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

General Herkimer Home.

   

GENERAL HERKIMER HOME.

(Herkimer County)
    

Turnpike Mileage Distances.

East: (Over Fink's bridge) St. Johnsville 10 m., Palatine Church 13 m., Fort Plain-Nelliston 16 m., (by detour) Stone Arabia churches 20 m., Canajoharie-Palatine Bridge 19 m., Fonda 31 m., (by detour) Johnstown 35 m., Gloversville 39 m., Fort Johnson 39 m., Amsterdam 42 m., Schenectady 58 m., Albany 73 m., New York 222.

West: (Over Fink's bridge) Little Falls 2 m., Herkimer 9 m., Mohawk 11 m., (by detour ) Fort Herkimer Church 11 m., Ilion 13 m., Frankfort 15 m., Utica 25 m., Whitesboro 29 m., Oriskany 32 m., Oriskany Battlefield Monument 34 m., Rome 40 m., Syracuse 75 m., Rochester 172 m., Buffalo 229.

The General Herkimer Home, built of brick, in 1764, is a fine example of a Mohawk river Colonial house. It has a most picturesque location on the edge of the Mohawk river flatlands with the wooded heights of Fall Hill rising to the westward. With the adjoining monument and the burial plot, with the grave of General Herkimer, it forms a noted shrine of American patriotism and its central location makes it a convenient point for Mohawk valley patriotic gatherings.

The Herkimer house and farm of 160 acres were purchased by the State of New York in 1913 and the whole made a State reservation. Interesting historical collections are here being created. A caretaker is in charge and house and grounds are freely open to the public during the season. The grounds afford parking space, with picturesque picnicking grounds. Here is a summer house, built on the General's old powder magazine, and ancient well of fine water with its "old oaken bucket" and attendant sweep. Every convenience is here afforded the motorist.

At the General Herkimer Home you are at the residence of the most famous son of the Mohawk valley and you here visit a house which has had a tremendous influence toward the success of American liberty and independence and which occupies a prominent place in Mohawk valley history.

There is much of interest for the visitor to see at the Herkimer home, the house itself, from cellar to garret, being an interesting example of staunch Colonial construction. The northwest first floor room is said to be the one in which the general died. The house has been carefully repaired and restored by the Gen. Herkimer Home Commission, its (1921) president, Col. Frank West, having brought the place and reservation into excellent condition. The burial plot and monument, erected by New York State in 1894, stands about 100 yards southeast of the house. Here lie many members of the Herkimer family, beside the General, including his brother, Capt. George Herkimer, to whom the General willed his house and farm. The granite monument, 60 feet high, is visible far up and down the valley.

  

D. A. R. Herkimer March Markers.

On the east side of the house stands the D. A. R. house marker of 1912, this being the first of a series of markers locating historic spots of General Herkimer's march to the battlefield of Oriskany, 33 miles west, in 1777. They were erected by the valley chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution and dedicated August 6, 1912, the 135th anniversary of the Oriskany battle. The second marker stands at the entrance to the Herkimer Home road on south shore highway, which, during and before the Revolution, was the main valley highway from Schenectady to Rome.

From the General Herkimer Home a further run, 3 m. eastward over the south shore State road, brings the motorist to Indian Castle church, the site of the Upper Mohawk Castle at the outbreak of the Revolution and the home of the famous chief, Joseph Brant, and his sister Molly, housekeeper for Sir William Johnson. The visitor to the Herkimer house should read the brief account of Indian Castle church (1769) and of the Mohawk Castle (1700-1779), which immediately precedes the General Herkimer Homestead.

During the fifty years of the Herkimer family occupancy of this house (1764-1814), negro slaves were here employed on this farm. Slavery was not abolished in New York State until 1827 and from the settlement of the valley (in 1661 at Schenectady) until the freeing of the slaves in 1827 - a period of 160 years - slaves were held and worked on the Mohawk valley farms as elsewhere in the State. Forming considerable proportion of the population in Colonial days, the colored population had dwindled to a very small element along the Mohawk in 1800.

