Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Mohawk Valley Indian Notes

The Castles of the Red Man of the Mohawk

By Frank Bogaskie

St. Johnsville Enterprise and News, August 18, 1938

Readers of the Enterprise and News will recall that within recent months I have on several occasions advanced a conclusion that the sites occupied by our Mohawk Valley aborigines have all been erroneously determined with but two or three exceptions.

During which time no Iroquoian authority has taken an exception to this statement. Is it possible what has been advanced cannot be authenticated? Upon re-examination of some of the historical records pertaining to these excepted sites, I now find it necessary to disagree to the determination of one or the two or three sites to sites which I acceded to be sufficiently proven by the historican records.

The Jesuit Relations disclose that the Third Castle of the Mohawks, Tionontoguen of 1667-1689, was located four league (eleven miles) westerly of the first two forts, Gandaouague and Gandagora, otherwise as I have determined one and one half miles northerly of the now village of Nelliston.

Greenhalgh in 1677 informed us that the last castle of the Mohawks, Teonondogue was located "a bow shott from the river," but Greenlagh somewhat underestimated the distance, apparently assuming that the course of the river was nearer to the northerly margin of the river flats, which is apparent if judged from the site of the castle, nevertheless his bow shott did not exceed six tenths of a mile, thus he was reasonably correct.

In the Lists of Sites disclosing aboriginal occupation in the Mohawk Valley compiled by former State Archeologists W.M. Beauchamp and A. C. Parker, it discloses:

"A recent cemetery two and one half miles northwest of Nelliston, and north of the river on the Smith farm, formerly Lipe's northeast were about twenty caches and fifty rods north a village of two acres with recent relics. This is south of Palatine Church."

Thus it appears that in our recent account the Indian village site on the "Smith Farm, formerly Lipe's" was located two and one half miles northerly of Nelliston. Surely a very careless overestimate in the distance when very accurate maps were available.

Greenhalgh in 1677 also informed us that the Castle of Canajor-ha was located "on a flatt two miles from the river" and Jeptha Simms, one of our earliest writers on the Mohawk advanced the following comments theron:

"Were it mentioned as on a hill, I should at once locate it on Castlebergh, a beautiful and commanding place for such a home and though hardly a mile from the river, in a forest would have seemed a much greater distance.

"This hill, known by the early Germans as Castlebergh is on the farm of the late Reuben Lipe about a mile and one half to the northward of Fort Plain and about one fourth of a mile from the Smith cheese factory at the turnpike. The reader must remember at the period named, there were no roads of any kind in the Mohawk Valley.

"With flint arrow beads, glass beads and implements of European manufacture are found there, indicating something near the time of its occupancy, but not in quantities sufficient to warrant a belief that this castle was occupied for a great length of time, and circumstances I think seem to favor this site."

Well we must admit that Simms favored us with a remarkable description of the Indian village site on the Smith farm, formerly Reuben Lipes, but if Simms was conversant with all the Castle sites described by Greenhalgh we are somewhat surprised that he did not determine this location to be the site of the Castle of Teonondogue.

It is apparent that the opinion of all others are reasonably agreeable upon the approximate location of the Castle of Teonondogue of 1667-1689, for there is erected along the main highway eight-tenths of a mile northerly of Nelliston an historic marker that is inscribed in part as follows: Tionondogue 1668-1689. Near here stood great upper Castle of Mohawks.

But it does not disclose location as the exact location of this castle was unknown at the time of the erection of this marker.

Nevertheless the site of the Indian village on Castlebergh Hill as described by Simms is in reasonable accord with the location of the Castle of Teonondogue as reported by Greenhalgh, which site is also in perfect harmony with the location of the Castle of Tonontoguen as determined from the Jesuit Relations, as well as from Van der Bogaert's narrative in 1634.

Therefore it is convincingly and positively established that the site of the Indian village on Castlebergh Hill on the Smith farm, formerly Lipe's located one and a half miles northerly of Nelliston and six tenth of a mile easterly of the river, is the site of the castle of Teonondoge of 1667-1689.

The minutes of the proceedings of the officials of the City of Albany, under date of September 2, 1689 disclose that the following excerpt of a proposition received from the Mohawks was considered and acted upon.

"The Maquase desire by Arnout's letter to assist them with two or three pair of horses and five or six men to ride the heqaviest stockades for their new castle of Tionondoge which they remove an English mile higher up."

The Albany officials consented to send three pair of horses and six men "to show their good inclination and true friendship they entertained toward their Mohawk brethren."

