Construction and Military History 1758 to 1777
III. FORT STANWIX IN THE REVOLUTION
The end of the Colonial Period found the western and northern portions of the Province of New York still in varying degrees frontier in nature. Much of the western part continued to be Iroqouis country. The Confederacy had lost much of its early strength; and its people, especially the Mohawks, Onandagas, and Oneidas, were becoming more "civilized" and dependent on the whites. The Mohawk Valley was thus a region where the races met in frequent contact, and relations between them was an important subject for the local people and the provincial government. Sir William Johnson, who from 1756 until his death on the eve of the Revolution was superintendent of Indian affairs for the tribes north of the Ohio River, was the valley's dominant personality. Its white population was a mixture of German, Scottish, and English with a small number of descendants of the old colonial Dutch families. In 1772 the half of New York bordering on Canada and the Iroquois country, including all of the Mohawk Valley from about two miles west of Schnectady, was separated from Albany County and named Tyron County in honor of Governor William Tryon.
The people of the county entered the era of Revolution with divided loyalties. Communities and families split as some members aligned themselves with the rebellious colonists while others remained loyal to England and its provincial administration or hoped to remain aloof from the war. For many the choice was agonizing as men found themselves forced to choose from among conflicting interests. For the Germans, with no sentimental ties to England, the natural choice would seem to have been to cast their lot with the rebelsas many did. However, as they had tried to do during the Seven Years' War, some sought neutrality in a quarrel that they felt was not their concern. For others, remembering shabby usage by New York patricians like the Schuylers, who were leaders in the resistance to imperial authority, and believing that they were more likely to receive fair treatment from a royal governor than a native oligarchy, the choice was to be loyal to the Crown. Among them the Johnson influence may have been a factor. Sir William's wife, Sir John's mother, was a German, and the Palatines had found the baronet fair and sympathetic. The Highlanders were divided, but some had served in the British Army and had little love for the Hudson Valley grandees; and these remained true to their old allegiance. The English and Dutch settlers, mostly native-born, probably included more dedicated members of the "Patriot" party than did the other elements of the population. Thus to the people of the Mohawk country, the Revolution had many of the characteristics of a civil war.
Leadership of the Loyalists centered in the family of Sir William Johnson. His political heirs were his son, Sir John: his nephew, son-in-law, and successor to the superintendency, Guy Johnson; another son-in-law, Daniel Claus; and John Butler, who had been Sir William's deputy. Closely associated with them was Joseph Bryant (Thayendanega), Sir William's secretary and brother of Molly Brant, his Mohawk mistress. Sir John, hereditary head of the family and of the imperial interest, undertook to organize the valley's Loyalists and Indians into a provincial force; but his efforts were thwarted, and he and some of his supporters were disarmed and placed on parole. Fearful that pro-British elements might yet rally on the Johnsons, the state's revolutionary leadership resolved to arrest him. When he learned that his family's old rival, Philip Schuyler, was sending a force under Colonel Dayton to carry out that resolution, he escaped to Canada in May 1776, where he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel and authorized to raise a loyal regiment.
American concern for the security of the valley was not confined to local or provincial action. Maj. Gen. Philip John Schuyler, commanding general of the Northern Department, was aware of the region's economical potential and its political and military significance. On June 8, 1776, he wrote to the President of the Continental Congress recommending that troops be posted at the site of Fort Stanwix and that the Indians be advised of the Continentals' intentions.  He did not wait for an answer from Congress before preparing to carry his suggestion into effect. Three days later, he informed General Washington that he was "preparing everything I can with utmost secrecy for taking post at Fort Stanwix, which I propose to do immediately after the conference with the Indians."  Congress did not delay considering the general's recommendation and on Friday, June 14:
The Commander-in-Chief complied with the Congress's resolution;  and although the Indians postponed negotiations, General Schuyler pushed preparations for occupying the Carrying Place. He ordered Col. Elias Dayton of the 3d New Jersey Regiment of the Continental Line to take post at Fort Stanwix with 500 men of his regiment, 150 of Colonel Cornelius Wynkoop's 4th New York Continental Regiment, 75 Tryon County Militia "intended for Canada," and an additional 200 of the county militia. 
