IN DEFENSE OF
"THE BLOODIED MOHAWK"
FORT PLANK HISTORIAN
Muster Master General Of The Mohawk Valley
Ken D. Johnson
97 Reid Street
Fort Plain, New York 13339
Below one will find an exhaustive critique of the "Bloodied Mohawk" by Mr. Wayne Lenig. It is not the intent of this article to attack Mr. Lenig, rather it is an attempt by this author, Mr. Johnson, to answer many of the concerns presented by him. That said the text added to Mr. Lenig's essay has been typed within brackets, [ ], in the "Kartika" font to reflect a different writer's hand. As with all of Mr. Johnson's writings, the italicized text is taken verbatim from an original source unless otherwise so noted. The pagation of Mr. Lenig's original essay has been preserved.
Fort Plain, Fort Plank, Fort Rensselaer
Prepared for a Seminar presented at Fulton-Montgomery Community College
November 17, 2001
The 1950s and 1960s witnessed unprecedented interest in the development of New York's historic sites. In upstate New York, as in most other areas of the United States, the end of World War II ushered in a period of heightened patriotic fervor. Public awareness of the importance and national significance of local historic sites stemmed from the highway marker program of the 1920s and a statewide survey of sites completed under the auspices of the WPA in the 1930s. At the same time, increased availability of automobiles and improvements in the state highway system were fostering travel and growth in the tourism industry. A combination of all three of these factors - patriotism, historical awareness and the expanding tourism sector of the economy - resulted in increased focus upon historical attractions, especially 18th century military sites in the Lake Champlain and Mohawk corridors.
During this period, the federal government assumed ownership of Saratoga battlefield and began planning for its development. The National Park Service also initiated plans for the reconstruction of Fort Stanwix in downtown Rome, N.Y. The State of New York acquired both Fort Niagara and Fort Ontario, and began considering options for interpreting the ruins of French and English fortifications at Crown Point on Lake Champlain. In the private sector, the restoration of Fort Ticonderoga was completed under the guidance of Stephen Pell, and the reconstruction of Fort William Henry at Lake George was underway by the mid-1950s. Countless other attempts to develop historical tourist attractions ended in failure, including those at 18th-century military sites such as Fort Ann and Fort Mount Hope. The following article is the direct result of one such project - the proposed reconstruction of Revolutionary War Fort Plain in the middle Mohawk Valley.
In 1945, local historian and journalist Nelson Greene led an effort to interest the state in procuring the site of Fort Plain. A bill providing an appropriation for that purpose was introduced and passed both houses of the state legislature, but Governor Dewey vetoed it, leaving the future of the project in the hands of interested private citizens. When a portion of the site appeared unexpectedly on the real estate market, Greene convinced local industrialist and entrepreneur George Duffy to purchase it. However Duffy was only interested in preserving the site - not in funding development of a historical tourist attraction [emphasis added]. He did underwrite the cost of a new and presumably permanent marker on the site of the fort. A bronze tablet was attached to a huge glacial boulder that weighed more than a ton. At his death, Duffy left the property for safekeeping to the only viable non-profit agency in the village, the Fort Plain Cemetery Association. [This said stone is located to the south, or east if one assumes that the river does not flow north-south through Fort Plain, from the fort site chosen by Mr. Lenig].
In the early 1960s, spurred by the commercial success of the reconstruction of Fort William Henry at Lake George, a group of local businessmen and merchants began exploring the feasibility of rebuilding Revolutionary War Fort Plain as a tourist attraction. They formed a commercial corporation, the Fort Plain Restoration, Inc., issued stock and coined the slogan, "let's put the fort back in Fort Plain" [emphasis added]. They were eventually able to purchase the
northernmost portion of the hilltop where the fort reputedly [emphasis added] stood. Ironically, the trustees of Fort Plain Cemetery Association were unwilling to negotiate interest or title to the land that George Duffy had left in their care.
Robert Lord, former Director of Fort William Henry, was hired to oversee operations of the Fort Plain Restoration, Inc. Lord brought in Stanley Gifford, an experienced excavator who at various times had directed archaeological work at both Fort Ticonderoga and Fort William Henry. Exploratory excavations began at the site of Fort Plain in the spring of 1961. In addition to Revolutionary War period archaeological features, these explorations also uncovered traces of two separate loci of Native American occupation. Because he knew that archaeology at the Native American sites would drain precious time and resources away from the primary goal of finding the Revolutionary War fortifications, Gifford turned to an old friend, Donald Lenig of nearby St. Johnsville, for assistance. Lenig undertook excavation of the Native American features on weekends and evenings, while Lord and Gifford continued to concentrate on their search for Fort Plain.Z Unfortunately, Stanley Gifford was neither young, nor a man in good health. In a very short time, exposed to damp spring weather, he caught pneumonia and expired. Not long after, Robert Lord resigned from his position to pursue a private business venture. The Fort Plain Restoration turned to Donald Lenig for archaeological and curatorial expertise.
In July of 1961, under Donald Lenig's guidance, the author began archaeological excavations at the Fort Plain blockhouse for the Fort Plain Restoration, Inc. Subsequently, the author served in a number of different capacities for the Fort Plain Museum - the New York State Regents-chartered educational institution that assumed ownership of the property after the Fort Plain Restoration's demise in the late 1960s.
Our efforts to understand the history of Fort Plain began with a complete review of published secondary historical works [emphasis added] [As literally hundreds of primary source records exist, one must ask: Why were they not consulted?]. Before long, it became clear that there were many discrepancies in this "historical record." These inconsistencies, in turn, raised questions that led to more archaeology and archival research, as well as the study of 18th century fortification construction technology. The results of this research, accomplished during the 1960s and 1970s, have never been comprehensively presented. From time to time, press releases on various aspects have appeared, and several journalists have written summaries and interpretations of our verbal presentations, but a complete synthesis of this information has never appeared in print. It is long overdue. So, with apologies for the long delay, here is what has been learned over the past forty years about the history of Fort Plain and several related places and fortifications. We shall begin, as we did many years ago, with a review of the published secondary sources.
I Nelson Greene, Fort Plain Nelliston History, 1580-1947 (Fort Plain, N.Y.: Standard Press, 1947), 88.
2 Anonymous, "Archeologists Uncovering Indian Village and Graves In Area of Old Fort Plain," Amsterdam, N.Y. Evening Recorder, May 22, 1961.
1813 is the date of the earliest secondary historical reference to Fort Plain. The note appears in the first edition of Spafford's Gazetteer of the State of New York, but it does little more than acknowledge the fort's former existence. Under the entry for the town of Minden, Montgomery County, Spafford writes, "Fort Plain was in this town, and its site still retains the name, where [there] is a small village.;
William W. Campbell's work is next. Because his book was the earliest effort to chronicle the Revolutionary border war in the Mohawk Valley, we expected to find a lot of information about Fort Plain. To our dismay, we found that Annals of Tryon County contained only six references to Fort Plain and a single mention of Fort Rensselaer. There is no explanation of when or how Fort Plain was built. The earliest reference to the fort occurs during Campbell's account of the Battle of Klock's Field in October 1780. Campbell notes that in 1781 Colonel Marinus Willett used Fort Plain as his headquarters, then mentions the fort one last time during his treatment of Willett's ill-fated expedition against Oswego, erroneously dated during the winter of 1781-1782.º Because all of the earliest references to the fort near Canajoharie mention Fort Plank rather than Fort Plain, Campbell concluded that Fort Plank must have been an early name for Fort Plain.5 He was the first author to suggest this. Campbell was also apparently puzzled about the identity of "Fort Rensselaer." While he did not attempt to locate that fort, it is apparent that he believed Fort Rensselaer was not the same place as Fort Plank or Fort Plain.6 [emphasis added].
A subsequent reference is taken from Thomas F. Gordon's Gazetteer of the State of New York, published in 1836:
"Fort Plain, post village, near the ruins of Fort Plain [emphasis added]. . . . During the revolution the fort here was surprised by Butler (sic), with his band of savages and refugees, and the garrison subjected to the fate of the inhabitants of Wyoming and Cherry Valley".7
An anonymous article in the Fort Plain Journal of December 26, 1837 presents the next reference to Fort Plain. The accompanying woodcut illustrates an octagonal blockhouse on a small knoll in the foreground and a
3 Horatio G. Spafford, Gazetteer of the State of New York (Albany, N.Y.: H.C. Southwick, 1813), 237.
4 William W. Campbell, Annals of Tryon County; or, the border warfare of New York, during the revolution (orig.
pub. 1831, 4th edition, New York, N.Y.:Dodd, Mead and company, 1924). 170; In point of fact, the Oswego
Expedition was planned and executed from January through early March of 1783.
7 Thomas F. Gordon, Gazetteer of the State of New York, (1836), 539.
church with a steeple on another hilltop or knoll in the distance (see Figure I a). Fort Plank and Fort Rensselaer are not mentioned in this article: [This woodcut is clearly one and the same as the one that appears in William Letee Stone's Life of Brant, Appendix One, which was published in 1838. One must thus ask, "did Mr. Stone anonymously allow this woodcut to be shown so that the scores of living veterans of Fort Plank could be allowed to comment on it before it was published in a written tome? Keep in mind that Stone had hired one Thomas Sammons, a Fort Plank Veteran to disprove William W. Campbell's work in the Annals of Tryon County.].
"The Fort was situated on the brow of the hill, about half a mile northwest of the village, so as to command a full view of the valley, and the rise of ground, for several miles in any direction; and hence it doubtless derived its name, because its beautiful location commanded a `plain view of the surrounding country. It was erected by the government, as a fortress, and place of retreat and safety for the inhabitants and families in case of incursions from the Indians, who were then, and, indeed, more or less during the whole revolutionary war, infesting the settlements of this whole region. Its form was an octagon, having port-holes for heavy ordnance and muskets on every side. It contained three stories or apartments. The first story was thirty feet in diameter; the second, forty feet; the third, fifty feet; the last two stories projecting five feet, as represented in the drawing aforesaid. It was constructed throughout of hewn timber about fifteen inches square; and, beside the port-holes aforesaid, the second and third stories had perpendicular port-holes through those parts that projected, so as to afford the regulars and militia, or settlers garrisoned in the fort, annoying facilities of defence for themselves, wives, and children, in case of close assault from the relentless savage. Whenever scouts came in with tidings that a hostile party was approaching, a cannon was fired from the fort as a signal to flee to it for safety."
"In the early part of the war there was built, by the inhabitants probably, at or near the site of the one above described, a fortification, of materials and construction that ill comported with the use and purposes intended. This induced [the] government to erect another, (Fort Plain,) under the superintendence of an experienced French engineer. As a piece of architecture, it was well wrought and neatly finished, and surpassed all the forts in that region. After the termination of the Revolutionary war, Fort Plain was used for some years as a deposite (sic) of military stores, under the direction of Captain B. Hudson. These stores were finally ordered by the United States Government to be removed to Albany. The fort is demolished. Nothing remains of it except a circumvallation (sic) or trench, which, although nearly obliterated by the plough, still indicates to the curious traveler sufficient evidence of a fortification in days by-gone."8
Following Campbell's lead, William L. Stone wrote that he also believed Fort Plank and Fort Plain must have been synonymous terms referring to the same fortification.9 He reprinted the entire Fort Plain Journal article as an appendix to his Life of Joseph Brant, adding a new and somewhat modified engraving of the blockhouse (Figure lb). He also inserted a misleading introduction, which erroneously suggests that the author of the Journal article also felt Fort Plank was an early name for Fort Plain.10
Stone was the earliest author to make use of information from Marinus Willett's Narrative of Military Actions, first published in 1831. As revealed in this important source, Stone noted that Colonel Willett established
8 Fort Plain (N.Y.) Journal, 12/26/1837 as cited in John W. Barber and Henry Howe, eds., Historical Collections of the State of New York (1841), 279-280.
9 William L. Stone, Life of Joseph Brant (1838), 2:95.
10 Ibid., 2:ii-iii.
"Fort Rensselaer" as the Mohawk Valley military headquarters from 1781-1782. Like Campbell, it is clear that Stone believed Fort Rensselaer was an altogether different fortification than Fort Plank/Fort Plain [Simms also believed this as Samuel Ludlow Frey recorded the following in his essays on Fort Rensselaer. "In a copy of "The Annals of Tryon County," where Judge Campbell speaks of it, Mr. Simms has underscored "Fort Rensselaer" and written in the margin "Where was this fort?"]. Unfortunately, neither made any attempt to locate Fort Rensselaer or identify when it was built.
In Historical Collections of the State of New York, John W. Barber and Henry Howe mention Fort Plank in two separate places. First, during the summer of 1780, it is noted that General Clinton ordered Colonel Gansevoort to proceed to "Fort Plank" and take charge of a convoy of supplies. Second, while discussing the battle of Klock's flats in the fall of 1780, the authors plagiarized directly from William W. Campbell, including the phrase "Fort Plank, (or as it is now called, Fort Plain)."" This was the third publication to assert that Fort Plank and Fort Plain were synonymous.
In 1845, Jeptha R. Simms became the first of the 19th-century antiquarians to suggest a location for "Fort Rensselaer." According to him, "this fort was erected in 1781, in the Village of Canajoharie, where a stone dwelling owned by Philip Van Alstine was inclosed."12 (Figure 2) Thirty-seven years later, Simms published a much more detailed and somewhat conflicting account. He notes that his 1845 identification had been based on the testimony of John Roof and Peter C. Fox, two well-respected 19th century militia officers. He continues his discussion, however, by quoting a primary source that clearly stated Fort Plain and Fort Rensselaer were separate names for the same fort. In true 19th century style, rather than impugning the integrity of his distinguished informants, Simms reaches the rather unlikely conclusion that there must have been two separate places known as Fort Rensselaer in the 1780s - the Philip Van Alstyne house on Moyer Street in the Village of Canajoharie, and Fort Plain, four miles west [One might be curious to know upon what primary source or sources, if any, Simms based his "opinion"].13
Simms' earliest treatise was also the first source to suggest that "Col. Stone, with several other writers, [had] fallen into . . . error . . . supposing Fort Plank [to be] another name for Fort Plain." 14 Fort Plank, according to Simms, was "a picketed block-house situated in the western part of the present town of Minden, some three miles westward of Fort Plain." 15 While the footnotes are somewhat ambiguous, it appears that either Joseph or Peter J. Wagner of Fort Plain was the ultimate source of Simms' information in this matter.
Fort Plain, according to Simms' informants, was "erected as early as 1776." The 1837 Fort Plain Journal engraving of the octagonal blockhouse is reproduced with the caption "Fort Plain." Simms continues, "above is a view of this Fort as it was seen in the revolution, except that it was inclosed by strong palisades." 16 The implication
11 Barber and Howe, Collections, 276, 283; Campbell, Annals, 165.
12 Jeptha R. Simms, History of Schoharie County, and the border warfare of New York (1845), 460.
13 Jeptha R. Simms, Frontiersmen of New York (1882-1883), 2:455.
14 Jeptha R. Simms, History of Schoharie County. . . , 488n.
15 Ibid., 488.
16 Ibid., 146-147.
is that in 1845 Jeptha Simms believed that the octagonal blockhouse was located inside the palisades of the main fort at Fort Plain.
Benson Lossing visited the site of Fort Plain in 1848 and talked with David Lipe, who owned the property. [By this time David had also acquired the lands of Captain Adam Lipe and others including his father's portion of the south-easternmost half of Upper Woodland Lot Five of the Rutger Bleeker Patent. That said: Upon which one of the many tracts of land possessed by Mr. Lipe did Mr. Lipe state the fortress was located?]. Mr. Lipe was born in 1774. His father, Johannes Lipe, owned the farm during the Revolutionary War, so as a child David reported that he was quite familiar with the fortifications. With David Lipe's help, Lossing did more to clarify the details surrounding Fort Plain than any of the earlier antiquarians. According to Lossing, some sort of defensive works were erected on the site of Fort Plain at the beginning of the war (c. 1776-1778), but it was only after the intensely destructive attacks on Springfield, German Flats, Cobleskill, and Cherry Valley in 1778 that "the fort proper was erected." Lossing notes that earlier writers had mistakenly applied the name "Fort Plain" exclusively to the large flanking blockhouse, but he contends that the title had definitely been conferred earlier upon the main fortification. "This fort was eligibly situated upon a high plain in the rear of the village, and commanded an extensive sweep of the valley on the right and left." "Its form," he continues, "was an irregular quadrangle, with earth and log bastions, embrasures at each corner, and barracks and a strong blockhouse within." "The plain on which it stood is of peninsular form, and across the neck, or isthmus, a breast-work was thrown up [emphasis added]. [The site chosen by the Fort Plain Museum as the "exact site" of "Fort Plain"in no ways resembles Lossing's description: Thus why do we believe it to be the correct site?]. In 1780, the fort's condition was reportedly found weak, so "Colonel Gansevoort" called in a French engineer to strengthen the fortifications. "Ramparts of logs and earth" replaced the palisaded curtain walls and a new three-story octagonal blockhouse was built, with a magazine in its basement. Lossing illustrates an octagonal blockhouse on the floor plan that he drew of the strengthened main fortification (Figure 3). It is not clear, however, whether he meant that only one blockhouse was built, or that there were two blockhouses - an octagonal structure inside the fort, and the second large flanking blockhouse outside the fort. David Lipe was shown the engraving of the octagonal blockhouse from the 1838 Fort Plain Journal. He agreed that the picture was a fair representation, although it was Lipe's recollection that the first floor of the blockhouse was square - not octagonal. Lossing reports that "in order to protect the magazine" an earthen embankment or redoubt was begun around the blockhouse in 1782, it remained unfinished when the war ended. Low mounds that appeared to be the remnants of those earthworks, "were still quite prominent" in 1848.
Finally, Lossing joins Simms in taking issue with Campbell and Stone concerning the identity of Fort Plank. According to Lossing, "there was a stockade about two miles . . . northwest [of Fort Plain], called Fort Plank, or Blank, from the circumstance that it stood upon land owned by Frederick Blank. The later and Fort Plain have been confounded." This echoes what Simms had written, but goes even further by identifying the property where Fort Plank reputedly stood. Perhaps it was David Lipe who first revealed this important piece of information, although we will probably never know for certain, because Lossing left no clear indication of where he learned about the location and identity of Fort Plank.17
17 Benson J. Lossing, Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution, (1851-1852), 1:261-262.
In 1860, J. H. French published his popular Gazetteer of the State of New York. Under the heading "Minden," we read:
"During the French War, Fort Plain was erected on the summit of the hill, half a mi. N.W. of the village. . . . This fort was built by a French engineer for the Government, and was the finest fortification in the valley. It was octagonal, 3 stories high, each story projecting beyond the one below. In the lower story was a cannon, which was fired in cases of alarm to notify the people of danger. Fort Plank was situated about 2 mi. N.W. of Fort Plain, on the farm now occupied by C. House."18 [Upon what if any primary source or sources is this based?].
Under "Canajoharie," there is more interesting information:
"A fort was built here at an early period as one of the chain of fortifications to Oswego. It was 100 feet square, 15 ft. high, with bastions at the angles, and was armed with several small cannon. In 1781, the house of Philip Van Alstyne was palisaded, and named Fort Van Rensselaer. It is still standing .19
The writer gives no indication of the source for his information, but due to obvious differences with all of the earlier published sources, I am inclined to believe that at least some of the information came from someone other than Campbell, Lossing, Simms or Stone.
