Monday, March 11, 2013

Some Local Colour

Upper Castle (Canajoharie) Church, built in 1769.
Sometimes, while researching, I'll come across a small story, an interesting tidbit of colour in the midst of all the dates and details. Such is the following that I found while investigating the life of Molly Brant.

More has been written about Joseph Brant than Molly, his older sister. That could be because he was male, and historians of the 18th and 19th centuries tended to ignore female subjects; and Captain Joseph Brant, a decorated military veteran, was a more flamboyant figure. But both are credited with keeping five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy on the side of the British during the American Revolution.

In 1769 Sir William Johnson, Molly Brant's common-law husband and the father of her eight children, had a church built for the Mohawk of Canajoharie. The wealthy and influential Superintendent of Indian Affairs of the northern colonies, Sir William was also a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Gospel. He paid for the church out of his own pocket, as a favour to Molly and her people.

The loyalist Mohawk had fled the area for their lives, heading to Canada in 1777, along with Molly and Joseph. Sometime later, some of them returned, arriving in the middle of the night with a plan to steal the bell from their church at Upper Castle.

They managed to lower the bell from the steeple and secure it to a branch in order to carry it between them. They hadn't tied down the clapper, however, and as they were leaving the scene, the clapper clanged against the bell, waking the locals. These stout souls scrambled from their beds and hurried to save the bell from the would-be thieves. 

One can only imagine the scene that ensued!

The little church still stands today, just off Route 5 South, near Canajoharie in central New York State. It was moved and remodelled in 1850, but the bell is as it was the night the Mohawk tried to reclaim it.