It is claimed and an historic marker is erected to support the claim, that the castle of Tionondoge was removed in 1689 to the easterly bank of the Garoga Creek at Wagner's Hollow.

Some authorities claim that the castle of Tionondoge of 1667-1689 was located on the Wagner's Hollow site and that the site of said castle of 1689-1693 is yet to be located.

Under such conflicting claims it was necessary to inscribe the historical marker near Nelliston that the castle of Tonondogue was located "near here." Thus it is apparent that no authority has as yet presented sufficient facts from our historical records to positively determine the site of the castle of Teontoge at any period throughout the Mohawk's occupation.

The fact is that the Wagner's Hollow site is not a typical Mohawk location for the reasonably large castle. The crown of the elevation is not sufficiently level and again the area is too deficient, although it is admirable for a small village or a place where cabins for women were maintained as outlined by our early writes and explorers.

As the three Jesuit Missionaries reported in September, 1667 that the castle of Tionontoguen was rebuilt within a quarter of a league-less than seven tenths of a mile-from the like named castle which the French burned in 1666, thus it is convincing and positively evident that the castle of 1666 and for years prior thereto was also located upon the northerly side of the river; obviously true, for we have positively determined that the castle of Teontoge as well as all the villages and castles of the Mohawk valley aborigines, reported by Van der Bogaert in 1634 were all located upon the northerly side of the river and that the castle of Teontoge was located in the near vicinity of the same castle of 1667-1689 and that it was so located for many years prior to 1634, apparently true for the Dutch maps of 1614 and 1616 show that the vie settlements of the Maquas were also located upon the northerly side of the river.

Thus it does and will appear that the castle of Teonontoge from about 1565 to 1693 was always located upon the northerly side of the river and this same castle was located by lands whereon we saw only a few trees, denoting that the entire surroundings were denuded of trees for firewood, requirements for many years past.

Van der Bogaert also reported: "This castle had been surrounded by three rows of palisades but now there are none save six or seven pieces so thick that it was quite a wonder that savages should be able to do that."

Therefore it would appear that this stockade was erected so long prior to 1634 that all the palisades had rotted down save the few mammoth timbers of such gigantic size that it was marvelous that the Indians were able to set them upright.

As Van der Donck in 1654 informed us that the Indians stockaded their castles, "with strong oak trees"-which trees he described as being "very large, from sixty to seventy feet without a knot and six to eighteen feet in girth" or from one and one half to five and one half feet in diameter.

And Van der Bogaert in 1634 reported that near the Third Castle "the woods was full of oaks and nut trees" and upon his departure from the Fourth Castle for the first three or four hours marching, the woods were "mostly oaks," disclosing that the northerly side of the river from the Nose Hill to the East Canada Creek, the trees were mostly oak; therefore we can determine that the Mohawks within this district stockaded their castles with this durable wood; thus it would not be perilous to good judgment to conclude that the triple stockade of the fourth Castle, Tentoge was erected about 1610. And this date would be somewhat confirmed by the serious defeat of the two hundred Mohawks by the small band of northern enemies with the aid of the "Adirondacks"-"The Cat Faced Men"-Champlain with his bewiskered face and his deadly arquebus in July 1609. Thus it may be concluded that the Mohawks began to fortify their villages with palisades and where trees were too distant from the village, same were removed to a new location. Thus the removal of Teotage to a new location in or about 1610 is reasonably confirmed.

To remove the Castle of Tionondoge in 1609 only an English mile to a suitable location and where abundant trees for firewood and palisades were to be found for the New Castle, would be somewhat out of harmony with necessary requirements, as our historical records disclose that removals were to three miles and upwards with but few exceptions.

Nevertheless I agreed with the conclusion of others that the site was sufficiently determined by the facts derived from the Mohawk's letter, although it was necessary to make exorbitant; allowances to counteract some conflicting historical records.

Upon a more intensive examination and study of these conflicting records I now desire to withdraw all that I may have advanced upon the site at Wagner's Hollow as being the location of the Castle of Tionondoge, or that it was ever occupied by the Tribe of the Wolf of the Ganniege Nation at any period. From the "more convincing records" I shall disclose a location for this castle of 1689-1693 which our records will firmly and conclusively maintain and support.

As I have advanced the claim that no historical record could be devalued without a similar record of a more convincing nature thus it is requisite that such convincing records be outlined more fully than customary.