Hamilton Child's gazetteer, covering only Montgomery and Fulton Counties, was published in 1870. The information on Fort Plain and Fort Plank in Child's Gazetteer is plagiarized directly from Lossing and other earlier sources.20 In a copy of "The Annals of Tryon County," where Judge Campbell speaks of it, Mr. Simms has underscored "Fort Rensselaer" and written in the margin "Where was this fort?". Under "Canajoharie," French's note about a pre- revolutionary fort is given verbatim. He continues:
"In 1781 the house of Philip Van Alstyne was palisaded and named Fort Van Rensselaer. It is now called Fort Washington [emphasis mine], and is in the southern part of the village [of Canajoharie], on the east bank of the creek, nearly opposite the dwelling of Mrs. Gertrude Moyer. It was constructed of limestone."21
Writing for F. H. Beers in 1878, Jeptha R. Simms contributed a great deal of new information gleaned primarily from an 1856 interview with Lawrence Gros, whose father had been a captain in Colonel Willett's regiment. Like David Lipe, although two years younger, Lawrence Gros actually lived as a child at Fort Plain during most of the war. He told Simms that local farmers built the first fort in 1776 [There again what is the basis to support this claim?]. Further that the head carpenter, Jacob Dederick, was allowed to name the fort, and called it "Fort Plain" because of the clear and unobstructed view. [Oddly enough, the name of Jacob Dittrick appears in Bill Smy's "Nominal Roll of Butler's Rangers". With this fact in mind, it becomes doubtful that Mister Derick was in anyway involved in the construction of a "Rebel" fortress.].
"Fort Plain was a square inclosure in palisades of perhaps one-third of an acre of ground, with its entrance gate upon its south-easterly side toward the road leading up a ravine to it. It had in its diagonally opposite corners two small blockhouses, each so projecting as to command two sides of the inclosure, and both mounting cannon. Only two or three rods from it, on the side hill, was a
18 John H. French, Gazetteer of the State of New York (Syracuse, N.Y.: R.P. Smith, 1860), 414.
19 Ibid., 412.
20 Hamilton Child, compiler, Gazetteer and Business Directory of Montgomery and Fulton Counties, N. Y. for 186970 (1870), 93.
21 Ibid., 82.
living spring where the garrison obtained water. . . . Who commanded this post at first is not known, and probably it was not garrisoned until the spring of 1777.
Col. Willett was its commander for several seasons, perhaps not consecutively, still he is believed to have been here Constantly in the summers of 1780 [sic] and 1781. He occupied the eastern hut of three or four built on the side of the hill below the pickets, perhaps a rod or two from the spring. This was done because the inclosure was found too small to receive a sufficient number of rude tenements for all the exposed families, which resorted here nights for safety, especially when the enemy were known to be prowling about. The village of Fort Plain took its name from this military post."
"After the incursions of the enemy under Brant and other savage leaders in1780 (which were more numerous and vindictive on account of the destruction of their towns by Sullivan in 1779), rendering so many families houseless, it became necessary to increase the fort accommodations for them, and there was erected the structure afterwards known as the block-house. It was constructed of heavy square timber, octagonal in form, three stories in height, each story projecting a few feet over its base, with loop-holes for musketry. Within it was constructed an immense oven. It had one or more cannon, to be used as signal guns, or in repelling invaders. It stood upon a small knoll (which at the end of a century the farmer's plow has nearly obliterated), perhaps twenty rods southwest from the palisade inclosure. French's Gazetteer erroneously states that this block-house was erected in the French War, and by a French engineer. Had it been erected twenty years earlier, it would hardly have been done by a Frenchman, as we were at war with France. It was doubtless constructed under the immediate surveillance of Col. Willett, but who designed it is unknown; it is, however, believed to be the first of its kind on our frontiers. Some writer [Lossing] has connected the name of Col. Ganesvoort with the construction of this unique fortification, but why is unknown. He certainly was not on duty here when it was built, and Col. Willett was, and had supervision of all the defences in the neighborhood. Another writer [Lossing again] has said that although there was a sort of defence here before that period, the fort proper was not erected until 1778. Capt. Robert McKean [who died of wounds after the Battle of New Dorlach or Sharon in 1781 was] . . . reburied with military honors on the brow of the hill, in front of the blockhouse on its completion. . . . A farm road has, within the past twenty years, been cut along the brow of the hill, commencing near the site of this military post."
"The fortification called Fort Plank was situated on elevated ground nearly four miles south-west [sic] from Fort Plain, and it consisted of a small palisaded inclosure embracing a dwelling, which has for years been known as the late Chauncey House place, and is now owned by Ruben Failing, and occupied by his son Joseph. When fortified it was owned by a family named Plank, on which account it was thus named. This German name is still represented by several respectable families in the town. It is supposed a small block-house made a part of this defence, in which a cannon was mounted, at all times ready to be used as a signal gun. A few soldiers were no doubt on duty here much of the time in the summer season, to protect so far as practicable the farming interest; as was the case at similar defences elsewhere. The significant voice of the Fort Plank cannon many a time brought in quite a number of families, more especially their male members, in a circuit of a few miles. This fort is supposed to have been established in 1777, and well did it answer its purpose."22
22 F. W. Beers, compiler, History of Montgomery and Fulton Counties, New York (New York, N.Y.: F.W. Beers, 1878), 128.
Concerning "Fort Rensselaer," Beers gives the following:
"The most prominent [palisaded home] is still standing on the east side of the creek in Canajoharie. This was of stone, and was during the Revolution known as the Philip Van Alstyne, and fifty years later as the John H. Moyer place. It became known when fortified as Fort Rensselaer."23
And on rumors of an earlier fort at Canajoharie: "French's Gazetteer of the State says that a fort one hundred feet square was erected at Canajoharie at an early date as one of the chain of fortifications guarding the route to Oswego. This is an error. The fort referred to was at the upper or Canajoharie castle of the Mohawks, in Danube, Herkimer County. It had an English garrison during the wars with the French, and it was sometimes called Fort Hendrick, after the famous chieftain who dwelt near it."24
A few more details can be gleaned from Lawrence Gros' obituary in the Mohawk Valley Register for June 21, 1859. Since Gros was actually born November 3, 1776, it always seemed somewhat puzzling that he could be so certain that Fort Plain was built in 1776, the year of his birth,. However, in his obituary we learn that it was "old Peter Lambert," a "soldier" present at the time the fort was built, who told Gros that the fort was built in 1776. It was also Lambert who informed him that "Jacob Derrick" (note the change in this man's name from Dederick to Derrick) picked the name "Fort Plain." The article continues, "whether [Mr. Derrick] was an architect, a citizen or a soldier, is now unknown."25 In short, we learn that the source of Simms' information concerning the building of Fort Plain was actually hearsay [emphasis added], and not nearly as direct as we were originally led to believe.
In 1882 and 1883, Jeptha R. Simms' two-volume Frontiersman of New York was published. His 1882 description of the fortifications at Fort Plain adds nothing to the account he contributed to Beers' history four years earlier. He appears a bit more decisive in reporting that the Fort was established in 1776, but he notes that it was still unclear to him whether Colonel Dayton or any continental army officer was involved in its construction. Simms was very authoritative about the location of Fort Plain. It "was situated on the next eminence westward of the [Fort Plain] cemetery hill, and directly above a living spring." [Is this "Cemetery" the "Old Burial Ground of the Village of Fort Plain" or is it the one known in 1852 as the Mont-Auban Cemetery which is now the property of the Fort Plain Cemetery Association? One should note that the two cemeteries were in Simms' days well over a mile apart from one another? Note Well: In the first decade of the 20th Century, in article entitled "Fort Rensselaer" by Samuel Ludlow Frey and found within Frey's Papers in the New York State Library is the following quote: The present substantial marker or monument, west of the old cemetery [The Reformed German Church at Canajoharie Cemetery which was deed to the Village of Fort Plain in 1834 as recorded in the Minutes of the Village of Plain Council Meetings] , which marks the site of the old Fort Plain block-house or fort, was the gift of Hon. Homer N. Lockwood, and, with Jeptha R. Simms, he placed the stones in position not long before the death of Mr. Simms.]. A bit later, he writes:
"The land on which the defences at Fort Plain were erected, was owned by Johannes Lipe in the Revolution, and afterward his son David. The ownership is now in Seeber Lipe, a son of David. With his approbation and that of his brother William, who owns part of the ground which the fort proper inclosed, August 30, 1882, Homer N. Lockwood, Esq., and myself, placed small marble monuments on the sites of those structures, designating - the Fort as erected in 1776; and the block-house in 1781. The stones were firmly set by the united
23 Ibid., 95.
24 Loc. cit.
25 "Lawrence Gros (Obituary)," Mohawk Valley Register, 6/21/1859; also cited in full at www.rootsweb.com/-nymontgo/minden/grosobits.html (2001).
labor of Mr. Seeber Lipe, Mr. Lockwood, Mr. Harvey Wick and the writer; Hon. P. J. Wagner, in his 88th year, being present in a carriage, he having seen the block-house in his boyhood.26
Seeber and William Lipe assured Simms that the monuments would be protected for posterity, but the property soon changed hands, and the new owners moved the stones to the edge of the field. I saw the monument intended to mark the site of the blockhouse in the early 1960s. It was near the northeast comer of the Fort Plain Museum's hilltop on the fence line at the edge of the field.
Fort Plank is treated in considerably more detail in the Frontiersmen of New York:
"Fort Plank - This post established in 1776, was situated two miles and a half westward [emphasis mine] of Fort Plain, and one and a quarter miles in a direct line southerly from the Mohawk. Here, then, dwelt Frederick Plank, a whig, whose house was palisaded in a square inclosure with block-house corners. From its contiguity to the settlements of Dutchtown and Geissenburg, it served as a safe retreat for a score or two of families. Capt. Joseph House, a militia officer who was living with Plank, usually commanded this post in the absence of field-officers. Col. Stone [1838:2:95] copying from Campbell's Annals [1831:164], supposed Fort Plank and Fort Plain were synonymous names for the same fort. More or less troops were kept at this station throughout the war, and it is believed that for the first few years, it was regarded as of greater importance than Fort Plain, while the latter, from 1780, became the headquarters of the commanding officer for several military posts in its vicinity, Fort Plank included. Facts from Lawrence Gros and Abram House, the last named residing, in 1846, on the old Plank farm, now owned by Adam Failing [on Lot Two the Weiser/Waggoner Patent and Lot Three of the Windecker Patent. However, there is again no primary sources noted to support Simms' position in this matter]."27
Benson Lossing references Fort Plain for a second time in Empire State, where he wrote:
"After the desolation of the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys in 1778, Fort Plain was erected near the mouth of the Otsquago Creek, and became an important fortress. It stood upon a hill at the Village of Fort Plain. It was an irregular quadrangle in form, with earth and log bastions. It finally had a block-house (built in 1780) three stories in height pierced for musketry, the lower story for cannon. It was built of hewn logs. Each story projected about five feet beyond the one below it. The powder magazine was under it."28 [Note well that the mouth of the Otsquago creek is a strong mile south of the site of the Fort Plain Museum].
There is no mention of an earlier fort, nor any clue indicating what prompted Lossing to omit that reference.
In 1892, Rev. Washington Frothingham's History of Montgomery Countywas published. While he did not cite any new sources of information, Frothingham repeats everything that Simms wrote concerning Fort Plain and expounds broadly upon the earlier author's data. He also repeats what Simms had written about Fort Plank, correcting the "south-west" direction given in Beers to "northwest.,29
26 Simms, Frontiersmen . . . , 1:571-573.
27 Ibid., 573-574.
28 Benson J. Lossing, Empire State, a compendious history of the commonwealth of New York (1888), 306.
29 Washington Frothingham, editor, History of Montgomery County (Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co., 1892), 220221.
Concerning Fort Rensselaer, Frothingham wrote:
"Among the fortified dwellings that were utilized as places of defence during the revolution and designated as forts, was the old Van Alstyne house, which stands on the east side of [Canajoharie] Creek and was once defended by a palisade. It was known as `Fort Rensselaer,' but there is nothing to indicate that General Van Rensselaer ever stopped there. The old house later came into the possession of John H. Moyer and is mentioned at length by the historian Simms."30
The controversy over the location and identity of Fort Rensselaer did not end with Jeptha R. Simms. In the late 19th century, a spirited debate was conducted in the local newspapers. F. H. Roof defended the theory (apparently first advanced by his uncle or father) that "Fort Rensselaer" referred exclusively to the fortified stone home of Phillip Van Alstyne on Moyer Street in Canajoharie village .31 Rufus A. Grider and Samuel Ludlow Frey argued alternatively that Fort Rensselaer had nothing to do with the Van Alstyne house, but was, instead, the official government name for the post that the local people called "Fort Plain."32 Frey and Grider pointed out that the term "Fort Rensselaer" was unpopular because the Mohawk Valley German and Scotch-Irish farmers felt strong resentment towards rich Dutch landowners like Robert Van Rensselaer, the fort's official namesake. Many even believed that General Van Rensselaer was secretly a loyalist and had intentionally allowed Sir John Johnson and the British forces to escape when capture seemed inevitable after the Battle of Klock's Field. There were also professional jealousies involved. After the death of General Herkimer, rather than promoting a local Mohawk Valley officer to command the militia, Van Rensselaer (an Albany County militia officer) was appointed Brigadier General and placed in charge of the Tryon County militia. For all of these reasons, very few Mohawk Valley residents were ever willing to acknowledge the official name for Fort Plain. By the 1820s, through disuse, many had apparently forgotten about "Fort Rensselaer" altogether.
Moreover, a great deal of confusion was occasioned by the relocation of the early settlement known as Canajoharie. When used to designate a village, rather than a district, in the mid 18th-century the appellation Canajoharie was understood to refer to the area where the native Mohawks built their village or "castle" called "Canajoharie." During the period of early Euro-American settlement (1728-1755), the Mohawk "castle" of Canajoharie was located on Sand Hill.33 [emphasis added]. This was the same place where Rev. Lappius and the Indian-trader John Abeel settled and where William Seeber built his store. After 1769, it became the settlement that included the
30 Ibid., 243.
31 F. H. Roof, "Old Fort Rensselaer," The Magazine of American History, 3(10):629-630 (October 1879); "Fort Rensselaer Once More," Canajoharie (N.Y.) Courier, April 29, 1890, 2.
32 Rufus A. Grider, "Fort Rensselaer at Canajoharie, and Revolutionary Relics of Interest to Dwellers on the Mohawk," Canajoharie (N.Y.) Courier, February 25, 1890, transcribed in Grider Papers, Montgomery County Department of History and Archives; Samuel L. Frey, "Fort Rensselaer, Canajoharie," Canajoharie (N.Y.) Courier, July 17, 1894, manuscript version in Samuel L. Frey Papers, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library; "Fort Rensselaer," Mohawk Valley Register, March 6, 1912, manuscript version in Frey Papers, N.Y.S.L. 33 See section on "Fort Canajoharie" below.
"Reformed Calvinist Church of Canajoharie." [The original Church Book in the Utica Public Library is inscribed the "Reformed German Church of Canajoharie"]. It was also the little village that became known as Fort Plain, and afterward as the "Sand Hill" section of Fort Plain.34
"Schrembling's" and after the Revolution "Roofs Village" were the unofficial 18th-century names for the little hamlet that was developing at the mouth of Bowman's Kill or Canajoharie Creek. Before 1800, no one would have ever referred to that place as "Canajoharie," but in 1798 the political boundaries changed. Sand Hill was no longer within the Town of Canajoharie, but in the newly created Town of Minden. Roofs Village became the largest and most important commercial center within the new, more constricted township of Canajoharie. After that date it made good sense to call the hamlet "Canajoharie." The "Canajoharie" town post office was established there around 1800, and in 1829 the settlement at the mouth of Bowman's Kill was officially incorporated as the "Village of Canajoharie."
During the closing decades of the 18th century the earlier settlement on Sand Hill continued to be referred to as Canajoharie. (Figure 4) As time went by, however, it was more frequently called "Fort Plain," the local name for the military post that continued to be utilized until at least 1793. In 1815, when a post office was established on "Sand Hill" in the new Town of Minden it seemed more natural (and less confusing) to call it "Fort Plain P.O." After 1825, the Erie Canal moved the focal point of commercial development about a half-mile south, to the Otsquago Creek crossing, but the Revolutionary War appellation stuck. In 1832, the village was officially incorporated as the Village of Fort Plain .35 The 18th-century location of the Canajoharie settlement was quickly forgotten. Exactly how quickly it was forgotten is illustrated by the entry Dewitt Clinton made in his journal of a trip through the Mohawk Valley during the summer of 1810 [July 7, 1810].
"At a distance of forty-two and a-half miles from Schenectady, passed Fort Plain on the south side and in Minden. It derives its name from a block-house which was formerly erected here. There was a church near it, and it is marked erroneously in Wright's map Canajoharie (sic)"36
By 1840, when John Roof and Peter C. Fox talked with Jeptha R. Simms, it was only "common sense" to believe that "Fort Rensselaer, Canajoharie" must have been located in the current village of Canajoharie. Everyone had heard the story about the old stone house on Moyer Street that had been used as a Revolutionary War refuge, but no one really remembered what it was called. Surely, it must have been "Fort Rensselaer, Canajoharie."
34 Johan Casper Lappius to William Johnson, 12/29/1763, in DHSNY, 3:214; It has long been assumed that the "Sand Hill" Reformed Church, known officially as the Reformed Calvinist Church of Canajoharie, was built soon after Rev. Lappius asked permission to raise funds for its erection. However, a careful examination of dated maps and documents reveals that the earliest definite reference to the building occurs in 1770. Construction may have actually started about a year earlier. There was a Calvinist congregation at Canajoharie (Sand Hill), meeting in private homes, at least as early as 1763.
35 Wayne Lenig, "18`s Century White Settlement On Sand Hill Called Canajoharie," Canajoharie, Fort Plain, Saint Johnsville (N.Y.), Courier-Standard-Enterprise, August 9, 1972, 1.
36 William M. Campbell, editor, Dewitt Clinton's Private Canal Journal (Albany, N.Y.: Joel Munsell, 1849), 40.
In 1915, the New York State Historical Association held a thematic conference on Mohawk Valley history. Rev. William M. Beauchamp spoke about "Indian Raids in the Mohawk Valley." In his paper he noted:
"In May `81, Fort Stanwix, being almost ruined, was burned and evacuated, leaving Forts Herkimer and Dayton on the frontier. Col. Willett was now in command in the valley, and he made his headquarters at Fort Rensselaer, a quaint building still standing in the village of Canajoharie. ,"37
At the same conference, Nellis M. Crouse contributed an article on "Forts and Blockhouses in the Mohawk Valley."
According to him:
"Several forts [including Fort Plain] were built [in 1777]. . . . Fort Plain (the name was afterwards changed to Rensselaer) was a structure covering half an acre of ground. Its life, however, was short, and in 1781 it was replaced by the Fort Plain blockhouse, a curious three story building, octagonal in shape. 738
Obviously, the controversy over the identity and location of Fort Rensselaer was continuing into the 20thth century.
