People at Saratoga
The events of the battles of Saratoga brought thousands of strangers to the once peaceful farmlands along the Hudson River. Essentially two good sized “cities” moved into the area.
British General John Burgoyne’s army arrived with some 7500 British regulars, German Auxiliary Troops, Loyal Americans, Canadian militia and small contingents of Native Americans. The impact of such a mobile army, including headquarters, officer and troop tents, weapons, cooking and baking areas, hospital, artillery, pack animals and more, engulfed an area about one square mile, from Freeman’s Farm north and west to the Great Redoubt.
American forces were numerically superior - approximately 8500 troops in September grew to almost 12,000 by the second battle in October 1777. They too dominated an area about one square mile, which was located south of the British camps in an area called Bemis Heights. Commanded by Major General Horatio Gates, the American forces included New Englanders, New Yorkers, Virginians, Marylanders, Pennsylvanians, Native Americans, Canadians, French volunteers and one Pole-Thaddeus Kosciusko. Women and children accompanied both armies, sharing the hardships and dangers that army life presented.
Local inhabitants reacted in various ways to this occurrence. Some like patriot John Neilson packed up their possessions and removed their families from harm’s way. Others, like farmer John Freeman and his twelve year-old-son Thomas, elected to stay and fight for their beliefs: Freeman and his son serving with a contingent of Loyalists in Burgoyne’s army.
For farmers, the impact of the armies’ presence on their land was devastating. Many acres of trees were felled to be used in fortifications or utilized as fuel. Crops, gardens and hayfields were used or trampled by the troops. John Neilson, whose farm was an American mid-level headquarters, suffered losses of crops, hay and many hundreds of feet of fences. John Freeman’s farm would be in the crossfire of both battles and irretrievably lost with Burgoyne’s retreat.
Following the surrender, Burgoyne’s British and German troops were forced to march back to Boston. Some were later interned, many sailed back to Great Britain under the promise they would not fight in the war again and some drifted into the countryside and became new Americans. Gates’ Continentals were dispatched to George Washington’s forces in Pennsylvania, just in time to spend a grueling winter at Valley Forge.
The War for Independence would have six more years of uncertainty and danger for local inhabitants. Some, like John Neilson would improve his farm, be elevated to an officer’s rank in the local militia and raise a family on his very prosperous farm. Others were far less fortunate: John Freeman, having lost his farm, lived with his family as refugees along the shores of Lake Champlain. In 1778, John, his wife and most of their children died from smallpox.
The preceding information was provided by the staff at the Saratoga National Historical Park.