After its first publication in 1936, Walter D. Edmonds’ classic historical novel Drums Along the Mohawk battled Gone With the Wind as the most popular historical novel of the ensuing years, and became a feature film in 1939 directed by John Ford, and starring Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda.
A New York Times review by Frank Nugent celebrated the film. “It is romantic enough for any adventure-story lover,” Nugent wrote. “It has its humor, its sentiment, its full complement of blood and thunder. About the only [John] Ford staple we miss is a fog scene. Rain, gun smoke and stockade burnings have had to compensate. The fusion of them all has made a first-rate historical film, as rich atmospherically as it is in action.” Those laudatory comments still suit the original novel just as well, but for those with an interest in the history of the Mohawk Valley, there’s more than just a good story.
Edmonds was born in 1903 in Boonville (Oneida County) and died in 1998. Edmonds was troubled by the presentation of the history of the American Revolution and used local primary sources to create life on the Revolution’s frontier. “Edmonds turned to ‘-Working with the sources’,” Frank Bergman wrote when Syracuse University Press took over publication of the novel in 1997. “His knowledge of the facts enabled Edmonds to dye his narrative in the wool- his history is color-fast and guaranteed not to fade…- His goal was not to establish ‘-how it actually was,’ but to allow his readers to experience the past as if it were the present.”
“To those readers who may have felt some curiosity about the actual occurrences in the Mohawk Valley during the Revolution,” Edmonds wrote in the book’s “Author’s Note”, I should like to say here that I have been as faithful to the scene and time and place as study and affection could help me to be.” Edmond’s sources were varied, but he himself points to the importance of the Minute Book of the Committee of Safety of Tryon County “to understand what valley life was really like”.
This summer readers will have a taste of that life at an outdoor drama based on Drums Along the Mohawk that coincides with the British Brigade and Continental Line’s national Revolutionary War encampment at Gelston Castle Estate in Mohawk, NY. About 1,000 reenactors are expected to take part in honor of the 235th anniversary of the Battle of Oriskany.
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To commemorate the 235th Anniversary of the Battle of Oriskany in the American War for Independence, the Continental Line and British Brigade Revolutionary War re-enactors, will depict the various New York battles of 1777 on the weekend of August 4 – 5, 2012 at Gelston Castle in Mohawk, NY. Participants can witness the local militia company from Mohawk Valley confronting the King’s Regulars, Loyalist, and Native Americans, in the re-enactment of the “Battle of Oriskany”. The “Battle of Oriskany” is one of a series of event that will be recreated August 4 and 5, 2012 at Gelston Castle, just 15 minutes south of the towns of Herkimer and Mohawk, NY.
“This is a great opportunity to witness our common heritage as Americans” says Mitch Lee, event organizer and Commander of the 1st New York Regiment. “Spectators can arrive on Saturday, August 4 at 10 am to view living history demonstrations and battles from the 1777 New York campaign.” “The site will have 1,500 reenactors and trades people representing the military culture of the American Revolution,” explains Lee. ”There will be lectures, demonstrations and activities though out the weekend and on Saturday night there will the premiere of a pageant play called ‘Drums along the Mohawk’,” added Lee.
This event has been made possible by private funding from many Mohawk Valley businesses and the Safflyn Corporation. Lee points out in a time when historic sites are understaffed and under funded, volunteer units who recreate the American Revolution are still moving forward with plans to commemorate special dates and places in New York history.
For more information visit oriskany235th.org.
Kyle Jenks, producer of Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama is a native of Albany, NY. His outdoor drama will pay homage to iconic American author Walter D. Edmonds, noted for his historically accurate novels, including the popular Drums Along the Mohawk (1936). This American classic was made into a highly successful Technicolor feature film in 1939. Directed by John Ford, it starred Hollywood legends Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert. Edmonds was born in 1903 in Boonville (in Oneida County, NY) and died in 1998.
