Many of the descriptions about fortifications in the Upper Hudson Valley, close to New France, were written by soldiers, travelers and settlers during the wars in the 18th century and into the 19th century.
Since many of the North American colonies were defended by Independent Companies, the regular English and, later, British armies had little direct influence on fortification designs, which created a high demand for the assistance of military engineers.
Colonial officials repeatedly bemoaned the lack of well-trained engineers to help construct, manage and improve the colonial defenses. By and large, the colonial English forts were vernacular styles likely reflecting a broad range of European philosophies, mixed with New World materials, labor forces, conditions, and threats.
Colonel Wolfgang Roemer, a Dutch engineer by training, who remained along the colonial frontier between 1697 and 1704, represented the first attempt by the English Crown to standardize and improve the colonial defenses. Roemer may have had a hand in the design of forts around 1703 for Niskayuna and Halfmoon and perhaps preparation for the proposed fort at Schaghticoke.
During his relatively short stay in America, Roemer had a large influence on building traditions and his plans for improving the forts especially in Albany and New York were only marginally improved upon over the course of the next half century by the likes of Colonel John Redknap in the 1710s.
The Seven Years’ War (the French and Indian War in the New York) ushered into America a new cadre of well-trained and experienced military engineers who vastly improved the colonial defenses. Before this, engineering was undertaken by self-trained and self-motivated individuals, especially in New York, such as Nicholas Schuyler, who may have been responsible for the design of Fort Clinton.
Schuyler had little practical experience and no formal training and likely relied on imported text from France and Italy that detailed the “art” and practice of military engineering. English treatises and translations of treatises, such as those by John Muller, Marshal Saxe, Guillame Le Blond, and others, were not widely available in America until after the Seven Years’ War. Of the few widely available treatises in the early 18th century was Introduction a la Fortification published by French cartographer Nicholas Fer in 1693.
1689 Fort Vrooman
Based on what little is known about Fort Vrooman, perhaps even the term “fort” is hyperbole. More likely, the outpost as described in historical accounts was a fortified farmstead surrounded by a wooden palisade. Its exact location on the landscape is unknown today. We know even less about Bartel Vrooman, the farmer and namesake. It is likely he was a tenant farmer or lessee from one of the principal owners of the Saratoga Patent (1684), but whether he was farming on Schuyler or Livingston land is yet unclear.
The fortification was created in response to a French and Native attack on Saratoga in 1689 (during King William’s War, 1689-1697), a prelude to a far more serious and deadly attack on Schenectady the following year. At least three people were killed in the assault on Vrooman’s farm. By 1689, it is likely that in addition to the seasonal traders who fluctuated in and out of Saratoga (including Albany Dutch, English, French Canadians, and numerous Native groups), there was a small but growing numbers of permanent settlers farming the land. The fort likely provided a safety net for this small agricultural village.
Although the historical record is largely silent on the exact condition and location of Fort Vrooman, some insight can be gleaned from later accounts, the landscape and topography, and recent archeology. In 1749, while traveling north along the Hudson River valley, Pehr Kalm (Peter Kalm) described the farmsteads as typically lying close to the river on small hills, or on the high–ground, and surrounded by large fields of maize. In addition each house had a “kitchen garden” and orchards.
There are several elevated knolls, near and north of the later Fort Clinton that may lend themselves to the location of an early farmstead, as described by Kalm. These locations may have value for a homestead since they were elevated above any potential floods, and may have also served as a defensive feature to provide observation from these isolated and vulnerable farmsteads.
Recent archeology on Van Schaick Island in northern Albany County near the confluence of the Mohawk River and Hudson River also provides some insights. A small house or structure, dating from about 1640 to 1720 was recently unearthed, very close to the west shore of the Hudson River. The structure is currently interpreted as a traders’ outpost, which had evidence of a substantial wooden palisade surrounding the structure. The archeological feature was almost certainly associated with the initial occupation and use of the island by the Van Schaick family.
