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The British Forts

The Fort Canajohary historic marker.

But while summaries of British fortifications in the Mohawk Valley during this period frequently mention "Fort Hendrick," one is hard pressed to find primary reference to a "Fort Canajoharie". In fact, there is not even a file in the archives of the historic marker program to explain why this latter sign was ever erected. Only a brief mention is made of it in Greene's 1913 history of Fort Plain: "Fort Canajoharie in 1757 was located in Danube and the upper Mohawk village near the same place was called the Canajoharie Castle." (Greene 1915:17) This was probably early enough to have effectively infiltrated the documentary source work of later writers, including those who drafted the historic marker texts in the 1920s.

The responsibility for erecting these forts, as well as managing Indian affairs in the region, fell to Col. William Johnson, residing at Fort Johnson, the stone house still standing along Route 5 just west of Amsterdam. Therefore, we can best clarify the substance of these markers by examining the Johnson Papers, conveniently edited by the State Historian and published by the State Education Department in 1922. Unfortunately, gaps in the record exist as a result of the State Capitol fire of 1911. However, what has survived provides some very explicit insight into how these sites came to be, and with a very precise chronology.

Another of Johnson's forts along the Mohawk, c. 1757.

The first surviving reference to any fortification in the vicinity of these markers is found in an order from Governor Clinton to Col. William Johnson, issued on July 4th, 1747:

...immediately to repair to Conajoharee & there to fix on a proper and convenient Spot of Ground to build a Fort on containing one Acre more or less to be Stockaded in the best and Strongest manner you can, & to erect two Blockhouses in the most convenient part of the Stockade, capable of containing at least one Company of militia... and protect not only the Inhabitants of Conajoharee, but the Indians (in our alliance) that shall repair to the said Fort... (JP 1:103)

The expenses of that construction are recorded in Johnson's accounts for November of that year "to making a small Fortification without Block house at Conjoharee. (JP 9:30)"

It is clear from this and subsequent documents found in the Johnson Papers that the Mohawk occupation of the valley that bore their name was divided between the Lower Castle, at Fort Hunter, and an Upper Castle some distance to the west. The occupants of the Lower Castle were referred to by Johnson and others as the "Mohawks", while the occupants of the Upper Castle were called "Connajohary Indians" and their settlement "Conogohery Indian castle" or just "Conjoharee" (exhibiting a variety of spellings).

Tradition places this westernmost settlement at the present hamlet of Indian Castle, as expressed by Nathaniel Benton, writing a history of the region within one hundred years of the Native occupation:

The Upper Mohawk's castle was erected in the present town of Danube, on a beautiful flat east of the Nowadaga creek, and here a mission was established and a small church built for them before the revolution. The spot on which the first church was erected, has always been consecrated to pious uses, and a small church is now standing on the site of the old mission building, called in the language of the inhabitants of the country the Indian Castle Church. The principal Christian mission establishment of this tribe was at Fort Hunter, near Amsterdam, in Montgomery County. (Benton 1856:17-18)

The association of the site of "Conojohare" with the Indian Castle Church appears to be unshakable, and apparently underscored the placement of the "Ft. Hendrick" marker within sight of that edifice: "The site of the upper Mohawk's castle is in this town, and near the present Indian castle church, now so called, and it has borne that name within the memory of the oldest inhabitants now living, and a uniform and unvarying tradition speaks to the same effect." (Benton 1856:392)

By 1922, oral tradition had taken on the solidity of archeological fact when Arthur Parker, quoting verbatim an earlier reference by Beauchamp (Beauchamp 1900:73), described the locus where the VFt. HendrickV marker would be later installed: "Indian Castle in Danube was so named from the upper Indian castle or fort, built in 1710 on the flat just below the mouth of Nowadaga Creek. There was a mission church there in 1768; it was the home of Joseph Brant and King Hendrick." (Parker 1922:II 572)

In spite of the apparent completion of the small fortification at "Connajohary" in 1747, by February of 1755 "the Mohawks and Connajohary Indians" were still demanding that their villages "be stockadoed round or other Works made there for their defense ..." (JP 1:454) Their anxiety was well founded, given previous French raids on Mohawk villages. Fear of losing the Mohawks to Canada was creating considerable political pressure to comply with these demands.

