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Construction and Military History 1758 to 1777

The French capture of the forts at Oswego and Webb's destruction of the posts at the Oneida Carrying Place were severe blows to British prestige on the northwestern frontier. The vital region of the Iroquois was exposed to the machinations and maneuvers of the French and their Indian allies. The tribes of the Six Nations were not favorably impressed by the defence of Oswego and were contemptuous of the abandonment of the Carrying Place. Taking council of their self-interest, many of the province's red friends began to question the wisdom of identifying themselves with so inept and cowardly a lot as their white neighbors seemed proving themselves to be. Might not a more accommodating attitude toward the French—or least a neutral pose—be the better part of wisdom? It required all of William Johnson's and George Croghan's skill to preserve a working relationship with the tribes that would prepare the way for an eventual recouping of English fortunes.

The events not only damaged relations with the Iroquois; they emboldened other tribes already allied with or favorably disposed toward France to harass Anglo-American settlers and traders and to increase their enthusiasm for cooperating with French military efforts.

Nor were the results confined to military matters. The economic effects were crippling for those involved in the fur trade, of which the Iroquois were the middle-men and for which the Albany-Ontario route was the life-line.

The settlers of the Mohawk Valley were left in an extremely dangerous situation. They were vulnerable to Indian raids, and there was a frightening possibility that the French would invade the province and bring organized war and devastation—a possibility that became a reality in November 1757, when Picoté de Bellstre and the Sieur de Lorimer, with 300 regulars and an equal number of Canadians and Indians, moved eastward to German Flats and Fort Herkimer. The inhabitants of the region were predominantly German. They lived on the western fringe of settlement, where they had been settled as a buffer for the older settlements. The provincial government had not always used them well, and they had grievances against the English that the French intended to exploit, at the same time persuading the neighboring Oneidas to joint the anti-English coalition. The settlers had confirmed French hopes by secretly agreeing to remain neutral. The fort was garrisoned by 200 men of the 22d Regiment under Capt. Richard Townshend, who warned the Palatines of the approaching French and urged them to take refuge in the fort. Trusting the French to respect their neutrality, they declined his offer. The French avoided the fort and at 3 o'clock in the morning of November 12 attacked the settlement, stealing and slaughtering the livestock and burning the houses and barns. Fifty of the Germans were killed and scalped and 150 were taken captive. The rest were left homeless to face the winter without shelter or food. The garrison was too weak to save the settlement, and its members probably counted themselves lucky to have escaped an attack or siege. When Lord Howe arrived from Schenectady, he found a scene of slaughter and destruction. The French commander on the Niagara frontier, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, reported the affair with obvious satisfaction, writing: "I have ruined the plans of the English; I have disposed the Five Nations to attack them; I have carried consternation and terror into all those parts." [1]

As the year 1757 came to an end, Frenchmen had reason to be pleased with the progress of the war. Their control of the Ohio Valley was so firm that, for the present, it was not being challenged. They had razed Fort William Henry. The Albany Ontario line and Mohawk country lay exposed. Governor Vaudreuil made bold plans for carrying the war into the heart of New York. Montcalm would move down Lake George and take Fort Edward. The Chevalier de Levis would take 3,000 soldiers and Indians into the Mohawk Valley. The Iroquois, persuaded by French strength, would join him in sweeping down the valley; and Albany would be doomed. [2]

The governor's plan, similar in design to Burgoyne's for 1777, never took effect. General James Abercromby, who had succeeded Lord Loudoun as commander-in-chief, was at the head of Lake George preparing to attack Ticonderoga. The French plan for the Mohawk was abandoned, and Levis and his men were ordered to march from Montreal to reinforce Montcalm.

The defeats of 1757 had far-reaching effects on the British leadership. William Pitt was making plans for redeeming the situation in the Colonies, and these included an invasion of Canada via Ticonderoga and Crown Point, an amphibious attack on Louisbourg, and an attack on Fort Duquesne. The Ticonderoga operation failed with the repulse of Abercromby on July 7, 1758, but the other parts of the plan succeeded; and before the year ended, Louisbourg and Duquesne were English. The tide of war turned and was running in Britain's favor. [3]

The renewal of British vigor was evident in the Iroquois country. Sometime in the late spring or early summer of 1758, Abercromby, amid his concerns for the expedition against Ticonderoga, decided to repossess the Oneida Carrying Place, and he directed Brigadier John Stanwix to occupy the portage with four New York Independent Companies, 1,400 Provincials, and a company of Rangers. He instructed Stanwix "to take Post at the Oneida Carrying Place, which I apprehend will not only cover that Country, but enable them to send out large Scouts, to annoy the Enemy, and remove all the Fears and Objections of the Five Nations have raised against their joining us, upon whom to this Hour, I cannot depend for a single Man." [4]

In the meantime, Sir William Johnson had been negotiating with the Oneida Indians to obtain their consent to the construction of a new fort at the Carrying Place. To gain their approval, the British made two promises: that the fort, like the others on the Mohawk, would be demolished at the end of the war; and that there would be a "plentiful and cheap trade." [5]

With the Oneida's acquiescence assured, the British began to plan their new fort. Lt. Col. James Montressor prepared a proposal, probably accompanied by a plan, that provided for:

A Good Post to be made at the Oneida Carrying Place capable of Lodging 200 Men, in the Winter, and for 3 or 400 Men in the Summer, for its Defense; with Logs—A Parapet of such a thickness, as the Engineer shall think necessary, according to the Scituation—

A Ditch to be made, to serve to thicken the Parapet—Barracks to be made underneath the Rampart, with the Flues of the Chimneys, to come thr'o the Top.

The Square will be the Cheapest Form, to be made use of for this Work—

The Bastions in like manner, can be made use of, for Storhouses [sic] or Magazines.

In the Square may be made, Lodgings for the Officers, and the rest of the Quadrangle clear—The whole for be Loged [sic].