In 1709, a British force of 1,500 soldiers along with 600 Mohawk warriors, cut a road through the forest which began at Schuylerville on the east side of the Hudson River, and extended northward to Fort Edward, and then following Wood Creek to Whitehall.
Along this road, three forts were constructed – Fort Anne, Fort Nicholson and Fort Saratoga. According to Kalm, these three forts were all were wooden with log palisades, square in outline with officer barracks at the corners. These forts are described as “constructed wholly of timber and were similar to the other stockade fortifications of the country at that period – affording an effectual defence against any attack of musketry, but incapable of withstanding artillery.”
Fort Anne, the northernmost of these fortifications, was erected on the west side of Wood Creek, about a half mile south of the town of Fort Ann. The fort was situated on a small rising ground, and Kalm claims the burned palisade posts were still visible following a fire in 1711 that destroyed the fort.
Fort Nicholson (Fort Lydius from 1744-1748 and Fort Edward after 1754) was built at the start of the Great Carrying Place, possibly on the same site as later fortifications of Fort Edward. Kalm described Fort Nicholson as “not so much a fort, as a magazine to Fort Anne” and Fort Anne “built in the same manner as the forts Saratoga and Nicholson.”
After the Dellius patent (granted to Dominie Godredius Dellius by Governor Benjamin Fletcher in 1696) was voided by Governor Bellomont (Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont) in 1699, the lands north of Fort Saratoga were once again available for purchase and settlement. John Schuyler and Robert Livingston, Jr. purchased about 800 acres of the former tract centered on Fort Nicholson and extending along the road to the carrying place at Fort Anne.
Fort Saratoga was located on a hilltop in Easton, across the river and opposite from Schuylerville.
By the time of King George’s War (1744–1748), it was reported that Fort Anne and Fort Nicholson were quite dilapidated, and though the government was urged repeatedly to fix them, they were allowed to fall into further disrepair. A description of Fort Anne in 1776 indicated that it was a simple picket fort without ditch or earth embankment. It was square and enclosed approximately half an acre’s space which was manned by a garrison of between 50 to 100 men. The fort contained a single wooden clapboard barracks, one story high, sixteen feet wide and thirty or forty feet long.
1711 Fort Miller
Fort Miller, located at the second Carrying Place on the west side of the Hudson River was constructed in 1711 (during Queen Anne’s War, 1702-1713) in a manner which utilized the terrain to provide natural defensive features. It was described as having storehouses which were built “upon the flat on the west side of the river at the head of the falls. This flat is protected upon three of its sides by the river, which curves around it in a form to that of a horse shoe. About one-third of the remaining side is covered by a lagune or narrow bay which makes off from the river.”
A timber and earth covered parapet with a “deep fosse” in front was located on the flats, and extended from the bay to the river. A blockhouse had also been built on the western bluff overlooking the flats which was said to have made this the “strongest position of any of the carrying-places along the river.”
1721 Fort Burnet (Mount Burnet)
It is likely that Fort Burnet was set along a hill near the Hudson River portage to monitor and stop traders as they crossed over the first carrying place. Further it was sited outside of the Saratoga patent lands, likely for political and economic reasons.
Accounts regarding Fort, or Mount, Burnet are helpful in clarifying the location of the numerous forts in and around Old Saratoga during the first half of the 18th century. The idea of a fort on the east side of the Hudson River has been perpetuated since Pehr (Peter) Kalm’s account, and was recounted in numerous secondary histories. Based on the Cadwallader Colden maps, and descriptions from Lieutenant Blood and Governor William Burnet, it appears Fort Burnet was situated “above” and opposite Saratoga along the east side of the Hudson River.
Further, the fort was said to be sited on a small hill or knoll, likely along what was known as the “first carrying place,” a falls and rapid just upstream of the confluence of the Hudson River and Batten Kill. The fort was built in 1721 and may have lasted until the 1730s at which time it was no longer needed, as its defined purpose had little to do with defense and more with stopping illicit trade with Canada.
