Johnstown

Battle of Klock’s Field to be among topics at American Revolution conference

Historic Fort Klock, located on Route 5 just east of St. Johnsville, will be one of the topics discussed at this weekend’s American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. (Bill Buell)
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Historic Fort Klock, located on Route 5 just east of St. Johnsville, will be one of the topics discussed at this weekend’s American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. (Bill Buell)

The Battle of Klock’s Field isn’t about to make Revolutionary War buffs forget Saratoga or Yorktown, but for those of us in the Mohawk Valley it’s a fascinating tale whose history is still being written.

Wade Catts and Robert Selig, two men who have immersed themselves in the profession of preserving and rediscovering history, will be among the speakers at this weekend’s American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference Friday through Sunday at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
Catts, from Newark, Delaware, and Selig, from Holland, Michigan, are historical consultants who will deliver a lecture titled “The Battles of Stone Arabia and Klock’s Field, Oct. 19, 1780: A Study,” during Saturday’s day-long series of presentations organized by the Fort Plain Museum and Historical Park.

“We’re discovering some new material on the battle, and we’re still trying to figure out exactly how things unfolded,” said Norm Bollen, president of the Fort Plain Museum, which hired Catts and Selig as consultants to delve deeper into the history of that day 241 years ago this fall. “Sometimes the information can be a little sketchy, and when you go through the pension records of the people involved, you get different types of narratives. There appears to have been more fighting going on at Klock’s Field and Stone Arabia then we originally realized.”

The military action in that section of Montgomery County, just a few miles east of St. Johnsville, is one of just many battlefields around the country Catts and Selig have examined first hand.

“Our work on the battlefields is combining historical documents, topography and archaeology to understand the full extent of the actions on that day in 1780,” said Catts. “We are working closely with the Fort Plain Museum committee to develop the study.”

On that day, Sir John Johnson, who remained loyal to the British, and his ally, Mohawk warrior Joseph Brant, attacked farms and homes in what is today the town of Nelliston along Route 5. It’s generally considered a moderate American victory since colonial troops, many of them Albany County Militia, drove Johnson’s tories and Brant’s Mohawks back to the relative safety of central New York. But it does get complicated according to Catts.

“We are considering the combined battles of Klock’s Field and Stone Arabia in a broad historical context and strategic perspective; the intent by Crown Forces to systematically damage the Mohawk Valley settlements,” said Catts. “That damage and destruction left in its wake is an archaeological signature that can be used to understand and interpret the community of Stone Arabia in 1780.”

Stone Arabia, which lies just northeast of Klock’s Field, is where the action started that day, and Klock’s Field, the fortified home of farmer George Klock, is where the day ended. The conflict is also often referred to as Battle of Failing’s Orchard and the Battle of Nellis Flats.

South River Heritage Consulting is the name of Catts’ business, and Selig works with him on a regular basis. With the help of GIS mapper Kevin Bradley of Fairfax, Virginia, they have done extensive investigations into other Revolutionary War battlefields such as Brandywine, Princetown and nearby Bennington and Hubbardton in Vermont.

Along with their presentation, a number of other American Revolution experts will be on hand discussing a variety of topics. Former WGY personality Bob Cudmore will be the emcee of the event, which will begin Friday night with a “fireside chat” with William M. Fowler, a noted historian and professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

The Fort Plain Museum had its initial American Revolutionary War Conference in 2015 at the Arkel Museum in Canajoharie. It has been held at F-MCC ever since, although the COVID-19 Pandemic did cancel the 2020 event.

“We didn’t want to cancel the thing two years in a row, and we were hoping things would open up fast enough to hold it this year,” said Bollen. “Usually we would have it in June but we thought it would be a good idea to push it back to August.”

Bollen said the event’s organizers are keeping a close eye on CDC guidelines. Despite health concerns, people are signing up for the event and a special bus tour on Sunday to Klock’s Field and Stone Arabia is already filled up.

“There’s certainly a large market out there of people, especially in the Mohawk Valley, who are interested in the American Revolution,” said Bollen, referring to the popularity of the conference. “We didn’t know for certain that it was going to catch on like it did in 2015, but the word got out pretty quickly after our Arkel event that we put on a pretty good conference.”

Also scheduled to speak on Saturday is George Washington biographer and historical novelist David O. Stewart, Monticello vice president Andrew O’Shaughnessy, and Saratoga National Historic Park and Battlefield ranger Eric Schnitzer, who will talk about “The Value of Revisionism: Don Troiani’s Campaign to Saratoga – 1777.”

Ballston’s Jim Richmond will discuss his book, “War on the Middleline: The Founding of a Community in the Kayaderosseras Patent in the Midst of the American Revolution,” while other local presenters include Wayne Lenig who will talk about “Joseph Brant’s 1780 raid on Fort Plain and the Canajohary Settlement.”

The cost of the conference is $100. For a complete list of speakers and information about reserving a spot, visit www.fortplainmuseum.org.

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