History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 570
General Nicholas Herkimer, when commissioned as such--as chairman of the Tryon county committee, under date of June 29, 1776, John Frey wrote to the Provincial Congress, that the county was great (in extent), and the frontier large, weak and greatly exposed to the enemy, the militia of which were divided into four battalions. He suggested that the Congress should without delay, appoint a Brigadier-General to command those troops residing in the county. This desire of Tryon county, was acted upon September 5th following; when Gen. Ten Broeck, of Albany, to whose brigade the Tryon county militia belonged, was present and informed the convention, that it was not only a disadvantage to those troops but to himself to have them in his brigade, especially as the Major then-resided in Tryon county. It was therefore unanimously resolved, that Nicholas Herkimer, who was recommended not only by the Tryon county committee, but by Gen. Ten Broeck, for the office, be appointed such Brigadier, and that Major John Frey as such Brigade-Major, be transferred to Gen. Herkimer's Brigade. *
Powder and Ball.-Here is the copy of a paper preserved by the descendants of Capt. Christian Getman, of the Stone Arabia settlements.
* Journal of Prov. Convention, vol. I, p 610.
PALATINE, Oct. 1st, 1776.
" Sir-I have received powder and ball for your Company: you will be pleased to send for your proportion, I am,
" Sir, your most humble servant,
"To Capt. CHRISTIAN KI'I'TMAN [Getman.]"
Forts in the Mohawk Valley.-Colonel (afterwards General) Elias Dayton, a native of New Jersey, after his unsuccessful attempt to arrest Sir John, in the summer of 1776, was sent by Gen. Schuyler to look after the defenses in the Mohawk Valley, and especially to reconstruct Fort Stanwix, which work, however, was not entirely completed, when invested the next season by the enemy. We may suppose that his counsels were heard in putting old Fort Herkimer in a state of defense on the south side of the Mohawk, below Mohawk village; and also in constructing the new work which took on his name, at the German Flatts, (now village of Herkimer), distant a mile or two from the former, and across the river. They were both established in 1776, Fort Dayton was entirely new, and although important posts through the war, their importance would seem to have been especially so after Fort Stanwix-the name of which was changed to Fort Schuyler-was accidentally destroyed by fire in the spring of 1781.
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, 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 so as with cannon to command two sides of the inclosure. Its entrance gate was on the easterly side. Who commanded this post at first is not known-possibly it was not much garrisoned until the spring of 1777. After the enemy began to destroy the farm-houses and families were compelled to seek safety at this place, the room was found inadequate within the inclosure, and three or four comfortable huts were made along the verge of the hill below the pickets; one of which nearest the spring was occupied by Co1. Willet when in command here. Although at times crowded by citizens and soldiers, they managed to get along until 1780, but in that year so many became houseless, that other accommodations were necessitated. The boss carpenter, Jacob Dederick, was allowed to name this first fort, who so called it not because it was situated on an extensive plain, but because of its fine prospective view. The village of Fort Plain took its name from this military post. Standing upon its site in 1856, with the venerable Lawrence Gros, who was a boy residing here in the war, I learned much of what is here said of it. This church, seen on the right, was one-third of a mile distant from the fort.
Fort Plain Block-House.-This was erected in the fall of 1780 and spring of 1781, and was constructed of pine timber 8x14 inches square, dovetailed at the ends, and Thomas Morrel, of Schenectada, father of the late Judge Abram Morrel, of Johnstown, superintended its erection. It was octagonal in form, three stories in height, the second projecting five feet over the first, and the third five feet over the second, with port holes for cannon on the first floor, and for musketry on all its surfaces; with holes in the projecting floor for small arms, so as to fire down upon a closely approaching foe. The first story is said to have been 30 feet in diameter, the second 40 and the third 50, making it look top heavy for a gale of wind. It mounted several cannon for signal guns and defense-one of which was a 12-pounder-on the first floor; where was also all immense oven. French's Gazetteer erroneously states that this block-house was erected in the French war and by a French engineer. Had it been erected 20 years earlier, it would hardly have been done by a French engineer, when we were at war with France. Who planned this structure is unknown, but as Col. Willet was- in command of the garrison when it was done, he no doubt held some supervision of the work. It stood upon a gentle elevation of several feet-which at the end of a hundred years, the plow and cultivator have nearly obliterated-and about 20 rods from the palisaded inclosure, which was constructed mainly by the farmers. The block-house was not palisaded, but a ditch or dry moat several feet deep and ten feet wide, extended around it, requiring a draw bridge to gain its entrance.
The land on which the defenses at Fort Plain were erected, was owned by Johannes Lipe in the Revolution, and afterward by 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 upon 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 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. Mr. Lipe has agreed to protect those monuments for the benefit of posterity. Mr. Lockwood generously defrayed the expense of them.
Fort Plank.-This post established in 1776, was situated two miles and a half westward 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 copying from Campbell's Annals, supposed Fort Plank and Fort Plain were synonymous names for the same fort. More or less troops were kept at this station through 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 head quarters 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.
