FORT HERKIMER CHURCH.
(Unincorporated country community, 2 miles east of
Mohawk. Sea elevation, 363 ft.)
Fort Herkimer church is generally reached (1924)
from Herkimer by the eastern river bridge, 1 1/2 miles from
Fort Herkimer church may be visited by way of the
south shore road via Mohawk or Little Falls, going east or west.
Consult local hotels or garages as to road conditions.
Turnpike and New York -
Buffalo Highway Mileage
Eastward: By south side highway, Little Falls 6 m.;
over Mohawk Turnpike, via Herkimer, Little Falls 9 m., Fink's Basin
Bridge (Fall Hill) 10 m., (by detour to south side) Gen. Herkimer
Homestead 11 m., Indian Castle Church 14 m., (over Mohawk Turnpike)
East Creek 16 m., St. Johnsville 19 m., Palatine Church 23 m., Fort
Plain-Nelliston 26 m., (by detour northeast) Stone Arabia churches
30 m., Canajoharie-Palatine Bridge 33 m., Yosts (the Noses) 38 m.,
Fonda-Fultonville 44 m., (by detour north) Johnstown 48 m.,
Gloversville 52 m., (by detour south from Fultonville) Auriesville
Shrine 49 m., (over Mohawk Turnpike east from Fonda) Tribes
Hill-Fort Hunter 50 m., Fort Johnson 53 m., Amsterdam 55 m.,
Schenectady 71 m., Albany, 86 m., New York 225.
Westward: Mohawk 2 m., Ilion, 4 m., Frankfort 6 m.,
Utica 16 m., Whitesboro 20 m., Oriskany 23 m., Oriskany Battlefield
Monument 25 m., Rome 31 m., Syracuse 66 m., Rochester 163 m.,
Buffalo 220 m.
Fort Herkimer Church lies on the broad flats
between the Mohawk and the slopes of Shoemaker Hill, which rises 817
feet above the river (sea elevation, 1,200 feet). The outlet of the
West Canada creek is one-half mile west and Wolf's Rift, of early
Mohawk river navigation, was about one mile east.
Fort Herkimer Reformed Church is one of the most
historically important buildings along the Mohawk, and it bore a
great part in American Revolutionary history and the making of the
nation. It is the sole remaining stricture of a Revolutionary fort
now standing along the Mohawk Turnpikes, for it formed the central
defense of Fort Herkimer, 1776-1783. Other Mohawk valley remaining
forts are the Johnstown jail and the Schoharie Reformed church, but
these are not on the Mohawk Turnpikes.
Fort Herkimer and Fort Dayton (Herkimer) were the
American frontier Revolutionary outposts from 1781 to 1783.
Fort Herkimer Church is also one of two valley
structures now standing which served as Colonial Mohawk valley
forts, the other being Fort Johnson (1749) , at the western limits
of Amsterdam (See Fort
Fort Herkimer Church is the only Mohawk river
church still retaining its old-time construction, with the high
pulpit and sounding board of Colonial days. Its ancient grey stone
exterior and its quaint interior seem to naturally bring to mind the
spirits of the great forefathers of the Republic who here
foregathered in the tragic days of America's national creation.
Fort Herkimer Church is much visited by tourists
and it is (1924) probable that it will be kept open during the
summer months, just as many city churches are open during the
daylight hours, every day of the week.
Fort Herkimer Reformed church (completed in 1767)
is the second oldest church in the Mohawk valley and the sixth
oldest in the State. St. George's Protestant Episcopal church of
Schenectady (built 1759-1762) is the oldest Mohawk Valley church,
but the Fort Herkimer Reformed church is historically the more
important. New York's oldest Colonial churches now standing follow:
Sleepy Hollow Dutch Reformed church, Tarrytown, before 1699;
Fishkill Reformed Dutch church, 1760; Fishkill Protestant Episcopal
church, 1761; St. George's Protestant Episcopal church, Schenectady,
1762; St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal church of New York, 1764; Fort
Herkimer Reformed Dutch church, 1767; Indian Castle (Mohawk Mission)
church, 1769; Palatine Lutheran church, 1770; Schoharie Reformed
Dutch church, 1772.
Fort Herkimer Church, 1723-1922.
Following the settlement of the Palatines, of
Protestant faith, on the German Flats (from 1720 to 1725) they here
built a log church, and organized this society, probably about 1723.
This was the beginning of the Fort Herkimer Reformed Dutch church.
It is probable that a log church was built at present Herkimer at
about the same time.
