The pamphlet of the history of Old Fort Herkimer Church was contributed to our site by Faith Lustik. No date appears on the pamphlet although there is reference in Part 3 that this book was being written in 1923. . As Lou D. MacWethy, editor, published other pamphlets and articles in the 1930s, it may have been written a few years prior to World War II. Dr. W. N. P. Dailey's book "The History of Montgomery Classis R.C.A.", mentioned below, was published by Recorder Press, Amsterdam, New York, in 1916.
History of the Old Fort Herkimer Church German Flatts Reformed Church 1723 By W. N. P. Dailey, D. D. Published by the St. Johnsville Enterprise and News Lou D. MacWethy, Editor, St. Johnsville, NY, Price 35 cents Post Paid (on cover)
Old Fort Herkimer Church Historical Stetch of the German Flatts Reformed Church at Fort Herkimer, NY. In the Beautiful Mohawk Valley Organized in 1723. Land given 1730 and 1773. Present Edifice begun About 1730. A Story of the Palatine People and Their Early Struggles. Many Names of First Settlers.
Fort Herkimer Church Edifice
Over the original entrance to the stone church, facing the river, is still to be seen, carved rudely in the stone, what is supposed to be the initials of Johan or Jost Herkimer, (J.H.E.), and the date "1767", the date of the completion of the edifice (The "E" means "Erbaut", builder.) Undoubtedly the religious services of the people of the south side were conducted in their school house which the 1730 deed of church land expressly states was already built on said land. It probably was a log school house as it was only five years that the Palatines had been settled in the country. We do not know when the present stone church was begun but it was just like the Herkimers not to be satisfied with the rude school building as a house of worship, accustomed to a better one in the old country, as it was indicated of their progressive spirit not to be content with the first house that they had raised in the wilderness for a home but by 1740 had erected a commodious stone house which later was suited as an impregnable defense against any enemy, no matter how many or how strong. When Johan Jost Herkimer built this stone house in 1740 there was a store attached and the place became a river "port" and was know as "Herkimers". When the house fortified it was inside the defense and the British referred to the post as "Fort Kouari" (Bear). During the French and Indian War the construction of the church edifice had progressed sufficiently to allow it to be used as a place of refuge after being palisaded. Both fort and church played an important part in this war. After Oswego was captured it was the extreme British outpost. This was before Fort Stanwix was built in 1758. Fort Herkimer played a great part in all military expeditions that traveled through the Mohawk valley to the conquest of Niagara, Frontenac, Oswego and the planned conquest of Canada by Gen. Amherst's army of 10,000 marching through the valley in 1760.
Petition to "Complete Church"
Therefore, it is not difficult for us believe that as soon as the land was acquired for a church (1730), steps were taken to build one. If Johan Jost Herkimer could find stone to build a spacious stone house as Fort Herkimer (1740) the same quarry would furnish stone for a house of God. The earliest documentary evidence, extant of the erection of a church on the south side is a petition to Gov. Clinton, dated Oct 6, 1751. The petition cites that there are more than 150 families in Burnetsfield, but the attention of the reader is called to the fact that in his short petition the word "complete" is used twice and the word "finish" once, in referring to the structure that they wanted a license to go out and raise money for. This petition of Johan Jost Herkimer to Gov. Clinton surely reads as if the edifice had been begun, else why talk about "finishing" or "completing" it? A church the size of the stone edifice at Fort Herkimer even before its enlargement in 1812-1813, would require some years to build, considering the amplitude of the building and the paucity of resources for construction. Even in these modern days we have often seen a church raise their foundation walls, then cover them over, and use the basement for a place of worship for years. It's an arbitrary date, but we are prone to think that when Johan Jost Herkimer was completing his storehouse in 1740 the builders at the same time had been gathering the material for the erection of a house of worship to Almighty God. Indeed this might have been done soon after the land was bought. It would not be a strange thing for a decade to elapse before they were prepared to "finish" the structure altogether intended for Divine Worship. But it would be passing strange that there was enough sentiment in German Flatts to call for the deeding of an acre of ground to twelve Christian men in 1730, who represented some form of church organization, and then for these men and several hundred others either to wait a quarter of a century before beginning to carry out their great desire, or to content with a log house inferior to their own houses. The beginning of the erection of the Old Stone Church is nearer 1740 than any other date. We have dwelt upon these incidents only because there are those who insist that there was no church organization nor any house of worship on the south side for many years after the place was settled, and that the stone church was wholly built in the year 1767.
