Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mounting a Revolution to Preserve the Revolutionary War Fiskhill Supply Depot

Mounting a Revolution to Preserve the Revolutionary War Fiskhill Supply Depot

Largely forgotten and almost considered a myth until the first couple years of the twenty-first century, the Revolutionary War burial ground at the Fishkill Supply Depot in Fishkill, New York has recently seen a resurgence in interest from historians, archaeologists, and the general public. Once part of the Continental Army's logistical center in the northern states, Fishkill became an important site for the assembling, storage and distribution of supplies. Today threatened by private commercial development, the Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot are mounting their own revolution to preserve and interpret one of America's last unprotected Revolutionary War sites and the largest Continental burial ground in existence.

Members of the 5th NY Regiment pay respect to the unknown dead at Fishkill.
Early during the war in 1776, it was determined that Fishkill, New York would be a good place to build a supply depot because of its proximity to the Hudson River. It was also far enough inland, which would make it difficult to attack from the water. The surrounding mountains also offered extra protection and its location along the Albany Post Road provided direct access to all of the eastern states. General George Washington ordered ten barracks to be built to hold approximately 2,000 soldiers. It was modeled after Roman encampments. The complex, totaling roughly seventy acres, was active for seven years and Washington acknowledged he couldn't have defeated the British without it. In addition to the barracks, the site contained a guard house and palisade, a medical complex, a prison facility, powder magazines, blacksmith shops, stables, store houses, an artillery park, and numerous artisan workshops.

Despite being under constant surveillance by the British, no battles took place at Fishkill. However, hundreds of Continental Army soldiers died at the encampment from war wounds, hypothermia, and smallpox. Roughly three-eighths of a mile south of the Van Wyck Homestead along what is now Route 9, a burial ground was established. No formal stone grave markers were ever placed. Most likely, wooden crosses marked the graves of the soldiers.

Document dated October 11, 1777: On order from Gen. Putnam dated 9th inst., Michael Hubbard acknowledges receipt from “James Richardson, twenty-four hides, which are Continental Property and have to be accounted for agreeable to orders.” 
A monument memorializing the Fishkill burial ground was erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution and dedicated on October 14, 1897. The monument was placed along Route 9 marking the adjacent field where the soldiers were buried. There was much fanfare and Major General Daniel Butterfield who served during the Civil War spoke at the dedication. In the mid-twentieth century, the marker was relocated to the Van Wyck Homestead in an attempt to "save" it from the widening of Route 9. However, with the relocation of the marker, the location of burial ground was lost with it.

In the 1960s and 1970s, archaeological excavations took place at the former Supply Depot property and a number of features were identified, including a blacksmith shop, barracks, and possible bake ovens. However, the missing burial ground was not located. Despite the setback, the work helped bring attention to the Fishkill Supply Depot property.

1897 monument memorializing the Fishkill burial ground at its original location along Route 9.
Image credit: Friends of Fishkill Supply Depot.
Today, the original seventy acres of the Fishkill Supply Depot is intersected by Route 9 and Interstate 84. Much of the property opposite the burial ground is now home to the Dutchess Mall, built in the early 1970s. A Hess gas station was built in the 1990s at the corner of Route 9 and Snook Road. Today, there is a remaining eight acres of land owned by a developer behind the Hess gas station and between the Van Wyck House and the burial ground. These eight acres not only hold the bodies of hundreds of soldiers, but also archaeological ruins and artifacts buried underground. But the remains were not discovered until 2007, after plans for commercial development for the remaining eight acre parcel became public knowledge. The Friends of Fishkill Supply Depot were organized that year to pressure local and state officials to review old archaeological surveys and take a fresh look at parts of the site that cultural resource groups previously claimed did not hold much historical value.

