Report #20 from Abe, Robert E., & Ulysses: Sept. 29, 2001



Welcome to Fort Ticonderoga!
Robert E.: Today we visited Fort Ticonderoga, outside the village of the same name. This great stone fortress was originally built by the French in 1755, and its original name was Fort Carillon.


Photo: Mary and me at the entrance to the grounds of the Fort.

Ulysses: "Carillon" is a French word meaning "a chime of bells." There is a small river nearby the fort that has many waterfalls. Michel Chartier, the Frenchman who built the fort, thought the water splashing over the rocks sounded like distant bells.

Abe: The Algonquin word "Ticonderoga" means "falling waters," roughly the same thing as the French.

Robert E.: As many as 2,000 Frenchmen worked on the construction of the fort, and they made astounding progress considering they were hacking it out of wilderness without the benefit of modern day equipment. This fort was considered to be very important during the early history of the United States when the European nations of France and England vied for control of the vast lands of the New World -- America. The French were established in what is now the Canadian French-speaking province of Quebec while the English controlled the lower part of the State of New York as well as Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.


Photo: Mary and me with one of the French cannon protecting the outer walls of the fort. Behind us is the main entrance to the fort and the roof of one of the barracks.

Ulysses: There was a most important waterway running through New York into Canada. It was the great Lake Champlain that was fed by Lake George (in upstate New York). The lower end of Lake George was very near the upper end of the Hudson River so, in essence, one could paddle a canoe from Canada all the way down to New York City.

Abe: Ticonderoga is located on a point of land that commands a view of the lower end of Lake Champlain and the most important portage over the La Chute River (where those waterfalls are) into Lake George. Whomever controlled the Fort controlled the entrance into Canada.


Photo: Robert E. and Mary by the same cannon from the opposite viewpoint. Behind us you can see the southern end of Lake Champlain. Just below these walls is the entrance to the La Chute River leading to Lake George.

Robert E.: The fort was originally built as a wooden stockade, but within a year, granite stone was substituted. By the summer of 1758, it was completed and stocked with several dozen heavy cannons. The French constructed it as a "star" fort which means it has six points to it: one on each of the four corners and two independent demi-lunes attached to the main fort by drawbridges. The fort is ringed by a low outer wall and a dry moat. Photo: Postcard of Fort Ticonderoga showing its star shape.

Ulysses: In its day, Fort Ticonderoga was considered to be the strongest fortification on the North American continent.

Abe: Even after two hundred years, Fort Ticonderoga is still the strongest surviving 18th century fortress in North America.

Robert E.: The walls are several feet thick. The French engineers built barracks, a bakery to feed the troops, a powder magazine, a small chapel, as well as many deep storage areas inside the fort. There is also a fresh-water well so the defenders could remain inside during a siege and still have water. Photo: Ulysses, Abe, and me by the secondary inner walls of the fort. Abe asks that you note we are sitting on the sign -- not the fragile wall.

Abe: The plans were excellent, but the fort was never truly besieged.

Ulysses: The fort was only active for about thirty years from 1755 to early 1780's. But these were very important years: the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. The fort changed hands several times from French to English during the French and Indian Wars. On May 9, 1775, at the beginning of the American Revolution, it was captured by a Vermont militia called the Green Mountain Boys led by Ethan Allen. It was held by the Americans for two years before it again fell to the British. At the end of the war, the British blew up the powder in the magazine and burned the fort so it would not be of use to the victorious Americans.

Abe: The fort lay in stately ruins for the next century, but in the early 1900's, the Pell family, who owned the property and the fort, decided to restore Ticonderoga to its former grandeur. Today, the fort is still undergoing reconstruction, and the Pell descendants are very active in the Fort's reconstruction and its museum.

Robert E.: Fort Ticonderoga hosts several annual re-enactments that draw large crowds from many states and Canada. In June, battles of the French and Indian War are recreated. In early September, re-enactors representing the soldiers of the British and the Americans engage in Revolutionary battles.

Abe: And for the last two weekends in October, Ticonderoga becomes "The Haunted Fort."

Robert Lewis Stevenson's Poem:
Robert E.: The famous Scottish poet Robert Lewis Stevenson immortalized Ticonderoga in his poem of the same name that was published in Scribners' Magazine in December, 1887. Stevenson based his poem on a ghost story he had heard in Scotland. In the highlands of Scotland, a laird named Duncan Campbell gave rest and respite to a stranger who claimed he was running from the law. What Campbell didn't know was his midnight guest had just murdered Campbell's own cousin. The next morning the man left, but Campbell never had a restful night again. His cousin's angry ghost visited him in his dreams and told Duncan he had harbored his murderer. After visiting Duncan two more times, the ghost finally said they would meet again at a place called Ticonderoga -- a name Duncan Campbell had never heard.

In time, war broke out between Britain and France. Laird Campbell was an officer in the Forty-Second Highlanders, known as the Black Watch. His regiment was sent to the New World to fight the French there. To Duncan Campbell's horror, he learned his regiment was to fight at a fort in the wilderness called Ticonderoga. On July 7, 1758, the night before the fateful battle, Duncan was again visited by the ghost. The following morning, Duncan Campbell was mortally wounded during an unsuccessful attack against the stone walls of the fort. He died a few days later and was buried near the British Fort Edward at the southern end of Lake George. Photo: Postcard of Lake George showing its beauty.

In his poem, Stevenson changes Campbell's name to "Cameron" and Fort Carillon to Fort Sault-Marie, but the story is the same. Here are the final lines of this long poem when Cameron (Campbell) learns the name of the place from one of the Indian scouts and what happened after that.

"O, you of the outland tongue,
You of the painted face,
This is the place of my death;
Can you tell me the name of this place?

"Since the Frenchmen have been here
They have called it Sault-Marie;
But that is a name for priests,
And not for you and me.
It went by another word,"
Quoth he of the shaven head:
"It was called Ticonderoga
In the days of the great dead."

And it fell on the morrow's morning,
In the fiercest of the fight,
That the Cameron bit the dust
As he foretold at night;
And far from the hills of heather,
Far from the isles of the sea,
He sleeps in the place of the name
As it was doomed to be.

The Last of the Mohicans:
Abe: Robert Lewis Stevenson was not the only literary man who was inspired by this fort and by the Lake George region. Novelist James Fenimore Cooper set most of his tales in upstate New York during the 1750's, including his most famous book of all -- The Last of the Mohicans.

Ulysses: It is a story set against the background of a real battle that took place between the French under the command of General Montcalm and the British under the command of General Monroe. Montcalm was stationed at Fort Ticonderoga (Fort Carillon). He floated a huge force of soldiers and cannon down Lake George to the southern end of the Lake where they attacked and captured Fort William Henry. Monroe and his defeated army were given safe conduct by Montcalm to evacuate the fort, but the French Indian allies disobeyed the general and attacked the departing English soldiers, killing many of them. This treacherous attack was the basis of Cooper's famous story.

Thomas Jefferson:
Photo: Postcard of Lake George showing its beauty along with a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to his daughter, Martha on May 31, 1791. In May, 1791, Jefferson and James Madison traveled up the Hudson Valley through Lake George on a fishing trip where Jefferson wrote letters to his daughters on the bark of the paper birch tree. These letters are known as the "Birchbark Letters." This letter states, "Lake George is, without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin thirty-five miles long and from two to four miles broad finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves of thuja, silver fir, white pine, aspen, and paper birch down to the water-edge; here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony. An abundance of speckled trout, salmon trout, bass and other fish, with which it is stored, have added to our other amusements, the sport of taking them."

Next Stop: Civil War Days!


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