Oldest Religious Edifice in Valley
The German Flatts stone church is the oldest religious edifice in the Mohawk Valley, the second oldest in New York State, and there are but few older in the Untied States. The stone church of St. George's Episcopal in Schenectady was completed in 1769; the frame Indian Castle mission church was erected the same year; the Palatine stone church was built in 1770; and the Schoharie Reformed Dutch Church of stone in 1772. Except the last named, all are in regular use today. The Sleepy Hollow Reformed Dutch Church was erected some time during the latter half of the seventeenth century at Tarrytown, NY. The Fishkill Reformed and the Fishkill Episcopal churches were erected in 1761 and 1760. The old stone church, and the organization behind it, for a century or more was one of the leading forces in the settlement and development of the whole upper valley of the Mohawk. It was an important rallying point in the political, social, and patriotic life of the people. it was the religious mecca toward which nearly all the adjacent country turned, while its pastors traveled far and wide in their itinerancy.
In the efforts to build and complete Fort Herkimer Reformed church there are several still extant of probably many subscription lists that were passed around seeking funds. One list probably groups several separate ones as the list contains some two hundred names, representing settlers and dwellers about Albany, Schoharie, Schenectady, Caughnawaga, Stone Arabia, and Canajoharie, and the country adjacent to each of the places. One list is headed by Nicholas Hergheimer and contains the name of Henrich Hergheimer, John Jost Hergheimer, Jr., George Hergheimer and Jost Hergheimer. A list dated Oct. 18, 1771, for the salary of the minister, contains the names of Nicklaus Hergheimer, Henrich Hercheimer, Johan Jost Hercheimer and Jost Hercheimer, Jr. On of the extant lists for the church is dated August 16, 1753, soon after the arrival on the field of Rev. Abraham Rosencrantz, whose handwriting is shown in all these lists. Early in 1766, just prior to the completion of the church, a petition was sent to Gov. Moore of the Province, asking permission to go out and collect money. It recites that the church was begun when the late war broke out, that the town has been devastated, but now they want to finish their church, their only present place of worship being a log house. Johan Jost Herkimer and Hendrick Bell are to do the collecting. The petition is signed by Peter Vols, Rodolf Schomaker and Augustenis Hess. Among the subscribers' names on these lists are eight each of Becker, Veeder, and Vrooman. A list dated Aug. 16, 1753, is headed by Rev. Johannes Schuyler and Rev. Peter Nicholas Sommer Schoharie pastors.
The Herkimers of Fort Herkimer
The two men most prominent in the life of the people, and in the work of the church, and in every movement that meant for the progress of the south side, were Johan Jost Herkimer and his son, Nicholas Herkimer, the commander at the Battle of Oriskany. Johan Jost Herkimer, (the father of Gen. Nicholas Herkimer), was born in Germany in the latter part of the seventeenth century. He emigrated to this country and settled first on the Hudson in the Livingston tract, then for a while he tarried in the Schoharie country, coming to the upper Mohawk in 1721 or 1722. Gov. Burnet and his Council on Sept. 19, 1721, granted leave to obtain the land of the Indians, which land was secured July 9, 1722. It was both sides of the river beginning below Little Falls and extending to Gerrendagaraen (Frankfort). The Colonial Patent is dated April 30, 1725. The first house that Johan Jost Herkimer built was standing as late as 1850, in which Nicholas Herkimer was born. In 1740 Johan Jost Herkimer built a large stone house, which was included in the British fort in 1756, and called Fort Herkimer. There were thirteen children. His seven daughters married seven of the leading men in the valley. He was represented at Oriskany by two or three sons, four son-in-law and twelve grandchildren. They were the leading family in this part of the valley, a standing kept up by the life of Gen. Herkimer later. For many years Colonial Government contracted with Johan Jost Herkimer to supply forts at Oswego, Schenectady and other places. The Mohawk was the main highway along which the batteaux were poled, loaded with freight or passengers. They carried wheat, peas, corn, meal, pork, beef, candles, sugar and rum up the river and brot down the furs and other pelts for the Albany market. When road building began in 1772 Johan Jost Herkimer was one of the commissioners for the Highland District (Fort Herkimer), while his son, Nicholas, was commissioner in the Canajoharie District, wherein he lived. On Feb. 6, 1773, Johan Jost Herkimer was appointed to serve again and did so until April 1775, a few months prior to his decease. His sons Nicholas and Henry, served in the French war, while Nicholas, Johan and George and several grandsons served in the Revolutionary War. One son, John Jost, espoused the British cause and moved to Canada, where he died before 1787. Johan Jost Herkimer lived at Fort Herkimer until his death in 1775. Hendrick Herkimer was the next occupant and until 1779, then Hendrick's oldest son, Joseph, Sr. and until his death in 1825. His widow continued to live there until her death in 1840. It was then wantonly torn down.
