Little Journeys Along the Old Mohawk Turnpike
published by Caughnawaga Chapter D. A. R., Fonda, NY, 1923
Part 4 - the Fourth and Fifth Day's Journeys, pages 31-37

The Fourth Day's Journey
(Read by Mrs. Mary Hoese LATHERS, March 16, 1922.)

          On our little journeys along the Mohawk Trail, we have reached Canajoharie which seems to have been spelled Can-a-jor-ha.  We have often been confused by confounding the Indian town of Can-a-jor-ha with the Canajoharie of the present day.

           All the land on the south side of the river from the Nose below Sprakers to the highlands of Little Falls was known as the land of the Can-a-jor-ha's and when Canajoharie Castle is referred to, it means the Indian settlement in the town of Danube, Herkimer county, and is now known as Indian Castle, which we will come to later.  The first name given to the present village of Canajoharie was Schembling, named from a tavern kept by Henry SCREMBLING and was just opposite Frey's.  Among the fortified dwellings that were used as places of defense during the Revolution (but not really forts) was the old Van ALSTYNE house built in 1730.  It was there that Gosen Van ALSTYNE lived.  On June 11, 1775, the ninth meeting of the County Committee of Public Safety was held.  There were twenty-seven delegates -- ten from Palatine, seven from Mohawk, five from Canajoharie, and five from Kingsland or German Flats.  The fourteenth meeting was also held here and proved to be a very important meeting.  Nicholas HERKIMER was Chairman.  Gosen Van ALSTYNE erected the first grist-mill on Canajoharie creek, probably built about 1760.  It was a wooden structure and stood on the east bank.  It burned about 1814.  A mile or more south of Canajoharie was the palisaded dwelling of one EHLE.  Within a short distance of this military post a detachment of the enemy under BRANT in 1780 or 1781 surprised and killed Adam EIGHTS and captured Nathan FOSTER and Conrad FRITCHER, whom they took to Canada.  A mile west of Canajoharie was the stone dwelling erected by Nicholas FAILING.  Its windows and doors were fortified with bulletproof oak plank.  The south side faced a hill.  A staging was erected to which access was gained from the second story window.  This staging with an oak floor was enclosed with plank to the height of a man's breast, thus affording protection to those who were stationed behind.  It was called Fort Failing and never being invaded or molested by the enemy it remained intact until 1833, when it burned.  As early as 1748 John ROOF came from Fort Stanwix and opened an inn at Canajoharie.  His father Johannes purchased the old stone SCREMBLING House and there they kept tavern for many years.  Among the noted guests was General James CLINTON who was stationed there with the body of Sullivan's troops.  During their stay they opened the road from Canajoharie through Springfield to the head of Otsego Lake.  CLINTON's army was mobilized at Canajoharie in 1779 for its overland journey to Otsego Lake.  There stands today a beautiful monument in the Square commemorating the above, placed there by the Fort Rensselaer chapter of the D. A. R.  A more modern place was erected in front of the old ROOF tavern and was known for a time as The Stage House.  The Landlord in 1826 was Reuben PEAKE.  Other landlords were Elisha Kane ROOF, George B. MURRAY and Morgan L. HARRIS.  Upon the site of these old taverns, Webster WAGNER, who invented the palace and sleeping cars, erected the beautiful hotel in 1888, known as The Wagner.  The village was incorporated April 30th, 1829, and has

page 31

suffered loss from fire upon three different occasions.  The principal industries are the manufacture of paper and cotton bags and the packing of food products.  The "Pot that Washes Itself" is the English meaning of Canajoharie and was applied to a hole in the creek from which the water seemingly boils.  Who knows but that the Indians and early settlers had a vision of that beautiful structure and modern pots and kettles in the best known food-packing company which has carried the name of Canajoharie from ocean to ocean?

