Fort Stanwix
by Eagle Scout, Andrew Street

Most students know about major Revolutionary War sites such as Lexington and Valley forge, but ultimate victory was possible only by the colonists defending many other, more obscure locations and keeping them out of British control. One such place is Fort Stanwix was built in 1758 and already had a rich history by the time of the American Revolution. The fort and its brave defenders played a pivotal role in helping to create our new country.
With the capture of Canada in 1760, the fort’s original purpose of defending the merging place of waterways leading to the Atlantic Ocean from the Great Lakes (called the Oneida Carrying Place) was lost and Fort Stanwix became abandoned. About 15 years later, at the onset of the Revolutionary War, it became clear the Mohawk River valley needed to be defended, and the logical place was at the site of the now dilapidated Fort Stanwix. Colonel Peter Gansevoort was sent west with a garrison of less than 1000 men and began to renovate the defenses in the summer of 1776. As the war progressed, rumors arose about an imminent British attack from Canada through New York, and the garrison at Stanwix prepared itself for the major task of defending the water routes from the British army.
General Barry St. Ledger commanded the British column marching towards the fort as one of a three-prong attack devised by General Burgoyne, called the Saratoga Campaign. Gansevoort bravely refused the terms of surrender and had faith that his men, although outnumbered almost two to one, could resist long enough for reinforcements. If successful, the Saratoga Campaign had the potential to effectively end the independence movement. The fate of a free America was to be decided in part by the brave defenders of fort Stanwix in August, 1777.
On August 3, St. Leger’s forces attacked the fort, and for the first time, the stars and stripes were proudly flown in battle. American patriots in the New York area, about 900 strong, were marching west from Fort Dayton to relieve Gansevoort and his men when they were ambushed by St. Leger’s men and Indian allies in the battle of Oriskany, one of the bloodiest engagements of the war. Noticing most of St. Leger’s force was at Oriskany, Gansevoort sent his men to raid the British camp. The American troops succeeded, returning to the fort with huge amounts of supplies, tools, and official papers meant for St. Leger himself. After losing much of his supplies and his men suffering from low morale, St. Leger retreated northward on August 20.
Fort Stanwix was the only fort in the hands of American forces for the entire duration of the war. Shortly after the British failure to capture the Mohawk Valley, General Burgoyne was defeated in the Battle of Saratoga. It was at this battle that one of my ancestors, Colonel thaddeus Cook, “won for himself distinction under General Horatio Gates.” With the surrender of the main British army in the north, a renewed hope for victory spread across the colonies, eventually leading to the founding of this great country.

Sources and superscripts omitted by the editor.