Tracing history in the Mohawk Valley.
One hundred and four Loyalist descendants on two buses from Hamilton and Ottawa were on the trip that took place from September 28 to October 2, 2001. They came from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec in Canada, and from North Carolina and Wisconsin in the United States.
The Mohawk River, which the Indians called, the river flowing through mountains, starts as a woodland stream north of Rome, NY and flows approximately 150 miles to enter the Hudson River at Cohoes. The Mohawk Valley has always been an important East-West transportation route serving the settlements that grew along its waterways. During the American Revolution, its lakes and rivers were vital to the military. The Schoharie Valley was also important as a North-South route for settlers and armies. Many of our Palatine ancestors settled in the Schoharie Valley after leaving the East and West Camp Settlements on the Hudson River. Today, many of the Churches, Forts and Battlefields in the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys are reminders of the period in history that forged our Loyalist ancestors.
Just west of Old Fort Herkimer Church, Fort Herkimer stood as a place of refuge for pioneers seeking shelter from attacks by the Indians and French. During the American Revolution, the Fort and the Church were places of defence and a base for military supplies. The original Church doorway is on the north side of the Church. A stone over the doorway bears the initials "J.H.E." and the date 1767. J.H. refers to Johan Jost Herkimer, the builder and the father of General Nicholas Herkimer. The letter E is the first letter of the word erbaut, German for built. The Church, thought to be one of the oldest remaining Churches in all of New York State, is noted for its elevated pulpit on the east wall. An old Bible, with German text, rests on the pulpit. Among the graves in the cemetery are those of some of our Loyalist ancestors.
General Nicholas Herkimer's former home, an English Georgian mansion, was built in 1752. After Herkimer was wounded at the Battle of Oriskany, he was brought home where he died shortly after. He is buried on the grounds in the family cemetery, his grave marked by a tall monument. The English word monument stems from the Latin word monere, which means to remind.
Although some Churches were burned during the War, many were left untouched. Not only did they serve as places of refuge, but also those driven out of their homes wanted their Church to be there when they returned. One such Church was Indian Castle Church built in 1769 by Sir William Johnson on land donated by Joseph Brant. Dutch farmers used the Church during the Revolution, but the bell remained precious to the Indians who tried, unsuccessfully, to spirit it away several times. Across the road from the Church is a frame barn. The foundation and lower section were originally part of Joseph Brant's barn. Molly and Joseph Brant lived at Upper Castle, an Indian Village located there.
St. John's Reformed Church in St. Johnsville was founded in 1770. This Church and its predecessor, Klock's Church, are part of the history of the Klock family. Hendrick Klock, one of the first Palatines, came to America in 1708. Most of the first congregation of Klock's Church were from the Palatinate. They formed a Committee of Public Safety and drafted a Declaration of Independence fourteen months before the Declaration of 1776 was signed. St. John's Reformed Church was incorporated in 1787 to replace the ageing Klock's Church.
The restored Palatine Church (Lutheran) was founded in 1749 and erected in 1770. It is the Shrine of Lutheranism in the Mohawk Valley. The British left the Church unharmed, as some of the members of the Nellis Family who had helped found the Church were Loyalists. Inside this historic Church is an old flag with 13 stars and 13 stripes -- dating back to c1795-1797. The area where the Church is located was a busy business centre and the first Masonic Lodge was established nearby.
The Dutch (Stone Arabia) Reformed Church and Trinity Lutheran Church are both located in Stone Arabia. Originally there was one Church, Trinity Lutheran, and one congregation dating back to c1723. A controversy over the name of the Church led to the withdrawal of Lutherans and the formation of a second congregation. Parents, however, often baptized their children twice -- once in the Dutch Reformed Church and once in Trinity Lutheran Church. Both Churches were burned during the Revolution and later rebuilt.
The Old Stone Fort at Schoharie was originally built as a Church in 1772 and fortified during the Revolution. The names of those who helped build the Church were chiselled into the stones. The names of those sympathetic to the British, the Loyalists, were later chiselled out. The scars remain on the stone. In 1780 Sir John Johnson's force fired a cannon shot at the Fort. The cannon ball hole is still visible. Davis Williams, a British spy, is buried within the old Church Fortress. The Fort has been a museum and genealogical library since 1889. An extensive tour of the Fort and Museum was given by costumed guides, and several on the trip researched in the library.
