Walter Butler (1752 – October 30, 1781) was a British Loyalist officer during the American Revolution. He was born near Johnstown, New York, the son of John Butler, a wealthy Indian agent who worked for Sir William Johnson. Walter Butler studied law, and became a lawyer in Albany, New York.
At the start of the American Revolution, the women of the Butler family were taken captive in Albany while Walter was commissioned as an Ensign in the King's 8th regiment. with which he served at the Battle of Oriskany. When his father, John, formed Butler's Rangers, Walter Butler transferred to that company and was commissioned as a Captain.
In late 1777, he was captured by Continental Army troops while trying to recruit rangers at Shoemaker Tavern in German Flatts, New York. He was sentenced to death for spying by Lt. Col. Marinus Willett, was imprisoned in Albany, but after a few months he escaped and returned to Canada.
In 1778, he and Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief, led a company of Tories and Indians in the raid that culminated in the Cherry Valley Massacre. He has been blamed for the deaths of the many women and children that were killed on that occasion. He fought in the Battle of Johnstown and was killed on October 30, 1781 while retreating back to Canada in a skirmish with rebel troops (2nd Albany County Militia Regiment) and the Tryon County militia under Marinus Willett in the Mohawk Valley.
The Cherry Valley Massacre of November 11, 1778
Captain Walter Butler was in command of the Loyalist Raiding party that attacked Cherry Valley on November 11, 1778. In a November 17, 1778 letter to his superiors in Canada, Butler blamed Joseph Brant and his Indians for the massacre of the inhabitants of Cherry Valley. Contrarily, some Americans on the Patriot side asserted that it was Butler who ordered the killing of the women and children at Cherry Valley, not Brant. The following letter from J. H. Livingston to his brother serving in the Continental Congress is presented here, in part, verbatim from the original preserved in the New York State Library in Albany, New York. "Albany 23 Nov. 1778. Dear Brother . . . . . . the devastation at Cherry Valley are marked with Such scenes of Cruelty as surmount perlays any attempt of the kind during the War. the City Militia returned from Schohary (which they guarded while Col. Butler went with his men to meet the Enemy,) of last Saturday Evening Col Alden is killed, the Leut Col. a prisoner. between 30 & 40 Women & Children butchered in the most unheard of manner. there is an Anecdote of the famous Brant mentioned upon this occasion which deserves to be made public & if true reflects immortal infamy upon the Tory rabble who have fled among the Savages & upon every occasion prove themselves worse than the heathen. it is Said when this party Came out, their Orders were read by young Butler upon which Brant turned himself round & wept and then recovering himself told Butler; that he was going to make war against America but not to murder and Butcher; that he was an Enemy from principle but he would never have a hand in Massacring the Defenceless Inhabitants upon which the bloody department was committed [upon] a Seneca Indian whilst the noble Brant with another party attacked the fort. had the British leaders or the British King been actuated by Sentiments of this sort the American War wod not have been Stained with such unparalleled cruelty, nor the name of Briton so justly execrated throughout these States. the Savage Brant stands foremost in the List of Heroes where How, Burgoyne, Clinton, and even George are named. but the Clock Strikes & warns me to close by telling you that both of us Sincerely love you both. May he whose Love is Stronger than Death protect & Bless you. J H Livingston" The fighting in upstate New York at times devolved into savage civil war between families and kin of whites who had lived in that region, with both sides in league with their own allies of native Amerindians. (Of the Iroquois Six Nations, the Oneida and many Tuscarora sided with the rebel forces; the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga remained loyal to Great Britain.) John Brick, a twentieth-century native of the region and a career historical novelist, researched and wrote novels from both sides of the loyalists-rebels division. In his 1954 novel "The King's Rangers"—after extensive research in Canadian archives—Brick reported that the savagery at Cherry Valley was done under direction of two sub-chiefs of Joseph Brant, the Mohawk chief; and that Brant, by dint of negligence or worse, abandoned his promise to Walter Butler to control the Indians' fighting so as to prevent attacks on women and children, the defenseless and captured.
Butler died in a skirmish on October 30, 1781. The telling of the details was of apparent great interest to his contemporaries; perhaps no other Loyalist in upstate New York was as hated as Walter Butler. Several men who were present during the event or shortly thereafter testified to the specifics in their (Revolutionary War) pension applications [RWPA]. Concerning the events of that day, Henry Shaver, one of forty white men chosen at Fort Plank by Lieutenant Colonel Marinus Willett to accompany a band of Oneida Indians under the command of Colonel Lewis Cook in pursuit of Major John Ross forces after the Battle of Johnstown, stated . . . "That he" [Butler] "cried out to his pursuers to “Shoot and be damned” which he had no sooner done than he was struck by a Ball from one Louis [the words "An Oneida" are crossed out] The Indian [the word "swam:" is crossed out here] waded over [the words "and tomahawked" are crossed out] and scalped him." . . . The words of Shaver are echoed by Richard Casler who states . . . "When Willett's men came upon the enemy they were drying their cloaths by fires & were surprised at that place Walter Butler was killed by an indian (he believes) an Oneida indian. He (Casler) was there & saw the indian who killed Butler & who had Butlers Coat and scalp The indian shot Butler from across the Creek Butlers Sergeant was also killed at this place." . . . John Stalker also states that . . . "Col. Butler was killed by an Indian by the name of Lewey who had the command of the American Indians."... But, Nicholas Smith & John Kennada both state that the Indian who shot Butler was "Saucy Nic:", not "Louis", and Rozel Holmes states that it was “Harmanus”, a Schoharie Indian, who actually killed Butler and scalped him. Thus it is doubtful we will never know which one of these three men actually dispatched Mister Butler, but there is no doubt that he was killed and scalped. Concerning the fate of Walter’s body, John Canada [sic: John Kenneda] testifying in favor of Tall William receiving a Revolutionary War Pension stated: . . . "That he was together with the said Tall William engaged in a battle at West Canada Creek in which Col. Butler was shot through the head and killed and in which the enemy were defeated and after the battle was over I took from the pocket of Col. Butler a half guinea and Black William took the shoe Buckles from his feet and saucy Nick another member of our Tribe [the words "took his" are crossed out here] & the one who shot Col. Butler took his [a "u" is crossed out here] Clothing and occasionally after that wore the same". . . . No word is recorded as to the disposition of Butler’s body and it is doubtful that the Rebel forces did him the honor of burying him, Ross’ men being actively pursued by them.
- Sir Frederick Haldimand Papers, Add Mss #21760:77, British Library, London, England.
- J. H. Livingston Letter of November 23, 1778 to [–] Livingston, posted Albany, New York. New York State Library, Albany, New York, Mss #40.
- John Brick, The King's Rangers, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1954.
- Henry Shaver, RWPA# S11371.
- Richard Casler, RWPA #W6637.
- John Stalker, RWPA #S19478.
- Nicholas Smith, RWPA #S16252.
- Tall William, RWPA, #R21851.
- Rozel Holmes, RWPA #S13445.
- Howard Swiggett, War Out of Niagara; Walter Butler and the Tory Rangers, Port Washington, New York 1963.
- Stephen Vincent Benét, 'The Devil and Daniel Webster,' American short story
- For other various accounts of Walter Butler's death see .
- Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- Walter Butler
- Shoemaker Tavern
- Documents on him, in the Haldimand Collection
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