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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 46: French Spy in Mohawk Valley.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 594-603 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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1757 — French spy's description of the highway and waterway from Oswego to Albany, covering the Mohawk Valley from Wood Creek to Schenectady — account of forts, towns, population, etc. — The best review of the Mohawk River country in colonial days.

The best description of the Mohawk Valley in the Colonial days is that of the French spy who journeyed along our river, in 1757, and who, evidently, wrote this account in 1758. The identity of the author is unknown, but his description shows him to have been a keen observer, though he erred in several important matters. Considering the circumstances, under which his study of the Valley was made, such errors in his narrative are not remarkable.

The spy says there were 500 houses on the Mohawk River north shore section, between Fall Hill and Fort Johnson, and 100 houses on the south river shore within a similar distance. This is an error. There was no such difference and there probably were not 500 houses on the north side. 500 houses along both river banks within this 37 miles stretch would probably be nearer the truth in the year 1757. The 1757 population was probably rather evenly divided as to north and south sides, within this fertile farming region which had become one of the greatest wheat raising sections in the Colonies. The spy does not mention the Upper Mohawk Indian castle at present Indian Castle.

The French spy says that the population from the Little Falls to Fort Johnson, was composed of Germans. As a matter of fact, both Dutch and Germans formed the chief population elements in the area under discussion, with the Hollanders in the ascendency east of the Noses and the Palatine Germans being the more numerous west of the same point, in the Canajoharie district.

The spy puts Fort Hunter on the west instead of the east side of the Schoharie River. However, all in all, his description is mainly correct and affords us a good idea of the Mohawk Valley during the French and Indian war. The French observer journeyed from Oswego to Albany, evidently by both the land and water routes. His account therefore gives us an unusual insight into conditions along the great Colonial highway and waterway route which ran from Schenectady westward through the Mohawk River, Wood Creek, Oneida Lake and the Oneida and Oswego rivers to Lake Ontario. As this route is one followed by the Barge Canal today, the account of the spy of 1757 takes of added interest for present-day readers. Chouegen is the term for Oswego, the name referring to both the fort and the river.

The author's notes are interpolated with the main text to which they refer to aid the continuity of the narrative. The account appears in the 1849 edition of the Documentary History of New York, Vol. I, pp. 524-534, under the following heading:

Description of the Country Between Oswego and Albany — 1757. (Paris Doc. XIII. )

Itinerary from the Mouth of the river Chouegen (Oswego) in Lake Ontario to Lake Oneida, then up Vilcrick (Wood Creek) to the Summit level which is the source of the river of the Mohawks, or des Agnies, by which we can descend to Corlar or Chenectedi whence Albany or Orange can be reached.

The entrance of the River Chouegen is easy; the harbor is formed of a cove. The English had a fort on each side of this River by which this entrance was defended.

From Chouegen to the Great fall is an ascent of four leagues. In this space the navigation is intricate, the river rapid and encumbered by large rocks. Good pilots, familiar with the shoals, are requisite to be able to pass through it. Batteaus must be unloaded at the Great fall where a portage occurs of about 40 to 50 paces. The batteaus are dragged along the ground. It is estimated to be about four leagues from the Fall to the mouth of the River of the Five Nations, (river Seneca) which mouth is called the Three Rivers; its navigation is good. About a quarter of a league before coming to the Three Rivers there is, however, a current where precaution is requisite.

Note: From Chouegen to Fort Bull is estimated to be about 36 leagues. The ordinary batteau load is only 1400 to 1500 weight. It takes five days to ascend the River from Chouegen to Fort Bull and three and a half from Fort Bull to Chouegen. The river of the Five Nations [Seneca River] rises in little lakes near which, about six leagues from its entrance into the River Chouegen, the Indians of the Five Nations reside. The river divides into two branches. That from the Right rises in the Lake of the Senecas and the Cayugas; that from the left beyond the Lake of the Ononontagues.