And opposite to the Officers' Barrack may be made a Storehouse for the Deposit of Indian Goods. [6]

Brigadier General Stanwix ordered his engineer, Capt. William Green, to review the plan and submit his opinion of its usefulness. The captain commented at length:

By a good Post—I understand to be meant, such a one, as will contain with ease, the said Number of Men; To be executed in such a manner, as to protect them from a Coup de Main, and to be of such a Size, as will admitt [sic] of a proper Defence by such a Garrison,—The Exterior side of which Square, cannot possibly be less (if so little) that 300 ft wch procures but a very small Defence, from its flanks, && will make an Exterior Circuit of Logging, of nearly 1420 ft by, at the very least 14 ft high, according to the Scituation may be, & in order to admitt of Barracks under the Rampart, to which the Retaining & Bracing Logwork, as well as the Logwork fronting the Interior Area, must in course be considered, as likewise the Loggwork to cover the Barracks, storehouses, and Magazines, that are proposed to be made under the Rampart of the Curtins [sic], and Bastions, by wch it will appear, that the greatest part of the Rampart round this Post, must be formed & Supported with Logwork.

As I am ignorant of the Scituation I conceive that any Form of a work that does not take up more in it's Exteriour & Interiour Circuit attention being made to an equal Flank Defence must be as cheap and a [s] good as a Square, as it might not be in my Power strictly to adhere to that Figure—As to the thickness of the Parapet, being informed cannon can be brought there, by the Enemy, it cannot be less than 12 ft., if so little, 18 ft being the Standard in such Cases.

The Rampart for the Manuevre of Cannon, and likewise to admit of a Reasonable Breadth for the Barracks underneath cannot be less than 20 ft.

The Breadth and Depth of the Ditch cannot be considered in Proportion for the Earth wanted, to form the said Parapet, and to cover the Loggwork of the Proposed Barracks, magazines & Storehouses to be made under the Rampart.

His Excellency General Abercrombie is pleased to observe in His Letter of the 16th July to the following Purport—That He does not find Himself, vested with the Power of Building Forts, and that His Excellency, does not think, that it would be right for Him, to undertake the Building of those He Proposed &c &c.

I hmbly conceive, that the plan ordered for the Post at the Oneida Carrying Place, is in all Respects & Circumstances to be Considered as a Fort, as it partakes, not only the figure, and the respective parts of a Fort, but even of the Permanent Intentions of a Fortress, as must clearly appear, by considering all the Particulars Ordered in that Plan, the Materials, of which it is ordered to be built with, being only peculiar to the Country and Scituation, and can no ways effect the Intention of that Work, and as to its capacity, in Point of Size, and the proper Strength, requisite in the Execution, when considered, it is ordered To be made a good Post, for 200 Men to 400 Men, I should think it my Duty, to execute it with Propriety, Care, and Attention, in order that it might answer the end Proposed—That of Covering that part of the Country.

How far this can be executed, (allowing it, only to be looked upon, as a Post, instead of it's absolutely partaking, of all the Qualities and Intentions of a Fort) to answer the use Proposed, of having it finished against the Winter, must appear, by Considering


It will be near the end of this Month, before it will be begun upon,


How soon the Winter sets in in that part of the Country


The great quantity of Carpenters Work, to be executed in Logging & Bracing at least 1420 Exteriour Circuit by 14 ft high, Besides the Retaining Loggwork, and the Front Loggwork towards the Interiour Area, together with covering the Barracks, Storehouses, and Magazines with Loggs, under the Rampart, all this being composed of Heavy workmanship, besides the lodgings for the Officers, and Storehouses for Indian Goods.


. . . The Consequences, that may attend, this post being attacked, if only half, or two thirds Compleated.

And lastly, the Practicability of executing the post, before the Winter sets in, must still further be judged, not only, by the Number of Artificers, that would be Requisite, to compleat it, in due time, but by considering, It is one of the Reasons, (inter Alia,) His Excellency, General Abercrombie Himself, gives, for laying aside the Scheme of Building a Fort there—By Observing as follows . . . . "Besides, when I Recollect, how far the Season is advanced, and that it is not likely, that by beginning a Fort * now, it would be finished, against the Winter, & consequently not of the use proposed.

* I beg it may be remembered that I have concluded the Post Order'd, to be Fort.

NB The Exterior Circuit of Fort Edward is nearly 1564 Ft and as I am informed, took nearly Two Seasons to build it And the Exterior Circuit of the Fort Proposed, will be nearly 1420 Ft. [7]

Colonel Montressor answered Captain Green's comments in this brief reply:

The orders for building a Post or Fort at Oneida Carrying place were so plain that they did not seem to warrant any Explanation, except in the Scituation, wch not being exactly the figure of Course is subjected to it, and tho' called a square, has often its four sides unequall, and as part may be unattainable by a swamp, morass &ca. that side has a Parapet and Rampart less strong that the others and without a Ditch, all those alterations and changes are left to the Engineer.

As to its Execution, Amongst the number of Troops on the Mohawk River, there are no doubt carpenters more than sufficient who understand that business.

2d. The winter sets in there as oyer [other] parts of the Province of New York, and not sooner; and as to the Practibility of Executing this post or Fort before the winter Major Eyers began Fort Wm Henry in Sept. and it was finished by the end of Novr following being an irregular square of about 300 ft each side with Provincials along and without any Expense. [8]

General Abercromby had obviously intended that the new station at the Carrying Place be a rather modest affair, less extensive and permanent than what would be ordinarily considered a fort. Both Montressor and Green projected a more ambitious undertaking: a fortification that included curtains, bastions, ramparts, barracks, magazine, and storehouses. In spite of his doubt about his authority to have such a "fort" constructed, the general soon accepted the implications inherent in the proposals and referred to the project as a fort. Abercromby also realized, along with Stanwix, that the engineers were in essential agreement in their proposals, with Green's remarks representing "rather a Protraction on his Part to put that Plan into Execution, than any valid reasoning to invalidate its taking place." He proceeded to authorize Stanwix to order Green to begin construction "without any further Delay." [9]

Several problems attended getting work on the new fortification under way. In the first place, Captain Green's health was not equal to the task of directing the construction. General Stanwix asked that Montressor be detailed to work with the captain, a request that fortunately was not granted, since in his next letter Stanwix wrote: "Colonel Montressor's letter to Captain Green has given him the greatest shock the poor man was very ill before this proposal has almost killed him." [10] Abercromby replaced Green with Lt. John Williams, noting "that he is acquainted with that Part of the Country, & Accustomed to the method of working in it, besides from Capt Greens bad state of health, and the difficulties he stated to former Plan, which was not near so extensive, it is morrally [sic] certain he would not execute it within the proper time." [11]

