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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 60: 1776-1777, Mohawk Valley Revolutionary Forts.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 770-785 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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1776, Forts Schenectady, Hunter, Johnstown, Plain, Herkimer, Dayton, Stanwix — 1777, Forts Paris, Clyde, Plank; Fort at Cherry Valley; Upper, Middle and Lower Schoharie Forts — Forts Ehle, Kyser, Van Alstyne, Wagner, Klock, House — 1778, Fort Alden at Cherry Valley — 1781, Fort Willett.

At the close of the French war there were, in the valley, army fortifications at Fort Stanwix (now Rome, erected 1758), at Fort Herkimer (1756) and at Fort Hunter (1711), besides other fortified places such as Fort Johnson. Early in 1776 Col. Elias Dayton was sent to repair Fort Stanwix and he probably had supervision over the repairs to Fort Herkimer and the erection of Fort Plain and Fort Dayton at Herkimer, which bears his name.

In 1776, Fort Johnstown was built around the stone Tryon County jail at Johnstown. Fort Hunter was also rebuilt and repaired. Very little was done to strengthen Fort Stanwix in 1776. At the end of the year there were American army posts along the Mohawk River as follows: Fort Schenectady, Fort Hunter, Fort Johnstown, Fort Plain, Fort Herkimer, Fort Dayton (Herkimer), Fort Stanwix (Rome).

No use seems to have been made, during the Revolution, of four forts in the Valley, which figured in the French and Indian War. These were Fort Johnson; Fort Canajoharie, on the south shore of the Mohawk, opposite the outlet of East Canada Creek; Fort Hendrick, at present Indian Castle; Fort Schuyler, at the ford of the Mohawk in the present city of Utica.

Fort Schenectady was the name for the Revolutionary fort in Schenectady at the junction of Ferry and Front streets. The town was fortified and garrisoned during the war, a stockade enclosing the village, with blockhouses at the angles, and a fort at the junction of Ferry and Front streets. The General Hospital for the Northern District was located here, at the junction of Union street and what is now known as Lafayette street, and near this point was also the barracks for the troops. There were several Revolutionary blockhouses and palisaded farm houses in the Schenectady district.

Revolutionary Fort Hunter was the old British post of that name, at the junction of the Schoharie and Mohawk rivers. This fortification had been originally built in 1711. It was now repaired, reconstructed and strengthened for the use of the American military force. The stone Chapel of St. Anne stood in the center of the palisade.

During the Revolution (1776-1783) the stone Tryon County Jail, at Johnstown, was stockaded with blockhouse additions and became the strong American fortification of Fort Johnstown as well as a civil and military prison, where many a Tory, a captured enemy or a traitor was confined during those stirring years. The fifty British, Tory and Indian captives taken at the battlefield of Johnstown were confined here following that historic fight on Oct. 25, 1781.

The Johnstown jail (Fort Johnstown) is one of three portions of Revolutionary American forts remaining in the Mohawk valley, the others being the Fort Herkimer church and the Schoharie church at Schoharie on the Schoharie.

In forts Johnstown, Schoharie and Herkimer, advantage was taken of a strong stone building already erected around which palisades and blockhouses were built. As the Indians always attempted to burn enemy strongholds, the advantages of a central stone fortification is easily seen.

[Photo: Fort Herkimer Church, 1767.]

[Photo: The Old Pulpit — Fort Herkimer Church.]

Fort Herkimer, of the Revolution, should not be confused with Fort Herkimer of the French and Indian War, which was the palisaded stone house of Johan Jost Herkimer. In 1776, a stockade was built around the Reformed Dutch church about a quarter mile west of the Colonial Fort Herkimer. This stone structure formed the central stronghold of the Revolutionary Fort Herkimer, 1776-1783. Here were held many important local patriot meetings. It was a Revolutionary military center of importance, a neighborhood refuge in the raid of 1778 and a stronghold from which its defenders repulsed the Tory-Indian raiders of 1782. During the Revolution it mounted a swivel gun in the church tower and a palisade (stockade wall of logs) surrounded the church, probably with blockhouses at opposite corners.

