Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Located in upstate New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga was built in 1755 by the French, captured by the British in 1759, and then captured by colonial militias in 1775.


Colonial militias? 1775? That can mean only one thing, dear readers.

American Revolutionary War history!

But first, a bit of “pre” history. Whenever France and Great Britain went to war in Europe (which was frequently), there was very often a corresponding war in their respective North American colonies. Four of them, in fact. Five, if you count the American Revolution (but in that war, the French were mainly helping us fight the British).

The story of Fort Ticonderoga begins during the fourth war: the French and Indian War (called the Seven Years War in Europe). In the early 1750s, the North American colonies of both the French and the British were expanding and looking to expand even further. One special area that each country coveted was Lake Champlain (which today forms part of the border between New York and Vermont). The lake (along with neighboring Lake George) was a vital travel route in colonial times as the two lakes provided a passage between the French-controlled Saint Lawrence River Valley and the British-controlled Hudson River Valley. Whoever controlled Lake Champlain would control the trade routes between the two valleys. Definitely something worth fighting for.

France and Great Britain had been contesting this area as early as the 1690s, but the conflict escalated with the French and Indian War. So in 1755, France built a fort at the narrows at the southern end of Lake Champlain and called it Fort Carillon. Today, we know it as Fort Ticonderoga.

Fort Ticonderoga

Lake Champlain from one of Fort Ticonderoga's Ramparts

In 1758, the French - with only 3,500 soldiers – successfully defended the fort from a British army numbering 16,000 (this would be the greatest victory for France during the French and Indian War).

But the following year, the British returned, drove the French from the fort and renamed it Fort Ticonderoga (which is derived from an Iroquois word meaning “at the junction of two waterways”).

Fast forward 16 years to early May of 1775. It’s now been just a couple of weeks since the “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired at the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts.

The famous Siege of Boston is well under way. The British soldiers who had retreated from Concord with enraged New England militias right on their heels are now trapped in Boston as the militias surround the town and prevent any more movement by the British troops.

Meanwhile, in upstate New York, Fort Ticonderoga is still in British hands. But, since the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, has been garrisoned by only a small number of British soldiers. It is well known to the colonial militias that the fort has large stores of munitions. Just what all those militias need, now that they’re fighting a war against the British.

Lots of cannon...

...and lots of mortars. Just what a fledgling rebel army needs!

A close-up of one of the French mortars.
How ironic that a thing of war can also be a thing of beauty.

So there is Fort Ticonderoga with all its artillery. Enter Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys of Vermont.

And enter Colonel Benedict Arnold and some of his Massachusetts militia. Yes, THAT Benedict Arnold. Prior to his decision to switch sides, Arnold was an earnest supporter of the colonial rebellion against Britain and a very respected military officer.

So Allen and Arnold set out – completely independently of each other - to capture Fort Ticonderoga and claim all the fort’s armaments for colonial use. They meet up, join forces, and on May 10, 1775, basically knock on the front door of the fort and capture it.

“Capture of Fort Ticonderoga” by Alozo Chappel

It really must be mentioned here that the ease with which Allen and Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga was due in part to the fact that they arrived at the fort at dawn, while much of the garrison was still sleeping. It also didn’t hurt that none of the inhabitants of the fort was aware of what had occurred in Lexington and Concord several weeks earlier and had no idea that their counterparts in Boston were under siege. In short, the British at Fort Ticonderoga had no idea that Britain was now at war with its North American colonies.

Much has been written about all that happened after the fort was captured and you can find some great books, if you’re interested, that read like thrilling adventure novels. And much has been written about the widely different paths Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold took after their capture of Fort Ticonderoga. Benedict Arnold’s story, especially, is very compelling.

But back to the fort. With the capture of the fort, the colonial forces did, indeed, acquire a large supply of munitions, including lots of cannon. Six months later, in November of 1775 (and I still don’t understand why it took so long), George Washington (who was by this time Commander of the Continental Army) realized his troops simply didn’t have the munitions necessary to successfully continue the Siege of Boston. So he sent Henry Knox, a 25 year old bookseller-turned-soldier, to Fort Ticonderoga to retrieve some of the heavy artillery that was there.

I pause here to ask you to consider the following: it’s roughly 300 miles from Boston to Fort Ticonderoga. It’s November. It’s cold and it’s snowy. And it’s 1775. This young man has just been asked by the Commander of the Continental Army to go to upstate New York and bring back to Boston roughly 60 tons of artillery. In the snow. In 1775. There are no cargo planes. There are no trucks. How do you do something like that?

