“They Must Expect No Mercy”: Benedict Arnold’s Mohawk Valley Proclamation, August 1777

In August 1777, a British army under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger surrounded and attempted to subdue American-held Fort Stanwix in New York’s Mohawk River Valley. “It is my determined resolution,” the garrison’s commander, Peter Gansvoort told St. Leger, “…to defend this fort and garrison to the last extremity.” Despite this resolve, the Americans desperately needed support in order for the siege to be lifted.

“A sketch of the siege of Fort Schuyler [Stanwix].New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Further east, help was approaching. Leading a column of over 800 men, Major General Benedict Arnold hastily made his way to Stanwix. By August 20, Arnold was at German Flatts (modern-day Herkimer, New York), roughly thirty miles away. From his headquarters he penned a proclamation directed towards the British, their Native American allies, and the region’s loyalist population.

The version of this proclamation below was republished in The Derby Mercury in Great Britain on November 14, 1777. It is a reminder, that before he donned the scarlet jacket of a British general, Arnold was a fiery Patriot devoted to the cause of liberty. Notice that a word or two describing King George III were censored out for publication:

By the Hon, BENEDICT ARNOLD, Esq; Major-General and Commander in Chief of the Army of the United States of America, on the Mohawk River.

            WHEREAS a certain Barry St. Leger, a Brigadier-General in the Service of — George of Great-Britain, at the Head of a Banditti of Robbers, Murderers, and Traitors, composed of Savages of America, and more Savage Britons, (among whom is a noted Sir John Johnson, John Butler, and Daniel Claus) have lately appeared in the Frontiers of this State, and have threatened Ruin and Destruction to all the Inhabitants of the United States. They have also, by Artifice and Misrepresentation, induced many of the ignorant and unwary Subjects of these States, to forfeit their Allegiance to the same, and join with them in their atrocious Crimes, and Parties of Treachery and Parricide.

            Humanity to those poor deluded Wretches, who are hastening blind-fold to Destruction, induces me to offer them, and all others concerned (whether Savages, Germans, Americans, or Britons) PARDON, provided they do, within ten Days from the Date hereof, come in and lay down their Arms, sue for Protection, and swear Allegiance to the United States of America.

            But if still blind to their own Interest and Safety, they obstinately persist in their wicked Courses, determined to draw on themselves the first Vengeance of Heaven, and of this exasperated Country, they must expect no Mercy from either.

B. Arnold, M. G.

Given under my Hand, Head Quarters, German Flats, 20th August, 1777

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2 Responses to “They Must Expect No Mercy”: Benedict Arnold’s Mohawk Valley Proclamation, August 1777

  1. eileen says:

    Very interesting! I am currently researching Arnold’s role at Saratoga and as you say, “before he donned the scarlet jacket of a British general, Arnold was a fiery Patriot devoted to the cause of liberty.” I had been looking at Burgoyne’s proclamation, his own ‘no mercy warning’ to rebels as he marched south from Canada, and found it rather comparable to Arnold’s. Not easy to openly support either side at that point in time. Thanks for the post.


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