History, Historic Furnishing, and Historic Structure Reports
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Historic Structure Report

A. The British Occupation, 1758-1775

On July 16, 1758, General Abercromby ordered Brig. Gen. John Stanwix to build a "post" at the Oneida Carrying Place, according to a plan drawn up by Col. James Montresor. [1]

General Stanwix arrived with his troops at the Carrying Place shortly after August 1, accompanied by at least three engineers—Maj. William Eyre, Capt. William Green, and Lt. Thomas Sowers. [2]

The first order of business was for Major Eyre to mark out and supervise the construction of an entrenchment surrounding the site of the proposed post. [3] These outer fortifications, consisting of trenches protected by log breastworks, were later dismantled when the fort works were sufficiently completed. [4]

Major Eyre and Lt. Sowers left the area shortly after the entrenchments were finished, leaving Captain Green in charge of constructing the new fort. Due to Captain Green's ill health he could not fully cope with the situation; thus Lt. John Williams was dispatched to the Carrying Place by General Abercromby. After Williams' arrival on August 14, he and Capt. Green conferred together and revised the Montresor plan to fit the existing terrain. Later Lt. Williams "marked out a small fort within the/Intrenchment marked out by Majr Eyer's...." [5] On August 23, 1758, the first foundation log for the new fort was laid, [6] Two months later Gen. Stanwix wrote that he expected to have the fort completed en barbette before winter set in. [7]

The original fort was laid out in the form of a square measuring approximately 220 feet x 220 feet. Pentagonal bastions with flanks of 36 feet and faces of 90 feet were planned off each corner. This gave the fort an overall measurement from bastion tip to bastion tip of 330 feet. [8] The initial intent of the engineers was to orient the square of the fort precisely north-south and east-west. Today the fort walls have an inclination of 15° east of true north.

The fort of 1758 was intended to garrison 400 men in the casemates located under the terrepleins of the curtain walls, while the officers were quartered in small houses built on the east half of the parade ground. An underground powder magazine was constructed parallel to the east face of the southeast bastion. In this somewhat tenable position, the British army weathered the winter of 1758-59.

Work on the fort resumed in July 1759 and continued until December. [9] Still the fort was not completed. Sir William Johnson, writing in 1761, stated that "The fort [Stanwix] . . . will require another summer to finish it. . ." [10] In the meantime, the fort was deteriorating and in 1764 conditions became so bad that an effort was made to repair and remodel the works. A total of £ 140.5.10 of New York currency was expended for work completed between July 1 and December 31, 1764. [11] Crown Maps Nos. 102 and 103 show the extent of repair work accomplished. Some of the construction work must have been supervised by Lt. George Demler, an engineer, who signed his name to Crown Map No. 103. Demler had been ordered to Fort Stanwix in May of 1759 by Col. Montresor. [12]

An important change was made to the parade ground prior to 1764, which gave the fort a formal military air. The loosely arranged officers' houses were removed and in their place three buildings were erected within ten feet of the casemate walls on the north, east, and west sides of the parade ground. These buildings are not identified on the Crown Maps but were probably a headquarters building and two combination storehouse-officers' quarters. These buildings scale 20 feet x 120 feet off the Crown Maps and are identical in size to the east and west barracks found in the recent archeological explorations. [13]

In addition to the erection of barracks buildings, three other major changes were made to the fort prior to 1764: a ravelin, main bridge, and caponiere or covered passageway off the east end of the sally port were added. A slight modification was also made to the earth embankment along the east side of the fort. With a few exceptions, no further repairs or alterations were made to the fort during the final 12 years of British occupation.

The Fire of 1774

In 1774, Fort Stanwix suffered a disastrous fire which destroyed the barracks:

. . . I hope to be able to go and reside there [Fort Stanwix] myself—the people who live on the ground are one John Roof, Thomas Mayers, William Cloyne, Bartholemew Broadhock—John Steers and Stephanus Delyrod a Frenchmen—who trades there for Major Fonda—the Fort is all in ruins, and the barracks by an accident last Fall was burnt to the ground, nothing now remains—but a Room which the officers use to mess in. . . [14]

B. The American Colonists Take Over

American troops arrived at Fort Stanwix on July 13, 1776, as the result of a rumor that the westward passageway through the Mohawk Valley was about to be invaded by British troops advancing toward Albany. The American plan was to fortify and occupy old Fort Stanwix, thereby effecting a blockade of the British forces.