Sept. 24, 1730, Nicholas Welleven (Woolever)
transferred to the church organization, Lot No. 30 of the original
Burnetsfield Patent of 1725, which he drew in the original
allotment. This is the church lot on which the present structure
stands and the first work on the edifice was probably begun soon
after the granting of the deed. Appeals for church building funds
were made in 1730, 1746 and 1751, but its building lagged until
after the great French war (1754 - 1760).
In 1723 a grist mill was built on adjacent Spoon
creek and in 1730 a school was opened, probably in the log church
under the occasional direction of the visiting pastor of this
church, and this is the first known school in the upper Mohawk
The stone walls of the church were of a sufficient
height so that it formed a subsidiary fortification of Colonial Fort
Herkimer (1756-1760), and it was a neighborhood refuge in the
French-Indian attacks of 1757 and 1758.
Following the British victory in the French-Indian
war, an interesting petition was sent to Sir Henry Moore, Governor
of New York (1765-1769) for permission to solicit subscriptions to
complete the church. It gives a graphic picture of the ravages of
the war on the German Flatts:
Over the original church entrance, on the river or
north side of the building is the inscription, "J. H. E., 1767,"
referring to Johan Jost Herkimer, its builder, and the date of its
The E in "J. H. E., 1767," stands for the German
word "erbaut," meaning "Johan Jost Herkimer built, 1767." Herkimer
was a builder and contractor.
The bones of Johan Jost Herkimer, who died in 1775,
and his wife, Catharina Herkimer, lie in graves close to the
entrance of the church which he built, which both loved and in which
they worshiped together with their family of thirteen children. Many
other members of the Herkimer family lie buried here in God's acre,
as well as many of the neighborhood Colonial and Revolutionary
soldiers and defenders of Fort Herkimer.
The pastors of this church, the brothers
Rosenkrantz, lie buried under the original site of the pulpit on the
south end of the building. There are graves even in the church
sub-cellar marked with rude headstones, probably those of soldiers
and settlers there buried during the Revolution. Thus even the
ground beneath the church floor on which you walk is hallowed by the
ashes of patriots.
Revolutionary Fort Herkimer.
This church has been visited by General Washington
and many other great American Revolutionary leaders and it gave a
resting place to the sorely wounded General Herkimer on the night of
the battle of Oriskany, August 6, 1777.
This stone structure formed the central stronghold
of the Revolutionary Fort Herkimer, 1776-1783. Here were held many
important local patriot meetings. It was a Revolutionary military
center of importance, a neighborhood refuge in the raid of 1778 and
a stronghold from which its defenders repulsed the Tory-Indian
raiders of 1782. During the Revolution it mounted a swivel gun in
the church tower and a palisade (stockade wall of logs) surrounded
the church, probably with blockhouses at opposite corners.
This stone church as originally built was 48 by 58
feet and 17 feet high, with a steep roof and conical steeple, after
the fashion of the early Dutch churches of New York State.
Alterations of 1812.
In 1812, enlargements and changes to this church
gave the Fort Herkimer Reformed church its present construction.
Its height was raised to 25 feet and a gallery was
put in on three sides. The entrance was then changed from the north
to the west side and the high pulpit, with its sounding board, was
placed in the east end, opposite the new entrance. These repairs and
alterations cost $4,359. While they were being made the then large
congregation met in Squire Fox's nearby barn. The church land then
inventoried 1,377 acres, which brought in rentals of $235. One acre,
as at present, was included in the church site cemetery.
In 1887 a new bell was placed in the church tower
and the church gallery sealed over. It is hoped some day this
defacement will be removed and the church interior restored to its
condition of the period of the reconstruction during the War of
200th Anniversary of Church and Palatine Settlement,
In 1923, the Fort Herkimer church celebrated its
200th anniversary as a church organization. The occasion also marked
the 200th anniversary of Palatine settlement.
For further information relative to the Fort
Herkimer Reformed church and the Reformed churches of the Mohawk
valley, west of Schenectady, the reader is referred to the
"Historical Sketch of the Reformed Church at Fort Herkimer, N.Y.,"
and to the "History of the Classis of Montgomery," by Rev. W. N. P.
Dailey, Recorder Co., Amsterdam, N.Y., publishers.
Johan Jost Herkimer Settles at Okwari, 1722.
Fort Herkimer takes its name not from General
Nicholas Herkimer but from his father, Johan Jost Herkimer, who
settled here in 1722. Four Herkimers - Jurgh, Madalana, Johan Jost
and Catharina, were granted lots under the Burnetsfield patent of
1725. They emigrated from the lower Palatine of the Rhine (probably
in 1722). Jurgh and Madalana were Johan Jost's parents and Catharina
was his wife.
