History From America's Most Famous Valleys
(Written in 1955. Articles were written for the local papers to educate the public about the fort and gain support. Editorial, Douglas Ayres, Jr.)
<--Fort Klock as it appeared in 1954, before work began to restore the building.
Why preserve Fort Klock? What meaning has it for us?
The answer can be as brief as "Why cherish freedom?"
In Fort Klock's stout walls of native limestone we find tangible evidence of the American frontier in the Mohawk Valley.
And now, in retrospect, we can perceive that it was a frontier not only of habitation, but a frontier where the struggle for liberty,and the shaping of a new concept of government, unknown before to the world, was forged.
On this, the site of the last battle of the Revolution in the Mohawk Valley, sparks struck by the flints and strikers of flintlock rifles were lit by the fires of freedom in patriot hearts and minds throughout the Mohawk Valley. Those sparks have in no small measure inspired the never ceasing struggle to preserve that freedom.
Flintlock volleys from Klock's field as from every Revolutionary battleground have reverberated in every engagement since when our freedom and liberty have been just as much at stake on distant shores as when the buckskin clad settlers or the regulars in blue and buff of the Continental line stood on this soil.
Whey restore Fort Klock?
Why preserve the original Declaration of Independence or the first draft of the Constitution of the United States?
Fort Klock stands, not alone as an old stone house, but as a monument to valor, to independence, to the resolution to be self governing, to the ideal of democratic government.
Our basic love of freedom, our respect for the privileges of the common man, our belief in equal opportunity for every citizen- - a precious heritage - - stems from those unconquerable pioneer forebears, many of whom marched past this very Fort, camped here, leveled their flintlocks through these loopholes.
Why preserve Fort Klock?
A fort from whose windows and loopholes friend and enemy have been seen as in a pageant should not crumble into dust.
Let us quickly scan some of the historical highlights this Fort has witnessed.
There comes marching General Jeffrey Amherst's army of 10,000 men--white men and Iroquois, militia and British regulars--the expedition of 1760, resulting in the capture of Montreal, which was to secure the destiny of the new world to the English tongue.
Now shouldering their muzzle loaders come the patriots, the Tryon County militia of General Nicholas Herkimer, about to engage the enemy at Oriskany, August 6, 1777, to lift the siege of Fort Stanwix, to stem St. Leger's advance and to successfully conclude one of the most critical battles of the American Revolution.
Many who marched westward past Fort Klock never marched again after the ambush at Oriskany.
As if in vindication of their sacrifice we hear resounding from Fort Klock's ridge, the fifes and drums. It is the quick stem of the flam, that spirited marching tempo of the Continental line. The blue and buff are marching up from Albany under General Benedict Arnold to complete the valorous action at Oriskany and by a unique stratagem to send Barry St. Leger and his Indian allies in precipitate haste back to Canada without a shot being fired--save those in the hat and clothing of dull-witted Han Jost Schuyler whose tale of having escaped form Americans as numerous as "the leaves on the trees" accomplished just what General Arnold hoped it would do--cause an enemy retreat.
Fort Klock was the fortified home of Johannes Klock, an early trader and was erected in 1750, replacing an earlier structure on the same site. It is located about two miles east of St. Johnsville and nearly five hundred feet south of Route 5, not far from the river bank. In Colonial times the King's Highway ran just under the hill below the fort and has long since been replaced with the ribbons of steel which carry the Twentieth Century Limited.
The very site on which Fort Klock is erected was well chosen for its advantages both for the business of trading and also for better defense in time of raids, which were frequent in the French and Indian and revolutionary War periods. Undoubtedly the cove along the riverbank, directly below the fort, was useful in Johannes Klock's trading business, as it could be used as a sheltered place to anchor the batteaux which were used to haul supplies on the river. It also afforded a place to unload and carry the incoming supplies to the rear door without being exposed to enemy fire. Doubtless many an Indian canoe has beached there so that its owners could trade their furs.