Secondly, the refortification of the Great Carrying Place was only one part of the operations planned for redeeming British interests in the Iroquois country. Lt. Col. John Bradstreet's plan for attacking Fort Frontenac had been revived, and much of General Stanwix's attention was directed toward assisting in collecting men and having them ready to move up the Mohawk to the Carrying Place, where they were assembled preparatory to marching westward toward Lake Ontario. A total of 5,600 men was intended for the Mohawk-Ontario area, of whom 3,600 would accompany Bradstreet and 2,000 would be employed in building the new fort. [12] Desertions and sick lists lowered the effective numbers to the point where Bradstreet ended up with less than 3,000 men and Stanwix had to carry on the construction with a much smaller force than he believed necessary. [13]

Lieutenant Williams, the newly assigned engineer, joined Stanwix on August 14; and, in spite of the general's pessimism about prospects of carrying out the work within the time available and with the provisions on hand and at Schenectady within a few days he began work on the site marked out within entrenchments that had been laid out by Major Eyres, Abercromby's assistant engineer. [14] Horatio Gates, a survivor of Braddock's defeat and future victor at Saratoga, became the brigade major, responsible for the administrative details of the force at the Carrying Place.

Work got under way at a pace that must have been gratifying to General Stanwix. The first log for the new fort was laid on August 26, and ten days later the commander wrote:

we have finished the foundation of the fort inside & outside & tyed the work the work w[i]th retaining Logs & half way round the second tier of logs, are pretty forward with a Magazine in one of the Bastions & laid the foundations of two of the Curtains for Casemats [sic] for the Barracks, have got 40000 Bricks ready to Burn for the Chimneys & propose another Kiln of 100000, if the Weather will allow, in a weeks time shall have a Saw Mill Completed wch. will furnish us plentifully with Boards & plank, and have got ready a great quantity of shingles for Covering such huts & other Buildings as we shall be able to erect & are not without hopes if we get back our men from Col. Bradstreets Enterprize in any time to make tollerable Cover for 400 men for the winter & this Fort will take I view that number at least to defend it as our Bastions are very large & when a Ditch & Glacis is Completed will take up all the height of this fine spot & as Oswego is by you in one of Your letters proposed to be the principle Fortification this will I think answer every purpose if we can in time make it Tenable, in which all pains & industry shall be made upon it. [15]

While Lieutenant Williams was making such praise-worthy progress, important news reached the Carrying Place. Colonel Bradstreet had captured the French fort at Cataraqui (present Kingston, Ontario) on August 27 and had burned it and the ships moored there. [16]

At about the time news from the west reached Stanwix, Lieutenant Williams received a letter from Colonels Montressor and Eyres directing him to stop following the plan that he had been using and follow one that had been considered earlier. General Stanwix had favored the one that Montressor and Eyres were now endorsing, but the lieutenant argued that changing plans at that point would preclude making the fort tenable in time for its use during the winter. The general recorded how the matter was resolved on the spot in the following manner:

that we might not lett half our time be misspent in doing nothing I desired that Williams & Green would examine the ground & form something in which we might have a possibility of succeeding before the Winter wch. would cover in that season 400 men & so far to finish it that no insults might be feared from small Arms, of which Williams sent Montressor a plan and we have proceeded upon it as I desired Mr. Williams in his post Script to say that I determined to try how far we are to proceed upon it, the body of the place will not be large but Bastions will contain— Room for the Guns Eight in Each Bastion which with the Advantage of the Situation and guns sufficient for the post will make it pretty Strong I am told every way preferable to Fort Edward, and if it is thought hereafter not respectable a Fortification may be made to which this as it is the highest ground may serve for a good Cittydel [sic] but as I always doubt my own judgment I called all the Colonels together who were unanimously of Opinion to proceed on what we have now been about in preparing & executing near a month wch I think to pick to pieces would be discouraging for such Troops who are already but indifferently inclined to work for no pay, I inclose the Colonels Opinion to you tho I am Confident you will always be so good to me as to believe I shall ever do that wch occurs to me to comply with yur commands & do everything possible wth me to forward the Service. Col Montressor's plan wch has all along been My Favorite had it been thought practicable in the time, he Calculates it to be executed by 2000 men in three months, for this Month past I could never get above 400 men to Work out of the Troops here fit for duty wch has never exceeded 1100. Guards Piquets Covering partys & perpetual Scouts taking up the rest, including a Capt: & three Subs, with 130 Men I am obliged to employ on the Mohawks River as Batteau men between this and Schenectady. [17]

General Abercromby responded to Stanwix's letter telling him of the decision to continue building the fort according to Williams' plan following terse terms: "All I shall say upon it is, that—now the Men which were with Colo. Bradstreet are—Returned, I expect that Lieut. Williams will fullfill his Engagement, and so far finish the Present Fort, as to take tolerable Lodgements for 400 Men, and tenable against Musquetry for the Ensuing Winter,—upon Failure of which he must be answerable for the Consequences." [18]

This exchange between the generals helps identify some of the problems that attended building the fort. One source of trouble—one so common that it easy to overlook—was the product of geography. Abercromby's headquarters during much of the autumn was at Lake George. Eyres was on his personal staff and usually at headquarters. Montressor was near-by at Fort Edward; and Stanwix and Williams were at the headwaters of the Mohawk. By the water route, the distance between Oneida Station and Lake George was approximately 160 miles, no great distance by twentieth century standards, but in a primitive environment the time consumed in exchanging correspondence was a matter of days.

Another problem, one closely related to distance, was that of supply. All of the tools and provisions had to be conveyed up the Mohawk from Schenectady, a time-consuming operation when the supplies were in stock; and if the stores in the depot lacked what was needed, the problem was compounded. Then, too, men were required to man the batteaus, four officers and 130 men, according to Stanwix's report.

