Fort Stanwix was constructed in 1758 to guard a portage between the main waterway southeastward to the Atlantic seacoast, down the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, and an important interior waterway northwestward to Lake Ontario, down Wood Creek and Oneida Lake to Oswego.
In 1768, Fort Stanwix was the site of an important treaty conference between the British and the Iroquois, arranged by William Johnson. By the time of this treaty, the fort had become dilapidated and inactive. The purpose of the conference was to renegotiate the boundary line between Indian lands and white settlements set forth in the Proclamation of 1763. The British government hoped a new boundary line might bring an end to the rampant frontier violence, which had become costly and troublesome. Indians hoped a new, permanent line might hold back white colonial expansion.
The final treaty was signed on November 5 and extended the earlier proclamation much further west. The Iroquois had effectively ceded Kentucky to the whites. However, the tribes who actually used the Kentucky lands, primarily Shawnee, Delaware, and Cherokee, had no role in the negotiations. Rather than secure peace, the Fort Stanwix treaty helped set the stage for the next round of hostilities.
Fort Stanwix was abandoned in 1768 and allowed to go to ruin.
The fort was reoccupied by Colonial troops under the command of Colonel Elias Dayton on July 12, 1776. They began reconstruction and renamed it Fort Schuyler, although many continued to call it Fort Stanwix. Colonel Peter Gansevoort took over command of the fort on May 3, 1777.
On August 3, 1777, the fort was besieged by The King’s 8th Regiment of Foot, Loyalists, and Indians, under the command of Brigadier General Barry St. Leger, as part of a three-pronged campaign to divide the American colonies. Gansevoort refused the terms of surrender offered by the British, and the siege commenced.
According to local folklore, when the Colonial troops raised the flag over the fort on August 3, 1777, it was the first time that the Flag of the United States was flown in battle. It is more likely that the flag flown at Fort Schuyler was one that consisted only of thirteen stripes, an early version of the Flag of New York, or the Grand Union Flag.
The Battle of Oriskany was fought a few miles away when an American relief column, led by General Nicholas Herkimer, was ambushed by Tories and their Indian allies. While many of the besiegers were attending to that battle, the defenders of the fort sallied forth and attacked the enemy camp, looting and destroying enemy stores. Demoralized and reduced in strength, the British withdrew when they heard reports of the approach of yet another relief column, led by General Benedict Arnold. The British forces withdrew through Canada and joined Burgoyne’s campaign at Fort Ticonderoga.
The British failure to capture the fort and proceed down the Mohawk Valley was a severe setback and helped lead to the defeat of General John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga.
In April 1779, an expedition from Fort Schuyler against the Onondaga people was begun by the Continental Army led by Col. Goose Van Schaick.
The fort burned to the ground on May 13, 1781 and was not rebuilt. It was abandoned and the garrison took up quarters at Fort Herkimer.
A second Treaty of Fort Stanwix was conducted at the fort between the Americans and the Indians in 1784. During the War of 1812 a blockhouse was built on the parade ground. Beginning in 1828 the fortifications were dismantled.
The fort was designated a National Monument on August 21, 1935. Between 1974 and 1978 the National Park Service reconstructed the fort; a new visitor center was added in 2005. The monument is currently open year around, operated by the National Park Service.