Adirondack Bookshelf: Empires in the Mountains: French and Indian War Campaigns and Forts in the Lake Champlain, Lake George, and Hudson River Corrido, By Dr. Russell P. Bellico
By Mirror Staff
Friday, February 24, 2017
Empires in the Mountains: French and Indian War Campaigns and Forts in the Lake Champlain, Lake George, and Hudson River Corridor, the most recent by historian Russell Bellico, is available in local bookstores.
Bellico, the author of three other authoritative books on the history of Lake George and the Champlain Valley, Sails and Steam in the Mountains: A Maritime and Military History of Lake George and Lake Champlain, Chronicles of Lake George: Journeys in War and Peace and Chronicles of Lake Champlain: Journeys in War and Peace, is a summer resident of Hague.
He is a founder of the Lake George Battlefield Park Alliance and of Bateaux Below. He was a member of the underwater archaeological team that documented the 1758 Lake George radeau Land Tortoise.
While several new books about the French and Indian War have been published in recent years, Empires in the Mountains is the first that focuses entirely on the campaigns and forts along the Lake Champlain, Lake George and Hudson River corridor.
And unlike Bellico’s own, earlier books about Lake George and Lake Champlain, ‘Empires in the Mountains’ treats land as well as maritime battles.
Bellico covers the epic battles and sieges of the war, including the Battle of Lake George in 1755 and the siege of Fort William Henry in 1757.
“I was able to include a great deal of previously unknown material, making use of maps located in Canada, as well as diaries, journals, letters, contemporary newspaper accounts and other archival sources,” said Bellico.
Bellico, for instance, found a map in the National Archives of Canada that shows that the Fort William Henry captured by the French in 1757 was, in fact, the second fort built at the site.
Historians knew from journals and letters that William Johnson wanted to build a substantial fort with ramparts and firing platforms, one that could withstand artillery fire, while his troops refused to build anything more than a picketed compound.
“Johnson accused the troops of being lazy, of having an aversion to digging,” says Bellico.
Johnson prevailed, of course, but without the map that Bellico found, we might never have known that the stockade fort was substantially completed before the second fort was built.
According to historian and archeologist Joseph W. Zarzynski, the cartographic drawing was made less than three weeks after the British defeated the French at the Battle of Lake George on September 8, 1755.
On September 29, the British decided to erect a more durable fortress to hold 500 men and constructed “in the manner that the French build.” The following day, troops began dismantling the first military installation and a sturdier earth-and-wooden fort was begun.
On November 7, 1755, shortly before the second fortification was completed, William Johnson wrote to Massachusetts Governor Shirley stating he named it “William Henry,” after two members of the British royal family.
The siege of that second fort in 1757 ended with what is, perhaps, the most famous incident of the French and Indian War, the massacre that became the basis of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans.
While modern historians have tended to minimize the incident, or assumed that 18th century accounts exaggerated the level and ferocity of the violence, Bellico concludes that the original accounts were substantially accurate.
“Every colonial newspaper described the incident as a massacre,” said Bellico. “It makes no sense to claim it was something else.”
In his introduction, Bellico writes, “The French and Indian War (1754-1763), the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War, would change the map of the continent and set the stage for the American Revolution. The conflict, which pitted the French and their Indian allies against the English, has often been misunderstood and largely received minor treatment in most general histories of America. To some, the name of the war itself has been puzzling and somewhat misleading because Britain also had Indian allies during the war. The war represented a culmination of a century-old struggle for control of North America. The clash was inevitable.”
Empires in the Mountains is available at Trees, the book and gift shop on Bolton Landing’s Main Street.
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