MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2002
What's An Indian Castle?When the Dutch arrived in what is now upstate New York State in the early 1600s, they discovered Indian villages surrounded by palisades. They called these communities of "long houses" fortified with upright logs and located on hilltops, castles.Indian Castle Church survived the
Revolutionary War and the ravages of time
. . . and caused confusion among historians.In the Mohawk Valley there was a Mohican castle near Cohoes Falls and at least four Mohawk castles on the south side of the river from between Schoharie Creek and present day Fort Plain. Although there were no Oneida castles in the Mohawk Valley, a number of Oneidas lived in the uppermost Mohawk castle in the early 1600s. By the mid 1600s, smallpox epidemics, causalities during the Mohawk- Mohican wars, and the return of the Oneidas to their former location near Oneida Lake, decimated the Indian populationand reduced the number of palisaded villages to three.
While these fortifications were very effective for protecting villages from primitive weapons and tactics, they were ineffective against European armies. The French destroyed all of the Mohawk villages in 1666. The Mohawks moved to the north side of the river and again built palisaded villages. The French returned in the 1690s and destroyed the Dutch fortified village of Schnectady and most of the Mohawk villages.
The Mohawks returned to the south side of the river. At first their main villages were palisaded, however, in the early 1700s the British built forts near some Mohawk settlements. These forts and adjoining villages were also called castles. There were castles in Schoharie Valley, on Fort Plain's Prospect Hill, and opposite East Canada Creek. (The Prospect Hill castle was called Canajoharie, and for many years the entire region on the south side of the river, from Little Falls to Little Nose, was called Canajoharie.)
Prior to the Revolutionary War, there were two main Mohawk settlements in the valley. One was located around the mouth of Schoharie Creek and was called Fort Hunter or Lower Castle. The other was located along the south side of the river from opposite the mouth of East Canada Creek to the mouth of Nowadaga Creek, and was called Fort Canajoharie, Fort Hendrick or Upper Castle. The fort was named after King Hendrick, a famous Mohawk sachem who was killed fighting with the British during the French and Indian War. The fort, village, Hendrick's home, farmlands and orchard were located opposite the mouth of East Canada Creek. (Most of this historic site was obliterated by the construction of the New York State Thruway.)
While most of the land at the Upper Castle was Mohawk communal property, some individual families owned property in this area. Joseph Brant, another noted Mohawk leader, owned a European style home and farm near the mouth of Nowadaga Creek. Joseph was the brother of Molly Brant, Sir William Johnson's Mohawk mistress and mother of their eight children. In 1769, Joseph donated the land and Sir William provided the funds to build a church near the Brant homestead to serve the Mohawks at the Upper Castle settlement.
Indian Castle Church and Joseph Brant's Dutch barn have survived the Revolutionary War and the ravages of time . . . and caused confusion as to location of the Upper Mohawk Castle. There is a historical marker in front of the Dutch barn, opposite the church, that erroneously marks the location of Fort Hendrick. Fort Hendrick, as noted previously, was located further east, opposite the mouth of East Canada Creek. There is another historic marker in that area noting the location of Fort Canajoharie.
Today the area at the mouth of Nowadaga Creek is called Indian Castle, although there was never a Mohawk village, fort or castle in that area.