Charles B Knox Gelatine Co. Inc.
Edition of
The Old Mohawk-Turnpike Book

Fort Herkimer Church, 1767.
Photo taken in 1923 during the 200th
anniversary of the organization of the church.
Located on South Shore Highway.

   

FORT HERKIMER CHURCH.

(Herkimer County)

(Unincorporated country community, 2 miles east of Mohawk. Sea elevation, 363 ft.)

Fort Herkimer church is generally reached (1924) from Herkimer by the eastern river bridge, 1 1/2 miles from Herkimer's center.

Fort Herkimer church may be visited by way of the south shore road via Mohawk or Little Falls, going east or west. Consult local hotels or garages as to road conditions.

  

Turnpike and New York -
Buffalo Highway Mileage Distances.

Eastward: By south side highway, Little Falls 6 m.; over Mohawk Turnpike, via Herkimer, Little Falls 9 m., Fink's Basin Bridge (Fall Hill) 10 m., (by detour to south side) Gen. Herkimer Homestead 11 m., Indian Castle Church 14 m., (over Mohawk Turnpike) East Creek 16 m., St. Johnsville 19 m., Palatine Church 23 m., Fort Plain-Nelliston 26 m., (by detour northeast) Stone Arabia churches 30 m., Canajoharie-Palatine Bridge 33 m., Yosts (the Noses) 38 m., Fonda-Fultonville 44 m., (by detour north) Johnstown 48 m., Gloversville 52 m., (by detour south from Fultonville) Auriesville Shrine 49 m., (over Mohawk Turnpike east from Fonda) Tribes Hill-Fort Hunter 50 m., Fort Johnson 53 m., Amsterdam 55 m., Schenectady 71 m., Albany, 86 m., New York 225.

Westward: Mohawk 2 m., Ilion, 4 m., Frankfort 6 m., Utica 16 m., Whitesboro 20 m., Oriskany 23 m., Oriskany Battlefield Monument 25 m., Rome 31 m., Syracuse 66 m., Rochester 163 m., Buffalo 220 m.

Fort Herkimer Church lies on the broad flats between the Mohawk and the slopes of Shoemaker Hill, which rises 817 feet above the river (sea elevation, 1,200 feet). The outlet of the West Canada creek is one-half mile west and Wolf's Rift, of early Mohawk river navigation, was about one mile east.

Fort Herkimer Reformed Church is one of the most historically important buildings along the Mohawk, and it bore a great part in American Revolutionary history and the making of the nation. It is the sole remaining stricture of a Revolutionary fort now standing along the Mohawk Turnpikes, for it formed the central defense of Fort Herkimer, 1776-1783. Other Mohawk valley remaining forts are the Johnstown jail and the Schoharie Reformed church, but these are not on the Mohawk Turnpikes.

Fort Herkimer and Fort Dayton (Herkimer) were the American frontier Revolutionary outposts from 1781 to 1783.

Fort Herkimer Church is also one of two valley structures now standing which served as Colonial Mohawk valley forts, the other being Fort Johnson (1749) , at the western limits of Amsterdam (See Fort Johnson).

Fort Herkimer Church is the only Mohawk river church still retaining its old-time construction, with the high pulpit and sounding board of Colonial days. Its ancient grey stone exterior and its quaint interior seem to naturally bring to mind the spirits of the great forefathers of the Republic who here foregathered in the tragic days of America's national creation.

Fort Herkimer Church is much visited by tourists and it is (1924) probable that it will be kept open during the summer months, just as many city churches are open during the daylight hours, every day of the week.

Fort Herkimer Reformed church (completed in 1767) is the second oldest church in the Mohawk valley and the sixth oldest in the State. St. George's Protestant Episcopal church of Schenectady (built 1759-1762) is the oldest Mohawk Valley church, but the Fort Herkimer Reformed church is historically the more important. New York's oldest Colonial churches now standing follow: Sleepy Hollow Dutch Reformed church, Tarrytown, before 1699; Fishkill Reformed Dutch church, 1760; Fishkill Protestant Episcopal church, 1761; St. George's Protestant Episcopal church, Schenectady, 1762; St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal church of New York, 1764; Fort Herkimer Reformed Dutch church, 1767; Indian Castle (Mohawk Mission) church, 1769; Palatine Lutheran church, 1770; Schoharie Reformed Dutch church, 1772.

  

Fort Herkimer Church, 1723-1922.

Following the settlement of the Palatines, of Protestant faith, on the German Flats (from 1720 to 1725) they here built a log church, and organized this society, probably about 1723. This was the beginning of the Fort Herkimer Reformed Dutch church. It is probable that a log church was built at present Herkimer at about the same time.