Fort Klock is a fortified farmhouse built in 1750 by farmer and fur trader Johannes Klock for trading and defence. The farmhouse and other outbuildings are currently being restored. Staffed by guides in costume, the Fort also runs a youth programme. Young girls in period costume were in the kitchen paring apples for a pie and learning embroidery. All the girls were wearing pockets on the outside of their skirts. This indicated that they were available and looking. Of course, their embroidery would have to pass the critical eye of a potential mother-in-law.
Fort Johnson, a three-storied Georgian style house near Amsterdam, was built in 1749 by William Johnson. It was an important military post and Indian Council place from 1754 to 1760. Its interior architecture is relatively unchanged and four rooms are furnished to reflect the 18th century. A decorative 18th century outhouse, a two-holer, is still located on the grounds.
The Old Indian Trail connected Fort Johnson and Johnson Hall. Johnson Hall, built in 1762, was the Baronial home of Sir William Johnson, and is one of the most historic colonial buildings in the United States. Described as one of the great men of his time, Sir William conducted Indian affairs for the British government from the Hall. The Indians gathered in the front hall and sat on the floor waiting to talk with Sir William. Their gifts of animal pelts adorned the walls. Molly Brant was an important liaison with the Indians and undoubtedly contributed to Sir William's success as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Colonies. Sir William, whose Indian name was Warraghiyagey, he who does much business, died suddenly in 1774 at a conference of the Indian tribes at Johnson Hall.
The Historic Quadrangle of Johnstown NY, is the location of several historic sites. A monument to Sir William Johnson, plaques describing his life and a stone grave marker are found in Sir William Johnson Park. A stone "Commemorating the First Veterans of Our Nation Who Fell in the Battle of Johnstown" also stands there. The Fulton County Courthouse, built in 1772, is across from the park. The interior is unchanged and it is the only colonial courthouse still in use today. The original bell, rung when Walter Butler was killed in 1781, is still used. Many Johnstown notables of Colonial and Revolutionary days as well as some of the ancestors of Loyalists are buried in the Colonial Cemetery.
Oriskany Battlefield is the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolution. Here, the British and Indians under Sir John Johnson, John Butler, and Joseph Brant ambushed Rebel General Herkimer's militia as they marched to relieve the British siege at Fort Stanwix. The valley took years to recover from the loss of life, for in the Valley homes was great mourning. Today a memorial monument stands to the unknown dead of the Oriskany Battlefield.
There are many other historical sites along the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys, and plaques have been erected to mark their locations. Almost 180 battles of the American Revolution were fought on New York soil. In the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys as elsewhere in the colonies, families were separated and friendships destroyed. The river that had carried trade goods and furs became the route of military expeditions. The Mohawk and its companion, the Hudson were strategic waterways to both sides. Once the scene of battles and raids, burnings and death, today the river flowing through mountains flows peacefully on its never ending journey.
Today, as well, we live in peace with the descendants of those who chose to be Rebels. When the descendants of Loyalists come together, part of the camaraderie they share is the breaking of bread. A banquet, at which Edward Kipp served as Master of Ceremonies, was held in Amsterdam NY. Among the guests were descendants of Rebels. Beverly Craig and Noreen Stapley presented the colours, which were escorted by Lieutenant David Solek and Michael Trout of Butler's Rangers. Gloria Oakes led the singing of the Royal Anthem and The Star Spangled Banner. There followed a moment of silence for the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania. Toasts were proposed: by Terry Hicks to His Majesty King George III; by Lieutenant David Solek to George Washington; and to our ancestors by Mabel MacLean. Grace was said by Judge John Maher. Following the meal, Paul Tonko, the Assembly Man from the 105h District of the New York Legislature welcomed the Loyalists to New York State. Saint Johnsville historian, Anita Smith spoke of her interest in local history and was thanked by Robert Weaver. The evening concluded with the singing of 'O Canada'.
George Anderson and Edward Kipp would like to thank everyone who contributed to the Loyalist Millennium Project by participating in the tour, including Noreen Stapley, Catherine Tanser and all who helped to make the trip a success.
Thanks to Philip Smart whose pictures accompany this article.
(Editor's Note: We included some of Wanda Sinclair's photos too.)