          The first permanent settlement north of the Mohawk in Montgomery County (and it is possible the first west of Schenectady) is the present village of Palatine and was made by Heinrich FREY, a native of Zurich, Switzerland, who left that country for New York in 1688.  Upon his arrival here he received from Gov. DONGAN a location ticket for 100 acres of land on the Schoharie creek, but the Mohawk Valley looked better to him so he settled in Palatine where he erected a log cabin and laid claim to 300 acres of land, his only title aside from possession, being obtained from the Indians.  Later he obtained a permanent title.  The Homestead has always been in the FREY family, the log cabin being occupied until 1739, when the stone dwelling was erected and was prepared for defense in the early Canadian wars.  Among the early settlers is the name of Peter WAGONER.  He located about one mile south of Palatine Church, where his son Peter Junior lived when the Revolution began.  His house was fortified and was known as Fort Wagner.  The site of Fort Plain was on the rise just west of the present cemetery at the west end of Fort Plain village.  SIMMS says it was constructed by farmers.  It enclosed from a third to a half acre of land and proved too small to accommodate all who fled there for refuge, so huts were built along the hill.  Fort Plain was the first Revolutionary fortification.  Who commanded first at Fort Plain is not known.  There were also several smaller forts, Windecker, Willett, Plank, and Clyde.

           Fort Windecker, built in 1777 was a palisade inclosure surrounding the dwelling of Johannes WINDECKER.  Fort Willett was a palisaded inclosure on the highest ground in the Dutchtown section on the farm now owned by Wm. ZIMMERMAN.  After the completion of Fort Willett, Colonel WILLETT with a squad of his men rode out to see it.  He was pleased with it and asked what name they had given it.  The answer was "It has no name as yet.  Won't you give it one?"  "You may call it after me." he replied.  The old southside turnpike running through the Greenbush section of Fort Plain is called Willett Street after Colonel WILLETT.  Fort Plank was the dwelling house of Frederick PLANK.  Here Capt. Joseph HOUSE commanded.  There were troops kept at this station through the war.  Fort Clyde was located on the George H. NELLIS farm.  Besides these there were numerous stockaded dwellings called for the families who owned them.  Thus the country around this vicinity was well fortified, although they suffered terribly from Indian raids in 1780.  We are loath to leave this historic spot, as there are volumes to be written on it, but we are now coming to the old Palatine Lutheran Church built in 1700 which is the oldest church building standing in Fulton and Montgomery Counties, and it was fittingly built of stone.  Rufus A. GRIDER tells why the old church was not destroyed.  "The old church in Palatine was not destroyed by John JOHNSON's army during the raid of October 19, 1780, when very few buildings escaped burning.  It

page 32

stands on the border of the road over which the invading army moved.  It had been an unsolved question why it escaped burning when everything else that could be destroyed met that fate.  About ten years ago visitors from Canada named NELLIS came to visit relatives of that name near St. Johnsville.  From them it was learned that when the raiders reached this church, a party of Indians stopped.  One of them touched a faggot to an arrow and was about to light it, when a British officer interfered saying "Before we left Canada, I promised my friend NELLIS that this church should not be burned.  He was one of the chief contributors towards building it and hopes to return to his farm again when the war is over."  The Indians passed on and the church was saved.  On the top of this church is a rooster weather vane which was found on many early Dutch churches and seemed to be a symbol.  Rev. Chas. E. CORWIN of New York says the weathercock was used on church spires for two reasons.  First, because the tail made a broad surface adapted to its purpose, and second, because the cock was the bird that called Peter to repentance.  He has maintained his watch for 150 years and has looked down on various fields of activity. He saw the British soldiers and the Indian allies against the Continental army.  Klock Field is under his very eye.  The passing of the old toll-gate at his feet, the frontiersmen on their way to western New York and Ohio.  He saw the digging of the Clinton Ditch and later the canalized Mohawk river take its place.  He has wondered at the iron horse on the steel rails and saw the first red devil on its way.  He has craned his neck to see the modern bird of today sailing far above him laden with passengers.  He points to the past, has watched the present and looks into the future.  Thus we leave him, hoping he may safely guard our future generations.

