Thursday, February 2, 2017

Little Abraham

As the specter of war lingered over the Mohawk Valley, tensions between the patriot Whig faction and the loyalist Tories grew. By 1775, Sir William Johnson was dead and the responsibility for the Northern Department of Indian Affairs fell on his nephew (and son-in-law) Guy Johnson; who had his hands full from the start.  Guy and Sir Williams son John felt under threat by committees in Albany County, but most unsettling was the fervor growing against them within their own Tryon County.  In the spring of ’75, Whig representatives from those committees met with Col. Guy Johnson and Mohawks at Guy Park Manor to negotiate terms of peace to ensure those loyal to the British Crown remained out of the fracas.

   Mohawks under Tiononderoge chief Tigoransera – or Little Abraham – attended this council.  Little Abraham struggled to convince Mohawks to remain neutral.  The overall Iroquois diplomatic stance had been neutrality with the ability to play the Americans and British against each other as they had for generations with the French and British.  Mohawks in particular found this difficult under the new circumstances, and chiefs at the two largest Mohawk castles at Fort Hunter and Canajoharie felt their control slip away as younger men were swayed toward loyalty to the King, if not only to the Johnsons. 

   Isabel Thomson Kelsay in her 1984 work Joseph Brant 1743-1807: Man of Two Worlds, declares Tigoransera “a true neutral” and that his continual pleas – especially those in coming years at Fort Niagara – were impossible against the Johnson and Butler legacy that did what it could to polish the covenant chain between the Iroquois and British Crown. 

   Little Abraham had nearly lost all control as well as the entirety of his home and community along the confluence of the Schoharie Creek and Mohawk River during the 1779 Sullivan campaign.  The Fort Hunter Mohawks – those few that remained in the Valley after 1777’s retaliatory strike by patriots and Oneida as counter to the ambush at Oriskany that summer – had only been spared what they had left by the interjection of Gen. Schuyler and Gen. Washington.  Both of whom recognized the efforts of Little Abraham on his stance of neutrality though still uncertain of its actual validity, and neither wished to kick the hornet’s nest so close to Albany.

   What happened between the negotiations in 1775 and then had been a difficult strain on the tenuous “peace.” John and Guy Johnson had fled the Mohawk Valley in the winter  of ’76 as three thousand Continental and Albany Militia troops under Gen. Schuyler and Gen. Herkimer advanced to arrest them.  In order to do so, this force had to pause before reaching Fort Hunter and the Lower Mohawk Castle to follow frontier diplomatic protocol that required approval from the chief for an army to pass through their land.  This combined force was proof that the Mohawk Valley had risen for the patriot cause.

   The Mohawks were outraged and Schuyler apologetically placated their leadership by attaching Little Abraham and other Elders as negotiators at council with John Johnson; though he would be arrested and removed to Fishkill while his wife Mary was held in Albany.  By spring they had been released, yet under threat again from Continental forces of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment advancing under command of Col. Dayton.  Once more, permission was required at the Lower Castle, and this time Dayton’s presumed inexperience with frontier diplomacy meant the request only increased tensions, yet allowed enough of a delay that Johnson escaped north through the Adirondacks to Canada with hundreds of loyalist followers.

   By 1780 the Valley had seen continual raids by Iroquois and Loyalist forces against homes, forts and fields that devastated the landscape as well as killed unknown numbers of residents.  Little Abraham sought throughout those years to convey neutrality and hold together the remains of his Mohawk community. In February of that year, he along with three other Iroqouis peace negotiators traveled toward the British stronghold of Fort Niagara with letter of parley from Gen. Schuyler.  There were intercepted by Joseph Brant and members of his loyalist raiding party.  The four were brought into the fort, interrogated, ridiculed by having their peace belts rejected and then cast within the depths of the bulwark.  It was in that cold, damp dungeon that Little Abraham – Tigoransera of the Mohawk – fell ill and died.  


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Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Sixteens

One of the most impressive feats of engineering on the Erie Canal was the overcoming of elevation change from the Mohawk to the Hudson River and in particular around Cohoes Falls.  In order to achieve this, a series of locks were required.  Within decades of the canal opening, the canal Enlargement reduced the number of locks to accomplish this, to sixteen.  These locks were notoriously known as THE Sixteen, and they were the last long push to the Hudson for many boatmen at the end of a trick from the west.

   By the 1880’s, the reputation of The Sixteens was akin to the swashbuckling “Barbary Coast,” and had provided layers of scandal for boatmen, politicians, and public works officials for decades.  In the fall of 1883, Public Works Superintendent James Shanahan – namesake of today’s E12 Lock at Tribes Hill – bluntly refuted overall charges that the section of canal was wholly corrupt from the top down.   Being familiar with The Sixteens as former Eastern Section Superintendent, he was aware of procedural corruption by lock tenders, who – for a fee – would illegitimately draw down water from the higher levels to promote a flood push to move boats quicker from lock to lock.