General Nicholas Herkimerr
Not much is known of the early manhood of Nicholas Herkimer. Christopher P. Yates, Montgomery County's first clerk, speaks of him as a man of intelligence, learned in the German language, could converse with the Dutch, and, as his father before him, understood the Iroquois tongue. In May 1760, Gen. Herkimer's father deeded him 500 acres of land out of the Fall Hill Patent of 2324 acres, bought by his father and brother, George, in 1752. Gen. Herkimer built the present Herkimer Home in 1764. Benjamin J. Loosing, noted historian, visiting the Herkimer Home in 1848, describes it as a substantial brick residence. At the time the owner was replacing the small front portico with a long piazza. He was also changing somewhat the upper floor but was leaving the first floor as Gen. Herkimer knew it. Lossing speaks of the "massiveness of the castle" and the subterranean ammunition cellar, the family burying ground at the southeast, and Herkimer's grave. The year before a grand-nephew, Warren Herkimer, grandson of Capt. George Herkimer, had erected a stone above his grave, seventy years after his death. In 1753 he was a lieutenant in the Schenectady Militia, and in that year led a company that repulsed a French and Indian attack. He was Chairman of the Tryon County Committee formed in 1775. In July, 1776 he helped to form the Tryon County Militia. He aided in disarming Sir John Johnson in 1776. On Sept. 5, 1776, he was commissioned a Brigadier General of Militia by the New York Legislature.
Death of General Herkimer
In 1777 he met Brant at Unadilla in a memorable but unsuccessful conference. He mobilized the Tryon County forces for their fateful march to Oriskany. He saved the day, after being mortally wounded, for the Americans, and won what was really one of the pivotal battles of the Revolution. Returning home by boat and litter, he died on Aug. 17, 1777. He was a big, powerful man, nearly six feet in height and was but forty-nine when he died. For half a century after the General's death the house was occupied by Herkimers. First, Capt. George Herkimer, who died in 1786, then his widow, Alida Schuyler Herkimer, and her family, till 1815, when her son, Judge John Herkimer, sold it, perhaps, because the Erie Canal was to be dug in front of it. New York State bought it in 1913. Here is an American shrine of real patriotism. Washington was here in 1783. Rev. Samuel Kirkland, noted missionary among the Indians, founder of Hamiliton College, dwelt here for some time with Gen. Herkimer. A son of Rev. Kirkland, born here, became President of Harvard College. From the very beginning the Herkimer family were staunch supporters of the church at Fort Herkimer. The Herkimer Home, and the Fort Herkimer Church, must be preserved for the inspiration they create in the religious and patriotic life of the settlers of tomorrow.
The Palatines at Fort Herkimer
The Palatine settlers in this section of the valley came out of the lower Palatinate of the Rhine valley in Germany. From the outbreak of the Reformation to the Continental or religious wars between Germany and France which lasted almost to the eighteenth century, the country of the Palatines was the main highway of the contending armies and when the wars were over the scourge of the lust and revenge, the fire and the sword, had done their work. Unlike the Pilgrims who left England for economic reasons, the Palatines sought a place where they might enjoy freedom to worship God. The first to arrive came in 1710. Promised, before they left, the fertile lands of the "Schorie" of which they had heard, they were leased out as so many serfs to taskmasters on the Hudson. Rebelling against the cruel treatment two bands of these folks started out, one for the Schoharie country and the other for the valley of the Mohawk. They began to arrive here in some numbers in 1722 and 1723 though the patent for the lands that were to be theirs is dated, April 30, 1725. Ninety-two names are on this first patent, The Burnetsfield Patent, and each received a hundred acres of land, thirty on the river and seventy on the uplands. The nucleus of the first settlement was undoubtedly on the south side, as the road was on that side then, and the leading spirit of the settlement was Johan Jost Herkimer, owner of Lot No. 36, just east of the old stone church. In 1740 he built a stone house, afterwards strengthened and called "Fort Herkimer". But this was not the first house built wherein Gen. Nicholas Herkimer was born. New York State, when building the Erie Canal, unnecessarily tore down the precious memorial of the past.