From the Three Rivers to Lake Oneida is computed at 8 leagues; the navigation is good; the river is about 60 paces wide; it is at all times passable with loaded vessels. This river is the outlet of Lake Oneida. There is neither fall nor rapid at its entrance.

Lake Oneida is twelve leagues long by about one league wide. Its navigation is beautiful and practicable at all times, unless there be a strong contrary wind. It is best on the right of the lake which is the north side.

Note: The River of the Killed Fish (Fish Creek) flows also into this Lake; the English used it formerly; they abandoned it because there was a portage, and they have preferred Vilcrick (Wood Creek) which they have cleared.

From Lake Oneida we enter the River Vilcrick, which empties into that Lake, & ascend nine leagues to Fort Bull. This river is full of sinuosities, narrow and sometimes embarrassed with trees fallen from both banks. Its navigation is difficult when the water is low. It is, however, passable at all times with an ordinary batteau load of 1400 to 1500 weight. When the waters of this stream are low, an ordinary batteau load cannot go by the river farther than within a league of Fort Bull. It becomes necessary then to unload and make a Carrying place of the remainder by a road constructed to the Fort, or to send back the batteaus for the other half load.

Fort Bull, which was burnt in 1756 by a detachment under the orders of M. de Lery, was situated on the right bank of this River near its source on the height of land.

From Fort Bull to Fort Williams is estimated to be one league and a quarter. This is the Carrying place across the height of land. The English had constructed a road there over which all the carriages passed. They were obliged to bridge a portion of it, extending from Fort Bull to a small stream near which a fort had been begun though not finished; it was to be intermediate between the two Forts, having been located precisely on the Summit level.

Fort Williams was situated on the right bank of the River Mohawk or des Agnies, near the rise of that river on the height of land. It was abandoned and destroyed by the English after the capture of Chouegen.

Leaving Chouegen there is a road over which the English used to drive cattle & horses. This road follows the border of the left bank of the River Chouegen. The Five Nations River is passed at a fall near its entrance into the River Chouegen, after which the road proceeds along the edge of the right bank of the Five Nations River to the Village of the Onnontagues whence it proceeds across the country to the village of the Caskarorins [Tuscaroras?] and the Oneidas whence we can go to Forts Bull and Williams; also to fort Kouary without being obliged to pass the said two forts. The path or road taken by M. de Belletre in his expedition against the village of the Palatines may be used. He went from the mouth of the Famine River [now Sacketts Harbor] ten leagues below Chouegen; ascended this river for the distance of four leagues, and, leaving it on the left, followed the path leading to Oneida Lake on his right, and came to the Summit level at Fort Williams.

The country through which he passed is fine; there being but few mountains. The soil is soft only in the latter part of the season. He forded three rivers the waters of which were very high during the four days that he was going from the River Famine to Fort Williams, a distance estimated at 24 to 30 leagues.

From Fort Williams to Fort Kouari, situated on the right bank of the Mohawk River, is estimated to be 12 leagues. The road follows the bank of the river which is the south side.

Note: The road goes to the great Oneida Village, about two leagues from the Lake. A picket Fort with four bastions had been constructed in this Village by the English. It was destroyed by the Oneidas in observance of their promise given between them & the Marquis de Vaudreuil. Each of its sides may have been one hundred paces. There is a second Oneida Village, called the little village, situated on the bank of the Lake. There is no fort in the latter.

Leaving Fort Williams there is a road that unites with that by which horses and cattle pass from Fort Kouari and Chouegen. This road is bad for about four leagues after leaving Fort Williams. The Country is marshy. Carriages [les trains] travel it in winter and during the summer, and it can be easily passed on horseback at all times, though in some places there is a good deal of mud. After these four leagues, carts can easily go as far as Fort Kouari. Having traveled three leagues on this road which is five leagues from Fort Kouari, we come to the forks of the two roads [present Utica] one of which, to the left, leads to the Palatines village by fording the Mohawk River.

