THE SACONDAGA BLOCKHOUSE
by James F. Morrison
The Sacondaga Blockhouse was built in April and
May of 1779 by orders of General James Clinton in hopes that this outpost
would stop incursions by the enemy who were descending via the northern routes.
In April of 1779 Indian raiding parties had raided around Fort Johnson and
took several prisoners, another party on the same day killed Jacob Dunham
and his son in Mayfield (April 11th) and on April 20th, a party of Indians
attacked Tilleborough (now Ephratah) and Kringsbush.
Members of the Second Battalion of Albany County Militia (Colonel Abraham Wemple's Regiment), the Third Battalion of Tryon County Militia under the command of Colonel Frederick Visscher and 2 Lieutenants, 2 sergeants, 1 corporal and 35 privates of the 5th New York Continental Regiment (Col. Lewis DuBois's Regiment) built the blockhouse under the supervision of General Clinton.
In May of 1779 Lieutenant Walter J. Vrooman of Lieutenant Colonel Henry K. Van Rensselaer's Regiment of Levies was ordered with the fourteen drafts from Col. Visscher's to be stationed at the blockhouse and act as scouts for a captain and sixty men of Col. DuBois Regiment.
After the 5th New York Regiment was ordered to join General Clinton at Canajoharie the garrisoning of the blockhouse fell upon these levies and Col. Visscher's Regiment. In 1780 the blockhouse was garrisoned by Col. Visscher's Regiment and now Captain Walter J. Vrooman of Colonel John Harper's Regiment of Levies. In September Col. Harper's Regiment was ordered to Fort Schuyler for the relief of the 1st New York Continental Regiment who had been there since April of 1779. After 1780 there are no records of the Sacondaga Blockhouse being garrisoned by anyone. Colonel Marinus Willett who commanded the Mohawk Valley from 1781‑1784 makes no mention of this post in his order book for 1781 and there is no mention again in Adjutant Pliney Moore's Order book for 1782‑1783. The Commissary of Issue was Isaac DeGraff with his headquarters at Fort Johnstown was responsible for supplies for the Blockhouse was discharged in 1780 as it was no longer necessary to keep someone of that capacity at Fort Johnstown.
The Blockhouse was attacked on March 27, 1780 by a party of seven Indians. First Lieutenant Solomon Woodworth of Col. Visscher's Regiment was the lone occupant of this post and with great bravery extinguished the fire on the roof although he had been wounded in the side by going outside the blockhouse and knocked over the torches laid against the blockhouse. Woodworth after extinguishing the fire return the musket fire and wounded one of the Indians in the hip. After this the Indians picked up their fallen comrade and ran to the safety of the woods thus leaving the blockhouse virtually intact. A few days later Lieutenant Woodworth with five men caught up with the Indians and killed five of them as the other two were not in camp at the time.
The following excerpts from various pensions will give some additional data on the blockhouse and although they make mistakes on dates the greater part of the testimony is correct. Also the following letter written by Col. Visscher to Captain Emanuel DeGraff which orders men from to his company to the blockhouse. This letter was to be published in the Mohawk Valley Democrat and was in the possession of the DeGraff family in Amsterdam in 1897.
Captain DeGraff was the officer who left the Sacondaga Blockhouse unguarded in March 1780 except for Lieutenant Woodworth. Capt. DeGraff was arrested for a court‑martial hearing and found innocent.
April 25th, 1779
Agrreable to General Clinton's orders, I command you to appear in Johnstown tomorrow morning at 8 o'clock with your company, well armed, and every man a good axe. Let be among them four broadaxes and two handsaws and two chisels and one crosscut saw, in order to build a blockhouse at Sacondaga. Pray exert yourself at this time and make every man turn out.
Sir, I am your obedient servant,
To Capt Emanuel DeGraff
The following excerpt from Frederick Sammons's pension (no. S11350) is one of many that was typical in their remembrances about the building of the Sacondaga Blockhouse.
"1778 Col. Fishers Regiment was ordered to Sagondago I served in Captain Abraham Veeders Company where we built a large Blockhouse out 10 days."
JOHN SPORE, PENSION NO. S16258, October 17, 1832, 72 years old. Steuben County, Col. Visscher's Regiment.
