Baron von Steuben was born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1730. He was a tough Prussian soldier in Frederick the Great’s army who joined the American cause during the Revolutionary War. Steuben’s departure from Europe is the subject of much conjecture, but his knowledge of battlefield tactics and training that he brought to North America is beyond debate.
Steuben arrived at the Continental Army’s winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in February of 1778. He walked into a desperate situation; General George Washington’s troops were cold, starving, undisciplined, and had many more defeats and retreats to their name than victories. The entire revolution hung in the balance and Washington knew it. Steuben volunteered his services to the Continental cause, offering his assistance in “planning encampments and promoting discipline”. His timing could not have been better.
General William Floyd (1734 – 1821)
After the war, in 1784, Governor George Clinton of New York employed Walker as his secretary in Albany. Later, while serving as the naval officer at the port at New York City, Walker’s mentor and friend Steuben passed away, and had another impact on his life, as Steuben willed him half of his estate.
In 1797, Walker settled in Fort Schuyler which became modern day Utica. He assisted in the founding of Old Trinity Church in 1798 while helping to manage the Village of Utica’s Hotel (renamed “York House” in 1814). On March 4, 1801, Walker re-entered public service when he took a seat as a representative in the Federalist Congress. He served a single term, and returned to the Utica to settle down in what Judge John J. Walsh called “perhaps the finest residence anywhere”—a 15-acre estate with a mansion, located on what is now Catherine Street.
Benjamin Walker—aid to Baron von Steuben and to George Washington, congressman, and Utica resident--died on January 13, 1818. He was originally buried in a plot on Water Street but was exhumed in 1875 and reinterred at Forest Hill Cemetery in the city. He was inducted into the Oneida County Historical Hall of Fame in 2012.
remembering the revolution in oneida county
When Fort Stanwix (today Rome) was besieged by British forces in early August 1777, Herkimer and his militiamen marched to relieve the fort. They were ambushed at Oriskany and although they failed to lift the siege of Stanwix, they fought with such a fury that the British eventually retreated back to Canada.
Herkimer fought gallantly at Oriskany. He ignored his own personal safety and rode his white steed back and forth along the battle line, encouraging his men to fight on.
Then, an enemy bullet struck and killed the general’s horse and shattered the general’s leg below the knee. After the battle, the wounded general was taken to his home near Little Falls. A young, inexperienced surgeon amputated Herkimer’s leg. He neglected to seal the arteries properly and the general bled to death. He was not yet 50 years old.
General Nicholas Herkimer would never know it, but the Battle of Oriskany marked a significant turning point in the Revolution. The repulse of England’s forces there was one of a string of defeats that led to the failure of the 1777 British offensive. Oriskany was a key to the Continential Army’s victory at the Battle of Saratoga later that year and paved the way for French involvement in the conflict. Four years later the British abandoned the fight for the colonies, thus confirming the birth of the United States. Herkimer was inducted into the Oneida County Historical Hall of Fame in 2012.
General Nicholas Herkimer lived in a county that now bears his name, but Oneida County claims a close kinship with the general for it was at the Battle of Oriskany where he fought courageously and gained fame. The battle—on August 6, 1777—is considered by many to be a turning point in the Revolutionary War. The battle was fought on land that today is Oneida County.
Herkimer was probably born in 1728 in the town of German Flatts, son of Johan Jost and Catherine Herkimer. At age 30, he found himself in the middle of the French and Indian War, fighting with the British to stop the French from wreaking havoc in the Mohawk Valley. Captain Herkimer fought with the militia at Fort Herkimer. Seventeen years later, in 1775, Herkimer joined the American fight for independence from British rule. He was appointed chairman of the Tryon County committee of safety and was made a brigadier general in the Tryon County Militia in 1776.
General William Floyd (1734 – 1821)
Oneida County is steeped in Revolutionary War history from the siege of Fort Stanwix to the Battle of Oriskany. Read below to learn about four prominent Revolutionary War figures who were laid to rest in Oneida County.