Continuing along the high road, which is on the right bank of the River Mohawk, to go to Fort Kouari, a creek is met [at present Frankfort] that must be forded. Here was a grist-mill that has been burnt. One league before reaching Fort Kouari another small stream [at Mohawk] is encountered over which there is a bridge. This stream is fordable almost at all seasons. There was also a sawmill on this creek, which has been burnt.

Fort Kouari is situated on the right side of the Mohawk River, on a small hill on the edge of that river's bank. It is a large three story stone house with port holes [crenelee] at each story, and likewise in the basement for the purpose of cross firing. There are some small pieces above. The house is covered with plank and shingles. It was built [by Johan Jost Herkimer] as a store and depot for Chouegen [Oswego]. It is surrounded by a ditch at a distance of about 30 feet. This ditch is six feet deep and seven wide. The crown of the ditch inside is planted with palisades in an oblique form; they are well jointed the one to the other. Behind these there is a parapet of earth so as to be able to fire over the palisades. The four angles of this parapet which is at the back of the ditch, form as it were four little bastions that reciprocally flank each other. On the west side, there is a house apart from the large one. It backs against the parapet of the palisades and serves as a barrack and guard house. There are two doors to the large building; the one at the north is a small swing door. It is used only in going to the river for water. At this side of the house there is no ditch; only palisades fixed in boards set against the brow of the right bank of the river to support the earth. The large door of the house is on the south side; it is folding but not ironed. To go outside the palisades and ditch through this large door, you must leave the house to the left and turn to the eastward where there is a passage. The ditch has not been excavated. The earth serves as a bridge and road. There are palisades to the right and left, on both sides of the way the whole width of the ditch. Outside the ditch there is a folding gate. There is no other barrier nor chevauxe-de-frise in front. The nearest house outside the fort is about 150 paces. Opposite this fort in the river is a small cultivated island which can be reached at low water by fording.

From Fort Kouari to that of Cannatchocari is four leagues. Some twenty houses are located at a distance one from the other, within the space of one league of this road, which is through a flat country. After making this league we go up a mountain [Fall Hill] that occupies two hours to ascend and descend. The country throughout the whole of this space is covered with wood. After descending, two houses somewhat distant one from the other are in the league which is still to be traveled to get to Cannatchocari.

The Inhabitants of this Country are Palatines or Germans. They form a Company with some who dwell above the Fall on the other side of the River which is the left bank. This company consists of about 80 men. The road from the one to the other of these two Forts is good for all sorts of carriages.

Fort Cannatchocari [Canajoharie] is situated at the side of the Mohawk River on the right bank. It is a square of four bastions of upright pickets joined together with lintels. They are fifteen feet high, about one foot square with port holes inserted from distance to distance with a stage all round to fire from.

This Fort is one hundred paces on each side. It is not surrounded by a ditch. There are some small pieces of cannon at each of its bastions, and a house at each curtain to serve as a store and barrack. Five or six families of Mohawk Indians reside outside the fort.

From Fort Cannatchocari to Fort Hunter is about 12 leagues; the road is pretty good, carriages pass over it; it continues along the banks of the Mohawk River. About a hundred houses, at greater or less distance from one another we found within this length of road. There are some situated also about half a league in the interior. The inhabitants of this section are Germans who compose a company of about 100 men.

Fort Hunter is situated on the borders of the Mohawk River and is of the same form as that of Cannatchocari, with the exception that it is twice as large. There is likewise a house at each curtain. The cannon at each bastion are from 7 to 9 pounders. The pickets of this fort are higher than those of Cannatchocari. There is a church or temple in the middle of the fort; in the interior of the fort are also some thirty cabins of Mohawk Indians, which is the most considerable village. This fort like that of Cannatchocari has no ditch; there's only a large swing door at the entrance.

Leaving Fort Hunter, a creek [Schoharie] is passed at the mouth of which that fort is located. It can be forded and crossed in batteaux in summer, and on the ice in winter. There are some houses outside under the protection of the fort, in which the country people seek shelter when they fear or learn that an Indian or French war party is in the field.