Fort Dayton was located, in a general way, in the block north of the Court House, in the present village of Herkimer. A marker in front of the Court House locates this historic fortification.

Fort Stanwix, or Schuyler, of the Revolution, was an American Army stronghold built on the original earthwork constructed on the present site of Rome by General John Stanwix in 1758. In 1776, Col. Dayton evidently did little but make this post tenable for a comparatively small garrison. Most of the real strengthening of the fort was done, under Col. Willett's direction, in 1777, upon the approach of St. Leger's army, as is noted in a later chapter. The original Fort Stanwix, as repaired by Col. Dayton, is described as follows:

Fort Stanwix cost 60,000 pounds and was originally constructed on the most approved scientific principles of engineering, "having four bastions surrounded by a broad ditch, eighteen feet deep with a covert way and glaces. In the center of the ditch was a row of perpendicular pickets and a horizontal row from the ramparts. Col. Bradstreet and a detachment of his American militiamen assisted in building this famous post upon their return from the capture of Fort Frontenac (Kingston) in Canada in 1758.

Fort Herkimer, Fort Dayton and Fort Stanwix figure prominently in the invasion of St. Leger's army, the siege of Fort Stanwix and the battle of Oriskany (Aug. 6, 1777) described in later chapters. Fort Stanwix was abandoned in 1781, after being severely damaged by fire.

The following regarding Fort Plain is taken from the editor's former historical work "[The Story of] Old Fort Plain and the Middle Mohawk Valley." It is largely derived from Simms' "Frontiersmen of New York." J. R. Simms, the historian, lived in Fort Plain for many years and collected material which he embodied in his last historical work. Because of Mr. Simms' labors the Revolutionary history of the Middle Mohawk Valley is better known than that of any other section of the watershed of the Mohawk River. The editor of this work acknowledges a great debt to Jeptha R. Simms, from whose works much of the following Revolutionary chapters is derived.

[Photo: Site of Fort Plain, 1776-1783.]

Fort Plain stood on a low bluff (Fort Hill) just west of the present cemetery, at the extreme western end of the limits of present Fort Plain village. Simms says it was constructed mainly by farmers. Its form was an irregular quadrangle with earth and log bastions or blockhouses and embrasures at opposite corners a strong blockhouse within the center and also barracks. Cannon in the blockhouses could command the fort on all sides. It enclosed from a third to a half acre of ground but when settlers began to be killed and burned out, the survivors came here in such numbers that the space was found too small for the public needs. Three or four comfortable huts were accordingly made along the verge of the hill. The adjacent spring furnished water, and supplies were probably stored in the center blockhouse. There were two large apple trees within the fort inclosure. Its entrance was on the southeasterly side toward a road leading up to the ravine on that side.

The plateau on which it stood is of penninsular form and, across the neck or isthmus, a breastwork was thrown up. The fort extended along the southeastern brow of this hill and the blockhouse was about one hundred yards northwest on the edge of the northern slope of the hill. There is a tradition that nearby settlers aided in the erection of this defense. The boss carpenter, John Dederick, was allowed to name the fort. It is stated that he named it Fort Plain on account of its plain or fine view of open country and because from here operations of an enemy could be so plainly detected. It is said to have been not so named because the fortification was situated on a diminutive plain, as it was.

There is a possibility that it might have been named thus because, from this height looking over the trees which lined the nearby Otsquago, an unbroken view of the treeless flats, stretching four miles away to Canajoharie, was obtained. This was in strong contrast to the densely wooded slopes and heights stretching away to entirely circle the horizon around the fort. The outlook at that day must have been superb with the big woods cleared in spots only near the river and the heights covered by the great trees of the virgin forest.

An acquaintance with the other regular military posts of the time, seems to show that of them all it was the best located for defense. Fort Plain was the first Revolutionary fortification and the most important within the Canajoharie-Palatine districts.