As the Mohawks were so specific in the distance to which they had removed their Castle of Tionondoge, an English mile higher up, it would not be improbable that the distance was purposely beclouded in order to make their request more acceptable from the list of sites in the Mohawk Valley disclosing aboriginal occupation compiled by Dr. Arthur C. Parker while State Archeologist, we find therein described: "Village and burial place in gravel bank west of St. Johnsville near the railroad track, reported by S. L. Frey. Modern relics are found in the burials."

I have been informed by a reliable searcher for Indian remains that the site of this Indian village is located on the easterly end of what is now commonly known as Fort Hill, a short distance westerly of the Timmerman Creek.

Therefore we have firmly established a site of an Indian village of about the period of about 1700 about one and one half miles westerly of St. Johnsville.

In order to determine what results will accrue from our "more convincing records when applied to the above Indian Village, let us now only assume that it was the site of the Castle of Tionondoga of 1689-1693.

The accounts written by the French about their expedition against the Mohawks during the winter of 1693, after describing the capture of the first two forts, it states:

"Early next morning our party set off for the Third Village, distant seven or eight leagues."

Of course we do not know if these were common leagues equivalent to 2.764 miles or the posting league of 2.422 miles. But as all our former computations have made upon the basis of the common league with most satisfactory results, thus we shall continue upon this basis.

Moreover as a rule all distances of travel as given in our early records were overestimated from about eight to ten percent as determined from our U. S. Topographical maps; and this overestimate appears to have been due to overhill travel, for detours in order to avoid swamps, rocks, fallen trees of gigantic size, and many other obstructions as well as the possibility to further overestimate distances when traveling during extremely unfavorable climatic conditions.

Now assuming that the distance as given us by the French from the first two forts to the third village was seven and a half common leagues or 20.6 miles, which minus the required deduction of ten per cent would give us for computation purposes a distance of 18.6 miles.

The actual distance by way of the shortest route of today from the site of Gandawaga and Gandagora ("The First Two Fort") located eleven miles easterly of the site of Tiontoge of 1667-1689, to Teonontoge of 1689-1693 (The Third Village) located about one and a half miles westerly of St. Johnsville is approximately 17.6 miles. Thus we have a apparent overestimate in the distance of one mile. Surely this variation is surprisingly and convincingly accurate, so much so that it can be positively determined that the site of the Indian village at the easterly end of Fort Hill about one and a half miles westerly of St. Johnsville is the site of the Castle of Teonontoge of 1689-1693.

Moreover at the time of the raid upon the Third Village as reported by the French "twenty to thirty Mohawk warriors and some women were killed." O f course they were buried, but as the winter was severe and the ground deeply frozen and covered with ice and snow it was necessary to make the burials in the gravel bank which further confirms the site of the castle.

The fact that modern relics were found with the burials, fully confirms the period of occupancy as of 1689-1693.

Historical records clearly and conclusively disclose that before the close of the summer months of 1693, the Mohawk valley aborigines were all settled on the southerly side of the river in three castles and the uppermost of the last or the third which after midsummer of 1700 became the second or the Canaedsishore or the Canajoharie Castle was located 20 miles westerly of the first Castle or precisely on Prospect Hill in Fort Plain.

Governor Fletcher instructed Major Peter Schuyler and Major Wessells, to be accompanied by Hille, the interpreters to make a journey tot he Castle of the Onondagas and there to confer with the Five Nations and from their journal we excerpt:

January, 1694.

4th, "depart from Albany and arrived that night at Schennechtadij.

5th, "We went from Schinnechtadij and arrived yt day to ye praying Maquase Castle called Tionondoroge."

6th, "We went from the first Castle of the Mohoges to the last where we founde all the Sachems and young Indiance conveined who received us kindly making a long speech of what had happened in former time" etc.

9th, "Went from the last castle of the Mohogs and came to ye Old Castle Tionondoge which ye French burnt last spring and stayed there ye night.

10th, "We marched from Tionondoge and having gone twelve miles found a very deep snow." etc.

Owing to the deep snow the journey was abandoned and the party returned to Albany where they arrived on the 12th.

Upon the departure of Schuyler and his party from the Last Castle (Prospect Hill), they apparently crossed the river to the northerly side, and thence upon the usual trail towards Onondaga, or up the river over the ice, until they came to the "Old Castle of Tionondoge which the french burnt last spring" and where they remained over night, as if the usual shelter and accommodations were provided for their comfort and needs. They departed from the Old Castle and continued on with their journey as if nothing unusual was made in detours or other happenings.

