German Flats (Herkimer), New York

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German Flats (Herkimer), New York

GERMAN FLATS (HERKIMER), NEW YORK. 13 September 1778. Originally called Burnet's Field, this settlement was actually a ten-mile stretch of the Mohawk Valley extending west from the mouth of West Canada Creek, with its center five miles south of the subsequently named Herkimer. Its name comes from the fact that the first settlers were German immigrants from the Palatine. It contained about seventy houses on both sides of the river when the Revolution started, including Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer's stockaded mansion (called Fort Herkimer). Two miles westward on the north bank of the river was Fort Dayton, established by Colonel Elias Dayton in the fall of 1776 on the site of an earlier French and Indian War post. It was one of the few Continental Army posts in the Mohawk Valley and its explicit purpose was to protect German Flats.

In the late summer of 1778, the settlers heard rumors that Joseph Brant and Captain William Caldwell intended to raid German Flats with a force of 300 Loyalists and 150 Mohawk warriors. In response, Colonel Peter Bellinger, commander of Fort Dayton, sent out scouts to probe towards Unadilla, which was suspected of being Brant's base. They were ambushed near the later town of Edmeston. Three scouts were killed but the fourth, Adam Helmer, got away. He had a reputation as the best cross-country runner in the valley, and his escape is the basis for Henry Fonda's dash in the movie Drums Along the Mohawk (1939). Helmer reached the settlement on 13 (or 17) September and gave the alarm in time for most of the inhabitants to retreat into the several local forts. Brant's raiding party came up the Unadilla River by way of Cedarville and arrived on the southern end of the settlement an hour after the alarm. Unaware of the fact that the inhabitants were already warned, he camped for the night near the known Loyalist area of Shoemaker's Tavern (modern Mohawk). The next day the raiders had to content themselves with burning the abandoned farms and mills from Little Falls to Frankford.

On 29 October 1780, Sir John Johnson passed through German Flats after raiding Schoharie Valley. In early 1781 Indians appeared in small parties and destroyed property at German Flats. The hated Walter Butler was captured at Shoemaker's house.

SEE ALSO Border Warfare in New York; Butler, Walter.


Roberts, Robert B. New York's Forts in the Revolution. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1980.

Mintz, Max M. Seeds of Empire: The American Revolutionary Conquest of the Iroquois. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

                            revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.