The world premiere of Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama coincides with the British Brigade and Continental Line’s national Revolutionary War encampment at Gelston Castle Estate. Located at 350 Galina Lane, Mohawk, NY the estate will be home to an estimated 1,000 Revolutionary War reenactors. The theme of the weekend long festivities will be to honor the 235th anniversary of the Battle of Oriskany.
One hallmark feature of a great outdoor drama is the unique way in which the story and the site are inextricably intertwined. Historic Gelston Castle Estate is located at the epicenter of a hotbed of America’s Revolutionary War activity.
After moving to Ohio, Mr. Jenks found a concentration of outdoor historical dramas there. Once he attended a performance of Tecumseh!, in Chillicothe, OH, his vision to produce his own outdoor drama instantly materialized. According to the prestigious Institute for Outdoor Drama, outdoor dramas have the potential to make a significanhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gift impact on the local economy. Besides creating a way to increase total economic dollars to the Mohawk Valley, Mr. Jenks envisions the project to be an exciting way to connect the local citizenry with a feeling of ownership to this classic American story.
For more information about the drama, contact Kyle Jenks at 216 509 7502 or www.AmericanHeritageLivingHistoryProductions. Visit www.oriskany235th.org to learn more about the National reenactment weekend. Jenks is also offering an associated six day bicycle tour that visits the historic sites included in the plotline of the drama (See www.AmericanHeritageBicycleTours.com). Food, period sutlers (merchants), vendors and entertainers will also be present during the weekend.
The Oneida Indian Nationhas announced that they will participate in an memorial ceremony to remember the 1777 Battle of Oriskany this evening:
231 years ago, the Oneida Indian Nation became the first ally of the American colonists in their fight for freedom, at the Battle of Oriskany. On Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm, a solemn remembrance ceremony will be held at the battlefield to remember those who fought and those who died at what history has called the ”bloodiest battle of the American Revolution.” The Oneidas will be represented at this community-wide event by Brian Patterson, Bear Clan Representative for the Nation’s Council, and members of the Nation’s reenactment group, First Allies.
The Battle took place in what is now Oneida County on the south side of the Mohawk River. According to the great wiki:
During his march down the Mohawk Valley from Oswego to Albany, Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger besieged Fort Stanwix, then under the command of Colonel Peter Gansevoort. St. Leger’s force of British regulars of the Royal Artillery, 8th and 34th Regiments, loyalist King’s Royal Yorkers and natives of the Six Nations and Seven Nations of Canada laid siege to the fort.
Upon hearing reports of St. Leger’s advance, Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer assembled the Tryon County militia at Fort Dayton to proceed to Gansevoort’s aid. On August 4, 1777, Herkimer, with 800 militiamen—mostly poorly trained German-American farmers—and 40 Oneida Indians, began the forty-mile (65 km) trek west from Fort Dayton to Fort Stanwix.
When St. Leger learned through Molly Brant that Herkimer and his relief expedition were on their way, he sent Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief, with more than 400 natives, and Sir John Johnson, with the light infantry company of his King’s Royal Yorkers to intercept them. Their clash at Oriskany Creek was one of the key episodes of the Campaign of 1777.
On August 6, 1777, [the] American relief force from the Mohawk Valley under General Nicholas Herkimer, numbering around 800 men of the Tryon County militia, was approaching to raise the siege. British commander Barry St. Leger authorized an intercept force consisting of a Hanau Jager detachment, Sir John Johnson’s King’s Royal Regiment of New York, Native allies from the Six Nations, and Indian Department Rangers totaling at least 450 men.
The Loyalist and Native force ambushed Herkimer’s force in a small valley about six miles east of Fort Stanwix. During the battle, Herkimer was mortally wounded. The battle cost the Patriots approximately 450 casualties, while the Loyalists and Natives lost approximately 150 dead and wounded. It was a clear victory for the loyalists over the rebels.
But the Loyalist victory was tarnished when a sortie from Fort Stanwix sacked the Crown camp, spoiling morale among the Native Americans.
The Oriskany Battlefield is located on Route 69, two miles west of the Village of Oriskany.