From Fort Hunter to Chenectadi or Corlar is seven leagues. The public carriage way continues along the right [South] bank of the Mohawk River. About 20 to 30 houses are found within this distance separated the one from the other from about a quarter to half a league. The inhabitants of this section are Dutch. They form a company, with some other inhabitants on the left bank of the Mohawk River, about 100 strong.

Chenectadi (Schenectady) or Corlar, situated on the bank of the Mohawk River, is a village of about 300 houses. It is surrounded by upright pickets flanked from distance to distance. Entering this village by the gate on the Fort Hunter side, there is a fort to the right which forms a species of citadel in the interior of the village itself. It is a square, flanked with four bastions or demi-bastions, and is constructed half of masonry and half of timbers piled one over the other above the masonry. It is capable of holding two or three hundred men. There are some pieces of cannon as a battery on the rampart. It is not encircled by a ditch. The entrance is through a large swing gate raised like a drawbridge. By penetrating the village in attacking it at another point, the fire from the fort can be avoided. The greater portion of the Inhabitants of Schenectady are Dutch.

From Chenectadi to Albany or Orange is estimated to be 6 or 7 leagues. The road is excellent for all sorts of carriages; the soil sandy and the country covered with open timber. There are only a few hills. A league and a half from Chenectadi, there is a house on the road which is a tavern. A league and a half farther on, that is to say half way, another house is met which is also a tavern.

Orange is situated on the right bank of the river Orange otherwise called Hudson. It is not fortified on the forest side except by an enclosure of walls or pickets without a ditch, which is flanked at certain distances; the river defends the entrance on the other side. It is calculated to be smaller than the enclosure of the town of Montreal. In the interior of Orange, there is a fort, a sort of citadel, capable of containing 300 men; here are some cannon.

This is all that relates to the right [South] bank of the Mohawk River. Let us pass to the left bank, which is the North side of that river, departing likewise from near its source at Fort Williams [present Rome].

Leaving Fort Williams by the left bank of the river Mohawk, the village of the Palatines is estimated to be 12 leagues. The Mohawk river is fordable near Fort Williams whence a path leads to the interior, half a league from the shore, parallel with the river whose borders are so marshy that nothing but hay can be had there.

This path leads over hills and small mountains and can be traveled only afoot or horseback. Eight leagues must be traversed by this path before reaching the forks of the high road that comes from the other side, or right [South] bank of the river [at the junction of Leland Ave. and the Mohawk Turnpike in North Utica]. After having traveled this high road a quarter of an hour, a small creek is found called Rassedot [Raxetoth Creek on the Kass farm, town of Schuyler, Herkimer County]. It can be forded. There were two houses on the left bank of this creek which were burnt and nothing remains of them but the ruins. Having passed this creek, the high road is followed for a distance of four leagues to the village of the Palatines. All sorts of vehicles travel this road.

The Palatine Village was situated on the left [North] bank of the Mohawk River [at present Herkimer], not directly opposite Fort Kouari [Fort Herkimer] but about half a quarter of a league above it. You go from this village to the fort by batteau; the river can even be forded in several places.

It requires a day to descend the river with batteaux from Fort Bull to the Palatine Village and three to return; and to go down from the Palatine Village to Corlar [Schenectady] requires [a day] and a day and a half to return.

The Palatine Village, which consisted of thirty houses, has been entirely destroyed and burnt by a detachment under M. de Belletre's orders. The inhabitants of this village formed a company of 100 men bearing arms. They reckoned there 300 persons, men, women and children, 102 of whom were made prisoners and the remainder fled to Fort Kouari, except a few who were killed whilst fording the river.

From the Palatine Village to the Little Falls, still continuing along the left [North] bank of the river, is estimated about three leagues. In this distance there had been eight houses which have been abandoned. The inhabitants of these houses compose a company with those of Fort Kouari at the opposite side of the river.

