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The Mission Church

The mission church built by Sir William Johnson.

In the interim between the French and Indian War and the Revolution, Johnson arranged to have a mission church built on the margins of the Nowadaga Creek, completing that structure in 1769. There is some evidence in the Johnson Papers that this church was the third public building at the Upper Castle, the two preceding ones having been in the vicinity of Fort Hendrick.

In his initial report on the selection of a site for the structure that was to become Fort Hendrick, Johnson stated in early June of 1755 that he intended "One of the bastions to serve for a church." (DHNY 2:657-58) We cannot confirm that this use was ever made of a portion of the fort, and, given the friction between the Indians and the soldiers in the fort, it would not appear likely that it was. But it is possible Johnson's intent was at least initially carried out and that some provision was made for an area of worship within the fortification opposite East Canada Creek.

We find additional information on early versions of the Indian Castle church over a decade later, when the fort no longer served a military purpose. Johnson was petitioned by the native residents of Canajoharie Castle in July of 1768, who complained that "The people about Canajoharie...[were] taking away the Materials of that Fort..." (JP 6:281) That this was reference to non-Indians in the area becomes clear:

The White People about Conajohare (or Fort Hendrick) are daily taking away the Materials of the Block Houses there, and the Indians applied to me 2 days ago requesting liberty to remove what is left of them in order to build them a Church. I hope you will have no Objection to it, Indeed I told them when I had that Fort built that whenever the Garrison was withdrawn, & that we had no occassion for it, they might apply it to their own use. (JP 12:555)

It is not altogether clear whether it was the fort itself or the peripheral blockhouse, constructed a short distance away in 1755 from the remains of two earlier blockhouses on the site, that was being dismantled. But this detached block house had apparently been under consideration as a community school seven years earlier, as indicated to Johnson in March, 1761 by "Old Brant": "The Block-House which we told you when up at our Castle, we thought was the properest place for a School, we now find will not answer, being made use of as a stable by the Commanding officer of the Fort, so that we have been obliged to look out for another, and Nickas, here present offers the use of his house..." (JP 10:228)

Given the purported 1769 completion date of the Indian Castle Church, and the May reference that year to sending men to finish "the Church at Conajohare," (JP 6:745) it would be reasonable to expect that the timbers being salvaged from Fort Hendrick in July of 1768 were intended for use in that building. But a reference a year later to "the Conajohare Village where they are building a good church..." (JP 7:587) and another in February of 1771 that "Two New Churches are built at Conajoharee..." (JP 12:894) leads one to speculate that perhaps a structure may also have stood near Fort Hendrick.

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