When the American troops arrived, they found the fort in poor condition. Lt. Elmer recorded in his journal on August 27, 1776: "The ruins of five houses and barracks in the inside, built for the accomodations of the stores, officers and soldiery." [15] This description suggests that at least two more buildings were erected on the parade ground after 1764, unless Elmer was referring to the five casemates as houses.

Aided by "artificers of every kind," the American troops, under the command of Col. Elias Dayton, started immediate repair work on the fort. By October 3, the barracks had been partially rebuilt but not finished off on the inside. [16] Nails, boards, and other building materials were in short demand and had to be boated up the Mohawk River from as far away as Albany.

Jonathan Lawrence, passing through Fort Stanwix on June 8, 1777, found it ". . . to be a palizaded Fort with an Intrenchment round it and piqueted round, with six sm[all] Canon and two pieses of Field A[rtillery] to Defend it the Fort forming a square with Barrack[s] all around the parade which is large a[nd] looked very neat." [17]

C. The Fires of 1780 and 1781

Fort Stanwix was the victim of fires in 1780 and 1781. The fire of 1780 destroyed the guard house and threatened the barracks before it was brought under control. Part of the barracks standing next to the guardhouse was torn down by the garrison to prevent the fire from spreading. The next day, according to reports from the commandant, the barracks had been repaired and the following Saturday a new guardhouse was to be rebuilt. [18]

A heavy rain, which did considerable damage to the fort, preceded the fire of May 14, 1781. The fire consumed all the barracks buildings, but the powder magazine, the cannons, and part of the provisions were saved. The extent of the damage by fire and flood was such that repair work would have meant reducing the remaining works to the ground and beginning with new foundations. [19]

On May 27, 1781, General Washington informed the President of Congress:

There has been a necessity of abandoning the post of Fort Schuyler (Stanwix) and removing the Garrison and Stores to German Flats. The Barracks had been the beginning of this month consumed by fire and the Works so exceedingly damaged by the heavy rain storm that they were rendered indefensible, nor could they be repaired in any reasonable time by the number of Men who can be spared as a Garrison. [20]

Orders arrived on June 1 for the garrison to evacuate the post. The women and children had already been taken by boat to German Flats on May 21. On June 3, the convoy set out in boats down the Mohawk River for Fort Herkimer, arriving there the next day. On June 6, a convoy left Fort Herkimer destined for Fort Stanwix, where it arrived the following day at 4:00 p.m. The next two days were spent demolishing the fort, after which the troops returned to Fort Herkimer. [21]

D. The Blockhouses of 1783 and 1794

General Washington visited the site of Fort Stanwix in 1783. [22] In August of that year he ordered Col. Marinus Willett to build ". . . one or two small Block Houses, at the Portage between the Mohawk River and the Wood Creek. . . ." Orders filtered down from Col. Willett through Capt. Pearsce to Capt. Newell, who was eventually assigned the job of superintending the construction work. The project got under way early in October, hindered by the age-old problem of procuring necessary supplies. [23]

Eventually the project was completed. Apparently, three blockhouses were built about one half mile below the site of Fort Stanwix, probably near the upper landing site on the Mohawk River near old Fort Williams, [24] When a meeting with the Indians was held at Fort Stanwix in 1784, the casks of liquor were locked up in one of these blockhouses. [25]

In 1794, a committee consisting of local inhabitants sent a petition to Governor Clinton stating:

resolved . . . that a Fort should be erected at Fort Stanwix as a place of rendezvous for the Troops and Inhabitants and as a deposit for Stores. . . . . . . it would be proper for us only to erect Palissadoes sic round, and a Block house within the Body of the Place. . . . The ditch, the Ramparts and the Glacis are yet in good preservation. . . [26]

Sufficient information is on hand to be sure that the blockhouse was constructed, although no evidence of its construction was found in the archeological exploration work. Rev. John Taylor, relating his visit to Rome in 1802, stated: "The old Fort Stanwix stands about 30 rods from the river. It is regularly built, the intrenchment is very deep. In the center of the Fort stands the old blockhouse." [27]

The blockhouse was still standing in 1815. when William Dunlap visited Rome. He reported that from a window in James Lynch's house he ". . . made a drawing of the remains of the fort. The block house still occupies the centre of the fortification, and the mounds of earth which formerly made the ramparts of the fort, were beyond." [28]

