My America...Journeys

"Let every fellow tell his tale about." Chaucer

Saturday, June 10, 2006

AT TICONDEROGA, HISTORY COMES ALIVE



In 1755 Europe was engulfed in what many consider the real First World War, pitting Britain and France and their respective allies for world dominence extending from the Eastern European plains to the wilderness of the North American colonies. Fort Ticonderoga, New York would play a central role in those violent times.

A hotly contested trade battle for control of the North American colonies became a shooting war in 1755, and it would turn the history of North America around forever. To Americans, it is known as the French and Indian War, and it was "The War That Made America".

More Photos Here
To the leaders and generals on both sides, the colonists were held in low regard, considered little more than pawns in their grand game, but a vital asset in the war in the wilderness that neigher understood. Both powers were to be proved sadly mistaken in this assumption.

The the native American Indians, particularly the six nations of the Iroquois Confederation of Central New York were courted and entreated with gifts and promises of sovereignty in return for their allegiance to one or the other of the great powers. They were lied to.

It was a war that extended from present day Pittsburgh, through the Ohio Territories and across New York's Mohawk Valley to Lake Champlain. This was the main water route from Canada, and in 1755, the French made their deepest incursion into the colonies, building the breasworks of what they named Fort Carillon at the confluence of Lake Champlain and Lake George, thereby controlling both and directly threatening New York, two hundred miles to the south.


The British attacked on July 8th, 1755, and in one afternoon, suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of the empire, losing 1900 men of the vaunted Black Watch in a vain attempt to take the fort. Their second attack in 1759 was successful; they renamed it Fort Ticonderoga, controlling it for the remainder of the war.

For two days each June, 1,100 re-enactors and history buffs converge on this historic fort for the “Grand Encampment of the French and Indian War�. For three days, campsites spread out over the fields where the English attacked on that fateful day, campfire smoke permeats the air as the Engish and French armies prepare for "war", reinforced by their colonial and Indian allies.

Roger's Rangers, the precursor of the US Army Rangers form the largest group of colonial re-enactors, in their distinctive green frontier uniforms and jockey hats. Loyal to the crown, they were instrumental in England's ultimate success in the war.

"You can smell the history, see the history here", says fort Director Nicholas Westbrook. "The French and Indian War is seriously and undeservedly neglected in our schools", he says.

The encampment began in 1991 with 35 participants, history buffs with a particular interest in those pre-revolutionary days. Today draws 66 re-enactment groups from across the country, entertaining 2, 500 visitors over the weekend. Visiting hours are daytime only, and to sit back and witness the "Battle".

As the French canons defend against the attacking English, faux-wounded warriors are carried off the field, prisioners are taken and "tortured", all in the spirit of fun and the opportunity to demonstrate a piece of history that is directly responsible for the creation of the American experiment.

“This place is hallowed ground to us,� says participant Jon Soule, the creator and Commander of The French Royal Rousillion Regiment. speaking of the emotional ties re-enactors have towards the fort where so many fought and fell. "We've had the opportunity to bring Ticonderoga back to life, and we did", he says.

"The encampment events are a perfect kind of time machine for young people", says (Name here). "The French and Indian War has been seriously and undeservedly neglected in our history books".

Re-enacting is a family hobby, where computer-age children get a living history lesson, living it in some cases, getting a taste for what life may have been like before ninety nine per cent of everything they take for granted was invented or even dreamed of. there will be no cell phones ringing, no electricity, no wi-fi. Even the porto-sans are cleverly hidden.

Dedicated re-enactors are deadly serious about their roles, too. Many do extensive research into historical archives to accurately recreate personas based on actual characters of the time. Uniforms are custom made and hand-tailored, and all paraphrenalia and accoutrements are accurate to the time period in question. For many, reenacting is a way of life.

Dan Schrothe, a school teacher from Liverpool, N.Y., agrees. “It’s when I can step back in time to an entirely different life,� he says. “We can only scratch the surface of reality.�
At the end of the war, veterans settled on land grants given to them by the British Crown, gravitating to the area around the saw mill. They formed the nucleus from which the town of Ticonderoga—incorporated in 1804.

In 1820, abandoned and falling into disrepair, the fort was purchased by William Ferris Pell, a New York merchant and entrepreneur hoping to capitalize on the steady flow of tourists who began visiting the fort in the 1780s. Three generations of Pells set about restoring the fort and amassing one of the largest collections of 18th-century artifacts in the country.

In the museum, powder horns, swords, bullet pouches, uniforms, and bits and pieces of the lives of the men who fought and died here are on display. Some were donated, much was unearthed from the slopes and hills surrounding the fort over the past two hundred and forrty eight years. Some pieces are still being unearthed. The fort officially opened to the public in 1908.

1 Comments:

  • At 1:58 PM, Anonymous Lisa Lutts said…

    THanks Warren. It was great to see your article in American Profile, and now to see your blog almost one year later! Encampment is next weekend. Hopefully it will be a bit cooler this year! We appreciate the time you took to write this great article and the photos are super.

    Lisa Simpson Lutts
    Director of External Affairs
    Fort Ticonderoga

     

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