Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Washington's Mohawk Valley Tour

(No name, unknown origin, but from the color of the papers, they are old. There are some conflicts in the reports in these papers. This article is a bit from this old scrap of paper and that old scrap of paper. It appears as though Washington stopped in the Fort Plain area on the way westward and eastward. Reports vary. One article said he did not stop at a place, then another article described the visit in detail. Since none of us were spectators of the visit, the only information we have is from the past, which is a "Washington slept here and here and here", situation. According to the map, it looks as though the route through the valley passed by the site of the Battle of Klock's Field, but I could find no reference to this stop in the articles. ajberry)

Our country's first president, George Washington, toured the Mohawk Valley in July of 1783. In a letter to General Philip Schuyler, Washington wrote: "I have concerted with Governor Clinton to make a tour to reconnoiter those places where the most remarkable posts were established, and the ground become famous by being the theater of action in 1777. We proposed to pass across the Mohawk River in order to have a view of that tract of country which is so celebrated for the fertility of its soil and the beauty of its situation."

"Washington," according to historian Leslie W. Devereux in a presentation dated March 1, 1932, "appears to have had in mind the purchase of land in the Mohawk Valley. In a personal letter to Gov. George Clinton, Washington stated: "'I am sorry we have been disappointed in our expectancy of buying the mineral spring at Saratoga, and the purchase of that part of the Oeriskeney (Oriskany) Tract on which fort Schuyler stands.'"

"General Philip Schuyler seems to have had similar views regarding the beauty and fertility of the Mohawk Valley when he purchased the site of Old Fort Schuyler in 1772," according to Devereux.

On July 18, 1783, Washington left his Newburg headquarters and traveled northward by sloop to begin his 750 mile journey by land and water to visit the frontier of New York State.

Washington went to Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Lake Champlain, returned to Schenectady and then proceeded up the Mohawk Valley as far as Fort Schuyler (Fort Stanwix). Among those who accompanied him were Gov. George Clinton, Alexander Hamilton, and Col. Benjamin Walker (resident of this area). There is little descriptive material available regarding Washington's 19 day trip through New York State to inspect the fortifications and battle scenes of the Revolution. It would be interesting to know the exact route he followed and where he stopped on the way.

He is supposed to have spent a night in the Volkert Vrooman house at Randall, near Currytown, and also at Canajoharie. "There is, however, no real proof of these or other visits at Mohawk Valley homes," Devereux pointed out.

On General Washington's journey, he made a stop at Fort Plain, on the south side of the river. Some accounts say that on that occasion, he empowered Col. Marinus Willett to organize Fort Herkimer as the western base of supplies for the American posts as far west as Detroit. He also appointed Col. Thomas Cassaty to go to Detroit and take command of that important point. Cassaty set out but, at the British post of Fort Oswego, he was arrested and kept in jail for several years. During the Revolution, Cassaty had shot the British commandant at Detroit, in a fight between the redcoat and Cassaty's father, and it was probably for this offense that the English commandant at Oswego held Cassaty. Col. Cassaty had married a daughter of Peter Wormuth and he was probably living at the Wormuth house at the time of Gen. Washington's visit.

General Washington, stopped at the home of Peter Wormuth on July 30, 1783. News that he would be there must have spread through the Middle Mohawk Valley as a large crowd of the neighborhood people gathered there to see the general of the American army. After his arrival, Washington left the house and strolled about it to satisfy the curiosity of the crowd. He also stopped and chatted with several people. He had supper and the night there. The women of the Wormuth house served the General a large and satisfactory supper according to the late Mrs. William Wagner, Fort Plain, born a Wormuth and conversant with family history. On the following day, July 31, 1783, after breakfast at the Wormuth house, General Washington visited Fort Plain, where Simms says he was probably received with full military honors. The General and his party had dinner there as guests of Colonel Samuel Clyde, commandant, Colonel Willett, who commanded all New York State troops north of the Highlands, made his headquarters at Fort Plain but he was then on duty at Fort Herkimer, as previously stated. A incident occurred while Washington visited Fort Plain, as he rode up the hill to the fort. Mrs. Gros, the wife of the Dominie, Johan Daniel Gros, paraded a group of small schoolboys along the road. As the General approached, they swung their hats and gave a loud hurrah and then made their best bow. Washington raised his hat and returned their salutation with a cheerful "Good morning, boys." Lawrence Gros, who built the original section of the Dunn residence on Willett Street, Fort Plain, was one of the schoolboys and he told of the incident to Jeptha R. Simms, the historian.

