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Oak Orchard

Campsites and the French & Indian War

boats in the river
For the hundreds of travelers who plied the route between Schenectady and Oswego during this period, there were few elevated places along Wood Creek sufficiently dry and pleasant to be conducive to encampment or even resting. This fact of topography, combined with a lack of potable water along the Creek, encouraged boatmen to push rapidly through from Rome to Oneida Lake, or vice versa, without stopping.

However, an elevated sandy hill on the south bank of the stream, in the present Town of Verona, appears to have presented that rare combination of a dry campsite and a source of drinking water from a nearby spring. This almost singular feature on the inland navigation route appears in numerous accounts only as "Oak Orchard" and seems to have represented for the batteau traveler a strategically located landmark, as did places like Chimney Rock serve for the covered wagons of the following century.

"In the whole course of our navigation on Wood Creek we saw not one building and found but one spring, called Oak Orchard, which was four minutes filling a small glass and the water of which was but of middling quality." 2 (1799)

As such, "Oak Orchard" represents one of the most historic locales in Oneida County, one closely associated with early transportation history.

No doubt during the thousands of years of prehistory, Native Americans traveling through the region used Wood Creek as a thoroughfare, and the earliest European excursions along the inland waterways no doubt passed by Oak Orchard in small batteaux or canoes.

campsite

But the first clear references we have to the site as a landmark along the inland route is found in mid-18th century military journals. During both the French and Indian War [1750s] and the Revolution [1770s], water-borne expeditions of dozens and even hundreds of batteaux crossed and re-crossed the region on the thread-like channel of Wood Creek. Accounts suggest that because of its elevation and, perhaps, its potable spring, Oak Orchard was a landmark worthy of note, and sometimes a destination itself, at which to rest, await stragglers, or encamp for the night.

Due to its small area, it is unlikely that the single hill identified in this report was the sole encampment area for the military, and accounts suggest that the phrase "at Oak Orchard" may have been loosely applied to a general locale in a region where no other notable landmarks existed at that time.

One 1761 account, preserved in the William Johnson Papers, indicates Oak Orchard was merely passed by on the way to a lower camp. Heading west from near Rome he notes: "We set off [from Canada Creek] about nine in the morning, and encamped about a mile below the Oak Field."3

Another expedition, this time coming east from Oneida Lake up the Creek, also passed by: "A wet morning; rained almost all the night. Drew two days provisions [from the Royal Blockhouse] for the party, ordered my boats ready, and embarked at 10 o'clock. Very wet, disagreeable day, but very good water. Encamped near the Oak Field about 5 o'clock. Rained very hard, and little or no fire."

But the term "near" was loosely applied, as revealed by their next day's itinerary: "Rains still a little. The Wood Creek very high, so that I expect to reach Fort Stanwix this day. Embarked at 8 o'clock. Reached the Oak Field by half after nine o'clock; got up to Canada Creek about twelve."4

Was "Oak Orchard" a locale, or was it a particular spot?

 

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