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Dig under way at New York site of 2 18th century forts

By Chris Carola
Crown Point, New York (AP) 7-08

George Washington was here. So were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Benedict Arnold.

The Founding Fathers and one famous traitor are among the long muster roll of prominent 18th-century French, British and American figures who passed through this remote Lake Champlain location when it was considered one of the most strategic military outposts in North America.

Today, Crown Point, on the Vermont line 90 miles north of Albany, is home to a scenic state historic site with the remains of the original French fort and the ghostly ruins of what was once Britain’s largest fortification on the continent.

During July, a team of state archaeologists is excavating a grassy field looking for evidence of a French village known to have been located at Crown Point when it was part of New France.

France’s consulate general in Boston, who toured the dig July 17 in preparation for next year’s events marking the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s exploration, said visiting the former French stronghold was “very moving.”

“It sheds light on the French part in American history and that’s wonderful,” Francois Gauthier said.

While it’s off the beaten path and less popular than Fort Ticonderoga, another 18th century military site 8 miles south, Crown Point had plenty of name recognition among English and French leaders in the 1700s.

“The two forts there really played a major role in shaping North America,” said Russell Bellico, a Massachusetts college professor and author of several books on Lake Champlain’s history. “All the great figures in American history came to see Crown Point.” 

 

Lake Champlain is named for the French explorer who fought a battle in 1609 against the Iroquois at a shoreline site believed to be near Crown Point. During the 17th- and 18th-century colonial wars, the lake was part of a waterway system linking Albany and Montreal, with Crown Point located about midway. France and its Indian allies used “Pointe a la Chevelure” to stage bloody raids into Britain’s New York and New England colonies.

In the 1730s, France built a European-style fort at Crown Point, a small peninsula jutting into the lake’s southern waters where they narrow to a quarter mile wide. Named Fort St. Frederic, it featured a four-story tower with 12-foot-thick walls built of limestone quarried nearby.

“It was meant to impress the Indians as the symbol of French power,” said state archaeologist Paul Huey, 66, who last dug at the site as a high school student 50 years ago.

Fort St. Frederic became a near-obsession of British military planners in London and the Colonies for two decades. During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), two expeditions sent to capture the stronghold failed before the French blew up the fort as an English army advanced up the lake in the summer of 1759.

Thousands of redcoats and their provincial allies then spent several years turning Crown Point into the largest British fortification on the continent. They built a sprawling complex with several two-story stone barracks and 25-foot-tall log and earthen walls that covered 6 acres.

In April 1773, a fire in a barracks chimney spread quickly, fueled by the ramparts’ tarred logs. The blaze burned for three days and ignited an explosion in the gunpowder magazine, destroying the fort. The roofless walls of two of the barracks still stand.

American forces encamped here early in the Revolutionary War before abandoning the position to the British, who remained in control of Lake Champlain until the war’s end in 1783.

While waiting for the treaty to be signed, Washington traveled north from his encampment in the Hudson Valley near Newburgh to tour the northern frontier. He arrived here on July 21, 1783. It was the farthest north Washington would ever travel in the United States.

Franklin stopped at Crown Point en route to Canada to seek an alliance against the British, Arnold commanded troops here before turning traitor, and Jefferson and Madison followed in Washington’s footsteps in 1791.

Although no battles were fought at Crown Point, an untold number of military casualties from the two wars are believed buried here, along with various settlers. So far, no one has found any cemeteries, Huey said.

That fact, plus the barracks ruins and high grass-covered earthen walls of the British fort, tend to give Crown Point what Bellico called a “ghost town quality.”

On the Net:


Crown Point State Historic Site: http://nysparks.state.ny.us

America’s Historic Lakes: http://www.historiclakes.org/crown–pt/CrownPt.html

 

 

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