Casemates and Cannonballs
Archeological Investigations at Fort Stanwix National Monument
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The Times that Tried Men's Souls

If Thomas Paine caught the imagination of Americans in 1776, he also captured the spirit of the times. Although America had yet to become the melting pot of the 19th century, the people were nonetheless marked by diversity of thought, background, economic pattern and life style. Certainly, there was more than a geographical separation between Mrs. Eliza Wilkinson in her plantation at Charlestown, South Carolina (E. Wilkinson, 1839) and John Roof in his lob cabin on a piece of cleared land at Fort Stanwix, New York. Yet, both were "patriots," displaced by war, losing most of their possessions. The ties that bound men and women in the common cause of American Independence were as varied as the men and women themselves. Fort Stanwix served as a microcosm in which to study the soldiers through their orderly books, letters and diaries. We must, of necessity, interpret these often cryptic documents so that what we offer here is an interpretation of historic events rather than a chronologue of those events. For example, in May 1778, Lt. Colonel Willett ordered the sentry boxes, "Fix'd so as not to be blown down with every trifing Wind." (M. Willett, 5 /5/78). This tells us (a) that they were flimsy structures, (b) they were not securely anchored, and, (c) that at least one probably blew over. Since these were located on the tips of the bastions it could have blown into the ditch which would have been rather hazardous to any sentry that was in it.

Living Conditions

When the first American troops from the 3rd New Jersey Regiment occupied Fort Stanwix on July 13, 1776, they found it in a state of ruin. While making repairs, they lived in tents and barns or boarded with one of the five settlers in the area. The conditions are best described by one of the junior officers:

Sunday, September 19, 1776 . . . Cold, stormy day, and I obliged to live in a cold wet marquee, which leaks considerable: Whilst the Captain, with the Field officers and other great men, have good rooms in barracks. The way of the world. This is what will try a soldier to live in this manner in this cold country: those who never tried these hardships, know not how to prize good shelters and warm fires to defend themselves from the inclemencies of cold and inhospitable climates. (Elmer, 1848, p. 30).

Tuesday, October 1st, 1776 . . . Being on guard all night we came near perishing, having our bodies exposed to a severe white frost, which froze the ground hard, and some of the men barefoot." (Elmer, 1848, p. 31).

Despite the hardships, or perhaps because of them, they played hard too. They played ball nearly every day and a game called whirl, at which Elmer nearly suffered a broken jaw (Elmer, 1848, p. 31). John Roof's house became a gathering place for drinking and card playing. On October 2nd, after concluding a court martial, several of the officers

Began drinking wine, which they continued successively till about 10 o'clock at night. Many of them got very happy; upon which, appointing Capts. Dickinson and Potter and Major Barber, Sachems, they knocked up an Indian dance, at which they yelled much—all this was done within the Fort . . ." (Elmer, 1848, p. 31). The next morning they seemed . . . very squeamish after last night's merry dance. (Elmer, 1848, p. 32).

In 1778, the men were ordered not to play in the meadows below the fort because they would destroy the forage (M. Willett, 4/23/78). In 1781, the soldiers had to be ordered not to engage in snowball fights in the garrison (Lauber, 1932, p. 557). Evidence for leisure activities was scanty: one Jew's harp, a carved bone whistle and a number of lead pieces identified as game counters.

In October, 1776, the Connecticut regiment of Colonel Samuel Elmore replaced the New Jersey troops. These, in turn, were replaced by the 3rd New York Regiment in April, 1777, although part of the regiment did not arrive until May.

From the beginning, construction of the fort was hampered by a lack of tools, materials, skilled craftsmen and competent engineers. That any progress was made at all was probably due to the fact that they had the British fort to start with and they expected an attack any day. On August 30th, 1776, the men

labored earnestly all the forenoon; but the scout . . . returning with the news that no forces of any kind were at Oswego, or on their march from thence, produced in almost every one a languor and disinclination for labor. (Elmer, 1848, p. 189).

During the Revolution, many Europeans offered their services to the American army. As the pay was low they were largely enticed by high rank, which they could not get in Europe. For every LaFayette, Count Kosciusko and "Baron" von Steuben, there were countless opportunists who talked their way into positions for which they were unqualified. One Captain B. De La Marquise, assigned to rebuild Fort Stanwix, reported for duty on April 20, 1777 (Luzader, 1969, p. 66). By July, his incompetence was evident to everyone and he was replaced by a Major Hubble who was apparently little better as an engineer, but less of a troublemaker. Hubble was replaced in January, 1778, by a Lieutenant Bowen (M. Willett, 1/15/78).

