|On Monday we drove through some of Vermont’s beautiful farm land with its rolling hills and views of the Adirondack Mountains on the other side of Lake Champlain. Each vista was more beautiful than the next as we made our way across Lake Champlain and to Fort Ticonderoga. Fort Ty has a long history dating back to 1755; it has been passed through the years from the French to the British to the Americans and back to the British before being purchased by the Pell family in 1820. The Pell family restored the ruined fort and it was opened to the public in 1909 (well before the creation of the National Park Service). Today the fort has been fully restored and visitors are treated to performances by the Fife and Drum Corps, a weapons demonstration, a guided tour of the fort (which was perhaps the fastest tour I have ever been on), and a vast collection of artifacts that were excavated on the site or donated over the years (items such as George Washington’s corkscrew, razor, and shoe buckles, powder horns, bullets, Indian arrowheads, cookware, and more).
Fort Ty is located on a peninsula at a narrow point of Lake Champlain where it meets with Lake George. This fort was originally built by the French in 1755 and named Fort Carillon. The location was chosen in order to defend New France (or Canada) from the British, who occupied the lands south of Lake George. Lake Champlain was considered the key to the continent at this time since the lake flows north into the St. Lawrence River and out to the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1758, the British army, consisting of 15,000 British and Colonials, marched to Fort Carillon under the command of General Abercrombie. The French, under the command of the Marquis de Montcalm, received advanced notice of the British attack and prepared to defend the yet unfinished Fort with 3,400 men. Within 48 hours Mountcalm’s men had built tall, zig zagging walls protected by sharp, barbwire-like branches outside the fort walls on the high point of the land. These entrenchments are now known as the French Lines.
Prior to arriving at the Fort, Abercrombie and his men skirmished with a smaller regiment of the French Army. Abercrombie’s second in command, Howe, was killed in this battle. Although Abercrombie was extremely capable in directing his men to the Fort, it was on Howe that Abercrombie relied for tactical expertise. The loss of Howe proved fatal to the British Army and they were unable to find a way over the French Lines and into the Fort. The French won this battle decisively as they defended the Fort from the advancing British troops within the zig, zagging walls which allowed the French Army to easily move its troops from side to side as the battle shifted from one end of the French Lines to another. The Battle of Carillon remained the bloodiest battle fought in North America until the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War.
The following year, British General Amherst led another attack on Fort Carillon, only by this time most of the French troops had been removed to Quebec to defend other territorial posts. The French abandoned the Fort to the British without a fight, but not before blowing up the weapons magazine. When the British captured the Fort they renamed it Fort Ticonderoga, which was the Indian name given to that area. Ticonderoga means “land between two waters”.
The British did not maintain many people at Fort Ty as the years progressed. And by the time that the first shots were fired in Lexington and Concord, there were less than 30 British men and women at the Fort. Needing weapons and ammunition, George Washington sent Benedict Arnold (who was on our side at the time) to capture Fort Ty. On the way to the Fort, Arnold was joined by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys. Arriving at the Fort at 4 am on May 10, 1775, the Americans surprised the British fort defenders, who had not yet even received news that war had been declared. The British surrendered the Fort without a single shot being fired. Later that year, Washington sent Henry Knox to the Fort to move the cannons and powder to Boston, which was under siege by the British at the time. Knox and his men hauled all of the weapons through the snow and ice over 300 miles to Dorchester Heights. As a result of his efforts, the British abandoned Boston in March 1776.
Once the Americans occupied the Fort they realized that they were vulnerable to a British attack from the north. They quickly established another Fort across the river on the Vermont side and called it Fort Independence. The two forts were connected by a floating bridge. From this spot, Benedict Arnold finished construction of the first American Navy, provisioning boats from the secure vantage point of Fort Ty. These boats were used against the British in the Battle of Valcour. Although most of these first Navy boats were lost in the Battle, they did delay the British advancement down Lake Champlain as winter set in. At this point in time, the Americans had nearly 15,000 people garrisoned at the fort.
During the winter the number of American troops dwindled as the men left to go home (at this time we did not have a regular army and were dependent upon volunteers, who would generally go home when the army would cease fighting during the winter months). By June 1777, the number of American troops at the fort had declined to less than 3,000. In July 1777, the British resumed their attack on Fort Ty under General Burgoyne. The British placed two cannons on top of Mount Defiance which looks down upon Fort Ty (and when you are sitting in Fort Ty you wonder how the Americans could have ever left this high point undefended). When General St. Clair saw those cannons pointed at the Fort he commanded his troops to withdraw under the cover of darkness and the Fort fell back into British hands without a shot being fired. The Americans would make one more attempt to take back the Fort in September 1777, but the Fort proved to difficult to secure.
The British ultimately abandoned the Fort in 1780 as it became less relevant to its defense. The Fort fell into disrepair over time as settlers scavenged the rock and other building materials for their own use. In 1820 the Pell family purchased the land and built a hotel to house the many tourists who came to the area to view the Fort. As time went by the Pell family used their own money to completely restore the fort.
Before returning to our campground for the evening we drove into downtown Burlington to see the city where we would be spending 17 days later in September. The city sits on the banks of Lake Champlain and, with its several block, brick pedestrian mall, looked surprisingly like Boulder. Satisfied that this would be a wonderful back drop for our leaf peeping days, we found the nearest pizza shop and celebrated.