For the better part of two centuries, the border region between Upstate New York and Canada was one of the most bitterly fought-over frontiers in the Americas. British, French and later American forces erected dozens of major fortresses all over the area in an effort to control the various waterways of the region. The greatest of these to survive is Fort Ticonderoga in Upstate New York. Guarding the northern end of the Hudson River near where it meets Lake Champlain, it is the largest and most intact Colonial-era fortification in the northern United States. Along with the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Fort Ticonderoga effectively book-ended the British Colonies in North America during the mid-18th century. It is now one of the most popular American military sites in the northeast.
Fort Ticonderoga was founded as Fort Carillon by the French in the 1750s, just before the outbreak of the Seven Years War. Built to guard the southern end of Lake Champlain where it meets the Hudson River, it effectively marked the southern end of French claims in the region. Naturally, it immediately became a prime target for British forces moving up the Hudson River from New York. Fort Carillon saw some of the earliest fighting during the French and Indian War.
The Battle of Carillon, fought in 1758, literally just after the fort was completed, was one of the first major battles of that war. The capture of Fort Carillon was necessary in order for the British to be able to threaten Quebec. Thanks to the strength of the fortifications, the ferocity of the French and the ineptitude of the British commanders, Fort Carillon proved its worth when the overwhelmingly superior British army was forced to retreat. The fort was taken a year later due to a much smaller French garrison and more competent British strategy.
Fort Ticonderoga remained under British control for the next twenty years. Once used to defend French Canada against the British, it was now used to defend British Canada against the threat of an uprising in the American colonies. Not surprisingly, Fort Ticonderoga witnessed a lot of action during the American Revolution. It was the site of one of the first major engagements of the war, and the site of one of America’s first victories.
In 1775, an American army and supporting militia under Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen captured Fort Ticonderoga as a prelude to their invasion of Quebec. The Canadian campaign eventually faltered, and in 1777 the British recaptured the fortress. It was surrendered to the Americans as the war drew to a close in 1781. Fort Ticonderoga was subsequently abandoned, and for the next century and a half it was used as a stone quarry. It was restored as an historic site by the Pell family in the early-20th century.
Fort Ticonderoga is an absolutely picture-perfect example of a colonial-era star fort. After falling into serious disrepair during the 19th century, Fort Ticonderoga was undergone regular restorations and renovations since the 1930s. Built on a hilltop overlooking the strategic junction of Lake Champlain with the Hudson River, it is one of the best-preserved military fortifications in North America. The fort boasts multiple layers of defenses. The white-stone outer walls rise from steep earthworks, forming a classic eight-pointed defensive ring which protects the inner fort. Restored artillery pieces from the colonial era still peak out over the imposing battlements.
A second higher series of walls constitutes the inner fortress. Inside are the restored barracks, storehouses and other buildings where the garrison once lived and worked. These buildings now house a museum which tells the story of the fort and life in the area during the colonial period. Exhibits include military artifacts from the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. The site is now careed for by the Fort Ticonderoga Association.
Fort Ticonderoga is locate in Upstate New York close to the border of Vermont, approximately 110 miles south of Montreal and 220 miles north of New York City. It is open daily from mid-May through mid-October from 9:30am-5:00pm. Cost of admission is $15.00. Web: www.fortticonderoga.org (official website).
As the Hudson River/Lake Champlain was the primary water highway between the various North American rivals during the colonial era, it is not surprising that many fortresses once stood and still stand along its shores. Not too far from Ticonderoga are the ruins of the French built Fort St. Frederic and the British built Fort Crown Point, both on the Crown Point Peninsula. Towards the southern end of the Hudson is perhaps the most famous of all American military fortresses, West Point, which is now home to the United States Military Academy.