Although De La Marquese made his share of mistakes he had other problems. He arrived

. . . with a Company of 20 carpenters / ./ a few days after / ,/ he was obliged to discharge 10 of them / ,/ being shoemakers, taylors, & Smiths who did not understand . . . / the / business for which they engaged . . . (Luzader, 1969, p. 66).

Civilian carpenters were expensive and the army attempted to get as much work out of them as possible:

Fortifications are at all times expensive; they become more so, when the artificers are suffered to while away their time. Your carpenters must therefore begin to work at day-light, and work until sun-set, allowing an hour for breakfast, and an hour and a half for dinner. No sitting down to smoak and drink at eleven o'clock, or at any other time, except that at meals. In very hot weather, two hours may be allowed at dinner. (Schuyler, 1880, p. 87).

As noted in the section on artifacts, most of the nails used in constructing the fort were probably made on the site or, more likely, were shipped from Albany or the Mohawk Valley. We know that sawed boards were brought in by batteaux (M. Willett, 5/31/77, 6/16/77). There were carpenters and sawyers at the fort (M. Willett, 3/17/78). Axes, spades, hammers, saw fragments, files, rulers and a plumbob were found in the fort and may have been used in its erection. The concentration of these tools in the southwest casemate, coupled with the knowledge that the civilian carpenters were probably living together (M. Willett, 4/8/78, 4/26/78), leads us to conclude tentatively that this casemate was their quarters.

The Gansevoort Plan (fig. 7) depicts a carpenter's shop and a blacksmith's shop outside the fort but it is unlikely that these were living quarters. They would have been in constant danger of British-led Indian attacks. Another anomaly peculiar to the southwest casemate, which supports our conclusion that it was used by carpenters, was the high number of nails found there, particularly since it was a log structure and had an earthen floor. One would expect the frame buildings on the parade ground, particularly the west barracks which was rebuilt twice, to have had the greatest number of nails, but the southwest casemate ranked second and the southeast casemate fourth in the number of nails found per square foot. The presence of a large number of spades in the southwest casemate suggests that the engineer was using this building for storage since these were his responsibility (Clinton, 1900, #1554; M. Willett, 3/10/78). As the artificers were well paid they probably enjoyed a higher standard of living than the soldiers, particularly since they seem to have engaged in a side line of bootlegging rum to the garrison (M. Willett 4/18/78, 4/26/78). The ratio of porcelain (taken as an indication of wealth) was the highest in the southeast and southwest casemates.

In addition to civilian carpenters, there are occasional references in the orderly books to civilian wagoners and sleighmen, and the fort commissary was a civilian who answered to the Deputy Quartermaster General in Albany. References to bakers and butchers infer that soldiers acted in these capacities (Lauber, 1932, p. 541; M. Willett, 4/19/78). The horseshoes and oxshoes found on the site merely confirm the presence of these animals but tell us nothing about them except that all the oxshoes were found in the ditch and ravelin suggesting that these animals were kept in the ditch and not allowed into the fort proper. We know that cattle and hogs were kept in the ditch during 1777 (Gansevoort to Henry Glen, 12/12/77). The relative number of shoes indicated that horses were far more common than oxen which is supported by the documents which do not mention oxen in connection with the fort.

Records for one company of the First New York which served in 1779-1780 at Fort Stanwix provides some basic information on the men themselves. Of 27 men listed, 15 had been born in Europe, most of them in Ireland. The average age was 27 years with a range of 17-40 years, not counting an 11-year-old fifer and a 12-year-old drummer. The average height was 5 feet, 7 inches. Civilian occupations were farmer (6), carpenter (3), coppersmith, barber, scribe, tanner, weaver, merchant, shoemaker (2) and laborer (7) (Anon., 1916, p. 436).

