Postcard History: Fort Ticonderoga

 

By Carla Charter

TICONDEROGA, N.Y.- Sitting on land between Lake Champlain and Lake George is a pre- Revolutionary War era fort with a fascinating tale to tell. It has been owned by the French, the British and the Americans throughout its history.

Fort Ticonderoga was originally built as a French military fort in the fall of 1755, known as Fort Carillon, according to Matthew Keagle, Curator at Fort Ticonderoga. The fort was constructed to protect the water route to Canada.

In 1758 the fort was the site of the Battle of Carillon a major battle of the French and Indian War. The battle resulted in the highest number of casualties of any battle on the North American Continent until the Civil War, with approximately 2,000 British killed and wounded.  There was another attack in 1759 and after diverting several more attacks from the British, the French deserted the fort and fell back to Canada.

After the French left the fort the British occupied it, re- naming it Fort Ticonderoga which is an Iroquois word, meaning land between two lakes, Keagle said. The word Ticonderoga refers to the location of the fort which us situated between Lake George and Lake Champlain. The British held on to the garrison until 1775, ‘almost to the opening of the Revolutionary War,’ he continued.

The fort was a target during the war as it had supplies, armament and artillery which the Americans did not have. On May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold with 83 Americans, stormed and captured the fort.  50 British soldiers were at the fort and half as many were women and children.

Once captured, the British prisoners were marched to Connecticut whose government financed the expedition. Benedict Arnold joined the expedition under the Provincial Congress Massachusetts. Arnold did not have as many men, so the two units combined commands. There was an uneasy alliance between Arnold and Allen, with the two arguing over who controlled the fort.

In November 1775, Colonel Henry Knox was ordered to march to Ticonderoga with his men and bring the captured artillery back to Boston. Knox returned to Massachusetts in late January 1776 with 59 cannons, mortar and Howitzers weighing nearly 60 tons. There was only one cannon lost during the return march when it broke through the ice during a river crossing.

The artillery was placed largely on Dorchester Heights. “It was instrumental in breaking the siege of Boston,“ said Keagle.   The British captured Fort Ticonderoga again in 1777 but the fort was ultimately abandoned.

The grounds of the fort were privately purchased in 1820 by William Farris Pell, a wealthy merchant in New York. He fenced in the ruins of the fort and posted signs to warn visitors not to take items away. It is the first time one of the nations Revolutionary War sites was preserved.

Descendants of Pell began to rebuild the fortification in 1908 and opened a barracks building to the public in 1909.  From that time on the Pell’s continued to rebuild the walls and fortifications of the fort. They also began acquiring a collection of artifacts, uniforms, books, weapons cannons and manuscripts to display at the fort as well as preserve items which were discovered during the reconstruction work.

Ticonderoga today continues displays of weaponry and uniforms along with new exhibits every year.   which this year will highlight the fort’s connections to World War I.  One of Pell’s descendants was an ambulance driver during World War I. On display will be material from the World War I driver and his family, telling the story of what he experienced in France during that time and what was happening back home as well. The exhibit will draw a connection between these experiences during the first World War and the experiences at the fort during the French Indian War.  More information on Fort Ticonderoga can be found at www.fortticonderoga.org