Johnson determined, therefore, to begin the process that would eventually lead to construction: "Col. Johnson was then desired to view the Ground and make Plans, and Estimates of the Expence of the Works the Indians desire to be erected among them, and to undertake the Direction of those works." (JP 1:455)

By May, the order to proceed with these fortifications was received and monies made available, and by early June, Johnson had completed his field inspection at the Upper Castle, with the following report:

I returned last night from Conogohery Indian castle, having first been at the Mohock castle. At both settlements I have fixed on places to build them forts. ... At Conogohery I propose it on the flat land out of gun shot from the hill where the old block-houses now stand, out of which, upon the point of said hill, I propose to erect a good block-house. On the rear of the intended fort there is a clear improved vale run of more than half a mile. On the left flank it will be assisted by the said block-house on the point of the hill, a fire between which and the fort will clear the open land on that side. The land is all clear and cultivated in the front. On the right side there are a few bushes and small wood to clear, when all will be open on that side for more than half a mile. - One of the bastions to serve for a church. (DHNY 2:657-58)

Within ten days Johnson was able to report to "the Sachems of the two Mohock Castles" that contractors had been located to undertake the construction of "the two Forts for the Mohawk and Connajohary Indians. " (JP 1:603-5)

By August 8th, 1755, work on the fort at the Lower Castle was stopped as workmen were pressed into service elsewhere, (JP 1:841) but Johnson reported that "The Conojohery Fort is luckily Finished..." (JP 1:842) This reference appears to be the basis for the title line "Ft. Canajoharie" on the historic marker located opposite East Canada Creek. The 1756 erection date cited on that marker would appear to be in error, and its location, three kilometers miles east of Indian Castle, would appear to require further clarification.

Exactly one month after the fort at Canajoharie was completed, Mohawks from the Upper Castle, and their revered leader "King Hendrick", who had joined with forces under Johnson's command and marched to Lake George, were ambushed by the French, and Hendrick was killed. This event would become a significant element in the documentary history of the fortifications at the Upper Castle.

In March of the following year (1756), in response to appeals from "the Conajoharees", Johnson provided a small garrison consisting of "an Officer & twentyfive Men" and supplied with "Amunition & 2 brass pattereroes of my own until the Swivels come." (JP 9:416) This placement of regular British troops in the fort apparently only partially satisfied the demand while at the same time antagonizing the Mohawks, who "are adverse to having Red Coats as they call 'em put in their Forts..." (JP 9:461)

By letter of August 25th, 1756, Johnson confirmed the solution to this dilemma at Canajoharie, while also confirming for the first time the change of terminology used to identify that fortification: "There is an Officer, and twenty five Men of the Militia posted at Fort Hendrick at Conajohare ... this Fort Hendrick is 30 miles above the Mohawks, and a kind of Barrier to that part of the Country, and the Indians living there Inviolably attached to the British Interest..." (JP 9:509)

There is absolutely no evidence of another fortification being constructed in the vicinity of the Upper Castle within the fifty four weeks that elapsed between the completion of "The Conojohery Fort" and the installation of the militia garrison at "Fort Hendrick at Conajoharie," so we may conclude they are one and the same. A letter written by Johnson from the Upper Castle the following month simply bears the heading "Fort Hendrik, September the 18 1756." (JP 9:534)

The location of Fort Hendrick relative to the domestic area of the Upper Castle, or "Connojoharie", is suggested to be one of proximity, unlike the fortification at the Lower Castle at Fort Hunter. In the latter case, two separate garrisons were supplied in 1756 described as "...Seventy in the Castle as they call it, besides the thirty Lieut. Williams has in the Kings Fort..." (JP 9:509), whereas the garrison at the former place is described as if "Connojoharie" and "Fort Hendrick" were virtually the same place. In one instance, Johnson records that the "Canajohare Indians" complained about the "Officers and Men Posted at their Castle.." and recommended that he "withdraw that Company from Canajohare..." (JP 9:544-45) This in contrast to Fort Hunter, where he specifically refers to "their Castle, which is separate from the Fort." (JP 9:549-50).

The unrest at Canajoharie appears to have arisen precisely because of the proximity of the settlement to the military post. In addition to the general aversion to "Red Coats", the "Indians from Conojohare" described problems of pilferage by the soldiers of the contents of Indian homes (JP 9:546-48), which strongly suggests proximity.

Late in 1756, Johnson's accounts of expenses relating to the Indians included payment for 25 men "posted at Canajohara Fort" and a supply of "Nails for a Block house at Canajohare." (JP 9:644-45) And once again in early 1757, complaints were heard by Johnson at "Conojohare Castle" about the friction between the British Regulars in the fort and the residents of the native village. (JP 9:600-1) Local militia were requested by the Indians to replace the British in the fort and may have been sent. But the closing days of 1758 still saw "Disputes & little Bickerings" occurring "between the Garrison of Fort Hendrick & the Indians of Connojohary." (JP 10:62)

Further proof that there was only one fort at the Upper Castle is an order circulated in October of 1757 that was addressed "To the Officers Commanding at Fort Hunter, Canejohary & Herkemars alias German flatts" (JP 2:747) and immediately forwarded up-river by Johnson to the "Commanding Officers at forts Hendrick, & Herkemar." (JP 2:748) Similar evidence can be found in documents as late as 1760. (JP 3:218-19 & 249) The interchangeability of the names "Fort Canajoharie" and "Fort Hendrick" is confirmed, and we can see that instead of two historic markers identifying sites three kilometers apart, there should be but one historic marker identifying one site.

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