To conclude that Schuyler and his party after having traveled only two miles from the Last Castle turned off the main trail and thence proceeded over the hills to the Wagners Hollow site for no other purpose but to remain over night, is decidedly out of harmony with the records, as well as with the necessary requirements of their journey. For the Wagner Hollow site is fully one and three quarter miles from the main trail, and they would be obliged to travel five and one half miles to cover only two miles of their journey. More-over the Wagners Hollow site is one and one quarter miles further easterly than the Prospect Hill site.

Col. Romer, Major Van Burgh and Hendrick Hansen, accompanied by Lawrence Claessen the Iroquois Interpreter, upon the instruction of the Governor of the Colony set out on an expedition to examine the country of the Iroquois and to select a site upon which to erect a fort at or near the Onondaga Castle and from their journal we excerpt


Sept. 13, "We departed from Albany and same to Schenectade."

Sept. 14, "From thence we came to Jacobus Peck and found we could not travel with our baggage on horse back and were necessitated to hire a canoe and a man and to send form them from Schenectade to carry our baggage to the uppermost castle of the Maquas; which came to us that night."

Sept. 15, "In the morning we departed thence on horse back and sent our baggage and provisions in the canoe and came that day tot he first castle called Ogsadaga, where we lodged."

Sept. 16, "In the morning we departed thence and came that day tot he second castle of the Maquase called Canaessishore where the Canoe with our baggage came to us in the evening."

"We desired the Sachems of the castle to provide us four Indians to carry our baggage to Oneyda which was brought thither in a canoe; who forthwith resolved and got four Indians ready against the morning to go with us.

Sept. 17, "We sent one canoe back to Schenectade and we marched on as far as Decanohogo where the Sachem Onoronorum lives, in company of the aforesaid four Indians that ordered to attend us, but coming there two of our Indians were unwilling to proceed any farther. We desired of Onoronorum that he would order us two other Indians, which he did at last, and desired us to stay that day;, and said that he would send for two Squass from Canijharie which would go with us in the morning because he could not spare the men that were there because they were busie to make houses, so we resolved to stay there that day. In the evening it began to rain, which rain lasted to our sorrow until the 20th.

Sept. 20, "Little rain; we departed with two Indians and two squaas that carried our baggage.

Oct. 13, "We departed from Oneyda.

Oct. 16, "We came in the Maquase Country to the Sachem Onoronorum at Canahogo where we delivered the message we were charged with to him from the Onondagas.

Oct. 18, "In the evening we came to Albany."

As Romer sent his baggage to "The Uppermost Castle" which came to him after he had arrived at "The Second Castle" thus is is clearly evident that the Mohawks had only two castles on the Mohawk River at the time of Romer's visit; therefore, the Uppermost Castle" was also "The Second Castle" and that it was called "Canaedsishore" or "Canijoharie."

Col. Romer and his party accompanied by the four Indians who were ordered to attend him, departed from the Canaedsishore or the Canijoharie Castle and journeyed on toward the Onondaga Castle until they arrived "as far as Decauohogo"-the castle that the French burnt in 1693-and there they found Sachem Onoronorum "busie making houses" where he and "the four Indians live" and here they remained for several days.

Historical records disclose that Onoronorum was the chief Sachem of the tribe of the Wolf of the aborigines of the Canajoharie Castle, therefore it appears that he, like the great Sachem King Hendrick, also of this castle, preferred to reside in private cabins, with some of his friends, at some distance from the Tribal Castle in order to avoid the uproar, confusion and disorders of drunkenness so common at all the castles of the Five Iroquois Nations.

This record will also support a conclusion that "Decanohogo" is a variant of and intended for Tionondogo, the Castle which the French burned in 1693 and that is was located on the Iroquois Trail leading toward the Onondaga Castle and that it was westward of the Canaedsishore or the Canijoharie Castle.

Upon Romer's return journey this journal disclosed that he came directly to the sachem Onoronorum at Canohogo-surely intended for Decanohogo-and as the Onondagas directed their message to Onoronorum, it can safely be concluded that he was the principal and leading Sachem of the Canajoharie Castle at that period.

Col. Schuyler with others made a journey to the Onondaga Castle for a conference with the Sachems of the Five Iroquois Nations and from his journal we excerpt:


May 1. "Ride from Albany and came that day to Schinnectady."

May 2. "We left Schinnectady and came to the First Castle to Mohoggs, etc."

Mary 3. "We got to Canajoharie the second castle of that country-presented them the Queen's Arms to set up in their Castle as a token from her Majesty."