The General's house was doubtless the scene of much hearty valley cheer in the Colonial days. The score of negro slaves were kindly treated and stories are still told of their Christmas merry-makings when negro melody and dancing had their place on the larger farms here along the Mohawk as well as on the James river Virginia plantations. More buildings were then here located as the valley negro slaves were generally housed in log cabins adjoining their masters' houses.

  

The Old Oaken Bucket.

At the General Herkimer Home

  

Gen. Herkimer Home, 1764 - Historical.

The General Herkimer Home State reservation of 160 acres is part of the land granted in 1752 to Johan Jost Herkimer and his son, Hendrick Herkimer, known as the Fall Hill patent comprising 2,324 acres. Johan Jost Herkimer, who was the father of General Nicholas Herkimer, was a great landowner, trader and leader of the upper valley Palatine Germans in his day. He was an immigrant from the Rhine Palatinate and, about 1722, settled at German Flats, where he gave his name to the British Fort Herkimer, constructed in 1756 around Herkimer's stone house and trading post. He was chiefly instrumental in building the famous old Fort Herkimer stone church (See Fort Herkimer church).

In May, 1760, Johan Jost Herkimer conveyed to his eldest son, Nicholas, 500 acres of land consisting of parts of the Fall Hill, Lindsay and Livingston patents. The consideration expressed in the deed is the love of the father for his son. Nicholas Herkimer built this brick house in 1764, at which time it was considered the finest residence in the valley west of Johnson Hall.

  

General Nicholas Herkimer, 1728-1777.

As the most famous son of the Mohawk valley, General Nicholas Herkimer, merits here as extended mention as space will permit.

Nicholas Herkimer, son of Johan Jost Herkimer, was born in 1728 in his father's log cabin, east of Fort Herkimer church, where a D. A. R. marker of 1912 commemorates the spot.

General Herkimer was thus a native-born American and a son of the Mohawk valley. At the time of Herkimer's death, in 1777, he was a strong, broad robust man, six feet in height and weighing 200 pounds. He was then 49 years old. Pictures and descriptions of him as an old man are erroneous. He was the oldest son (but not the oldest child) in a family of thirteen children - five sons and eight daughters - a typical sized Mohawk valley family of that time.

Herkimer generally wrote his name "Nicolas" (Dutch, Nicolaas), the meaning of which is "victory of the people," most significant in view if the effect of the successful ending of the Oriskany campaign in advancing the cause of American liberty. The name Herkimer was spelled in some twenty different ways by members of the family but the present form has been in use since the Revolutionary war and attempts to change it have been strongly resented by the people of the Mohawk valley. General Herkimer was popularly known as "Honikol," a contraction of Johan Nicholas, with which names he was probably christened, as letters in existence bear out. Herkimer, however, never used the name Johan, which was the first name of his father, Johan Jost or Hanyost Herkimer - Hanyost being a contraction of Johan Jost (John Joseph).

Nicholas Herkimer was brought up at present Fort Herkimer. In 1758 he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Schenectady (Mohawk valley) battalion of Albany County Colonial Militia. In the same year he commanded at Fort Herkimer and his troops repulsed near there an attacking force of Canadian French and Indian raiders. Herkimer removed to the Fall Hill section in 1760 and he completed this house in 1764. Herkimer probably occupied a log house while building the present brick one.

Nicholas Herkimer was a warm friend of Sir William Johnson and, in 1768, became a Mason in St. Patrick's Lodge of Johnstown, of which Sir William was the first master, the lodge room being at first located in Johnson Hall, where the original lodge room has been reproduced (See Johnstown).

  

Herkimer, the Valley Revolutionary Leader.

Herkimer was an ardent Colonial patriot and the acknowledged Revolutionary Mohawk valley leader of the cause of American liberty up to the time of his death in 1777.

