Compiled by Park Ranger William Sawyer
Though Fort Stanwix was situated in New York, people from many states helped to rebuild and defend it during the American Revolution. Because of this the fort served not only as an important military post, but also as a place where people from 13 very different states began to forge a national identity.
The fort's Revolutionary War history began in 1776, when the Oneida Indian Nation (whose traditional lands included the area of the fort) began urging the Americans to reoccupy the abandoned British fort. By garrisoning the fort, the Americans blocked off one of the major invasion routes into New York from Canada. The fort also offered protection and assistance to their Oneida Indian allies. In July of 1776, the 3rd New Jersey Regiment under Col. Elias Dayton became the first Americans to garrison the fort. Because the fort was now in American hands, Col. Dayton renamed it in honor of General Philip Schuyler. Repair work on the ruinous fort commenced and continued throughout the entire American occupation. With the year coming to an end, a Connecticut regiment under Col. Samuel Elmore became part of the fort's winter garrison.
In April and May of 1777, the 3rd New York Regiment under Col. Peter Gansevoort arrived to garrison the fort and resume repair work. As summer arrived, rumors reached the fort that a British force moving east from Canada to invade the Mohawk Valley were on their way to Albany. To bolster the fort's defenses, Massachusetts troops were sent to reinforce the garrison. With 800 Continental troops, local militia, and Oneida Indian allies inside the fort, the barracks were vastly overcrowded. The British force, under Gen. Barry St. Leger, arrived on August 2, 1777 and besieged the fort with approximately 2,000 British, American loyalist, Canadian, German, and British allied Indians. It was not the best situation for a garrison from such widely different backgrounds to be working together in, but they proved equal to the task. It was during this time, on August 6, that the Battle of Oriskany took place between Gen. Nicholas Herkimer's 4th Tryon County Militia and loyalists and Indians from the British forces. In the end the Americans stood fast, and after a 21 day siege the British retreated back to Canada. The successful defense of the fort helped bring about the American victories at Saratoga, which was a turning point of the American Revolution. The unity shown by the different defenders of Fort Stanwix helped to create the United States.
In December 1778, the 1st NY Regiment under Goose Van Schaick relieved the 3rd NY Regiment. During this time, small parties of American loyalists and Indians began raiding the Mohawk Valley. These raiders could strike and retreat quickly before the fort's garrison could respond. Life at the fort became one of boring routine, tedious garrison duties, and frustrating inactivity.
In the Western Expedition of 1779, the Americans attempted to halt the raids by destroying the principle villages of the Six Nations Confederacy on New York's western frontier. Fort Stanwix served as the staging area for one of these attacks. In April of 1779, troops from New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania left the fort and destroyed the villages of the Onondaga Indian Nation. After this expedition, the troops returned to the boredom of garrison duties and the tensions of life on the frontier. At one point, Col. Van Schaick reported: "The enemy's Scouts...are constantly about the Garrison," and that he was reluctant to "Venture out my own men." As their time at the fort increased, morale within the 1st NY suffered and courts martial became a daily occurrence. Having spent almost two years at the fort, the 1st NY was finally relieved by a regiment of New York militia in the fall of 1780. The 4th New York arrived to garrison the fort in November 1780. Local commanders began urging the governor of New York to abandon the fort, as its remote location made it difficult to supply and impossible for the garrison to counter the constant raids destroying the Mohawk Valley settlements.
In January of 1781, the 4th NY became a detachment of the 2nd NY Regiment. They would be the last troops to garrison the fort. In the spring of 1781, a combination of heavy rains and fire destroyed much of what was left of the fort's defenses and barracks. The Americans were now faced with having to completely rebuild the fort, without the resources to do it. General Washington reluctantly agreed to abandon the site.
Though this ended the fort's military role for the remainder of the war, Fort Stanwix would still have an important role to play in bringing the war to an end. In October of 1784, representatives of the new United States of America and the Six Nations Confederacy met at the ruins of the fort to sign on of the final peace treaties of the American Revolutionary War. This treaty ended the fighting between the Six Nations and the United States, and forced the British allied Haudenosaunee to begin giving up lands in western New York State.
Many of the soldiers, from the different states that had served at Fort Stanwix during the War, began moving into lands around the ruins of the old fort. As they had worked together to defend the fort and help create the United States, these veterans now worked together to help the country grow.
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