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England took Canada from France in 1759, and soon after annexed it to her own dominions. Twelve years later, her despotic acts drove her American colonies into open rebellion. England feared, and the colonies hoped, Canada would join in the revolt against her. But, though they did not love their new masters, prudence counseled the Canadians to stand aloof, at least till the Americans had proved their ability to make head against the might of England.

That England would be much distressed by Canada's taking sides with the Americans was plain enough to all men, for the whole continent would then be one in purpose, and the conflict more equal; but the Americans also greatly wished it because all New England and New York lay open to invasion from Canada.

Nature had created a great highway, stretching southward from St. Lawrence to the Hudson, over which rival armies had often passed to victory or defeat in the old wars. Open water offered an easy transit for nearly the whole way. A chain of forts extended throughout its whole length. Chambly and St. John's defended the passage of the Richelieu, through which the waters of Lake Champlain flow to St. Lawrence. Crown Point[1] and Ticonderoga[2] blocked the passage of this lake in its narrowest part. Ticonderoga, indeed, is placed just where the outlet of Lake George falls down a mountain gorge into Lake Champlain. Its cannon, therefore, commanded that outlet also. Fort George stood at the head of Lake George, within sixteen miles of Fort Edward, on the Hudson. These were the gates through which a hostile army might sally forth upon our naked frontier. Much, therefore, depended on whether they were to be kept by friend or foe.

In natural and artificial strength, Ticonderoga was by far the most important of these fortresses. At this place the opposite shores of New York and Vermont are pushed out into the lake toward each other, thus forming two peninsulas, with the lake contracted to a width of half a mile, or point-blank cannon range, between them: one is Ticonderoga; the other, Mount Independence. Thus, together, they command the passage of the two lakes.

Ticonderoga itself is a tongue-shaped projection of quite uneven land, broad and high at the base, or where it joins the hills behind it, but growing narrower as it descends over intervening hollows or swells to its farthest point in the lake. That part next to the mainland is a wooded height, having a broad plateau on the brow--large enough to encamp an army corps upon--but cut down abruptly on the sides washed by the lake. This height, therefore, commanded the whole peninsula lying before it, and underneath it, as well as the approach from Lake George, opening behind it in a rugged mountain pass, since it must be either crossed or turned before access to the peninsula could be gained. Except for the higher hills surrounding it, this one is, in every respect, an admirable military position.

The French, who built the first fortress here, had covered all the low ground next to the lake with batteries and entrenchments but had left the heights rising behind it unguarded until Abercromby attacked on that side in 1758. They then hastily threw up a rude entrenchment of logs, extending quite across the crest in its broadest part. Yet, in spite of the victory he then obtained, Montcalm was so fully convinced that Ticonderoga could not stand a siege, that he made no secret of calling it a trap, for some honest man to disgrace himself in.[3]

Ticonderoga, however, was henceforth looked upon as a sort of Gibraltar. People, therefore, were filled with wonder when they heard how Ethan Allen had surprised and taken it on the 9th of May, 1775, with only a handful of men; how Seth Warner had also taken Crown Point; and how Skenesborough[4] and Fort George, being thus cut off from Canada, had also fallen into our hands without firing a shot.[5]

Thus, in the very beginning of the war for independence, and at one bold stroke, we regained possession of this gateway of the north; or in military phrase, we now held all the strategic points by which an advance from Lower Canada upon the United Colonies was possible.


[1] CROWN POINT, built by the French in 1731, was greatly strengthened by the British, who took it in 1759.

[2] TICONDEROGA, familiarly called "Ty" because the early spelling of the name was Tyconderoga. Built 1755-56 by the French, taken 1759 by the British, under Amherst. Three weeks before the battle of Lexington, an agent of Massachusetts was sent to ascertain the feelings of the people of Canada. His first advice was that "Ty" should be seized as quickly as possible.

[3] MONTCALM'S PROPHECY came true in St. Clair's case in 1777.

[4] SKENESBOROUGH, now Whitehall, named for Philip Skene, a retired British officer, who settled on lands granted him after the French War. He had about fifty tenants and a few negro slaves.

[5] THE CAPTURED ARTILLERY was taken to Cambridge on sleds in midwinter, by Colonel Knox. It enabled Washington to bring the siege of Boston to a favorable conclusion.