          One eighth of a mile west we come to the old COCHRANE house.  Dr. John COCHRANE, Surgeon-General in Washington's army, whose wife was Gertrude SCHUYLER, the only sister of Major General Philip SCHUYLER.  Then we go on to Fort Klock, which marks the edge of the battle of Klock's Field.  In 1776 a settlement was made on the site of the present St. Johnsville and was made by Jacob ZIMMERMAN who erected the first gristmill.  A half a century before this, Christian KLOCK had built a church in the eastern part of the town, the date of that erection being 1756.  The first English school was taught by Lot RYAN in 1792.  A tavern was kept as early as 1783 by Christopher NELLIS, who added merchandise and kept store in 1801.  The dwelling of Christian KLOCK, as mentioned before, was also stockaded and named Fort House, as was also the house of Jacob ZIMMERMAN.  Fort Hill stood near East Creek and was also used as a place of defense during the war.  St. John's Reformed church is one of the oldest religious societies in the Mohawk Valley.  The present brick edifice was built in 1881 upon the old site.

           We will now detour to Indian Castle.  Indian Castle church marks the site of the Castle of the Bear Clan, or Canajoharie Castle of the Mohawks, the home of the Mohawk chieftains, King HENDRICK, Joseph BRANT, and of Molly BRANT the housekeeper of Sir William JOHNSON where she lived after Sir William's death until the fight of the Mohawks to Canada.  It is said that Molly BRANT furnished her brother with some very valuable information in regard to Gen. HERKIMER's movements before the battle of Oriskany.  Sir Wm. JOHNSON built Fort Canajoharie, also Fort Hendrick called in honor of his great friend King HENDRICK.  It has

page 33

been generally accepted that Canajoharie Castle was on what is now the Willis GREENE farm.

          About half way between Indian Castle and Little Falls on the south side of the river is the HERKIMER Homestead and monument.  In 1896 the state erected this monument to his memory and may it be said that no name has greater significance than the Hero of Oriskany.  Coming back to the trail we see the great 40 foot canal and lock of the Barge.  Little Falls was an important portage place of colonial and Revolutionary wars.  Some miles north the battle of Fairfield was fought on July 2nd, 1781, also the Johnson raid in 1778.  Little Falls was for many years the greatest cheese market in America.  Next west on the south side is Fort Herkimer which was an important military post for half a century before the Revolutionary war.  The only monument of the early years of the settlement is the old stone church which is thought to have been begun as early as 1740; the old HERKIMER stone house built in 1740; the original fort taken down in 1839.  The settlement was several times raided and destroyed but the Fort remained intact and nearly all men prominent in the valley's history were visitors, such men as WASHINGTON, TRYON, Sir William JOHNSON, Col. WILLETT, Col. John BROWN, Chas. CLINTON.  Indian councils were held here and among them the Oneida Council of 1785.

          Now I will bring you to the north side of the trail and leave you at the entrance of the beautiful and prosperous village whose motto is "Herkimer led - Herkimer leads."

The Fifth Day's Journey
(Read by Mrs. Elizabeth MADDEN WEMPLE, May 18, 1922)

          As we continue on our journey westward, we come to the village of Herkimer, situated on the north side of the Mohawk, which was formerly called Fort Dayton and was built in 1776, in the northern part of the present village of Herkimer, by Col. DAYTON, for the protection of the inhabitants of the north side of the river.

          Fort Dayton, in 1781, became the western military out-post of the valley.  In 1780 John Christian SCHELL who, with his wife and two sons, lived in a two-story log cabin near Fort Dayton, successfully defended the place against a band of Tories and Indians, half of whom were either killed or wounded.

          In the following year SCHELL and two of his sons, being at work in the field not far from his block-house, were fired upon by a party of Indians secreted in a wheat field, and he was dangerously wounded.

          John C. SCHELL did not long survive his wounds and this closed the life of a brave and resolute man and a pure and devout Christian.  During the attack on the block-house, SCHELL addressed his Maker in a hymn of deliverance from peril, used by the early German reformers.  It was from this point that Gen. HERKIMER and his valley militia started on their fateful march to Oriskany.

          The old church, a wooden structure and a venerable relic of the past, was consumed by fire in January 1834, when the court house was burned.  It was soon after replaced by a handsome edifice of brick which stands on the main street of the village, near the court house.