   This was done “when a boat is lowered in a lock it…[could]…be sent ahead by a rush of water from the upper level, so that the towing team is enabled to walk off as briskly as if no stop had been made.  But in order to get this start the upper gates of the lock must be opened…the boat is given a ‘flood send-off’ as it passes out…[of the lock].”

   The Evening Post newspaper, printed in New York City, reported on October 16, 1883 that Shanahan “took measures when navigation opened to stop this practice…” He implanted “special agent[s]” so that within a few weeks the result was the firing of twenty-two locktenders for wasting water, favoring particular boats and/or pilfering cargo.

   The day before that article ran, a delegation of boatmen convened at Shanahan’s office to herald the condition and management of the canals.  One man, who had spent thirty years on New York’s canals, stated he had not known a better season on the Erie Canal than the one just drawing to an end.  “He had just arrived from Buffalo with a ‘double-header’ – two boats in concert,” and all season noted no lack of water or incidental interruption to travel and perceived no favoritism at locks by tenders.

   The Sixteens still carried a notoriety, if not for the dubious nature of tenders, boatmen and other canal workers on the waterway, but for the ill society it kept along its wake.  Efforts to design a new method of transiting the elevation would continue to be made by state engineers, and just over a decade after the Evening Post article, the Plattsburgh Daily Press printed a piece on the concept of a steel aqueduct to replace The Sixteens.  None of the sixteen locks had undergone lengthening improvements like forty other locks on the Erie had due to cost and inconvenience.  A trip from Buffalo to Albany averaged seven and a half days, with at least four hours of this total being consumed with passage through The Sixteens between west Troy and Cohoes. 

Plattsburgh Daily Press
November 21, 1894
   The State Engineer and his assistant proposed a scheme to construct a steel aqueduct that would allow several barges to be raised or lowered 140 feet in a single locking.  Further, the idea contemplated putting two of these massive turbine driven devices side by side; however,  as the 20th Century drew closer it became more obvious that the canal would be re-aligned and primarily placed within the Mohawk River in the eastern section.  A new plan and direction emerged and the flight of locks at Waterford that exist today were created in the second decade of the 1900’s.

   The massive locks that make up the Waterford Flight is the greatest change in elevation in the shortest distance of any canal in the world.  The notorious nature of The Sixteens was a direct result of the topography that had to be overcome by engineers for the Erie Canal to be a success.  Many of the locks that made up The Sixteens still exist in the Cohoes area, however most are not accessible to the public.  A few you can be seen while passing by, if you know what to look for.


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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2017 Membership Drive

2017 will be a huge year for the Erie Canal!  As the bicentennial of when construction started, the year will be marked with special events all along the Canalway Corridor! Be a part of the celebration by being a part of something great!

The Friends of Schoharie Crossing!

As a member of the Friends of Schoharie Crossing, you will be a part of supporting the mission of the site in the preservation and interpretation of the Erie Canal as one of the 19th century's greatest commercial and engineering projects as well as sharing the story of the Mohawk community and Fort Hunter in the 18th century.  In addition to that, the Friends group provides other educational opportunities for students and visitors by conducting special programs at the site.  If that was not enough, the Friends group is also active in providing opportunities for recreating visitors as well, and sharing the pride in this great historic park. 
A sure-fire way to help Schoharie Crossing continue to offer great intriguing, entertaining and educational programs and events is to become an active member with the Friends of Schoharie Crossing.  Your monetary membership fee will go to support such programs as the Not Just for Kids Storytelling series, Canal Days, Putman Porch Music, NYS History Month lecture series, professional development for staff & volunteers and to the development of further wonderful programs, educational opportunities and recreational events for the exciting future of the site. 
We are also seeking more than just a membership due; your resources of time and word of mouth about Schoharie Crossing are invaluable!  Share the passion you have for the site with your friends and family.  Help get the word out about the programs, events and fun that can be had on site! Bring your relatives or friends along to meetings, events, or just to the site for a picnic.  As a valued member of the Friends, volunteer for events, and/or help maintain the canal or towpath trails, help with office tasks or promotions, and contribute to the blog and newsletter too!  There really are countless ways to give a little bit of you to further the preservation of history and of Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site.

                Thank you for your time and continued support.  Here is to a bright 2017!


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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Views & Vistas - Call for Art at Schoharie Crossing

Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site has put out this wonderful Call for Art!

To find out more and/or submit your entry online, please click the link HERE

Click on images to enlarge: