Butler, John

views updated May 11 2018

Butler, John

BUTLER, JOHN. (1728–1796). Loyalist leader. New York. Born in New London, Connecticut, he moved with his parents in 1742 to the Mohawk Valley, where his father, Captain Walter Butler, commanded at Fort Hunter and at Oswego. John Butler served as a captain in Sir William Johnson's expedition against Crown Point in 1755, under Abercromby at Ticonderoga, and under Bradstreet in the expedition against Fort Frontenac. He was Johnson's second in command in the capture of Fort Niagara, where he led the Indian forces. After the war, Butler settled in the Mohawk Valley, where he owned more than twenty-five thousand acres, making him the largest landowner in the region after Sir Guy Johnson. In 1772 he was made lieutenant colonel of militia.

He sided with the British at the beginning of the Revolution and was forced to flee his home in the Mohawk Valley with his son, Walter, the rest of his family being taken hostage by the Patriots and held until an exchange in 1780. Dispatched by the British to Niagara in November 1775, Butler managed Indian affairs in Canada as the deputy of Guy Johnson. Initially, Butler followed Governor Guy Carleton's orders to keep the Indians neutral, but by 1777 the British government had switched to a more aggressive policy of recruiting Indian warriors. By that time, Butler had established a network of agents throughout western New York and the Ohio Valley. In August he and Joseph Brant led the Indian and Loyalist forces at the Battle of Oriskany. After the failure of St. Leger's expedition, Butler, now a major, organized a Corps of Rangers from among the Loyalist refugees that became known as Butler's Rangers. He led these and additional forces in the remarkable raid to the Wyoming Valley. The Patriots responded to this and other raids with Sullivan's expedition, and in the only pitched battle of this campaign, Butler was defeated at Newtown on 29 August 1779. Early the next year Haldimand promoted him to lieutenant colonel and Butler's forces continued their operations on the frontier, which achieved Butler's goal of drawing Continental forces away from the major theaters of operation.

The state of New York confiscated Butler's property by the Act of Attainder of 22 October 1779. At the same time, Butler established a settlement of Loyalists on the Niagara Peninsula to grow food for the garrison. When Butler's Rangers were disbanded in 1784, the British government gave him a pension and a five-hundred-acre land grant but refused to reimburse him for the loss of his thousands of acres in New York. Butler settled near Niagara and continued to serve as deputy superintendent of the Indian Department, also holding a number of local offices and commanding the area's militia. However, the enmity of Sir John Johnson prevented Butler from attaining office beyond his community. He died at Newark, Ontario, on 13 May 1796.

SEE ALSO Johnson, Guy; Newtown, New York; Sullivan's Expedition against the Iroquois; Wyoming Valley Massacre, Pennsylvania.


Ranlet, Philip. The New York Loyalists. 2d ed., Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2002.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles

John Butler

views updated May 21 2018

John Butler

John Butler (1728-1796), British Indian agent and loyalist leader during the American Revolution, was famous for his military exploits along the New York and Pennsylvania frontiers.

Born in Connecticut, the son of Capt. Walter Butler and Deborah Butler, John moved with his family to the Mohawk Valley of New York in 1742. As a captain in the British military, he served in the French and Indian War (1754-1763) in engagements at Crown Point, Ticonderoga, and Ft. Frontenac. He became a trusted representative of Sir William Johnson, at first commanding Native American auxiliaries and later conducting Indian affairs.

With the coming of the American Revolution, Butler fled with his son and other loyalists (American colonials who felt allegiance to the English crown rather than the urge for independence of the Colonies) to Canada. He continued to take an active role in Indian affairs and in military activities along the frontier of New York. He participated in St. Leger's fruitless British expedition of 1777. Then he began the recruitment of a band of refugee loyalists, called Butler's Rangers. As a major, he commanded these and other loyalists and their Native American allies in an invasion of Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley in the spring of 1778. His march culminated in an encounter with American colonial troops near Forty Fort, with the subsequent surrender of that post on July 4, 1778. The slaughter of some of the captives (the Wyoming Valley "massacre") has been the occasion of later, highly colored criticism of Butler. Actually, he seems to have tried, with some success, to limit the scope of the atrocities. In the following year Butler's Rangers and the Native American allies were defeated at Newton during the only pitched battle of the American general John Sullivan on his expedition into Iroquois country. In 1780 Butler reached his highest rank, that of lieutenant colonel. His military career was an exceptional one for a loyalist leader: he and his fellow exiles, his son and Sir John Johnson, were successful in raising, commanding, and making real use for the British of the loyalists who had fled from the rebel forces among the Americans. The Revolutionaries responded with the Act of Attainder in 1779 and by confiscating all Butler's property in New York. His wife and younger children were held temporarily as hostages but were eventually exchanged for other prisoners. Butler's eldest son also participated in loyalist military activities until he was killed in action in 1781.

After the war the British rewarded Butler's services with a pension and a grant of land near Niagara. Butler was prominent in the development of a Tory settlement there and served as Indian commissioner. Variously described as sturdy or fat, he lived the remainder of his years in exile, respected by the British and by other refugees for his loyalty and detested by his former fellow colonists in the United States. He died in 1796.

Further Reading

The best account of the activities of John and Walter Butler is Howard Swiggett, War out of Niagara: Walter Butler and the Tory Rangers (1933). □

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