THE MAHICAN CHANNEL ... Forts, Tales, and Legends
FORT EDWARD, FORT TICONDEROGA, AND THE HUDSON VALLEY
The Mahican Channel, once the heart of Mohican country, was the primary route of travel from Albany to Montreal. This New York vein pulsates with the waters of the Hudson River, Lake George, and Lake Champlain. It was the strategic corridor that hosted the most intense struggles of the colonial wars. Second to the Hudson is the Mohawk River, its primary tributary. Flowing through the valley of central New York, south of the Adirondack Mountains, the Mohawk River traverses southeasterly until it unites with the great Hudson River, north of Albany. These two picturesque river valleys are marked by rolling hills, forests, creeks, lakes, farmland, and mountains. Both meander through a land of intense beauty!
Complimenting this gorgeous country is its rich history, perhaps an unparalleled combination. Here amidst the splendor of wilderness, were the bloody battlefields and razed settlements, the seemingly unending string of outposts and fortresses. While the temptation to include photos and narratives of the many forts and battlefields of the entire Upstate New York country is hard to resist, and the region is a 'beautiful feature of war in the Americas', it is 'best to keep our sight fixed on our duty'! To that end, we must remain on the trail of the Mahican Channel ... but do explore the many other historic regions as well!
This is all that is left of Fort Edward today.
At the location known as The Great Carrying Place - where the Hudson River, after escaping the Adirondack Mountains, bends sharply to the south, towards Albany and New York City beyond - a succession of posts and forts, ultimately to become Fort Edward, were to occupy the ground. It was a strategic place, as anyone using the great north/south waterway of the Hudson and the lakes to the north, George and Champlain, needed to travel from, or to, here by land. Thus, the name ... bateaux, canoes, supplies, all needed to be transported by carrying them. So, at the time of LOTM, Fort William Henry stood at the northern end of the portage, the southern end of Lake George, while Fort Edward stood at the bend, the southern terminus ... a distance of approximately 17 miles.
Built in 1755, Fort Edward is most notable for its association with Robert Rogers and his Rangers. Adjacent to the Fort, on an island situated at the great bend in the Hudson River, was the base camp of Rogers' Rangers during the French and Indian War. There was on this site, named Rogers Island, a hospital, a blockhouse, barracks, and Ranger huts. A hub of activity throughout the French and Indian War, Fort Edward was abandoned in 1766 by the British when they removed themselves to Crown Point. Left in disrepair, the fort fell to ruin and no portion of the once crucial military base exists today.
The Jane McCrea Saga
The shocking murder of Jane McCrea twenty years after the siege of Fort William Henry enflamed colonial opposition and served as literary inspiration for James Fenimore Cooper. Jane's tragic fate was instantly seized upon by Patriot propagandists and myths have overshadowed reality, yet the known facts do parallel, somewhat, Cooper's fictional account of the George Road ambush and the cave captivity.
Jane McCrea was the twenty-six year old daughter of a Presbyterian minister and fianc�e of David Jones, a Loyalist officer serving under the British General, "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne. (Burgoyne did not get his nickname for his fine manners, but rather his fondness for fine living!) On July 27th, 1777, while visiting at the home of Mrs. McNeil a few miles north of Fort Edward, Jane and her companion were captured by an Indian patrol party of Burgoyne's. These two daughters of Scotsmen had a false sense of security, believing themselves immune from such danger due to their attachment to the British camp. The Indian abductors separated into two groups, each with one of the women. When news of the abduction reached the British camp, Jane's fianc�e sent another Indian patrol to escort his betrothed safely to the encampment.