The portage at the Little Falls is a quarter of a league and is passed with carts. There is a road on each side of the river, but, that on the left [North] bank is preferable, being better.

From the portage at the Little Falls, continuing along the left [North] bank of the river, there is only a foot path which is traveled with difficulty on horseback. Three leagues must be made over this path to arrive at the Canada Creek, where we meet the high road that passes from the termination of the Little Falls portage, along the right [South] bank of the Mohawk river, where there is a ford above Fort Cannatchocari, opposite the mouth of the [East] Canada Creek. There is also a ferry boat at this place to put carts across when the river is high.

After fording Canada Creek, we continue along the left [North] bank of the Mohawk River and high road, which is passable for carts, for twelve leagues, to Colonel Johnson's mansion [at Fort Johnson]. In the whole of the distance the soil is very good. About five hundred houses are erected at a distance one from the other. The greatest number of those on the bank of the river are built of stone, and those at a greater distance in the interior are about half a league off; they are new settlements, built of wood.

There is not a fort in the whole of this distance of 12 leagues. There is but one farmer's house, built of stone, that is somewhat fortified and surrounded with pickets. It is situate on the banks of the river, three leagues from where [East] Canada Creek empties into the Mohawk River. The inhabitants of this country are Germans. They form four companies of 100 men each.

Colonel Johnson's mansion is situated on the borders of the left [North] bank of the Mohawk. It is three stories high, built of stone, with portholes and a parapet and flanked with four bastions, on which are some small guns. In the same yard, on both sides of the mansion, there are two small houses. That on the right of the entrance is a store and that on the left is designed for workmen, negroes and other domestics. The yard gate is a heavy swing gate, well ironed; it is on the Mohawk River side; from this gate to the river there is about 200 paces of level ground. The high road passes there. A small rivulet, coming from the north, empties into the Mohawk River, about 200 paces below the enclosure of the yard. On this stream there is a mill about 50 paces distant from the house; below the mill is the miller's house where grain and flour are stored, and on the other side of the creek, 100 paces from the mill, is a barn in which cattle and fodder are kept. One hundred and fifty paces from Col. Johnson's mansion, at the north side, on the left bank of the little creek, is a little hill on which is a small house with portholes, where ordinarily is kept a guard of honour of some twenty men which serves also as an advanced post.

From Colonel Johnson's house to Chenectadi is counted seven leagues; the road is good, all sorts of vehicles pass over it. About twenty houses are found from point to point on this road.

The Mohawk River can be forded during summer, a league and a quarter west of Chenectadi. Opposite Chenectadi the traverse is usually in a ferry boat and batteaux.

The inhabitants of this country are Dutchmen. They form a company of about 100 men with those on the opposite side of the river below Fort Hunter.

Going from Chenectadi to the mouth of the Mohawk River, where it discharges into that of Orange [Hudson], there is a great fall [Cohoes] which prevents the passage of batteaus, so that every thing on the river, going from Chenectadi to Orange, passes over the high road that leads there direct.

Note. In the whole country of the River Corlar there are nine companies of militia under Colonel Johnson; eight only remain, that of the village of Palatines [present Herkimer] being no longer in existence, the greater part having been defeated by M. de Belletre's detachment. Colonel Johnson assembles these companies when he has news of any expedition which may concern the Mohawk River.

In the latter part of April, 1757, on receiving intelligence by the savages that there was a strong detachment ascending the river St. Lawrence and entering Lake Ontario, he assembled these Companies and went to the Village of the Palatines, where he was joined by another body of 1100 or 1200 men sent him by the commandant of Orange; this formed in all a force of 2000 men. He entrenched himself at the head of the Palatine Village, where he remained in camp fifteen days, and did not retire until he received intelligence that the French detachment, seen on the St. Lawrence, had passed by and taken the route to the Belle Riviere [Ohio].

This was the detachment of 500 men that had been sent last year to reinforce Belle Riviere, and had left Montreal in the latter days of the month of April.

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