Journalist and artist Nelson Greene grew up in the village of Fort Plain. In the early 1900s he worked for his father at the local newspaper and later inherited the business. Local history held a strong fascination for Greene, and even before World War I he published the first of several important books on Mohawk Valley history.39 He also contributed many handsome pen-and-ink sketches of historical subjects, including a widely disseminated conjectural view of the fortifications at Fort Plain. (Figure 5)
In his final and most detailed description of Fort Plain, Greene wrote:
"Fort Plain was built in 1776 under the direction of Col. Elias Dayton. . . . The chief carpenter was John Broderick. . . . The fort was an irregular quadrangle 250 by 375 feet, with two small blockhouses `kitty cornered from each other - one probably in the southeastern corner and the other in the northwestern corner."40
He goes on to state that the fort was palisaded, and that the interior blockhouse predated the fort. Greene also noted that the exterior octagonal blockhouse was built in 1780 and 1781, about 400 feet north of the main fort. Unfortunately, he cited no bibliographic references for any of this information. We do not know why he suddenly seemed so certain that Elias Dayton oversaw the erection of Fort Plain, nor do we know why he changed the "boss carpenter's" name from Dederick to Broderick. We are given no indication of where Mr. Greene discovered the exact dimensions of the fort or how he determined that Lossing's four comer bastions with earth and log ramparts were incorrect, while Simms' vertical palisades and kitty-cornered blockhouses were accurate [How pray tell, how do we know this?! This is a statement of emotion unsubstantiated by even the most minor evidence!]. Even more
37 William M. Beauchamp, "Indian Raids in the Mohawk Valley," New York Historical Association Proceedings, 1915, 204.
38 Nellis M. Crouse, "Forts and Blockhouses in the Mohawk Valley," New York Historical Association Proceedings, 1915, 88.
39 Nelson Greene, Story of Old Fort Plain and the middle Mohawk Valley (Fort Plain, N.Y.: Standard Press, 1915); The Old Mohawk Turnpike Book (Fort Plain, N.Y.: Standard Press, 1925); History of the Mohawk Valley, gateway to the West, 1614-1925 (Chicago, 11: S. J. Clarke, 1925); Fort Plain Nelliston History, 1580-1947 (Fort Plain, N.Y.: Standard Press, 1947).
perplexing and frustrating, he gave no indication of why he believed that the interior blockhouse was built earlier than the fort, presumably during the French and Indian Wars.41
The Bloodied Mohawk, published in 2000, is the most recent contribution to the literature on Fort Plain, Fort Plank and Fort Rensselaer. The author, Ken D. Johnson, styles himself, "the Fort Plank historian". He has compiled a very thick volume that purports to give us - if not the final word - at least the most comprehensive and accurately researched information that has ever been presented on Revolutionary War Fort Plank. [One should note that, as of June 16, 2010, there are other work(s) published on Fort Plank. Thus, Mister Johnson would be well justified in claiming that his work is "the most comprehensive and accurately researched information that has ever been presented on Revolutionary War Fort Plank"]. Johnson notes that genealogical pursuits sparked his interest in Mohawk Valley history, so it seems logical and appropriate that the bulk of this book is devoted to biographical information abstracted from Revolutionary War pension applications and land records. This is the strength of the volume, and it will undoubtedly make an important contribution as an aid for genealogical research. Unfortunately, the author ventures far beyond genealogy [Into 'the realm of reproducible historic fact(s), something which should be required of every self respecting genealogist, historian or archeologist'. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the material presented in Mr. Lenig's lecture is based upon myth, legend, heresy, & yes, pure emotion, known of which could withstand testing by scientific methods] .
In short, Johnson has revived the Campbell-Stone hypothesis that Fort Plank was built at the onset of the Revolutionary War and subsequently (1779-80) renamed Fort Plain. His second premise is more original. According to the author's analysis, this fort was not located in Dutchtown where everyone else says Fort Plank stood, nor was it located on the Johannes Lipe farm, where all other researchers [Does this include Stone, Campbell, the Revolutionary Pensioners, Deputy Quarter Master Henry Glen, Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Regnier de Roussi, Lieutenant Colonel Marinus Willett, Lieutenant Colonel John Harper, Colonel Peter Gansevoort, etc., etc.? Obviously NOT!] have placed Revolutionary War Fort Plain. No, Ken D. Johnson's Fort Plank/Fort Plain was situated between those two sites on Sand Hill - immediately to the north of the Reformed Calvinist Church of Canajoharie [This Church was formally named the German Reformed Church at Canajoharie. The Reformed Calvinist Church of Canajoharie which was formed circa 1830 in response to a rift between the Old Congregation which was following the teachings of Reverend Wack and the Classis of Montgomery. Also, The Bloodied Mohawk and "In Defense of the Facts" both subscribe to the words of Jeptha R. Simms who wrote:
Fort Plain was also established in 1776, but whether Col. Dayton or any continental officer was consulted in relation to it, is now unknown. Eye witnesses have assured me that the structure was found too limited for the public need. It was situated on the next eminence westward of the cemetery hill [emphasis & underlining added], and directly above a living spring; and was made by inclosing less than half an acre of ground with palisades, with bastions or block-houses in two diagonal corners, each constructed to as with cannon to command two sides of the inclosure . . . This church seen on the right, was one-third of a mile distant from the fort . . . (The Frontiersman of New York, 1:573)
N.B. The Papers Relating to the Otsquago Patent." New York State Library Mss Collection #10816 Item 5, clearly demonstrates a 'diamond shaped' area denoting a 'redoubt' on the western edge of Expense Lot A imbedded within a three acre lot set aside for a lane surrounding it. Lipe's 100 acre tract adjoins Expense Lot A in the middle of this acreage and extends southerly to the south-eastern corner of the said Expense Lot A. Thus, Johnson is suggesting that although not built upon Lipe's farm, Fort Plank directly abutted it].
After visiting this site, Johnson was confident that he had found the exact spot depicted in William L. Stone's fanciful woodcut of the Fort Plain blockhouse (Fig lb). To strengthen his theory, the author cites an 1836 deed that mentions a "gun house" on or somewhere near Sand Hill. While his logic is not entirely clear, Mr. Johnson thinks that this reference is somehow tied to Fort Plain's use as a military supply depot in the late 18th century. He believes that this deed corroborates the authenticity of his postulated Sand Hill location for Fort Plank/Fort Plain.42
All of this conflicting information seemed mildly interesting, but nothing could have prepared me for the author's third revelation. Fort Rensselaer, according to Johnson, was not identical to - but a "sister fort" of Fort Plank/Fort Plain. Although it was a separate fort, it wasn't located on Moyer Street in Canajoharie as so many earlier authors had proclaimed. Fort Rensselaer (to the best of Ken Johnson's reckoning) was situated a mile or two south and east of Sand Hill, on the "lowlands" south of Otsquago Creek. He notes that a diamond-shaped icon on a 1772 map of the Bleecker Patent probably marks the real location of Fort Rensselaer [obviously, Mr. Lenig is unaware of the maps showing a small darkened diamond on the western border of Expense Lot A of the Rutger Bleeker Patent and the eastern edge of Upper Woodland Lot 5 of the Rutger Bleeker Patent which was referred to by Johnson as the site of Fort Plank or it is now known Fort Plain].43
40 Greene, Fort Plain Nelliston History, 39.
41 Loc. cit
42 Ken D. Johnson, The Bloodied Mohawk ( Rockport, Me: Picton Press, 2000), 214.
43 Ibid., 216-218.
Subsequent examination of early maps of the Bleecker patent by this author reveals that the diamondshaped icon referred to by Mr. Johnson was actually a "60 acre" lot located high above the Otsquago, near the northeastern point of Prospect Hill. (Figure 6) [This appears to be a intentional misquote of Mr. Johnson's text. He would again refer one to maps of Expense Lot A if he were allowed to to respond]. There was no room for a 60-acre parcel at an equivalent position along the south bank of the Otsquago Creek flats, even allowing for the change in the creek course made in the 1820s to accommodate the Erie Canal [a plethora of Colonial Era Maps and an 1803 Survey of the Mohawk River produced by Benjamin Wright (found in the Oneida Historical Society of Utica, New York) prove beyond the wildest doubt that no such change was made in the Otsquago Creek's course by the Erie Canal].
The Bleecker manuscripts mention that this diamond-shaped lot was called "Pruin Vlachte" in Dutch, or Plum Plain in English.44 Given the "Prospect Hill" location, we believe this reference relates indirectly to the Native American village site of Canajoharie, circa 1715-1728 - the village referred to elsewhere as the "Castle of Tarraghioris."45 "Pruin Vlachte" could describe an orchard associated with that village. The Iroquois apparently had a predilection for fruit. Several journals written by Revolutionary War participants in the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign against the Iroquois, mention well tended orchards near their villages, and apple trees have been found growing near many of their abandoned 18th and early 19th'-century village sites, from the Mohawk Valley to the Genesee. Because Rutger Bleecker purchased this land at about the time the Mohawks moved away from the site, any features associated with the village would have been conspicuous and likely to warrant annotation on a map. While this can only be regarded as a theory, for all of these reasons we believe it is very likely that "Pruin Vlachte" was originally associated with the Canajoharie Mohawk village or "castle".
In The Bloodied Mohawk, Ken D. Johnson forwards a very different hypothesis. He believes"Fort Rensselaer was located here because he has seen other maps that depict fortifications as diamond-shaped icons. All of the maps that we have examined call "Pruin Vlachte" a 60-acre diamond-shaped lot, nothing more and nothing less. There is no clue that might lead anyone to believe that it was a "60 acre" fortification, nor anything to suggest that this lot had anything to do with Fort Rensselaer. More germane, the map that Johnson refers to predates any historical reference to Fort Rensselaer by eight years. A note on another document in the Bleecker papers makes the notion even more implausible, for it states that the diamond-shaped lot was actually "laid out for Rutger Bleecker in the year 1730 [and] sold to Hans Smith."46 This date is at least seventeen years before there is any hint of a colonial fortification in the region and fifty years before the first reference to Fort Rensselaer. It seems that Mr. Johnson is a victim of his own wishful thinking. He wants the diamond-shaped lot to be Fort Rensselaer, because he believes Fort Plank/Fort Plain stood on Sand Hill, and he has found several references that placed Fort Rensselaer south and/or east of Fort Plank. If he could document that Fort Rensselaer was located south of the Otsquago Creek, it would provide him with additional support for his hypothesis concerning the location of Fort Plain/Fort Plank.
44 Maps and Surveys of Otsquaga and Bleecker Patents, MSC 10816 (11), Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library. [Finally a primary source!].
45 Greene, History of the Mohawk Valley, 1:148.
46 Maps and Surveys of Otsquaga and Bleecker Patents, MSC 10816 (11), op. cit.
Unfortunately for Johnson's hypothesis, documentation provides no indication that Fort Rensselaer was ever located there [and to which Mr. Johnson replied: AMEN!].
As we have seen, by the late 20th century, the history of Fort Plank, Fort Plain and Fort Rensselaer had become hopelessly confused. The acknowledged published authorities did not agree about the identity, locations, dates, or even the physical appearance of those forts. There were no known contemporary plans or sketches - only conjectural views of Fort Plain and the octagonal blockhouse rendered many years after they were demolished by artists who had never actually seen the fortifications. One could virtually believe whatever they wanted and find an author to support their position. How could we ever arrive at the historical "truths"? What did these Mohawk Valley Revolutionary War forts actually look like? When were they really built? Who built them?
In 1961 the Fort Plain Restoration, Inc. purchased what had once been the David Lipe farmstead, including the northernmost three-quarters of the hilltop where Revolutionary War Fort Plain reportedly stood. During March and April and of 1961, Stanley Gifford directed an archaeological reconnaissance of that property. With the help of mechanized equipment, he and Robert Lord stripped more than 10,000 square feet of plow-torn topsoil from the hilltop. After removing the disturbed topsoil, Lord and Gifford would walk over the stripped area examining the subsoil for artifacts and soil anomalies that might signal a previous disturbance.
Their first step was to open a trench along the brow of the hill, where Gifford hoped he might discover traces of the east curtain wall of the fort. Gifford and Lord began excavating at the property boundary nearest to the southeastern comer of the hilltop, in an area that had once been used as a soil borrow pit. Here they discovered several fragments of cut limestone as well as 18th century ceramics and glass. The area was badly disturbed, not only by the borrow pit, but by a farm roadbed that cut through the crest of the hill at this point. Nevertheless, Gifford theorized that the limestone might have been associated with a corner bastion or blockhouse of the main fort. In the hope that the east wall of the fort ran northward along the brow of the hill from this point, the trench was extended in that direction.
Nothing further was noted until the trench reached a distance of about 125 feet north of the beginning point. Here they discovered a massive subterranean limestone feature measuring between six and seven feet in diameter at the undisturbed subsoil level. Digging quickly with shovels, the two men trenched around the outside of the limestone structure to a depth of about four feet without discovering the lower limit. Because they were unable to find the bottom, Lord theorized that the structure might be a well. Immediately west of this limestone feature they found a shallow layer of ash and red burned soil measuring roughly 20' by 20'. The only artifact noted from
this layer was a European-manufactured, fine-toothed bone comb. Based upon these data, Gifford and Lord initially believed that they had located both the southeast and northeast bastions and established the limits of the east curtain wall of the main fort. Fortuitously, the entire wall seemed to be on Fort Plain Restoration property.
Following this line of thinking, their next logical step was to open a trench along the southern property boundary, nearly perpendicular to the postulated east curtain wall. If their assumptions were correct, the strategy would guarantee that the trench intercepted the west curtain wall as well as any evidence of other structures that might have been built inside the fort. The trench was dug for over 300 feet, but no archaeological evidence of the west curtain wall or any interior buildings was found. In a second attempt to verify their theory, a triangular-shaped area of 2,500 square feet was stripped of topsoil. If Lord and Gifford's analysis had been correct, this area would have been located somewhere in the middle of the postulated fort - an area likely to produce some evidence of structures. This time there was at least some evidence of 18`h century occupation. There was a large square post mold, some scattered pieces of limestone, a few hand-forged nails and fragments of pig and bovine bones that had been cut with a meat saw. However, there was not enough evidence to suggest these scattered finds represented the remains of buildings inside the fort. Matters were further complicated by discovery of a Native American refuse pit, hearths and several small round post molds dating to the 14th or 15th century.
While their initial discoveries might have been related to a corner of the main fort, it now appeared that the east curtain wall probably ran southward from that point, rather than north as originally postulated. In reality nearly the entire fort site seemed to be located upon Fort Plain Cemetery Association property.
In light of this discovery, the large limestone structure, ash and burned area that Gifford and Lord uncovered could not have been the remains of the northeast comer of the fort. Instead, it appeared they were associated with a freestanding structure that stood near the edge of the east slope, about one hundred feet north of the main fort. While no written documents have been found to help us identify this structure, there are a few archaeological clues. Directly down the east slope from the limestone structure road-grading activity uncovered a large kitchen midden, comprised almost entirely of cut domesticated mammal bones. The discarded bones in direct proximity to the large area of ash and burned soil led us to hypothesize that the subterranean limestone feature represents footings for a very large fireplace or hearth. The fireplace was probably located inside a cookhouse or kitchen that served the entire garrison at Fort Plain. Further archaeology is needed to verify this hypothesis.
Unable to document substantial evidence of the main fort on Fort Plain Restoration property, Lord shifted the focus of his archaeological search to the exterior blockhouse. Even if Fort Plain proper was located on adjacent property, it seemed almost a certainty that the blockhouse site was on the land owned by the Fort Plain Restoration. The search began by trenching perpendicular to the crest of the hill near the northeast comer of the hilltop. Unexpectedly, more Native American features were encountered. Donald Lenig was summoned to investigate, while topsoil removal operations moved about fifty feet further north. At this juncture, 75 feet west of the brow of
the hill, Lord located a thirty-foot square subsoil anomaly. A test hole was dug along the western extremity of this feature. A little more than three feet deep, rotted wood was encountered. Lord believed that he had found the basement of the exterior blockhouse.
Beginning in late June of 1961, under the auspices of the Fort Plain Restoration, Inc. and later for the Fort Plain Museum, Thomas Bollen and the author conducted intensive archaeological excavations at this site. With the help of several enthusiastic volunteers, including Mr. and Mrs. Bradford Dean, the project continued throughout three summers, ending in August of 1963. The final year the field crew was augmented by the addition of Craig Ritter.
Simms, Greene, and even the anonymous newspaper article from 1837 made it very clear that the blockhouse was supposed to be octagonal. We were able to quickly relocate the discolored soil anomaly that Robert Lord discovered, but we were somewhat perplexed to verify that it was indeed thirty feet square - not octagonal. We did recall, however, that David Lipe had informed Benson Lossing he believed the first floor of the blockhouse was square. The location of this archaeological feature definitely matched Simms' description, but there was still some concern that the cellar hole might be from something other than the blockhouse. Nothing short of complete excavation would answer our questions.
A fifty by seventy-foot area was staked-off and further subdivided into ten-foot square excavation units. The excavation-grid was aligned parallel with the edges of the cellar hole to facilitate record keeping. (Figures 7 & 8) All of the soil within the basement area was carefully removed by hand and screened through quarter-inch hardware cloth. (Figure 9) After sifting the first few shovels of fill, and discovering several "grape" or canister shot, we were greatly relieved. Clearly, this was an 18th-century military structure, not a domestic house site. In time, it became obvious that the building must have been carefully emptied, dismantled and the materials salvaged before the site was leveled. There was no evidence that the building had collapsed and rotted in place. In fact, there was very little evidence of the original building materials. One ten-foot long wooden plank was left on the floor of the basement to rot. (Figure 10) There were also a few small pieces of limestone; useless fragments left behind after virtually all of the foundation stone had been salvaged. (Figure 11) In the middle of the north wall, there was an eight by five-foot area of concentrated brick fragments, brick dust, mortar, cinders and ash. This, we theorized, was probably the location of the large oven reported by Lawrence Gros. A few pieces of broken window-glass, several types of hand-forged nails and two broken hinges complete the inventory of building materials recovered. Domestic trash was also extremely scarce, although 75 pieces of refuse bone, 14 sherds of broken redware bowls, 10 sherds of tin-glazed earthenware (delft), I sherd of slip-decorated yellow ware, 6 clay pipe fragments, a fragmentary stemmed glass goblet, and a green glass bottle fragment were recovered. The most significant finds included hundreds of iron "grape" and canister-shot, three, six and nine-pound cannon balls, cannon carriage hardware, discarded artillery implements, lead musket-shot, bayonets, gun parts and "USA" uniform buttons which left little doubt that we had
found the Fort Plain blockhouse. (Figures 12-15) Many of these finds have been detailed in an article published in Northeast Historical Archaeology.47 [As there was no "United States of America" until after the ratification of the Constitution in 1789: Why would the moniker "USA" be imprinted on the buttons of the uniforms which were being raised by and paid for by "independent states"?].
The presence of a filled-in ditch or dry-moat of unknown dimensions was confirmed on the northwestern side of the blockhouse. A test hole into the ditch-fill produced two more iron "grape" - shot. Seven large square post-molds were identified and mapped.. They averaged 1'10"x2', and were sunk two to three feet into the ground. They were evenly spaced - one about every ten feet - equidistant between the ditch and the blockhouse. Clearly, they were upright supports for a wooden retaining wall on the inside of the earthen redoubt mentioned by Benson Lossing. They may have also supported a stage or firing platform. (Figure 7). [Judging from the heavy concentration of artifacts found, one must assume that the fortress was abandoned without first removing its stores. One should also note that iron cannon balls, iron grape shot, bayonets, field pieces, and "USA" were heavily relied upon by U.S. well into the late Nineteenth Century].
