Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November Rambles through Molly Brant Country

At Fort Johnson, on the western edge of Amsterdam, NY, I got my first look at the Mohawk River. Here on the riverbank in 1749 Sir William Johnson, one of the most powerful white men in 18th century America, built his third Mohawk Valley residence. He was thirty-four.

The Mohawk River, the largest tributary of the Hudson, flows generally east through the Mohawk Valley. It was the waterway used by many British sympathizers in their flight to Upper Canada during and after the American Revolution. (Laura Secord's family, the Ingersolls, travelled 100 miles against the current of the Mohawk before portaging to Oneida Lake. Then it was on to Port Oswego and the final leg of their journey across Lake Ontario.)

Fort Johnson, home of William Johnson & Molly Brant

Around 1759, Sir William brought the young Mohawk woman, Molly Brant, to live with him as his wife in Fort Johnson, the name he gave this stone manor house. William Johnson was forty-four; Molly in her early twenties. Here at Fort Johnson a number of their children were born.

Plaque showing a northern view of Fort Johnson, Sir William's estate.  

From Fort Johnson we followed Route 5 along the Mohawk River, west towards Palatine Bridge where we crossed to the south side of the waterway and the village of Canajoharie. This village is named after the Upper Mohawk Castle where Molly was born, about 1736.

Unfortunately, Wintergreen Park that affords public access to the overlook above Canajoharie Falls was closed for the season. Here, millions of years ago a glacial river cut a three-mile gorge through the rock.

"Canajohie" means "a pot that washes itself" and it was so-called by the Mohawk people because of a large circular pothole, ground into solid rock near the lower end of the gorge through which the creek flows. The name was used for the Upper Mohawk Castle as well as the creek, the gorge, the falls, and today's village.

Village sign with photo of "the pot that washes itself."

Back in town, we visited the very attractive Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery, one of the finest small art galleries in the US. Here we were able to pick up brochures and maps of the area and talk to the very helpful staff. The art gallery's core collection consists of 350 paintings by American artists, including 21 oils and watercolours by Winslow Homer. It is well worth a visit.

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