We won't apologise for The Patriot, say the residents of Cherry Valley

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The Independent US

The folk of Cherry Valley, New York, do not feel too terribly sorry for the British for the way we are portrayed in the Mel Gibson film about the Revolutionary War, The Patriot. Nor are they minded to sympathise very much with British critics who have railed against Hollywood for butchering history.

The folk of Cherry Valley, New York, do not feel too terribly sorry for the British for the way we are portrayed in the Mel Gibson film about the Revolutionary War, The Patriot. Nor are they minded to sympathise very much with British critics who have railed against Hollywood for butchering history.

The outrage voiced in the British media has cost The Patriot dear. At its opening last week in the UK, the Sony produced film did only £1m in box office business. Hollywood experts blamed the disappointing business on the tide of opprobrium in the UK press.

Such indignation seems awfully misplaced for those here who are intimately familiar with the "Cherry Valley Massacre" of 11 November 1778. They can remind themselves of the events on that sleety day at the tiny museum in the centre of the town, with its gory diorama depiction of murder and destruction.

Under the command of British commander Walter Butler, a contingent of Seneca and Mohawk Indians, supported by about 50 English regulars, marauded across the valley, destroying farm buildings and homes, taking countless prisoners and, history records, killing 32 civilians, including women and children.

The slaughter has lingered until the present day as one of the worst atrocities of the entire 1775-1781 Revolutionary War. Most of the killing was done by the Indians, who were allied to the British, and who had suffered similar attacks on their villages at the hands of the American army. But some of the English soldiers, according to local historian Sue Miller, dressed and painted themselves as Indian warriors.

The ire in Britain over The Patriot is largely centred on the character Colonel William Tavington, based on a real Liverpool native, Banastre Tarleton. As Tavington, he is a bloodthirsty monster who, in one scene, orders the torching of a locked church crammed with civilians.

Nobody in Cherry Valley can give an authoritative account about Tarleton. But they know that what the film shows him doing at the village church is not much different from what Butler allowed to happen in these green rolling hills..

"You weren't nice, you weren't nice at all," Ms Miller said yesterday. "It was absolutely indiscriminate; babies, women, children were killed. It didn't really matter. To hack the parts off a woman and throw them - arms and legs - into atree, that's not very nice. One of your most famous regulars did that here. It was gross. He was one of the most brutal men to serve in a British regiment."

The massacre happened amidst a brutal four-year campaign in this area. British commanders, according to Wade Wells, a historian at the nearby Johnson Hall Historic Site, started the war using European warfare tactics of capturing and holding territory. But when the rebels simply upped and moved on each time, a new strategy had to be adopted - a campaign of widespread laying to waste.

"The British tried to destroy the rebels' ability to feed themselves and their army," said Mr Wells. "Barns were burned, cattle were carried off and killed, crops were destroyed." He added that it remains unclear whether Butler actually gave the order that no one was to be spared in Cherry Valley.

"Who knows what orders were given by Butler? Atrocities happen in all wars. But he was vilified at the time and written about in the newspapers for years afterwards," he said.

One who feels no compunction about letting the English know how it really was - in this region, at least, if not in the Carolinas - is Larry Thompson. He owns the Cherry Creek barbershop and is a member of just five families remaining in town who were around at the time of the massacre.

"If they don't like it in England, they will have to get over it," he said. "I will not apologise for it and I don't think anyone else should apologise. I don't have anything against the English today, but just look at the accounts of what happened here and there was nothing humane about it."

The critics have one thing to be grateful for - that The Patriot was set in the Cornwallis Campaign in the South where much of the history remains murky. What happened in Cherry Valley, however, has been recorded in minute detail.

The events of 1778 continue, meanwhile, to embarrass the Indian nations in New York state, including the Mohawks, who are objecting to historians using the term "massacre". They prefer to call it the "Cherry Valley raid".

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