On Monday we were back in the United States. In New York State to be exact, and we had a plan. We were going to visit a fort and a set of waterfalls. We figured we could do both in one day. After all, we were becoming experts on forts this trip.
We figured wrong.
We spent the entire day at Fort Ticonderoga. We were there shortly after they opened, and we attended the last talk of the afternoon. The fort is now part of a nonprofit, with an educational mission statement. Each year they present the fort as it might have been in a particular year in history. We saw it as it was in 1755.
The stone fort sits on a peninsula of land in Lake Champlain, near the border to Vermont. It was built to control river traffic and it was held by the French first.
Most of the talks we heard were about the French and Indian War which started in 1754. Our guide said that it was actually a war between the British and the French…but since the British won they got to name it, and they named it the French and Indian War, though there were Native Americans fighting on both sides.
There were over 100 cannons in the fort in the mid 1700s. Over the years the fort fell into disrepair and most of it was destroyed during many conquests and losses. Today the cannons on the outside were purchased during the reconstruction of the fort in the 1950s. The blue ones are actually brass and were purchased from a Spanish fort. They are very ornate.
There are only two cannons at the fort today that are original. They are in the center of the fort and seem quite small compared to the cannons out along the edges of the fort.
Another interesting thing we learned is that the people providing the information dressed in period costumes live the 1700s soldier life at the fort. Beyond dressing and talking about the period they also eat the food of the period. That can get pretty boring.
Apparently the most common food stuffs sent to the fort back then were dried peas, salt pork and wheat for bread. The young man making bread told us he was on week 21 of eating pea soup every day.
There is also a full time shoemaker at the fort. He said he learned the craft through apprenticeship. He makes all the shoes for everyone at the fort, and repairs old shoes.
Every soldier would get new clothes once a year. There would not necessarily be a shoemaker at the fort, most soldiers repaired their own clothes.
We also got to watch and learn about different battle techniques.
Then we went on a tour of the fort gardens. The area is located in very fertile farmland, so the fort had a 6 acre farm growing vegetables to augment that pea soup diet.
Today there is a small vegetable garden growing crops that would have been grown back in the 1700s.
Everything that is harvested there is used in the fort restaurant.
In the early 1900s the fort and most of the peninsula was purchased by the Pell family. (Yes the Pell grant family.) They built a summer home near the gardens and began to restore the fort which was in ruins.
Over the years different members of the Pell family worked on the restoration and lived summers on the beautiful land. There was a house garden full of flowers inside a walled garden that is still maintained today.
The house is falling into disrepair, and the park is working to find funding to preserve it as well.
The last talk of the day wasn’t held in the fort. It was across the lake, up on top of Mount Defiance. During one of the skirmishes someone took two cannons up to the top of that mountain to threaten the fort. It didn’t work…but the mountain was named at least in part because of that act.
The view from the top of the mountain is stunning. You get a birds eye view of the fort and the surrounding country which is filled with rolling hills and farms.
The talk on top of the mountain was about a specific battle between the British who had 3x as many troops as the French who were defending the fort. The British felt so sure that they could take the fort they had the local Indian chiefs sit up where we sat that day, to watch the battle. It didn’t turn out well for the British, but it’s a long story. I guess you’re just going to have to go visit the fort for yourself. I promise you won’t regret the time spent. I bet you’ll find yourself just like us, lingering, learning, listening.