When the British attacked the fort in August 1777, it was in a defensible state except for a parapet to protect the men from snipers (M. Willett, 1777). This was remedied during the early days of the siege. We have few records of living conditions in the completed fort, but in January 1778, James Wilkinson visited the fort and reported: ". . . the present Barracks must Necessarily be pulled down, being so constructed, as barely to cover 200 Men: the rest of the Garrison I found in Sod Hovils in the Ditch . . ." (J. Wilkinson 1778). He also noted that Major Hubbell "is a stupid fellow unfit for any other appointment than a Sergeant of Posts . . ." As we have seen, he was soon replaced. No evidence was found for sod hovels in the ditch but the fireplace on the east scarp (Feature 68) and the hearth in the south ditch Feature 2) may have dated from this period.

One of the unsolved mysteries of Fort Stanwix involves the question of where all the troops were housed during the siege of 1777. There were from 700 to 750 men in a fort that was built to quarter 400 under optimum conditions. Yet from the records there was no hint of overcrowding. The Third New York had about 40 officers while it was at Fort Stanwix (Fernow, 1887), The three senior officers could have been housed in the headquarters building. If the north casemate was also officers' quarters, as the size of the rooms and fireplace locations indicate, then it probably held 12 more. The Barr diary (Lauber, 1932, p. 843) indicates two officers to a room in this structure. This leaves about 25 officers, or 13 more rooms to be located in the fort. The arrangement of chimneys and doors on powderhorn drawings of Fort Stanwix suggest that each barracks on the parade ground may have contained officers' quarters, perhaps enough to meet the remaining needs of the garrison.

Casualties and Desertions

There is some difficulty in resolving various accounts of events, although most accounts agree on the major points. For instance, on July 3, 1777, Ensign Spoor led a fatigue party which was attacked by Indians. Colonel Gansevoort reported in a letter dated July 4, that a party of 17 were attacked. In another letter of his dated July 5, the party was 26 strong, two men were killed, one wounded and seven captured. The Colbraith Diary (Reid, 1905) lists one killed, one wounded and five captured while the muster rolls (Fernow, 1887) list two killed, one wounded and five taken prisoner. Finally, the Indians showed up at Oswegatche with five prisoners and four scalps (O'Callaghan, 1854, Vol. 8, p. 719). By comparing various documents we feel we have arrived at a close approximation of the American casualties at Fort Stanwix during the Revolution (Table 37).

Table 37. American casualties and desertions at Fort Stanwix, including civilians.

KilledWounded CapturedDiedDeserted



1During the siege, August 2-22, there were eight killed, 21 wounded and one captured.
2Thirteen of these were killed on May 23 while trying to desert.

Any assessment of these figures must take into account the fact that most of these casualties took place outside the walls of the fort where work parties were subject to ambush. The only casualties inside the fort occurred during the siege. Although 1779 was known as the year of the Sullivan Expedition, there were Indian raids around Fort Stanwix as well. On June 4, eight men were captured and one of these was killed by the Indians (Fernow, 1887). Then on July 23, 28 more were captured while two were killed and one was wounded (Fernow, 1887). One of the captives later escaped but the rest were held almost to the end of the war.

In addition to casualties, the commanders worried about desertions. Because Fort Stanwix was an isolated post, it was relatively easy to desert. Various methods of stemming the tide were tried, from forbidding the soldiers to go outside the fort without orders from their company commanders to stationing a quarter guard on the covered way with orders to shoot anyone climbing over the walls. A small fire hearth found on the covered way (Feature 47) may have been a post of the quarter guard. The 3rd New York was relieved by the 1st New York in December 1778. On May 22, 1780, 31 men of this regiment left in a body for Canada (Washington, 1932, Vol. 19, 6/20/80). The commanding officer did not want to weaken the garrison further by sending a detachment after them (he may have been concerned that they would join the deserters), so he sent an officer with a large party of Oneida Indians in pursuit. They caught up with the deserters the next evening while they were crossing a river. Thirteen of the deserters were reported killed and three taken prisoner. The remainder made their escape during the night leaving most of their food behind. Some of these managed to get to Fort Haldeman (Pat Wilder, personal communication) although one returned to Fort Stanwix in October. Washington was so alarmed by this "mutiny" that he ordered militia to man the fort in October 1780. The 1st New York went on to distinguish itself at Yorktown so the problem probably stemmed from conditions at Fort Stanwix. In November, 1780, the 4th New York arrived at Fort Stanwix (Lauber, 1932).

