Dadanascara Place — lonely then, lonely now

Lonely, dilapidated, but still restorable, Dadanascara Place today represents an historic location in serious need of rescue. (Photo courtesy of Peter Betz)

Mohawk Valley historic sites generating the strongest tourist appeal are usually either forts or places where battles occurred, but there are more obscure sites, like the spooky-looking old town of Mohawk home called Dadanascara Place, the revolutionary era residence of Frederick Vischer, colonel of Tryon County’s Revolutionary War Third Militia Regiment, and his family, that also experienced an exciting event.

Situated between Tribes Hill and Fonda along the old King’s Highway, (later the original Route 5), this historic site receives scant notice. Our modern four-lane highway whizzes traffic east and west just north of the old house at speeds faster than the original road could ever handle, but it’s really not the old house that’s important: it’s what happened there in May 1780.

‘Dadanascara’ a Mohawk word meaning “trees bearing fungus” refers to a mushroom gathering place. The building sits where any smart pioneer would have built an early home: near water (Dadanascara Creek flows beside it), transportation (the King’s Highway, the river, and later the railroad all run nearby), and the farmland (it overlooks the rich 1,000 acre bottomland of the 1750 Vischer Patent, acquired by Frederick’s father, Harmon).

Who was Col. Frederick Vischer and why is Dadanascara Place’s location historically important? Born in February 1741, Frederick Vischer, (Visgar or Fisher, take your pick), was pioneer Harmon’s oldest son, and along with younger brothers John and Harmon 2nd, he was an active patriot.

Appointed Tryon County’s Third Militia Regiment colonel, probably through both family prominence and his French War military experience, Frederick’s name appears often in contemporary communications. For example, from the July 17, 1774 Schenectady Safety Committee minutes, “Frederick Fisher applied to this board for ball for use of the inhabitants of Tryon County. Having taken said request into consideration — resolved, to furnish him two hundredweight of ball at the rate of forty shillings per hundred.”

On May 22, 1780, the Vischer family still slept, when through the early morning fog, a group of Indian and Loyalist raiders, detached from Sir John Johnson’s invading army, appeared and attacked the house. At home was Frederick, his mother, two sisters, and brothers Harmon and John.

Accounts agree the sisters somehow escaped out the back by running through heavy morning fog into the gorge behind the house. The mother and three brothers, however, were trapped on the second floor. The men fought, but were overcome. John and Harmon were killed and scalped. Col. Frederick was also scalped and left for dead. Their mother, accounts relate, was hit on the head, slumping into a chair. The raiders fired the house and left.

In Sir John Johnson’s post-raid report to Canadian Governor Sir Frederick Haldimand, he wrote, “The Indians contrary to my expectations killed only eleven men, among them Colonel Fisher, Captain Fisher, and another brother.”

He was unaware Frederick had survived.

Accounts vary regarding what happened next. Some state Frederick regained consciousness, dragged his mother outside and set her back in the chair. Others claim a neighbor’s slave named Tom pulled both Frederick and his mother from the burning house, brought Frederick water, and ran for help. Frederick’s mother’s chair still exists, preserved at old Fort Johnson, and it clearly shows its charred, blackened legs.

Frederick Vischer was taken by boat to Schenectady, treated there by Army doctors, and recovered. The family’s ordeal is related in a hurried May 26 letter from Henry Glen to Christopher P. Yates at Schenectady, stating, “The colonel (was) tom hack’d and sculp’d tho I Blieve he will Recover, his Good Mother received a blow of a tom hack but will do well.”

It’s hardly surprising Vischer had a long recovery. According to the April 24, 1947 Rome Sentinel, the Rome Historical Society houses Vischer’s pension document, awarded, “by virtue of being disabled in the service in consequence of being wounded and scalped at Caughnawaga on the 22nd of May 1780 by a party of Indians.”

His earlier 1768 Second Lieutenant’s militia commission is supposedly there also, signed by Colonial Governor Sir Henry Moore, both items given the society in 1881 by Historian Jeptha Simms. They were addressed, “To Frederick Vischer, Gentleman.”

Circa 1795, Frederick built a large, one and one-half story brick home, replacing the burned one. Long after, a 19th century member of Vischer’s granddaughter’s husband’s family, the Degraffs, added the present second story and Victorian tower. An early 19th century traveler visiting Vischer, recorded that when in company, he wore a cap, and beneath it a curved silver plate covering his scalping scars.

In 1929, Howard DeGraff installed the now forlorn-looking tennis court abutting the creek, but sold the property in 1949 after the early death of his son Alfred.

The once-imposing iron fence and gates are gone, sold, it’s said, for scrap. The narrow gorge behind the house reveals a beautiful, natural scene worth traversing, particularly during fall. The location was used by author Harold Frederic for his 1890 historical novel, “In the Valley.”

Frederick Vischer died June 9, 1809. It’s written that, when Gen. Washington dined at Clench’s Tavern in Schenectady in 1782, he requested that the colonel be seated at his right, in recognition of his sacrifices, and yes, the property is said to presently be for sale, so all you need do to acquire your own historic site is have an appreciation of history, a yen for privacy, and a whole lot of money.