At the Herkimer home gathered many of the valley American patriotic leaders to consider methods of furthering the cause of American liberty and to formulate plans for valley defense. The General Herkimer Home was an American patriotic Revolutionary valley center just as Johnson Hall was a Tory British Colonial stronghold, and that in spite of the fact that the masters of both houses, up to Johnson's death in 1774, were warm friends.

Samuel Kirkland, the famous missionary to the Oneida Indians and the founder of Hamilton College, was a brother lodge member of Herkimer's and he was a frequent visitor here. For a time Rev. and Mrs. Kirkland lived here, while Kirkland was working among the Oneidas and also frequently serving the Indian Castle Mission church. Here at the Herkimer home a son was born to the Kirklands - John Thornton Kirkland, who later became president of Harvard College.

Joseph Brant, the Mohawk chief, was a resident for many years of Indian Castle and a close personal friend and neighbor of Herkimer prior to the Revolution. At the bloody battle of Oriskany, August 6, 1777, the two old neighbors commanded opposing forces.

  

Herkimer Commissioned Brigadier-General, 1776.

Nicholas Herkimer was influential in forming the Tryon County Committee of Safety and was its chairman in 1775. His greatest efforts were given to the organization and training of the patriot valley militia. He was colonel of the Canajoharie regiment of Tryon County Militia and in August, 1776, was elected "Chief Colonel" of this valley brigade. Sept. 5, 1776, he was commissioned brigadier-general of the Tryon County (middle and upper Mohawk valley) Militia by the New York legislature. Early in 1777, at an armed conference at Unadilla, he tried to secure Brant's neutrality without success. Herkimer here constructed a powder magazine below ground, for militia use, which was connected with the house by an underground passage. It is now (1924) surmounted by a summer house for the use of visitors.

Early in 1777 General Herkimer suffered the humiliation of having his brother, Johan Jost Herkimer jr., turn traitor and flee to Canada. Johan Jost was lieutenant-colonel of the German Flats militia regiment. Nearly every valley family was more or less split as to loyalty to king or country, but his brother's treason hurt somewhat the General's prestige. The house was probably spared by Brant and other raiders because the traitor, Hanyost Herkimer, expected to secure it as his Tory spoil in case of American defeat.

  

Battle of Oriskany, August 6, 1777.

During Burgoyne's British campaign in New York state in 1777, news of Col. St. Leger's impending invasion of the Mohawk came to Gen. Herkimer who, on July 17, 1777, issued an order for the Tryon County Militia to mobilize at Fort Dayton (Herkimer). This was done Aug. 2-4, 1777, and the march for the relief of Fort Stanwix (at present Rome, then besieged by St. Leger) was begun on August 4, 1777. The American troops became impatient of Gen. Herkimer's cautious leadership and rushed into a Tory-Indian ambuscade, in a wooded glen two miles west of present Oriskany, where a monument marks the field (See Oriskany). In the ensuing heroic and bloody battle of Oriskany, the enemy was finally driven from the field by the American valley militia. Both sides suffered terribly and the battle of Oriskany is said by Fiske to have been "the bloodiest battle of the Revolution." Herkimer, riding near the head of his troops, was severely wounded in the leg at almost the first fire. Dr. Petrie, the militia surgeon, was also severely wounded but dressed Herkimer's wound on the field. The General then had himself propped up against a tree, lighted his pipe and, in this exposed position, with bullets whistling all about him, calmly directed the battle to a successful conclusion.

  

Oriskany Made American Liberty Possible.

The effect of the American defeat of the enemy ambuscade party at Oriskany had a tremendous effect on our American history. The enemy losses were so great (probably 400 killed and wounded) that they could not take Fort Stanwix or march down the valley to join Gen. Burgoyne's army. Deprived of this support, Gen. Burgoyne was defeated and surrendered at Saratoga, making American success eventually secure. It was the Saratoga victory which effected the Franco-American alliance (See Oriskany Battlefield Monument).

  

The Wounded General Brought Home, August 7, 1777.

