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Visscher showed courage from first days of war

A column on local history

May 31, 2010
By RYAN WEITZ, Fultonville village historian

Brigadier General Frederick Visscher's gravestone at the Old Caughnawaga Cemetery in Fonda had seen better days until recently. A new bronze plaque and restored gravestone now stand to his memory.

According to historical records, Frederick Visscher was born in Albany on either February 21 or 22, 1741 to Harmon and Catherina Brower Visscher.

At the age of 9, Frederick Visscher moved with his family to Caughnawaga, and settled on a parcel of land purchased from the Hansons, where they engaged in farming.

Frederick took an avid role in civic affairs early on. In 1767, he enlisted in the Albany County Militia. He served for the next 20 years.

An uprising began all across the English colonies, and in 1775 a meeting was called at Tribes Hill to determine what side residents were on. Many local men of the upper class, including Col. Butler, gave speeches urging colonists to side with the crown. The attendees then formed into a line. Supporters of the crown were to step forward and those who favored rebellion remained behind. After everyone had made their decisions, one man stood for liberty Frederick Visscher. Others would later join him in the fight.

Visscher was soon thereafter promoted from captain to colonel of the 3rd Regiment of Tryon County Militia in place of Col. Guy Johnson, a Loyalist who later fled to Canada. Visscher raised 600 men and appointed his brother John as a captain and his brother Harmon as the adjutant.

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Col. Visscher fought at Oriskany, one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolution. He was grazed on the back of his neck by a musket ball - it cut off his braid.

Sir John Johnson had expected to be back living at Johnson Hall by the spring of 1780, but St. Leger had failed to capture the valley after his defeat at Oriskany. He was irate and wanted to return to his home and retrieve items that had been buried before his hasty retreat to Canada in 1776.

Coming down from Canada, Johnson with 500 British, Loyalists, and Indians traversed the countryside from Crown Point, just north of Ticonderoga, to Johnstown. The group split in two before arriving at Johnson Hall just prior to midnight on March 22.

Sir John Johnson went directly to his former home. The other division led by Walter Butler headed south toward the Mohawk on a mission to plunder and burn any Patriot homes and kill or capture the residents.

One of the estates attacked was the Visscher home. After a failed first attempt, the enemy gained entry and drove the family to the attic. The colonel's mother was knocked on the head with the butt of a musket and fell unconscious. The Indians tied her to a chair while they went after her daughters. The two girls reached the yard, where one was stripped of her bonnet and shawl. She escaped and hid in an outdoor brick oven on the property. The other found refuge in bushes nearby.

Meanwhile, the house was set ablaze. The fight in the attic resulted in John being killed and Harmon jumping out the window to his death. Col. Visscher was knocked unconscious by two blows from a tomahawk, and he was scalped. In some sort of miracle, he regained consciousness and raised himself up on his elbows to assess the situation. He heard an Indian coming and tried to play dead, but his body twitched in agony. The Indian raised his head and ran a knife across his throat twice. Seeing red, the Indian left Visscher in the burning home. Visscher had been wearing a necktie that was red on the interior, which the Indian mistook for blood.

Visscher found the strength not only to escape the burning home, but to also drag his dead brother's body and his mother, still tied to a chair, out to safety.

After the raid, Visscher recovered and had a silver plate made to cover where his scalp had been removed. On June 30, 1782, a dinner was held in Schenectady in which Washington was the honored guest. Washington himself requested that Col. Visscher be present, and dinner was not served until he arrived and was seated directly to Washington's right.

Visscher was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in 1786 and retired the following year.

Visscher lived the remainder of his life at his family farm and rebuilt the home which had been burnt to the ground. Later generations added on, and the beautiful structure is now known as the Danascara Mansion. It is on Mohawk Drive just west of Tribes Hill.

Visscher passed away at his home June 9, 1809. His funeral was held there and drew a large gathering of mourners. He was laid to rest next to his brothers and other relatives in the family plot that overlooked his home and the valley.

In 1985, a descendant of Visscher, Anna Meline of Fresno, Calif., had the colonel and his wife's gravestones removed from the family cemetery and placed in the Old Caughnawaga Cemetery in an attempt to preserve the memory of her ancestor, an extraordinary Revolutionary Hero.

His newly restored gravestone and new bronze plaque commemorating his service to America, is a small step in the right direction of honoring all of our heroes who have given so much so that we can live in this wonderful country.

Ryan Weitz is the Fultonville village historian and a senior at Fonda-Fultonville High School.



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