Johnstown Battlefield Historic Sites

Photo by Michael Kleen

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This little-known battle, fought after the British surrender at Yorktown, was the last engagement of the Revolutionary War in New York.

The Battle of Johnstown was fought on October 25, 1781 between American forces commanded by Col. Marinus Willett and British forces commanded by Maj. John Ross and Capt. Walter Butler in Johnstown, Fulton County, New York during the American Revolutionary War. The battle was an American victory and ended the last Tory uprising in the Mohawk Valley. The British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia six days earlier effectively ended the war in the Continental US.

During the Revolutionary War, the Mohawk Valley in central New York was torn between Patriots who advocated for American independence and Tories who wanted to remain loyal to the British Crown. John Johnson, whose estate was in Johnstown, was a prominent Tory who fled to Canada to escape arrest. He formed the King’s Royal Regiment of New York, which participated in annual raids into the valley.

In the fall of 1781, a substantial force of approximately 700 British regulars, militia, and Iroquois warriors entered the valley in order to destroy its agricultural yield before it could be used to supply the Continental Army. On October 25, approximately 416 American militia commanded by Col. Marinus Willett caught up with them outside Johnstown. Willett violated military convention by dividing his forces in the face of a numerically superior enemy.

At first, the British seemed to have the upper hand. They captured Willett’s lone artillery piece and scattered his right flank. His men fled into a nearby church, but returned to the field when his flanking force arrived behind British lines and attacked them from the rear. The British were forced to flee, leaving behind 11 killed, 11 wounded, and 22 captured. The Americans lost 12 killed, 24 wounded, and 5 captured.

Fought between Great Britain and her Thirteen American Colonies from 1775 to 1883, the Revolutionary War led to a Declaration of Independence and the formation of the United States of America in 1776. The Thirteen Colonies won their independence, at the cost of an estimated 158,000 British, American, French, German, Spanish, and American Indian lives. It was a dynamic and surprisingly international conflict.

Today, motorists driving past the empty field northwest of Johnstown might miss the small roadside markers erected after the battle. A historical sign was posted in 1975, and a metal plaque embedded in a granite boulder illustrated with a relief of colonial soldiers was erected in 1901. John Johnson’s family home (built by his father, Sir William Johnson) is preserved as Johnson Hall State Historic Site.

The 1975 Battle of Johnstown marker is located along Johnson Avenue at 43°01’15.0″N 74°22’54.2″W, and the boulder monument is farther north, just before the intersection with O’Neil Avenue. There was an interpretive sign nearby, but it has become illegible. Roadside parking is available for both signs (not even a pull-off), so park at your own risk.

Johnson Hall State Historic Site is located at 139 Hall Avenue in Johnstown, New York. It is open May through October, Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $4.00 for adults, $3.00 for senior citizens and students, and children 12 and under are free. Call (518) 762-8712 or email JohnsonHall@parks.ny.gov for more information.

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Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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