Yesterday I visited he historic Fort Ticonderoga for the first time. It took about an hour and a half to drive there from the Adirondack Museum, and as we got closer to the location of the fort, the landscape became quite mountainous and could perhaps be described as Vermont-like. The location of the Fort itself is both beautiful and calculated – overlooking Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains, with historic architecture looming over the ridge at a very advantageous viewpoint. The word ‘Ticonderoga’ is Mohawk in origin, roughly translated to mean “the place between two waterways.”
“America made history at Fort Ticonderoga! For a generation this remote post on Lake Champlain guarded the narrow water highway connecting New France with Britain’s American colonies. Whichever nation controlled Ticonderoga controlled a continent. During the American Revolution Fort Ticonderoga was the scene of America’s first major victory in its struggle for independence and the United States’ northern stronghold protecting New York and New England from British invasion from Canada.
A popular destination for history lovers since the early 19th century, Fort Ticonderoga is one of America’s earliest historic preservation projects with efforts to preserve the site dating back to 1820. When the restoration began nearly a century later in 1909, the museum’s founders began a legacy of sharing Ticonderoga’s epic history that has continued for over a century.” (source)
Ticonderoga’s involvement in the earliest exploration of the region, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolution solidifies its significance in the American historical narrative. The timeline of events provided by the Fort’s website is a great way to grasp just how much of what we know of American history and it’s key figures at one time passed through the hallways of the fort.
1609 On an expedition of discovery, Samuel de Champlain and his Algonquin allies battled a band of Iroquois on the Ticonderoga peninsula. The same year, Hendrick Hudson was the first to explore the Hudson River as far north as Albany.
1642 Father Isaac Jogues passed over the Ticonderoga peninsula, a prisoner of the Mohawks. Four years later, Jogues passed through Ticonderoga again on his way to his martyrdom.
1666 The first French regular army troops sent to Nouvelle France, régiment Carignan-Salières, threatened Iroquois settlements in the Mohawk Valley. The regiment camped on the Ticonderoga peninsula on its way south.
1690 War between England and France spilled over into the New World, as British Colonials launched an unsuccessful invasion of New France. In 1691, Major Peter Schuyler led an expedition of English and Dutch colonists against the French fort at La Prairie near Montréal, stopping at Ticonderoga on the way north.
1709 Fort Anne was constructed by the British colonists to protect supply lines for the Queen Anne’s War invasion of New France.
1731 The French constructed a fort at Chimney Point and then in 1734 built Fort Saint Frédéric at Crown Point, in a concerted effort to control and settle the Champlain Valley.
The French & Indian War
1755 As the British pushed north into traditionally French territory, Governor-General Vaudreuil in Québec anticipated attack on French settlements in the Champlain valley. He ordered Michel Chartier de Lotbinière to construct a fort south of Fort St. Frédéric (Crown Point) that would cover the portage between Lakes George and Champlain. Construction of Fort Carillon began in the fall, and continued for the next four years.
1756 On the sandy plain below the Heights, French and Canadian troops develop “le Jardin du Roi,” or un jardin potager, designed to feed the summer garrison charged with constructing the new fort, Carillon.
1757 French General Montcalm used the new Fort Carillon as the base from which he launched his attack on Fort William Henry.
1758 Robert Rogers fought the Battle on Snowshoes near Trout Brook south of Ticonderoga. In July, General Abercromby led an army of 17,000 British and Colonial troops against a small French force of 3,700 entrenched at Fort Carillon. Abercromby lost the battle and nearly 2000 men, a third of whom were members of the 42nd Regiment of Foot, the Highlanders, or the “Black Watch” Regiment.
1759 General Jeffrey Amherst laid siege to Fort Carillon. Losses elsewhere in New France had left the garrison ill-equipped, so the French abandoned the fort after blowing up the powder magazine. Amherst repaired the fort and renamed it Ticonderoga, and then began construction of a British war fleet and a major new fortress at Crown Point. Later that year, Montcalm lost Québec to General Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham.
1763 End of the Seven Years’ War. France had lost Canada to Great Britain. Settlers from New England began to settle the “Hampshire Grants,” now Vermont.
