Historic Oriskany New York

Oriskany Monument

Oriskany, NY is a small village with a rich history nestled between the cities of Rome and Utica in the center of the state.

The name Oriskany is derived from the Indians of the Oneida Tribe.
They named it "Oriska", for "River of Nettles".
Oriskany Battlefield
Col. Gerritt Lansing is considered the founder of Oriskany. He came to Oriskany in 1785, to survey the land. He fell in love with the beauty and richness of the land. Col. Lansing left Oriskany to serve throughout the Revolutionary War. He came back in 1811 and established the Oriskany Manufacturing Company. The village of Oriskany sprang up around the company soon after.    

August 6, 1777
A turning point of the American Revolution

Content about the Battle of Oriskany is taken from the pamphlet Historical Guide to the Battle of Oriskany by Allan Foote, and from other material found in the Oriskany Museum.



January, 1777, British General John Burgoyne is suggesting a plan to divide and conquer the American colonies; a plan which would bring him into the state of New York.  The proposal is basically valid, though quite complex in timing and coordination. His proposal is approved by the Crown, and in May, 1777, his ship arrives in Montreal.  With a strong force, Burgoyne will sweep south from Canada, capture Fort Ticonderoga and lead a drive on Albany.  Any significant American military presence in the colony of New York will be decimated, and New England, considered the hotbed of the Revolution, will be sealed off from the rest of the revolt.  In Albany he will come under the command of General William Howe, then based in New York City.

Burgoyne's plan also calls for a second column composed of British regulars, Hessians, Loyalists and Indians to come down the Mohawk River from the base at Oswego on Lake Ontario.  This secondary force will capture the rich farmland of the Mohawk Valley in New York and link up with Burgoyne in Albany.  By 1777 the Mohawk Valley, where Oriskany NY is, was considered the "Breadbasket of the Revolution", a main supplier of food for George Washington's army.

To command the western wing of his invading army, Burgoyne chooses Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger who had gained a reputation during the French and Indian War as a solid leader in frontier fighting.  On June 2, 1777, St. Leger took command of his soldiers, including Sir John Johnson.  They were joined by 100 Tory rangers under the leadership of Colonel John Butler.  Around June 21, St. Leger's command began its movement down the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario.  Upon reaching Fort Oswego, St. Leger's troops were met by about 1000 warriors of the Six Nation Confederacy, who were to join the British on its eastward march against the colonists.  On August 3, 1777 St. Leger and nearly 2000 fighting men reached Fort Stanwix in what is now Rome, NY.

At three o’clock in the afternoon, Sunday, August 3, 1777, Barry St. Leger formally invades Fort Stanwix, sending Captain Gilbert Tice to visit the garrison’s commandant, the young Peter Gansevoort.  On the same day, 40 miles away at Fort Dayton, another soldier is also answering his country’s call.  It is here that Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer has mustered 800 men of the patriot Tryon County Militia to march to the relief of their compatriots at Fort Stanwix.

On the morning of August 4 the rebel militia sets out on their mission.  Most of the men are farmers, and most are descended from the original Palatine settlers of the Mohawk Valley.  They spend their first night at Staring Creek.  The second night finds the men of Tryon County encamped near the Oneida Indian Bear Clan village of Oriska.  Earlier in the day, General Herkimer had sent three scouts to Peter Gansevoort at Fort Stanwix with a proposal for disrupting the enemy siege.  His plans in proper order, the Brigadier slumbers.  However, others in the camp are not so restful.

On the fateful morning of August 6, Herkimer calls a conference of his officers to discuss his plan.  When the sound of three cannons booming in succession are heard from Fort Stanwix, the militia are to advance westward.  At around the same time, Peter Gansevoort will launch a major sortie from the fort.  Squeezed between the two forces, the enemy siege will be severely disrupted.  Some junior officers and members of the political Tryon County Committee of Safety with the column are impatient.  They insist upon an immediate advance.  Finally the conspirators go too far when they accuse Herkimer of cowardice and disloyalty.  In a rage, Herkimer strides to his white horse, gives the order to march, and the column is on its way westward from the Oriska village toward Fort Stanwix.  A new group joins - sixty warriors of the Oneida Indian Nation led by their war chief Han Yerry Doxtader.  The presence of the Oneida braves fighting alongside the patriots gives America its first ally in war.  It also marks the end of the three-century "great peace" of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Perhaps moments after issuing his command, General Herkimer regrets it.  He knows the Military Road they now march along quite well.  As captain of militia he had helped to build it 19 years before.  The men of Tryon County are at risk, for at this moment, 700 of the enemy lie concealed in the tangled woods ahead, waiting in ambush.  About two miles west of Oriska, the Crown forces now wait in ambush.  They are positioned in a fishhook pattern.  The bulk of the Iroquois warriors and Tory rangers are on the high ground, south of the King’s Highway.  A detachment of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York blocks the road to Fort Stanwix.  The Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant, has selected this place wisely.    His plan is to attack the militia as they enter an upcoming ravine, and the patriots will be trapped in the marshy lowground.

The Tryon County Militia and Oneida allies march into the trap unaware, led by General Herkimer and Colonel Ebenezer Cox.  The advance guard is the first to be attacked while they were resting by a stream.  Exhilarated by this swift victory, the Mohawk and Seneca head down the Military Road directly into the path of the militia, and another bloody battle ensues. Ebenezer Cox is killed, along with other militia and Indians, and the militia panics.  Viewing this confusion, Joseph Brant now strikes from his position on the eastern heights, leading to more slaughter.

Oriskany Monument Oriskany Battlefield Sign
Oriskany Battlefield Monument, Oriskany New York

"The Military Road" Sign for Oriskany Battlefield

Oriskany Battlefield Base of Oriskany Monument

Commemoration of the battle takes place each year on August 6 at the Oriskany Battle Monument

Oriskany Battlefield Monument
USS Oriskany
USS ORISKANY
Commissioned on 25 September, 1950 and decommissioned 30 September 1975 was named in honor of this critical victory. After decommissioning one of the ship's huge anchors and one of its fighter jets were given to the village and are now on display in the town park.

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Last Update: Monday, September 24, 2012 8:38 AM