Jane's captor was a Huron named Le Loup (a French given name meaning "the wolf"; he is also known as "Panther"). Le Loup had hopes of ransom money in return for the young woman. The two groups met north of the point where the Hudson River flows easterly before continuing south, directly across from Rogers' Island. The escort party's arrival thwarted the Huron's plot and they proceeded to guide Miss McCrea toward the British camp. Le Loup, angry with the interference, attempted to retake his captive. An argument ensued and during the melee, the Huron spitefully dragged Jane from her horse, shot her, and artfully 'removed her tresses.' Jane's scalp was brought to the British camp where it was identified by the dead woman's Tory fianc�e. Despite the loud clamoring for justice, Burgoyne refused to punish the Huron, knowing he would lose his Indian allies if he did.
Miss McCrea became an instant martyr. It is said that her death and the outrage that accompanied it greatly aided the raising of colonial militia troops, which in turn helped to defeat General Burgoyne following the Battle of Saratoga. So enshrined in martyrdom was Jane McCrea that she was buried not once, but three times! Her first grave was at the site of a Patriot camp, about two miles south of Fort Edward. She was then reburied at the Fort's cemetery. The much dragged about Jane McCrea was finally reinterred in 1852 at Union Cemetery, just north of the McNeil home where she first began her ordeal.
In this historic event, we have a Huron who goes by two names, one of which is French, who treacherously takes captive two women, one of whom is romantically involved with a British officer. When ordered to release his hostage, he reacts with hostile defiance. Unwilling to give up his property as 'the warrior has not a scalp,' the disgusted Huron shoots the defenseless damsel in front of her would-be rescuers. In Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, the treacherous villain is also a Huron. He too is dualistically named, Magua and the French "Le Renaud" (the fox), and like Le Loup, takes two women captive. These sisters are, as were Jane McCrea and Mrs. McNeil, a Scotsman's daughters. When Magua hears the unavenging decision of the sachem in regard to his victims' fate, he angrily departs. Like Jane McCrea, Magua's captive is spitefully murdered. (In the novel there is no hopeless, desperate, cliff-flying suicide; Cora is stabbed when Uncas attempts her rescue!) And like Jane McCrea, Magua's victims are captured in the vicinity of Fort Edward, at nearby Glen's Falls. The Last of the Mohicans then, in its own way, continues the legend of Jane McCrea's murder.
Jane McCrea shares more than murder with legend. She is a kindred soul to another ill-fated Duncan. Buried near her is Duncan Campbell of Inverawe, himself the object of a haunting legend!
"Nemo me impune lacessit"
-Nobody provokes me without being hurt.
... Motto of the Royal Scots.
The Legend of Ticonderoga
Duncan Campbell of Inverawe was a Scottish highlander, major of the 42nd Regiment of Foot, or the Royal Highlanders, ... also known as the Black Watch. Major Campbell served in America during the French and Indian War, destined for a place of ominous beckoning.
Several years before the outbreak of the French and Indian War, Duncan Campbell, Laird of Inverawe Castle, experienced the arrival of some unusual guests. One evening Duncan heard a banging at the castle door. Upon opening it, he was greeted by a man with torn clothing and a blood smeared kilt. The stranger confessed that he had killed a man during a brawl and begged for asylum at Inverawe. Duncan promised to shelter the man and tell no one of his presence. "Swear on your dirk!" begged the fugitive, and so Duncan swore. He hid the stranger then soon heard another loud banging at the door. There were two men this time who announced that Duncan's cousin Donald had been murdered and they were searching for his murderer. In honor of the oath of secrecy to which he was sworn, Campbell feigned ignorance of the matter. With great regret that he had been obliged to violate the bonds of clanship on account of his sworn word, Duncan fell into an uneasy sleep. He was awakened thereafter by the appearance of Donald's ghost standing at his bedside, crying "Inverawe! Inverawe! Blood has been shed. Shield not the murderer!"