Archival research completed between 1966 and 1969 provided new details concerning how and why the Fort Plain blockhouse was built, who designed it, and when it was actually completed. Once again, there were a number of surprises.
From a series of letters in the George Washington Papers at the U.S. Library of Congress, we discovered that in early 1781, a disastrous flood and fire forced the abandonment of Fort Schuyler (known during the French and Indian War as Fort Stanwix). The Continental Army troops were withdrawn to Fort Herkimer where General Washington sent a French military engineer to design and superintend a replacement fortification. Major Jean de Villefranche arrived at Fort Herkimer on June 25, 1781. On Frank's Hill, high above the old fort, he began staking out new works. The redoubt that Villefranche designed would have required more than two hundred and fifty troops to mount an adequate defense. The plans were carefully mapped to scale, and the hilltop was cleared of brush. A copy of the undated original drawing was found in the manuscript collection at the Herkimer County Historical Society (Figure 16). Within a few weeks, however, it became clear that sufficient manpower to build and garrison such a large fortification would not be forthcoming.48
At this same time, Colonel Marinus Willett was appointed by Governor Clinton to command all of the New York State troops and militia on the western Mohawk frontier. With General Washington's blessing, Willett ordered Major Villefranche to repair the old French and Indian War post that surrounded Johan Jost Herkimer's house. Additionally, he recommended that new blockhouses be built in the most advantageous locations at the German Flats, near Fort Herkimer on the south side and Fort Dayton on the north side of the river. When
47 Wayne Lenig, "Some Artillery Implements and Carraige Hardware from Fort Plain, N.Y.," Northeast Historical Archaeologist (1972), 3:
48 Colonel Marinus Willett to General George Washington, 07/06/178 1, Willett Papers, New-York Historical Society; Willett, William M. A Narrative of the Military Actions of Colonel Marinus Willett, Taken Chiefly from his own Manuscript, (New York: G. & C. & H. Carvill, 1831),73-79.
Villefranche completed those assignments, he should report to Fort Plain, or Fort Rensselaer, where Willett intended to concentrate his main forces.49
At Fort Plain, Willett requested Major Villefranche to strengthen and enlarge the existing fortifications as well as design a new outlying redoubt with a blockhouse and a large magazine for ammunition. This outwork was to have been capable of housing about 200 soldiers. Construction began immediately, but only the first two stories of the blockhouse were built by the end of October, and no work had been completed on the redoubt. In a letter to General Washington, Villefranche summarized the work that he completed in the Mohawk Valley during the summer and fall of 1781. He noted specifically that he was enclosing a copy of the plans for the new blockhouse at Fort Plain. Unfortunately, in the course of 200 years the plans became separated from the letter and have not yet been relocated [emphasis added by KDJ].50
The works were still unfinished in the spring of 1782. In May, Colonel Willett reminded Governor Clinton to ask General Washington to order funds to complete the blockhouse.51Two weeks later, General Washington wrote to Colonel Benjamin Tupper, whose 10th Massachusetts regiment was then stationed in the Mohawk Valley. Washington stated that it was out of his "ability to furnish any money for the completion of the blockhouse at Fort Plain."52 On June 10, Colonel Willett wrote a detailed letter to Governor Clinton, specifying the exact materials that were needed to complete the job. Unfortunately, the original document burned in the state capitol fire in the early 20th century.53 At about the same time Lt. Colonel George Reid's second New Hampshire regiment replaced Colonel Tupper's regiment on the western New York frontier. Colonel Reid immediately wrote to General Washington, again stressing the importance of completing the defenses at Fort Plain. General Washington responded in early July, "I . . . have given direction to the Quartermaster to furnish all the materials in his power to put Fort Plain in a state of defense as well as reparation of its magazine."54 On the same date, Washington wrote to the assistant deputy Quartermaster at Albany as follows: "Col. Reid has informed me of the ill condition of Fort Plain and the magazine at that place. As it is of the greatest importance that they should be repaired, I must request you to
49 Major Jean de Villefranche to General George Washington, 07/06/1781, Washington Papers Microfilm, U.S. Library of Congress; Pension Application of Richard Casler, W6637, U.S. National Archives. 50 Major Jean de Villefranche to General George Washington, 02/24/1782, Washington Papers Microfilm, U.S.
Library of Congress.
51 Lt. Colonel Marinus Willett to Governor George Clinton, 5/11/1782, Governor Clinton Manuscripts, vol. 15, no. 4512, New York State Archives.
52 General George Washington to Colonel Benjamin Tupper, 5/29/1782, Washington Papers Microfilm, U.S. Library of Congress.
53 Calender entry for Lt. Colonel Marinus Willett to Governor George Clinton, 6/10/1782, Governor Clinton Manuscripts, New York State Archives.
54 General George Washington to Colonel George Reid, 7/2/1782, Washington Papers Microfilm, reel
make every possible exertion to supply the necessary material."55 Action was soon taken, for the [October 22nd]1782 Quartermaster's accounts show a debit of £268 "for . . . supervision of building and transporting of logs and stone for Fort Rensselaer.56 On October 16, 1782, Colonel Willett dated a letter from "Fort McKean," the nickname reportedly given to the blockhouse.57 This is the earliest indication that has been found that suggests construction of the blockhouse was probably complete.
The evidence presented in this series of 18th-century documents shows that Major Jean de Villefranche, a French military engineer serving with the Continental Army, designed the Fort Plain blockhouse. Construction began - not in 1780 as has been maintained in all of the secondary historical reference works - but in the late summer and fall of 1781. The blockhouse was not completed until the fall of 1782, and, as Benson Lossing noted, the redoubt may not have been finished when the Revolutionary War ended in the late summer of 1783 [ASA RIPLEY, RWPA #W22077/BLWt #27654-160-55. States that he was born in the Town of West Greenwich, Fairfield County, Connecticut on May 22, 1760. In his September 5, 1832 affidavit, Ripley testified . . . That in the year 1781 in the month of August he enlisted in the New York State Troops called the New Levies under Captain Thomas Skinner and served in a Regiment and Served in a Regiment commanded by Colonel Marinus Willett in which Aaron Rowley was Major - marched to Albany from there to Schoharie thence to Turlough or Tilow where they had a battle with the Tories and Indians - from thence to Fort Plain and assisted in building Fort Plain thence to Fort Herkimer where about the 17th of October 1781, our troops had a battle with the tories and Indians commanded by Major Butler a tory - that said Major Butler, about two days after the battle, was killed by one of our Indians at West Canada Creek - . . . And, in the supplementary to his September 5, 1832, he testified that . . . the first of August ad 1781 he enlisted under Captain Thomas Skinner under Major Rowley and Colonel Willet marched to Albany from thence to Schoharrie thence to Tilaw had A battle the Tories and Indians from thence to what is now Fort plain thence to fort Herkimer was Stationed Thare about two months thence to Johnstown had A battle with the Tories and Indians the tory Butler was killed Maijor Rowly was wounded Served Four months and received A written discharge from Col. Willet . . . As Ripley's original application of September 5, 1832 was consider inadequate by the Pension Commission of the War Department he was denied his pension on first application. Thus, Ripley proceeded to swear out two additional two depositions, one on September 4, 1833 and the other on June 24, 1835. In his explanatory application, dated September 4, 1833, Ripley stated . . . That in the year 1781, in the month of August, he thinks, he volunteered under Capt. Samuel Thomas Skinner - went to Albany - thence to Schoharrie thence to Turlough or Tilow where they had a battle with the tories and indians, called Turlough battle - was then under said Capt. Skinner, & Col. Willett who was present at the battle - thence marched to Fort Plain & built Fort Plain - thence to Fort Herkimer, then back to Fort, after the fort was completed Plain, & thence to Johnstown . . . In Mister Ripley's final deposition of June 24, 1835, he is quoted as stating . . . that he was once more out as a volunteer he thinks in the year 1781 or 1782 he Joined an embodied Corps of Columbia County Militia of the State of New York under Capt Thomas Skinner of said County and was ordered on a march from thence to Albany and from thence right up the Mohawk River to a Station where Fort Plain was afterwards built and from thence to Fort Herkimer on said River where he joined formed a junction with a body of American Troops under the Command of Col Marinus Willet and from Fort Herkimer he was marched back with a Detachment of troops to where Fort Plain was to be erected where he and his fellow Soldiers were ordered to Commence building the Said Fort called Fort Plain, the Major of the Regiment was Major Rowley. His messmates were Sergeant Knapp, Sergeant Rowley, son of Major Rowley, and Samaliel Barns, on e other he recollects by the name of Lovejoy who was detached from the Fort on a scouting party and Poor fellow whilst out was killed by the Indians or tories. Whilst this applicant was employed in building Said Fort and when about half completed a body of Tories and indians made an attack on the America Troops at Fort Hunter on the Mohawk from which the enemy were repelled with loss The tories and indians and this applican thinks Some british were Commanded by the famous but infamous Col. Butler. This applicant with a Considerable number of Militia and volunteers Pursued the Party under Butler as far as Old Johnstown in Montgomery County NY where this applicant and his fellow Soldiers had a sharp battle with the Enemy In this Battle the enemy took from them a Piece of Cannon a number of times which the Americans retook and at length retained. This applicant was in the hottest of the Battle and helped to drive off the enemy from the Cannon a number of times. At the time the American troops overtook Butler and his men, they were engaged in killing the Cattle of the inhabitants and some of them were Cooking victuals when the Americans announced their arrival by sending among them Some grape Shot when the action Commenced. The action closed about dusk - The enemy under Butler then retreated being closely Pursued by the Applicant and his fellow Soldiers who was bent on retaliation retaliation against Butler & his tories & his indians for the many murders and atrocious deeds Perpetrated by them at Wyoming and other places. Their retreat Commenced on Friday / next day Saturday / they Continued the Pursuit but owing to a violent Storm of rain marched no further than Stonerabia - next day Pursued on and tried to Cut off their retreat by Seizing their boats - On Monday Some time in the afternoon the Americans Soldiers Came in Sight of the Enemy - Coming in gun shot of them. Said Col Butler was in the rear of his men he cried out and whooped to the americans at the same time slapping his Posterior and telling them to kiss them &c when one of the friendly indians who were accompaning the Americans on their expedition drew up his gun fired on Butler and gave him his mortal wound. The indian aforesaid ran up to Butler who Cried for Quarters when as this applicant was informed the indian told him he would give him Such Quarters as he and the tories gave at Wyoming and elsewhere and then struck his tomahawk into him - Scalped him, took of his red Green Coat and other ornaments & left him, Thus Perished the Cruelest of the Cruel - That this applicant & his fellow soldiers by order of Col. Willet gave up the Pursuit of the enemy and were marched back to Fort Plain where the Troops Completed the building of the Fort and this applicant when he had served out his Engagement for 4 four months he received a written discharge Signed by Col Willet and handed to hm by a subaltern officer - This tour Commenced on the 2" day of August as he thinks or not far from that day and Continued till the 3d of December ensuing 1781 or 1782 he thinks making a tour of four months duty as A volunteer Soldier - . . .].
In 1971, after years of searching, the first known contemporary rendering of the Fort Plain blockhouse was located. It is labeled, "Sketch of a Block House built at Fort Palin (sic) on the Mohawk River, designed by Colo. Villefranche [This sketch is endorsed as "Block house at Fort Plaine for Baron J Steuben"]. The Papers of George Washington suggest that this sketch was made in response to General Washington's orders for Lieutenant Colonel Villefranche and Baron Vaon Steuben to meet with General Frederick Haldimand and to survey Lake Champlain to make recommendations for improving the defenses in Lake the Lake Champlain Theater in September of 1783]. It is built of logs - near two feet diameter. It covers a large redoubt which is to the south west and commands extensively." The document was found among the miscellaneous Revolutionary War manuscripts at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. (Figure 17) We know from the abovementioned sources that several New England regiments were stationed at Fort Plain in 1782 and 1783, while the blockhouse was being completed. It is possible that this unsigned sketch was done by an American soldier from one of the New England regiments stationed at Fort Plain, although the handwriting is very similar to the previously mentioned map of fortifications near Fort Herkimer, suggesting that both may have been executed by Major Villefranche. (Figure 16)
Once again, we are confronted with primary-source evidence that seems at odds with nearly everything that has been written about this blockhouse. The depiction is of a three-storied square building, with a cupola and an oversized thirty-foot square basement that apparently functioned as a prison or jail. Not only is the overall shape of the building at odds with traditional accounts, but the basement illustrated in this sketch is radically different than any contemporaneous military structures that I have ever encountered. The cellar walls, presumably limestone, extend three to four feet above grade, high enough to accommodate at least two large barred windows. The basement is four or five feet larger than the first floor of the blockhouse, leaving the impression that the jail cells
55 General George Washington to Assistant Deputy Quarter Master Nicholas Quackenbush, 7/2/1782, original letter owned in 1890 by the Mohawk Valley Historical Association (now the Fort Rensselaer Club), cited in Grider, "Fort Rensselaer," op. cit.
56 Nicholas Quackenbush, Account of Debts Contracted in the Quarter Master General's Department by Nicholas Quackenbush, Assistant Quartermaster in the Northern Department During the Year 1782, Timothy Pickering Papers, 1745-1829, Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site, Newburgh, N.Y.
57 Lt. Colonel Marinus Willett to General Lord Stirling, 10/16/1782, Emmet Collection, New York Public Library.
were probably situated in the perimeter of the basement, between the outside cellar wall and the inside supporting walls for the first floor of the blockhouse. The design is unique, but it fits perfectly with the archaeological evidence.
In 1964 Paul Huey conducted excavations for the Fort Plain Museum in the triangular-shaped area that Lord and Gifford had stripped of topsoil in 1961. In addition to finding evidence of early 15th-century Mohawk occupation, subsequent archaeological work provided evidence that suggests this area was just outside the north curtain of the main fortification. Huey and later excavators found an 18th-century gun flint, chimney slag and the charred outlines of what may have been a portion of wooden crownworks or abatis, although the area was badly disturbed by prior bulldozing.58 (Figure 18)
In 1966 the author with help from David Stama spent two weeks testing an area adjacent to the spring, over the side hill below the northeast corner of the main fortification. The archaeological record at this location revealed several activities. First, the cultural materials recovered represent an accumulation of garbage that was discarded over the side hill during the period that the hilltop was intensively occupied. There is 18`h-century domestic refuse and some 17th century material, which derived from an earlier Native American occupation on the same hilltop. Second, there are places where deep deposits of relatively artifact-free overburden have been located. It is theorized that this stratum represents earthen fortifications that were bulldozed over the side of the hill in the late 18`s or early 19th century in order to level the hilltop for plowing.
As previously mentioned, the Fort Plain Cemetery Association has owned nearly the entire main fort site since the mid-1950s. In 1975, the board of trustees had a new road constructed from the current village cemetery to the fort site. They had run out of space for burials and were preparing to develop the fort site for new cemetery lots. After a series of negotiations, the cemetery trustees granted permission for limited archaeological testing to be completed before any further development would take place. The Fort Plain Museum and Fulton-Montgomery Community College jointly sponsored the archaeological project, and the New York State Bicentennial Commission generously granted financial assistance. As an adjunct professor of anthropology at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, the author directed those excavations [this said, what are the "qualifications" which entitled Mr. Lening to serve as a "Professor of Anthropology?"].
In June of 1975 work was begun. The workforce was composed of students in my Archaeological Field Techniques course at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, and a group of volunteers from the community. A grant from the New York State Bicentennial Commission provided funds for supplies, power equipment and a field assistant. Ms. Sandra Hutchinson, a Beloit College anthropology graduate who had recently completed fieldwork in France with Frangois Bordes was engaged as field assistant.
58 Paul R. Huey, Summary of Archaeological Excavations at Fort Plain, New York, 1964, manuscript report on file at the Fort Plain Museum.
During June and July of 1975, 35 five-foot square units were excavated by hand. In August, an earthmover or "pan" was utilized to strip an additional 11,000 square feet of plow-torn topsoil from the hilltop. Ten 18`"-century features and an equal number of 17th century Native American features relating to an earlier occupation of the hilltop were discovered. (Figure 19) By the end of the 1975 season, sections of the east and west curtain walls of the fort had been found. Both of these inner walls were constructed of horizontally laid, hewn logs, measuring between 12"-16" square. Portions of what may have been the south curtain wall were encountered, and the physical evidence suggests that it was vertically palisaded with wooden posts varying from 8"-10" in diameter. The picture is, however, somewhat clouded due to the probable presence of two earlier fortifications (the 1747 fort [what primary source(s) support this conclusion?] and the 17th century Native American settlement), as well as Lossing's assertion that Fort Plain was rebuilt by replacing the palisades with earth and log curtain walls in the early 1780s. Foundation trenches butted against the west curtain wall provide evidence of casement barracks. Two limestone fireplace or hearth bases were located within that structure. Archaeological features suggest three additional buildings.
First, a small hexagonal soil anomaly, about twelve feet in diameter, was discovered in the area where Lossing indicates an octagonal structure on his floor plan. Lossing's account is a bit confusing. It is not entirely clear whether he was reporting an octagonal blockhouse within the main fort and a second larger yet similar structure outside the walls, or only a single octagonal blockhouse either outside or inside the fort. Presumably, David Lipe identified the blockhouse shown inside the fort. (See Figure 3) Our evidence is supportive. The soil anomaly most likely represents a small hexagonal blockhouse inside the fort. Further, it is likely that this smaller polygonal structure provided the basis for all of the later recollections of an "octagonal" blockhouse at Fort Plain. Nearly identical hexagonal blockhouses were designed and built at Fort Herkimer and Fort Dayton by Major Villefranche in 1781 [What primary source(s) supports this conclusion? Villefranche's Fort Palin was a rectangular or square structure that also housed a prison]. These white pine log structures were still serviceable when Major De Lenz described their condition to General Von Steuben in 1794:
"The upper Block House at Fort Herkimer is built of white pine square logs, the lower story is about 40 feet round on the ground, the logs laid up in a six square. The upper story about 90 feet round and also a six square with a board roof on it. . . . The height of this said Block House is fifteen feet from the ground to the roof. . . . Fort Dayton on the North Side of the German Flatts is built of white pine logs and is six square, 52 feet round on the ground. The second story also a six square and 60 feet round the whole, 13 feet high from the ground to the roof which is blown off.59 [While very interesting; what, if anything, does this have to do with Forts Plank and Fort Rensselaer?].
The Americans built a similar octagonal log blockhouse at the ruins of Fort Schuyler, and the British reportedly had one in a redan at Fort George on the Canadian side of the Niagara River in the 1790s. (Figure 20).
59 Major M. De Lenz to General Von Steuben, 6/26/1794, New York State Assembly Papers Manuscripts, New York State Archives, 45:100-101,.
Second, limestone hearth footings mark the location of a small freestanding structure that may have served as officer's quarters near the center of the fort. (Figure 21)
Third, an 80-foot long freestanding building was discovered just inside and parallel to the north curtain wall. Substantial limestone foundations run parallel to the current property line between the Fort Plain Cemetery Association and Fort Plain Museum properties. This building may have served as barracks or a dinning hall. The location of the foundation leaves little doubt that the entire north curtain wall of the fort was located on what is now Fort Plain Museum property, probably under the present roadway [again one must ask what possible primary source(s) suggests that such a structure even existed?].
