Indian Ancestor Fought at Yorktown
Cindy Hogg’s Crow/Narraganset Lineage Dates to the Revolution
BY ELIZABETH SCHUYLER SCHOLL
In September 30, 1781, Yorktown, Virginia, James Niles had never seen so many soldiers. The sound of gun and cannon fire all around him was deafening. The night air was cool, yet sweat dripped from his forehead, stinging his eyes. They had flanked the British troops, creating a semi-circle around them, forcing them to retreat until there was nowhere left to go but the sea, and no refuge there since the French navy’s victory over the British.
James Niles's heart beat mightily in his chest. He raised his .36 caliber squirrel rifle as he and his Rhode Island brothers charged a British redoubt, a strong but temporary fortified refuge. The British were quick to withdraw and Niles led his troops in to secure it. General Washington's strategy was realized. James could feel the exhilaration of victory. He was proud to be a soldier in the Rhode Island Regiment fighting for American freedom from British colonial rule and its inherent oppression; and proud to be a Brothertown Indian of Narraganset descent. Freedom from tyranny was the prize won at the Battle of Yorktown.
Stories like this reflect the experiences of men like James Niles, who served as one of more than 6,600 men of American Indian, African American, and mixed race descent in the American Revolution. The Brothertown Indians were English-speaking Christians, members of the loose alliance that included the Montauks of Long Island, New York, the Narragansets of Charlestown, Rhode Island, and five Connecticut tribes including the Stonington and Mashantucket Pequots, the Niantics, the Mohegans and the Tunxis of Farmington. They had first banded together in response to the pressures created by European migration to the American colonies. The Brothertowns sought to move westward and were eventually granted a tract of land in upstate New York by the Oneida Indians. In fact, their service in the war was important to General Washington in his strategy to ensure success by recruiting large numbers of soldiers from each former colony now fighting to secure its statehood.
Rhode Island, which struggled to compete with the large populations available to other colonies, became the only one to pass an unpreceden-ted act to allow the Rhode Island Regiment to expand its ranks to enlist African Americans, American Indians and those of mixed descent. That service in the Rhode Island Regiment entitled those enlisted “to the same bounties and wages allowed any other soldier and upon passing muster they were to be absolutely free.”
James Niles was born to James and Jerusha Niles in 1737. He enlisted in the Rhode Island Regiment for a three year obligation in January of 1781 and paid for that freedom with his life. He died in Philadelphia on November 25, 1781, just 36 days after the capture of Yorktown and the surrender of the British and General Cornwallis to George Washington. It is unknown whether he died from battle wounds or small pox. He left behind a large family, a wife, 3 sons and five daughters.
The story of these men has rarely been told. For more than 200 years, their participation, their patriotism, in the struggle for independence has been neglected. James Niles was forgotten. Until now.
“This took 30 years of genealogy research and documentation” said Tom Hogg of Livingston, Montana, husband to Cindy Collins Hogg, descendent of James Niles. “Tom really spent years tracking this history down," Cindy says, "going to Indian records, poring over letters, censuses at the state level and in Washington DC, and county records from Rhode Island to Wisconsin to Montana.”
“I knew that Cindy was a descendant of a patriot who served in the Revolutionary War," Tom continued, "but I had to figure it out and prove it. I like a challenge and this was a challenging mystery." “For me” Cindy added, “it was important to recognize that so many Native Americans and African American men served to defend our country and to ensure our democracy. I wanted James Nile, the patriot, to be recognized. Not until I came across one book in particular," Tom said, "did we get the breakthrough we needed to prove Cindy's patriot ancestor.”
That book, recently compiled by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR), is titled Forgotten Patriots, African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War, which documents their historic service.
“I was able finally to prove Cindy's lineage back to this fine patriot,” Tom said.
“Tom is a member of the Mayflower Society," Cindy chimed in, "and every time I would go to one of their meetings I would joke that it was my people that were there to greet the colonists as they arrived…and it turned out to be true.”