May 4. "We proceeded on our journey and came to about thirty miles beyond the Mohoggs Castle toward Oneyda Castle."

Col. Schuyler clearly and most distinctively informs us that in 1711, that "The Castle of the Mohoggs" was the First Castle nearest to Albany; and that Canajoharie was the Second Castle as well as The Last Castle-for on their departure from the Second Castle their next stopping place was thirty miles beyond the Mohawks castles.

Moreover Col. Schuyler's account of the Mohawk's Castles agrees precisely with the facts thereon as given us by Col. Romer in September, 1700.

Therefore for a period of Eleven years there was no change in the number of the Mohawks Castle.

It is claimed that one Jacob "Timmerman" or "Zimmerman" settled in or near the now corporate limits of the village of St. Johnsville in 1725. This is reasonably possible, for the lands of this vicinity were purchased from the Indians in 1722 and patented in 1723 to nine of the most outstanding land grabbers of the Colony whose only purpose of obtaining the lands was to turn same into ready cast as speedily as possible; even for very small sums, for in 1752 an one fifth interest in 50,000 acres was sold for 212 (sorry print is bad here and I am not sure this is the figure) pounds, New York currency, or about five hundred dollars. Thus it is reasonably possible that an entire lot of the Harrison Patent could have been obtained at a very reasonable sum.

Moreover, in 1823 the Schoharie Palatines cleared the Iroquois Trail westerly of the Kaghnawaga Creek to as to enable them to settle at Sone Arabia and the German Flats, also in the same year and immediately thereafter many other Palatines and High Germans settled in the Mohawk Valley westerly of the Kaghnawage Creek and of course it is possible that Jacob Timmerman or Zimmerman and his family were one of the many.

Obviously true for we find that the Colonial Assembly on the 29th day of July, 1729 appointed Jacob Timmerman one of the five commissioners of highways for the road district on both sides of the river, westerly of the Kaghnewage creek, which district was first established and the road officially cleared as far as the German Flats in 1726 in which year the first commissioners of highways for that district were appointed.

Thus it is clearly evident that Jacob Timmerman was a man of outstanding personality and ability and in addition thereto the owner of an exceptinnal tract of land-for land owners were only qualified for such appointments and the position of a Commissioner of Highways was not mediocre for Sir William Johnson Accepted for such appointments on several occasions.

Furthermore, we find noted on the Crown Map of about 1756 in the approximate vicinity of St. Johnsville, Timmermans Mill.

We further find that on the 12th day of March, 1734 the Sachems of the Kannajoharie Castle of which King Hendrick was one, conveyed a tract of land on the northerly side of the river as a gift to Anna Marragrieta Timmerman of Tyenindoke, a spinster, apparently the daughter of Jacob Timmerman.

Surely Tyenindoke, the residence of Miss Anna, is only another variant of Decanohogo, the place where Sachem Onoronorum resided in 1700-and both of these words are variants of Tionondoge, the name of the Third Castle which the French raided and burned in February 1693.

Accordingly it does appear from our historical records, that Jacob Timmerman and his family, including his daughter Anna, resided in 1734 and for some years prior thereto at Tyenindoke-otherwise on or in the near vicinity of the Castle of Tionondoge of 1689-1693 and that he was the owner of these lands for otherwise he could not have been appointed a Commissioner of Highways in 1729.

As streams invariably derive their name from the most outstanding family that resides in proximity thereto, as well as through whose lands they flow, thus the stream known in early years as Timmermans' Creek which flows at the foot of the hill upon which the Castle of Teonontoge of 1689-1693 was located, will reasonably confirm the place of residence of the Timmerman family as well as the castle of Teonontoge of 1689-1693.

It further discloses that the Indian name for St. Johnsville and vicinity was Tionondoke.

Of course these conclusions do not affect any matters pertaining to the Timmermans subsequent to March 12, 1734.

From all the foregoing historical records and convincing facts, it can be firmly, positively and conclusively determined that the site of the Indian village at the easterly point of Fort Hill, about one and one half miles westerly of St. Johnsville, is the site of the Castle of Teonontoge of 1689-1693.

Thus it does appear as if the Mohawks purposely beclouded the distance of the removal of the Castle of Teonontoge in 1689 by substituting the English mile for that of the Dutch which is substantially four English miles and that the actual distance of removal was approximately six miles.

The Canajoharie Castle 1689-1715

The Castle of Tenondoge 1565-1610

The Turtle Castle 1565-1626

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