At the end of the battle on the afternoon of August 6, 1777, there were barely enough American survivors left to carry their wounded from the field. Gen. Herkimer was carried nine miles by litter to the site of Old Fort Schuyler (1758-1760), at present Utica, from which he was taken that night by boat down the Mohawk sixteen miles to Fort Herkimer. Here he spent the night and on the hot day following, August 7, he was carried by litter over Fall Hill, seven miles to his home. His wounded leg had evidently been infected and gangrene set in.

  

Death of General Herkimer, August 17, 1777.

On August 15th, Gen. Benedict Arnold's American force marching to the relief of Fort Stanwix, was en route up the valley to Fort Dayton. Surgeon Johnson, with his command, examined Herkimer and, on August 17th, as a last resort, amputated the General's injured leg. Stories of malpractice are unfounded. Col. Willett called soon thereafter and found the brave soldier sitting up in bed smoking his pipe. Toward evening Herkimer's strength failed him. Feeling his end was near the General called his family to his bedside and opening his Bible, read aloud the 38th Psalm, the last three stanzas of which are as follows:

"They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is.
"Forsake me not, O Lord; O, my God, be not far from me.
"Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation."

The General closed his Bible, fell back on his pillow and expired.

Thus ended a life which made the supreme sacrifice to American patriotic service, a life which has ever since been an ideal to all dwellers along the Mohawk, which Herkimer defended from invasion, performing a service for American liberty which invites the admiration of all true Americans.

General Herkimer was twice married but had no children. His first wife was a sister of Peter S. Tygert (Dygert) and his second wife, Maria, was a daughter of Tygert. The General willed his house and farm to his brother, Capt. George Herkimer, who fought with him at Oriskany. Gen. Herkimer willed a room in his house to his wife, Maria, but she soon sold it and remarried and removed to Canada. The General's will disposed of 1,900 acres of land.

  

Captain George Herkimer Family's Occupancy, 1777-1814.

Captain George Herkimer and Alida Schuyler, his wife, resided here until 1786, when the Captain died, after which his widow and her family of seven children lived here until 1814, when the place was sold and passed out of the Herkimer family after their ownership of fifty years. General Washington and staff doubtless stopped here in 1783, as this house lay on their route to Fort Stanwix (Rome). Captain George Herkimer was a commander of a battalion of valley scouts early in the Revolution. Judge John Herkimer, son of George, here resided until 1814. He was a major of militia in the War of 1812, taking part in the defense of Sacketts Harbor, and later a congressman and county judge.

After the sale by the Herkimer family until its purchase by New York State in 1913, the Herkimer house was occupied by various owners and tenants, generally receiving moderately good care.

  

Indian Attack, 1781 - Mrs. Herkimer's Narrow Escape.

In 1781, Col. Willett, at the head of a party of scouts, stopped at the Herkimer house on his way from Fort Plain to Fort Herkimer. A body of hostile Indians appeared on the edge of the nearby woods. Mrs. George Herkimer took a dinner horn and went out on the north porch of the house. Stepping up on a seat the young matron put her arm around the northwest post and blew an alarm for her husband who, with several negro slaves, was hoeing corn on the flats near the river. Just then Col. Willett came to the door. Seeing the woman's dangerous position , he shouted, "My God, woman, you'll be shot," as he seized her skirt and pulled her into the house at the very instant that a shot rang out and a bullet buried itself in the very post against which she had been leaning. The bullet hole could be seen for many years. The savages were driven off and no one was injured by their sudden foray.

The General Herkimer Home affords the opportunity for recreating here a typical patriot Revolutionary mansion and farm, which will be of interest alike to Mohawk valley people and to patriotic Americans from all over the United States. It is annually visited by thousands, its visitors coming in increasing numbers.

  

General Herkimer Monument, 1896.