It can be seen in table 37 that there was an inverse ratio between casualties and desertions. It appears clear that when there was a danger of being captured by hostile Indians, the men stuck close to the fort and when this danger was removed, the conditions in the fort were bad enough to cause the men to desert. Weather was probably a factor too as the four most favored months for desertion were May, June, August and October with very few leaving in July, or December through February.

Crime and Punishment

Desertion was the most common offense committed at Fort Stanwix. At least three were later executed (Fernow, 1887) and several others were whipped, one receiving 400 lashes (M. Willett 1/31/78). Other serious crimes included drunkeness, theft, insulting officers and the sale of issued clothing. The whipping post, located on the parade ground, was capable of holding four men at once for punishment (Elmer, 1848, p. 135; M. Willett, 1/31/78) which usually consisted of 50 to 150 lashes administered by the drummers, Although the drummers may have had strong arms, they were mostly boys. Even if they took turns on the more severe punishment, they may not have inflicted excessive injury to the offenders. There were no reported instances of death from whipping. Other forms of punishment were confinement in the guardhouse or a bombproof, running a gauntlet through the regiment preceded by a sergeant with a fixed bayonet to impede progress, and having a two-foot-long log chained to one leg while cleaning garbage from the fort (Lauber, 1932, pp. 547, 577).

Another offense, which seldom was punished because of the difficulty of catching the culprit, was the firing of weapons. Besides wasting ammunition, such an alarm could easily lead the men to the conclusion that Indians were attacking the fort. Commanders tried everything from counting cartridges and charging a shilling for each shot (Elmer, 1848, p. 135) to forbidding the men to take weapons from the fort except on duty (M. Willett, 4/1/78).

Indian Relations

At the outset of the Revolution, the Americans made an effort to placate the Indians. They realized that most of the Indians favored the Crown and, therefore, made special efforts to persuade them to remain neutral. In writing to Congress January 25, 1777, Philip Schuyler complained:

I have Indians, more or less, every day with me, complaining of the want of clothing, blankets especially, of which we have not one. I clearly perceive that our cause will be most essentially prejudiced, unless a large stock of Indian goods be immediately sent here. To transact business with Indians, at any time is a most disagreeable task, to do it with empty hands greatly encreases the difficulty. (Schuyler 1880, p. 68).

Only two tribes in the New York area remained friendly to the American cause, the Oneida and the Tuscarora. Fortunately, the Oneida were the nearest neighbors of Fort Stanwix. Their principal role was to serve as scouts for the fort but they took little active part in the war except for an expedition against the Onondaga in 1779. This expedition was equipped at the fort and provided with two officers from the garrison. They were also ordered to track down the large party of deserters in 1780 (Washington, 1932, Vol. 19, 6/20/80).

The Indians were kept out of the fort at night, although no explanation was given for this policy (M. Willett, 12/25 77). Probably the garrison couldn't be certain who was friendly and who was not. Apparently there was little difficulty in communicating with the Indians. In 1776, missionary Samuel Kirkland acted as an interpreter and later James Dean served in this same capacity. Only in the fall of 1777 did there appear to have been a communications problem, because both the Oneida and the garrison asked that an interpreter be sent up (Gates Papers, 10/27/77, 11/18/77).

Although the Indians may have provided some food for the garrison, the only reference was to fish brought to the fort in 1777 (W. Smith, 1956, p. 339). Several letters from the commanders of the fort complained of the heavy drain on the fort's provisions by the Indians coming in for food. In the years 1776-1778, several references were made to shipments of Indian goods to the fort for distribution to the Indians (Schuyler, 1880; M. Willett, 4/23/78; Gates Papers, 10/11/77), but in later years there were no references to such practices. In late 1780, the Oneida moved down the Mohawk where they felt more secure from attack by other Indians, During the winter, parties from the fort looted Oneida Castle of two swivel guns, approximately 1,000 bushels of corn and some potatoes (Lauber, 1932, p. 844). Only a few artifacts such as Micmac pipes, brass tinkling cones and beads suggest an Indian presence at Fort Stanwix. This tends to confirm the documents and conclusions of historians that the Indians were kept out of the fort as much as possible. Of course, we are dealing with Iroquois who had been greatly acculturated by the second half of the 18th century, and who shared much of the material culture of the garrison. Thus, a clasp knife intended for trade or lost by an Indian would be indistinguishable from one lost by a member of the garrison.

