What was Benjamin Beacraft thinking?
After terrorizing his neighbors throughout the American Revolution, Beacraft figured that once the war was over he’d return to his home in the Schoharie Valley and resume life as if nothing had happened. His fellow citizens, now full-fledged Americans, had other ideas.
“He was thinking all’s fair in love and war,” said Jeff O’Connor, a local historian whose book, “Thunder in the Valley,” was about the 1777 Battle of the Flockey in Schoharie. “A lot of Tories did come back after the war, and there were factions of people that welcomed them after they took an oath of allegiance. But with the history that Benjamin Beacraft had, there was no way that was going to happen.”
When the Revolutionary War came to the Schoharie Valley in 1777, Beacraft opted to become a Loyalist, indicating that he was loyal to King George III in England. He also was a Tory, which meant he took an active role in the fight against the Patriots. All that might have been forgiven, as well as some of his deadly activities with Mohawk warrior Joseph Brant’s band of raiders.
But on Aug. 9, 1780, in an area not too far from today’s Old Stone Fort in Schoharie, Beacraft crossed the line.
In what was to be called the Vrooman’s Land Massacre, five members of the Vrooman family were killed by Brant’s band, including a pair of cousins, 13-year-old Peter Vrooman and 4-year-old Janet Vrooman. Beacraft, who was one of five white men with a group of about 70 native Americans, killed the girl with a rock during the skirmish and then chased down Peter who was trying to escape and slit his throat.
“When Tories fought with Brant’s men, or later with John Johnson, they were often dressed as Indians to throw off suspicion,” said O’Connor, who is working on another book about Schoharie Valley in the 17th century. “But everybody knew Beacraft, and they knew he was a bad dude.”
To remove all doubt as to his identity, Beacraft had boasted to a group of prisoners, some of them Vroomans, how he had killed both the boy and girl. Following the war, when Beacraft and his fellow Tories tried to re-establish themselves in Schoharie, some people were not very welcoming.
“There’s the local lore of how some former Tories were mistaken for bear,” said O’Connor, “And then there’s Benjamin Beacraft. About 10 guys visited his house, stripped him and tied him to a tree, and then each guy whacked him five times for a total of 50.”
Just how the event drew to a conclusion we can’t be sure. According to one account, Beacraft’s captors untied him and let him go, telling him to never again return to the area. O’Connor isn’t convinced that’s how things ended, but he also does give credence to a report in The Hamilton Loyalist, a Canadian newsletter about the American Revolution published by the United Empire Loyalists, that has Beacraft moving to Canada and living there until he died around 1800.
“Peter Vrooman was a politician, a very important man who was about to go to the Constitutional Convention, and while he couldn’t be associated with something like this, there were plenty of other Vroomans, and I just can’t see them letting Beacraft go,” said O’Connor.
“There is more local lore that has them killing Beacraft and burying him up on Bear Ladder Road, but the [United Loyalists Empire] is the Loyalist version of the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution and I would consider them a credible source.”