PLANKS, PLANTS, PLANES
For well over 175 years there has existed a controversy over the site or sites of the fortresses denoted as Forts Plank, Plant, and Plane. Complicating this discussion is the inability to discuss this topic with those who would know best: The men and women of Fort Plank. Interestingly, prior to September 17, 1780 not one single reference to a Plane or Plain Family or Fort Plane can be located in any contemporary Revolutionary War Document. Thus, out of nowhere, apparently appears the name Plane or Plain. That said, the question is where could the name possibly have arisen from.
Jeptha R. Simms in his Frontiersman of New York, quotes Lawrence Gross, Junior as stating that the name Fort Plain was chosen for a fortress whose construction was supervised by a Mister Dederick, because it stood on a site with an extensive view. Yet we learn from the obituary of Gross himself that he was not a witness to the construction or naming of the fortress, but was relaying a legend that he had heard as a child. Thus, his account, is in and of itself, unreliable.
Whatever the cause of a possible change in names and, assuming there was one, it seems to have pivoted around the August 2nd, 1780 Massacre. On August 8th, 1780 Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Clyde authored the last known military document dated Fort Plank and states emphatically therein that it was the settlements surrounding Fort Plank that were attacked and destroyed (The Public Papers of George Clinton, Volume 6). Thus, it comes as a great surprise that on September 8th, 1780 the London serial Almon’s Remembrancer states specifically that the place “now known as Fort Rensselaer” was attacked on August 2nd, 1780 and its environs destroyed. It also comes as a surprise that shortly thereafter we find the first official reference to a place known as “Fort Plane”, “opposite Stone Arabia” in an October 27, 1780 British spy’s report to General Haldimand in Canada (Haldimand Papers, Add Mss #21787:184). Yet, the first known reference to Fort Plain in an “American” military document does not occur until March 12th, 1781 in Court Martial Proceedings Against Brigadier General Robert Van Rensselaer (The Public Papers of George Clinton, Volume 6).
That leaves one to theorize possible reasons for the possible changing of the name Plank or Plantz (or spoken with the German accent Blank or Blantz) to Plane or Plain and to explore the possibility that there is evidence of the name change in conjunction with anything other than the fortress. A comprehensive search of Revolutionary War records does demonstrate a possible exchanging of the names Plantz, Plank, and Plane. Interestingly, amongst the receipt of payments to the men of Captain Joseph House’s Company of the Canajoharie District Regiment of Tryon County Militia is one Private John Plane who is paid £4-10-4 & £4-14-2 respectively (National Archive’s Series M246, Reel 72, Jacket 89, Receipts 10944 & 11001). But, who was this John Plane? Was he a son of the Joseph Plantz who was killed a few days after the Battle of Oriskany? Was he the John Plank who appears as a private under Captain Joseph House on Page 447 of Volume 15 of Documents Relating To The Colonial History Of The State of New York? Or, was he the John Plantz who served within Captain Joseph House’s Company for 12 days as a private between July 28th, 1780, and May 28th, 1780 (The original Payroll being on display in the Fort Rensselaer Club of Canajoharie, New York with a Transcription taken there from by Abraham House for the Pension Application of Misses John C. Cramer in National Archive’s Series M246, Reel 72, Jacket 89), and whom was said by J. R. Simms to have married Catherine Countryman, daughter of Lieutenant George Countryman (Volume One: 576). We shall probably never now, but we must wonder if they were not one and the same persons.
One day while working on another project, the author’s 12 year son, Karl Joseph-Brant, always quick to turn a phrase on his father, was asked by the writer for a “plain sheet of paper”. After giving his father a careful and discerning look, he whipped from the computer’s printer a sheet of paper and said: “Sorry Dad, were all out of plain paper, you’ll have to settle for a blank one”. “Out of the mouth of babes”.
One must also explore the similarity between the words plain and blank. Both denote nothingness. And, to an Englishmen with no knowledge of the reasoning for naming something Blank or Blantz and hearing it said by a German accented speaker would there be any wonder they would think of something “Plain or Plane”.
The word “blank” in German carries an all togther different meaning than the word “blank”in English. The German word is used to denote a beautiful, opulent or sparking condition. The English word is used to denote something that is drab, insignificant or “plain”.
The answer to this questions seems to lie in the graves of the men and women of Fort Plank. We shall probably never know for sure whether they were Planks, Plants, or Planes. None the less researchers should remain aware of the possibility that the names Plank, Plantz, and Plane were synonymous.
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