In recognition of General Herkimer's heroism, the Continental Congress, in 1777, appropriated $500 for a monument to be erected to the brigadier's memory, but the money was never expended. In 1847 Warren Herkimer (son of Joseph Herkimer, grandson of George and grandnephew of the General) placed a headstone on the grave of the hero of Oriskany, this being his first monument. Through the agitation of the Herkimer and Oneida county historical societies and the valley D. A. R. chapters, the New York State Legislature in 1895 and 1896, appropriated $5,500 for a monument here to General Nicholas Herkimer. The present granite obelisk, 60 feet high, and the stone wall, around the burial plot, were erected and dedicated in 1896 with imposing Masonic exercises.

A spirited statue of General Herkimer stands in Herkimer, 9 m. w. (See Herkimer) and an imposing shaft marks Oriskany battlefield, 33 m. w. (See Oriskany Battlefield Monument.)

  

Mohawk Valley Revolutionary Officers' Homes.

The General Herkimer Home is one of seven houses, standing on or near the Mohawk Turnpike, which were the residences of Revolutionary valley militia regimental officers. Besides this home of the Revolutionary valley militia brigadier, the others are, from east to west, as follows: Governor Yates house (home of Col. Christopher Yates), Schenectady; Visscher-DeGraff house (built by Col. Frederick Visscher), near Tribes Hill; Major Jelles Fonda house, Fonda; Ft. Frey and Frey mansion (homes of Major John Frey), Palatine Bridge; Ft. Wagner (home of Lt.-Col. Peter Wagner), west of Nelliston; Ft. Klock (home of Col. Jacob Klock), near St. Johnsville. All of these officers, except Col. Yates, served under General Herkimer on the battlefield of Oriskany. All of these houses are illustrated and described or mentioned in this book.

  

Tryon County and its Revolutionary Militia Regiments.

Sir William Johnson secured the formation of Tryon county in 1772, so as to make his new Johnstown a county seat. In included the middle and upper Mohawk valley and was divided into five districts, from east to west, Mohawk, Palatine, Canajoharie, German Flatts and Kingsland. Four regiments of the Revolutionary militia were formed in the Mohawk, Palatine, Canajoharie and the combined German Flatts and Kingsland district. The full strength of these regiments was about 250 men each and they were each about 225 strong when Gen. Herkimer led them as the brigade of Tryon County Militia to Oriskany.

The Herkimer house was n the Canajoharie district and Gen. Herkimer was its militia colonel and a member of the district Committee of Safety. He dated his letters from "Canajoharie" (meaning the district).

The Gen. Herkimer Homestead is one of four Colonial valley mansions now used as historical museums, the others being Guy Park (1766) at Amsterdam, Fort Johnson (1749), and Johnson Hall (1763) at Johnstown. All have historical collections, open free to the public. They are all historic houses which have played a great part in the making of America (See Amsterdam, Fort Johnson, Johnstown).

Other interesting valley historical collections, open free to the public, are those of the Schenectady, Herkimer and Oneida (Utica) historical societies. The Herkimer Historical Society is the custodian of the General's Bible (from which he read the 38th Psalm on his deathbed) and his sword, carried at Oriskany. One of General Herkimer's holster pistols is in the Herkimer Home collections. All the six foregoing historical valley collections should be visited on a Turnpike tour. Other local valley collection will probably be created.

On August 6, 1920, the 143rd anniversary of the battle of Oriskany, the Mohawk Valley Historic Association was organized, here at the Herkimer home, by representatives of thirty valley patriotic societies of Oneida, Herkimer, Montgomery and Schenectady counties, and of Johnstown, and all the D. A. R. chapters of these counties. Col. John W. Vrooman, president of the Herkimer County Historical Society, conceived the idea of the association and is its founder.

  

RETURN TO TURNPIKE OVER FINK'S BRIDGE.

Let us now return to the Mohawk Turnpike by retracing our route here from and over Fink's Bridge. On recrossing the bridge, the motorist sees to the westward a most picturesque view of the famous

Little Falls Gorge.

