Who was Jane McCrea?
During the Saratoga campaign, British General John Burgoyne’s invading army was supported by warriors from the Iroquois Confederation, who were intended from the outset to raid settler’s farms and towns, striking terror in the hearts of the Americans as the British struck south towards Albany. The hope was that the Americans would withdraw in the face of the Indian threat supported by the King’s troops.
When the Indians kidnapped and later murdered a young woman named Jane McCrea, alleged to have been engaged to a Loyalist officer in Burgoyne’s army, it caused an outrage. McCrea had been traveling to join her fiancÃ© when she was attacked. Immediately the American’s exploited the murder as a sign not only of the Indian’s savagery but of the British collusion in brutality. American Commander Horatio Gates sent a letter admonishing Burgoyne and pointing out the damage to the Englishman’s reputation which would result. The ranks of the American army swelled with new volunteers and supporting militia.
After the war and for the more than two hundred years since, the legend of Jane McCrea has continued to grow. Over the years she has become more beautiful, more virtuous, and ever more inclined to support the Patriot cause, rather than the Loyalist cause espoused by her fiancÃ©. Houses have been designated as her residence, signed with hisortical markers, despite no evidence that Jane ever saw the house in question.
Her body, or rather gravesites believed to contain her remains, has been exhumed no less than three times, both for DNA testing and to examine the skeletal remains for evidence of cause of death. Thus far they have been inconclusive.
There is enough contemporary evidence to confirm that Jane McCrea was a real person, and that she died as a result of Burgoyne’s march down the Hudson Valley to his destiny at Saratoga. One member of the community in which she lived described her contemporaneously as “without either beauty or accomplishments.” But there is little evidence to support the story as it was published throughout the United States that summer of 1777, when it did much to garner support for the American Army forming to stop Burgoyne at Bemis Heights. The truth about who Jane McCrea was and what happened to her remains mysteriously veiled.