Who commanded first at Fort Plain is not known and it probably was not regularly garrisoned until 1777. It formed a key for communication with and protection of the Schoharie, Cherry Valley and Unadilla settlements and was the chief protection of the Canajoharie and Palatine districts. About 1780-1 it became the headquarters of the officer commanding this and the several military posts in this vicinity. Col. Marinus Willett was its commander for several seasons and he is believed to have been here constantly about 1781-2. He occupied the eastern one of the huts situated on the side hill below the pickets a rod or two from the spring. Col. Clyde was in command here in 1783. The blockhouse, which will be noted later, was built to still further strengthen the defenses here in the fall of 1780 and the spring of 1781, and was merely a part of the fortifications here and not a separate post. Fort Plain must have been considered of formidable strength for it never was attacked directly by the considerable forces of the enemy who operated in this section at different times. The land on which the post stood was part of the Lipe farm.

* * * * *

The following relates to the Mohawk Valley forts built in 1777, probably before the battle of Oriskany on August 6, 1777, which marked the beginning of Revolutionary hostilities in the Mohawk Valley. Later forts, such as Fort Alden (1778) and Fort Willett (1781) are also included so as to make this chapter give an account of all the Valley's main Revolutionary forts. The fortified houses are also described, as they were actual forts and militia and military centers, although not regular American Army posts.

Five smaller fortifications were in the vicinity of Fort Plain. Commencing westerly Fort Windecker, Fort Willett, Fort Plank and Fort Clyde were only two or three miles apart, the first three being nearly on a north and south line, curving easterly to embrace the last fort named, and being in something like a half circle around Fort Plain on its western side. During the latter part of the war this line of forts, with the regular army post toward the center, made this section one of the best defended on the Tryon county frontier, and one historian says enabled the surviving to furnish most of the bread for the district. Fort Paris, at Stone Arabia, was the fifth fortification immediately about the central defense of Fort Plain.

Fort Windecker, built in 1777, was a palisaded small enclosure surrounding the dwelling of Johannes Windecker. It was nearly eight miles west of north from the latter upon the river road. It had the usual signal gun and probably contained a small blockhouse. This place, like similar posts, had at least one sentinel on duty at night, who was posted usually outside the pickets at this place.

Fort Willett was a palisaded inclosure on the highest ground in the Dutchtown section and was situated over four miles from Fort Plain on land now owned by William Zimmerman. This stockade was completed in the spring of 1781 and had ample room for huts for all the adjacent families. It had the blockhouse corners and an alarm gun. As it was isolated from any dwelling, it had a good-sized oven, the ruins of which remained for many years. The timber for its pickets was cut on adjoining farms and was drawn together by the owners of them. Like other palisades, the pickets were the trunks of straight trees of different kinds of about a foot thickness through the butt, and cut long enough to be sunk three or four feet in the ground and to rise above it about a dozen or more. On the completion of this defense, Col. Willett rode out with a squad of his men from Fort Plain to see it. He was much pleased with the condition of things and said "You have a nice little fort here; what do you call it?" "It has no name yet; won't you give it one?" was the answer. Col. Willett replied, "Well, this is one of the nicest little forts on the frontier, and you may call it after me, if you please." A cheer went up at this, so the name of Willett became connected with the town in which he lived and fought for several years. The old south shore turnpike running through the Greenbush section of Fort Plain village is named Willett street after this very capable Revolutionary commander. At the end of the war each family who had contributed pickets for the building of Fort Willett drew home their share and the fortification was demolished in the same manner as the many others when their use for purposes of defense had ceased.

Fort Willett stood about 165 rods west of the Sanders-Hallsville road and 40 to 50 rods north of the Fort Plain-Dutchtown and Indian Castle highway. In 1917 Mr. T. R. Zimmerman owned the land. It was known during the Revolution as the Walrath farm. Its owners were Tories who fled to Canada. The farm was confiscated and sold to Solomon Moyer after the Revolution. The foregoing facts were given the editor by Mr. John Fea, the historian of Amsterdam. Mr. Fea secured them from David T. Timmerman, whose farm lies near the site of Fort Willett. Mr. Timmerman was born Nov. 5, 1803, and died July 5, 1905, at the age of 101 years. The centenarian had a very clear recollection of early history and of the site of Fort Willett as pointed out to him by his father. There is a tradition among the old families on the Dutchtown hills that the swath, cut in the Oak Hill woods for the timbers for the Fort Willett palisade, never grew up again because it was chopped down on land owned by Tories. Whatever the cause, it is said that this swath in the forest can be plainly seen to this day.