The following morning, an unnerved Laird Duncan went to his cousin's murderer and declared he could no longer hide him. "You have sworn on your dirk!" the fugitive challenged. He was right, of course. Campbell's Celtic honor precluded him from breaking his word, yet his clan ties could not be offended, as the visitation of his slain kinsman so spiritedly reminded him. He decided to hide his burdensome ward in a nearby cave, believing it the best compromise to the conflicting loyalties. That night, the ghastly ghost reappeared and again cried, "Inverawe! Inverawe! Blood has been shed. Shield not the murderer!" Duncan hurried at dawn to the cave where he found the kin-slayer to be gone. Apprehensively, Duncan Campbell retired that evening and again the unavenged Donald appeared. This night he did not repeat the reprimand of dishonor but spoke this puzzling phrase, "Farewell, Inverawe! Farewell, till we meet at Ticonderoga!" Thereafter, Laird Duncan Campbell was no more haunted by his cousin's ghost ... but by his words. Ticonderoga? The meaning of this strange name was a mystery Duncan could not solve, nor could he forget.
With the arrival of the respected Black Watch regiment in America, Major Duncan Campbell soon learned the regiment's place of destination. The 42nd was to partake in an assault on ... Ticonderoga ! Horrified to hear the mysterious name uttered by Donald revealed as his destination, the Major feared his doom. Familiar with the eerie tale, Campbell's fellow Highlanders tried to alleviate his anxiety. As they reached Ticonderoga on the eve of battle, they falsely spoke, "This is not Ticonderoga; we are not there yet; this is Fort George." The morning of July 8th arrived, the appointed time for Duncan Campbell's rendezvous with fate. The Major greeted his Highlander brothers with his own declaration. "I have seen him! You have deceived me! He came to my tent last night! This is Ticonderoga! I shall die today!"
With resolve of fate, Major Duncan Campbell and the Black Watch fought valiantly and with great loss of life. Campbell's arm was shattered during the ill-fated assault whereupon he was taken to Fort Edward for amputation. He died nine days later, on July 17, 1758. The Laird of Inverawe was buried at Fort Edward's cemetery, but later reinterred at Union Cemetery ... near Jane McCrea.
There is more to the legend of Duncan Campbell and Highlander apparitions; but we shan't tell it ... yet.
And then there is the headless ghost of a French officer who is said to wander the environs of Old Fort Niagara!
History ... you gotta love it!
At the southern end of Lake George, southeast of Fort William Henry, and three miles from the site of Fort George is a tranquil spot called Bloody Pond. The infamous name was borne of the Battle of Lake George in 1755.
In the summer of that year, Sir William Johnson headed an expedition through the Hudson Valley. Its objective was to capture Fort St. Frederic at Crown Point, the launching point for French and Indian raids into English frontier settlements. Johnson's forces included Provincials, as well as Mohawks led by the aged Thoyanoguen, also known as King Hendrick. A camp was established at The Great Carrying Place and construction of storehouses and a fort was begun. Johnson and 1,500 troops continued northward toward the lake. Arriving at Lac Du St. Sacrement on August 28, Johnson renamed the waters Lake George; a declaration of English possession.
As Johnson camped at the southern end of Lake George, preparing for the march against Crown Point, a French force led by Baron Dieskau was moving southward out of Crown Point; its destination was the new outpost under construction at The Great Carrying Place called Fort Lyman. On September 7, a party of Mohawk scouts arrived at Johnson's camp with news of the French movement southward. On the morning of September 8, a detachment of Provincial troops led by Colonel Ephraim Williams, along with 200 Mohawks led by Hendrick was sent to halt the French advance. Along the road from Fort Lyman to Lake George, the English troops marched into a well planned ambush. Both Colonel Ephraim Williams and King Hendrick were killed and the Provincial contingent was nearly wiped out. The inexperienced, panicked survivors retreated to Johnson's camp where preparations were immediately made for defense.
During the subsequent battle at the lake, both the English and French commanders were wounded. Dieskau angrily chided his Canadians and Indians, whom he thought too undisciplined, and the assault was carried on by the regulars. General Phineas Lyman assumed command of the English troops and though the French regulars kept up a persistent firing at the center of the English defenses, the distance was too far off. Lyman's troops drove the French from the battlefield by the afternoon and captured the wounded General Dieskau who was left behind by his forces.