“When I first started looking for Cindy's roots," Tom noted, "documentation was reasonably easy to come by. It involved the usual trips to the city and county clerk's office. This held true for the first three generations of the process, which included Cindy, her father Robert Collins and grandfather Milo Collins, Jr. By contrast, collecting documen-tation for Cindy's great-grandfather, Milo Collins, Sr. took more than 30 years.”
“Robert, Milo Jr., and Milo Sr. were all enrolled as members of the Crow Tribe. I collected all the available records at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Billings which produced more questions than answers. In a probate hearing transcript it stated that Milo Collins, Sr. was adopted into the Crow Tribe in 1869 through his first marriage to a Crow woman, Bat-Sua (The Lump), daughter of Mah-Paht-Sena (Hunting Daylight) of the Pretty Lodges Band of the Crow Indians, and that he originally 'belonged to the New York Indians.' They farmed at the mouth of Pine Creek, some 20 miles up the Yellowstone River from the Mission Agency. Bat-Sua died on 1887. I looked for the name Collins in all kinds of records out East but could find none.”
He pushed on, searching the records of Sweet Grass and Stillwater counties as the Collins family was from Reed Point. His first break was from the records of the Park County Clerk of the District Court where he found a record of Milo Collins, Sr.'s second marriage, to Isabelle Desjarlais, a Canadian-born French/Cree woman whom he married in Big Timber in 1891. This document stated that Milo Sr. had been born in Oneida County, New York, and that he was an Oneida Indian.
“While not completely accurate, it gave me new hope that I was on the right track,” Tom recalled. “The internet helped to provide another breakthrough. I searched for Milo Collins, Sr. and in multiple searches I kept getting Milo C. Seketer, a Brothertown Indian of Narraganset descent. Finally I realized that their birth dates, birth places, occupations and mothers' first names were the same.” What's more, Milo Seketer was well known and documented in multiple books, including Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England, Custer's Last Campaign, Memoirs of a White Crow Indian, and more.
Tom traced Milo Collins Seketer to Wisconsin and then back to his birthplace in Oneida County. Born to Charles Seketer whose mother was Lucy Niles (daughter of James Niles, III, of Charlestown, Rhode Island), his birth and life record provided the evidence Tom needed. “For the last leg of the verification process," Tom recounted, "I found it necessary to hire a professional geneal-ogist, Shellee Moorhead, Ph.D., as American Indian research is not your typical genealogical experi-ence.” She searched the records of Charlestown, the Rhode Island Judicial Records, the state archives, the sate historical society, the Mashantucket Pequot Research Library, and the New England Historical and Genealogy Society. Finally, they had the records they needed to link Cindy Collins Hogg to James Niles, the Revolutionary War patriot.
“I felt so proud!” recalled Cindy. “I come from a family that has been committed to our democracy right from the beginning. My grandfather Milo Collins, Jr. served our country and was wounded in the Argonne Forest in France during World War I and my father Robert Collins served as a combat infantryman in the battle of the Bulge in World War II. Now I know I am related to a Revolutionary patriot, an American Indian. The Native people of this continent made great sacrifices to join together to make our country free. The least we can do is recognize them for their service. That service and commitment to justice is what drove them. They changed the course of history. I am proud to share in that legacy and recognize them for their leadership. They allowed me to be here today. I thank them and commend them for that. I am honored to be an American.”
Note: Cindy Collins Hogg, daughter of Robert and Ruby Ball Collins, of Livingston Mont., was sworn in as a member of the Mount Hyalite Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution on Nov. 19, 2011. The book, Forgotten Patriots, African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War, Eric Grundset Editor and Project Manager, with Birana L. Dias, Hollis L. Gendry, and Jean D. Strahan Researchers, has been generously donated to the Livingston Public Library by the Mount Hyalite Chapter NSDAR.
Elizabeth Schuyler Scholl, “Daughter” of several Patriot Ancestors who served under General Washington, is a former Regent for the Mount Hyalite Chapter NSDAR. For help finding your ancestors visit MountHyalite DAR.org.