This section was then called Okwari, a Mohawk word
meaning "bear," probably from their frequency on the slopes of
Jacksonburg mountain, or Mt. Okwari. The British Colonial Fort
Herkimer was first called Fort Kourari. Johan Jost Herkimer settled
about a half-mile east of Fort Herkimer church, where a marker
locates his first log house which was the birthplace of General
Nicholas Herkimer in 1728. Kouari is a misspelling of the Mohawk
word Ok-wa-ri, "bear."
Herkimer, "the Bear."
Johan Jost Herkimer, the pioneer, was a man of
tremendous strength. He is said to have carried a child and some of
his chattels on his back from Schenectady to Kouari.
A family record (written by Major John Frey) says
that, on his arrival at his future wilderness home, Herkimer asked
permission of the Mohawks to there build a cabin. The savages
refused at first. At the time these Mohawks were endeavoring to
carry a dugout canoe (made from a hollowed-out log) down to the
river and were making slow progress. The stalwart Herkimer motioned
all the Indians to one end of the dugout and, taking the other end,
the great war canoe was thus carried to and launched in the Mohawk.
Astounded at his great strength the Mohawks called Herkimer "the
bear," and gladly gave him permission to build a cabin and cultivate
the land. From that time on Johan Jost was a great friend of the
Mohawks and an Okwari - "a bear" - for to be called a bear in those
days was popularly considered as much of a compliment as it is
Herkimer rapidly grew to be the most prominent
Palatine German of the upper Mohawk valley, in which he was the
first Indian trader. Hew was also a contractor and builder, a
portage teamster at the carries at Little Falls and Wolf's Rift, and
eventually became a great landowner.
The Fort Herkimer section was the center of the
original south shore Palatine settlements (1720-1725) on German
Flatts, just as present Herkimer was the neighborhood center of the
north side. This Palatine German settlement on the Burnetsfield
Patent (1725) is detailed under Herkimer. The history of this
section is so much a part of the church that it is here given.
In 1727 Fort Oswego was built by the British and
"Herkimer's" became important as the extreme frontier trading post
on the military road and waterway to Oswego.
Fort Herkimer, 1756-1760.
In 1740 Johan Jost Herkimer erected a strong stone
house and trading post, a quarter mile to the east of the present
church. This became known as "Herkimer's." In 1756 a strong palisade
and moat were constructed around the Herkimer house and this British
post was called Fort Kouari or Fort Herkimer, the last name becoming
soon permanent. It was garrisoned by 250 British regulars or
militia. At the same time the unfinished stone church walls were
surrounded by a strong earthwork, with probably a temporary roof.
This fort was intended to serve as a storehouse for Fort Oswego
which however, was captured by the French in 1756.
In 1757 (as mentioned under Herkimer) the north
Mohawk shore was raided by a French and Indian war party, when a
terrible massacre ensued, 40 being murdered and 150 made captive.
The survivors escaped to Fort Herkimer.
French-Indian Raid and Battle, 1758.
April 30, 1758, a war party of Canadian Indians,
with a few French, raided the south shore. Capt. Nicholas Herkimer
(later Gen. Herkimer) was in command here and sent out scouts to
warn the settlers, but 30 were cut off and killed, the rest escaping
to the fort or the woods. Capt. Herkimer sent out a company from
Fort Herkimer which attacked and routed the enemy after a brisk
fight in which 15 raiders were killed or wounded, and one of the
Revolutionary Fort Herkimer, 1776-1783.
Fort Herkimer Church became a great Revolutionary
patriot center. Here were held meetings of the Committee of Safety
and of valley Revolutionary military officers. In 1775 local
patriots here erected a liberty pole and raised a liberty flag. The
Tory Sheriff White came from Johnstown with Tory militia and cut it
In 1776 Col. Dayton, in charge of valley American
fortifications built a stockade around the church and here made a
strong fortification, called Fort Herkimer. In the same year Fort
Dayton was built at present Herkimer.
Lt. Col. John Brown was the first commandant of the
fort, serving here from April, 1776, until May, 1777. He was the
hero of the battle of Stone Arabia (Oct. 19, 1780) and the bitter
enemy of Gen. Benedict Arnold (See Stone
Wounded General Herkimer Here August 6, 1777.
In August, 1777, when Gen. Herkimer mobilized the
Tryon County Militia for the march to Oriskany, he came over Fall
Hill to Fort Herkimer and here crossed the Mohawk to Fort Dayton. A
marker placed near here, by the valley D. A. R. in 1912, locates
On the night of the battle of Oriskany, August 6,
1777, the wounded General Herkimer was taken by litter, from
Oriskany to Old Fort Schuyler at the ford (at present Utica). There
he was placed in a boat and rowed down the river, fifteen miles to
Fort Herkimer, where he remained over night. The next day, August 7,
1777, he was carried by litter over Fall Hill to his home, nine
miles distant. One of the D. A. R. markers of 1912 here commemorates
the wounded General's presence.