Fort Paris.-This was a palisaded inclosure of strong blockhouses, within the grounds, and was intended to accommodate a garrison of 200 or 300 men, if necessary, as also its exposed inhabitants. It was commenced in December, 1776, and completed in the spring of 1777. It was situated between three and four miles to the northeast of Fort Plain, and stood upon the summit of ground half a mile north of the Stone Arabia churches, a dozen rods from the road, almost east of a now district schoolhouse. The station was a sightly one, and springs issuing a little to the north of it would run to the Sacondaga, while those on its southerly side would flow to the :Mohawk. This was an important post, and was usually manned by a company or two of rangers. Col. Klock and his Lieut.-Col. Wagner, had much to do with its immediate command. In the fall of 1779 and winter following, it became the headquarters of Col. Frederick Visscher, who commanded that and its adjacent military posts. The merchant Isaac Paris, one of the most influential and reliable men its vicinity, was complimented with its name. At this post, and in its neighborhood, were enacted many a thrilling scene, too many of which, alas, are now forgotten. Since this account was written, the following paper has turned up-possessed by Mr. Nellis Getman, of Ephratah-which discloses another reason why the fort took on the name of Paris:
"IN COMMITTEE CHAMBER OF TRYON COUNTY,
December 19th, 1776.j
"Resolved, That the Rangers of Capt. Christian Getman's company, stationed at Stone Arabia, shall, in the time of their leisure, when and which of them are not employed in ranging, cut timber for building a certain fort in the said place, under the sole direction and command of Isaac Paris, Esq.
"Extract of the minutes.
"JNO. EISENLORD, Secretary."
Fort Clyde.-To protect the citizens of Freysbush, this post was established, as supposed, in the absence of records, in the spring of 1777. It bore the name of Col. Samuel Clyde, of Cherry Valley, who doubtless superintended its construction. As at Forts Plain and Paris no dwelling was here palisaded; but a block-house was inclosed with room within the pickets for the huts of exposed settlers, and, like those forts, was furnished with a six-pounder signal gun, one discharge of which announced the enemy abroad, while two or three discharges in quick succession, said: find a hiding place in the bush, as the foemen are between you and the fort. It stood on the old Gen. George H. Nellis farm, which is still owned by his descendants. It was 'on a knoll with a fine prospect. The dwelling of John P. Dunckel is now (1880) the nearest one to the site of this post, over which it is believed Col. Clyde held a paternal supervision. It stood over three miles southerly from Fort Plain as the road then ran. Part of a company of rangers or drafted militia were usually stationed here. As the road now passes over the knoll on which this fort stood, its site may easily be determined.
Fort Windecker.-This was one of the better class of stockaded dwellings, and stood on the river road in Mindenville, two miles above St. Johnsville. A picketed inclosure containing a block-house for a cannon encircled the dwelling of Johannes Windecker, where half a dozen patriotic families found refuge. The inclosure was a small one, as I learned from a soldier who was occasionally on duty there. It was about eight miles from Fort Plain, and two miles from Fort Willet, when that was erected. One very interesting event transpiring at Fort Windecker, is given in the second volume of this work. It is believed this house was fortified in the spring of 1777.
Fort Willett.-The general destruction of the Dutchtown settlement in 1780 necessitated some place of defense, and one was erected that fall and completed in the following spring, on a rise of ground now (1880), owned by William Zimmerman. An acre was inclosed in palisades, mostly of oak a foot thick, cut 15 feet long and set three feet in the ground. The timber was cut from the farms of those to be benefited; and in 1849 George Countryman, who was a name-sake of his father, assured the writer that he, a lad at the time, drove the team to draw a part of it; and, at the close of the war, the farmers divided and used the palisades. The following citizens are remembered all having huts within the square inclosure, viz.: George, Marks, and John Countryman, John Pickard (school-master), Henry Sanders (the most distant settler), Frederick Walrath, Isaac Van Camp (father of the young blacksmith who killed an Indian with his hammer), Henry Apple, * George Bryce and Henry Walrath, Esq. Some distance from the house of the latter, a block-house was erected and called Fort Walrath; but there being no one in it to defend it, the Indians burned it at the August invasion of 1780. Fort Willet, which was one and a half miles from Fort Plank, had two block. houses in its northeast and southwest corners. A wagon entrance was on the east side, and a small gate on the north side led to a well. The inclosure, if necessary, would accommodate a thousand men. The families had stables built of logs, but outside of, the inclosure. Powder was secured in the hut of George Countryman. An eccentric soldier at this post once had a live snake in his bosom, and with it he frightened women and children. This fort got its n.ame as follows: Co!. Willett, a rather large and coarse featured man, then in command of Fort Plain, rode out to visit it when nearly completed. Said he: "Boys, you have a nice fort here; what do you call it? It has no name, was the reply; can you not give it one?
" Well," said the colonel, "this is one of the nicest forts on the frontier; and, if you choose to, you can call it after me." They did so.
After the destruction of grain in 1780, some of the families at Fort Willett gathered acorns on which to fatten their hogs; while others allowed them to run in the woods and gather their own living, and shot them in the winter.-George Countryman. +He died August 3, 1851, in his 79th year.
The Johnstown Fort.-Soon after Sir John Johnson-who claimed the ownership of the jail-abandoned Johnson Hall and his princely possessions, the patriotic citizens secured the jail, palisaded it, and increased its accommodations by the erection
*He was so named because, when an infant,
he was found under an apple tree. where he had been mysteriously left.
+ Mrs. John Plank, a sister of this man, assured the writer at the age of 75, that she was born in Fort Willet, and her sister, Mrs. Jacob Copeman. was born in Fort Plank, then their place of refuge three years before. Fort Johnson-the old residence of Sir William Johnson-more than once sheltered American soldiers during the war.
of block-houses in the diagonal corners of the inclosure. This was a very important post during the war, and was generally guarded by a company or two of troops, who were looked after by Colonel Visscher and Lieut.-Col. Veeder. Capt. Little was usually its local commandant. It became the rallying centre for a large district of country, and the jail was used for both civil and military prisoners.
Fort Hunter, at the mouth of Schoharie creek, is elsewhere mentioned. This was a post of less importance than the Johnstown Fort, nine miles distant, but served a good purpose in that locality. In that part of Tryon county small predatory parties were seen less frequently than in its western districts. Here and there a private dwelling was fitted for defense, but such were less numerous than they were 20 or 30 miles farther to the westward.