Sickness and Disease

Sickness and disease were major concerns of the American army, especially after the 1775 Canadian expeditions. The men were ordered to clean their quarters daily and air their bedding periodically. They were to get fresh straw for their beds every three months although we suspect straw was not always available. One or more necessaries, or latrines, were maintained for the troops. Apparently it was a long cold walk and orders were issued for the men not to ease themselves elsewhere. The spring brought campaigns to clean up the "filth" in the garrison (M. Willett, 3/24/78). In May, 1778, tubs were ordered put in each room for the men to use at night (M. Willett, 5/21/78). The Quartermaster's job included supervising men who picked up the dirt and filth in the garrison (M. Willett 5/30/77).

Animals that were kept in the fort contributed to the problem. At various times there were references to horses, cows and pigs being quartered. Some animals apparently were community property but most were privately owned by the soldiers and civilians residing in the fort. The owners of cows were allowed to charge for milk even though the cows were fed from the public stores. In September, 1777, a quart of milk sold for 6 shillings (M. Willett, 9/23/77). One individual who charged more had his cows confiscated for a time and the milk given to the hospital. (M. Willett, 5/1/78).

Some form of hospital existed throughout the occupation of the fort, staffed with a surgeon and a surgeon's mate. Undoubtably it was a small structure where only the most seriously ill were kept, for the available returns show four to 11 men in the hospital with four times as many sick staying in their own quarters. In 1776, Ebenezer Elmer

Visited the sick in their old lousy hospital, which represents such a scene of wretchedness that one could hardly bear to behold the abject souls therein confined. But the Colonel moving into the barracks, they were permitted to remove into his house. (Elmer, 1848, p. 32).

During the siege of 1777, the southwest bombproof apparently served as a hospital, for a woman who had been wounded gave birth to a baby there (Reid, 1905, p. 103). Just before the siege, the sick were sent downstream because of a lack of facilities (Reid, 1905, p. 94)

In 1777, Elmer (1848, p. 32) who had studied medicine, listed catarrh, diarrhea, cutaneous eruption (epidemic) and ague, as the major maladies. The primary causes of these were probably exposure and a poor diet. The smallpox epidemic in the Albany area in December, 1777, apparently did not reach Fort Stanwix. Nevertheless, the commander would not let men who had not had the disease leave the fort (M. Willett, 12/24/77). In March of 1778, 10 men were in the hospital with the following ailments: rheumatism, venereal disease, inflammatory fever, lameness (2), debility, convulsive asthma, weakness and remitting fever. Another 22 were in their quarters with: hamoptoe (hammer toe?), lameness (8), debility (2), itch (4), ulcerous leg, asthma, venereal disease, inflammatory fever, remitting fever and pleurisy. Two were listed merely as sick (Anon., 1916, p. 390). There were no concentrations of pharmaceutical bottles or medical instruments to indicate the location of the hospital or surgeon's quarters.


The three most common tasks performed in the fort were guard duty, fatigue, and drill. There was a set routine for the day (orderly books) beginning at sunrise with the waking of the troops and roll call. The guard for the fort was paraded at 8 a.m. and the old guard relieved. At the same time the fatigue parties for the day were paraded and as soon as the gates opened, they marched to their jobs. At 10 a.m. the remaining troops were formed on the parade ground for drill. In 1778, these were divided into three groups, a "grand squad," an "awkward squad," and a special drill unit for the extremely awkward (M. Willett, 5/3/78). The first was to drill for an hour, the second for 1-1/2 hours and the last until noon. In the winter these times were reduced but drill continued as weather permitted. Everyone, except the carpenters whose hours were described above, took an hour for lunch. By 1 p.m. the fatigue parties were back at work until Retreat at about 7 p.m. At 4 p.m. the grand squad was drilled another 1-1/2 hours, the awkward squad 2 hours and the remainder until Retreat. Tattoo was about 8 or 9 p.m. when the lights and all fires were to be extinguished.

Sundays were days of rest; Kirkland sometimes preaching when he was at the fort (Elmer, 1848). Occasionally, the garrison would have a field day on Sunday, demonstrating manuevers and manual of arms. Clothing and equipment were inspected for cleanliness and deficiencies at this time.

