War is often a breeding ground for legends, heroes and heroines. Every area has its own folklore and Fort Edward is no different, which has Jane McCrea who was “murdered” on July 27, 1777. Jane’s death is often referred to as a massacre, meaning that more than one person was murdered, but such is not the case.
During that summer, the British Army was engaged in a master plan to split the colonies in two. General Burgoyne was to lead his troops south from Canada while Lord Howe was to come north for New York City and St. Ledger from the west. If this plan worked, the British Armies would unite along the Hudson splitting the colonies in New England from the lower colonies. But, instead of moving north, Howe decided to go south and take Philadelphia. In the meantime, Burgoyne, after success at Fort Ticonderoga, was delayed in northern New York by the growing resistance of the local patriot settlers. According to tradition, this caused some of the Indians the British hired to terrorize the colonists.
In the middle of this enters our heroine, Jane McCrea. Jane was born in Lamington New Jersey, to Mary and James McCrea, sometime between 1751 and 1754. She was of Irish and Scottish decent. Jane’s mother died when she was a small child. Living near the McCrea family in New Jersey was a family named Jones which consisted of the widow Jones and her five sons. As a young girl, Jane became interested in David Jones.
After the death of her father Jane came to live with her older brother, Colonel John McCrea. The Jones family had also moved to Fort Edward and Jane’s interest in David was rekindled. David and Jane were to be married prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, however, David and his older brothers had enlisted in the British Army while Jane's brother was firmly on the Patriot’s side. Being that John was a staunch patriot and Jones a Tory, there was no chance that Jane’s wedding would be able to take place at her brother’s farm.
In July of 1777 as Burgoyne’s troops advanced toward Fort Edward, Colonel McCrea ordered all women and children in the area flee to Albany before the troops arrived. Jane did not want to lose touch with David who was now a Lt. with the advancing British troops so she went to stay with a friend, Polly Hunter’s grandmother, Mrs. Sarah McNeil. Mrs. McNeil was a cousin of General Fraser who had joined forces with General Burgoyne’s soldiers. While at Mrs. McNeil’s home, Jane received a letter from David telling her that he was sending a band of Indian scouts, headed by Duluth, to bring her safely to him in camp where they would be married.
On the morning of July 27, 1777, dressed in her wedding finery, so some say, Jane headed up the Fort Edward Hill to meet the guiding party. Along the way, a marauding party of Indians under the leadership of an Indian named LeLoup frightened her and she ran quickly back to Mrs. McNeil’s home. Jane, Sarah and a slave at the McNeil home hid in the cellar until they were discovered by LeLoup. Legend says that Jane was dragged from the cellar by her beautiful long hair and placed on horseback. Unfortunately, Mrs. McNeil was unable to mount a horse due to her size and was separated from Jane and forced to walk to the British camp in Kingsbury.
Duluth and LeLoup confronted each other on the Fort Edward hill with Duluth claiming that it was his mission to bring Jane into camp. He planned on a healthy reward. LeLoup wanting the honor and the reward refused to give her up. A fight ensued between the two and during this incident Jane was killed. Eyewitness accounts claim she was on horseback when a shot was heard and she was seen falling from the horse. Presumably, she was struck by a stray musket ball and then scalped by the Indians. At this time, it was the custom of certain Indians to take scalps from the dead. This was probably what happened to Jane although many prints suggest that she was brutally scalped to death. The common belief that Jane was ruthlessly murdered by the Indians comes from a book called The Columbiad written by Joel Barlow in 1807. Barlow also used poetic license to alter the names of Jane and David to Lucinda and Heartly and even made David a patriot soldier. He chose to describe Jane’s death as many paintings suggested ignoring eyewitness accounts.
David found Jane’s body under a tall pine tree which was located near where the railroad overpass is on Broadway today. Shortly after this incident, David left the military and moved to Canada. Legend says he never married or even smiled again and died in the 1790’s of a broken heart.
As with most stories and legends, the many accounts of Jane McCrea’s death differ in many respects, however, the outstanding facts are the same. It is even thought by some that the group of Indians was actually a group of white patriots, dressed as Indians, who were out to cause trouble with the Tories.
Farmers living in the surrounding area were greatly angered and aroused by Jane’s death. Many of them joined the patriot army and greatly aided in the defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga. The significance of her death extended its influence even to the British House of Commons, where Edmund Burke used it as an argument against continuing the war in America
The body of Jane McCrea had rested in three burial places. The first one was on the Old Military Road, (a.k.a. Burgoyne’s Trail) now State Route 4, only two miles south of the Old Fort House Museum campus. The second place was at the State Street Burying Ground where she was interred in the plot of Sarah McNeil in 1822. Jane’s third and final resting place is in the Fort Edward and Sandy Hill Union Cemetery located on Upper Broadway between the two villages. Here, along with Sarah McNeil and French and Indian War legend Duncan Campbell, she has a safe resting place.
On July 27, 1777 a beautiful young woman died here in Fort Edward and her death played an important role in the shaping of the destiny of our nation. Wars are never won by guns alone, but by one side’s self righteousness and dedication to a sacred cause and by portraying the enemy as shameful and dishonorable. This is the role Jane McCrea’s death played in the hearts and minds of patriots in 1777.