John Butler (pioneer)
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Portrait of John Butler, date unknown
|Born||on or before 28 April 1728|
New London, Connecticut
|Died||12 May 1796|
Newark, Upper Canada
|Years of service||1755–1784|
|Battles/wars||French and Indian War|
John Butler (1728–1796) was a Loyalist who led an irregular militia unit known as Butler's Rangers on the northern frontier in New York during the American Revolutionary War. Born in Connecticut, he moved to New York with his family, where he learned several Iroquoian languages and worked as an interpreter in the fur trade. He was well-equipped to work with Mohawk and other Iroquois Confederacy warriors who became allies of the British during the rebellion.
During the War, Butler led Seneca and Cayuga forces in the Saratoga campaign in New York. He later raised and commanded a regiment of rangers, which included affiliated Mohawk and other Iroquois nations' warriors. They conducted raids in central New York west of Albany, including what became known among the rebels as the Cherry Valley Massacre.
After the war Butler resettled in Upper Canada, where he was given a grant of land by the Crown for his services. Butler continued his leadership in the developing province, helping to found the Anglican Church of Canada and Masonic Order, and serving in public office.
John Butler was born to Walter Butler and Deborah Dennison, née Ely, in New London, Connecticut in 1728. In 1742, his father moved the family to Fort Hunter on the frontier in the Mohawk Valley near the modern village of Fonda, New York. In 1752, John Butler married Catharine (Catalyntje) Bradt, of Dutch ancestry. The couple raised five children (two others died in infancy). Having learned several Iroquois and other Indigenous languages, Butler was employed as an interpreter, especially in the lucrative fur trade.
French and Indian War
In 1755, John Butler was appointed to the rank of Captain in the Indian Department of the British colonial government. He served in the French and Indian War under Sir William Johnson. In 1758, he saw action with James Abercromby at Fort Ticonderoga and John Bradstreet at the Battle of Fort Frontenac. In 1759, he was made second in command of the Indians with Johnson at the Battle of Fort Niagara. In 1760, he continued as a second in command of the Indians in Jeffery Amherst's force at Montreal.
Pre-American Revolution years
After the war Butler returned to the Mohawk Valley in New York. He acquired more land, building an estate of 26,000 acres (105 km²) at Butlersbury near the major Mohawk village of Caughnawaga. He was second only to Sir William Johnson, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs, as a wealthy frontier land owner, and worked under Johnson for the British.
Butler was also appointed a judge in the Tryon County court and was commissioned Lt.-Colonel of Guy Johnson's regiment of Tryon County militia. Butler was elected as one of the two members representing Tryon County in the New York assembly.
American Revolutionary War
John Butler returned to service, as a Loyalist, when the American Revolution turned to war in 1775. In May 1775, he left for Canada in the company of Daniel Claus, Walter Butler, Hon Yost Schuyler and Joseph Brant, a Mohawk leader. On July 7, they reached Fort Oswego and in August, Montreal. Butler participated in the defense of Montreal against an attack led by Ethan Allen. In November, Carleton sent him to Fort Niagara with instructions to keep the Indians neutral.
His oldest son, Walter Butler served with him, but his wife and other children were detained by the American rebels.
In March 1776, John Butler sent a party of about 100 allied Indians to Montreal to force the Americans out of Quebec. In May, Butler received instructions to use a warrior party of the Six Nations in an attack on New York. On June 5 he received instructions to send as many Indians as he could to Fort Oswego for an attack on Fort Stanwix as a part of the Saratoga campaign. He was put second in command of the Indians, primarily warriors of bands of four nations of the Iroquois, under Daniel Claus.
John Butler led the Indians and a small number of Loyalists, in a successful ambush, of rebel militia and Oneida warriors in the Battle of Oriskany. As a result, after this expedition he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel and given authority to raise his own regiment, which became known as Butler's Rangers, initially with a strength of eight companies. He traveled back to Fort Niagara, and completed recruiting the first company in December.
In July 1778, John Butler led his rangers and Iroquois allies at the Battle of Wyoming, in which he defeated Zebulon Butler and took Forty Fort. The Patriots suffered heavy losses, and after the battle Butler's Rangers burned many of the colonists' homes in the area. Later, the battle was referred to as the Wyoming Valley massacre because some of the victorious Loyalists and Iroquois were said to have executed and scalped prisoners and fleeing enemy soldiers.
Later that year, after the burning of Tioga, his son Captain Walter Butler led two companies of rangers and 300 Iroquois warriors in a raid which was later referred to as the Cherry Valley massacre. The name of Butler was thereafter anathema to the rebels.
John Butler's unit of rangers was spread, through frontier outposts, from Niagara to Illinois County, Virginia. Butler commanded his rangers from his headquarters of Fort Niagara. In 1779, he was defeated, by the Sullivan Expedition, at the Battle of Newtown, and withdrew to Fort Niagara.
Post-war years and death
At the end of the Revolution, John Butler was given a land grant in the Niagara region by the Crown for his services during the war and as compensation for his property in New York having been confiscated. He developed it for agriculture. He became one of the political leaders of Upper Canada, later called Ontario. He was appointed as a Deputy Superintendent for the Indian Department, a Justice of the Peace, and the local militia commander. He was also prominent in establishing the Anglican Church and Masonic Order in Ontario.
Butler died, at his home, at age 68 in Niagara, Upper Canada, British Canada, now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, on May 12, 1796. His wife had died three years before. Butler was survived by their three sons and daughter. John Butler is interred in the family burial ground in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
- Col. John Butler School in Niagara-On-The-Lake was named after him, as are numerous other public and private establishments, including a Best Western Hotel, a sports bar, a street leading to the family burial ground on land that was his former property, and the Butler's Barracks established after the War of 1812. The latter has been designated as a National Historic Site.
- In 2006, a life-sized bronze bust of Butler was installed at the Valiants Memorial in Ottawa. Alongside Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, he is considered a key player in the founding of British North America and late eighteenth-century Canada.
- In 2010, a bust was installed on top of a memorial cairn at the site of his homestead on Balmoral Drive in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
- Bowler, R. Arthur; Wilson, Bruce G. (1979). "Butler, John". In Halpenny, Francess G (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. IV (1771–1800) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
- And to their supporters in England. On Dec. 7, 1778, Marquis Rockingham introduced a motion in the House of Lords condemning the atrocities. Earl Camden was the last speaker in the debate, and after describing some of the administration's actions and statements, asked, "What was that hell-hound—he asked pardon for the expression, but he could give him no other title—colonel Butler, doing now?" 20 Cobbett/Hansard, Parliamentary History, 43. He ended with a general denunciation of the administration's policy in America. Its policy was "one of the most plain and palpable proofs of weakness, incapacity, and cowardice, that ever was seen. The fair inference from it was, ‘We have tried our strength, we find ourselves incapable of conquest, and as we can't subdue, we are determined to destroy.’” Id. The motion failed, 37 to 81. Id.
- Cruikshank, Ernest, The Story of Butler's Rangers and the Settlement of Niagara, 1893
- American novelist Joseph Altsheler referred to John Butler as "Indian Butler" in his 1911 novel about the Wyoming Massacre, The Scouts of the Valley, a Story of Wyoming and the Chemung. He referred to Butler as a turncoat and villain, who sided with the Iroquois against the white settlers. It is available online at the Gutenberg Project.The Scouts of the Valley, a story of Wyoming and the Chemung.
- The Butler papers Brock University Library Digital Repository