On June 26 General Schuyler gave orders for the shipment of supplies and artillery by batteaus to be commanded by Captains Lansing and Wolcott. Strict secrecy was enjoined, and the batteaumen were not to be informed of their destination. Preparations proceeded rapidly, and on July 1 the supplies began to move westward from Albany.  Colonel Dayton's troops assembled and reached their new post on July 23. In the meantime, Schuyler moved to German Flats to meet with the Indian delegations, in compliance with the Congress's June 14 resolution; and he reported that the occupation of the Carrying Place had not given umbrage to the Indians. 
The troops, accompanied by Engineer Nathaniel Hubbell, found the fort dismantled and ruinous.  Their task was to secure the vicinity, serve as a center for patrols, and either rebuild the fort or construct a new one. General Schuyler left to Dayton's discretion the selection of the two alternatives, telling him: "As I never was at Fort Stanwix, I cannot positively recommend any particular place for erecting a Fortification, but from the best Information I have been able to procure, I am led to believe the Spot on which the old Fort stood, the most Eligible, of this you must be the Judge."  The general apparently expected Dayton to build a new fort, either on the site of the colonial one or at a new location. However, he wisely left the final decisions of how to accomplish that part of the mission to the local commander. While the surviving correspondence that has been studied does not explicitly spell out how the colonel exercised his options, enough information exists to form some conclusions.
Since the Mohawk column did not arrive at its post until the middle of July, the commander and his engineer were faced with the problem of building a fort that could be occupied during the next winter within a severely limited period of time. Although there were more than 900 men in the expedition, only a portion of that number could be employed at a given time in construction, because military and camp duties absorbed part of the available man-power. The condition of the colonial fort was the key to the solution of their problem. If it could be repaired, a great saving of time could be realized. On the other hand, if it was too dilapidated, two alternatives remained: the fort could be razed and the site reused; or another location could be selected and prepared before new construction could be commenced. Two questions require answering: Did the Revolutionary fort occupy the site of the original Fort Stanwix? Was the old fort repaired; or did Dayton's men construct a completely new facility?
The first question is answered by two cartographic representations of the Revolutionary period fort. One of these is a copy of a map by Francois de Fleury entitled, "A Sketch of the siege of FORT SCHUYLER Presented to Col. Gansevoort L. Fleury." The other is a "Plan of Fort Stanwix" that hung in Peter Gansevoort's Albany home for many years and now in the New York Public Library.  Both of these locate the fort on the site of the original one.
The second question can be answered with almost as much precision. The representations of the Revolutionary fort's curtains, bastions, glacis, sally ports, and covered way correspond very closely with the earlier plans, particularly Crown Maps 99, 100 and 101. Within less than a fortnight after the troops arrived, Nathaniel Hubbell wrote to General Schuyler praising the soldiers' performance and predicting, "The Fort will be Tenable by 15 Agust [sic]."  A letter from Schuyler to Washington of August 1 is couched in terms that indicate the old fort was being repaired when he wrote, "Fort Stanwix is repairing and is already so far advanced as to be defensible against light artillery."  On the same day, Colonel Dayton wrote to commander, "The Fort here which at present is very defensible against almost any Number of Small Arms we had this day the pleasure to name Fort Schuyler"  Two days later, Schuyler wrote to General Horatio Gates:
By the end of August, scarcely six weeks after beginning the work, Colonel Dayton was able to tell his commanding general that, "Unless the Enemy visit us by the first of October, 1 imagine they will not disturb Fort Schuyler this season."  Thus within two months, the fort was strong enough to persuade the local commander and his superior, who had spent most of the summer engaging in talks with the Indians at German Flats, that it could withstand any force the enemy was likely to bring against it that year. This had been accomplished in spite of rumors of hostile activity, continued drains on Dayton's man-power in providing scouts, and the loss of Wynkoop's two companies, who were ordered down-river on August 2.  This state of preparedness could have been achieved only by utilizing and repairing the curtains, bastions, ditch, and glacis of the original fort.
While Dayton and Schuyler had hoped to have the barracks for 400 men completed by the beginning of winter, a scarcity of bricks, boards, and nails forced deferment of that portion of the work until the next year.  But the engineer went to Albany for materials so that work could be resumed as early in the season as possible.  The correspondence does not provide details concerning other buildings constructed during 1776, but they probably included officer' quarters, a storehouse, and a powder magazine. Supplies and ordnance had been dispatched throughout the summer and fall, and facilities for their storage during the winter would have had a high priority. 