          The Herkimer Herald made its appearance in 1828, under the direction of John CARPENTER, and advocated the election of General JACKSON.  It might be of interest to know that Herkimer is the largest desk manufacturing city in the world.  Crossing the river at Herkimer to the south shore, we come to the villages

page 34

of Mohawk, Ilion and Frankfort which form a village community of 30,000 people.  At Ilion is situated the Remington Arms works which manufactured quantities of rifles for the Civil and World wars.  It was also at this place that the first practical typewriter was made.

          At Frankfort there were some German settlements along the river before the Revolution.  A sanitarium, erected by Dr. HOLLAND, in 1847, is located in the south-western part of the town, where thousands of patients have been successfully treated.  Frankfort is known every where for its road machinery works, and other industry.  June 9, 1922, marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the purchase from the Mohawks and the settlements of the German flat sections, Mohawk, Ilion and Frankfort.

          In 1758, at what is now Utica, Fort Schuyler was erected upon the south bank of the Mohawk, a little south-east of the present R. R. station and named after Col. Peter SCHUYLER, an uncle of Gen. Philip SCHUYLER of the Revolution.  Neither the soil nor its location, at an early period, held out inducements to emigrants to settle at this place, nearly all the ground now built upon, being then an almost impassible swamp.  The first business men of the place could only hope that the village of Old Fort Schuyler would be the fort of the cities of Whitestown and New Hartford.  They consequently kept close to the banks of the river, and for many years the business part of the place was that part of the "Genesee Road" below the line of Main street and the Whitestown road and the banks of the river.

          John POST, of Schenectady, was the first merchant; he purchased real estate in the spring of 1790; here he had an extensive trade with the Indians, and the early settlers of the surrounding country.  By an act passed March 31, 1804, the exclusive right was granted to Jansen PARKER and Levi STEPHENS of running stagewagons from Utica to Canandaigua; two trips were to be made in each week for 5c per mile; the trip was to be made in 48 hours.  The first mail to the place was conveyed by Simeon POOL, in 1793, under an arrangement with the post office dept., authorizing the transportation of the mail from Canajoharie to Whitestown, a distance of fifty miles, the inhabitants upon the route paying the expense.  The post rider was allowed twenty-eight hours to make the trip and the same to return.

          Utica has no Revolutionary association except the fact that HERKIMER and his army crossed the Mohawk at this point on Aug. 5, 1777.  Utica of today is a great modern city of 100,000 people; is world famous for some of its manufactures; ranks first among the cities of the state in the manufacture of cotton goods; second in hosiery and knit goods; and third in the manufacture of heating, cooking and ventilating appliances.  West of Utica, we enter Whitesboro which was the site of the first permanent settlement of white people, in 1784.

          Hugh WHITE removed from Middletown, Conn., in May, 1784, and arrived in what is now Whitesboro on June 5; he came by water to Albany, crossed by land to Schenectady, where he purchased a batteau, in which he made the passage up the Mohawk river.

          His four sons, a daughter, and daughter-in-law accompanied him.  When he left Middletown he sent one of his sons with two yokes of oxen by land to Albany, who arrived there about the same time as did his father.  As the family proceeded up the river by boat, their teams kept even pace by land, and when they arrived at Shoemaker's a few miles below Utica, on the south side of the river they found many of the farms in that

page 35

vicinity unoccupied; the dwelling houses and out-buildings told fearful tale of the ravages committed by the Tories and Savages.

          Judge WHITE looking for the means for the future subsistence of his household, stopped here, tilled one of the vacated fields and planted it with corn.  The father and sons returned from their new home in the fall and were repaid for their labor with a bountiful crop.  Immediately after the Revolution, Judge WHITE became the owner of about fifteen hundred acres and at once proceeded to locate a site for a dwelling.

          The place selected was upon the bank which forms the eastern termination of the village.  The house erected was peculiar.  He dug into the bank so that the lower story was under ground, and then the upper was built in true primitive log-house style.  The ridge-pole for the support of the roof was upheld by forked trees, cut and set in the ground, and the roof was composed of slabs split for that purpose from logs.