No record has been found to date that pin points the exact year when the blockhouse was razed but by ". . . 1830 the whole fort was levelled sic & ditches filled up." [29]

E. Powder Horns and Related Pictorial Matter

Quite a few powder horns have survived from the mid-eighteenth century that were engraved with regional maps showing towns and forts of the New York area. Of special interest to the project are the powder horns which have the plan of Fort Stanwix engraved on them. Not all of the powder horns carved at Fort Stanwix (or Schuyler) have been located and examined. But of those either examined personally or through drawings and photographs, the most convincing are those identified as belonging to: Christopher Hutton, 1777; James McGraw, December 25, 1777; Thomas DeWitt, 1778; James Wilson, c. 1779; and Cornelius Chatfield, November 5, 1780.

The authenticity of the McGraw powder horn is the most convincing to the author. James (or Alexander) McGraw enlisted in July of 1775. He was with Capt. Thomas Dorsey's Company in the battle for Quebec and was shot through the leg on the retreat from Canada.

McGraw then enlisted on April 13, 1777, in Capt. Bleecker's Company under Colonel Peter Gansevoort. [30] This company arrived at Fort Stanwix on May 26, 1777, and stayed until approximately Dec. 31, 1779. [31] A return of the sick in the garrison at Fort Stanwix on March 1, 1778, states [James] McGraw, Capt. Bleecker's Company, was confined to his quarters with an ulcerous leg. [32] It seems very likely that James McGraw's old war wound became infected and that during this time of convalescence he had time to engrave the plan of Fort Stanwix on his powder horn.

In 1897, P. F. Hugunine of Rome completed a painting of Fort Stanwix, based upon his impressions following an extensive period of research on the subject. He arrived at the conclusion that the fort was square, had bastions, and was located in the general area where later archeology proved it to be.

A copy of the Hugunine painting has been included in the Appendices of this report. Hugunine described his fort in the following way:

The earthwork around the fortification is the silent or covert way, a dry ditch, 12 to 14 feet deep, with perpendicular pickets in its center, and 24 feet wide to the walls of the Fort. The parallel pickets project from the rampart and follow around the walls. The parapets are made of heavy sods cut from the swamps, which form the outer part of the wall. The inner parts are logs and filled between with earth, The whole construction is of earth for the exterior and logs for the interior. [33]

The Hugunine painting differs in many aspects from what is proposed for the reconstruction. The chief differences are: sod rampart walls and para pets vs. log construction; open passageways vs. covered; pickets located in the ditch vs. on the covered way; no buildings on the parade ground vs. five structures; no ravelin vs. a ravelin.

In 1897 a new twist to the Fort Stanwix story took place. Apparently unimpressed by the efforts of Mr. Hugunine's research, Mr. Thomas H. Stryker of Rome was instrumental in getting Charles C. Hopkins, an engineer with the Stanwix Engineering Company in Rome, to study all the existing records pertaining to the actual construction of the fort. Mr. Hopkins then drew up a plan of the fort as he understood it to exist, not as it was actually proposed. His plan, submitted with a signed affidavit, was presented before the Rome Common Council, the D.A.R., and the S.A.R. on September 15, 1899. [34]

The revised plan of 1899 is reasonably accurate in locating two of the fort's bastions and curtain walls, but it distorts the angles and lengths of the northeast and southeast bastions and curtain walls, This contorted plan of the fort received widespread support publicly and has been used ever since as the symbolic representation of Fort Stanwix.

Public interest in the fort was aroused during the 150th year observance of the siege of Fort Stanwix. John Albert Scott, editor of the Rome Sentinel newspaper, prepared a series of articles for the sesquicentennial edition entitled Fort Stanwix and Oriskany, published in book form in 1927. There is very little information omitted from this book pertaining to the siege; it probably represents the best effort to date to present the history of Fort Stanwix during 1777.

Another project finished in time for the sesquicentennial was a painting of Fort Stanwix done by Edward Buyck. The theme of the painting is the purported first raising of the "Stars and Stripes" by the American troops in battle against enemy fire on August 3, 1777. [35]

Like the Hugunine painting of 1897, the fort is shown as an earthen fortification faced with sod. In order to achieve the dramatic effect of the garrison standing at attention on the parade ground, the five free-standing buildings were left out of the picture.

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Last Updated: 26-Dec-2008