The lack of barracks limited the number of men who could be stationed at the fort during the winter months to about 200. This worried Colonel Dayton, whose men's time would expire at the end of the year, and he wrote General Schuyler telling him that he did not expect the enemy to move against the fort, adding:
General Schuyler complied with Dayton's request and on October 9 ordered Col. Samuel Elmore's Connecticut troops to leave German Flats and occupy Fort Schuyler [Stanwix], which they did on the 17th. Because not all the barracks had been completed, a part of Elmore's command returned to German Flats to winter there at nearby Burnet's Field.  At the end of December, beef and an eight-month supply of flour, along with soap and candles, were ordered sent to Elmore's men at Fort Stanwix. 
One of the last actions taken by the Continental Congress in 1776 was the passage of a resolution on Saturday, December 28, providing:
The winter of 1776-77 was a period of quiet on the northern frontier, but it was not one of complacency. Sir Guy Carleton's aborted 1776 invasion confirmed American fears that the British intended carrying the war into the interior; and although Sir Guy had withdrawn to Canada, there was ample evidence that the project was deferred, not abandoned. Shortages of every form of material hounded the commanders in the Northern Department. Illness and desertion ate into the effective man-power. Sectional and personal loyalties divided men and units, a condition that was reflected in the shifts of command between Philip Schuyler and Horatio Gates. Crown Point and Ticonderoga at the northern terminus of the Champlain-Hendron line were still American, but every problem that plagued the Americans seemed to focus and compound there. Fort Stanwix was unfinished and while defensible against small arms and light artillery, it was vulnerable to a determined attack supported by heavier field pieces.
During the late winter, a new and little-known figure entered the story of the fort. A French officer, Captain B. De Lamarquise, who had been assigned to the Northern Department as an engineer, submitted to General Schuyler a plan for rebuilding the fort. The general accepted it and ordered the engineer to:
Lamarquise's plan has not been located, and thus an important element of the construction history of the fort is missing. That it envisaged substantial changes as indicated in the general's letter to Colonel Elmore in which he wrote: "Captain Marquizes [?] has in charge from the general to New Moddle [model] Fort Schuyler and make some additional fortifications at that place." 
At the end of March, while preparing to leave for Philadelphia, General Schuyler ordered Col. Peter Gansevoort of the 3d New York Regiment of the Continental Line to Fort Stanwix to replace Elmore's men of the Connecticut Line. 
The first detachment of the new garrison reached the fort on April 17. On May 3 Colonel Gansevoort arrived and took command. A week later, Elmore's men, who had spent the winter on the frontier, marched out of the fort on their way to Albany. The remainder of Gansevoort's regiment, under the command of Lt. Col. Marinus Willett arrived on May 28. 
Gates replaced Schuyler as Commanding General of the Northern Department. In his papers is an undated report from Captain de Lamarquise, written prior to Gansevoort's arrival, detailing the latter's work at the fort:
Within three weeks, the engineer wrote General Gates proposing to build a new fort rather than repairing the existing one, saying:
Almost simultaneously, Gansevoort assured the departmental commander that he would cooperate with the engineer to the full extent of his capabilities, but that he simply did not have the personnel to do everything that was needed, "as the whole fort and barracks is to be new modelled." He also informed him that he needed at least ten more batteaus to transport boards. 
Before Gates could respond to Gansevoort's and Lamarquise's correspondence, Congress again shifted the Northern Department's command to Schuyler  At this point, the construction history of the fort becomes more confusing. The engineer had insisted that the old fort was beyond repair and that a new one would have to be built, and Gansevoort's memorandum to Gates indicated that the works were to be "new modelled." On May 26 Lt. Col. Marinus Willett arrived from Fort Constitution with the rest of Gansevoort's regiment, minus a detachment left at Fort Dayton.  Colonel Willett prepared an account of his military career thirty years after the siege of Fort Stanwix, and that narrative makes the following contribution to the story of the fort's remodeling:
Because the account was written so many years after the events took place and was rewritten by his son William, the colonel's story must be used cautiously and in conjunction with other, more contemporaneous sources. Returning to those sources, one can trace a part of the course of rebuilding of the fort. On June 15, in reply to a query of Schuyler's concerning the progress of the work, Gansevoort wrote that, in spite of the fact every available man was on fatigue details, progress was very slow and that:
He reported that the engineer appeared to be diligent, that many of the supplies went to "victualing" the Indians, that a number of his men were ill, and that he had to send as far as Conajohary for boards and to Little Falls for lime. 