The massive stone walls, nearly two feet in thickness, rest upon a foundation of solid rock. The walls are constructed in two layers with small pieces of stone, sand, and dirt rubble in between. This was done so that frost and cold air did not penetrate the walls so readily during the cold winters. From the stone floor in the west room of the cellar bubbles a living spring which furnished a constant supply of fresh water to the occupants of the fort, without exposing them to danger from the Indians. The walls on every side are heavily loopholed so that the fort could be protected by musket fire from inside without exposing the defenders to the arrows and musket balls of the enemy.
It seems that in the very early documents there was no mention of the four-acre island in the river just below the fort. This island undoubtedly offered an isolated and protected plot for cultivation. That the Indians had not intended to dispose of the island and were displeased at Johannes Klock's use of it can be shown by the following quotation from Volume VI, pages 785-7 Colonial Documents:
"Hannes Clock possesses and claims the island opposite to Hanss Hesses land below the Indian Castle at Canajoharie (Note: Not the present site of Canajoharie) which they never sold to any person and desire they may have it again."
The famous Indian chief, King Hendrick, made this statement at a council held at Fort George at New York on June 15, 1753. The following day, however, Hendrick again appeared and said on behalf of the Indians, "We desire that Jerry Klock, here present, may have a license to purchase the documents Vol. VI, pages 785-7". This having held up further action, Hendrick bitterly declared the "Chain" broken and concluded: "As to Jerry Klock there are people who want to do him harm, but we will not agree to it." The foregoing gives us an idea of the bitter struggles in which the early settlers became involved and shows how insecure the future looked to them at times.
<-Fort after masonry repairs to the south wall.
One of the most interesting and important historical events in the vicinity of Fort Klock was the battle of Klock's Field fought on October 19, 1780. The battle terminated Johnson's great raid on the Schoharie and Mohawk Valleys in which the enemy, consisting of about 2500 Tories and Indians, murdered many of the settlers and burned their homes and crops. The center of the battle seems to have been about a mile west of Fort Klock and undoubtedly spread over a considerable territory. It is not known if the enemy fired on the fort or not, but the famous historian, Jeptha R. Simms, did record that on the day of the battle the widow of Peter Hanner was struck in the head by a nearly spent musket ball while standing in the southeast window of the fort. The ball having lost most of its fatal power did not do the woman great harm. This battle could have been one of the truly great victories had the American General Van Rensselaer followed up his advantage. He was court-martialed for this failure to destroy or capture the enemy he had at his fingertips. During the action of this battle the famous Indian chieftain, Joseph Brant, was wounded in the heel but made good his escape to Canada with the remainder of the enemy force. Fort Klock has sheltered such well known men as Generals Clinton and Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton, Colonel Jacob Klock, John Jacob Astor, the great fur buyer, and Indian Chief Brant and King Hendrick. Very probably it could also boast of having had under its roof many of the patriots and committee of safety members of the trying times of the American Revolution. John Klock who lived at the Fort during the Revolution and is buried in the Klock cemetery on a hill about 1/2 mile north of the fort, was a member of the Committee of Safety, having been sworn in on Friday the 25th of August, 1775.
Fort Klock is indeed a product of the colorful American past well worth and deserving of permanent preservation. Its simple and humble construction typifies the homes of the sturdy settlers who brought forth our freedom through courage and the type of determination expressed in this statement written in 1774 by the committee of Safety here in our own Mohawk Valley:
"It is our resolution to support and carry into execution everything recommended by the Continental and Provincial Congress and to be free or die."
Fort Klock's Future
As seen through the loop hole.
by Willis Barshied, Jr.
Through this loophole and many others like it our Colonial Forebears viewed their enemies and repulsed their attacks to create and insure the freedom we take for granted today. They helped secure our present day liberty by their sweat, blood, and hardships. They hewed the timbers to support a great nation, the United States of America, and handed the fruits of their efforts down to us.