Fatigue parties were usually formed to cut and haul firewood but also cleared the woods around the fort, obstructed Wood Creek, cut sod for the fort walls, gathered hay and made repairs on the fort (orderly books). They were allowed an extra ration of a gill of rum (2 drams) a day, half in the morning and half in the evening. Most of the tools found in the fort were probably related to fatigue activity. Their concentration in the southwest casemate has already been noted as evidence that the engineer kept his stores there.

Patrols were constantly out to the west toward Oneida Lake to look for evidences of British advances. These men had to wade swollen creeks, brave sudden storms and evade British parties. Sometimes they did not return.


The isolation of Fort Stanwix was a major problem for the garrison There was only one way—up the Mohawk River—for supplies and news to reach the fort. Under ordinary conditions, it took three to four days for messages arriving from Albany by express courier, and two to three days for a return trip (based on letters and replys which can be tied to each other by reference). A body of troops took considerably longer to make the journey. Willett's detachment in May, 1777, required 7 days to get from Albany (M. Willett, 5/25/77) while the detachment of the 9th Massachusetts which escorted supplies to the fort on August 2, 1777, took 14 days to make the same trip, although they stopped at Fort Dayton for several days (Rix, 1938).

A resolution of Congress, passed on October 4, 1777, congratulating the garrison for its defense of the fort, was not read to the troops at Fort Stanwix until December 2 (M. Willett, 1/2/77). However, there is reason to believe that Colonel Gansevoort carried the resolution in his pocket for several weeks in Albany so he could be present when it was read to the men. News of the American victory at Cowpens, South Carolina, on January 17, 1781, did not reach the fort until February 27, 41 days later. (Lauber, 1832, p. 566).

Travel was generally made by bateau because of bad roads, but the 2nd New York arrived in November 1781, with 98 wagons of baggage; the troops required 6 days to make the 50-mile trip from Fort Plain to Fort Stanwix (Lauber, 1932, p. 842). In the wintertime, sleighs were used to supply the fort. The finding of horseshoes and oxshoes indicates that these animals were used for transportation and hauling supplies. We also recovered a few objects which were interpreted as wagon parts.


If one single problem worried the commanders of the fort more than an Indian attack, it was where their next meal was coming from. On November 24, 1780, the following daily rations were to be issued: 1-1/4 pounds of bread or one pound of flour, 1 pound of fresh or salted meat, 1 quart of salt per 100 pounds of meat, one pound of candle tallow per week for every 12 men, including women, and 8 pounds of soap for every 100 men per week. The head and heart of a beef might be substituted for five pounds of meat and three "points" (pints?) of peas per week might be issued on special order (Lauber, 1932, p. 542). The same day some cow tongues and flour were condemned and ordered destroyed. On December 5, the bread ration for troops was reduced to 1 pound but the artificers, waggoners, colliers, boatmen and wood cutters were allowed 2 pounds of bread or flour, 2 pounds of beef or 18 ounces of pork or fish per day and one gill of rum, if available. Officers were issued a pound of tallow for candles per week. The guard received 4 pounds per week. When vegetables were available, the flour ration was to be reduced 1/4 pound per man and 2-1/2 bushels of peas, 2-1/2 bushels of beans, 8 bushels of potatoes or 12 bushels of turnips were to be issued for every 100 pounds of flour so reduced (Lauber, 1932, pp. 549-550). The commissary's job consisted largely of keeping the books straight and convincing everyone they weren't being shortchanged.

By February 8, 1781, the salt beef was running low and the ration was cut back to 1/2 pound per day augmented with 1-1/2 pounds of bread. On February 28, the accumulative deficiency was made up when the fort was re-supplied; except for three barrels which were stolen after delivery (Lauber, 1932, pp. 562, 567).

At various times references were made to pigeons and fish supplementing the diet, and in the winter of 1781 the garrison took about 1,000 bushels of corn from an abandoned Oneida village (Lauber, 1932, p. 844). Cow, pig, deer, chicken and pigeon bones were found in the excavation (Appendix B). The number of feral species indicates the need of the garrison to supplement their diet. Cattle were driven to the fort periodically and slaughtered as needed. The cattle were targets of Indian raids, and in September 1778, about 100 head being driven to the fort were lost (Clinton, 1900, #1774). These animals apparently were kept in the fenced meadow near the fort and hay was fed to them in the winter.