To date, archeological evidence of Fort Burnet has been elusive. In the 19th century, Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester reported evidence of burials, musket balls, and guns on the hills opposite Northumberland on the Finney farm. The farm at that time was situated just east of the falls on the Hudson River in the town of Greenwich, just below the Fort Miller Bridge.
When a fort was needed in anticipation of King George’s War, a new construction closer to the settlements and farms of Saratoga proper was proposed. During the early 1740s, Colonel John Schuyler secured the necessary funds for building a fort from the Assembly and documents suggest he was negotiating the location of the fort shortly afterward. It is likely that Schuyler advocated for a new fort closer to his estate. His arguments appear to have eventually prevailed and the location of the first carrying place and the former Fort Burnet were abandoned
With the threat of the onset of war, new fortifications were contemplated along the Hudson River to defend the northern frontier. By this time, it is likely that Fort Burnet had long been abandoned, as the policy of attempting to stop illicit trade with Canada had been proven to be ill-advised and unenforceable. As a result, a new location could be selected, one that provided greater protection for the settlement at Saratoga and one built for military purposes rather than policing activities.
Fort Clinton, was situated to monitor the movement of troops along the Hudson River and to command both sides of the river in case the French moved by land. Its location was likely selected by Colonel John Schuyler in coordination with Nicholas Schuyler, then Deputy Surveyor for the state of New York. Key to its location was likely its proximity to the Schuyler estate along the Fish Creek, and perhaps other smaller farmsteads located along the alluvial flats.
Aside from the Vrooman farm, at least one other farmstead in the vicinity is known from the historical record. The Ten Broeck farm was described by an unnamed officer at the battle (likely Peter Schuyler) as lying on a small rise between Fort Clinton and the Schuyler house. The fort may have also provided cover for farms on the east side on the De Ridder patent (former Cornelius Van Dyke lands north of “Fish Creek.”), and other farmsteads located further south near Coveville Road.
Based on an archeological survey and historical records, the first iteration of the fort was likely 100 feet square with four bastions or blockhouses placed at the corners in 1739. The design may have been similar, or exactly the same, as Fort Hunter. The fort was plagued by poor construction and commanding officers and garrison troops complained endlessly concerning the inadequate conditions of the fort, including unfinished floors, leaking roofs, and the lack of wells and ovens.
During King George’s War (1744-1748), the primary military encounters in the Saratoga area were focused on the Schuyler estate and associated settlements and Fort Saratoga/Fort Clinton. The most significant event was the 1745 First Battle of Saratoga (really more of a raid) in which a force of 500 French and Indian allies from Fort St. Fredrick (at Crown Point) attacked the village, burning 30 houses, several mills, and the fort as well as killing, scalping, and capturing soldiers and residents.
While the fort was reconstructed during the fall and winter of 1745–1746, it is not clear if any of the earlier could be reused. Judging from the rapid mobilization to reestablish the defenses, it is likely that no substantial changes were made and the fort was simply repaired to a point that it could be re-occupied and garrisoned.
Colonel Philip Schuyler appears to have been the driving force behind the construction of what would become known as Fort Clinton, the rebuilt and enlarged Fort Saratoga. Schuyler personally oversaw the re-construction and advanced money for workers, materials, and supplies. At the same time, he was likely engaged in rebuilding the family’s nearby mills and farmhouses destroyed during the French attack as well.
While the second iteration of the fort likely followed the footprint and plans of the original, the larger garrison force introduced later in 1746 required an expansion and improvement to the fort. Exactly when this happened is a matter of some speculation. Most likely, the expansion occurred when there was a significant garrison to provide cover from the construction, and when there was a need to increase the footprint of the fort to house the larger garrison. Following this line of logic, the fort was likely increased in the late summer and early autumn of 1746.
At this time, the footprint of the fort appears to have been increased by “one-half,” expanding from 100 feet square to a rectangular-shaped 150 feet by about 100 feet. As part of the expansion, the former blockhouses were left within the curtain wall, creating a rectangular plan with six bastions, four in the corners and two along the sides, exactly as described by the French after the fourth battle at Saratoga in August 1747.
