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Re-enactors march along at sunset at Fort Ticonderoga

Re-enactors march along at sunset at Fort Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga: America History at Our Doorstep

By Patricia & Robert Foulke

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fort Ticonderoga was built in 1755, the second year of the French and Indian War. Originally named Fort Carillon by the French, its position on Lake Champlain at the outlet from Lake George made it “the key to the continent” as Britain and France struggled for control of North America.

Seven Years War or French and Indian War

By July, l758 the English had organized an army of l6,000 men, setting sail under General James Abercromby from the head of Lake George. It must have been a vibrant sight as they marched with their red uniforms, three-corner hats, Highland kilts and British flags to the tune of bugles and bagpipes. The fleet of over l,000 boats landed at the northern end of Lake George and proceeded to stumble through the thick forest to Fort Carillon.

When the fighting began the Black Watch of the 42nd Highlanders pushed their way past the abatis of trees to the enemy but 647 were felled by bayonets and bullets. It is said that one courageous piper continued to play after he had lost his leg. The King’s Royal Rifle Corps also fought valiantly before the English General Abercromby decided to retreat. Marquis de Montcalm and his French forces celebrated their victory after the battle of July 8.

However, the next year General Amherst and his British defeated the French at the fort. French troops exploded the powder magazine which left the fort in ruins.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a ghost story about Duncan Campbell, who was awakened by a vision that predicted he would die at Ticonderoga. Duncan Campbell joined the Black Watch, was indeed sent to Ticonderoga and died there. He is buried in Union Cemetary, between Hudson Falls and Fort Edward.

American Revolution

British soldiers held the fort at the beginning of the American Revolution. Rumblings from the Americans finally erupted in a plot hatched by Ethan Allen. As leader of the Green Mountain Boys, Allen combined with Colonel Benedict Arnold to capture Fort Ticonderoga in a surprise raid on May l0, l775.

Allen began the charge. “My party who followed me into the fort, I formed on the parade in such a manner as to face the two barracks which faced each other. The garrison being asleep, (except the sentries) we gave three huzzas which greatly surprised them.” Allen then ran up the steps and pounded on the door of the commanding officer, Captain Delaplace, ordering him to surrender the fort. Some say that he yelled, “Come out, you damned old rat.”

Life was not easy for those who lived at Fort Ticonderoga. Smallpox and extreme cold which froze some men in their tents contributed to misery during l777 and more was to come as the British army under General John Burgoyne climbed to the top of Mount Defiance with guns. General Arthur St. Clair, vastly outnumbered by the enemy, decided to retreat with his men, fought against his pursuers and lost. After Burgoyne surrendered in Saratoga the British abandoned Fort Ticonderoga, leaving it open to scavengers who took stones, windows, floor boards and cannon.

In l803 the Garrison Grounds at Fort Ticonderoga were deeded to Columbia University and Union College. In l820 William Ferris Pell leased the land, built a house called “Beaumont,” and restored the original gardens designed by the French in l756. Beaumont burned in l825 and Pell then built “The Pavilion,” which still stands.

At the age of eight Stephen Pell found a bronze flint box with tinder still inside. It had belonged to a Frenchman, perhaps Montcalm, de Levis, Bougainville or Bourlamacque. The box measures 2 l/4 by l l/4 inches and has busts in the center of the top and the bottom of the case. A floral design encircles the busts. Stephen Pell developed a desire to preserve and restore Fort Ticonderoga.

Re-enactors at Fort Ticonderoga

Reconstruction of the fort began in l908. Excavation took place carefully as artifacts such as firearms, buttons, pottery, china, cutlery, cannon balls, grape shot, tomahawks, axes, sword blades, keys and more were found. President Taft, along with the Ambassadors of France and England, the Governors of New York and Vermont and other distinguished guests visited for the opening of the museum in l909.

Visitors can head out the door from the ticket counter and walk along a timeline wall to learn details of the history of the site. Then walk under a tunnel and turn right to visit the new Deborah Clarke Mars Educational Center. Inside there is a film to provide orientation. The new exhibit, “The Face of War, Triumph and Tragedy at Ticonderoga, 1758 & 1759,” provides interactive fun such as creating your own wampum on a machine. Several audio programs include one on silver and gold serpents, and another on Yankee Doodle. Duncan Campbell’s tombstone is pictured there.

The Mars Center has an elevator inside so that you can ride up and walk out to the ramparts. Then walk all the way around the Place d’ Armes and view marching from above. We found that a wheelchair used by a visitor works when using the elevators in the Mars Center to reach each level..

Each floor contains a variety of exhibits. One of our favorites is a colorful diorama featuring the Black Watch at Ticonderoga with their red jackets and Black Watch kilts. The Black Watch collection includes a sporran (a purse worn in front of the kilt by Highalnders) , clay pipes, a broadsword, highland pistol, buttons, bagpipe ferules which go around the pipes and a camp axe.

Visitors can also see George Washington’s spurs, swords belonging to Israel Putnam, Arthur St. Clair and Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Warner’s knapsack, miniature toy soldiers belonging to Montcalm as a child, and a punch bowl belonging to Sir William Johnson who was a famous militia officer in New York and an expert on Indian affairs. An original American flag, possibly made by Betsy Ross is also there. Sarah van Vechten made a needlwork picture in l80l of Fort Ticonderoga with fishermen in Lake Champlain. The library contains letters, diaries, papers and books from the period.

Three guns on the Place d’Armes include one of the 59 cannons that started with Colonel Knox in his difficult journey to deliver needed artillery to Boston during the winter of 1775-76. This one fell through the ice on the Mohawk River as it was being taken to Boston. A three-pounder brass cannon was taken by General John Burgoyne on his way down the Champlain Valley in 1777, then went to Saratoga with him and was surrendered there. The third gun, a bronze howitzer, is marked “Philadelphia 1777.” Fort Ticonderoga has the largest collection of 18th century artillery in North America.

Activities at the fort include cannon firings, fife-and-drum performances and re-enactments in the summer. The cannons on display along the south curtain wall include some late l7th century and early l8th century Spanish models. The British government sent fourteen 24-pounders to Ticonderoga. Twelve French bronze guns and mortars are there along with some from other countries.

In 1755 a garrison garden was planted to feed the troops. It resembled the kind of formal garden the French were familiar with at home and was used during both the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. After lying in ruins for many years, the garden took on new life when the Pell family commissioned Marian Cruger Coffin to create a walled garden. She selected plants that were used in the 1920s and placed pastel colors in the eastern side of the garden and bright colors in the western side. In 1937 a bronze statue of Diana was placed in the center of a pool designed by Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Surprisingly, a number of Coffin’s original plants survived over the years. Some of these include: the rose Frau Karl Druschki, globe thistle, pink, white and deep rose peonies, iris, tiger lily, orange and yellow daylilies and hosta. You’ll think you’re in another world with familiar plants reminiscent of an English garden. Garden aficionados will also enjoy the blue delphiniums and colorful tea roses. Whenever you visit, something will be in bloom from June through September, although July and August are prime months.

In 1993 the King’s Garden was in the early stages of restoration. The same plants recommended by Coffin in 1920 were incorporated into the garden. The original brick walls and paths were also restored. In 2002 the restoration was complete. You may visit the King’s Garden throughout the summer and early fall.

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