More reliable, but no more plentiful, were hogsheads or barrels of salted beef, pork and fish. Between May, 1780, and May, 1781, George Washington ordered at least 334 barrels of salted meat sent to Fort Stanwix, along with 250 barrels of flour (Washington, 1932). The beef averaged 24 pounds to the barrel and 900 to 1,000 pounds per hogshead (Gates Papers, Reel 3; 5/15/77) and the flour averaged 200 pounds to the barrel. The barrels presented a storage problem. In 1777, the barracks were used to store provisions but during the siege the provisions had to be moved onto the parade ground (Reid, 1905, p. 100). The following spring, probably as a result of thawing conditions, the provisions again were put on the parade ground for lack of adequate storage space (M. Willett, 3/15/78). A month later, the northwest and southwest bombproofs were modified to store provisions (M. Willett, 4/16/78). A small building on the parade ground was identified on the Gansevoort plan, ca. 1777, (fig. 7) as a commissary store. This probably was the quarters of the commissary and the place where unissued clothing was kept. The structure was in an area we chose not to excavate because city maps indicated that it would be highly disturbed by post-fort construction and a paved parking lot.

The types of stores known to have been kept at Fort Stanwix are, of course, indicative of storage needs. In November 1780, the garrison had in stores:

12,707 pounds of flour in 64 barrels
17 pounds of meal
176 pounds of rice
14 barrels and/or 42 bushels of peas
500 pounds of cattle on the hoof
960 pounds of salted beef in 40 barrels
6 hogsheads, 1 barrel, 86 bushels and 16 quarts of salt
2,335 pounds of soap in 19 boxes
209 pounds of candles in 3 boxes
1,512 pounds of tallow in 7 barrels
113 hides weighing 6,215 pounds (Lenard, 1780)

With a garrison of approximately 160 men, provisions were on hand for a 9-day supply of beef and a 63-day supply of flour.

At one point, officers were allowed 1-1/2 gallons of rum, 1/4 pound of tea and 5 pounds of sugar per month (Lauber, 1932, p. 843). The higher ranking officers were also entitled to extra rations. When St. Leger's emmissaries came into the fort in August, 1777, they were served wine, crackers and cheese (W. Willett, 1851, pp. 56, 60). There was, then, some variety available if the men had the money to indulge. Farmers and members of the garrison brought food to the fort to sell to the soldiers. Apparently, they were charging high prices for these commodities because the men were ordered not to buy anything from them in October, 1777 (M. Willett, 1/30/77). A price freeze was put into effect in February, 1778. The items listed were:

Turnips—3 shillings per skipple

Potatoes—5 shillings, 4 pence per skipple

Cabbages—2 pence per head

Apples—6 shillings per skipple

Sugar—5 shillings, 4 pence per pound

Fowl—2 shillings apiece

Geese—6 shillings apiece

Turkeys—8 shillings apiece

Butter—5 shillings, 4 pence per pound

Cheese—4 shillings per pound

Onions—16 shillings per skipple

Tobacco—4 shillings per pound untreated or 5 shillings, 4 pence per pound manufactured into cut pig or hogtail.

Cider—1 shilling, 4 pence per quart or 1 shilling, 6 pence if boiled (M. Willett, 2/7/78).

The preparation of this food required kettles and broilers, or griddles which were found scattered about the fort, nearly always broken. In a few instances these were found associated with fireplaces but most were in the brick rubble in the cellar holes and in the dumps. Pottery vessels were used to serve the food but the number found, 697, was well below the needs of the garrison at any one time. We may conclude that most of the soldiers ate from kettles or had wooden trenchers, bowls and cups. The absence of forks and spoons indicate that wooden spoons, knives and fingers were used to convey food to their mouths.


In November, 1780, the 2nd New York Regiment was ordered supplied with two shirts, two pairs of stockings, two pairs of shoes and a suit of clothes for each man. The suit presumably consisting of a blouse, waistcoat and trousers (Washington, 1932). Apparently the men were poorly clothed at most times since the commanders were constantly ordering clothing from Albany. In February, 1778, fires were allowed at night because there was a shortage of bedding (M. Willett, 1/24/78). There were scattered references to men going barefoot and in January, 1781, the men were ordered not to cut up their blankets to make clothing (Lauber, 1932, p. 559). Despite the order, one of the more common offenses was for a man to sell or trade his issued clothing or blanket for rum. Items of clothing were among the more common artifacts found, particularly buttons and broken buckles. The great variety may be a reflection in part of the number of units stationed in the fort at various times, but is more likely the result of shortages which forced the American army to use anything that was available.

