Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Fort Wagner, between Nelliston and St. Johnsville

Route 5

Travelers along Route 5 will see the historical marker and Wagner house. The stone house fort was built about 1750. The old part and new are easily distinguishable since the addition is a wooden structure. The pioneer settler was Johan Peter Wagner who settled in West Camp with his wife Margaretha Laucs (Loucks), and there they lived. They moved to the Mohawk Valley along with some three hundred others, to land given them by Governor Hunter. Johan Peter and his wife lived until about 1750 and are buried in the Wagner plot southeast of the house, on the near side of a hill called the "Steilerberg" or "Steep Hill."

One son, Johan Peter was a Lieuteneant Colonel and fought in the Battle of Oriskany with three of his sons, Lieutenant Peter, George and John. His wife was Barbara "Waggener". (Stone Arabia Church records.) They had twelve children, five sons and seven daughters. Both Colonel Peter and his wife, Barbara, died of old age. Colonel Peter Wagner was buried in Fort Plain Cemetery, the funeral services were held in the Palatine Church. His will was signed in 1806 and probated in 1813. The farm was left to his son, Peter and he made provisions for his wife in the will.

This historic house is a short distance from: Fort Klock, Palatine Church, General Cochran House.

The historical marker says: Fort Wagner. Stone section of house was stockaded home of Lieutenant Col. Peter Wagner, Palatine Reg't Tryon County Militia 1750.

Thanks to Nan Dixon, who contributed the following article on Fort Wagner. Check out the Jefferson County Gen Web site, Nan is the coordinator. Many of the valley people settled in the Jefferson County area.

The Wagners left with the other troublemakers in 1712, and were in the Schoharie Valley, their beloved "Land of Schorrie", until the move to the Mohawk. Proof of this, of course, is found in the Simmendinger book, which locates the various families in their several locations, both in the Hudson and Schoharie Valleys, and also in New Jersey, in 1716. The Palatines, family by family, communicated with Mr. Simmendinger their willingness to send back to the old country, by means of his book, greetings to those they left behind. It's not a complete list, by any means, but the Wagners were one of the families that volunteered to be recognized.

I use the appellation troublemakers many times in "Palatine Roots", because the people who eventually ended up in the Mohawk Valley in the 1720s were the minority of the Palatines. The majority, the good guys, stayed put in the Hudson Valley, as they were all told to do. The troublemakers, on the other hand, had minds of their own, and included nearly all the listmasters the English chose to be their leaders of the Palatine groups.

Fort Wagner in 1750

The stone farm house located two miles east of Palatine Church and two miles west of Nelliston, on NYS Route 5 in the Mohawk Valley, is historically known as Fort Wagner. To begin at the beginning, Fort Wagner might not even have been built in 1750. At the outset of the French and Indian War in 1745, fortified dwellings became a necessity for those families who wanted to remain in the Mohawk Valley. They began to appear, about two miles apart, up and down the river. 1750 is a convenient date in the middle of the 1700s for the erection of this stone house, and it is as good as any.

Tradition held that the immigrant or first settler built some sort of temporary shelter on his land, and established an economic base for the son who succeeded him. The next generation, if it was affluent enough, built a stone dwelling, stone barns and outbuildings, underscoring the family's possession of the farmstead. In the case of Ft Wagner, and indeed, other fortified houses in the area, this tradition was at least partially carried out.

It seems likely that the Palatine immigrant, Peter Wagner with his wife, Maria Margaretha Laux, and their family probably occupied a log cabin on this site. One indication is the placing of the stone building. The present occupant pointed out that the prevailing wind, whistling down the valley, hits Ft Wagner on the south west corner. The corner thus deflects the main blast from the side or front of the house, providing the occupants a greater degree of comfort.

The Wagners had only one son, so there was never much doubt about who would follow on that land. Johann Peter Wagner, as he would have been called in his youth, was a newly married man in 1750, with his wife Barbara Elisabetha Dachstatter already expecting their first son. They needed more room as well as a safer environment for their growing family. Johann Peter, later to become Lt . Col. Wagner during the Revolutionary War, built the stone house probably under the direction of the old man, his father, and perhaps with the help of black slaves. The influence of the elder Wagners is seen in the design of the building, which would be quite at home in Hinterwald or Dachsenhausen, Germany, the places of origin of the Wagner family. Again, we have no record to state specifically when, or how, the house was built, but we do know for whom it was intended.

What did it look like in 1750? The road passed much closer to the building than it does today. Thus the stockade which surrounded it, traces of which have been unearthed, must have been close to the edge of the road. A small blockhouse within the stockade housed soldiers, when they were needed. Slender logs or saplings made up the stockade, rising ten to fifteen feet high over the trench in which they were set. There must have been at least one gate or door, probably more.

Fort Wagner had beauty and dignity, as it still does today, nestled beneath the hills to the north, and fronting the Mohawk River, some quarter mile off to the south. It has two full storeys above ground, with a full cellar underneath, from which the massive chimney rises through the main rooms to the roof. A well in the cellar assured the family of a water supply in case of a siege, as well as the convenience of being able to draw water without having to brave the elements in inclement weather.

The windows were set deep in the stone walls, and could be shuttered at need. Loopholes pierced the ends and sides of the stone walls, providing protection for the marksmen within. The original windows were probably smaller, giving the enemy a harder target to hit. The house never had to withstand a siege, however. Probably only one attack was ever mounted against the house, the Indians preferring those many easier targets throughout the countryside, the log huts of the Wagner neighbors. The very fact that the Wagners, like the Klocks and the Ehles, could afford a stone house set them apart from their poorer neighbors.

The first storey was divided into two main rooms, with the stairs ascending from the westernmost room. The huge fireplace warmed and lit the eastern room, while some traces of a stove have been detected in the western room. The second storey shows evidences of cupboard beds, those beds built into the walls which one can see in other colonial houses. Sir William Johnson's mansion near Johnstown contains fine examples of cupboard beds.

A fuller description of the house and its occupants may be found in "Palatine Roots", by Nan Dixon. It can be ordered through inter-library loan, or from the author.

The Wagner Family Another article written by Nan Dixon.

Copyright 1999. Nan Dixon. e-mail:

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