Herkimer County, lying north of the Mohawk river in upstate New York, is known for two things: being the one of two production sites for the Remington Arms Company, and being the source of Herkimer Diamonds. Herkimer diamonds are actually unusual, naturally double terminated transparent quartz, whose clarity and natural faceting has led to the diamond nickname that range from colorless to smoky. These unusual crystals have eighteen faces – six on each end, and six in the middle. and were discovered in dolomite outcroppings by early settlers mining the dolomite, or plowing fields. Any number of inclusions, from microscopic to visible, can occur in the crystal including: salt, water, dolomite, liquid petroleum, calcite, pyrite, sphalerite, and even quartz. While similar naturally double terminated and faceted quartz can be found in other locations, only the material from Herkimer County is called Herkimer Diamonds.
The native Mohawks knew of and valued the crystals as well, and collected them from stream sediment using the material for tools or trading with other tribes. Eventually, “Herkimers” were supplanted among the Mohawk by glass beads brought by traders and settlers.
By Maatpublishing – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75917823
It’s obvious that Herkimer diamonds are named after their place of origin, Herkimer County, but less obvious is their to the American Revolution, and through that to pop culture. Herkimer County, you see, was named after General Nicholas Herkimer, an American Patriot Militia leader of the American Revolution. An American born grandson of German Palatine immigrant Georg Herchheimer, he grew up in the Mohawk Valley region speaking English, German, and Mohawk. He acquired the rank of Captain in the local militia fighting in the region during the Seven Years war, a global struggle between France and England and their allies known locally in North American as the French and Indian War. He held some slaves, not unlike other settlers and their Mohawk neighbors in the region.
Herkimer’s fame derives from his actions during the siege of Fort Stanwix during the Saratoga Campaign of the American Revolution. By this time promoted to Brigadier General, his force was ambushed on August 6, 1777 by British regulars, Tory Militia and Mohawk warriors while marching to relieve Fort Stanwix. The engagement, later known as the Battle of Oriskany was one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolution. With his horse shot, and wounded in the leg, General Herkimer directed the battle while propped up against a tree, rallying his two times to prevent panicked retreats. When his force withdrew his leg was dressed and he was carried home in a litter, but the wound became infected. The decision to amputate the leg was delayed ten days and the surgeon who was performed it was inexperienced because the brigade surgeon had himself been wounded in the fighting at Oriskany. The operation went poorly and General Herkimer bled to death.
Oil Painting titled “Herkimer at the Battle of Oriskany“
By Frederick Coffay Yohn – Painting at the public library of Utica, New York. Images widely available on the web., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11839374
In addition to being a bona fide war hero, General Herkimer had his own Hollywood moment. Walter Edmond’s 1936 novel Drums Along The Mohawk was adapted into the 1939 John Ford film of the same name. General Herkimer is a character in both works. He is portrayed in the film by actor Roger Imhof, alongside the leads Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert. Not too shabby for war hero whose great claim to fame was 244 years ago!
Actor Roger Imhof who portrayed General Nicholas Herkimer in the file Drums Along the Mohawk, seen here in a role in the file Red Lights Ahead
By film screenshot (Chesterfield Motion Pictures Corporation) – https://archive.org/details/red_lights_ahead, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26512115
Movie poster for Drums Along the Mohawk. Note Roger Imhof’s name listed in the lower right corner of the playbill.
Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10809581
In a tragic footnote, the general’s younger brother militia Captain Johan Jost Herkimer was also at the Battle of Oriskany when the general’s column was ambushed – but with the other side. Johan Jost was a loyalist who supported the king during the revolution and was a Captain in the Tory militia.
Topmost photo By James St. John – https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/50717613196/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=97564957