During this new phase of archaeology work, the remains of soldiers began to appear in the woods at the corner of Route 9 and Van Wyck Lake Road. Disturbed ground in a pattern of neat rows signaled that an important discovery had been made! A few artifacts identifying these men were found buried alongside them. To date, eighty-five men of what may be up to one-thousand, have been named. It is believed to be the largest Revolutionary War burial ground in the United States. However, the road to preservation is not over. The land is still privately owned and finding the funding to purchase the site is holding back preservationists from claiming a victory.

Flags marking the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers at the Fishkill Supply Depot.
In 1991, the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) was initially created by the Secretary of the Interior. In 1996 Congress signed into law the American Battlefield Protection Act, which officially authorized the ABPP. However, this important piece of legislation mainly protects battlefields and does not extend to gravesites of Revolutionary War soldiers. The Friends of Fishkill Supply Depot have been pressuring members of Congress to amend the legislation to include sites from the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, which are excluded from the current law and prohibited from receiving funds to acquire and protect these truly amazing and essential cultural resources.

There is some hope on the horizon for the site. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers, in July 2014, the Friends of Fishkill Supply Depot received a $24,600 grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program to create maps that depict archeological features of the Fishkill Supply Depot, highlighting its historical overview, archeological inventory, and topographic features.

The Van Wyck Homestead
The Van Wyck Homestead is the only intact structure remaining from the Fishkill Supply Depot. The home served as the Depot's headquarters and remains vital to telling the story of Fishkill.

In 1732, Cornelius Van Wyck purchased 959 acres of land from Catheryna Rombout Brett, the daughter of Francis Rombouts, who was one of the grantees of the original patent to the land in the area issued by King James II of England. Cornelius built a three room house, which is the present east wing (left side of the structure). Prior to 1757, the larger, more formal west wing was added. The west wing is a five bay wide center hall plan with symmetrical double-pile rooms on each side of the center hall. The property contained many outbuildings throughout its history, including barns, a spring house, cistern, and wells. Many archaeological remains of these structures are still visible on the property today.

During the Fishkill Supply Depot era, it served as headquarters to General Israel Putnam and was visited by leaders such as George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Alexander McDougall, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. Various court-martials were held in the home's parlor, including the mock trial of Enoch Crosby, who had infiltrated a loyalist group and is considered as the first secret agent of the United States. In the seven years that the Fishkill Supply Depot existed, the house also served as the Quartermaster Department.

Kitchen of the 1757 wing of the Van Wyck House, Fishkill, New York.
After the war, the house was given back to the Van Wyck family and remained in the family until Sidney Van Wyck hanged himself in the barn on the property in 1882. The house then passed to the Hustis family and later the Snook family.

During the Snook family's ownership, plans to build a cloverleaf at the intersection of Interstate 84 and Route 9 were proposed. The cloverleaf would have obliterated the Van Wyck Homestead. In 1962, the Fishkill Historical Society was formed and one member in particular, Willa Skinner, was vocal about saving the homestead. Willa, on her own accord, camped at the property and refused to move until authorities agreed to save the site. Finally, public pressure prompted changes to the original plans and the house was saved. But not all was saved; during construction of the ramps across from the homestead, the remains of the Revolutionary War era blacksmith shop were found. The Snook family continued to live in the house until it and one acre of land was sold to the Fishkill Historical Society in the 1970s for a nominal $1.00.

Additional photos of my trip to the Fishkill Supply Depot on Pinterest

For More Information
Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot
Fishkill Historical Society
FindAGrave - Fishkill Supply Depot Burial Ground

Do you enjoy the articles and features that The History Girl produces each week? 
If so, consider a donation to keep the movement going!


Thank you, History girl. Good read

Thank you so much history girl for this story. I am a member of the 5th New York regiment a local reenactment group my ancestor George Palmer,a wagon master from Connecticut delivered supplies to the Fishkill supply Depot when I support the friends of the Fishkill supply Depot and preserving our history from the bottom of my heart I thank you for this article keep up the great work sincerely L Wood Commander 5thNy

Post a Comment

Thanks for the comments!