1976 excavations concentrated on an area near the east curtain wall of the main fort. A detached barracks is suggested by the discovery of a limestone foundation pier, three large limestone fireplace footings and a small root cellar. The burned remains of a sentry box were discovered between the detached barracks building and the east curtain. (Figure 22) This may mark the location of the "small gate" or sally port mentioned in the Pliny Moore Orderly Book at the New York State Library.60 Post molds, presumed to be a portion of the southeast bastion, but possibly from the 1747 fort or 17th Native American stockade, were discovered on the extreme southeastern point of the hilltop. The excavations revealed no evidence of a bastion or barracks at the southwest corner of the fort. This lends support to Lawrence Gros' assertion that there were only two such corners. It does raise other questions, however, concerning the nature of the evidence first encountered by Gifford and Lord at what would have been the opposite or northeast corner.
All of the 1975 excavations were accomplished after laboriously removing eight to twelve inches of plowtorn topsoil with shovels. In late August, a tractor-drawn "pan" was utilized to remove topsoil from seven ten-foot wide trenches that transected the cemetery property north to south from the brow of the hill to a point 270 feet west. The trenches were separated by approximately twenty-foot wide baulks that were used to store the spoil heaps of stripped topsoil. After a cursory examination it was determined that all of the newly exposed fort-related features were located within the easternmost four trenches. The Native American component, however, extended to the three westernmost trenches. An agreement was reached with the Cemetery Association Trustees to allow another full season of excavation. The three western trenches were to be excavated by volunteers and immediately backfilled, but the four easternmost trenches could be left open until the following season. The fort-related features identified included the probable remains of the small polygonal blockhouse, portions of the south and west curtain walls, the west casemate barracks and post molds that may have been part of the southeast and northwest bastions. During September and early October all of our efforts were directed towards the Native American features in the westernmost three trenches. Unfortunately, the director of the Fort Plain Museum did not understand that the new agreement allowed for us to keep the four easternmost trenches open. Believing that he was honoring the terms of
60 Adjutant Pliney Moore, Orderly Book of Colonel Marinus Willett's Regiment of New York State Levies, 1782-1783, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library [There is, according to the New York State Library Staff, no such Orderly Book in existence. Thus, one must ask if this instead refers to the Orderly Book of Lieutenant Colonel Marinus Willett which does exist therein?].
the original agreement, in late October or November, Donald Tuttle arranged to have the entire excavation backfilled. Since we had not yet surveyed or excavated any of the features that had been uncovered in the four easternmost trenches, a great deal of detailed information was lost. We were able to hire a bulldozer to clear a small portion of the fort site for the 1976 field school, but a great deal of time and energy was wasted.
In summary, the 1975-1976 excavations proved conclusively that the main fort was located on the extreme southeastern portion of the hilltop behind the Fort Plain Museum - the same location shown to Benson Lossing by David Lipe and to Jeptha Simms by Lawrence Gros [Again we jump to the conclusion that we know where Simms originally placed the marker and we must take into account that the modern site does not, even at best, remotely resemble what Lossing states he saw]. This fort occupied an area about 150' x 180' (.62 acres), and nearly the entire fort was situated on property now owned by the Fort Plain Cemetery Association. The excavations also provided evidence of Native American occupation on the hilltop in the 17th century, and concentrations of mid18th century ceramics and tobacco pipes, which strongly suggest that the site may have been utilized earlier by American-colonial forces.
Although only a tiny fraction of the fort was excavated, hundreds of artifacts were recovered. Since many people lived at this site, it is not surprising to discover that the bulk of archaeological materials recovered were domestic. 18''-century domestic refuse included creamware - a diagnostic ceramic type dating to the final four decades of the 18th century, white clay tobacco pipe fragments, two-tine bone-handled forks, glass liquor-bottle fragments and large quantities of cut and butchered bone. Other artifacts include iron canister-shot, lead musket balls, gunflints, gun parts and uniform-buttons in quantities sufficient to identify this as a military site. Unfortunately, complete analysis of the data and preparation of a detailed final report of the 1975 and 1976 excavations has not been completed [why not?]. On the positive side, all of the excavation notes and artifacts are conserved at the Fort Plain Museum, and many have been featured in public exhibits [if these are preserved as stated in the Museum, why does their staff (including Glendora Wetterlau, deny their existence?].
Soon after the completion of the 1976 archaeological field season, the Cemetery Association trustees had the fort lot landscaped in preparation to sell-off individual cemetery plots. At that time they moved the memorial that George Duffy had installed in order to permanently identify the site of Fort Plain. The boulder complete with its bronze plaque was moved to adjacent cemetery hill, about an eighth of a mile southwest of the original site. In the future this act will undoubtedly create even more confusion concerning the correct location of the original site of Fort Plain. There was, however, an even more appalling effect of this incident. [If the stone which served as a marker was brought in from another site, what prevented a farmer from moving the boulder from on part of a filed to another to another to another? What was to prevent the stone from being moved literally miles from its original resting place? Thus said, we have absolutely NO idea where that stone was originally placed or as to how many times it has been moved].
Of all the landmarks near the fort site we reasoned that the function and sheer size of the memorial made it the least likely thing to ever be moved. Verbal assurances from cemetery board members that they intended to preserve the actual fort site in perpetuity reinforced our belief that Mr. Duffy's marker was there to stay. Conveniently for us, the top of that boulder presented a vertical reference point that was higher than any of the surrounding topography. For these reasons we utilized the apex of the Duffy monument as an archaeological datum for the 1975/76 archaeological excavations. As a result of moving the marker, all of the measurements that we carefully recorded are indexed to a landmark that no longer exists. [This seems utterly impossible. In the 1970's we had not only the ancient means of figuring longitude and attitude, but we had LORAN A and LORAN C, as well as the OMEGA navigation system which could enable a B-52 bomber to drop a bomb with in 25 feet of a Volkswagon Bug from 30,000 feet].
In addition to the various archaeological projects that have been undertaken at the site of Revolutionary War Fort Plain, aerial photographs made in 1961 and 1975 provide clues concerning some of the massive earthen outworks at this site. Lossing speaks of a "breast work" being thrown up at the narrow perimeter of the hilltop, and the contemporary blockhouse sketch mentions a "large redoubt" to the southwest of the blockhouse site. The aerial photos reveal huge trenches, ridges and hollows near the narrowest part of the peninsular hilltop [emphasos added, as this in no way resembles the site chosen by Mr. Lenig as the site of the ruins of Fort Plain]. These do not appear to be natural features, as they are not duplicated anywhere else in the vicinity. (Figure 23) We believe they are the remnants of large-scale earthen outworks, which essentially turned the entire hilltop into one massive fortification. Without this additional space, it is doubtful that the half-acre main fort and blockhouse could have accommodated the large number of troops that was sometimes stationed there [So, so true!].
The information presented in the foregoing summary of archaeological and secondary historical information clearly establishes that major defensive military fortifications existed in the late 18th century on the hilltop behind the Johannes Lipe homestead, now known as the Fort Plain Museum [a receipt for Quit-Rents paid by this said Johannes Lipe, and found in the S. L. Frey [Samuel Ludlow Frey] Papers of the New York State Library (Box 4 Folder 94), proves that he lived upon Upper Woodland Lot Five of the Rutger Bleeker Patent. Also the absence of a Certificate of Quit-Rent Remission for Johannes Lipe's farm, the one given to him covers only his father, Casper Lipe's properties, suggests that he was not driven from his farm by the British. So, if Johannes was driven from his land, wouldn't be far to say that he probably lived very near the fortress?]. To reiterate, this is the traditional location of Revolutionary War Fort Plain as identified by several 19th - century antiquarians. Archaeology has established conclusively that the location is accurate and correct. The site of Fort Plain and its outlying blockhouse have been identified. There are, however, several additional questions that need to be addressed. [emphasis added, but again Mr. Johnson says "Amen" to this comment].
The evidence from archaeology has not established when Fort Plain was built, nor whether Fort Plank and Fort Plain were separate names for the same fortification. Neither has the excavations provided evidence bearing on the identity and location of "Fort Rensselaer." These are clearly not questions that archaeology can answer. In fact, further historical research - from primary sources wherever and whenever possible - is the only avenue which can yield accurate and conclusive answers to these questions. In recognition of that fact, concurrent with the archaeological excavations at Fort Plain, manuscript repositories all over the United States and Canada were combed for clues. A complete presentation of that information is beyond the scope of this paper, but a summary of documentation concerning the questions outlined above should provide satisfactory answers.
First, we can now state definitively that Fort Plank and Fort Plain were not the same post. We know this because we have a record of Joseph House's petition to the state legislature asking to be reimbursed for the use of his property, as follows:
"Monday Morning, February 23, 1780.
. . . a Petition of Joseph House, praying some Recompence for the Use of his House and other Buildings, occupied by the Troops as a fortified Place,
commonly called Fort Plank; [was] . . . read and referred to Mr. Fonda and Mr.Klock."61
We also know where Joseph House lived. Through the diligent efforts of Mr. Herbert Schrader of Utica, New York, we have an excellent picture of the location of many of the 18th-century residents in the Town of Minden, drawn from early deeds and other land records. In the course of his research Mr. Schrader discovered that Lot #2 in a patent granted to Conrad Weiser, John Lawyer and Johan Peter Wagner (1725) was sold by Johan Peter Wagner, Sr. to Johan Jost House and his wife Oletea on 04/01/1750. Johan Jost House subsequently died, and his widow remarried Frederick Plank [In 1765 Frederick Blank purchased from Jacobus Pickard and his wife, Gertrude Windecker, a portion of Lot 2 of the Hartman Windecker Patent (Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Judicature and in the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and the Correction of Errors, in the State of New York, Volume III:268) adjoining the lands of Ensign Henry Walrath owner of Lot 3 of the same patent. This suggests that "Fort Walrath" and "Fort Plank" should have been on adjoining tracts of land, making it highly unlikely that the women and children fleeing from the burning of Fort Walrath in the August 2, 1780 Raid, could not reach Fort Plank in safety. Further suggesting that "Fort Plank" was not built upon the farm of Frederick Blank]. By 1778, title to the home and home lot, had passed to Johan Jost's son, Captain Joseph House, but the fortified home became known as Fort Plank, rather than Fort House, because Joseph's mother, Oletea and stepfather, Frederick Plank continued to live there. This also explains the subsequent confusion over whether the property was owned by a family named Plank or House.62 [This deed, Montgomery County Deed 13:400, dated September 2, 1803, from Otillia Blank to Jacob Wright and Johan Joseph House was originally discovered by the Fort Plank Historian in 1986, and then presented to Mister Schrader who was also engaged in an intense study of the owners of the neighboring Windecker Patent of which Otillia Blank, widow of Frederick, owned 40 acres in Lot Three. The deed proves that neither Captain Joseph House, or his half-brother, Jacob Wright, had any right to make a claim against the State of New York for any usage of the said Lot Two of the Waggoner Patent].
Lot #2 in the so-called Weiser or Wagner Patent was located [in the center of] near the northeastern extremity of the tract. In more recent years it has been known as the farm of Mr. Reuben Failing [N.B. Reuben Failing, at this same time, also owned a farm in the western portion of the Upper Woodland Lots of the Bleeker Patent]. The site provides a spectacular unimpeded view of the area between the Mohawk Valley and the Cherry Valley hills, including most of the Otsquago Valley. The location was ideally suited for a fortification erected c. 1776-1778, for during those years Joseph Brant was using Onaquaga on the upper Susquehanna as his main base of operations and staging area for raids; therefore this southern approach to the valley was the anticipated avenue of attack.63
A manuscript map of western New York in 1779 by Isaac Vrooman reveals the geographic relationship between the Sand Hill Church and Fort Plank very clearly. Fort Plank is shown in a location corresponding to the House/Plank property, about a mile and a half northwest of the church.64 (Figure 24) [N.B. The words of Mister Vrooman clearly states that the layout of villages is demonstrated in an exploded view, much the same as a mechanical drawing. One will thus note that the steeple of the Reformed German Church at Canajoharie is shown as being well over 500 feet tall].
Second, we know for certain that Fort Rensselaer was located on the Johannes Lipe farm, currently owned by the Fort Plain Cemetery Association and Fort Plain Museum. We know this because, once again, we have a copy of the property owner's bill to the state for damages incurred during the period that his property was confiscated for public use:
"Fort Rensselaer Augst. 22, 1786.
61 Votes and Proceedings of the Senate of the State of New-York; At Their Third Session, Held at Kingston, In Ulster County, Commencing, August 24, 1779 (Fish-Kill: Printed by Samuel Loudon, MDCCLXXIX [sic]), 87.
62 Herbert Schrader, 18`b-century Land Patents in the Town of Minden (typed report on file at the Montgomery County Department of History and Archives, 1999).
63 Collin G. Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country: crisis and diversity in Native American communities (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 121-128. 64 Isaac Vrooman, Map of the Counties of Albany, Tryon and Part of Charlotte; made at the request of His Excellency George Washington, Esq., General and Commander in Chief of all the land and naval forces of thirteen United States of America, protracted and laid down from actual surveys which are chiefly performed by me, Isaac Vrooman, June 7, 1779, New-York Historical Society.
State of New York Dr. To John Lipe Senior
For Timber Building the Blockhouse, for fire Wood, Fencing and possession of the place by the Troops of the United States under the Command of Colonel Willett, One hundred & fifty Pounds, being the amount of my damages.
John X Lipe
Despite a lot of effort, we have been unable to locate a single shred of primary-source evidence indicating that Fort Rensselaer ever referred to the Schrembling-Van Alstyne house on Moyer Street in present-day Canajoharie. I can only conclude that the misidentification of that structure as "Fort Rensselaer" was an unfortunate 19th-century error committed innocently by well-intentioned people. The perpetuation of that myth through the name of the "Fort Rensselaer Club" is, however, something that could be rectified by an enlightened, well intentioned 21st century membership.
Third, we now know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Fort Plain and Fort Rensselaer were synonymous terms for a single fortification. We know this because we have an official army record of General Stirling's orders respecting this early controversy:
"Head Quarters Albany Octr. 22d 1782
Some confusion and inconviences have arisen from some of our posts being called by a veriety of names particularly at Canajohary, where the fort and works originaly called Fort Renselaer has by some since been called Fort Plain. In order [to prevent] such inconveniance for the future that post with its appendages is by all persons belonging to the army within this department and all those opperating with it either in the military or civil branches in all their reports, returns and letters on business to be called Fort Renselaer and no other." [emphasis added]66
[The above controversy is well explained in the Revolutionary War Pension Application of Edward Evans, RWPA ##S3487.
Vernon Trumbull County Ohio May 8th 1835
. . . That among the Documents removed from Albany is a power of attorney of Edward Evans (who subscribed it with a cross mark) and in favour of Capt Jonathan Pearsee for his pay from May 1st 1782 to January 1st 1783 dated Fort Ranselaer dated April 1st 1783 I have no distinction of the transaction but have an impression of something of the kind taking place that he was going to Phillidelphia & was disposd to make an effort for our Relief as we then had been in service about one year & had Received no pay but I think it must have passed in the negative as I received no pay But I distinctly Recolect that he went out to the south about that time & was absent from the Regiment I should Judge between two & three months As it Respects the execution by a cross mark I can only say that at its date & prior I had never written & of course it would have been the only way which I could execute that or any other instrument in writing
As to the Name of the place where it was alone the history is the following Late in autumn 1782 the Major part of the Regiment commanded b[y] Col Willet with one or two companies of Artillerymen were stationed at a place call Fort Plain & it appeared that there had some time previous been slain by the enemy a Capt McKeen whose remains were taken from the place where they had been deposited & removed to the burying ground near the Fort & Reintared with Military Hounors & the firing of cannon & in general orders Read at the head of the by order of the commandant that the fort should from hence forth be known & call'd by the name of Fort McKeen & of course for a time all official writs were dated & Recorded don at Fort McKeen but how long the order remaind in force I do not recolect but subsequently another order probibaly from higher authority but without any publick exhibition at least upon the Ground it was deemed that it should be known & calld by the name Fort Renslear & I believe as long as the Regiment remainded the place all official proceedings were dated at Fort Renslear but the original name it appears is most formilliar & signifficant & I believe as universally known & calld by the Name of Fort Plain which is also the name of the Post office in the place I have written to my son at Brock port to forward my original Declaration & sent to your office . . .
The above statement makes it clear that Fort Plain was known strictly as Fort Plain and only as Fort Plain at the time of his arrival in the Mohawk Valley, and until sometime in October of 1782, when Lieutenant Colonel Marinus Willett took it upon himself to change the name of Fort Plain to Fort McKeen. When Lord Sterling ordered that all of the appendages associated with Fort Resselaer, which is well proven to have been built in the late summer of 1781, to be addressed as Fort Rensselaer, Fort Plain became known as Fort Renssealer. Unfortunately, Lord Sterling's orders, as written, also caused all of the surrounding military installations (i.e., Fort Plank, Fort Clyde, Fort Willett, Fort Windecker, Fort Alden, etc.) to also be referred to as Fort Renssealer. Thus, after October 22, 1782, it is nearly impossible to ascertain which military post in the Canajoharie District a correspondent is writing from. This due to the district's streching out along the south-side of the Mohawk River from Anthony's Nose westerly to the base of Fall Hill, some 25+ miles, and southerly to New York's border with Pennsylvania].
Last, but certainly not least, we are left with a much more complex problem. Namely, establishing when Fort Plank and Fort Plain/Fort Rensselaer were originally built. It would be nice if we could cite a single primary reference that unequivocally established the date that each of these fortifications was built, but thus far we simply have not been able to find such a document. The 19th century antiquarians have provided perhaps the best clue to understand why this task is so difficult. In writing about these forts, the early authors all stressed that at the time they were first erected Fort Plank and Fort Plain were places of refuge for local settlers in case of alarm, not large scale official army posts. While each subsequently served as a regular army post, both forts apparently began their histories more informally.
65 Rufus Grider, Historical Scrapbooks, microfilm, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library.
66 Brigade Major William Scott, Orderly Book of the New Hampshire Brigade, Mss. #Am 6344, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 121-122,
Unfortunately, our database of primary sources has a built-in formal or "official" bias. In other words, most of the surviving collections of records from the Revolutionary period were associated with army officers, politicians, or bureaucrats - local, state or federal government officials. Therefore, the day-to-day informal actions of most citizens only come into focus when they involve some activity that the army or government bureaucracy deemed worthy of recording on paper. For instance, if there was an enemy raid on a particular settlement we might find letters from military officers describing the impact upon a particular family or individual. The same can be said for elections, taxation, confiscation of private property for use of the army, and other similar "official" activities. However, if some neighbors informally got together to build a little fort as a refuge against enemy raids it is very probable that we would find no record of the activity, or - for that matter - of the fort. On the other hand, if that same fort (or the neighborhood around it) was to be attacked, or if the militia, state or federal troops confiscated it for use, the fort would be much more likely to be mentioned in official military records.