Knowing the Herkimer interest in the House of God and in divine worship, and the deed of 1730 setting apart land for church purposes, land already occupied by a school house wherein worship surely was carried on, after the manner of their fathers, we are unwilling to accept the view of those who speak of the first church on the south side of the river as a log one of 1753, thirty years after the settlement was founded. Moreover, it seems to us unbelievable that so large a body of people as were settled on the south side of the river would make the long and dangerous trip for thirty years to the village on the north that was no larger, if as large. The minister undoubtedly did this but not the congregation.
Massacre Of 1757
Rev. Rosencrantz and those who escaped the massacre of Nov. 12, 1757, about a hundred, fled to the church and fort on the south side. At this time there were one hundred and fifty soldiers at Fort Herkimer, and, at least, two hundred settlers. In the spring of 1758 the French and Indians attacked Fort Herkimer, killing thirty of the inhabitants. Under command of Lieut. Herkimer, after a fight in which fifteen of their number were killed or wounded, they retreated. We shudder at the remembrance of the Custer battle with the Sioux, or of the Mountain Meadow Massacre by the Mormons, but for years before the Revolution, and for some years after, most of the country being at peace, the valley of the Mohawks suffered indescribable devastations.
Some Fort Herkimer Church Records
We copy two that are commentary of the temperance issue of that day. (Note: the following two phrases appear to be misprints in the book.) In the temperance issue of that day. In dolph Steal were sent to Albany as lobbyists to secure legislation favorable to the legal acquisition by German Flatts church of the Glebe that they presented the following bill to the church: "1797 February 7th, to Liquors at Different places, 4 shillings; Paid John Fondays for 3 suppers 3 quarts Cyr; 8th, 3 lodgings 1-2 gill of gin, 10 shillings, six pence; from to Schenectady paid Johnson Schenectady 1 grog 1 supper & lodg., 3 shillings; 9th, 1 glass bitters & Stage to Albany (8 p 17 shillings, six pence; to and in Albany 2 dinners & glass punch 9 shillings; to Cash paid Baxter and Printer for receit., 3 pounds, 3 shillings; to Cash paid Meyers for getting the papers from New York 8 shillings; from 10th to 16th Included to sundries in liquors 8 shillings; to 7 1-2 days boarding and liquors at Grain's in Albany as per Receit 5 pounds 11 shillings; for shafing 1 shilling, 6 pence; to one plain writing book 12 shillings (back of bill shows it was paid less this item); to bread and cheese on way home 2 liquor to Schndy, 4 shillings 6 pence; At Alsober's Schonecy for Liquors and Lodgings 3 shilling 6 pence; to passage from Albany home 9 shillings; my shay and horses to Schonecy 3 days, 2 pounds 1 shilling 4 pence; to Cash paid for a Letter from Gold 10 pence; Total bill: 16 pounds, 8 shillings, 8 pence."
Another account is found in a bill rendered to the Consistory by Domine Spinner, in an effort to get the Church to square up accounts with him. The bill was rendered in June, 1815, and goes back to the time of the beginning of his work at German Flatts, July 4, 1801. This fourteen years' account is most minute in its details of receipts and expenses and begins with the above date, which marks the actual contract between the Church and Rev. Mr. Spinner:
In the coverless and dilapidated record of the consistory of the German Flatts church, covering the period of 1802 through 1824 there are not many minutes recorded, and those that are there are mainly financial discussions. The clerk did not think it necessary, often, to give more than the month and year. The elders in the 1802 meeting were, George Rosencrantz, Jacob Casler, Andrew Clapsattle, and the deacons were Jacob C. Folts, Christopher Shoemaker, and Andrew Piper. The next meeting recorded in April, 1804, the next of May, 1805 and the next undated. There was a meeting July 2, 1806 and another Jan. 18, 1807. Just prior to the Jan. 3, 1810 minutes the minister, Rev. Mr. Spinner, writes, "Consistory minutes have either been concealed or mislaid by the treasurer, John Frank, for a series of years... congregation matters being recorded in the Herkimer minutes." In 1805 the German Flatts church decided to engage a singing master and secured services of Philip P. Cowder at $15.00 a year to teach the youth and lead the choir. But they neglected to pay him for five years, so at the meeting of Sept. 19, 1810, they voted to pay the singing master out of the money that had been collected for alms.