In addition, it appears the fort was supported by a large detached storehouse and was “rabetted,” likely meaning that the fort was protected with an outer defensive work of entrenchments and angled rampart walls, but it is uncertain as to the exact meaning.
Shortly afterwards, the entire fort was burned and destroyed by the English as they retreated southwards to the protection of Albany and Schenectady. The French reported the fort to stand 150 feet long by 140 feet wide with a palisade about two feet thick. The palisade may refer to the rampart walls (revetments), and the size may be an error, as the fort actually appears by this description to be more
square than rectangular, as evidenced in later archeology and earlier accounts.
Also at this time, twenty chimneys were still standing in the fort, suggesting there were a sizable number of quarters in the fort for troops and officers. There was no mention of a storehouse or magazine, despite the fact that some munitions were left behind.
None of the historical accounts, or archeology to date, mention other important components of an 18th -century fortification. There was no mention of stables, gardens, latrines, moats, a well, of other defensive outworks such as redans. Also curious is the fact that no cemetery is mentioned. At least 65 troops were killed at Saratoga, not including the local residents who died in the first raid.
In addition, the loss from smallpox and other infectious diseases must have been quite great, especially considering the accounts of poor living conditions and drainage. As such, there must have been a sizable cemetery near the fort.
Given the number of canoes and bateaux that traveled to and from the fort, it also seems likely there may have been docks, wharves, or other waterfront features, but the historical record is silent on these potential features as well. Nor is there documentation of middens or garbage dumps from the large number of troops that were at the site. Perhaps, much of the waste was thrown into the nearby river and washed away.
Fort Edward, located on the east side of the Hudson River on the north side of the mouth of Fort Edward Creek (probably on or near the original location of Fort Nicholson), was an irregular quadrangular form with bastions at three of the angles, the fourth angle being effectually protected by the river. Constructed in 1754 of timber and earth, the ramparts were 16 feet high, 22 feet thick and were mounted with six cannons. Structures within the fort were supplemented by the storehouses and barracks located on Rogers Island.
A 1788 account of Fort Edward describes it as “quite perfect, though dilapidated.” Three of the four blockhouses were still standing as outposts on the surrounding hills. One was located on the other side of the river, west of the dam, and another located southeast of the fort. The third was located on the hill north of the village, and “was standing in excellent condition – it was built of squared timber, the corners dovetailed together and roofed with boards and perforated with portholes large enough to run out the muzzle of a cannon.”
1757 Fort Hardy
Fort Hardy, built in 1757, was described as a “large barrack on the north side of the mouth of Fish Creek, with a very deep ditch on its west and north sides over which was a drawbridge.” Two barracks, not very large, but well-built, with brick chimneys were located on the outside of the perimeter ditch to the south. Several accounts indicate that these barracks became houses and apartments relatively soon after their construction.
One woman related that in 1767, she was born in “Schuylerville in the barracks there in sight of General Schuyler’s residence.” In 1771, the barracks on the interior of the fort was occupied by a Dutch family, while several “emigrant families occupied one of the barracks” on the outside of the ditch. These three barracks buildings were considered to be the “best of any that were to be seen hereabouts.” The barracks had brick chimneys, which were a great rarity, so far in the country as this.”
Illustrations, from above: Fort Vrooman, Fort Saratoga and Fort Clinton historic sign in 2012 (photographed By Bill Coughlin); map showing Fort Anne, Fort Edward and its relation to Lake George and Fort William Henry, Fort George; Lewis Evans map of the English colonies in 1749 (reprinted 1752) – Fort Clinton is labeled as Saratoga; and a detail of the Plan of the Environs of Fort Edward map (1756).
This essay was drawn from Inventory King William’s and King George’s Wars Battlefields: 1689-1697 and 1744 to 1748 (June 2015), a report prepared by Matthew Kirk, Elise Manning-Sterling, Walter R. Wheeler, and Tracy Miller of Hartgen Archeological Associates for the Natural Heritage Trust for the National Park Service, American Battlefield Protection Program. You can read the full report, which includes the full notes and additional information here.