In the case of Fort Plank, the earliest primary-source references occur a few days after the Cherry Valley "Massacre," on November 14, 1778 - when rumors were flying about an enemy attack on "Fort Plank."67 According to Benjamin Warren of Colonel Alden's Massachusetts Regiment, eight houses were burned and three men captured near "Fort Plank" at the time of this incident.68 [The Papers Commissary General of Issues Colonel Charles Stewart found in the New York Historical Association in Cooperstown, New York show that Joseph House was appointed the Assistant Deputy Commissary of Issues for Fort Plank on July 2, 1778 and that Mister House held this post until October 31, 1778. Thus, we have proof positive that Fort Plank was completed and in Continental usage as early as July 2, 1778]. A month later, Fort Plank was garrisoned for the first time by a regular Continental Army regiment. During the first quarter of 1779, the Fourth New York Regimental orderly books provide a daily record of army activities at Fort Plank.69 [Jesse Hall, RWPA #S8666, states in March of 1778, he enlisted as a private for nine months in the company of Cornelius T. Johnston (or as he is also known Cornelius T. Jansen) of the regiment commanded by Colonel Gansay (the name is spelt to give the sound) [the Third New York Regiment] and he states that he was stationed within Fort Plank or Blan on the Mohawk River. Colo. Gansay during the time had his station some twenty miles higher up the river at Fort Stannock. There was but a captain command at Fort Plank, and that command, as the applicant understood was part of Gansay's regiment. The soldiers all, at Fort Plank, believed the name of the Colonel to whose regiment they belonged, to be Gansay or Ganzee. He states that on November 11, 1778, he and his company were attached to a militia regiment commanded by one Colonel Clock. He again returned to fort Plank and his nine months tour being expired he was discharged in December 1778. We thus have evidence that Continental Troops occupied Fort Plank prior to the November 14, 1778 attack].
Fort Plank makes its first appearance abruptly in primary sources, apparently completely built and presumably garrisoned by local inhabitants and militia. Not surprisingly, the earliest mention of the fort concerns an enemy attack, which drew the attention of both militia and regular army officers. [Again, Mr. Lenig ignores the Papers of Revolutionary War's Commissary of Issues, Colonel Charles Stewart housed in the New York State Historical Asscociation Library, which are within but a half hour's drive from the Fort Plain Museum. These papers clearly demonstrate that Fort Plank was in use by the Continental Government a full four months prior to this noted event]. Military personnel, in turn, recorded the incident in several contemporary letters and a journal. Subsequently, Fort Plank was requisitioned as a regular army post and supply depot, and from that time forward we find many more references in the "official" record. The historical facts conform closely to the hypothetical model, strengthening the probability that Fort Plank was originally built as a neighborhood refuge rather than an official army post. So who built it, and how long before November 14, 1778 was it constructed?
We suspect that contemporaneous documents will probably never give us the answers to these questions. [Why not? We know from records in the NY State Library (Belinski's Guide) that Governor George Clinton ordered the fortification of the Northern Department in March of 1778, and shortly thereafter Lafayette ordered the construction of Forts Alden and Stone Arabia. We also know from numerous eyewitness accounts that Fort Plank was constructed in the spring and early summer of 1778]. Fortunately, there are other kinds of records, which frequently do reveal more obscure and informal details of the
67 Colonel James Gordon to Colonel Goose Van Schaick, 11/14/1778, in Hugh Hastings and James A. Holden, editors, Public Papers of Governor George Clinton, (Albany, N.Y.: University of the State of New York, 18991914), 4:287; Jelles Fonda to Colonel Goose Van Schaick, 11/14/1778, ibid.; Colonel Goose Van Schaick to General Edward Hand, 11/15/1778, Lyman Draper Manuscripts, Brant Papers, series 4f, no. 31 (microfilm reel 9). 68 Transcript of Benjamin Warren's Diary, 11/21/1778, Jared Sparks Manuscripts, vol. 47, Harvard University Library.
Revolutionary-period. After the war, New York State and the federal government passed several laws that provided various kinds of relief for Revolutionary War veterans. The application process for these pensions and land bounties required the veterans to provide proof of their military service. This "proof' often involved written affidavits detailing the nature of the applicant's military and civilian wartime experiences. These records have tremendous potential to answer questions that are seldom addressed by primary sources. However, there is a down side. Pension applications are not primary sources. Nearly all were filed in the 19th century - twenty-five to fifty years after the events that they describe. The old soldiers usually did a good job remembering the general sequence of events during the war, but the details, including dates and place-names, are frequently unreliable. Then too, the process of requiring the applicants to meet certain criteria in order to qualify created a powerful incentive for some individuals to be less than truthful. What it all comes down to is that not all pension applications can be treated equally, but when they are individually evaluated for internal historical accuracy, and corroborated by external validation, these records can supply compelling evidence.
There is some very important information concerning Fort Plank available from pension applications. In The Bloodied Mohawk, Johnson noted that he catalogued 250 pension applications mentioning Fort Plank and/or Fort Plain.70 A very clear pattern emerges upon closer examination. Of those pensioners who did mention Fort Plank, nearly all date their service there to some time after 1777. The few applicants claiming earlier service at "Fort Plank," were either clearly referring to the neighborhood rather than the post, or their narratives contain other obvious errors and inconsistencies. Fortunately, at least one applicant was very specific about when he served and what he did at Fort Plank.
At the beginning of the war, Peter Eckler lived at the Chyle settlement in present-day Herkimer County. In his pension application he explained that almost all of the residents abandoned the Chyle in the spring of 1778, due to the exposed location and vulnerability to enemy attack. Eckler's family along with several others moved closer to the older settled areas near the Mohawk River. After the move, Peter assisted his new neighbors "in erecting Fort Plank," under supervision of Abraham Copeman, the local militia captain. Should there be any question about the identification of the "Fort Plank" that Peter Eckler was referring to, he also notes very clearly that Joseph House lived at the fort.71 [As the Issuing Commissary General of Issues, it would have been expected for Mister House to reside at the Fort, thus it should come as no surprise that Eckler would state that Captain House was living within the fort when he arrived].
Unsupported by additional documentation, Peter Eckler's statement that Fort Plank was "erected" in the spring of 1778 would be less than conclusive. However, the rest of his application agrees closely with other recorded historical facts. There are no detectable errors, and, therefore, no reason to suspect Peter Eckler's accuracy
69 Lauber, Almon W., editor, Orderly Books of the Fourth New York Regiment, 1778-1780, The Second New York Regiment, 1780-1783 by Samuel Tallmadge and others (Albany, N.Y.: University of the State of N.Y., 1932),53-61.
70 Johnson, Bloodied Mohawk, 215.
71 Pension Application of Peter Eckler, R3217, U.S. National Archives.
or veracity. Other applications, including Henry Shall's and Henry Shaver's are supportive. They also allege that a number of families moved from the Chyle to Fort Plank in early 1778.72 There is also evidence suggesting that other little neighborhood forts were being built in the Mohawk Valley during the spring and summer of 1778. Fort Walrath, the fortified home of Lieutenant Henry Walrath only two miles northwest of Fort Plank, and Fort Windecker, a little further west, were both built at this time.73 Near Frey's Bush, several miles to the southwest, the residents were just beginning to build Fort Clyde. It wouldn't be finished for over another year.74
All of these little forts were built as neighborhood sanctuaries, informally constructed by the residents with minimal involvement by local militia officers. They were undoubtedly erected at this time because the inhabitants were concerned that the loyalists and Iroquois would soon seek retribution for their losses in 1777. Previous to Oriskany, warfare was little more than a rumor in the Mohawk Valley. However, after that battle, blood had been shed on both sides; there was no turning back. The line had been crossed in 1777, and immediately afterwards valley residents knew that it was only a matter of time before death and destruction would visit them. Forts and places of refuge became a high priority in the spring of 1778. Since the expected avenue of enemy attack during this period was from Onaquaga in the Upper Susquehanna Valley, most of the little forts were built in locations that provided a good view of that southerly approach. Everything that we know about Fort Plank fits perfectly with these facts. Unless and until primary-source documentation is located to refute it, we must accept the hypothesis that Fort Plank was first built in the spring of 1778.
It is an extremely difficult task to determine an exact date for the construction of Fort Plain. As we have seen, the nineteenth-century antiquarians cited dates ranging from the 1740s or 1750s ("The French Wars") through 1779 ("after the desolation . . . of 1778"). The earliest primary-source reference that mentions Fort Rensselaer by name dates to August 7, 1780 - only five days after an Iroquois war party burned the settlement around the fort.75 The first primary-source reference we have been able to locate mentioning Fort Plain occurs a little over a month later.76
Since General Herkimer's untimely death in 1777, Governor Clinton and other state officials had been concerned over the lack of spirited leadership and discipline in the Tryon County militia. No General officer had ever been appointed to take Nicholas Herkimer's place. Jacob Klock, the senior Colonel and logical successor, was
72 Pension Application of Henry Shall, W20051; Pension Application of Henry Shaver, S11376, U.S. National Archives.
73 Pension Application of John Dusler, W16244; Pension Application of Jacob A. Young, R11960, U.S. National Archives.
74 Pension Application of Adam Yerdon, R5771, U.S. National Archives.
75 Rev. Johan Daniel Gros to Lawrence Gros, 8/7/1780; Rev. Johan Daniel Gros to Deobald Deygert, 8/7/1780, Legislative Papers, vol. 11, no. 2128, New York State Archives.
76 Colonel William Malcom to Governor George Clinton, 9/16/1780, Miscellaneous Manuscripts: William Malcom, New-York Historical Society Library.
widely considered to be too old and cowardly to be promoted. To skip over him would have been an affront that could result in widespread dissatisfaction and even further erosion of authority. In the summer of 1780, Governor Clinton conceived a plan to overcome those difficulties. The Albany militia was split into two brigades. General Abraham Ten Broeck retained command of one brigade, and Robert Van Rensselaer was appointed Brigadier General and placed in command of the second brigade. Because of "the deranged condition" of the Tryon County militia, they were annexed to General Van Rensselaer's brigade.77
In late July, General Van Rensselaer faced his first test. A convoy of cattle and supplies destined for Fort Schuyler were reported to be cut-off by Captain Joseph Brant and 600 loyalists and Native Americans near Oriskany.78 General Van Rensselaer mobilized more than 500 New York state troops and militia - virtually all of the able-bodied soldiers in the valley - and marched off to relieve the convoy.79 Unfortunately for Van Rensselaer, Brant's presence at Oriskany was a feint. While the Tryon County men made their way west, Brant's detachment looped southeast then northeast down the Otsquago Creek Valley. About 10 A.M. on August 2, 1780 they began their attack at the Clauwbergh.80
Simultaneously, and probably unknown to Brant, a detachment of Schenectady militia was making its way west along the Mohawk from Schenectady with a second load of supplies for Fort Schuyler. Just as they were preparing to encamp on the river flats near Canajoharie Creek some of the men reported seeing smoke in the west. The commander, Colonel Wemple, reformed his men and marched to the scene.
"The enemy on our approach gave way & tho in sight we had no opportunity to give them Battle they retired in the usual way. Our first halt was at a Fort erected near Mr. Abeels House. The Inhabitants happy to see us. Directly after we had refreshed the men a few minutes, a Number of Volunteers who were least fatigued joined with the Field officers of both Regiments to see the fate of this Fort, which we found as full of sorrowful weomen & Children for their Husbands & Friends which were missing. They had, however, not made any Attempt to attack this Place. Such a Scean as we beheld since we left the
77 Governor George Clinton to General Robert Van Rensselaer, 6/29/1780, in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 5:894-895.
78 Captain Jonathan Graham to Colonel Goose Van Schaick, 7/27/1780; Colonel Goose Van Schaick to Governor George Clinton, 7/28/1780, Ibid.,6:59-62.
79 Colonel Abraham Wemple to General Abraham Ten Broeck, 8/2/1780, Ibid., 6:82.
80 The Clauwburgh in "high Dutch," or Clay Hill in English. Ken Johnson correctly deduced that this geographic feature was located near "Hartman's Dorf." Unfortunately Johnson mislocated that settlement. Hartman's Dorf in the Mohawk Valley was named after the same "list man" who was the namesake of Hartman's Dorf in the Schoharie Valley: Hartman Windecker. Hartman Windecker's Patent was located along a ridge of high land on the south side of the river overlooking the modem hamlet of Mindenville and the confluence of East Canada Creek and the Mohawk River. It was considered an important strategic location because the hilltop provided a unique view of the Upper Canajoharie Mohawk Castle to the north and the Cherry Valley hills to the south.; Colonel Guy Johnson to General George Haldimand, 8/11/1780, cited in Reid, W. Max, The Mohawk Valley, its legends and its history [underlining added by Mister Johnson] (New York, N.Y.: G. P. Putnam's, 1901),120.
River, passing dead Bodies of Men & Children most cruelly murdered, is not possible to be described. . . .
. . . The Enemy began setting Fire & destroying some way near this place ["Fort Plank" is the heading on Wemple's letter] & proceeded on to Canajohary; near the River burnt their Church, Abeels House & its Neighbourhood & upwards, where they I am lead to believe got sight of us & then retreated."81
Thomas Sammons, who was harvesting grain in a near-by field, substantiated most of what Colonel Wemple wrote:
". . . We saw smoke arise to[wards] Fort Plain. The men that worked with me , 4 or 5, went directly from the field to Fort Plain. The enemy . . . [had] . . . already gone back the same way they came, by Fort Plank and on westerly to Niagara. Having come unexpectedly near to Fort Plank [with] very few men at home, the militia having gone to guard provisions to Fort Stanwix. A woman at Fort Plank fired a cannon to make alarm. The militia from Albany and Schenectady arrived before the enemy had [left, and they] were yet burning buildings and destroying property about Fort Plain, and [the militia] marched into the river flatts [and] formed their men with some cannon they had for battle. Brant, who commanded the enemy, had no wish to make an attack on a superior formed on the river flatts . . . so he . . . soon finished his business and returned back by way of Plank Lake. . . . The militia then marched on some distance in his rear that evening about 3 miles to Fort Plank [and] stayed in the fort that night."82
Sammons' narrative identifies the little fort that Colonel Wemple first stopped at as Fort Plain. [Sammons description of Fort Plain as "a small fort" hardly fits with the description of Fort Plain that Mister Lenig describes in this essay (180 feet by 150 feet with accompanying out-works covering several acres). The Fort Plain described by Lenig is at the very least a very substantial fortress. It must also be noted that this Sammons account is dated 1913. Where is the original document(s) that authenticate this report was generated by Sammons versus one of his many descendants or others unknown?]. This identification is further substantiated by Wemple's reference to John Abeel's home near the fort, for we know from several other sources that Abeel did live contiguous to Johannes Lipe's farm at the foot of Sand Hill.83 William Bellinger later claimed that he was one of a small number of militiamen that General Van Rensselaer left behind to protect the women and children in case of an emergency. According to his recollection, Brant made "an attack on Fort Plain, but not succeeding, although but 13 able bodied men, besides the claimant, in the fort." They burned the "Meeting House next to the Fort . . . [and] . . . most of the buildings throughout the whole town." After the enemy left, the fourteen militiamen from Fort Plain followed for about four miles, where they met up with a small party of "Indians" and a skirmish broke out. They were chased back to the fort, but all returned safely.84 [Joseph Clements of Captain Joseph Brant's forces states that Brant attacked Fort Plank directly, but was unable to sustain the attack due to two mounted cannon (Haldimand Papers, Add Mss #21767:109)].
Almon's Remembrancer, an English publication specializing in news about the war in America, reported Brant's Canajoharie raid of August 2, 1780 as follows:
"New York, Sept. 9  The following account may be depended on: - At the fort now called [emphasis mine] fort Ransalaer, Sir John Johnson (sic) and Captain Brant have burnt
81 Colonel Abraham Wemple to General Abraham Ten Broeck, 8/2/1780, in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 6:80-82.
82 Thomas Sammons, "Narrative Statement of Thomas Sammons," Mohawk Valley Democrat, 7/10/1913.
83 Beers, History of Montgomery County, 132; Greene, The Mohawk Valley, 2:999; Fort Plain Nelliston History, 98. [All of these said sources are, at their very best, tertiary in nature].
84 Pension Application of William Bellinger, S28641, U.S. National Archives.
Upon his return from Fort Stanwix, Colonel John Harper was very critical of the decision to remove all of the troops from the Mohawk settlements in order to guard supplies for Fort Schuyler. He also intimated that he did not get along well with General Van Rensselaer.86 Colonel Clyde, the commander of the Canajoharie district militia regiment, was also upset over the consequences of removing all of the troops from the forts at Canajoharie, but somewhat more conciliatory towards Van Rensselaer. He complained to the governor that sending a General without any troops was "like sending a man to chop wood without an axe."87
By early September, General Van Rensselaer had moved Harper's Levies, Brown's Massachusetts Levies and a detachment of militia - over 400 men and officers - to Fort Rensselaer." At the same time the Assistant Commissary of Issues moved his headquarters from Fort Plank to Fort Rensselaer."
The evidence suggests that during the summer of 1780, probably just after the Canajoharie raid, General Robert Van Rensselaer appropriated a small neighborhood fortification on the Johannes Lipe farm for use as his military headquarters. The fort was centrally located, overlooking the river, and directly opposite Johannes Walrath's Mohawk River ferry.90 [N.B. The exact text of his license is found in Volume 5 of The Public Papers of George Clinton, page 593, and reads:
We the Supervisors of Tryon County do hereby certify that the Place of John Walrad is very convenient to be an establish'd Ferry, and at this Time highly necessary to preserve a Communication between Forts Plank and Paris, and do hereby recommend the said John Walrad to his Excellency Governor Clinton, for a License for a Ferry across the Mohock River. Given under our Hands the 6th Day of April 1780.
Jelles Fonda, Chris'r P. Yates, John Pickerd, Augustinus Hess, Henrick Staring.].
It was, according to Assistant Deputy Commissary Glen, "the properest place to collect flour . . . on the south side [of the river].91 At that time the fort may or may not have been known informally as Fort Plain, but it was officially proclaimed "Fort Rensselaer," in honor of the new local militia commander. There was a well-established precedent for this procedure in the Mohawk Valley. In 1776, Fort Stanwix was renamed Fort Schuyler to honor Major General Phillip Schuyler, Commander-in-Chief in the Northern Department, and in the same year Fort Dayton was erected and named to honor Colonel Elias Dayton, the commanding officer at the fort. In 1778, Fort Alden in Cherry Valley was named for the commanding officer of that post, and there are several other examples.
85 Almon, John, The Remembrancer, or impartial repository of public events" (1775-1784), 10:339.
86 Colonel John Harper to Henry Glen, Esq., 8/7/1780, Glen Papers, New York State Historical Association.
87 Lt. Colonel Samuel Clyde to Governor George Clinton, 8/8/1780, in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 6:8890.
88 A Return of the Troops in Tryon County Under Command of Brigadier General Robert Van Rensselaer, 9/11/1780, Ibid., 6:212.
89 James Moore to Anthony Van Veghten, 9/14/1780, Miscellaneous Manuscripts: Fort Rensselaer, New-York Historical Society.
90 Petition for a ferry on the Mohawk between Fort Plank and Fort Paris, 4/6/1780, Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 5:593.
91 Henry Glen to Colonel William Malcom, 9/17/1780, Glen Papers, New York State Historical Association.
Throughout the fall, the numbers of troops at Fort Plain or Rensselaer increased dramatically, probably in part to provide manpower for strengthening and enlarging the defensive works. By the end of September, Colonel Louis Dubois was stationed there with his regiment of New York State troops, or levies. The district commander, Dubois' superior, William Malcom wrote to the governor:
"I am adding something to the expense of this little fort. It is the only thing that keeps the inhabitants easy & there must be something to cover a few troops in winter and to hold their provisions. A few boards (which we impress) & nails isall the charge."92
Colonel Malcom's statement implies that in the fall of 1780 Fort Plain had no barracks to shelter troops nor magazine to store munitions and supplies. This, in turn, suggests that the fort was newly constructed and still incomplete, or it had not been originally designed for a permanent garrison of regular troops. The evidence supports the second alternative.