Another drain on Stanwix's available man power was the necessity to provide for the security of his station. Reconnaissance parties were constantly on patrol to guard against surprise, for he dared not relax his vigilance, even after Bradstreet's success on Lake Ontario. Pickets, camp guards, and covering parties for the work details sent into the woods to cut timber limited the number of men who could be working on the construction. Sickness, injuries, and malingering took their toll. Prior to the return of Bradstreet's column, the largest number of men that Stanwix had on duty was 1,100 of whom never more than 400 were available for work on the fort.

The return of the troops from Lake Ontario made more men available, but they were less numerous than the generals and Montressor had expected, as Stanwix's letter to Abercromby of September 29 demonstrated:

you will perceive the great falling off of our members of wch you will of Lt. Col Bradstreets see near a thousand, numbers of wch are dead or dying dayly for . . . that Enterprize was perform'd with so much expedition & fatigue that few could well bear it, & I believe his great sweep was wholy owing to it. So that of the 5600 men you ordered for the services only 2750 remained fit for duty the 20th of the month near one half, & the sick list increasing very fast wch is supposed to be owing to their living wholy upon salt pork without pease, roots or greens. [19]

In spite of the limited number of men available, General Stanwix expected to have the new fort ready for 400 men and secure against small arms by the first of December.

As the autumn advanced, the euphoria resulting from Bradstreet's success dissipated under persistent rumors that the French and their allies were about to avenge themselves upon the western frontier. Sir William Johnson and General Stanwix warned Abercromby that friendly Indians were bringing frequent news of approaching attacks. [20] The force at the Carrying Place was vulnerable to attacks on working parties and batteau men; and a large French and Indian force could threaten the camp by attack or, less probable, isolation. The settlements from German Flats eastward to west of Schenectady were in greater danger. Stanwix's troops were the keystone of the defense of the Mohawk frontier, and General Abercromby wrote their commander:

it—becomes necessary for You to be on Your Guard and to keep out constant Scouts to bring You Intelligence of the Motions not only of the French, but our supposed faithful Allies the Six Nations; For which Purpose You will send out a Scout somewhat stronger . . . . to follow Luttridge the Day after his Departure from you, and give them the same Instructions with this Difference that they are to avoid Luttridge's Tracts [tracks], by which means I should hope you will discover the Intentions of the Enemy both publick and secret; And to enable You to frustrate their Designs the better, I have order'd Fraser's Battalion of Highlanders, lately returned with M. G. [Major General] Amherst from the Eastward to join you forthwith. I should have sent You a stronger Reinforcement, But I am apprehensive You will not have Provisions enough to maintain them at present. However, as from the Applications that have repeatedly been made to the Agent Victualers for this Month past to supply this Deficiency, there is Reason to hope they will soon be provided with a proper Quantity, if You find it necessary, you shall, upon Requisition, be further strengthened, either from the Troops here, or the Regiments that are come with the Royal, Vizt the 17th. 47th. 48th. & 63d. which are all encamped at Albany, and are stoped [sic] there, as it has not been judged Advisable or practicable to employ them this Season this Way, by Reason of it's being too far advanced, and the Enemy from repeated Intelligence too well prepared for our reception. [21]

Stanwix had asked Headquarters for additional cannon, and Abercromby replied:

the proportion of Ordnance for the Defence of your Post . . . has been laid before the proper Officer, and it is found far beyond what is requisite; nevertheless, had it been in my Power to furnish you with it, I shou'd not have objected to sending it; but it seems we have no more than two 18 Pounders Iron at Albany that have Carriages; it is true there are more at Schenectady, but as they want Carriages they can be of no Use to You at present I have sent Orders to Mr. Furnis at New York, to make Application to the Lieut. Govr: They certainly might spare some from thence, and they are sufficiently interested in the Defence of the Frontiers not to refuse them: but I do not find they are much inclined to do anything for themselves, and, as is customary in this Country wou'd willingly exempt themselves from any Share in the Means to secure themselves. [22]

Rumors of hostile activity continued to reach General Abercromby at Lake George; and in addition to the Highlanders, the Second Battalion of the Royal Regiment was ordered to the Mohawk. When a report reached Headquarters that Stanwix's camp was invested, Colonel Benton of the Royal Regiment ordered the Battalion's grenadier and light infantry companies to march from Greenbush to Schenectady to be ready to proceed to the Oneida Carrying Place, if the report proved to be accurate. [23]

The fear of a Franco-Indian attack and approaching winter made the completion and arming of the fort increasingly urgent. Both Abercromby and Stanwix urged the lieutenant governor of New York to use his influence to obtain cannon, and an effort was made to purchase pieces brought into New York City by privateers. [24]

The reconnaissance patrols that went out from Oneida returned with conflicting reports: some claimed that they had seen the enemy, while others reported no evidence of either French or hostile Indian parties. Stanwix continued to fear that the enemy intended to "disturb our Works," although the Indians at Oneida Castle told him that his position was so strong that there was nothing to fear from any hostiles in the area. As the autumn advanced, Stanwix held his breath, hoping that no attack would be made before his fort was ready for winter. On October 22 he expressed himself as follows:

if we hear nothing certain of any strong Armament with Artillery between this & the beginning of November we may give up all expectation of any unseasonable Visit for this approaching winter, wch will enable us to carry our Fort all round en barbet cover our Casmets [sic] for 400 men & Complete our Ditch & Glassic [sic], and I am hopeful I shall be able to leave here six months provisions for that number, 250 beds will be wanting & absolutely necessary as the Company of Rangers are to stay wch I can well accomodate in good huts without the works. [25]

Artillery for the new fort continued to be the subject of considerable concern for both Stanwix and Abercromby. The former had submitted "calculations" that members of the latter's staff considered excessive; and while there were tubes in the Schenectady depot, there were no carriages, which meant that there was no artillery immediately available. As has been noted, appeals were made to the lieutenant governor, and attempts were made to purchase cannon from privateers. On October 22 Stanwix was still trying to get the guns that his post needed. At Abercromby's suggestion, he wrote to Lieutenant Governor De Lancy asking him to use his good offices in persuading the province to contribute six each 18-pounders, 12-pounders, 9-pounders, and 6-pounders, with 8,000 shot for each piece of ordnance, promising him that the province would be reimbursed with guns from England or Louisbourg. He also wrote Abercromby that he believed some of the Louisbourg cannon should be sent to the Onedia post.