          This was the first home erected on the Indian and military road between old Fort Schuyler (Utica) and Fort Stanwix (Rome.)  The early settlers often spoke of carrying bags of grain upon their backs to Palatine and the German flats to be ground, and then returning with the flour in the same manner.  As a means for inducing his acquaintances in New England to emigrate, Judge WHITE would send to them, when opportunities offered, the largest and handsomest stalks of wheat, corn, oats, also samples of his best potatoes, as evidence of the productiveness of the soil.  These so far exceeded anything they had been accustomed to see, that very soon many came to see the country.  In a few years Whitesboro became a flourishing village.

          Among the other pioneers, we may mention the names of Reuben WILCOX and Garret LANSING.  Also from Connecticut came Gen. George DOOLITTLE, who spent almost six years of his life in the service of his country during the struggle which gave birth to our Independence.

           Between Whitesboro and Oriskany lies the site of Gen. HERKIMER camp for the night before the battle of Oriskany, the bloodiest of the Revolution.  The battle was fought on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 1777.  It was a glorious victory and to Gen. HERKIMER, the brave commander, who passed from earthly fame to eternal glory offering up his great life for the rights of man and freedom, our country owes a debt of gratitude that can never be paid, save as men and women who shall devote our lives to the common good of the nation.

           The village of Oriskany is situated at the confluence of the Oriskany creek and the Mohawk river.  This was one of the earliest settled places in the country and probably contained the first merchant ever located in it.  This merchant was Abraham Van EPPS, who established a small trading house in the spring of 1785.  We now come to the closing chapter of our journey.  Within the present city of Rome was situated Fort Stanwix.  This fort was almost in ruins at the opening of the Revolution and after it was rebuilt it was named Fort Schuyler, due to the fact that Stanwix was an English name.

           John ROOF, of Canajoharie, was one of the first settlers at Fort Stanwix.  He came from Germany in 1758, and being a man of enterprise and means he was soon after his arrival in this country, given charge of the carrying place at Fort Stanwix.  He traded quite extensively with the Indians, furnishing supplies to the garrison.  When finally driven out, he sold his buildings to the government but before he was paid for them they were burned by order of the government to prevent the Tories from taking possession.

page 36

          Four miles away on Wood Creek, at the western end of the carrying place between the creek and Mohawk river, was another fort named "Fort Bull."  On March 27, 1756, this was attacked by a party of French and Indians under De. LERY, the defenders of the fort being massacred and the fort blown up and burned; it was rebuilt about two miles from the present city of Rome and called "Fort BUTE."  The Siege of Fort Schuyler and the attendant battle of Oriskany form a theme of never-ending interest to the dwellers of the Mohawk valley many of whose ancestors were active in that gruesome engagement.

          It was from this fort that the American flag first flew, on Aug. 3, 1777.  An interesting episode is connected with this siege in August.  Fort Schuyler was without a flag when the enemy appeared, but their pride and ingenuity were equal to the occasion.  The white stripes were made from strips cut from the shirts, the red from bits of scarlet cloth, and the blue ground for the field from a cloak belonging to Capt. Abraham SWARTHOUT of Dutchess county.  When the last stitch was taken, amid the cheers of the men, Fort Schuyler first unfurled the stars and stripes in the face of the enemy.


Your Flag and my Flag!
And how it flies today
In your land and my land
And half a world away!
Rose-red and blood-red
The stripes forever gleam;
Snow-white and soul-white-
The good forefather's dream;
Sky-blue and true blue, with stars to gleam aright-
The Gloried guidon of the day; a shelter through the night.

Your Flag and my Flag!
And, oh, how much it holds-
Your land and my land-
Secure within its folds;
Your heart and my heart
Beat quicker at the sight;
Sun-kissed and wind tossed,
Red and blue and white.
The one Flag-- the great Flag -- the Flag for me and you --
Glorified all else beside -- the red and white and blue!
Your Flag and my Flag!
To every star and stripe
The drums beat as hearts beat
And fifers shrilly pipe;
Your Flag and my Flag--
A blessing in the sky;
Your hope and my hope--
It never hid a lie!
Home land and far land and half the world around,
Old Glory hears our glad salute and ripples to the sound!


page 37

Go back to part 3    Continue to names index

Back to Montgomery County NYGenWeb

Last Updated: 12/1/99

Copyright ©1999 Lisa K. Slaski / Judy Breedlove
All Rights Reserved.