The Wormuth house, probably built about 1730, was demolished about 1865. Douglas Ayres, Jr. and "Lovey" Nellis located the site several years ago and drove an iron pipe in the ground to mark its location. The location is only about 150 yards north of the northern limits of the village of Nelliston.

Wormuth House.
According to Anita Smith, this site is over the hill below the Longhorn Trucking Company on Route 5.

Here is a copy of the Rufus Grider print of the Wormuth house which can be seen in the Fort Plain Museum off Route 5S.

Peter Wormuth was a Palatiner. There is no known date of the erection of the house but it is of the type of the earliest construction of the small stone houses built by the Palatines after they came into our Middle Mohawk Valley about 1722 and it probably dated from about 1725 or 1730. Other stone houses like Fort Ehle, Fort Frey and Fort Klock were all built close to the Kings Highway as was the Wormuth house. One reason the Wormuth house was finally destroyed was probably because of this location, as it was some distance from the Mohawk Turnpike, now Route 5, which was built on or before 1800. There seems to have been no road leading to it.

Besides Washington's stay at this local home, the Wormuth house has other historical significance. In May 1778, Chief Joseph Brant, at the head of a raiding party of the Indians, attacked and burned the little settlement of Springfield at the head of Otsego Lake. Brant then moved on to the little village of Cherry Valley with the idea of destroying it. It is reported that from a distant hill, he saw a large group of boys drilling in front of Fort Alden. Thinking it too heavily garrisoned for an attack, he moved his war party to the deep glen beyond Judd's Falls, thinking he might capture some "rebels" passing by. On the morning of that day, Lieut. Matthew Wormuth, with a companion named Sitts, had ridden from Fort Plain to Cherry Valley with the message that valley militia would come up next day to aid the Cherry Valley post, as Brant was known to be in the neighborhood. Wormuth and Sitts were riding back in the evening over the Fort Plain road in the glen, where Brant had deployed his war party in an ambush in the dense forest growth. The Indians fired on the horsemen, mortally wounding Wormuth and wounding and capturing Sitts. Wormuth was an officer in Col. Klock's Palatine regiment. Klock and some troops came up from Fort Plain the next day but all they could do was to take Wormuth's body back to Fort Plain and from there across the river to his father's home in the Palatine district. Lieut. Wormuth was a strapping and handsome young soldier, who was universally popular among the valley folks and there was general sorrow over his death. It was indeed a sad day in the Wormuth house, when the body of Peter Wormuth's only son was brought back to the doorstep of his home. One of the most stricken was the Lieutenant's young wife, Gertrude Herkimer. Brant drew off his Indians but returned with Walter Butler in November and perpetrated the Cherry valley massacre.

On his celebrated tour of the Mohawk Valley, Washington was accompanied by a party of about 40 officers and officials including Governor George Clinton and General Philip Schuyler. They were probably fed and housed at Fort Plain as the Wormuth house was far too small to accommodate them all. Members of the party on the Mohawk Valley Tour: Henry Glen, of Schenectady, deputy American Army Quartermaster for that district, accompanied Washington on his tour of the valley in 1783. His papers show some of the notables who were with the Commander at Fort Plain: Governor George Clinton, General Philip Schuyler, General Ten Broeck, Stephen Van Rensselaer and an Italian Count. Others, known or presumed to have been with the party: General Hand, Col. David Humphries, Hodijah Baylies, William S. Smith, Jonathan Trumbull, Jr. Tench Tilghman, Richard Varick, Benjamin Walker, Richard K. Mead, David Cobb and a number of officers including some of those of the Tryon County Militia.

General Washington fully appreciated the importance of Fort Plain, and a main defensive post and military headquarters on the worthier frontier during the Revolution as indicated by the letter in possession of the Fort Rensselaer Club of Canajoharie. A photostatic copy of the letter hangs on the walls of the clubhouse.

Headquarters, Newburgh,
July 2, 1783.
Colonel Reid has informed me of the ill condition of Fort Plain and of the magazine at that place. As it is of the greatest importance that they should be repaired, I might request you to make every possible exertion to supply the necessary materials.
I am Sir,
Your very humble servant,
G. Washington.
Mr. Quackenboss, Q. Master.

A month later, after his tour of the Mohawk Valley and his visit to Fort Plain, General Washington referred to the post as "Fort Rensselaer," which shows the great historical confusion caused by the use of the names, "Fort Plain" and "Fort Rensselaer," from 1780 through 1786.