"In April 1780 he was again called out under the last mentioned officers and marched to Sacandoga and was there engaged for some time in building a block house to be used as a barrack for scouting parties that he served during this year two months and upwards."
GARRET NEWKIRK, PENSION NO. W24339, September 17, 1832, 72 years old, Florida, Montgomery County, Col. Visscher's Regiment.
"That some time in the year 1777 or 1778 as he believes the time he cannot with any certainty remember Col. Frederick Fishers Regiment was called out to march to Sacondaga to an old Block House for the purpose of Building a new Blockhouse which was afterwards called Fort Fisher."
JOSEPH FRENCH, PENSION NO. S9900, October 6, 1834, Frankfort, Herkimer County, Col. Visscher's Regiment.
"the company of Militia to which he belonged commanded by Captain Yeomans was ordered out in the early part of June in the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy nine to Sacondaga in the aforesaid County of Tryon. That he was out with said company and aided in building a blockhouse about two miles and half from that river. That two other compaines were out at the same time and aided in building said block house and doing other duties incidental to the service. That the three companies so out were commanded by a Captain Woodworth."
ADAM FRANK, PENSION NO. W16996, September 16, 1838, Glen, Montgomery County, Col. Visscher's Regiment.
"And was immediately called out again, went to Johnstown and from there to Sacondaga and assisted in building a Fort at that place, he recollects very well that Col Willett was there, he was in actual service about two months during this tour."
PETER I. QUACKENBOSS, PENSION NO. R8538, 78 years old, Sept. 19, 1832, Glen, Montgomery County, Col Visscher's Regiment.
"That sometime in the year 1777 as near as he can now recollect but the day & month cannot remember. this deponant marched with a part of Captain Gardiniers Company from the now town of Glen to Sacondaga in the town of Northampton about twenty five miles to a Block House near Sacondaga and that this deponent & the others in the American Service was engaged in Building a new Block House which was called Fort Fisher, to prevent the Tories and Indians from going to and from this quarter of the Country to Canada."
ISAAC CONVENHOVEN, PENSION NO. S12532, Sept. 19, 1832, Glen, Montgomery County, Col. Visscher's Regiment.
"was again out for two months commencing the August of this year (1778) at Johnstown and Sacandaga was under Col. Fisher and Major Newkirk Captains name he does not recollect while at Sacandaga, was Employed in buidling the Fort at that place; while Employed in this work recollects the arrival of Col. Willett then, who gave the Fort the name of Fort Folly."
RULIFF VOORHIS, PENSION NO. R10964, 80 year old, Stamford, Delaware County, Col. Visscher's Regiment.
"The Blockhouse was at Sacondaga about twelve miles north of Johnstown." "In March 1779 or 1780 went on a scout on snowshoes after Indians‑There were six of us after seven Indians‑ that one of the Indians was wounded by Woodward one of our party & the rest of the Indians had to carry him‑ we followed them fifty miles‑ They had three days the start & we got five out of seven & the other two we reckoned had gone to Canada. We came upon them as they set around the fire busy roasting meat having killed an Elk the day before. Their snow shoes were off‑ Woodward clenched one threw him down and tomahawked him‑ and tomahawked another, the rest were shot by us."
GEORGE STINE, PENSION NO. S11471, Sept. 20, 1832, Florida, Montgomery County, Col. Visscher's Regiment.
"sometime in the month of february in the succeeding winter when the whole of Col Fishers Regiment were ordered out to Johnstown they arrived there in the evening. Some time that night there was an alarm arrived that a party of Indians had attempted to burn the Block House at Sacondaga the whole Regiment were ordered to that place a party of seven Indians had come down from the North & had been committing depredations‑ these Indians were pursued by a small party under the command of Solomon Woodworth & six of the Indians were killed on the Mountain back of Sacondaga."
DAVID SACIA, PENSION NO. W17768, Col. Wemple's Regiment, supporting affadavit of Frederick Weller, Nov. 17, 1836.
"that in the year 1778 the said company including said Sacia went from Schenectady into the service with Colonel Gansevoort or General Gansevoort to Johnstown in Montgomery County where they remained about one week. When the said company went in company with the Continental troops to a place called "Sackendaga" now called the Fish House in Montgomery County to build a block house for the use of the said Army where they remained 5 or 6 days."