springtime paddling trip is one of the ways by which I get through the many cold
and dark days of a New England winter.
My goal this winter was to find a new river with which to get
acquainted. So after deciding to
follow the advice of Mr. Horace Greeley and “Go West young man” I began looking in that
direction for a waterway that had played a significant role in the lives of
both Native Americans and Colonial Americans.
It didn’t take long to find one having a bearing of 280 degrees (wnw)
from my home in eastern Massachusetts.
The first thing that piqued my interest in this waterway was coming
across and reading a first-hand account of
A Journey Into Mohawk and Oneida Country
1634 – 1635 believed to have been written by Harmen Meyndertsz Van den
Bogaert. This journal, not discovered
until 1895, documents a 44-day wintertime trek undertaken by three employees of
the Dutch West India Company in late 1634 and early 1635. The purpose of the journey was to discover
why the Mohawks had stopped trading their beaver pelts at Fort Orange
(present-day Albany, NY). Bogaert was a
23 year-old barber/surgeon and with him were fellow Dutchmen, Jeromus la Croex, Willem Tomassen, and 5 members of the Mohawk Tribe who served as guides. Over the course of their journey they
traveled mostly on foot from Fort Orange to an Oneida village located about 120
miles to the west near present-day Oneida, NY. Their journey often required them to trudge
through deep snow, endure frigid temperatures, and make several difficult river
and stream crossings. Much of their
route followed the course of the Mohawk River.
thing of interest I came across online was mention of an epic battle said to
have been fought in August 1669 between the Mohawks (Iroquois peoples) and
Mahicans (Algonquin peoples). The
Iroquois and Algonquins were longtime enemies and their languages were unintelligible to each other. The
battle’s location intrigued me because, having spent most of my life within and
about the ancestral homelands of Algonquin peoples, I’d often seen mention of
such a battle but never realized it had been fought alongside the Mohawk River. A coalition of Algonquins led by the
Massachusetts sachem Wompatuck (aka Josias Chikataubut) travelled to the Mohawk
country seeking revenge against the Mohawks for their raid in Massachusetts
earlier that year. The Algonquins' multi-day
attack on the Mohawk village, Caughnawaga, was repelled and Wompatuck’s force retreated
about 18 miles east to a place called “Kinquariones” where they felt
safe. The Mohawk leader, Kryn, gathered
warriors from adjacent villages until a force of 300 warriors canoed down the
Mohawk in search of the retreating Algonquins. Once they reached Kinquariones the Mohawks
quietly maneuvered around the Algonquins during the night and attacked the next
morning. The Mohawks won the day with Wompatuck and many of his best warriors killed in the battle. Accounts of this battle were found in the Schenectady Digital History Archive's History of the Mohawk Valley:Gateway to the West 1614 - 1925 Chapter 20:Battle of Kinquariones, 1669 edited by Nelson Greene, and Wompatuck News Vol. 1, No. 4 by Friends of Wompatuck State Park entitled Wompatuck Victim of Mohawk War by Jim Rose.
turn, was followed by my seeing mention of the 1779 Sullivan – Clinton Revolutionary
War Expedition in which General James Clinton moved his 2,000-man army from
Schenectady on the Mohawk River to Ostego Lake on the Susquehanna River. This involved moving 208 batteaux loaded with
three months provisions about 40 miles up the Mohawk River through the heart of
Mohawk Country to Canajoharie where they then undertook a 20-mile portage to
Ostego Lake. The story of this expedition can be found in Schenectady Digital History Archive's History of the Mohawk Valley:Gateway to the West 164 - 1925 Chapter 67: 1779. Clinton's Overland Portage March from the Mohawk to Ostego Lake by John Fea.
Just in case
these three expeditions into Mohawk Country weren’t enough to inspire my
traveling to and paddling some of the Mohawk River's waters, I also stumbled upon
an account of a 1793 voyage undertaken by three Frenchmen traveling in a batteaux from Schenectady to Oswego on Lake Ontario. Their journal entries appear in The Navigators, A Journal of Passage on the Inland Waterways of New York by Philip Lord Jr. They were traveling the river just as measures were being contemplated for making boat traffic on the
Mohawk a bit easier. In addition to
that is the 1902 westward trip via the Erie Canal by famed Gloucester
fisherman Howard Blackburn in his 25’ sloop Great
Republic, the very boat in which he’d sailed solo across the Atlantic Ocean
the previous year. An account of Blackburn's passage is in Joseph Garland's book Lone Voyager. Also worthy of mention
is the fact that some very active railroad tracks run alongside the Mohawk
River, and lastly that one of the towns I’d be visiting is named Fonda which
brings to mind the movie Drums Along the
Mohawk starring Henry Fonda. What
more could I ask for?