Sept. 24, 1730, Nicholas Welleven (Woolever) transferred to the church organization, Lot No. 30 of the original Burnetsfield Patent of 1725, which he drew in the original allotment. This is the church lot on which the present structure stands and the first work on the edifice was probably begun soon after the granting of the deed. Appeals for church building funds were made in 1730, 1746 and 1751, but its building lagged until after the great French war (1754 - 1760).

In 1723 a grist mill was built on adjacent Spoon creek and in 1730 a school was opened, probably in the log church under the occasional direction of the visiting pastor of this church, and this is the first known school in the upper Mohawk valley.

The stone walls of the church were of a sufficient height so that it formed a subsidiary fortification of Colonial Fort Herkimer (1756-1760), and it was a neighborhood refuge in the French-Indian attacks of 1757 and 1758.

Following the British victory in the French-Indian war, an interesting petition was sent to Sir Henry Moore, Governor of New York (1765-1769) for permission to solicit subscriptions to complete the church. It gives a graphic picture of the ravages of the war on the German Flatts:

Over the original church entrance, on the river or north side of the building is the inscription, "J. H. E., 1767," referring to Johan Jost Herkimer, its builder, and the date of its completion.

The E in "J. H. E., 1767," stands for the German word "erbaut," meaning "Johan Jost Herkimer built, 1767." Herkimer was a builder and contractor.

The bones of Johan Jost Herkimer, who died in 1775, and his wife, Catharina Herkimer, lie in graves close to the entrance of the church which he built, which both loved and in which they worshiped together with their family of thirteen children. Many other members of the Herkimer family lie buried here in God's acre, as well as many of the neighborhood Colonial and Revolutionary soldiers and defenders of Fort Herkimer.

The pastors of this church, the brothers Rosenkrantz, lie buried under the original site of the pulpit on the south end of the building. There are graves even in the church sub-cellar marked with rude headstones, probably those of soldiers and settlers there buried during the Revolution. Thus even the ground beneath the church floor on which you walk is hallowed by the ashes of patriots.

  

Revolutionary Fort Herkimer.

This church has been visited by General Washington and many other great American Revolutionary leaders and it gave a resting place to the sorely wounded General Herkimer on the night of the battle of Oriskany, August 6, 1777.

This stone structure formed the central stronghold of the Revolutionary Fort Herkimer, 1776-1783. Here were held many important local patriot meetings. It was a Revolutionary military center of importance, a neighborhood refuge in the raid of 1778 and a stronghold from which its defenders repulsed the Tory-Indian raiders of 1782. During the Revolution it mounted a swivel gun in the church tower and a palisade (stockade wall of logs) surrounded the church, probably with blockhouses at opposite corners.

This stone church as originally built was 48 by 58 feet and 17 feet high, with a steep roof and conical steeple, after the fashion of the early Dutch churches of New York State.

  

Alterations of 1812.

In 1812, enlargements and changes to this church gave the Fort Herkimer Reformed church its present construction.

Its height was raised to 25 feet and a gallery was put in on three sides. The entrance was then changed from the north to the west side and the high pulpit, with its sounding board, was placed in the east end, opposite the new entrance. These repairs and alterations cost $4,359. While they were being made the then large congregation met in Squire Fox's nearby barn. The church land then inventoried 1,377 acres, which brought in rentals of $235. One acre, as at present, was included in the church site cemetery.

In 1887 a new bell was placed in the church tower and the church gallery sealed over. It is hoped some day this defacement will be removed and the church interior restored to its condition of the period of the reconstruction during the War of 1812.

  

200th Anniversary of Church and Palatine Settlement, 1923.

In 1923, the Fort Herkimer church celebrated its 200th anniversary as a church organization. The occasion also marked the 200th anniversary of Palatine settlement.

For further information relative to the Fort Herkimer Reformed church and the Reformed churches of the Mohawk valley, west of Schenectady, the reader is referred to the "Historical Sketch of the Reformed Church at Fort Herkimer, N.Y.," and to the "History of the Classis of Montgomery," by Rev. W. N. P. Dailey, Recorder Co., Amsterdam, N.Y., publishers.

  

Johan Jost Herkimer Settles at Okwari, 1722.

Fort Herkimer takes its name not from General Nicholas Herkimer but from his father, Johan Jost Herkimer, who settled here in 1722. Four Herkimers - Jurgh, Madalana, Johan Jost and Catharina, were granted lots under the Burnetsfield patent of 1725. They emigrated from the lower Palatine of the Rhine (probably in 1722). Jurgh and Madalana were Johan Jost's parents and Catharina was his wife.

