How many times did George Washington visit Schenectady? Most people who concern themselves with such matters think it was three times. Norm Bollen says two.
Bollen, the board president for the Fort Plain Museum and Historical Park, will make a presentation titled “George Washington on the Mohawk” at 6:30 tonight at the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site’s Enders House in Fort Hunter. The talk is sponsored by the Friends of Schoharie Crossing and the public is invited free of charge.
Bollen, who is finishing up a book, “George Washington and the Mohawk Frontier,” said the general of the Continental Army during the American Revolution definitely made trips to upstate New York in 1782 and ’83. Any earlier visit to Schenectady, however, seems unlikely, he says.
“Washington’s movements were well known, and there’s no indication that he was in Schenectady or the Mohawk Valley in 1775,” said Bollen. “Some people point to Henry Glen of Schenectady writing about a conversation with Washington in that year, but Glen was in the provincial congress and my assumption is that conversation was most likely in New York City. I don’t think there’s any real conclusive evidence that Washington was up here at that time.”
Trip for baptism?
Bollen also suspects that Washington made a quick and private visit to Albany in 1781 for the baptism of Philip Schuyler’s daughter, Catherine. Washington was named Catherine’s godfather. While Bollen can’t be 100 percent certain about that trip, what is well documented are Washington’s two visits to Schenectady and the Mohawk Valley at the conclusion of the war. In 1782, when things were still a bit unsettled, Washington was feted at a dinner at Clench’s Tavern (near Schenectady County Community College) in Schenectady.
‘George Washington on the Mohawk’
WHAT: A presentation on the American Revolution by Norm Bollen
WHERE: Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site’s Enders House, 129 Schoharie St., Fort Hunter
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. today
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 829-7516, www.nysparks.com
“They were still worried about an invasion party from the north and raiding parties in 1782,” said Bollen, noting that the final war of the Revolution was the Battle of Johnstown in 1781, a week after Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown signalled the end of the conflict. “Washington didn’t go that far up the valley. But when he came back in 1783 he and Schuyler went all the way out the valley. By that summer people were returning to their homes on the frontier feeling much safer.”
It was during the summer of 1783 that Washington, accompanied by Albany’s Philip Schuyler, visited the Saratoga Battlefield and other war sites at Crown Point and Ticonderoga before heading west for a tour of the Mohawk Valley.
“It was the first example of the commander-in-chief touring the scene of a disaster,” Bollen said of Washington’s 1783 trip north. “He wanted to see the battlefield at Saratoga. He wanted to see the communities that were burned down in the Mohawk Valley. His entourage was big. Along with their guards there were probably 80 of them. Washington and Schuyler would travel light up ahead on horseback, and this large group, like a wagon train heading west, would follow them up the valley.”
Bollen’s presentation will also address political unrest in upstate New York just prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution, as well as the confrontation between loyalist leader John Johnson and Schuyler in January of 1776. Johnson was the son of Sir William Johnson, chief Indian agent for the American Colonies up until his death in 1775. Johnson, who built Fort Johnson just west of Amsterdam and Johnson Hall in Johnstown, would have undoubtedly sided with the British, according to Bollen.
“All their land and wealth was recognized by the British crown, so they were naturally going to fight hard to hang on to that,” said Bollen. “After Sir William died things really started heating up, and his son was involved in a lot of persecution aimed at people who were refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the king.”
Bollen’s talk will include a PowerPoint presentation using images painted by 19th century artist Rufus Grider.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]