Suddenly, on July 10, General Schuyler wrote to Gansevoort directing him to "send Capt. Marquisie down & let Major Hubbel superintend the works."  Nothing in the contemporary correspondence reveals the reasons for this apparently abrupt action. Schuyler was not a man who gave his confidence lightly and he was equally slow to withdraw it. The reasons for ordering the Frenchman's replacement must have been weighty. Looking at it from the distance of nearly two centuries, some of Lamarquise's acts, and decisions, and statements certainly are hard to understand and defend. For one thing, he intruded himself into the field of Indian relations, as witness this report to General Gates:
In his undated memorandum describing the situation prior to May 5, the date of Gansevoort's arrival, he wrote concerning the conference with the Indians:
Lamarquise's reports pose some problems. First, Colonel Elmore, the fort's commanding officer and the official responsible for Indian affairs in that vicinity, and his successor Colonel Gansevoort, never referred to the council, nor did General Schuyler, departmental commander and Indian commissioner. This is strange, if so important a conference as the engineer describes convened. Secondly, the only members of the Six Nations whose presence in any numbers is reported at or near the fort and with whom the Americans apparently had friendly contacts were the Oneidas. Thirdly, the conduct of the Six Nations, excepting the Oneidas, was exactly the opposite of what Lamarquise reported they had pledged. If the council took place, it probably included not representatives of the Confederacy, but only a few of the local bands; and the Indians succeeded in hoodwinking the Frenchman, playing upon his sense of importance. There are no documents authorizing the engineer to treat with the Indians and none that have been studied support his story; although a probable result was Schuyler's order to Gansevoort forbidding persons not employed by the Indian Department to make speeches to the Indians. 
Lamarquise's professional performance is not always easy to defend. As has been noted, he was commissioned to restore the fort "in the same way it was last war." Contending that it was beyond repair, he advised building a completely new one and apparently proceeded to act as though that was what he was doing. This would have been a very ambitious undertaking under the best of conditions, and one that would have demanded a severely imposed husbanding of men, time and equipment. However, he built a house for Stephen Degran, a local French squaw-man, a building to shelter the Indians who visited the fort, and erected a large new barracks outside the fort that had to be destroyed during the siege to prevent its screening the enemy's approach. His utilization of building materials was not what would have been expected of an engineer working against time in a wilderness environment. Instead of erecting log barracks, he used boards that had to be shipped by batteaux from Conajohary, a distance of almost fifty miles. In fact, if he intended building a new fort to replace the old one he failed. Nothing in the contemporary documents indicates that he razed the old ramparts; and as shall be noted, the evidence indicates that the old fort was still standing in August. Perhaps he intended to build a new one and that time, the approaching enemy, and his recall precluded his accomplishing his objective. The Gansevoort-Schuyler correspondence does not tell why he was replacedperhaps Colonel Willett's account of Lamarquise's incompetence provides the answer.
The Americans continued working to strengthen their position under Hubbell's supervision. As the summer advanced, enemy activity in the vicinity increased. On June 25 a party of Indians attacked Captain Gregg and Corporal Madison while hunting. The corporal was killed and the captain almost fatally wounded.  On July 3 Ensign John Spoor and a party of seven men cutting sod at the ruins of old Fort Newport were attacked. One soldier was killed and scalped, one wounded and scalped, and the officer and four men were captured.  Not unnaturally, the fort's commander suspected the neighboring Oneidas of having a share in these events; and, according to William L. Stone, Sr., the Indians denied any complicity, protesting their good-will and friendship, to which the Colonel replied:
The details of the work done after Lamarquise's departure cannot be traced in the correspondence that has survived. Thus a picture of what the fort looked like when Brigadier Barry St. Leger's men laid siege to it in August must be inferred from the data that we have reviewed and from two cartographic sources.