Fort Plank was established in 1776 and was situated two and a half miles southwest of Fort Plain, air line distance. Here then lived Frederick Plank, a Whig, whose house was palisaded in a square enclosure with blockhouse corners. From its nearness to the settlements at Dutchtown and Geissenberg it served as a safe retreat for a score or two of families. Capt. Joseph House, a militia officer living with Plank, usually commanded in the absence of field officers. More or less troops were kept at this station through the war.

Fort Clyde was established in 1777 to protect the Freysbush settlers. It bore the name of Col. Samuel Clyde of Cherry Valley, who doubtless superintended its construction. This was not a palisaded dwelling but a fort by itself, like that at Fort Plain and Fort Willett. It was an enclosure large enough to hold huts for the accommodation of refugees and a strong blockhouse in the center. A signal gun was mounted as at all such posts. It was about three miles south of Fort Plain and topped a sightly knoll on what was the old Gen. George H. Nellis farm. It is believed Col. Clyde exercised a sort of paternal supervision over this fort, where part of a company of rangers or drafted militia was stationed.

In the Palatine district similarly adjacent to Fort Plain stood Fort Paris. It was three or four miles to the east of Fort Plain and stood upon the summit of ground half a mile to the north of the Stone Arabia churches. It was a palisade enclosing strong blockhouses and was of a size to accommodate a garrison of 200 or 300 men. The fort was commenced in December, 1776, and completed in the spring of 1777.

This was an important post and was usually manned by a company or two of rangers. Col. Klock and Lieut.-Col. Wagner had much to do with its immediate command. In the fall and winter of 1779 it became the headquarters of Col. Frederick Fisher (Visscher) who commanded this and its adjacent military posts, including Fort Plain. This headquarters was changed to Fort Plain in 1780-1, probably with the advent of Col. Willett to command the American forces in the valley. Fort Paris was named after Isaac Paris. The post was ordered built by the Tryon County Committee of Safety, Dec. 19, 1776, and was largely erected by Capt. Christian Getman's company of rangers "under the sole direction and command of Isaac Paris, Esq.," to quote the language of the committee. It was located on what is now the Shull farm, in Stone Arabia, and was built of solid hewn timber and was two stories high with the upper story projecting over the lower on all sides. After it was taken down, early in the nineteenth century, its timbers were used in building structures now in existence in that section.

Besides these more important posts around Fort Plain there were numerous stockaded dwellings called forts generally named from the families who owned them. A small stockaded stone dwelling named Fort Keyser was located about a mile south of Stone Arabia.

A mile or two southwest of present Canajoharie on the Mapletown road and a mile from the creek, stood Fort Ehle. Lieut. Cornelius Van Evera and Ensign John Van Evera were on duty in and around this fort.

In the eastern part of the present town of St. Johnsville stood "Fort House," named after its builder, although it was the home of Christian Klock. The house of Jacob Timmerman was also stockaded. Both of these stockades repulsed repeated attacks of the enemy. Fort Hill, which was situated on an eminence in the western part of the town of St. Johnsville, was erected during the French war. It was repaired and used during the Revolution.

About 1775, Gose Van Alstyne, son of Martin Jan Van Alstyne, built a stone house near the present (1924) Martin Smith house on Front street in Canajoharie. This was stockaded about 1780 and became the Fort Van Alstyne of the Revolution, with which the Van Alstyne house of today has been frequently confused. After the Revolution the Gose Van Alstyne house was torn down and its stone used for building material, some of which is said to have been used in the present Hayes house.

The first (1750) Van Alstyne stone house in Canajoharie and Fort Frey (1739) in Palatine Bridge were regarded as Revolutionary strongholds although neither of them was palisaded.

