Historic America

Flames on the Mohawk

Tracing Revolutionary War battles in New York’s Mohawk River Valley.

During the Revolutionary War, the Mohawk Valley in central New York was the scene of brutal fighting between patriots committed to American independence and loyalists committed to remaining under the British Crown. Many settlements and homesteads were raided and burned. Stone houses became “forts” where civilians and militia would take shelter during these attacks. You can still visit the sites of these battles and skirmishes today, though several are marked only with a small sign.

Siege of Fort Stanwix

The Siege of Fort Stanwix is among the most well-known Revolutionary War battles in the Mohawk Valley. British General John Stanwix ordered construction of this fort in the summer of 1758 to guard a portage connecting the Mohawk River and Wood Creek. Colonial troops under the command of Colonel Elias Dayton occupied and repaired the fort in July 1776 and renamed it Fort Schuyler. British forces besieged it from August 2-22, 1777, but were demoralized by a colonial raid on their camp and withdrew. It burned down in 1781.

Battle of Oriskany

As British forces lay siege to Fort Stanwix, 800 Tryon County militia and Oneida warriors under General Nicholas Herkimer rushed to its defense. The British were alerted to their approach and a force of approximately 1,200 British troops and Iroquois braves under Sir. John Johnson and Joseph Brant planned an ambush. On August 6, 1777, just six miles outside Fort Stanwix in a marshy ravine, Seneca warriors waited for the column of Colonial militia.

Impatient, the Seneca opened fire before completely entrapping the Colonial militia. General Herkimer was shot in the leg, but refused to be carried from the field. “I will face the enemy,” he said. The battle raged over several hundred yards. A thunderstorm interrupted the fighting, giving the colonists time to establish a last line of defense on a hill while British reinforcements left their camps outside Fort Stanwix to join the battle.

Three hundred and eighty-five Colonial militia and Oneida were killed, 50 wounded, and 30 captured in the battle. The British and their allies lost 72 killed and 21 wounded. It’s considered one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War.

Battle of the Flockey

On August 13, 1777, loyalists led by John McDonnell, Adam Crysler, and tavern owner Capt. George Mann trapped 20 Patriots in Johannes Becker’s stone house near Middleburgh, which was later called Middle Fort. Col. Harper escaped and rode to Albany, where he enlisted help from a 28-man troop of 2nd Continental Light Dragoons commanded by French mercenary Jean-Louis De Vernejoux. He returned with the dragoons and freed the militia at Middle Fort. From there, they rode south to clear the valley of Tories.

The loyalist militia, numbering approximately 73 men, took up a concealed position on Adam Crysler’s farm near low drainage land called The Flockey. They fired on Capt. De Vernejoux and his dragoons as they came up the road. The two sides traded fire, and De Vernejoux quickly realized he was outnumbered. He ordered a cavalry charge, the first documented cavalry charge of the U.S. Army, and scattered his opponents. The loyalists fled into the woods, and heavy rain prevented any renewal of hostilities. One dragoon was killed and two wounded in the short engagement.

Battle of Stone Arabia

Sir John Johnson, whose estate was in Johnstown, Fulton County, 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 Mohawk Valley. On the morning of October 19, 1780, Johnson and Joseph Brant led a small army of 900 men on a raid into the Valley. They were met by Col. John Brown and 380 militiamen from Fort Paris near Stone Arabia east of Fort Plain. 

The Battle of Stone Arabia was brief. Col. Brown, having walked into an ambush, was shot from his horse and killed, alongside approximately 30 of his men. Some survivors escaped to Fort Paris, while others fled toward Fort Plain, where they met Brig. Gen. Van Rensselaer and warned him of the British approach. The British destroyed Stone Arabia and even burned its two churches to the ground.

Battle of Klock’s Field

Sir Johnson then arrayed his forces in defensive positions along a broad front, with Joseph Brant’s Iroquois warriors and a detachment of German Yagers facing Patriot volunteers and Oneida warriors. After a fierce fight around Johannes Klock’s farm, in which American forces severely outflanked their opponents, the British-allied Indians fled.

Van Rensselaer, however, withdrew the rest of his army as darkness fell rather than follow up the victory. The British raiders escaped, leaving behind 40 prisoners and an unknown number of dead and wounded. The Americans lost approximately 8 killed, for a total of 39 that day.

Battle of Johnstown

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.

This 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 United States.

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