How long before August 2, 1780 was Fort Plain/Fort Rensselaer built? Again we turn to 19th-century pension applications for clues.
In early 1779 Joseph Degolyer was called-up to active duty from the militia. "[He] served three weeks at Fort Plank as a soldier [and] assisted in keeping [the] garrison. Fort Plank was situated on the Mohawk river, about three miles south of the river. [Mr. Degolyer] does not remember the names of the officers in command there while he was there. Whilst [he] was at Fort Plank a body of men came on and built Fort Plain, about three miles North of Fort Plank on the Mohawk River."93
In this single document, Joseph Degolyer suggested a date for the erection of Fort Plain, testified very clearly that Fort Plain and Fort Plank were separate fortifications and accurately reported the locations of both forts: Fort Plank, back from the river, and Fort Plain "three miles North" or near the river's edge. [As this location differs dramatically from the reports of multiple other veterans of Forts Plank and "Plain": Upon what primary sources is this "accuracy" determined?!]. The facts fit well with what we already know. Fort Plank was located in the highlands about three miles inland from the western terminus of Walrath's ferry, and Fort Plain was contiguous to the ferry and close to the river's edge in what appears to be a northerly direction from Fort Plank. There is every reason to believe that Joseph Degolyer was making an accurate report. So, who were those troops who came into the region and built Fort Plain in early 1779? [Earlier in his essay Mister Lenig stated "Pension applications are not [emphasis by KDJ] primary sources". Yet he goes on to ask one to believe that Degolyer's was accurate in spite of the fact that not a single contemporary source from the Revolutionary War or the plethora of local Revolutionary Pension Applications support Mister Degolyer's statement].
In the spring of 1778 [sic: 1779, as the Fourth New York Regiment never arrived at Fort Plank until December 13, 1779 (Pierre De Regnier to Henry Glen, NYSL)], while residing at Fishkill, Dutchess County, Elias Van Bunschoten enlisted for nine months under Lieutenant Peter Van Bunschoten in a company commanded by Captain John Davis and the Fourth New York Regiment commanded by Lt. Colonel Frederick Weissenfels. He served the early part of his enlistment
92 Colonel William Malcom to Governor George Clinton, 9/25/1780, Miscellaneous Manuscripts: William Malcom, New-York Historical Society.
93 Pension Application of Joseph Degolier, S12744, U.S. National Archives.
at Valley Forge and Peekskill, but in late November the New York Brigade was called north. Weissenfels' Regiment left Fishkill for Albany on November 19.94
. . . then to Schenectady, then to Johnson's Hall, next to a place called Stone Robby . . . and] from there to Canajoharry, where [Van Bunschoten] and his company were billeted upon the inhabitants. While at this last place [Van Bunschoten] & his company were engaged in erecting a temporary Fort for the protection of the women & children from the Indians. While at this last place deponents time of enlistment expired.95
The "nine-month's men" time of enlistment expired February 4 and 5, 1779, but "fatigue" parties of forty to eighty men from the Fourth New York continued to be assigned. While the orderly book never specified what project these men were working on, the evidence from the pension applications strongly suggests that they were building Fort Plain. There are other clues. For instance, on February 12th, forty men were sent [from Fort Plank] with axes, sleds and horses "graging the abtalies" - probably supposed to read, dragging the abatis.96
An abatis was a temporary fortification or breastworks constructed from newly felled trees. They were piled on top of each other and intertwined to form a tangled wall. The branches were left attached and often sharpened and pointed at the ends. An abatis breastwork presented a formidable obstacle to attackers, for while the brambles were hampering their progress, enemy soldiers became easy targets for the muskets of the defenders inside the breastwork. Abatis outworks sometimes formed a perimeter defense around a fort.97
An analysis of all available historical evidence leads to the conclusion that Revolutionary War Fort Plain was built in the late winter and spring of 1779 as a "temporary" refuge for the local inhabitants by soldiers from the Fourth New York Regiment. Other pension applications provide support for that date. For instance, in early April of 1779 Lodewick Moyer enlisted for nine months in Captain Bradpick's company of Colonel Henry K. Van Rensselaer's regiment of levies, or state troops. According to his testimony, they were marched from Fort Plank to Fort Plain, where they remained for a short time. This is one of the earliest references suggesting there was an official garrison at that post.98 Once again, I caution, there are occasional pension applications making reference to Fort Plain earlier than 1779, but it is usually clear that the reference is to the locality, or there are internal inconsistencies which discount the accuracy of the document. This is exactly the reason that it is extremely important to understand the limitations of pension records. [Matching testimonials are often found in the applications of other individuals, often from differing military units, which tend to collaborate the veracity of a disputed fact(s)].
News of preliminary peace between the United States and Great Britain reached Fort Plain in early May of 1783. An ox was roasted at a public celebration, and Colonel Willett immediately dispatched a messenger to the
94 Lauber, Orderly Books, 49.
95 Pension Application of Elias Van Bunschoten, S 11593, U.S. National Archives.
96 Lauber, Orderly Books, 61.
97 See U.S. National Parks Service "Pictionary," @ http://www.nps.gov/pete/manhan/abatis.html.
98 Pension Application of Lodewick Moyer, S11115, U.S. National Archives.
British post at Oswego.99 With military activity at a lull, Fort Plain was utilized increasingly for civil affairs. On June 8, the elected officials and freeholders of Canajoharie District met at Fort Plain and resolved not to permit loyalists to resettle within the district.100 On July 4, 1783 there was another huge celebration in the "bower near the fort." A 13-gun salute was made and numerous public toasts were drunk.10' But the high spot of the year came in early August, when General Washington and Governor Clinton visited Fort Plain. Throughout the early 1780s General Washington invariably referred to the post as "Fort Plain" in letters and reports, but from the time of his visit forward, the Commander-in-Chief always called it "Fort Rensselaer".102 Colonel Willett stayed-on at Fort Plain until late December 1783, then retired from the military to return to his home in New York City.103
Fort Plain continued to be garrisoned by the New York State Battalion and U.S. Infantry Regiment in 1784 and at least part of 1785.104 John Kent mentioned seeing Fort Plain "sometimes called Fort Rensselaer" on a trip through the valley in 1791.105 The fort continued in use as a depository for ordnance and military supplies until at least as late as 1793.106 Both the blockhouse and main fort were still standing, for in that year a traveler from the west reports, "proceeding for fifteen miles from the falls, we were brought to Fort Plain, where [there] are two log forts."107 In early 1796, General Peter Gansevoort noted that William Colbreath had transported some "cannon and military stores from Fort Rensselaer to Fort Schuyler."108 Whether this marks the date of the final removal of military supplies and abandonment of Fort Plain/Fort Rensselaer as a federal military post is not clear.
As we have previously seen, Dewitt Clinton's 1810 journal provides the earliest primary-source evidence that the fortifications at Fort Plain had been dismantled.109 According to the reminiscences of an anonymous writer for the Mohawk Valley Register in 1861:
99 Pension Application of Henry Eclair, S 10605, U.S. National Archives; Lt. Colonel Marinus Willett to General George Washington, 5/9/1783, George Washington Papers, microfilm, reel
100 Stone, Life of Brant, 2:x-xi.
101 Lieutenant Pliney Moore to Messrs. Balantine and Webster publishers of the New York Gazette or Northern Intelligencer, 7/10/1783, cited in Fort Plain Standard, date unknown (clipping).
102 General George Washington to Baron Von Steuben, 8/3/1783; General George Washington to Continental Congress, 8/6/1783, George Washington Papers, U.S. Library of Congress Microfilm.
103 Mather, 1901:84; Colonel Marinus Willett to A. Taylor, 3/26/1783, MS 3905, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library.
104 Journals of Continental Congress, 1774-1789, 28:660.
105 John T. Horton, "The Mohawk Valley in 1791," Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association 39(1940):209-213.
106 American State Papers, Military Affairs, Is'-15'h Congress, 1:49.
107 John Harriott, Struggles Through Life, Exemplified in the Various Travels and Adventures in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America of Lieut. John Harriott, (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees and Irme, 1808), 2:141.
108 General Peter Gansevoort to Colonel William North, 2/17/1796, Emmett Collection, EM4601, New York Public Library.
109 William M. Campbell (ed.), Dewitt Clinton's Private Canal Journal, 1810; Life and Writings of Dewitt Clinton, (Albany, N.Y.: Joel Munsel and Sons, 1849), 40.
"In 1811, there was a luxuriant growth of Rye on the site of the old fort, at Fort Plain; the block house, had shortly before been pulled down, and the timber was then piled beside the fence. The brass cannon, formerly belonging to the fort, had a few years before seceded: but whether it went over to the enemies of the country or took lodgings with some worker in brass, is not generally known,"10
While the author of this article did not state it directly, he or she implied that the main fortification had been gone for some time before the blockhouse was dismantled.
The foregoing outline of events accurately reflects current knowledge concerning the Revolutionary War period history of Fort Plank, Fort Plain and Fort Rensselaer, but there is still one very unsettling detail that has not been addressed. The secondary-source references to earlier French and Indian War period fortifications on the site of Fort Plain can not be summarily dismissed. To understand how and why a fort might have been located here at that early date, we need to examine the movements of 18th century Mohawk villages.
Canajoharie is, of course, a Mohawk-Iroquois word. Joseph Brant stated that in English it meant "a kettle stuck on a pole," and the missionary Samuel Kirkland reported that Canajoharie translated as "the great boiling pot. 112 Both of these early translations carry the implication that the reference is to a cooking pot fixed to a pole over a fire or perhaps a kettle full of hot food cooking over a fire. More recent attempts to explain the meaning of Canajoharie refer to "washing the pot," or "the kettle that washes itself." Joseph Brant biographer Isabel Kelsey finds the later translations less convincing.113 Moreover, there are some tantalizing historical references that lend support to the first alternative. For instance, in 1645 at Trois Riviers a Mohawk speaker who was encouraging the French to visit the Mohawk Valley used the phrase "the pot will be boiling on your arrival."114 Since Canajoharie seems to have been the original name for the middle Mohawk "Castle," I am suggesting that the place-name may have been associated with the Mohawk village that functioned analogously to Onondaga - the central nation in the League, which was the diplomatic capital of the Six Nations. In the metaphorical parlance of the Iroquois, Canajoharie was the place where the pot was always hung over the fire and filled with a hot meal to entertain foreign dignitaries to Mohawk country. After the Mohawk homelands were severely depopulated in the late 17th century, the number of clan capital or "castles" was reduced from three to two. However, "Canajoharie" was retained as the name of the westernmost castle throughout the 18th century.
From 1715-1728, there are a number of maps and references that place the Canajoharie Castle nearly
110 Anonymous, "The Mohawk Valley in 1811," reprinted in St. Johnsville (N.Y.) Enterprise and News, 2/7/1946. "' Isabel Kelsay, Joseph Brant, 1743-1807, man of two worlds, (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1984), 46.
112 William M. Beauchamp, Aboriginal Place Names of New York (Albany, N.Y.: New York State Education Department, 1907),
113 Kelsey, Joseph Brant, Loc. cit.
opposite the boundary line between the Van Slyck and Harrison Patents. (Figure 25) This is the so-called Prospect Hill site or Taraghioris Castle, mentioned earlier and located near the southern boundary of the modem Village of Fort Plain.115 It is the same location illustrated on Colden's map in the second edition of History of the Five Indian Nations.116 In 1728 the Mohawks granted land near the location this village had formerly occupied. According to W. Max Reid, the "Indian deed" reads, "for sundry good causes and lawful consideration in moving [emphasis mine], but more especially for the love and affection we bear to our loving friends, Jan Wemp and Cornelis Van Slyck."117 This deed establishes an approximate date that the Canajoharie "Castle" was moved,118 but where was it relocated?
The earliest clue is provided by a complaint from eight Mohawk sachems in 1732 concerning Philip Livingston, who had fraudulently obtained a patent for "all their Land which lays to the North and west along the Mohawks River as far as a certain fall in the said River."119 Livingston's Patent stretched along the south (or west) shore of the Mohawk from just north of Sand Hill, northwestward nearly ten miles to the Nowadaga Creek. If this land was immediately "to the North and west" of the Canajoharie or western Castle, then that village was at Sand Hill. In 1736, Rev. Henry Barclay reported to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel that he regularly visited the "Upper Castle" of the Mohawks, which was located some twenty miles from Fort Hunter.120 Sand Hill is twenty-five miles from Fort Hunter. The other 18th-century village sites opposite the mouth of the East Canada Creek and on the Nowadaga Creek are well over thirty miles from the lower castle. Even though mileage was
114 Thomas Grassmann, The Mohawk Indians and Their Valley, (Schenectady, N.Y.: J. S. Lischynsky, 1969), 102.
115 Depeyster and Van Slyck Patent Map, 9/1/1716, Endorsed Land Papers, New York State Archives.
116 The original manuscript Colden map is in the Justin Winsor Collection, Widener Memorial Library, Harvard University. It is undated and has been ascribed to circa 1747 because it first appeared in the 1747, or 2nd edition of Colden's History of the Five Indian Nations. Actually, Colden volunteered to draught a map fitting this description for Gevernor Montgomery in 1728 (Calender of N. Y. Colonial Manuscripts, 2:503), and there is good reason to believe that this map dates to that date (1728).
117 W. Max Reid, The Mohawk Valley, (New York: Putnam, 1901), 386.
118 Donald Lenig, "Donald Lenig Documents Specific Locations of Canajoharie Castle, Associated Village," Canajoharie, Fort Plain, Saint Johnsville (N.Y.) Courier-Standard-Enterprise, November 29, 1972. In this article Lenig reviewed the historical and archaeological evidence pertaining to the various locations of the Canajoharie "Castle." He concluded that from 1694-1753, Canajoharie "Castle" was on "Prospect Hill" in Fort Plain. From 1753-1777, Donald Lenig noted that the "castle" moved to Fort Hendrick, nearly opposite the mouth of East Canada Creek. He also speculated that a small village might have been located at the later site from about 1722. Unfortunately, Donald Lenig was unaware of the documentation supporting an intermediate location of the Canajoharie "Castle" on Sand Hill. He chose to interpret the archaeological evidence from burials at both Sand Hill and the Gallagan site on "Fort Hill" as relating to the "Prospect Hill" village site over a mile to the south. In spite of what Donald Lenig implied, no archaeological materials are known from the site of Fort Hendrick.
119 Charles H. McIlwain (ed.), Abridgment of the Indian affairs contained in four folio volumes, transacted in the colony of New York, from the years 1678 to the year 1751, by Peter Wraxall, (Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press, 1915), 185-186.
120 John W. Lydekkar, The Faithful Mohawks, (Cambridge [Eng.]: The University Press, 1938), 54.
frequently estimated inaccurately in the 18th century, most mistakes were not of such a major magnitude (33%). For this reason, Barclay's statement supports the Sand Hill location of Canajoharie Castle in 1736.
Archaeological evidence also supports the Sand Hill location of Canajoharie Castle from circa 1728-1753. In the early 1950s, during construction of the New York State Thruway, a large borrow-pit was opened on top of Sand Hill. Artifacts rescued from archaeological features in this borrow-pit by Donald Lenig, Ronald Luft and others include temporally sensitive indicators such as European ceramics and tobacco - pipe fragments. Many of these artifacts date unmistakably to the second quarter of the 18th century (c. 1725-1750). Additionally, in 1960 Dr. Peter Pratt located several Native American burials on Sand Hill that yielded European glass beads characteristic of the mid-18th century.121 Clearly there was a Native American presence on Sand Hill in the 1725-1750 time-period, and historical documentation indicates that their settlement was known as the "Canajoharie Castle."122
From about 1715, another smaller Mohawk village called "Dekagjoharone" was situated on the north side of the river near the mouth of the East Canada Creek.123 The site of this village is a registered archaeological site (Las 1), and collections of early 18th century material can be found at the New York State Museum as well as the Harvard-Peabody Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts.124 In 1750 this village was moved across the river and about a mile upstream to a location on the east bank and near the mouth of the Nowadaga Creek. Conrad Weiser was the first to document this relocation, when he visited "the upper Castle of the Mohocks called Canawadagy" on his way to and return from Onondaga in the fall of 1750."125 The following year, the Mohawks renewed complaints about the Livingston Patent, and they specify, for the first time, that the patent included one of their village sites and most of their cornfields. 126 In 1753, the Canajoharie Castle was apparently also moved from Sand Hill to a new location within the bounds of the Livingston Patent. 127 In 1755, Fort Hendrick was constructed, nearly opposite the mouth of the East Canada Creek. 128 This is probably the same locale that the castle had moved to in 1753. From that
121 Peter P. Pratt, (1962); personal communication.
122 DRCH, 6:784-785
123 Description of the Harrison Patent, 10/03/1722, Calender of Land Papers, 163.
124 Dean R. Snow, Mohawk Valley Archaeology: The Sites, (Albany, N.Y.: University at Albany, 1995), 493-495; Snow believed that this important site dated to the third quarter of the 18a'-century, and there is some historical documentation that suggests there was a small continued Native American presence on this site during that interval. However, there is far greater historical and archaeological evidence that this was a major outlying village from 1715 through 1750. Snow's wild speculation concerning the so-called Mud Bridge site on the opposite side of the river being "Dekohage" is completely specious, as that site has never produced anything other than a few non-diagnostic pieces of chert debitage. It is very probably a small prehistoric component. The Timmerman site, also mentioned by Snow, appears to date to the late 17th century on the basis of a handful of glass beads and European pipe stems.