Captain Lamarquise had reported to General Gates that the original fort was beyond repair and that a new one would have to be built, and Colonel Gansevoort apparently acquiesced in this. Therefore, one question that needs answering is whether a new fort was indeed constructed. The engineer's and Gansevoort's letters to Schuyler and Willett's Narrative give the impression that was the objective of the work undertaken during the summer of 1776; but the same sources raise doubts that much progress was made toward that goal.
The reports and letters, and especially Willett's account, clearly indicate that the original ditch and glacis were retained. This meant that before a new fort could be constructed the old one would have to be razed, but there is no documentary evidence that this was done. In fact, the ramparts received scant attention. The engineer reported to Gates before May 5 that he intended to raise the parapet with cedar. He mentioned the laying of turf on the ramparts' exterior slopes, and beginning work on a "salient angle" in front of the main gate. Colonel Willett recalled that "little was done to strengthen the fort," and Colonel Gansevoort reported on June 15 that "nothing of any importance is yet done towards strengthening the fortification . . ."
The cartographic evidence argues strongly against the construction of a new fort. The most nearly contemporary plan or map was the one made by the French officer. Francois de Fleury, entitled, "A Sketch of the siege of FORT SCHUYLER Presented to Col. Gansevoort by L. Fleury." The original Map is lost, but two copies exist. One by G. H. Bowen is preserved in the Cornell University Library's Sparks Collection. Another was prepared by William Campbell for William L. Stone's Life of Brant. A later sketch of the fort was drawn by an unknown artist and presented to Colonel Gansevoort, in whose Albany home it hung for many years. It is now owned by the New York Public Library.  This presents a view of the fort and its environs after the siege, possibly in 1778. These representatious of the Revolutionary fort's curtains, bastions, glacis, and gates correspond closely with the earlier plans, especially numbers CXXI 99, 100, and 101 of the British Museum's Crown Map Collection.
From the correspondence of 1777 and the Fleury map, a general description of the historic fort as it existed at the time of the siege may be projected. The ditch and glacis conformed to the pre-Revolutionary design, i.e., a ditch that was about 40 feet wide and a glacis approximately 90 feet wide. However, Willett said that instead of being in the center of the ditch, the pickets were placed on the covered way, the space between the outside berm of the ditch and the glacis parapet. The pickets, according to Willett, were ten feet long, of which approximately six or seven feet stood above ground. An unfinished salient angle stood opposite the main gate, which was located in the center of the south curtain. A drawbridge gave access to the gate. In the center of the east curtain was another gate, or sally-port, that gave access to a spring-fed stream. A small sailent covered this entrance after 1764, and an unidentifiable symbol indicates that some type of work did so in 1777. A fraise of horizontal inclined pickets was near the top of the external slope of the ramparts. All reports agreed that a very limited amount of work was done on the ramparts, except for placing sod on the exterior slope and raising the parapet with cedar. The map's representation of the ramparts shows a heavy line for all sections except the south curtain and southeast bastion. This may indicate that the latter were in a less advanced state of repair. The flag staff was on the southwest bastion, where three cannon were mounted. Four guns were on the northwest bastion, three on the northeast, and four on the southeast. The bombproof was in the southeast bastion. The sources do not indicate whether the parapet was en barbette or had embrasures, although the post-siege plan shows embrasures. There is a tradition that because of the topography, the eastern curtain was shorter than the others; and this seems logical because a small stream flowed within a few yards of the fort on that side, and its west bank would appear to have required a weaker and shorter curtain. This is supported by St. Leger's description of the fort:
The structures inside the fort are not easily identified. The key to the map uses letters to accomplish this, but they are not always distinct. In one instance, the guard house, no reference is found in the key. This building stood to the left of the main gate as one entered the fort. Opposite it was the store-house. The barracks stood east and west of the parade, and the commandant's quarters and headquarters stood north of it. The key also lists a "Laboratory," whose location may have been identical with the store-house or commissary. Because the conclusions that may be developed from the documentary and cartographic sources lack certitude, it is hoped that archeological study will enlarge knowledge of the physical features and correct any errors of interpretation. 
After the siege, repair and construction continued, because the threat to the frontier remained critical. The post-siege map shows a hospital, carpenter shop, blacksmith shop, "Indian House," and stable outside the fort's walls and a "Necessary House" built over the creek and connected to the southeast bastion by a bridge in the position that a similar facility occupied in 1759, as depicted on Crown Map CXXI, 99.
Last Updated: 26-Dec-2008