Tory-Indian Raids, Etc., 1778-1782.
On August 1, 1778, Joseph Brant led a large party
of Tories and Indians north from the Susquehanna to the German Flats
and raided the entire neighborhood. A party of four American scouts
came in contact with them. Three of these patriot soldiers were
killed but the fourth, John Adams Helmer, the famous scout, escaped
and rode fifteen miles to the German Flats and warned the settlers,
who escaped to the forts, without loss of life. Nearly all buildings
of the settlements and much stock and property were destroyed on
August 1, 1778, the day following Helmer's feat.
In July, 1782, a war party of 600 Tories and
Indians raided the south side and burned all buildings except the
stone Herkimer house (the Colonial Fort Herkimer). The settlers were
warned and escaped to Forts Herkimer and Dayton, only two being
killed. This fort had at the time but a small garrison and the
Indians tried to lure the garrison into the open by slowly torturing
a captive settler to death., within sight and hearing of the fort.
The victim's cries failed to draw out the defenders and the Indians
opened a heavy fire on the fort. The garrison returned the fire and
drove off the enemy after two soldier defenders were killed.
In February, 1783, Col. Willett here mobilized his
valley brigade of 500 men for the march to and capture of British
Fort Oswego. The expedition failed and the party suffered severely
on its 230 mile march through the snow-covered wilderness in the
dead of winter.
From Fort Herkimer, in April, 1783, Capt. Alexander
Thompson of Fort Plain (commanding the valley Revolutionary
artillery) started for Fort Oswego with news of peace for the
Canadian British army, which had been sent by Gen. Washington to
Col. Willett at Fort Plain, with orders to forward to Fort Oswego.
Capt. Thompson was loaded with messages from valley people to their
many captive relatives and friends in Canada. Capt. Thompson's
successful and momentous journey marked the end of six years of
bloody warfare along the Mohawk (1777-1783).
Throughout the middle and upper valley little was
left but blackened ruins and abandoned farmlands, with small patches
of cultivations and a few log huts clustering close to the valley
In this scant 3,000 population, left throughout
Tryon county, over 400 widows mourned slain soldier husbands, while
thousands of murdered men, women and children lay buried or unburied
on the Mohawk hillsides. The Mohawk valley was the most devastated
section of any in the Thirteen Colonies at the close of the
Revolution in 1783.
(For Capt. Thomson's historic journey see "Old Fort
Plain and the Middle Mohawk Valley," p.118.)
Gen. Washington's Visit to Fort Herkimer, 1783.
In July, 1783, General Washington and an escort
made a tour of the Mohawk valley westward to the ruins of Fort
Stanwix, at present Rome. Col. Willett, the valley commandant, met
Gen. Washington here at Fort Herkimer and in this church, Washington
ordered Fort Herkimer to be made the western depot of supplies for
all the western British posts (including Detroit and Fort Niagara)
soon to be taken over by the Americans. Supplies came here by river
and were shipped westward over the water route to Fort Niagara and
thence over the portage to LaSalle on the Niagara river. Col.
Willett was given command of this supply depot (See Fort
Plain and Canajoharie
for Washington's valley visit).
Indian Council of 1785 in Fort Herkimer Church.
The last important meeting of the Revolutionary
period in this church, was a council between the New York State
authorities and chiefs from the Oneida and Tuscarora nations of the
Iroquois or Six Nations, held here June 28, 1785. Here these loyal
Iroquois Indians sold and deeded to the State all their lands
between the Unadilla and Chenango rivers, thus opening up to
settlement a considerable territory south of the Mohawk.
Western Migration After Revolution.
After the Revolution a great tide of emigration
passed over the Mohawk highways and river to the settlement of the
great west. For nearly twenty years (until the Mohawk Turnpike north
shore improvement of 1800) the greater part of this emigration went
over the south shore highway past old Fort Herkimer Church and the
busy hamlet of Fort Herkimer. This was then an important south side
neighborhood center, highway and river point. After the completion
of the north side Turnpike Fort Herkimer's trade lessened and,
following the building of the Erie canal in 1825, Mohawk usurped for
a time the place of the older hamlet as the south shore center,
while today (1924) Ilion occupies that position in the south shore
Mohawk-Ilion-Frankfort civic community.
The route description is now resumed on the Mohawk
Turnpike, two miles west at