Here's how...

“The Nobel Train of Artillery” by Tom Lovell

With oxen and sledges across frozen lakes and rivers, through ice and snow. Now that’s impressive!

It took 56 days to bring the cannon back to Boston. But once they were placed on a hill overlooking the city and pointing right at the British fleet in Boston Harbor, it took only 10 days for the British to decide to withdraw from the city.

In what is now known as Evacuation Day, the British left Boston on March 17th, 1776. And I bet you thought it was St. Patrick’s Day that Bostonians celebrate on March 17th!

Unfortunately, the colonial occupation of Fort Ticonderoga did not last long. British troops recaptured it in July of 1777. But by then, Fort Ticonderoga had given the colonial rebels what they wanted, what they most needed.

The British abandoned the fort in November of 1777, almost completely destroying it before they left. It was eventually reoccupied by the British, but then abandoned again in 1781.

The fort subsequently and sadly fell into ruins. It eventually became the property of the state of New York, changed hands a number of times and finally was sold to a man named William Pell in 1820.

"The Ruins of Fort Ticonderoga" by the historian Benson John Lossing from his "Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution" published in 1853.

William Pell’s descendants began restoring the grand old fort in 1908 and it was opened to the public the following year. In addition to the fort itself, the buildings are full of amazing collections pertaining to the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. There are books, maps, military manuals, 18th century British and American newspapers, letters, diaries, paintings, photographs, military uniforms, weapons (nearly 1,800 muskets, bayonets, pistols and swords, along with cannon and mortars) and a truly unique collection of engraved powder horns from the late 1700s.

Used to safely carry gun powder, powder horns were generally created from cow or bison horns.

If made correctly, a powder horn is both airtight and waterproof. Engraved powder horns from the 18th century are classified as a unique colonial American art form.

Fort Ticonderoga is a remarkable place and brings alive a remarkable time in the history of our country. Art and I really enjoyed our time there and highly recommend it to anyone.

And if you happen to be one of those folks who is a bit nuts about early American history (do we know any of those?), then all you’ll need to do is read the plaque that greets you as you enter the fort.

Knowing you are walking in the footsteps of George Washington and Ben Franklin and Ethan Allen and Henry Knox (among others) is both thrilling and humbling.

Not a bad way to spend a day.

--- Barbara (back home in Solvang)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The New England Autumn

One of our major goals for this trip was to experience the New England fall colors. As we were leaving Canada we started looking at the online foliage reports. Because it seemed to be too early, we first headed down to the Boston area and further south, but kept watching foliage reports. By late September, things looked like the fall color was starting to develop, so we headed up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Though the weather was mostly overcast and damp, we were still able see the trees near their peak color. For somebody from Southern California, this was a most amazing spectacle.

One of our stops was the voting room at Dixville Notch. The small village of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, holds the distinction of always providing the first voting return in national elections. The entire voting population gathers in this room at the Balsams Hotel the night before election day. Just after midnight, they all vote, close the polls, count the votes and submit their election results.

While we were in the area, we had to make the drive to the top of Mount Washington, even though we were warned it was not clear on top. On April 12, 1934, the observatory atop Mount Washington recorded a wind speed of 231 MPH! This record still stands as the highest recorded surface wind speed anywhere. The building in the above, left picture actually has large chains over the top over the building to insure it is held down. Besides the toll road that we drove, there is also a cog railway that provides excursions up and down the mountain.

Just a little more fall color from New Hampshire.


After a few days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, we headed over to the area around the village of Stowe in northern Vermont.

A very pretty highway travels north from Stowe and crosses over a narrow mountain pass called Smuggler's Notch. Smuggler's Notch was used to smuggle English goods from Canada after the American Revolution. It was also used during Prohibition to smuggle alcohol from Canada.

The area around Stowe is extremely picturesque. The area is also popular for downhill sking in the wintertime.

We'd really like to visit this area again when the skies are clear!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Into the Mystic"

The southern coast of Connecticut has a long and rich maritime history. Two locations we visited were the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum and the Mystic Seaport Museum.

The U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum is the home of the USS Nautilus, which was the first atomic powered submarine and changed the nature of submarine operations. The Nautilus was the first vessel to reach the North Pole, and it did so by sailing UNDER the Arctic ice pack.

