William Lighthall

Lt. William Lighthall, Warner’s Additional Continental Line

William Lighthall was born in 1756 in New York.

On June 12, 1776, he enlisted under Lieutenant Walter Swits and was attached to a company of New York State Rangers commanded by Captain John A. Bradt. On March 5, 1777, he reenlisted for the duration of the war in Captain Giles Woolcott’s Company of Colonel Seth Warner’s Additional Continental Regiment. Soon after on March 12, 1777, he was promoted to Sergeant. Sergeant Lighthall was commissioned as an Ensign on November 14, 1778. In March of 1780, Ensign Ligthhall was further promoted to Lieutenant.

During the autumn of 1780, the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy that did not join with the Patriots were thirsting for revenge from the expertly planned and executed offensive launched by Major General Sullivan that drove them from much of the then frontier. The tribes planned an assault on American settlements to be led by British Colonel John Johnson, Chief Joseph Brant, and the famous Corn-Planter.

The Indians met at Tioga Point. Ascending the Susquehanna River, they formed a junction at Unadilla with Johnson and his British forces, which consisted of 3 companies of his “Greens” (The King’s Royal Regiment of New York), one company of German Jaegers, 200 men of Butler’s Rangers, one company of British regulars under Capt. Duncan, and a number of Mohawks. They came from Montreal by way of Oswego, bringing with them 2 small mortars, a brass 3-pound cannon, and a “grasshopper” cannon.

The plan of invasion was to proceed along the Charlotte River to its source, thence across to the head of the Schoharie, sweep all the settlements along its course to its junction with the Mohawk, and then devastate the valley down to Schenectady, New York. The valley of the Schoharie was devastated, acts of cruelty by the Indians were committed, and the dwellings, barns, and recent harvest were destroyed.

On October 19, 1780, the British crossed to the north side at Keder’s Riff. A greater part of the British forces continued up the river, destroying crops and buildings, but a detachment of 150 men was despatched from Keder’s Riff (Spraker’s Basin) against the small stockade called Fort Paris, in Stone Arabia, about 2.5 miles from the Mohawk River. This fort was located a few rods northeast of the crossroads of this little hamlet, and at the time mentioned was occupied by Col. John Brown with a garrison of 130 men.

General Robert Van Rensselaer, with the Claverack, Albany, and Schenectady regiments, pushed on by forced marches to encounter him, accompanied by Governor Clinton.

As Van Rensselaer’s advance was impeded, no diversion was created in Brown’s favor. Fort Paris was 3 miles from the river, and undoubtedly, Brown could have defended it successfully against any force that Johnson would have sent against it; and yet, obeying the orders of a general who in other ways that day proved himself to have been incompetent, this brave man met the enemy two thirds of the way to the river, where the contest began.

Overpowered by numbers, he continued the fight, slowly retreating, expecting every moment to hear the firing in the enemy’s rear – but in vain. Contesting the ground inch by inch for some distance, until observing that the Indians were gaining his flank, he ordered a retreat, at which time he received a musket-ball in the breast, killing him instantly. About 40 of his men were killed and the remainder sought safety in flight.

Lieutenant Lighthall was captured in this engagement. He was sent to the province of Canada where he remained a prisoner of war until the November 1782, when he was paroled and returned home, to remain until he was exchanged or otherwise ordered.

Sources: Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army, (Baltimore, 1914), 350; John E. Goodrich, The State of Vermont: Rolls of the Soldiers in the Revolutionary War, 1775 to 1783, (Rutland, 1904), 831-832; Pension application made by Lieutenant William Lighthall; The Battle of Fort Keyser; Selected Wartime Service Records of Lieutenant William Lighthall.