Is it not fitting that today, 205 years after the building of Fort Klock, we should try to preserve these crumbling walls so that future generations, those who will inherit the country that these early settlers helped build, can see how the pioneers lived, fought,and worked here in our beautiful Mohawk Valley. This building which stands close to the Mohawk has stood to see the Valley transformed from a frontier wilderness to a leading manufacturing and transportation center. It stood in the very shadow of the hundreds of burning settlements as the British Tories and Indians ravaged the countryside during the Revolution and within the range of the enemies' musket balls during the battle of Klock's Field. Still it has been spared and left for us to see. Is it not our duty to preserve it as a memorial to those early settlers?
As can be seen by the photos, Fort Klock unrepaired might well fall into obscurity along with such long gone sites as Fort Paris, Fort Plain, and Fort Ehle at Nelliston,which has gone from the American scene within the memory of all of us.
In the short time that the Tryon County Muzzle Loaders, Inc. has had since leasing the Fort property on September 20, 1954, its members have put in days of work cutting brush and weeds, repairing the crumbling wall to the south side of the Fort, improving the road, removing old and useless farm buildings, installing electrical service in the Fort, and making many other repairs. The labor has been largely donated by the members and several projects have been carried out to raise money for the work. More money is desperately needed to complete such future repairs as restoring fireplaces, replacing the window sashes and blinds, installing the Dutch doors typical of that period, and completely restoring the inside to its original condition. It is hoped to do much of this work this summer in preparation for the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Klock's Field, to be held at Fort Klock September 25, 1955.
Had we sought sanctuary in Fort Klock October 19, 1780, we would have heard the crack of rifle fire as Johnson's Greens exchanged volleys with General VanRensselaer's advancing skirmish line, seeking the protection of the stone walls, as they pressed the enemy. We could have seen the bivouac fires of Van Rensselaer's column at Fox's Mills, near the Garoga, and the unwatched camp fires of Johnson's raiders as the enemy fled the field under cover of darkness.
What episodes Fort Klock has witnessed. Past here rode on horseback the Commander-in-chief of the rising nation. The date is July 31, 1783. The occasion--the return from the valley tour of inspection as far west as fort Stanwix and Oneida Lake. We may be certain General George Washington noted, with an appraising eye, the strategic location of Fort Klock, that he was undoubtedly advised of the never failing spring in the cellar, that he surveyed the battlefield terrain and its advantages for the disposition of attacking Patriot forces. History fails to record what remarks, if any, he may have uttered, but we may rest assured that General Washington paid tribute to the contributions to the winning of American independence by the staunch defenders of Fort Klock and its battleground.
Why preserve these ancient walls in this out of the way place?
Because once this proud fort stood on the main thoroughfare of commerce and travel of the young republic, as its venerable walls still do today--by passed by all modern arteries of commerce and spared to still survey the mighty thunderings of the greatest industrial giant of the modern world, these United States.
This was the home of Johannes Klock, a farmer, pioneer, trader and patriot. The river batteaux tied up in the little cove, just below the fort, where the brook meets the river, and up to the fort came white and Indian traders, probably through the south basement door. Here came John Jacob Astor, fur trader extraordinary. Joseph Brant is said to have been a guest in this house.
On this spot, within these walls, across these thresholds have stepped Alexander Hamilton, General Philip Schuyler, General James Clinton, Colonel Jacob Klock and a host of others. It is a matter of moment then to preserve for all time a dwelling fortified for war from whence have gone forth champions of liberty who dared to risk their lives when hope was slim for an ideal. Here is one of the numerous birthplaces, scattered across our great land, of freedom, so cherished by us all.
Why indeed preserve Fort Klock--except
That it serve for all posterity as an ever present reminder of the significance of the past episodes, of the hard won establishment of a departure in the concept of government which has withstood the most severe tests of time and adversity.
Except that forever this fort shall through the inspiration of its builders and early defenders continue to defend and to inspire untold generations of Americans, to the end that the thirteen star flag so proudly unfurled here in the Revolution shall always wave with the same symbolism bestowed upon it June 14, 1777 at Philadelphia by the Continental Congress, "A new constellation" in the firmament of the nations.
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