A Visit To Fort Ticonderoga

November 30, 2009

A warm weather Sunday visit to remind everybody that our nation is built upon Liberal values and that winter will not last forever

Now that the weather is finally getting cold, I want to tell you about a trip The Wife and I made this past September to Fort Ticonderoga.  This was back when the days were full of sunshine and happiness. Ticonderoga is about a two hour drive from Albany, up the Northway to Exit 28 and another 20 miles straight east to the Vermont border.  The fort sits on the three and a half mile La Chute River, the waterway that connects Lake George to Lake Champlain.

If you’ve never been to Fort Ticonderoga, I’ll go so far as to say that if you presume to call yourself a patriotic American then you need to go up there.  In these late days of our rapidly declining republic, we fat lazy ignorant descendants of the real patriots desperately need to be reminded why we still have some of the rights and freedoms that are laid out for all to see in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, rights that we are happily allowing to be taken away from us.

Fort Ticonderoga is the site of the very first victory by the rebels in the American Revolution.  This little local action was initiated by the local people without authorization by distant command, yet it led to several victories that put the Revolution on solid ground, which in turn led to our freedom from foreign nations and from their corporations. 

Approaching Fort Ticonderoga, Note The Roof Above The Wall Approaching Fort Ticonderoga, Note The Roof Above The Wall

The Fort Ticonderoga that The Wife and I visited is a reproduction of the original, except for a few foundation stones the old fort is long gone.  It seems that the original fort was badly built and poorly designed, and fell apart long ago.  When I first heard this I felt cheated, why the hell were we wasting time looking at a cheap knockoff of a mistake?  But after I learned about the fort’s history, I realized that the mistakes in construction and the attempts to rebuild it are all very much a part of Ticonderoga’s significance.

The fort was begun in 1755 by the French.  The British and the French fought over it and the two world empires exchanged control of the fort several times before the British took control of most of North America after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1763.  Later in the 1770s the fort was captured twice by the American revolutionaries, both times without serious fighting.  But both captures were very central to the success of the revolution.

After the Revolutionary War the fort lost it’s military significance and was allowed to fall into ruin.  The harsh weather of the area, the freezing and thawing rapidly tore apart the stone and masonry.  Actually, the original masonry and construction techniques were considered substandard back even in the 1700s.  The guys who built and designed the fort were punished for their incompetence. This makes accurate historical reproduction a frustrating continuation of original error.  

Ruins Of Fort Ticonderoga In The 1800s, Photographed Off The Wall Ruins Of Fort Ticonderoga In The 1800s, Photographed Off The Wall

The ruination was assisted by local farmers who regularly helped themselves to what they saw as ready building materials.  By the 1820s the fort had become a romantic rubble beloved of the Hudson River school of art.  About this time, fortunately for us today, the land around the fort fell to a private owner who sought to preserve the remains as a tourist destination.  Finally in the early 20th Century work was begun to restore the fort as authentically as possible according to extensive surviving records, a century’s worth of effort that is only approaching completion today.

After the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775 the revolutionaries laid siege to the British army in Boston.  The only communication the British had with the outside world was by water. (Follow me here, this is important.) Word of the siege quickly spread inland to the free farmers of Vermont.  Without hesitation the great and glorious hero Ethan Allen led these Vermont farmers, who called themselves the Green Mountain Boys, on an expedition to capture Fort Ticonderoga.

At The Entrance, Bottom Rounded Stones Are Original, Square Stones At Top Are New At The Entrance, Bottom Rounded
Stones Are Original, Square Stones
At Top Are New

Ah, Ethan Allen.  Many people know that during the Revolution he led Vermont as an independent republic.  But few folks know that as a nation Vermont militarily invaded New York, conquering a 90 mile strip running north from the Massachusetts border including part of Rensselaer County.  At the same time Vermont forcibly annexed the east bank of the Connecticut River from New Hampshire  Both conquests were enthusiastically supported by the local populations of the occupied territories.

The elite feudal Patroons of Albany sent an army composed mostly of poor tenant farmers to repel the invaders from New York and conquer Vermont, which they claimed as their own personal possession.  The two armies exchanged shots across the Hoosick River, the ‘battle’ produced no serious casualties. After this exchange the tenant farmers of New York refused to fight anymore and returned to Albany, leaving the occupied land to the invaders. 