So now I had
a destination for my springtime paddling/driving trip which would focus on a 40-mile
stretch of the Mohawk River Valley between Schenectady, NY and Fort Plain, NY. This map shows the area and some of the locations I planned to visit...
Day One: Mohawk/Hudson Confluence, Cohoes Falls, and Gateway Landing
This past Sunday morning I headed that way driving along the appropriately-named Mohawk Trail until reaching the eastern shore of the Hudson River where I stopped to explore the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers. Launching from the Lansingburgh Boat Ramp in Troy, NY it soon became apparent that both the Hudson and Mohawk rivers were flowing fast and strong (opening photo looking up Mohawk near Peebles Island). I'd later discover that on the previous Thursday the region had received three inches of rain. Therefore, all of my subsequent paddles would be done in a up and back down fashion so as to allow the current to get me back to my starting point. Some photos from the confluence area:
A riverway sign helps to guide folks boating up the Hudson River...
I went left entering the Mohawk River and paddled up to the lock gates at the entrance to the Erie Canal which has yet to open for 2022...
According to the New York State Canalway Guidebook the canal is open from May to October and allows boaters to go around the Mohawk River's Cohoes Falls which are not navigable. The original Erie Canal known as "Clinton's Ditch" was dug between 1817 and 1825. That canal was enlarged between 1836 and 1862 to accommodate larger vessels. Between 1905 and 1918 the canal system was enlarged again with more of the Mohawk River being utilized with a system of locks and dams.
Nearby is the old entrance to an earlier version of the Champlain Canal...
I next paddled over to Peebles Island where a bald eagle greeted me...
...and an eagle nest was nearby...
I then returned to the Hudson before re-entering another outlet of the Mohawk between Peebles and Van Schaick islands. Paddled up to Buttermilk Falls where further upriver travel looked less than promising...
Paddling back out of the Mohawk River provided this view towards its confluence with the Hudson...
The bridge seen in the photo connects Peebles Island (left) with Van Schaick Island (right).
The Mohawk River is the largest tributary of the Hudson River and once below Cohoes Falls the river splits into 4 outlets that the Dutch called "sprouts" for the last 1.5 miles before entering the Hudson River.
After landing back in Troy, I drove over to Cohoes Falls and was impressed by what I saw and heard...
The falls are said to be more than 900 feet across and the drop is 60 feet. According to the USGS gauge, flow over the falls measured 224,400 gallons per second. Two days earlier on Friday, measured flow had peaked at 561,000 gallons per second! Because the Falls Overlook Park was still closed for the season, spectators gathered at Craner Park to witness the action (the above photo was taken there).
Next I drove to Schenectady's Gateway Landing which served as the point of embarkation for most upriver voyages on the Mohawk...
It's likely that the three expeditions mentioned earlier (Bogaerts 1634, General Clinton 1779, Desjardins/Pharoux in 1793) all passed through this general proximity. The latter two expeditions traveled the Mohawk River prior to the building of the Erie Canal which opened in 1828 and both of them utilized batteaux which were flat-bottomed boats equipped with oars, poles, and a sail. Skilled boatmen were required to pole the batteaux up through the Mohawk's many rapids.
One exhibit showed an artist's depiction of how the harbor may have looked in winter...
...while another exhibit shows a batteaux used in re-enacting Gen. Schuyler's 1792 upriver expedition...
More info about the re-enactment...
Leaving Gateway Landing which recent flooding had left coated in mud, I drove another 17 miles westward to lodging in Amsterdam.
An after-supper visit to Amsterdam's Amtrak station showed a very busy CSX Railroad running train after train along the Mohawk River...
Freight trains in my neck of the woods don't move nearly as fast or as frequently. However, that may change in the days ahead as it was recently announced that CSX Transportation will be purchasing New England's Pan Am Railway allowing CSX trains to run all the way to Mattawamkeag, Maine.