125 William L, Beauchamp (ed.), The Life of Conrad Weiser (Syracuse, N.Y.: Onondaga Historical Association,1925), 83.
126 DRCH, 6:315.
127 A. Colden to C. Colden, 11/07/1753, Colden Papers, 9:129; Minutes of a meeting between Lt. Gov. Delancey and the Six Nations at Albany, 07/08/1754, DHSNY, 2:596-597 128 W. Johnson to J. Delancey, 6/6/1755, DHSNY., 2:657; Johnson Papers, 1:842.
date until the Canajoharie Mohawks left the valley in 1777, their main village or "castle" was located on land within the Livingston Patent. It is very likely that both the Nowadaga village and the Canajoharie Castle were moved to these lands in order to protect against encroachment by the heirs of Philip Livingston, George Klock and others.129
In the meantime, the Native American settlement at Sand Hill had attracted traders and merchants such as John Abeel and William Seeber. By the 1740s, immigrants had begun to carve farmsteads from the surrounding forests. The Mohawks even collected rent from some of these "Switzer" families.130 As time went by, the Sand Hill settlement became predominantly European-American, yet it retained the name "Canajoharie." In 1761, the residents asked the governor for permission to build a new church, and sometime before 1770 the "Reformed Calvinist Church of Canajohary" was built on Sand Hill.131 At the same time, the Mohawk settlements at Nowadaga and Fort Hendrick on the Livingston Patent were referred to variously as "Upper Canajoharie," the "Upper Castle," and, after 1753, "Canajoharie Castle." There is reason to believe that a small Mohawk settlement also remained at Sand Hill as late as 1768, for in that year a visitor remarked, "between Cahanawaga [Fonda] and Fort Herkiman is a village called Conashechary a very pleasant settlement, with a village of Indians near it. A little above this is the principal Castle of the Mohawks, now but thinly inhabited."132
In July of 1747, at least six years before the castle moved from Sand Hill, Governor Clinton ordered militia Colonel William Johnson to erect a fortification at Canajoharie. The fort was to enclose an acre or more and to have two blockhouses in the most convenient part of the stockade. It was to be large enough to garrison at least one company of militia, "to do duty [and] keep watch night and day." The fort was clearly a separate location than the Indian "Castle." According to the governor it was built "to prevent any surprise from the enemy, and protect not only the Inhabitants of Conajoharee, but the Indians (in our Alliance) that shall repair to the said Fort." On July 23, Johnson was at Canajoharie Castle, entertaining the Mohawks and `laying out the fort."134 On November 7, 1747, Johnson's expense account included a notation of "£49 to making a small fortification without blockhouses at
129 Philip Lord, "Taverns, Forts and Castles: Rediscovering King Hendrick's Village," Northeastern Anthropology, 52:69-94 (1996); In this article Lord documents the location of Fort Hendrick. He also notes the bi-polar settlement pattern at the Upper Castle in the third quarter of the 18th century. Following Donald Lenig, Lord felt that Native American settlement in this area began in the 1730s or 40s with a cluster of houses near Fort Hendrick, the eastern locus at the Upper Castle, then subsequently spread westward to the Nowadaga locus over the course of several years (p. 80). Our data suggests that the sequence of settlement at Upper Canajoharie was from west to east. The earliest references to the Nowadaga settlement date to 1750, while the Fort Hendrick locus does not appear to have been settled until 1753.
130 W Johnson to D. Claus, 3/10/1761, JP, 3:356
131 Petition of Rev. J. C. Lappius et al., 9/9/1761, Calendar of Historical Manuscripts, 2:725
132 John Lees, Journal of J. L., of Quebec, merchant, published by the Society of colonial wars of the state of Michigan (Detroit: Speaker-Hines Press, 1911), 16.
133 G. Clinton to W. Johnson, 7/2/1747, Johnson Papers, 1:103-104
134 Johnson Papers, 9:27-28
Conajoharee."135 The fort did not allay all of the fears of the Canajoharie warriors, for the following summer they petitioned the governor to have their village fortified.136 This must have been accomplished, for two years later, after hearing rumors of a new war with France, the Mohawk women asked Johnson to repair the stockades and have new irons and locks installed on the gates of their village.137
Moravian missionaries visited Canajoharie at least three times during the interval that the castle was located at Sand Hill. During the summer of 1744, John Christopher Pyrlaeus lived with the sachem Hendrick Peters for two months, studying the Mohawk language.138 The following summer David Zeisberger and Frederick Post also stayed with Hendrick for a short time before they were arrested by provincial authorities and removed. In 1752, Zeisberger visited Canajoharie a second time while on his way to a grand council meeting at Onondaga. A journal kept during that brief visit has been published:
"Tuesday, August 15 , at 8 o'clock reached Canajoharie, a Maqua Indian town, where Bro. David and Post were arrested seven years ago, and carried to prison in New York. Bro. David showed us the house in which they then lodged. . . The castle [fort], which was built during the last war, is half a mile from the town. We continued for 8 miles, through the woods until noon, when we came to the Great Falls [Little Falls]."139
The Moravians seem to have used the word "castle" to designate the fort rather than the Native American village, but it is clear that two separate entities were intended. There was the Mohawk "town," and the "castle" or fort "built during the last war." By the last war, they could have only been referring to King George's War, 1744-1748, and there is little doubt that the fort was the same structure that William Johnson constructed in 1747. Zeisberger's identification of the house that he stayed in during his 1745 visit eliminates any possibility that the castle moved in the interim. Hendrick Peters further substantiates the Sand Hill location in June of 1752, when he states that "Peter Wagner's land [is] over against Conajohary Castle, [on the] north side of the river." 140 The stone house of Johan Peter Wagner, built about 1750, still stands on the "north" or more accurately the east side of the river, nearly directly across from Sand Hill. The "Canajoharie Fort" of 1747 could have been "half a mile" in nearly any direction from the Mohawk town on Sand Hill, but the most eligible location was to the south - on the same site that was occupied thirty years later by Fort Plain/Fort Rensselaer.
A fort that was only garrisoned sporadically for four or five years by small detachments of colonial militia could be difficult to detect archaeologically, especially if the same site was utilized much more intensively by
135 Johnson Papers, 9:30
136 Johnson Papers, 1:175-176
137 Johnson Papers, 1:276-279
138 John G. E. Heckwelder, History, of Pennsylvania, 1819):61 139 Beauchamp, 1916:112-113
140 DRCH, 6:784-785 manners, and customs of the Indian nations, (Philadelphia: Historical Society
regular American army troops a mere thirty years later. However, there were archaeological indications of an earlier occupation encountered during the excavations at Fort Plain. Slip-decorated buffware, tin-enameled earthenware and fine salt glazed-stoneware, particularly "scratch blue" and enamel-decorated varieties - a ceramic assemblage characteristic of the 1740s - were encountered in the archaeological tests of the east slope midden. Also, white-clay pipe stems with 5/64ths inch diameter bores comprised nearly 50% of the 98 pipe stems excavated from the fort site in 1975.141 1976 assemblages have not yet been analyzed.
While the data are not conclusive, there is substantial credible archaeological and historical evidence that the 1747 "Fort Canajoharie" occupied the same site where Revolutionary War Fort Plain was later built. It is a viable hypothesis that should be adopted until contradictory information is produced.
We will conclude by recapping some of the major points.
Local inhabitants and militia built Fort Plank in the spring of 1778. It was the fortified home of Captain Joseph House, although it was named after House's stepfather Frederick Plank, who also lived there. The fort was located on lot #2 of the Wagner Patent, one and two-thirds air miles southwest of the closest point on the river, and two air miles west of the site of Fort Plain. Local tradition accurately preserved the location of this fort, and in the 19th-century a country schoolhouse commemorated the name and neighborhood. The area can still be easily located by referring to the U.S.G.S topographic maps, Fort Plain quadrangle. The notation "Fort Plank School" marks the approximate location of the fort site. We have no trustworthy detailed description of the fort other than Joseph House's statement that it included "his house and other buildings."
Due to its location on a major route between the Mohawk River and Otsego Lake, Fort Plank assumed a great deal of importance in the summer of 1779, during the staging of the Sullivan-Clinton campaign against the Iroquois. Continental line troops continued to be stationed at Fort Plank on and off until the winter of 1780-81, but the fort was eclipsed in importance by Fort Plain/Fort Rensselaer after General Van Rensselaer made the latter his headquarters in the summer of 1780. Fort Plank continued to serve as an outpost during 1782 and 1783. Colonel Willett regularly sent detachments from Fort Plain to garrison it. It is not known when the fortifications at Fort Plank were dismantled, but it is assumed that soon after peace was declared the buildings resumed their primary function as the home and farm of the House family.
141 In the 1950s, National Parks Service archaeologist Jean C. Harrington noted that English white clay pipestem bore diameters became progressively smaller throughout the 17th and 18`h centuries. He devised a system to analyze assemblages of pipestems and compute the approximate range of dates that they were manufactured. According to Harrington's calculations, the Fort Plain sample dates from the 1740s to the 1780s.
All of the confusion about the direction between Fort Plank and Fort Plain can be readily understood by anyone who has lived in the area. Residents of the Mohawk Valley tend to judge direction by the orientation of the river. In general, the Mohawk flows from west to east. Upriver is west; down river is east; the Stone Arabia or Palatine side is northward, and the Canajoharie or Minden side is to the south. That's just the way it is, except near Fort Plain, where the river makes a bend and flows north-to-south; then south-to-north. Standing upon the site of Fort Plain, if one assumed that the river was flowing west-to-east (as most local residents naturally do), the site of Fort Plank would appear to be to the south or southwest. It is actually west, or slightly north of west. [Mister Johnson, the author of "The Bloodied Mohawk", has lived in Fort Plain since 2004, and prior to that, had visited the "sites" of Fort Plain and Fort Plank on multiple score occasions. One each and every one of Mister Johnson's trips to the Mohawk Valley, and subsequently while living in the Village of Fort Plain, he has never once relayed upon the river to determine "north and south". Quite to the contrary, he has always relied upon either a compass or "Polaris' to determine where "north" was located. The insinuation that the citizens of the Mohawk Valley are to stupid to either know how to use a compass or find "Polaris" is, quite simply, insulting to their intelligence!]. The disparity in distances noted in the various sources reflects the different routes and roads available, as well as a general scarcity of accurate measuring devices. Few horses or vehicles were equipped with odometers in the 18th-century, so people guessed a lot!
The site of Fort Plain was probably first utilized for a small palisaded fort in 1747. That fort was built under the direction of Colonel William Johnson for the use of the colonial settlers and the Mohawks who lived at the nearby Canajoharie Castle. Vestiges of the earlier fort - possibly even a blockhouse - may have been present on the site in 1775/76. This would help to explain the recurring rumors of military activity here during the earliest years of the Revolutionary War. Fort Plain - the Revolutionary War fortification - was built in 1779, as a haven or refuge for local residents during times of enemy incursion. During the war, the fort was located on the farm of Johannes Lipe, but earlier the site may have been within "Expense Lot B," an unapportioned area in the Bleecker Patent as late as 1772. The fact that the land was not sold prior to this late date strengthens the argument that the property was being used at an earlier date for some special purpose. The site of the contiguous Native American village known as Canajoharie Castle from 1728 through 1753 was similarly designated as "Expense Lot A," also unassigned prior to 1772.
During the summer of 1780, General Robert Van Rensselaer made this little neighborhood fort his headquarters. At that time the post was officially named Fort Rensselaer. From currently available data we cannot establish with certainty whether the designation "Fort Plain" actually predated Fort Rensselaer, or was coined as a reaction to the unpopular official name. Circumstantial evidence seems to favor the second alternative. In either event, from 1781 until 1785, Fort Plain/Fort Rensselaer became the most important American post on the western New York frontier [Yet, on August 25, 1781, Lieutenant Colonel Willett, writing from Fort Rensselaer complained to Governor Clinton that . . . I am put to the greatest difficulties for want of men in this Quarter having at present only fifty one men Including ten sick at this place, and most of the Forts above and below me without a single soldier . . . [Willett is here referring to Levies versus militiamen] (The Public Paers of George Clinton, 7:252-3)]]. Lieutenant Colonel Marinus Willett made it his headquarters, and in 1781-82 expanded the fortifications. Willett had a unique flanking blockhouse and redoubt erected about 450 feet north of the main fort, and earthworks were constructed across the narrowest part of the peninsular hilltop, making the entire fortified area nearly seven acres. Archaeology has revealed traces of other buildings outside the main fort, but within the larger fortified area. The most notable was a probable kitchen facility located about midway between the main fort and blockhouse at the eastern edge of the hilltop. There is also some of evidence of a smithy outside the northwestern limits of the main fort. Orderly books indicate that cattle "on the hoof' were kept -probably within fenced-off areas - within the fortifications as well. Fort Plain/Fort Rensselaer continued in use as a magazine for ordinance and small
arms until at least 1796. The main fort was demolished soon after that date, and the blockhouse was carefully dismantled around 1810. There were local traditions still current in the 20th century concerning a number of early area homes reportedly built from timbers rescued from the old fort.
We have also learned that "Canajoharie" was most likely a symbolic place-name utilized by the Mohawks to designate a particular village or settlement that had a specialized political and diplomatic role. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, "Canajoharie Castle" occupied many different geographic locations, but it was always the diplomatic capital of the Mohawk people. Colonial immigrants were not accustomed to place-names that moved about. The earliest settlers identified "Canajoharie" with the geographic location that the "Castle" occupied when they first encountered it. During the years of early settlement (1715-1750) that location was first at Prospect Hill and then Sand Hill, only about a mile apart and both locations at or near the modern village of Fort Plain. Since they were accustomed to referring to that location as "Canajoharie," it was only natural to extend the Native American place-name to the European-American settlement that began to develop at Sand Hill after 1750. At the same time, however, the Mohawks moved "their" Canajoharie settlement eight miles west, to a site opposite the confluence of the Mohawk River and East Canada Creek. As a result, from 1753 through 1777 there were two Canajoharies: the Euro-American settlement at Sand Hill, and the Native American "Castle" eight miles west. To complicate matters even further, when Tryon County was established in 1772 the south side of the river from Anthony's Nose westward to Little Falls was officially designated as the Canajoharie District. After the war, this district became a township, and in 1798 the Town of Canajoharie was split-up into a number of smaller political units. At this juncture neither the 18'h-century Native American nor Euro-American settlements known as Canajoharie were located within the Town of Canajoharie. Consequently, their names soon changed to "Indian Castle" and "Fort Plain." Meanwhile a new Canajoharie Town Post Office was established at Roofs Village, and before long that settlement assumed the old Mohawk place-name. Ironically, European immigrants inadvertently continued the ancient Native American tradition of moving the place-name Canajoharie to a new location.
By 1811, Fort Plain and Fort Plank were both gone; however, unlike the earlier locations of Canajoharie they were clearly not forgotten. Details were becoming distorted and hazy, but the 19`h-century antiquarians dutifully recorded and preserved important oral traditions, even when they didn't seem to make a lot of sense. Today an expanding data bank of rediscovered 18th-century documents, together with evolving archaeological techniques, are providing us with the refractory materials that we need to clarify and focus those distorted 19th-century images. It is one of the great ironies of the discipline of history that the more removed from an event we are, often the better we can perceive the details. Our understanding of the inter-relationships among the 18th-century place-names, Canajoharie, Fort Plain, Fort Plank and Fort Rensselaer has certainly improved throughout the 20th century. Let us strive to improve the vista even further as the 21st century progresses.
I would like to acknowledge the special debt that I owe Paul Huey for completing the earliest stages of historical research on this project and setting me upon the proper path to complete the task. I am also very thankful to Glenadore and Doris Wettereau and the "Friends of the Fort" for supporting my historical research during the early years and presenting me with a much-needed set of Governor George Clinton's Correspondence. Tom Bollen kept things going through the first three years of archaeological fieldwork, and Sandra Hutchinson helped immensely in keeping things focused during the 1975 excavations. Grant Prime was a volunteer par excellence throughout the 1976 field season. Jan Swart, Fred Stevens, Joe McEvoy and many other members of Van Epps-Hartley Chapter of the New York State Archaeological Association provided assistance in rescuing and recording archaeological information associated with the Native American village that overlapped the main fort site. Thanks are also long overdue to the many students from my Archaeological Field. Techniques course at Fulton-Montgomery Community College during 1975 and 1976. Without them there could have been no excavations. Many other individuals have supplied important information, notably Willis Barshied, Ron Burch, Peter Christoph, Charles Gehring and Jim Morrison. A special thank you also goes to Peter Betz who provided a forum for the oral presentation of this information. As always, the author accepts sole responsibility for any mistakes or errors of fact.
[Since writing his essay Mr. Lenig has stated, in multiple public forums, that Revolutionary War Pension Applications affidavits must be "taken as a grain of salt". With that in mind, Mr. Johnson puts forth the following facts concerning these priceless historical documents.
NO WHERE in the contemporary records of the Revolution [1775-1784], does a "Fort Plain" exist prior to August 3, 1780 when Colonel Abraham Wemple purchases a sheep from Johannes Wohlgemuth Junior at "Fort Plain" (NYS Comptroller's Records in the NYS Archives in Albany). Wemple's letter of August 2, 1780 in the Public Papers of George Clinton clearly points out that Wemple was quartered within Fort Plank on the night of August 2, 1780 (Volume 6, circa page 78). The next reference to a "Fort Plain" is in a Revolutionary War era document that is found in the Haldimand Papers wherein a British Spy notes that 400 men are encamped at "Fort Plain" across the river from Stone Arabia. But, keep well in mind that the "Stone Arabia District" was renamed the "Palatine District" in 1773 and that the district stretched from the point of "Fall Hill" eastward to "Anthony's Big Nose" and northerly from those two points to Canada. The third official reference to a Fort Plain is again in Volume 6 of the Clinton Papers and involves the Court Martial of Robert Van Rensselaer. Volume 7 of the Clinton Papers contains two letters purported to have been written by Colonel Willett, but the original drafts in his Letter Book in the New York State Library are clearly dated Fort Rensselaer. Thus the big question: Where were these men encamped? The Orderly Book of Moses Dusten in the New York State Library notes that the "Commanding Officer" is at Fort Rensselaer but the supplies are to be sent to Fort Plain. And, the Journal of Lt. Lawrence Tremper in the Library of Congress [see the transcript on www.fort-plank.com], clearly states that he, Tremper, walked often walked from Fort Rensselaer to Fort Plain and back in 1782. Thus, the contemporaries on the ground did not believe or record that Fort Plain and Fort Rensselaer were one and the same either. Lt. Col. Willett in 1781 states that Fort Renssealer had only a complement of 51 men, 10 being too ill to serve [Clinton Papers Volume 7:253]. So much for the grandeur of Fort Rensselaer, below which Willett states he slept in a tent (Willett's Memorandum Book in the NY State Library). Until we have a Revolutionary War era document proving that Fort Renssealer and Fort Plain were one and the same and that Fort Plank was not renamed after the Massacre. As 'the facts are the facts', and as they are well documented, one will simply have to live with them.
The Revolutionary War Pension Applications: Geradus Clute, RWPA #S23160; Peter Conrad, RWPA #W16543; Peter Walrath, RWPA #S14792; Jesse Stewart, RWPA #S23014; Moses Stewart, RWPA #S11461; and, William Van Slyke, RWPA #W2461. In additional to these statements, William Berry swore that while engaged in the company of Captain Garret Putman they were marched in mid July 1780 to Fort Plank (then so called) and performed duties there until sometime in September of 1780 (RWPA #S10366). William Snook stated that in early August of 1777 his company, while marching en route to the Battle of Oriskany, rendezvoused at Fort Plank, a little above the place now called Fort Plain (RWPA #S11435). Henry J. Diefendorf, states that he was generally stationed in the years 1776 and 1777 at Fort Plank, but when the new fort, Fort Plain, was built in 1778 he then served in Fort Plain and was from there marched to the assistance of the survivors of the Cherry Valley Massacre under the command of Lieutenant Samuel Clyde (RWPA #S12772). And, last, Jacob J. Failing states in his sworn deposition of March 12, 1833 that on May 2, 1781 he began service at Fort-Plain then called commonly Fort Plain (RWPA #W21092). Asa Ripley [see Additional Mohawk Valley Partisans on www.fort-plank.com] states that the fort that would become known as "Fort Plain" was began after the Battle of Turlough on July 10, 1781 and was not finished after the Battle of Johnstown on October 19, 1781.
Another Pensioner, Nicholas Dunkle (RWPA #S21164) states:
That about the last of June  following I was again Called into Service by my Said officer and marched to Sharon in the County of Schoharie for the purpose of detecting and Securing a number of tories that we took & brought over to the Mohawk River about thirty of them, Confined them in a Stone house near where Fort Plain was afterwards built . . . Nicholas Dunkle, goes on to later state . . . that in July following  he was again Called to Fort Plank by his said Capt, their kept on duty & at building a block house in which to place a Canon and that during this tour of Service he served fourteen days . . .
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