George Washington himself negotiated a withdrawal from the occupied territories, in exchange he promised to do all he could to allow Vermont to become a state in the new union.  But General Washington could not counter the influence of the Albany Patroons in the Continental Congress and his efforts failed.  Despite providing an important contingent to the Continental Army throughout the Revolution, Vermont was not admitted as the 14th state until 1793 after the Albany Patroons grudgingly gave up their claims.

Rebel Soldier In Action, One Of The Realistic Figures On Display At The Museum Rebel Soldier In Action, One Of The Realistic Figures On Display
At The Museum

All that came later.  In May of 1775 Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys (with a fuming and furious Benedict Arnold in tow) approached Fort Ticonderoga.  They found the isolated fort already half in ruins from the weather, which has been hard on the substandard construction throughout the fort’s history.  Most of the 48 British manning the fort were ‘invalides,’ old or disabled soldiers assigned to light duty.  The fort had lost it’s strategic importance after 1763, that spring its commander had not yet heard about the outbreak of revolution in Boston.

It’s hard for us moderns with our instantaneous communication techniques to understand how the occupants of Ticonderoga, at little more than 200 miles away, could not have heard about the Earth shaking popular uprising in Boston.  

You see, the British had lost control of the American countryside, the same way centuries later first the British then the Soviets and now the US lost control of the rebellious countryside of Afghanistan.  To send word to Ticonderoga, the British commander in Boston, General Gage, had to send a ship to Canada that carried specific orders to fortify the isolated outpost at Ticonderoga.  This communiqué arrived in Quebec several weeks after the wilderness outpost down south had fallen to the rebel farmers.

The Wife With A Mortar The Wife With A Mortar

It was this long standing problem of ineffective misrule from an absurd distance that had originally caused the American ‘colonists’ to chafe under British domination. As a matter of strict policy the English monarchy had no intention of granting the Colonies any sort of local autonomy.  This was because the English considered the Colonies nothing more than a source of raw materials, thus they refused to cede any control that might cut into their apparent profits.

London’s attempted solution to this problem was to award local control of the Colonies to the East India Company, a monopolistic international corporation structured very much like the corporations we all chafe under today.  Like all modern transnational corporations East India existed for one purpose and one purpose only: to secure a profit for itself and it’s shareholders by any means necessary.  Almost all of these shareholders were upper class elite nobility, London’s equivalent of Albany’s elite Patroons.

The British government granted the East India Company effective control of commerce in North America along with the power to enforce this control anyway it saw fit.  It was the further attempts by London to transfer the power of taxation to the East India Company that sparked the Boston Tea Party and the riots against the Stamp Act.  Attempts by the government to enforce the corporate decrees ultimately led to armed resistance, which after much fighting and deprivation led to freedom from corporate power.

A Stylized Painting Of Ethan Allen Demanding The Fort’s Surrender

Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys barged into Fort Ticonderoga and captured it without causing any casualties or even firing a shot.  It really wasn’t much of a battle, but then, Ethan Allen was known for achieving victory with little or no bloodshed.  With drawn sword he personally rousted out the sleeping British commander from his quarters.  Official accounts have Allen calling for the Captain to surrender ‘In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress’ which has a real nice ring to it.  But the more likely account is that he hollered through the door, ‘Come out you damned old rat!’

What made this apparent comical scene an event of world changing importance was an idea floated a few months later by a former bookstore clerk in his twenties named Henry Knox.  Impressed with his knowledge of artillery, George Washington had made Knox a Colonel in the Continental Army.  After Washington took command of the siege of Boston, Colonel Knox suggested bringing the captured cannons from Ticonderoga to Boston.  As Wikipedia put it:

Knox was eventually given the assignment to transport weapons from Ticonderoga to Cambridge. Knox went to Ticonderoga in November 1775, and, over the course of 3 winter months, moved 60 tons of cannons and other armaments by boat, horse and ox-drawn sledges, and manpower, along poor-quality roads, across two semi-frozen rivers, and through the forests and swamps of the lightly-inhabited Berkshires to the Boston area. Historian Victor Brooks has called Knox’s feat "one of the most stupendous feats of logistics" of the entire war.