General Stanwix was especially eager to have armament on hand because the fort was ready to accommodate the cannon. By October 22, a bombproof magazine with a capacity of 2,000 barrels had been installed under the southeast bastion. Other work accomplished included "seven good Hutts, Brick chimneys, Shingled floor'd & lined with—and at least two good Glass windows in each & very sufficient for twenty one officers." The general lived in one "and never desire a warmer a more comfortable or better room, and 'tis by much the worst of them."

Although the work was progressing, it was far from being free of problems. The reports of hostile activity had hindered construction:

&in order to get forward was obliged to send for some Carpenters, & Mr. Dice has been of infinite use to us, but experience of this Sort when works are carried to a Certain degree of perfection are seldom found . . . these troops at first produced but few Carpenters and now the woods become Cold & Wet scarce at all, and indeed there is such a surprizing falling of[f] from the working men of these Battalions that from 5600 intend'd for the service this way that not 1500 left fit for duty & these I am sending down sick in Boat loads every day. I think all the provincials whilst with me have behaved well but they are really worn out, work'd down & fairly jaded with Fatigue, to wch the Batteau Service and Caderaqui [Bradstreet's expedition] has not a little Contributed—Colonel Williams & Colo Dotty's Boston Battalions their time is out the First of November and they begin to be impatient to be gone Jersey Regiment: their time out the 15th of November; no time fix'd for the New York or Rhode Islanders but end with the Campaign, please as soon as you can—let me know when these severl [sic] Regiments are to be dismiss'd. [26]

Stanwix's personal situation was serious—more so than the correspondence might indicate. He had been ordered to use only the provincial soldiers in the construction, partly for reasons of economy and because Abercromby and Montressor believed that a number of troops had experience as carpenters. While probably many of the men knew something about domestic carpentry, few if any had ever engaged in a major construction at all comparable to building a fort. Of course, most of them were capable of cutting timber and digging ditches, and that was the work that required the most hands.

As we have seen, military duties and sickness contributed their share in slowing construction. But as winter approached, all of the problems were compounded by weather, the necessity of getting the post ready for winter, and the expiration of the troops' terms of service. While the terms of the Massachusetts levies were extended for 15 days by the provincial council, the situation was critical and it never was appreciably eased, because alarms continued to demand extraordinary security measures; and civilian carpenters were in scarce supply on the frontier and those in Albany and Schenectady were probably less than eager to work under the conditions of danger and discomfort that prevailed.

On October 30 Abercromby wrote to Stanwix from Albany concerning the final stages of the year's work and plans for the winter:

I see with Pleasure the Forwardness your present Post was in, and that we may expect by the 2d or 3d. of next Month to have it so far finished, as to lodge and Cover it's intended Garrison against every Insult, but Artillery, which I join in Opinion with you, there will soon be no Room to apprehend anything from, as the Season advances fast in which the Roads will render it impracticable for the Enemy to bring any against it—I have given Direction for the providing of the Beds, Snow Shoes, & Provisions You say will be necessary and the D.Q.M.G. is to see them worthwith sent up—With Regard to the Proportion of Ordnance & its Attviail, I am sorry it is not in my Power to furnish You with the Whole of Your Demands, since you remain of Opinion that You cou'd well dispose of it: Notwithstanding my Requisition to the Lieut. Governor; backed by Your very proper Letter to the same Purpose, we have not been able to obtain more than ten 12 and two 9 Pounders, Iron—Ordanance, mounted on Garrison Carriages, which Mr. Furniss by his Letter of the 23d. was to ship the next day for this—whence, so soon as it Arrives it shall be forwarded to You; and so soon as Capt. Ord come down here, which will be in a few Days, I shall settle with him the Officers and Men—of the Department under his command, that can be spared for the Oneida Station; but I must observe to you, that they will fall far short of what You ask, as I have not in my Department, above 80 Men of that Branch, out of which some are to remain here and others to be left at Fort Edward.

As I see that You Convenience, and intend to hut the Rangers, I suppose You propose the Garrison shou'd consist of 400 Regulars exclusive of them and the Small Detachment of Artillery, and as I intend that Colo. Fraser's Battalion should furnish that Garrison you will either leave them be Detachment or Companies as you see best, and the Remainder of that Battalion, I am inform'd by Colo. Bradstreet can be very well cantoned in the District of Conajohary & Stone Arabia, which Justice Fry has promised the Deputy Qr. Mr. Gen. to prepare and hold in Readiness for them.

I have had a letter from Lieut. Williams, desiring that he might be relieved, but as I have nobody in that Branch, whose Department is not already settled & of Nowise none to send in his Room, You will please to tell him that he must remain there, and indeed nobody can be more proper for it than himself, as he will be at hand so soon as the Weather permits to finish the Work.

With Regard to the provincial Troops, you may dismiss them so soon as Your Works will permit; particularly the Massachusetts & Rhode Island People, who have a long Ways home and the Roads daily growing bad; besides which, the Bostoners, who were with me, are already on their March, which I dare say will make Your's plead hard for their Discharge: The sooner they were all gone, would be but better, as it wou'd be a great Saving in the Article of Provisions, especially in the present Scarcity; However, so long as You can not do without them to finish the Fort fit for the Reception of the Garrison, You must keep them; But at the same Time, such of them as are sick and unfit for Duty, might very well be sent Down immediately as otherwise they will consume a great Quantity of Provisions to no Manner of Purpose. The Troops destined to be under Your Command this Winter, and those going Down, will be here I expect in a few Days, where I shall likewise be glad to see you, so soon as you can conveniently leave Your present Post. [27]

By mid-November 1758 Stanwix's work at Oneida Station was completed, and he moved his headquarters to Albany, where he commanded the troops posted on the Mohawk and in northern New York.