Space in a submarine is limited, so the accomodations are pretty tight.

Having this much battery capacity would be great, but the weight might put our RV a little over our weight limit!

The "facilities" looked pretty familiar to these RV travelers.


The Mystic Seaport Museum is dedicated to preserving America's maritime heritage, and has an awesome collection of sailing vessels and other maritime artifacts. We found this museum to be absolutely fascinating.

The museum is set up as a seaport village. Most of the buildings are historic structures from the area that have been moved here.

The museum has a large lift so that they can move vessels between the Mystic River and their drydocks. When we were there, they were just starting a refurbishment of the Gloucester schooner the L.A. Dunton.

This is the Charles W. Morgan, the last surviving American wooden whaling ship.

Many of the buildings were businesses common in the past. Many of them had interpretive staff to talk about the business. This building was a printing business with several old printing presses along with racks of type and other things needed for printing.

This shop was a great example of life before electric motors. Overhead shafts provided power to equipment using a system of belts. I imagine workers had to be very careful to keep clothing and tools from getting caught in the belts and pulleys.

This is a visit we highly recommend. Plan on spending at least one full day.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Poking Around Plymouth, Massachusetts

One of the things Art and I love about traveling is the opportunity it offers us for learning.

Especially about history (no surprise there!).

Like many folks, we enjoy learning about events and people we had not been aware of before and we truly appreciate re-learning that which we may have forgotten over the years. We also find it great fun to learn about those bits of history that - for whatever reasons - were left on the editing room floor when many school history text books were written.

But what we really relish are the occasions when we learn things that set the record straight (our revelation regarding Paul Revere comes to mind).

And that’s why our day in Plymouth, Massachusetts (September 19, 2008), was so satisfying. That day, we got it all. We not only learned new “stuff” about the Mayflower and the “Pilgrims” (a term that was not generally used until the 1800s...who knew?) and their settlement at Plymouth, we also were reminded of things we had forgotten, we learned about things that we should have learned way back when, and we were able to correct some misinformation that we had harbored in our heads for years.

For example, did you know that of the 102 passengers who sailed on the Mayflower, only 41 of them were English Separatists, the folks who had arranged for the voyage to the New World? Only 41!

Yet I’m willing to bet that many folks (including me) grew up with the idea (fostered by the history books of my youth) that the entire ship was filled with folks fleeing religious persecution.

So who were the other people on board the Mayflower? They were individuals or families simply hoping for a better life in a new colony, or businessmen hoping to make some profit in that new colony.

Yes, the Separatists’ quest to find a place to worship as they chose was an important part of the story of the very first colony in New England. But it’s equally important to acknowledge that it is only part of that story.

Our day in Plymouth told us (as Paul Harvey would say) “the rest of the story.” We began with a visit to the Mayflower II, an authentic replica of the original ship.

As you can tell from the photo, it was not a very large ship. Actually a cargo ship, the Mayflower spent 66 days in the fall of 1620 crossing the often rough Atlantic Ocean during hurricane season with its 102 passengers and 30 crew members.

And if one did not already have an appreciation for what these folks were willing to endure in their pursuit of a better life for themselves and their children, then just consider this: for the sake of their own safety and that of the crew, the passengers were mostly confined to their very crowded quarters below deck. It was cold and dark (no candles allowed, again for safety’s sake) and very, very damp. And that was when the seas were calm!

Our next stop was the Plimoth Plantation, a wonderful living history museum that offers a glimpse into the world of both the original New England colonists and the Wampanoag People (the Native Americans who were living in what is now the Plymouth area at the time of the Mayflower’s arrival).

The moment you walk through the gate of what is called the English Village, you are immersed in the year 1627. Much research went into what is on display in the village and it’s thrilling (especially for a history junkie) to know that you are getting a truly authentic look at how the first New England colonists lived.

You are encouraged to go from house to house and talk to the village’s “residents”. The costumed role players have taken on the names, life histories and viewpoints of the folks who actually lived in Plymouth in 1627. They will joke with you, debate with you, gossip with you and answer any and all questions you may have about life in 1627.

It was engaging, it was entertaining and it was altogether very satisfying. So, if you ever find yourself in Plymouth, Massachusetts, we heartily encourage you to put the Mayflower II and the Plimoth Plantation on your "must see" list. We promise you, you will get a thoroughly enjoyable education and very possibly a re-education in what life was like for our first New England colonists.

--- Barbara (back home in Solvang)