[Photo: Fort Wagner, 1750.]

About one and one-half miles west of Nelliston stands Fort Wagner (1750) on the east side of the highway, the old stone fort forming the north end of a picturesque farmhouse, reached through an avenue of trees, from the Turnpike. This was the home of Lieut.-Col. Peter Wagner of the Palatine regiment of Tryon County Militia (1775-1783), and this old Wagner farm has always been noted for its fertility. During the Revolution two Tory soldiers in Canada nearly killed each other over the question as to which one should be allotted this rich farmland when the "rebels" were licked. The Tories (Americans siding with the loyalists) were promised their patriot neighbors' farms as the spoils of war. Col. Wagner erected a palisade (log wall) around his stone house early in the Revolution, when it became known as Fort Wagner, and it formed a neighborhood refuge during the savage raids of that time, when the local militia formed its defense.

[Photo: Fort Klock Near St. Johnsville.]

Fort Klock, of the Revolutionary War, stands about a mile east of the eastern limits of the present village of St. Johnsville. In the valley section, from Palatine Bridge to St. Johnsville, the old King's Highway lay partly along the line of the New York Central tracks and Fort Klock now lies close thereto. The top of its roof can be seen from the Turnpike, it being located about 100 yards westward therefrom (on the left hand side going west).

Fort Klock was built by Johannes Klock, a Palatine German pioneer, in 1750, replacing an earlier dwelling. A palisade was built around Fort Klock in the Revolution and it formed a neighborhood defense and refuge in time of danger. Fort Klock overlooks the scene of the American Revolutionary victory of Klock's Field, Oct. 19, 1780, the battle taking place on the Klock farm, at which time Fort Klock was filled with neighboring families and defended by the farmer militiamen. During the battle one of the defenders took a long range bead on a passing British officer and shot him from his horse, which, strange to say, came galloping up to the palisade, where it was secured. On its back was the officer's camp kettle, which became an heirloom in the Klock family.

The General Herkimer Home, built of brick in 1764, was regarded as a patriot Valley defense, although not palisaded. It was occupied by Captain George Herkimer, after the death, on August 17, 1777, of his brother, General Nicholas Herkimer, from wounds received in the battle of Oriskany.

In 1777, the settlers of Cherry Valley built a fortification by constructing an earthwork and palisade around the house of Major Samuel Campbell. The population of this exposed settlement then numbered about 300 people and they strongly felt the need of a fortress refuge as they were, perhaps, more exposed tc attack than any other considerable settlement of Tryon County. A second fort, named Fort Alden, was built at Cherry Valley in 1778. This was a strong post, situated near the gates of the present Cherry Valley Cemetery. Further mention is made of it in the later chapter dealing with the Cherry Valley massacre of 1778.

Three forts were erected in the Schoharie valley in the fall of 1777, the central being the first one built. It was known during the Revolution as the Middle Fort and, Simms says, "stood on the farm long owned by Ralph Manning, about half a mile east of north from the present Middleburgh railroad station." It was built by soldiers and citizens, the farmers drawing the material together and the soldiers doing a great part of the building. The Upper Fort was situated five miles west of south from the Middle Fort. It was begun in the fall of 1777 and completed the following summer and is also referred to as the Breakabeen or Fultonham fort. The Lower Fort was six miles north of the Middle Fort. The stone church, still standing one mile north of the court house, was enclosed within the palisades of this fortification.

[Photo: The Old Stone Fort, Schoharie.]

Following the battle of Cobleskill in 1778, a fort was erected at present Cobleskill, known as Fort Dubois.

* * * * *

[Photo: Fort Dayton Marker.]

