Indian Castle Church
Indian Castle Church
The Indian Castle church “was built in 1769 by the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Sir William Johnson, with help from the Mohawk siblings Molly and Joseph Brant, who donated land to the cause. Throughout the span of the 18th century, war, disease, and emigration severely reduced the Mohawk population in Canajoharie, and an influx of both white and non-Mohawk Native Americans resulted in a diverse and ethnically mixed culture. Wheelock’s missionary work in this village in the 1760s was headed by Theophilus Chamberlain, while Abraham major, Abraham minor, and Peter (Mohawk) maintained missionary schools near Canajoharie.” – Occum Circle, Dartmouth Library
Joseph and Molly Brant donate land for the mission church
The land for the mission church was donated by Upper Castle Mohawks at Canajoharie (Kanatsyohare) Joseph and Molly Brant. Born to Margaret and Peter Tehonwaghkwangeraghkwa, Joseph in 1742-1743 (Thayendanegea), and Mary in 1736 (later called Molly), were descendants of very prominent Mohawks. Their great-grandfather of their matrilineal line was Brant Saquainquaragton who was the first holder of the important title given to a “chieftain who carried smoking brand from one village to kindle a council fire in another village.” – Barbara Sivertsen, Turtles, Wolves and Bears
Thayendenegea would be remembered as an important Mohawk leader who allied with Sir William Johnson and supported the British cause during the Revolutionary War. Traveling to England in 1776, Brant met King George III. Voicing his concerns over the colonists’ failure to abide by the 1768 Fort Stanwix Treaty, Brant was assured that the land disputes would be dealt with one the war with the colonies was over. Before leaving England Brant accepted the war belt, meaning that he had decided to support the King in this “family dispute” with the colonies. Brant’s actions, along with his sister’s influence, would be a factor that brought about the split of the Six Nations Confederacy. – Thayendanegea — Joseph Brant, National Park Service
In 1754, at 18 years old and well educated, Konwatsi’tsiaienni, known also as Molly, was already politically active as evidenced with her travels with Mohawk Elders to Philadelphia to discuss fraudulent land claims. She continued advocating for the Mohawk people and later in a traditional Mohawk ceremony, became William Johnson’s common-law wife. Molly retained her Mohawk heritage while supporting the British cause by providing intelligence to the Loyalist troops which would lead to the ambush at the Battle of Oriskany. After the war, Molly moved to Kingston, Canada and was known to be “pro-British and pro-Haudenosaunee for the remainder of her life. – Molly Brant, National Park Service
Construction for the Indian Castle Church rested with Sir William Johnson
In 1769, with the land secured, the next task was to build the mission church. With Sir William Johnson overseeing and paying for the entire construction project, it was completed within the year.
William Johnson traveled to America in the 1740s to manage his uncle’s Mohawk Valley estate. In this capacity, he learned about the local people of the Haudenosaunee Six Nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. In his trading and land dealings, he learned much about the Mohawks including their language and customs. The Mohawks named him, “Warrighiyagey” variously translated ad the “doer of great things” or “in the midst of affairs.” He was appointed as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1755. In 1759 he became the only colonist to be knighted with the title of Baron. Sir William Johnson worked to ally the Six Nations to the British cause. As the British Loyalists and colonists faced war, the alliance of the Six Nations fractured with the Mohawks, Onondagas, Senecas and Cayugas supporting the British while the Oneidas and Tuscaroras supported the Colonial militia. Sir William died in 1774 during an Indian Conference in his home. – David L. Preston, The Texture of Contact
The Indian Castle Church, built in 1769, held dedication services on June 17, 1770, with Rev. Harry Munro of St. Peter’s Church in Albany preached the sermon.
Although Johnson was never successful in finding a permanent missionary for the upper castle, the missionary at the lower castle, John Stuart, held frequent services in the new church. Little is known about the Indian Castle Church during this period. In all probability it stood vacant, but it may have served as a neighborhood refuge for homeless Whigs.
After the Revolution the church served a number of Protestant congregations. Reformed Dutch seem to have been the first whites to claim the structure. A congregation was formed in 1800 under the Reverend Christopher Pick. In 1820 a “Union Congregation” was formed, but little is known of their activities. Presbyterians used the building from 1833 until at least 1835; Lutherans were active there in 1838. On February 1, 1855 a meeting of the inhabitants living near the church was called “for taking into consideration the propriety of repairing; or rebuilding a new house [of worship] upon the site of the old.” Another Union Church Society was formed, and Methodists, Presbyterians, Calvinists, Lutherans and Universalists, cooperated in the organization.