The first description of the fort that has survived is Colonel Montressor's, which together with a copy of the plan, shows the fort's situation at the close of the first season's work. The Colonel wrote:

This fort was begun the 23d 1758 by the troops under the Command of Brigdr Genl. Stanwix and finished en Barbette [28] as Represented in the draught of Novr 18, 1758 the yellow shows what parts are unfinished A is a small creek wch runs southward and has its head from three springs 500 yards above the Fort. B. The Road from the Landings Place on the Mohawk River over the Carrying place to Fort Niewport. C. a section thro DE taking in the Ditch the Common breadth of 40 and not the Breadth as it is upon the middle of the Curtain. The fort is built on a Level spot of Ground Compund of Pebble Stone mixed wt Gravel and Sand is to the Eastward and Southward 19 ft. above the Level of the Swamps and Low Lands. To the Northward the Ground is much on a Level with the fort, but to the Westward it descends gradually for three Quarters of a Mile to Fort Niewport to the Common Level of the Swamps. To the West, North and Eastward, the woods are Cleared between 3 and 400 hund[re]d yards and to the Southward 700 yards. FA Magazine 65 foot long by 16 ft wide Bomb Proof. The loggs of wch the fort is built are generally 2 ft thick, flatted on the upper and under sides. The Casementes [sic] (at present Barracks) are covered wt two teer of Square timber from 12 to 24 Ins thick as Represented in the Profil. [29]

The colonel's description is very useful and probably represents as good a picture of the fort as can be had. However, it and the drawing must be used with some caution. For instance, they do not include the seven "hutts" for officers that Stanwix mentioned in his letter of October 22. Secondly, he described the fort as being completed "en Barbette," but the plan shows forty-three embrasures. Thirdly, there is a contemporary, though much less detailed, plan that was enclosed in a letter from General Abercromby to Prime Minister William Pitt, dated November 25, 1758, that gives different dimensions. The plan that accompanied Montressor's description gave the length between the points of the bastions as 350 feet. The one that accompanied Abercromby's letter showed a distance of 330 feet. [30] An explanation of the differences may be that both represent preliminary plans—not actual construction drawings.

The 400 men from Fraser's Highlanders and the detail of Royal Artillery spent the winter of 1758-59 in the new fort, while the Ranger detachment occupied huts in a camp outside its walls. It was a strong force for the Carrying Place, and the frontier west of German Flats was more secure than it had been since before the opening of hostilities.

Somewhat against his wishes, John Williams remained at Fort Stanwix, as the new post was coming to be termed, in order to be on hand to complete the work whenever the weather permitted. Sometime during the winter or summer, he prepared a plan entitled "Plan of Fort Stanwix Built at Oneida Station. By Provincial Troops in 1758." This probably represents the first attempt to present an "as built" depiction of the fort by one who not only knew it first hand but was its construction superintendent, and it may be the most important single document relating to the original building of the fort.

Williams' plan shows a bastioned fort with the points of the bastions forming a square 335 feet to the side. The walls were constructed of logs laid crib fashion to a height of nine feet on the outside and eleven feet on the inside of the curtains. Their thickness at the base was slightly more than 20 feet and at the top 18 feet. The southeast bastion, under which the magazine was located, was nine feet on the outside and 15-1/2 on the inside. The other three bastions may have had higher ramparts than the curtains, but this is not reflected in the plan. The bastions were 120 feet deep, with two sides ca. 38 feet long and two 90 feet. The curtains measured ca. 140 feet. The sally-port, about ten feet wide, was located in the center of the south curtain. Another, narrower gateway about five feet wide in the east curtain gave access to the covered way and thence to the creek.

Inside the fort were four casemates, the roofs of which formed the terreplein for the curtains. These were log structures, built to a height of ten feet in front and approximately eight and a half in the rear. The external depth from the front to the curtain wall was approximately 20 feet. The northern and western casemates extended 119 feet in front and 145 in the rear. The other two casemates were divided by the sally-port and east gate. The south-western one measured 50 by 60 feet; the south-eastern 58 by 60; the east-southern 58 feet square; and the east-northern 52 by 60. The northern and western casemates were divided into three sets of quarters, each with a door and three windows opening onto the parade. The southern casemates consisted of one unit per structure, each with a door and six windows. The eastern ones consisted of one unit per structure, each with a door and four windows. Each unit was heated by a fire-place with a brick chimney that extended above the terreplein.

Nineteen huts were located in the parade, most of them officer' quarters, but one or more may have been kitchens. The plan does not provide details, but General Stanwix described the one he occupied as being one of the "worst," saying that they had brick chimneys, were shingled, floored, and having at least two glass windows. [31]

The magazine was located beneath the southeast bastion. It was a bomb-proofed structure, measuring on the inside ca. 69 by 19 feet.

Except a distance of approximately 150 feet where the bastions stood within less than 45 feet of the stream, a ditch, 21 feet wide at the top and eight at the bottom, extended around the fort. A row of eight to ten feet high posts stood upright in the ditch. A similar palisade formed a V in front of the sally-port. The spoil from the ditch was piled against the walls of the fort and as a glacis outside the ditch. A "Necessary house" (latrine), reached by an elevated walk, stood over a portion of the stream opposite the south-east bastion. At the end of the ditch opposite the north-east bastion, a covered way led to the water. [32]

Plan of Fort Stanwise [Stanwix]. Colonial Office, Public Records Office, 5/50, Transcript, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Another season of construction began at Fort Stanwix during July 1759, and the work that was accomplished during that year was recorded in a "Plan of Fort Stanwix Showing what Works were done at that Post—from July to December 1759." [33] Among the additions were two huts for the officers, bringing the total in the Parade to 21. Chimneys were completed or replaced for some of the officers' quarters. New bedsteads were installed in the casemates. Six cannon platforms were installed on the bastions. The parapet of the north-west "flag" bastion was raised four feet, embrasures created, and a firing step installed. The ramparts of all the bastions were raised. The ditch was widened to 26 feet at the bottom and 40 at the top. The parapet of the curtains was raised by placing barrels and horizontal logs on the parapets of the curtains. A floor was installed in the magazine, and a cellar for garden stuff was built under the south-east bastion. Horizontal pickets were installed on the north-east bastion.