In the afternoon of July 31, 1783, General Washington and his party rode to Cherry Valley where they spent the night. On August 1, they visited Otsego Lake and the site of Cooperstown. They returned to Canajoharie over the Clinton road. General Washington spent the night at the Van Alstyne house in Canajohaire, as the guest of the Colonel and Mr. Clyde, who made their home there as there were no family living accommodations at Fort Plain, which generally housed from 300 to 400 American troops. Other member of the party of 40 put up at Roof's tavern in Canajoharie or returned to Fort Plain for the overnight.

Col. Willett, the valley commandant, met Washington at the Fort Herkimer Church and in this church Washington ordered Fort Herkimer to be made the western depot of supplies for all the western British posts soon to be taken over by the Americans.

Colonel Marinus Willett.
a brave soldier and competent
Commander of New York State Troops
(militia and levies) from 1781 to 1784,
with headquarters at Fort Plain,
where he was greatly admired
and respected by soldiers and civilian alike.
Willett Street, Fort Plain, was named in his honor.
He was later elected Mayor of New York City.

Supplies came to Fort Herkimer via the Mohawk River and then shipped westward over the water routes to Fort Niagara, and then via portage to La Salle on the Niagara River. Col. Willet was given command of the supply depot.

Washington stopped and ate dinner under a tree in the yard of the Shoemaker place (West Main St., Mohawk). At the time this was one of the few houses left standing in this section of the Mohawk Valley after the Revolutionary raids.

The Shoemaker House was destroyed by fire some years ago, thus removing a famous landmark. The house was built before the Revolution. It was a Revolutionary Tory secret meeting place and here Walter Butler was captured after the Battle of Oriskany in 1777. He later escaped from the Albany jail. Like a number of other Tory valley houses it was spared by the enemy during the war.

It was the last pre-Revolutionary house on a tour westward toward Buffalo, and the first if you were traveling easterly.

Washington also stopped at Canajoharie on August 1, 1783 and was guest at the Van Alstyne house. He also visited two other houses, the General Herkimer house and the Volkert Vrooman house.

Regarding Washington's letter to Marquis de Chastellux, it read: "I could not help taking a more extensive view of the vast inland navigation in these United States and could not but be struck by the immense extend and importance of it, and the greatness of that providence which has dealt it favors to us with so profuse a hand. "Would to God we may have wisdom enough to improve them. I shall not rest contented until I have explored the western country and traversed those lines or a great part of them, which have given bounds to a new empire." "It was in the Mohawk Valley that Washington first saw the vision of the great civilized republic stretching from coast to coast that the United State were later to become," Devereux noted. "As surveyor for Lord Fairfax in the Shenandoah Valley, and with the armies of Braddock and Forbes in the Ohio region, Washington had learned something of the country's interior - "which was more than almost any of the contemporaries could boast." Devereux pointed out.

"The vast inland navigation of these United States!" This utterance was made at a time when only a small fringe of the Eastern Seaboard was populated and the interior was a vast, uncharted wilderness, shows the profound wisdom and forethought of Washington.

After his return to his Newburg headquarters on March 5, he wrote the president of Congress: "My tour northward and westward to Fort Schuyler and my movement have been pretty rapid, my horses which had not yet arrived would be so much fatigued that they will need several days rest."

After his tour of the Mohawk Valley, where he saw the importance of river traffic, he began to consider how the country might grow and turned his attention first to the possible use of the waterways. For his vision of the future, fully as much as for his great deeds, does he deserve the title of "Father of His Country." It is also significant that he first glimpsed the vision in the Mohawk Valley which was soon to become the pathway of pioneers into the interior and also the great commercial route from the seaboard to the West. This route to the West was the Erie Canal, the railroad, and the modern motor car route, all to come later. Washington foresaw western growth, and how important the Mohawk Valley was destined to play a major role. He truly was a man of vision.

Almost 150 years later, in July of 1932, the Mohawk Valley celebrated the anniversary of the famous visit. A group representing the General and his staff made their way up the valley, with local celebrations in each town and village. Nelliston was reached on July 20, 1932. Following a Canajoharie parade, the Fort Plain-Nelliston repection committee met Washtington and his staff in Nelliston with a welcome and speeches. Then the group was escorted to Fort Plain. In the evening there was a two mile parade with 15 bands and drum corps, and 55 floats. More than 60 windows had historical displays with artifacts and heirlooms on display.

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