In colonial times, a traveler could journey all the way from New York City to Canada and back again by water, except for a short portage across nearly level ground between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek in what is now Rome, New York where Fort Stanwix National Monument stands to this day.

Fort Stanwix National Monument
© National Park Service
Fort Stanwix was built from log and earth in the summer of 1758.

Indians had used the portage, which they called De-O-Wain-Sta, for centuries. The British, realizing that the portage was crucial for commerce, settlement, and military activity in the area, built Fort Stanwix in the summer of 1758 to protect the land passage. The new log and earth fort replaced three smaller forts that had protected the portage during the early years of the French and Indian War. The fort was abandoned by the military after the British conquest of Canada in 1763, but it continued to serve as a center for Indian affairs.

The importance of Fort Stanwix for defense purposes was not realized again until after the American Revolution began in the spring of 1775, and patriot leaders began to rebuild the fort, which was by then in ruins. In 1777, two forces of British troops marched toward New York in an attempt to occupy the colony and disrupt the major supply and communications route between New England and the Middle Colonies. Fort Stanwix survived a three-week siege by one British force, which finally withdrew to Canada.

According to legend, the Stars and Stripes, hastily sewn up from garments, flew for the first time during this battle. The other British force, surrounded and cut off from reinforcements, surrendered in Saratoga. These two British defeats marked a turning point in the Revolution and led to the formal French, Dutch, and Spanish alliances that helped the patriots gain independence.

Fort Stanwix, a national monument since 1935, was carefully reconstructed in time for the 1976 Bicentennial, with earthworks, a cannon platform, barracks, and officers' quarters. Artifacts recovered during excavations shed light on the garrison life of the time.

A Bluff Saves the Fort

Fort Stanwix survived the three-week British siege with the help of a little trickery engineered by Benedict Arnold, who was still a patriot at the time.

Arnold and his troops were sent to relieve Fort Stanwix, but Arnold knew he didn't have enough men to take on the British army outside the fort, more than half of whom were Indian. So Arnold sent Hon Yost Schuyler, a loyalist whose family was being held hostage by the patriots, to spread the word that an American force numbering as many as "the leaves on the trees" was coming. The Indians deserted, and the British were left without enough troops to capture the fort. "Arnold's Bluff" saved Fort Stanwix.

Fort Stanwix National Monument Information

Address: 112 East Park St., Rome, NY
Telephone: 315/338-7730
Hours of Operation: Daily, 9 a.m - 5 p.m. April 1 - December 31 except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day
Admission: Free

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based author who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.