Another, apparently contemporary, plan shows the fort with the same features, minus the "Necessary" and covered way to the stream and without a ditch on the eastern side. The "flag" bastion is shown with embrasures. A store-house, with its western end palisaded, is shown west of the fort. This plan shows a much smaller fort with the sides of the square formed by the bastions only ca. 230 feet long, which probably means that the indicated scale of 1 inch to 100 feet is in error. [34]

While Fort Stanwix took form, William Pitt prosecuted the war with the vigor, boldness, and imperial vision that won him a place in history. As Brigadier John Forbes advanced westward, the French blew up Fort Duquesne. Forbes died shortly thereafter, and General Stanwix replaced him with orders to consolidate the British victory in the Ohio Valley. Louisburg fell, and its victor, Jeffrey Amherst, replaced Abercromby as commander-in-chief. James Wolfe distinguished himself at Louisburg and was given the command that led him to Quebec and immortality. Back in London, Pitt was preparing plans for the expulsion of the French from North America that astonished some of his fellows and must have made General Amherst wonder whether His Majesty's minister knew what he proposed: Invade Canada, launch an attack along the southern frontier, re-establish the fort at Oswego—even attack Fort Niagara. The last was accomplished in late spring and summer of 1759, and Brigadier John Prideaux's and Sir William Johnson's forces passed the new fort on their way to Lake Ontario and Niagara.

In the meantime, money and labor were being expended in improving Fort Stanwix. In 1761 it was still unfinished, with completion anticipated the following year. Yet, even as it was being completed, its importance was diminishing. The defeat of the French in the west and the termination of hostilities reduced the purpose of the fort to showing the flag among the Iroquois. By 1761 the garrison was down to fifty men. [35]

By the end of the war, the fort was a strong post with massive log and earthen walls built up so that all the bastions and curtains were capped by embrasured parapets. The ditch on the eastern side was apparently filled in, but a stockade extended along that face. Two ravelins, one covering the sally-port and a smaller one for the gate leading to the stream were constructed between 1759 and 1764. The officers' huts were replaced by two buildings measuring 120 by 20 feet and one measuring 35 by 20. [36]

The Peace of Paris ended the Seven Years War in 1763, and Britain's attention turned from conquest to consolidating and administering the Empire. For the American Colonies, that meant the end of "salutary neglect," and Parliament took a more active interest in making the colonies contributing members of the Empire. A series of acts flowed out of London affecting trade, customs, colonial administration, land speculation, and Indian affairs; and most of them collided with an American interest. The product was the American Revolution that ended with independence and the new nation's inheriting most of the problems that had caused the separation. But that gets ahead of our story of Fort Stanwix.

However, as a part of the military establishment on the frontier, the fort shared the historic scene. As has been noted, its primary function after the elimination of the French threat was to provide for an imperial presence in the Iroquois country, particularly among the Oneidas. The Indians' response to that presence was mixed. Insofar as it encouraged increased trade, they favored the existence of posts that would facilitate such commercial contacts. On the other hand, the Indians had acquiesced in the building of Fort Stanwix and other installations on the condition that they would be demolished after the war. [37] The maintenance of the forts during the post-war years was a source of irritation to the Iroquois that Sir William Johnson had to cope with in his relations with the tribes. At the same time, forces were working that made a wholesale abandonment of the war-time forts unthinkable. The western tribes, resentful of official arrogance, the dishonesty of traders, and their exclusion from consultation when the French surrendered the western posts, and fearful of the advancing English settlements, plotted to expel the British.

In the spring of 1763, the western frontier erupted into war along a thousand-mile front. One after another, the posts in the formerly French territory fell, until only Fort Pitt, Detroit, and Niagara stood fast. Frontier settlements were ravaged, and according to some accounts, more people died in 1763 than in 1759, at the height of the Seven Years' War. Not until July 1766, when Sir William met the hostiles in a council at Oswego, did the war end with acknowledgement of British sovereignty and Pontiac's pardon. [38]

With the frontier ablaze, the British would not abide by the promise to demilitarize the intermediate zone just east of the frontier. Instead of destroying Fort Stanwix, attention was directed toward its repair. Engineer Lt. George Demler inspected it and found it in a surprisingly bad state. The southeast bastion, which covered the magazine and cellar, was in an especially dilapidated condition, with its "whole Face fallen down." The western half of the south curtain and the southwest bastion were "so rotten that they can not stand over this winter." The casemates were uninhabitable and beyond repair. [39]

The lieutenant began repairing the fort on July 1, 1764. The work was carried on by civilian artificers and laborers, and by the end of the season f140—5s.--10d., New York currency, had been expended and a surprising amount of repair accomplished. [40] During that time the southeast and southwest bastions and the curtains were repaired and made en barbette. The casemates were rebuilt, and chimneys installed in the officers barracks. The northwest and northeast bastions were rebuilt with embrasured parapets. A covered passageway from the east gate to the small ravelin was built of wood and earth. [41] The escarpment and covered way (glacis) were sodded and a small parapet was installed on the covered way. By the end of the year, work remained to be done on the southern bastions, the parapet on the southeast end of the covered way, the earthen part of the covered passage to the eastern ravelin, and the closing of the northeast end of the ditch by completing the covered way. [42] Whether these were completed during subsequent periods of work is uncertain. More money was expended in early 1765 and in 1767. Yet on May 27 of the latter, Maj. Gen. Thomas Gage recommended to the Secretary of State, the Earl of Shelburne, that Stanwix be abandoned "in order to lessen expenses." The fort was in ruins and not important enough to merit repairs necessary to make it tenable. He proposed to withdraw the small garrison and leave the fort in the care of an "old half-pay officer" on the condition that he should return everything to the Crown when "required for the King's service." [43] The next year, John Lees, a Quebec merchant, wrote in his Journal, describing the fort as a "neat little fortification built of wood & fitt to garrison 3 Regiments' but it [is] now falling all to ruins. There is a half pay officer with a Corporal & his men that keep Possession of it, intended chiefly for forwarding Expresses to the Officers at the upper Forts: the country is entirely unsettled round this Fort.—" [44]

Thus by the year of the great Indian congress that negotiated the Treaty of Fort Stanwix the fort had become a dilapidated inactive post. Although it is not the purpose of this monograph to provide an in-depth study of that treaty, a brief account is in order.

