, misunderstandings and intrigues. He followed his converts as they were pushed westward, even enduring a massacre of his Christian Native Americans in Ohio by Pennsylvania militiamen.
Twenty-nine years later, Peter Gansevoort (1749-1812) stopped here. He was a Colonel in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, hailed as a hero when he withstood the British siege of Fort Stanwix (today Rome, New York) in 1777. Two years later, he was ordered by General George Washington to take part in a less heroic endeavor, the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition.
At the time, Native Americans were being sought as allies by both the Loyalists and the Revolutionaries. Washington sent an army out, led by Generals John Sullivan and James Clinton, to crush the Loyalist and Native American opposition. In his orders, the father of our country wrote:
“Parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed. But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them.”
And so Sullivan’s army destroyed at least 40 villages and burnt all orchards and crops. That winter, many of the remaining Iroquois starved or froze to death.
Col. Peter Gansevoort, however, retained some semblance of decency. After capturing a group of Mohawks, he ignored orders directing him to march the captives to General Sullivan and instead took them to Albany, where he knew they would receive better treatment. Gansevoort noted in his journal, “It is remarked that the Indians live much better than most of the Mohawk River farmers, their houses very well furnished with all necessary household utensils, great plenty of grain, several horses, cows, and wagons.” His was an enlightened voice in a terrible time.