This section was then called Okwari, a Mohawk word meaning "bear," probably from their frequency on the slopes of Jacksonburg mountain, or Mt. Okwari. The British Colonial Fort Herkimer was first called Fort Kourari. Johan Jost Herkimer settled about a half-mile east of Fort Herkimer church, where a marker locates his first log house which was the birthplace of General Nicholas Herkimer in 1728. Kouari is a misspelling of the Mohawk word Ok-wa-ri, "bear."

  

Herkimer, "the Bear."

Johan Jost Herkimer, the pioneer, was a man of tremendous strength. He is said to have carried a child and some of his chattels on his back from Schenectady to Kouari.

A family record (written by Major John Frey) says that, on his arrival at his future wilderness home, Herkimer asked permission of the Mohawks to there build a cabin. The savages refused at first. At the time these Mohawks were endeavoring to carry a dugout canoe (made from a hollowed-out log) down to the river and were making slow progress. The stalwart Herkimer motioned all the Indians to one end of the dugout and, taking the other end, the great war canoe was thus carried to and launched in the Mohawk. Astounded at his great strength the Mohawks called Herkimer "the bear," and gladly gave him permission to build a cabin and cultivate the land. From that time on Johan Jost was a great friend of the Mohawks and an Okwari - "a bear" - for to be called a bear in those days was popularly considered as much of a compliment as it is today.

Herkimer rapidly grew to be the most prominent Palatine German of the upper Mohawk valley, in which he was the first Indian trader. Hew was also a contractor and builder, a portage teamster at the carries at Little Falls and Wolf's Rift, and eventually became a great landowner.

The Fort Herkimer section was the center of the original south shore Palatine settlements (1720-1725) on German Flatts, just as present Herkimer was the neighborhood center of the north side. This Palatine German settlement on the Burnetsfield Patent (1725) is detailed under Herkimer. The history of this section is so much a part of the church that it is here given.

In 1727 Fort Oswego was built by the British and "Herkimer's" became important as the extreme frontier trading post on the military road and waterway to Oswego.

  

Fort Herkimer, 1756-1760.

In 1740 Johan Jost Herkimer erected a strong stone house and trading post, a quarter mile to the east of the present church. This became known as "Herkimer's." In 1756 a strong palisade and moat were constructed around the Herkimer house and this British post was called Fort Kouari or Fort Herkimer, the last name becoming soon permanent. It was garrisoned by 250 British regulars or militia. At the same time the unfinished stone church walls were surrounded by a strong earthwork, with probably a temporary roof. This fort was intended to serve as a storehouse for Fort Oswego which however, was captured by the French in 1756.

In 1757 (as mentioned under Herkimer) the north Mohawk shore was raided by a French and Indian war party, when a terrible massacre ensued, 40 being murdered and 150 made captive. The survivors escaped to Fort Herkimer.

  

French-Indian Raid and Battle, 1758.

April 30, 1758, a war party of Canadian Indians, with a few French, raided the south shore. Capt. Nicholas Herkimer (later Gen. Herkimer) was in command here and sent out scouts to warn the settlers, but 30 were cut off and killed, the rest escaping to the fort or the woods. Capt. Herkimer sent out a company from Fort Herkimer which attacked and routed the enemy after a brisk fight in which 15 raiders were killed or wounded, and one of the garrison wounded.

  

Revolutionary Fort Herkimer, 1776-1783.

Fort Herkimer Church became a great Revolutionary patriot center. Here were held meetings of the Committee of Safety and of valley Revolutionary military officers. In 1775 local patriots here erected a liberty pole and raised a liberty flag. The Tory Sheriff White came from Johnstown with Tory militia and cut it down.

In 1776 Col. Dayton, in charge of valley American fortifications built a stockade around the church and here made a strong fortification, called Fort Herkimer. In the same year Fort Dayton was built at present Herkimer.

Lt. Col. John Brown was the first commandant of the fort, serving here from April, 1776, until May, 1777. He was the hero of the battle of Stone Arabia (Oct. 19, 1780) and the bitter enemy of Gen. Benedict Arnold (See Stone Arabia Church).

  

Wounded General Herkimer Here August 6, 1777.

In August, 1777, when Gen. Herkimer mobilized the Tryon County Militia for the march to Oriskany, he came over Fall Hill to Fort Herkimer and here crossed the Mohawk to Fort Dayton. A marker placed near here, by the valley D. A. R. in 1912, locates this point.