Holidays and Celebrations

The soldiers did not enjoy many holidays, although occasionally the officers apparently held evening social get-togethers. December 18, 1777, was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer by Congress (M. Willett, 12/18/77) and Governor Clinton of New York declared a day of fasting and prayer for April 22, 1778 (M. Willett, 4/21/78). Samuel Kirkland arrived that day and preached to the troops. On May 20, 1778, the men were assembled to fire a Feiux-de-joy in honor of the treaty with France (M. Willett, 5/20/78). This consisted of the troops lining up and firing their muskets in rapid succession. They probably mounted the ramparts inasmuch as that many guns discharging on the parade ground at once would have produced a thick cloud of smoke.

New Year's day was the only regularly scheduled holiday for the troops. Toasts were drunk to Congress, Washington and others. Only one reference was made to Christmas being celebrated with an evening social (Lauber, 1932, p. 844). July 4 was never celebrated so far as we know.

Whatever the flag may have looked like, it was ordinarily flown from the southwest bastion and only on Sundays except during the siege (Lauber, 1932, p. 541). A morning and evening gun was fired when the flag was raised or lowered until the garrison ran short of powder and this ceremony was discontinued (Lauber, 1932, 556).


Women were in the fort from the beginning. In 1758, a group of camp followers had established a small town on the Mohawk River below the fort (Dorr, 1970, p. E-5). The commander ordered the huts burned. These women left with the British and by 1775 the only women remaining were servants or members of the five families in the area. Other women came to the fort with the American army but, as their presence was condoned, they were probably wives of soldiers. De La Marquise was advised to obtain women to cook for the carpenters (Schuyler, 1880, p. 87) but we do not know if he succeeded. The women supported themselves by doing the soldiers' laundry (M. Willett, 5/21/78). On at least one occasion the army furnished the soap (Lauber, 1932, p. 581).

Civilians sought refuge in the fort in 1777, but three girls picking blackberries near the fort on July 27 were surprised by Indians and two were killed (Reid, 1905, p. 94). Shortly thereafter, all women with children, the sick and the wounded were shipped down the Mohawk River. At least two women stayed in the fort for both were wounded by shrapnel and one gave birth to a daughter during the siege (Reid, 1905, p. 102).

We do not know what accommodations were furnished the women. In 1781, Captain Moody, commander of the artillery detachment at the fort, was allowed a room which he shared with his wife and daughter (Lauber, 1932, p. 570).


The general picture one gets of living conditions in Fort Stanwix is rather bleak. Isolation, boredom, fatigue, hunger, danger and cold were the elements of everyday life, and the fact that only about one man in 20 deserted seems rather remarkable under the circumstances. These were not summer soldiers or sunshine patriots and they did not conquer so much as they survived. They persevered because they believed their cause was just. Although there were a few radicals and a few traitors, a letter from James Rix of the 9th Massachusetts to his wife, dated September 3, 1777, expressed the quiet determination of most of the soldiers:

Dear Wife having an opportunity to write a few lines to you I embrace it with grate Pleasure.

I would informe you that I am well considering the hard Fatigue that we have had for about Six weeks Past. We have been on the march the Chiefs of the time Since we left Albany which was July 20. We marcht to Fort Dayton in the Germanflats Stayed there a few Days and then marcht to Fort Stanwix which is 112 miles from Albany. We got there just as the Enemy Did . . .

Their was none belonging to Haverhill was hurt, they are all well even to a man. I have sent three Letters to you Before this and have Never Receved any from you. We have drawn the half of our clothing. Our wages we Expect to draw in about 10 Days and then some of Haverhill men Either officer or soldier will Come Home I shall send by him if I Do not come myselfe. I want to hear from you very much. I arrived hear yesterday from Fort Stanwix our Regiment expects now to join this Main army which will be Much better for us than to be the Flying Camp . . .

I am allmost beat out with hardship for I never had so Hard a Capaign Before and I hope I Shall Do the Most Good that ever I Did in one before. I Desir to thank God for all his Mercys and Favours toward us. ever Trusting in him more than all the world of men and Riches and Friends tho I Desir to be Remembered to all enquiring Friends and pray God to Proteck you under his wing. (Rix, 1938, p. 70).

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Last Updated: 02-Dec-2008