Records of 1813
The next record in the book is of June 16, 1813, and reads, "Resolved that the next meeting for Public Worship be held in the new meeting house in the town of German Flatts." All of the 1814 recorded consistory meetings were discussions and decisions in regard tot he adjustment of former treasurers and elders who had subscription lists which they had not as yet accounted for, running, some of them through several years; in the meanwhile the minister was begging that he might be remembered. On July 22, 1818 a subscription list was passed around with this heading, - "We, the subscribers, desirous to hand down to our generation the genuine principles of our reformed Protestant Dutch Church according to heidelberg Catekism and having the means of the holy ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ.... promise to the pay of the minister." There are fifty-three names on this list, subscribing $114.00 for the year. While the payments were to begin July 4, 1818, John G. Edick's was to begin July 4, 1820, that of Andrew Piper on Jan 4, 1821. Just why a person wanted to subscribe three years in advance, with the uncertainty of life, is an enigma, or what comfort of support the minister received from such a subscription passeth understanding. On July 24, 1823, there were fifteen subscribers on the list of one elder who had not paid and on another list twenty-nine who were still owing, or else, as was probable, the elders had not turned in what had been paid them - a common practice. The first subscription list put out for Mr. Spinner was dated Oct. 20, 1801. There are seventy-six signers, the highest amount pledged being $3.00 a year, the total, $71.75, six bushels of wheat and twenty five loads of wood.
Radical Changes in 1812
On Jan. 2, 1812, an important meeting was held at the home of the late Nicholas Aldridge to decide on what should be done toward repairing and enlarging the old stone church. Whether to repair by free or voluntary subscriptions or by the sale of the pews was decided by a majority of thirteen in favor of the latter method, - a very wise decision in view of nearly a century of efforts to collect on subscriptions lists. Radical changes were determined upon, such as moving the pulpit from the river side to the "east side of the church opposite the west door of the church." A storm place was also directed to be put before this west door. William Clapsatle, Christopher P. Bellinger, Michael Ittig, Jr., Conrad Hess, and James Fox were the committee appointed by the congregation to carry out these repairs. It was decided to set apart seats near the pulpit for the deaf and the poor.
There follows in the consistory book an incomplete drawing of the seating of the church on the main floor, in which the aisle is called an "alley". On Jan. 13, 1812, an adjourned meeting of the committee was held in the school house at which it was decided to close up the river side or north-east door and place an "alley" in the middle of the church six feet wide, from the door to the pulpit, and that from the wall of the pulpit, to the first pews of the greater alley fifteen feet shall be left round the communion table, the pews on both sides the large alley to be eight by three feet. It was also agreed to run two small alleys parallel to the eight feet pews, the wall pews to be three feet by six and the seats in them to be built in the form of an angle. The pews for the choir and consistory were to be raised eight inches above the floor. The walls of the old building were to be "hightened" six to eight feet, the roof taken off and put on again and the windows to be "hightened" for more light in the gallery, and "tow rows of pews to traverse towards the pulpit to gain more seats", the benches built before the first pews in the choir towards the communion table and the pulpit.
View list of burials in Old Fort Herkimer Church Cemetery.
Source: This digital presentation of the original booklet was prepared and contributed by Faith Lustik. Faith tells us "I am researching the WARN family that lived in Herkimer County, NY. Philip WARN born 1808 married Laura Brown born 1816. Their children were Elias born in Mohawk February 24, 1841, Mary born 1849, Calvin H. born 1852, John born 1854. The family moved later to Oswego County, NY. Also, I am researching the MYERS family of German Flatts. Peter MYERS born 1796 married Catherine born 1797 both in Herkimer. Children were: Jerome born 1826, Mary born 1833 and Franklin born 1835 (given the age span I am sure there were more children). They also moved to Oswego County but Peter and Catherine moved back to Herkimer County by 1850. Jerome MYERS married Eleanor Whaley, daughter of George WHALEY born 1800 and Lydia MCINTYRE born 1803. George born in Schyler, NY. Any information about any of these lines would be greatly appreciated." Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Last Updated: 7/24/98
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