On the night of the battle of Oriskany, August 6, 1777, the wounded General Herkimer was taken by litter, from Oriskany to Old Fort Schuyler at the ford (at present Utica). There he was placed in a boat and rowed down the river, fifteen miles to Fort Herkimer, where he remained over night. The next day, August 7, 1777, he was carried by litter over Fall Hill to his home, nine miles distant. One of the D. A. R. markers of 1912 here commemorates the wounded General's presence.

  

Tory-Indian Raids, Etc., 1778-1782.

On August 1, 1778, Joseph Brant led a large party of Tories and Indians north from the Susquehanna to the German Flats and raided the entire neighborhood. A party of four American scouts came in contact with them. Three of these patriot soldiers were killed but the fourth, John Adams Helmer, the famous scout, escaped and rode fifteen miles to the German Flats and warned the settlers, who escaped to the forts, without loss of life. Nearly all buildings of the settlements and much stock and property were destroyed on August 1, 1778, the day following Helmer's feat.

In July, 1782, a war party of 600 Tories and Indians raided the south side and burned all buildings except the stone Herkimer house (the Colonial Fort Herkimer). The settlers were warned and escaped to Forts Herkimer and Dayton, only two being killed. This fort had at the time but a small garrison and the Indians tried to lure the garrison into the open by slowly torturing a captive settler to death., within sight and hearing of the fort. The victim's cries failed to draw out the defenders and the Indians opened a heavy fire on the fort. The garrison returned the fire and drove off the enemy after two soldier defenders were killed.

In February, 1783, Col. Willett here mobilized his valley brigade of 500 men for the march to and capture of British Fort Oswego. The expedition failed and the party suffered severely on its 230 mile march through the snow-covered wilderness in the dead of winter.

From Fort Herkimer, in April, 1783, Capt. Alexander Thompson of Fort Plain (commanding the valley Revolutionary artillery) started for Fort Oswego with news of peace for the Canadian British army, which had been sent by Gen. Washington to Col. Willett at Fort Plain, with orders to forward to Fort Oswego. Capt. Thompson was loaded with messages from valley people to their many captive relatives and friends in Canada. Capt. Thompson's successful and momentous journey marked the end of six years of bloody warfare along the Mohawk (1777-1783).

Throughout the middle and upper valley little was left but blackened ruins and abandoned farmlands, with small patches of cultivations and a few log huts clustering close to the valley forts.

In this scant 3,000 population, left throughout Tryon county, over 400 widows mourned slain soldier husbands, while thousands of murdered men, women and children lay buried or unburied on the Mohawk hillsides. The Mohawk valley was the most devastated section of any in the Thirteen Colonies at the close of the Revolution in 1783.

(For Capt. Thomson's historic journey see "Old Fort Plain and the Middle Mohawk Valley," p.118.)

  

Gen. Washington's Visit to Fort Herkimer, 1783.

In July, 1783, General Washington and an escort made a tour of the Mohawk valley westward to the ruins of Fort Stanwix, at present Rome. Col. Willett, the valley commandant, met Gen. Washington here at Fort Herkimer and in this church, Washington ordered Fort Herkimer to be made the western depot of supplies for all the western British posts (including Detroit and Fort Niagara) soon to be taken over by the Americans. Supplies came here by river and were shipped westward over the water route to Fort Niagara and thence over the portage to LaSalle on the Niagara river. Col. Willett was given command of this supply depot (See Fort Plain and Canajoharie for Washington's valley visit).

 

Indian Council of 1785 in Fort Herkimer Church.

The last important meeting of the Revolutionary period in this church, was a council between the New York State authorities and chiefs from the Oneida and Tuscarora nations of the Iroquois or Six Nations, held here June 28, 1785. Here these loyal Iroquois Indians sold and deeded to the State all their lands between the Unadilla and Chenango rivers, thus opening up to settlement a considerable territory south of the Mohawk.

  

Western Migration After Revolution.

After the Revolution a great tide of emigration passed over the Mohawk highways and river to the settlement of the great west. For nearly twenty years (until the Mohawk Turnpike north shore improvement of 1800) the greater part of this emigration went over the south shore highway past old Fort Herkimer Church and the busy hamlet of Fort Herkimer. This was then an important south side neighborhood center, highway and river point. After the completion of the north side Turnpike Fort Herkimer's trade lessened and, following the building of the Erie canal in 1825, Mohawk usurped for a time the place of the older hamlet as the south shore center, while today (1924) Ilion occupies that position in the south shore Mohawk-Ilion-Frankfort civic community.

The route description is now resumed on the Mohawk Turnpike, two miles west at 

MOHAWK.

  

  

      

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