  

Little Falls Gorge East of Railroad Curve.

  

The motorist runs west over a mile through this rugged mountain pass to the city of Little Falls, nestling on the rocky terraces of the north shore rise of Fall Hill, while on the south side stone cliffs rise sheer above the West Shore railroad and the Barge canal rock cut and the south shore highway. In this narrow gorge railroads, Turnpike, river and Barge canal follow a closely confined course westward for nearly two miles above Fink's bridge.

  

The Eastward and Westward Flowing Mohawks.

Before the Glacial period Fall Hill formed the ancient divide between the waters of :Lake Ontario and the Hudson basin. The eastward flowing Mohawk lay all to the east of Fall Hill with East creek as its main headwater in the valley from below Fall Hill with a falls over the Noses. To the west of this barrier the present Mohawk valley drained westward into the Lake Ontario basin, the westward flowing Mohawk being known to geologists as "Rome river." It also formed the extreme northeastern headwater of the so-called Dundas river which flowed southwestward into great rivers corresponding to the present Ohio and Mississippi.

  

The Grinding Mohawk Glacier.

With the coming of the ice age the continental glacial sheet in its southern course gradually pushed its way into the Mohawk valley. The topography of the valley forced a glacial movement eastward. The titanic push of this ice mass wore down the rocky barriers of Fall Hill and the Noses.

  

The Mighty Mohawk of Old.

With returning warmth and the consequent glacial recession, there came a time when the ice sheet blocked the St. Lawrence river channel. The waters of the Great Lakes basin, seeking an outlet, flowed through the Mohawk valley to the Hudson and the sea. The greater Mohawk river of that day rivaled the present day St. Lawrence. Its waters poured over Fall Hill and the Noses in cataracts rivaling Niagara. This water action wore down these uplifts and created the present Mohawk river channel and the only low mountain pass and water level route to the west, for waterway, railways and highways, through the Appalachian range along the entire Atlantic seaboard of the northeastern United States.

  

The Mohawk River of Today.

From the foregoing we see that the Mohawk, in its present general eastward course, is comparatively young as geological time is reckoned - although it drains some of the most ancient land surfaces on the earth.

When the glacier finally melted in the St. Lawrence valley, the Great Lakes waters found their natural outlet through that greater river and the Mohawk shrank to approximately its present size. However, when the Adirondack forest covered its watershed it carried a considerably larger volume of water than at present. The ancient benches or shores of glacial lakes of old are seen at many points in the valley westward, from the Little Falls Gorge.

  

The Mohawk River Flats.

The Mohawk river flats occupy the bed of the channel of the mighty post-glacial Mohawk. This channel has been filled level with silt and in it the modern Mohawk has cut its channel, and has also, by its freshets, laid down a deep deposit of rich soil, which makes the Mohawk flats among the world's richest agricultural lands.

In considering the Mohawk river and its watershed, the reader would bear in mind that the Mohawk valley forms a part of the great Hudson river watershed, today the most important river valley in the world.

  

Potholes Along the Pike.

Talesquega Park is a motorists' camping ground on the north side of the Turnpike near the Big Lock. Here are some of the largest and most interesting potholes in the Little Falls Gorge - only a step from the Turnpike and well worth a visit. Some are 20 to 30 feet deep and nearly 20 feet wide. These potholes were made by pebbles settling in a depression in the rock and the whirling current or eddy made a hole which continued to bore into the hard syenite or igneous rock until the hole grew so deep that the force of the current was exhausted. Some were started on an overhanging ledge and bored clear through. Nowhere in all the world are there potholes to compare with those of the Little Falls Gorge, which, at this spot, is seen at its best. The Indians secreted sheep and other loot in these potholes during their Revolutionary raids and the pioneers hid in them on the approach of the savages and are also said to have used the nearby Gulf for a hiding place. Talequega is said to mean "little bushes growing on rocks," and these dwarf cedars may be seen here growing in the crevices of the dark gray syenite.

  

  

  

      

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