After his unsuccessful attempt to arrest Sir John Johnson in May, in the summer of 1776, Col. Dayton was sent by Gen. Schuyler to look after the defenses in the Mohawk valley. He started the reconstruction of Fort Stanwix (Schuyler), which work was not entirely completed when invested by the enemy in the following year. Col. Dayton is supposed to have had official supervision of the renovation of Fort Herkimer and of the construction of Fort Dayton, which bears his name at the site of Herkimer. It is reasonable to suppose that he supervised the erection of Fort Plain at the same time. Elias Dayton was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, in 1735. He joined the Colonial army during the French and Indian war. He was a member of the corps called "Jersey Blues," raised in 1759 by Edward Hart, the father of John Hart, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. With that corps Dayton fought under Wolfe at Quebec. He was one of the Committee of Safety at Elizabethtown at the beginning of the Revolution. In February, 1778, congress appointed him colonel of a New Jersey regiment, and in 1782 he was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general. He was in several of the principal battles of the Revolution and had three horses shot under him — one at Germantown, one at Springfield and one at Crosswick Bridge. He was the first president of the Society of the Cincinnati of New Jersey, and, during the life of Washington, enjoyed the warm personal friendship of the national leader. He died at Elizabethtown in 1807, aged 72 years.

* * * * *

Although little was done toward strengthening Fort Stanwix until just before St. Leger's invasion in 1777, Col. Dayton saw fit to change its name to "Fort Schuyler," in honor of General Philip Schuyler, commander of the American Army of the North, with headquarters at Albany. This change has been the cause of much confusion because Fort Schuyler, of the French war (1754-1760) was located at present Utica, only fifteen miles east of Fort Stanwix. The change has also created a seemingly endless historical controversy. American army official orders during the Revolution, refer to Fort Stanwix as "Fort Schuyler." The Continental Congress officially designated it "Fort Stanwix," by which name it was generally and popularly known by the American soldiers and the people of the Mohawk Valley. This is borne out by a number of diaries kept by soldiers during the Revolution, one of which refers to the fort as "Fort Stanwix, alias Fort Schuyler." Immediately after the Revolution, the settlers of the neighborhood resumed the use of the name Fort Stanwix, and the village which grew up around the post was so called for over thirty years, and the remains of the fort were generally referred to by that name.

Because of the foregoing circumstances, the editor of this history has used the name "Fort Stanwix" for this famous post. This usage has the sanction of some of the best historical authorities and it differentiates between this post and the Fort Schuyler at present Utica. To overcome the natural confusion arising from the close proximity of two "Fort Schuylers," the Valley settlers designated the Fort Schuyler, at present Utica, as "Old Fort Schuyler." The village which grew up there bore that title for fourteen years, or until its name was changed to Utica, at the time of its incorporation as a village in 1798.

The case of "Fort Stanwix" and "Fort Schuyler" is similar to that of "Fort Plain" and "Fort Rensselaer," which were one and the same fort, the latter name being given this post by Gen. Robert Van Rensselaer, commander of the Valley militia in 1780, to satisfy his vanity. The people of the Valley and its Revolutionary soldiers continued to call this important fort, by its original name of Fort Plain, throughout the Revolution, and the local population continued the name "Fort Plain" for the little village at Sand Hill, after the war. Fifty years after the Revolution but few people knew where "Fort Rensselaer" was ever located and these two names for the same post have caused endless historical confusion. And yet "Fort Rensselaer" was the official military designation of Fort Plain from 1780 until 1786 and perhaps afterward. However, Washington refers to the post as "Fort Plain" in official orders. Historians invariably use the name "Fort Plain" in writing Mohawk Valley history, while they continue to engage in controversy on the subject of the Fort Stanwix-Fort Schuyler imbroglio.

The author of this work realizes that his use of "Fort Stanwix" will be criticised — but so would a use of the name "Fort Schuyler." The designation of "Fort Stanwix" has the support of historians of Rome, among them being Mr. Oswald P. Backus and Mr. S. H. Beach, both of whom have given the subject much study. The usage of Rome historical students is "Fort Stanwix" and all local markers and monuments bear such designation. The editor of this history, considers that the name Fort Stanwix, will convey the locality designation better than any other and that it will avoid historical confusion. He follows the same method of procedure in the matter of "Fort Plain" and "Fort Rensselaer" and uses the name Fort Plain throughout this work except in certain quoted matters.

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