Virtual Tour Stop 2

John Neilson Farmhouse, only standing building on the battlefield from the time of the Battles of Saratoga.  Small red farmhouse in background, with a cannon on a red carriage in the foreground.
John Neilson Farmhouse, only standing building on the battlefield from the time of the Battles of Saratoga.

Saratoga National Historical Park

This charming little red farmhouse, with a nearly 360-degree panoramic view of the area, was built by John and Lydia Neilson in 1775 or 1776. A small, humble house, it would come to play an important role in history.

When the Neilsons learned that a southward-invading British Army was moving down the Hudson River Valley, basically through their back yard, John and Lydia joined their neighbors in leaving the immediate area. Lydia went to stay with her parents in Stillwater, about two miles south of the house. John, who was a sergeant in the local American militia regiment, was called up for militia duty.

 
Detail view of a model of a redoubt.
Detail view of a model of a redoubt.

Saratoga National Historical Park

Not long after, on September 12, 1777, the American Army began to build sturdy and intimidating fortifications along the ridge where the Neilsons had built their home. Represented now by lines of white marker posts with blue tops, the fortified walls were several feet high, made of thick logs in a "zig-zagging" line, and had dirt packed against the front of the wall (a few feet thick) as protection against cannon balls.
 
Today, white marker posts trace the positions of the soldiers' fortifications.
White marker posts representing position of fortifications.

Saratoga National Historical Park

The positions of the fortified walls are noted today with white wooden marker posts. American lines on the battlefield are indicated with blue topped posts. British lines, seen later on the tour, have red tops.
 
Interior view of John Neilson Farmhouse.
Interior view of John Neilson Farmhouse.

Saratoga National Historical Park

Neilson's house was then used by the Americans as a mid-level headquarters. Several high-ranking officers were quartered (slept) here, including General Enoch Poor and General Benedict Arnold. The American commander, General Horatio Gates, had his headquarters in another building, about a quarter-mile south of the house. Right now, the house is furnished as it might have looked when it was being used by these officers.
 

Many important daily functions of the American Army were managed by the officers here. Their rank permitted them many luxuries while doing these jobs.

Several examples are visible here:

 
Two examples of 18th century lighting devices: a tin wall sconce, and tin lanterns.
LEFT: Wall sconce, made of tin-plated sheet iron, this item would reflect a great deal of light into the room.
RIGHT: Glass-sided lanterns gave off light but would not be blown out by wind.

Saratoga National Historical Park

 
Two styles of candle holders: a brass candle stick, and a "tinder box" candle holder.
LEFT: brass candle stick
RIGHT: Tinderbox candlestick contained flint and steel, plus charred cloth, to create a flame and light the candle

Saratoga National Historical Park

 
A leather "portmanteau" (pronounced PORT-man-TOW).
The portmanteau (pronounced "PORT-man-TOW") was a leather cyllinder with a top flap.  It was essentially an overnight bag.

Saratoga National Historical Park

 
Reddish wooden travel box.
A large wooden travel box like this would contain quite a few of an officer's belongings.  Regular soldiers would not have such amenities, carrying their possessions basically on their backs.

Saratoga National Historical Park

 
An 18th century style folding camp cot
Camp cot: scissors-type legs swung open to stretch the ropes tied to the upper frame. When the ropes were tight, a straw or feather mattress could be rolled out across them

Saratoga National Historical Park

 
Detail view of a blown glass wineglass and decanter.
Glassware: glass bottles and drinking glasses would generally be too fragile for soldiers to carry, but officers would be able to safely pack and transport them.

Saratoga National Historical Park

 
American Continental Soldiers and an Oneida Indian Scout
LEFT: American Continental Soldiers. 
RIGHT: Oneida Indian Scout.

Saratoga National Historical Park

For the regular troops, including Continental Soldiers, Militia Soldiers, and Native American Soldiers and Scouts, these items were luxuries not to be expected.
 

Last updated: February 26, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

648 Route 32
Stillwater, NY 12170

Phone:

(518) 670-2985
Saratoga National Historical Park information desk available daily from 9am - 5pm

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