Though the English were victorious, the loss of so many, especially Col. Williams and King Hendrick, stole the fire from their fight. Johnson abandoned the plan to advance against Crown Point, remaining instead at the lake. He renamed the Lyman fort at the bend of the Hudson River Fort Edward and commenced the construction of another fort that would two years later gain tragic infamy; Fort William Henry.
The four - times wounded Baron Dieskau, while a prisoner at the Lake George camp, became the object of Mohawk fury and English outrage. Grieved over the loss of King Hendrick and many warriors at the ambush, the Mohawks wanted to kill Dieskau and several times came close to doing so. The prisoner's life was protected by the intervention of William Johnson, but his honor was not. It was alleged that the French were firing poisoned musket balls and an angered General Lyman daily paraded past Dieskau's tent with reproaches and insults. According to the surgeon Thomas Williams, brother of the slain Col. Williams, the French musket balls had been "rolled up with a dissolution of copper and yellow arsenic."
Following the ambush and defeat of Colonel Ephraim Williams' detachment, many Canadians and Indians tarried to loot and scalp the corpses of the unfortunate Provincials and Mohawks. They tarried too long ... thus they were surprised and overtaken by more Provincial troops from Fort Lyman (Fort Edward). The bodies of the slain Canadians and Indians were said to have been tossed unceremoniously into the nearby pond. The bloody sepulcher is no longer a pond, having been covered with sawdust from a local sawmill. What is marked as "Bloody Pond" today is not the actual pond of battle fame.
(Note: Major George Bray has pointed out that not only is the town's reference to the existing pond as "Bloody Pond" incorrect, the nearby plaque mounted on the rock erroneously states the Battle of Lake George to be Robert Rogers' first engagement. The famous ranger was not present at the battle.)
An aerial view of Fort Ticonderoga (Carillon) on Lake Champlain.
Fort Carillon, later known as Fort Ticonderoga, was the southernmost French fort. Built in 1756 at the southern end of Lake Champlain on the site of a fortified post, the fort was an important link in the Hudson - Champlain route to Canada, as well as the sentinel fort of the portage between Lake Champlain and Lake George.
Its strategic location made it a highly coveted possession in a region that had become a perpetual meeting place of large armies. During the French and Indian War, the French held the fort successfully, even against the 1758 assault led by James Abercromby with a force five times the strength of General Montcalm's French defenders, until 1759. General Jeffrey Amherst took the fort that year and it remained a British possession until Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys took it in 1775.
Ticonderoga, or 'Cheonderoga' is an Iroquoian name meaning "between two great waters". There is less certainty regarding the French name 'Carillon.' While its translation means 'chime' or 'peal' - said to refer to the water sound at Lake George's outlet, there is also speculation that the name was derived from a French officer named Philippe de Carrion. The officer had erected a log structure at the site as a smuggling post along the Albany-Montreal corridor. Whatever the origin of name, the structure survived as a French fortress as long as Montcalm survived as a French commander in New France. It fell to the English the same year the Marquis did. What visitors see today is the restored fort, reconstructed upon the ruins of the original Carillon/Ticonderoga.
The remains of Fort George at the Lake George Battleground.
(Photo courtesy of Sam Fruner)
In the summer of 1759, two years after the siege of Fort William Henry, Major General Jeffrey Amherst, while on his expedition "...to make an irruption into Canada with the utmost vigor and despatch" via Ticonderoga and Crown Point, arrived at the southern end of Lake George. General Amherst had been building fortified outposts every three to four miles along the road to Fort Edward. On the hill where Col. Monro had made the entrenched camp during the '57 siege, Amherst began construction of a new fort. With the reassignment of those working on the fort to Crown Point, the construction was necessarily scaled back. In 1760 Amherst described Fort George as a bastion which "mounts 15 guns, is very small and a bad defense, but t'was the shortest, cheapest, & best method of finishing what was begun of the Fort."
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