Britain's victory over her arch-rival, France, had expelled that power from the North American mainland, leaving her with greatly expanded possessions, incorporating not only Canada and Florida, but also the vast region between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River, a region rich in lands and furs and inhabited by Indian tribes, some of which had been active allies of France. To the government in Whitehall, this acquisition was a valuable territory that required imperial policies that would provide for the orderly settlement of western lands and peaceful relations with the Indians. To those ends, the king issued the Proclamation of 1763 that imposed a temporary settlement west of a line that ran north and south along the crest of the Appalachians, reiterating a pledge made to the western tribes in the Treaty of Easton (1758) to respect native claims and to refrain from settling on them without the Indians' consent.

The Proclamation offended important American interests and values. The ignorance of its authors had left several hundred whites west of the Proclamation Line in Indian territory. More fundamental was its violation of the common-sense American belief, amounting to an article of faith, that white men were destined to occupy and exploit western lands and that the Indians must be driven away or destroyed. Settlers, land speculators, and fur-traders competed for the new lands, but they agreed in opposing any form of regulation, especially if it emanated from London, that limited their freedom of action. [45]

The inherent weaknesses of the policy that produced the Proclamation and pressure from economy-minded members of Parliament, greedy speculators, and disgruntled traders forced the British government to revise its frontier policy. A shake-up in the ministry resulted in centering control of American affairs in the new office, Secretary for the Colonies, which was assumed by Lord Hillsborough in January 1768.

Hillsborough prepared a set of recommendations that was accepted by the cabinet in March contained the first practical plan for the North American West yet developed. While the Indian superintendencies were retained, their powers were limited to imperial functions: land purchases from the tribes, readjustments of the Proclamation line, and settling diplomatic problems. Local matters, including regulation of the fur trade, were left in the control of the colonies. This made the western posts that had been the centers for the trade unnecessary, and all were abandoned except those at Detroit, Niagara, and Mackinac, which were retained for defense. Instead of establishing three western colonies, as had been demanded by expansionists, Hillsborough tried to satisfy them by ordering the Proclamation line shifted westward.

General Thomas Gage, commander of the British army in North America, complied with the terms of the new policy; and within a year withdrew all the western garrisons except Detroit, Niagara. Mackinac, Fort Pitt and Fort de Chartres. The superintendents dismantled their elaborate trade establishment to the delight of the fur traders, who swept into the West to set up their private posts through the northern country.

Orders were received by John Stuart and Sir William Johnson, Indian Superintendents for the Southern and Northern Departments respectively. Sir William's task was to extend the western boundary line from the mouth of the Great Kanawka River in [West] Virginia across Pennsylvania to the Indian village Oswego near the southern border of New York, leaving the troublesome problem of determining the bounds of the Iroquois territory to later negotiations. To accomplish this delicate undertaking, he called a congress of most of the northern tribes to meet at Fort Stanwix during November 1768.

Johnson's action was a signal for speculators along the entire frontier to go into action. In Virginia, they pressured the government to appoint Dr. Thomas Walker, an active land-grabber, as the colony's delegate to the conference; and he set out for Fort Stanwix committed to open as much of Kentucky as possible to settlement. Pennsylvania officials impressed their commissioners with the necessity of obtaining the region between the Susquehanna and West Branch Rivers. In New York, the Indiana Company's leaders set about persuading Sir William to guarantee that their interests would profit. In June, Samuel Wharton, William Trent, and George Croghan met Johnson at New London, Connecticut, and discussed the best ways to ensure success; and he committed himself to obtaining from the Indians a specific grant for the Indiana Company's leaders.

Johnson, thus, deliberately conspired to violate his instructions, which had directed him to ratify a line he had discussed with the tribal leaders in 1765. Under no circumstances, was he to enlarge the boundary from the mouth of the Great Kanawka down the Ohio to the Cherokee [Tennessee] River.

When the conference convened, 3,400 Indians, commissioners from New York, Pennsylvania. Virginia, New Jersey, and Connecticut assembled within the dilapidated fort's walls. Lines were clearly drawn. On one side was the Virginia interest, whose objective was two-fold: to open Kentucky and to keep any outside company from exploiting that colony's back country. On the other was the leadership of the Indiana Company, hungrily promoting their effort to obtain their grant in the upper Ohio, quite aware that the region lay within Virginia's northwest. Because of Johnson's association, the latter group had the advantage. With his help, they persuaded the Iroquois to sell them the 1,800,000 acres they wanted on November 3. but Virginia's consent was required. Walker was appeased by Johnson's extending the new boundary line past the mouth of the Great Kanawka to the Tennessee River. This would force the Southern Superintendent, Stuart to redraw the southern part of the line in a manner that would open the lands of the Greenbrier and Loyal Companies to settlementt or confuse the entire boundary so completely that all the Kentucky country would be thrown open to unregulated speculation.

The treaty was anti-climatic—the important business had already been conducted by the commissioners in private, unrecorded sessions. According to the terms of the treaty, signed November 5, the line began, not at Oswego, but near Fort Stanwix, then west across Pennsylvania to open the Susquehanna Forks area, and thence along the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers to the mouth of the Tennessee. In return for ceding their claims to the lands, the Indians received £10,460 in gifts. Sir William was aware of the fact that he had violated his instructions and deranged the entire boundary demarkation system, at the same time angering the Delawares, Shawnees, and Cherokees by defrauding them of their hunting lands in the Ohio country, to which they, not the Iroquois Confederacy, had the better claim. He was intelligent enough to know that the treaty left the whole western frontier in turmoil. The real thrust of the treaty was revealed in the shift of the boundary to the mouth of the Tennessee, which showed that the line of demarkation could be shifted westward by any speculators with sufficient influence. The company of famous and near-famous men: Benjamin and William Franklin, Samuel Wharton, George Croghan, William Trent, and Sir William Johnson, had left a heritage of cupidity that testified to the sordidness that characterized much of the history of the development of western lands. [46]

Six years after the negotiation of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, Governor William Tryon reported that Fort Stanwix had been dismantled. [47] Within a decade and half after its establishment, the fort at the Oneida Carrying Place seemed to have fulfilled its historic mission. But a new career would open for it during the War for American Independence that won it a new and more important place in history.

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Last Updated: 26-Dec-2008