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History abounds at Fort Plain museum

A rendering a Fort Plain Museum video of what Fort Plain looked like at its fullest extent during the American Revolution. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

FORT PLAIN — The American Revolution was a messy affair, and the strategic location of New York state and Mohawk Valley was right in the midst of it.

The British tried unsuccessfully in a three-pronged attack in New York to divide New England from colonies in Pennsylvania and southward.

Outside of this major campaign, the Mohawk Valley was mired in a series of raids and skirmishes in which independence-minded colonials had to protect their crops while battling the British, colonials loyal to the crown, and British-allied Indians.

The Fort Plain Museum started out as a local museum in the 1960s since the site was a Revolutionary War fortified hilltop comprising 12 to 14 acres owned by Capt. Adam Lipe of the Tryon County Militia and his brother Johannes, Norman Bollen, chairman of the museum’s board of directors,said.

Bollen said the British were intent on burning crops that could supply Gen. George Washington’s troops on the lower Hudson River valley, which were trying to keep the British “bottled up in New York City.”

A model of the three-story blockhouse, which contained cannon and served as a lookout, at Fort Plain during the American Revolution is displayed at Fort Plain Museum. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

French engineers eventually expanded Fort Plain — also known as Fort Rensselaer — in 1781, and that included a block house with cannon.

During the 1960s, archeological work dug up colonial, Native American and Revolutionary War artifacts that are now displayed at the museum. A current grant of $50,000 from the National Park Service will allow the museum to outline the boundaries of the battles, examine the data of the battles in and around Fort Plain, and draw up a preservation plan.

One of the major encounters between the opposing forces was the Battle of Stone Arabia in 1780 in which an outnumbered colonial militia was defeated and its commander, Col. John Brown, killed. The British devastated the area, but soon after were defeated at Klock’s Field by Brig. Gen. Robert Van Rensselaer’s militia from Albany County and other levies. Bollen said the combat could be seen as two battles or a continuation of the Battle of Stone Arabia.

The area of Fort Plain extending out past Fort Stanwix — also known as Fort Schuyler — was then considered part of the frontier. The Mohawk Valley was the gateway to this area and beyond, the only water route to the interior of America.

A series of forts were built in the valley area, some having as few as six men and a cannon. These were built as lookouts and sometimes at places where the Mohawk could be forded. A cannon fired from any of these forts could be heard throughout the valley as a signal of a British raiding party, said Bollen, author of the book “George Washington and the Mohawk Frontier.”

Norman Bollen, chairman of the board of the Fort Plain Museum, points out the historic sites in the Mohawk Valley during the American Revolution. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

Fort Plain Museum has a library of history books for sale as well as rare books for research. It has displays and an archive of artifacts. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from mid-May through Columbus Day. From May through June it is open Wednesdays through Sundays. The museum opens its doors seven days a week in July and August, and from in September and October it is in operations Friday through Sunday — and by appointment.

In November it held a symposium on the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign Against the Iroquois 1779 Symposium with six speakers at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown that drew 250 people, including participants from 20 states and Canada.

The museum plans a historical bus tour of the Mohawk Valley and 10 to 12 speakers from June 11 to 14.

With assistance from Montgomery County, Fort Plain Museum is collaborating with other Mohawk Valley/Revolutionary War historic sites in Mohawk Country to preserve, protect and promote the valley’s history. That includes Fort Klock, Fort Johnson, Nellis Tavern, Palatine Church, Stone Arabia Church and the VanAlstyne House. The group is open to more participants to work together in promoting one another and tourism, including sites in other counties.

A painting of the Battle of Oriskany is displayed at Fort Plain Museum, one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

Display cases at Fort Plain Museum exhibit artifacts from the colonial period and the American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

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