The journal of Lt. Ebenezer Elmer recounts the defection of Lt. William McMichael of the 3rd New Jersey in 1776 and what befell him and his pursuers in the wilds of the New York Frontier.
[Friday, August 16th, 1776] "About 12 o'clock and express arrived from Col. Dayton at Fort Schuyler, informing us that Lt. Loyd, who commanded the party sent to the Lake [Oneida], arrived there just as McMichael and his confederates had embarked to cross; they fired several guns to no effect, and there being no craft that they could get, were obliged to quit pursuit."
A subsequent entry gave a somewhat different account of the escape as news of the flight of McMichael continued to filter back through the various detachments of the regiment.
[August 17th, 1776 - German Flats] "Towards evening a man living in the Jerseys came here on his way home from Fort Schuyler. He brings word that the two men which McMchael took from the returning scout of Enign Clerk's (whom he told that he was going to Oswego by order of Colonel Dayton to burn it down, and that he should take more men if he should meet them) were returned, leaving him on the Oneida Lake; that the pursuers were so nigh when they embarked, that McMichael pulled off with great vigor. They being in another canoe, received several fires from the scout over their heads; that after the scout was gone, they wondered McMichael did not stay, and he continued on with speed, they began to distrust whether something was not the matter, and it was our men who fired at them. They therefore concluded to return, for which they were exceedingly glad when they found out the plot."
These two men were previously identified by Elmer as volunteers Smith and Ridley, who were initially implicated in the desertion plot along with Lt. McMichael, and several others, including a Sergeant Newcastle of the 3rd NJ and Alexander Stewart about whom I have discovered nothing further.
Some of the men who pursued Lt. McMichael to the lake themselves ran into trouble on their return. A detachment which included Sergeants Younglove and Aitkens were attacked by about ten indians, The Jerseymen's powder was wet and only one of their muskets would fire, but according to Elmer's Journal, the indians had better success.
"A ball took Serjeant Aitkens, of Captain Potter's Company, through the body, upon which he fell, crying out, ' I am a dead man but do not fly, if your guns will not go off, rush on them with your bayonets.' After which Mr. Ball, their guide, went down the hill and called out for others to follow him, and they would then endeavor to make a stand. Accordingly two of the men did, but Serjeant Younglove and one other besides the Serjeant wounded, would not. After these three had got down the hill they heard two guns go off; They then attempted to get to the others, but found the indians pursuing them; were therefore obliged to make the best of their way off, leaving the others behind, dead or alive they could not tell. They received several shots, but none so as to cripple them. As they left there, they soon fell in with two friendly indians of the Onondago tribe, who conducted them safely down to Fort Schuyler."
One of the three men left behind, a private, escaped with a slight wound and hid in the woods for a week without food before he was able to make his way back to the regiment. The two Sergeants were taken to Oswego, and news reached Elmer on August 30th that while in captivity " a Mohawk indian, being one of their young warriors, tomahawked their brains out."
The very same fate appears to have happened to Lieutenant McMichael.
[Friday, September 6th, 1776] By Mr. patterson, who came here yesterday, we hear that McMichael was killed on this month after he passed over the Lakes, by the same indians who killed Younglove and Aitkin, taking him to be a spy - a very just end for such a traitor to come to."
And that is all that Elmer had to say about the matter. From snippet views of the brief references to Lt. McMichael in the Journal of Captain Joseph Bloomfield of the 3rd New Jersey, these add little to our understanding of McMichael's defection. We have it on Elmer's authority that he was killed by Indians at Oswego, but his source is secondhand and it would be good to find corroborating evidence. As it stands, Lt. McMichael remains an enigma, a patriot who turned his coat and may, or may not, have been killed by those he was seeking to join.