Born in London, England in 1753, Benjamin Walker apprenticed at a mercantile house there at age 20, and was so highly regarded that he was sent to New York to further his skills. When the American War for Independence broke out in 1775, Walker joined the Americans’ cause by volunteering in New York’s 2nd Regiment. In the early days of the war, Walker earned much praise for leading 300 men down Bunker Hill.
A chance encounter with Baron von Steuben in 1778 would forever change the course of Walker’s life. Just 23 years old, Walker was an American line officer fluent in French. When a complicated maneuver was not being accomplished by soldiers under Baron von Steuben’s command, Steuben was visibly and vocally outraged. The problem was the language barrier between the soldiers and the French-speaking Steuben. Walker stepped out front and volunteered to translate the Baron’s directions and commands. After serving as aide-di-camp to Steuben for three-plus years, General George Washington summoned Walker to his staff is 1781.
William Floyd came late to Oneida County, but his legacy to the area—and to the United States—is a long one. Floyd was born in 1734 on Long Island into a prosperous family of Welsh heritage, and inherited his late father’s estate at 18. Over the next twenty years he was a successful farmer and community leader whose first foray into politics came as a trustee for the town of Brookhaven (L.I.) in 1769.
Floyd keyed into the civil unrest of the 1770s and empathized with the colonial cause against British rule. As a prosperous landowner and leader, he was a natural choice to serve as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774. He returned for the Second Continental Congress in 1775 and was in Philadelphia when the Battle of Bunker Hill occurred in Boston. He returned to Long Island and accepted a colonel’s commission with the Suffolk County militia. The following summer, Floyd was one of four New York representatives to sign the Declaration of Independence. For this he would pay a heavy price, losing his land and home to the British occupation of Long Island. His wife and children escaped to Connecticut. Although he reclaimed his property after the war’s end, Floyd’s homestead was destroyed.
General Nicholas Herkimer (1728 - 1777)
Major General Friedrich Wilhelm Baron von Steuben (1730 - 1794)
Baron von Steuben (1730 - 1794)
Benjamin Walker (1753 – 1818)
After the Revolution, General Floyd served in the first congress under the new Constitution and was a four-time presidential elector (1792, 1800, 1804, 1820). He was a delegate to the New York State constitutional convention in 1801 and was a state senator in 1808.
William Floyd acquired several thousand acres of land along the Mohawk River near the end of the 18th century. Among that property was 1,482 acres that he purchased in what is now the Town of Western in Oneida County. He built a large framed house that still stands on Main Street after living in a log cabin on the site for several years. The home was completed by 1804 and was outwardly similar to his estate on Long Island.
Floyd split his time between downstate and Oneida County for many years. He lived the life of a gentleman farmer in Western and was an integral contributor to the growth of the area’s industries and agriculture in his later life. He died in 1821 and is buried in the Presbyterian Church cemetery in Westernville. He was inducted into the Oneida County Historical Hall of Fame in 1948.
Col. Benjamin Walker (1753 – 1818)
Before the snows melted that winter, the newly-christened Major General initiated a training plan to whip Washington’s inexperienced soldiers into shape and turn them into an efficient fighting force. Steuben became the Continental Army’s drillmaster and, said Washington, was “indispensable” in America’s fight for independence from British rule.
After the war, a grateful Congress gave Steuben a $2500 annuity and New York State granted him 16,000 acres of land in the Adirondack foothills. Steuben was now in his late 50s and decided to move to this land in what later became Oneida County. He built a log cabin and settled near Remsen.
The Baron’s service to the nation did not end there. In 1787 he was named to the New York Board of Regents, which was tasked with oversight of the state’s educational and cultural activities. As such he participated in the establishment of the Hamilton-Oneida Academy in 1794, a few months before his death. Hamilton-Oneida Academy has since become Hamilton College in Clinton.
Steuben’s sale of portions of his 16,000 acre tract paved the way for Welsh immigration to the area in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He passed away in his log cabin in 1794. A replica of this building now serves as a centerpiece of the Steuben State Historic Site. Steuben was inducted into the Oneida County Historical Hall of Fame in 1947.
Oneida County History Center