1773 A disastrous fire at the new British fort at Crown Point made the dilapidated fort at Ticonderoga again the center of British operations on Lake Champlain.
The American Revolution
1775 At the outbreak of the Revolution, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold both realized that Fort Ticonderoga made an easy target for the American rebels. With a small band of Green Mountain Boys, they captured the Fort from the British in an early morning raid on May 10th, only three weeks after Lexington and Concord. This was “America’s first victory” in the Revolution.
1775-6 Colonel Henry Knox transported more than 60 tons of military supplies including 59 artillery pieces from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. Ticonderoga’s cannon were placed on Dorchester Heights which had a commanding view of Boston. The threat of these guns forced the British to evacuate Boston on March 17, 1776 and the Continental Army entered Boston the next day.
1776 Benedict Arnold organized the construction of the first American navy to thwart a British invasion from Canada. The fleet was built at Whitehall, and outfitted at Ticonderoga. The British defeated the American navy at the Battle of Valcour Island in October, but decided that Fort Ticonderoga was too strong for their forces to tackle so late in the year. The Americans further strengthened their position at Ticonderoga by fortifying Mount Independence, on the east shore of Lake Champlain.
1776-7 The former French military gardens continue to serve as the garden for the American army at Ticonderoga that constitutes the third-largest urban concentration of people in North America at the time. The American garrison builds numerous shoreline defenses against the threatening British fleets.
1777 General Burgoyne led a large army of British and German troops south from Canada, intent on taking Albany, and splitting off New England from the other colonies. By hauling cannon up Mount Defiance, Burgoyne forced the Americans to abandon Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. Two months later, Col. John Brown captured British outposts surrounding Ticonderoga in a surprise raid that coincided with the first battle at Saratoga, where Burgoyne finally met his defeat. (timeline source)
Walking out onto the battlements of the Fort (after entering through the gift shop, which has lots of super cool historical items), yields and impressive view looking over Lake Champlain. Cannons line the wall, and as you proceed towards the main gate, the innermost portion of the fort opens up to a lively, almost town-square like space which consists of the soldier’s barracks, officer’s quarters, shops, and museum installations within. The historic interpreters were an absolute wealth of information, and the material culture lover in me was absolutely thrilled to see the process of constructing historic clothing that was worn by the staff.
Another one of my material culture fascinations is historic gardening. So obviously, I loved touring the King’s Garden and Pavillion section of the Fort. I have always been fascinated by the recreations of historic gardens and landscaping, and I was rightly impressed by the scale and attention to detail in the King’s Garden. The Fort’s website has this to say about the current preservation efforts for the Pavillion building and the King’s Garden:
“The [Fort Ticonderoga] Association also preserves The Pavilion. This structure is located on the shore of Lake Champlain below the Fort. Capitalizing on the Fort and its landscape of memories, William Ferris Pell built a lakeside summer residence, The Pavilion, five hundred yards below the Fort ruins on a corner of the former garrison garden and developed extensive “pleasure grounds” which – with the Fort – became principal attractions for this country’s first generation of “heritage tourists.” The Pavilion served as a summer residence for William Ferris Pell and his family. Then by 1839 it was converted to use as a hotel, a function it served until 1900.
At the same time that Pell’s great-grandson, Stephen H.P. Pell, began the restoration of Fort Ticonderoga in 1909, his wife, Sarah G.T. Pell, undertook the restoration of The Pavilion and the King’s Garden. The King’s Garden, a walled formal garden, was restored by an uncommon pair of women pioneers: the wealthy suffragist and preservationist, Sarah Pell, working with the first academically-trained American woman to work as a landscape architect, Marian Cruger Coffin. Today their King’s Garden has been named “a masterwork American garden” by The Garden Conservancy.” (source)
I highly suggest taking a trip to Ticonderoga to explore this historic fort. There is so much to see and absorb here, from the historic interpreters, craftsmen, and re-enactors, to the musket demonstrations, beautiful grounds and scenic fortifications. Especially right around the 4th of July, the narrative of Early American History retold by this location really becomes quite tangible.
Below is a map of the location of Fort Ticonderoga
Below is a quick Vine that I took while one of the historic interpreters was recounting an impressively long and detailed history of the Fort: