Captured, the Fortress of America!!
Today we we commemorate the 240th anniversary of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga on May 10th 1775. Just a few weeks after the battles at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts the capture of Fort Ticonderoga , the first military action by the colonials against the British, is considered the beginning of the American Revolution. The final break with the “mother country” was formally acknowledge by the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776. John Hancock signing with a very recognizable signature.
Lake Champlain was first explored by an European, Samuel de Champlain in 1609. Later these waters became one of the major routes between Canada and the Hudson River Valley during the Colonial and American Revolution Wars.
In 1755 the French extended their southern reach from Crown Point into “British” territory by first erecting a log and dirt fort built on the design of Marshal Vauban and engineered by Sieur de Lotbiniere here at Ticonderoga. This re-positing provided a greater control of the southern end of Lake Champlain, as well as, the main portaging access to Lake George. It was called Fort Carillon, after the “sound of chimes” heard from the waters flowing over the rocks and rapids from Lac Sacrament (George) to Champlain. At the time of its capture by Allen and Arnold, the fort had been re-built larger and faced by stone and re-named Fort Ticonderoga.
Fort Ticonderoga Painting
Fort Ticonderoga Photograph
Ethan Allen was born in the western Connecticut town of Litchfield on January 21, 1738 (new style). Years before the revolution Allen was engaged in land speculation with his brothers and other “partners” in the Hampshire Grants and became a leader and well know “manager” of disputed land claims between the New Hampshire and New York.
Arrest Warrant for Ethan Allen
Days after the battles of Lexington and Concord, Benedict Arnold, then a captain in the Connecticut militia had known of the need for artillery to fight the British in Boston. Arnold was aware that Fort Ticonderoga had the necessary guns and that it was in a weaken state with a small force of regulars. He proposed to the members of the Hartford Committee of Correspondence a plan to capture the artillery at Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point. The committee approved Arnold’s plan and authorized him to proceed. Allen hearing of the plan, organized his “Green Mountain Boys” and declared themselves a “Committee of War.” The “deed” was afoot.
Title Page from Allen’s Narrative 1807
Upon Allen’s release from prison by the British he wrote a “narrative of his captivity” which included notes of his other activites. From that narrative we provide his version of events regarding the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and his related activities of that time: “Ever since I arrived to a state of manhood, and acquainted myself with the general history of mankind, I have felt a sincere passion for liberty. The history of nations, doomed to perpetual slavery, in consequence of yielding up to tyrants their natural-born liberties, I read with a sort of philosophical horror; so that the first systematical and bloody attempt, at Lexington, to enslave America, thoroughly electrified my mind, and fully determined me to take part with my country: And, while I was wishing for an opportunity to signalize myself in its behalf, directions were privately sent to me from the then colony (now state) of Connecticut, to raise the Green Mountain Boys, and, if possible, with them to surprise and take the fortress, Ticonderoga. This enterprise I cheerfully undertook; and after first guarding all the several passes that led thither, to cut off all intelligence between the garrison and country, made a forced march from Bennington, and arrived at the lake opposite Ticonderoga, on the evening of the ninth day of May, 1775, with two hundred and thirty valiant Green Mountain Boys; and it was with the utmost difficulty that I procured boats to cross the lake. However, I landed eighty three men near the garrison, and sent the boats back for the rear guard, commanded by Col. Seth Warner; but the day began to dawn, and I found myself under a necessity to attack the fort, before the rear could cross the lake; and, as it was viewed hazardous, I harangued the officers and soldiers in the manner following: ”
“Friends and fellow soldiers, You have, for a number of years past, been a scourge and terror to arbitrary power. Your valor has been famed abroad, and acknowledged, as appears by the advice and orders to me, from the General Assembly of Connecticut, to surprise and take the garrison now before us. I now propose to advance before you, and, in person, conduct you through the wicket-gate: for we must this morning either quit our pretensions to valor, or posses ourselves of this fortress in a few minutes; and, inasmuch as it is a desperate attempt, which none but the bravest of men dare undertake, I do not urge it on any contrary to his will. You that will undertake voluntarily, poise your firelocks.”
“Ethan Allen Gate”
The charge into the inner courtyard
Early scene from courtyard to Allen Gate
Artist protral Allens request for surrender
The men being, at this time, drawn up in three ranks, each poised his firelock. I ordered them to face to the right; and, at the head of the centre-file, marched them immediately to the wicket gate aforesaid, where I found a sentry posted, who instantly snapped his fuse at me: I ran immediately towards him, and he retreated through the covered way into the parade within the garrison, gave a halloo, and ran under a bomb-proof. My party, who followed me into the fort, I formed on the parade in such manner as to face the two barracks which faced each other. The garrison being asleep, except the sentries, we gave three huzzas which greatly surprised them. One of the sentries made a pass at one of my officers with a charged bayonet, and slightly wounded him: My first thought was to kill him with my sword; but, in an instant, I altered the design and fury of the blow to a slight cut on the side of the head; upon which he dropped his gun, and asked quarter, which I readily granted him, and demanded of him the place where the commanding officer kept; he shewed me a pair of stairs in the front of a barrack, on the west part of the garrison, which led up to a second story in said barrack, to which I immediately repaired, and ordered the commander, Capt. Delaplace, to come forth instantly, or I would sacrifice the whole garrison; at which the Capt. came immediately to the door, with his breeches in his hand; when I ordered him to deliver to me the fort instantly; he asked me by what authority I demanded it: I answered him, “In the name of the great Jehovah, and the Continental Congress.”
Early print of the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga
The authority of the Congress being very little known at the time, he began to speak again: but I interrupted him, and, with my drawn sword over his head, again demanded an immediate surrender of the garrison; with which he then complied, and ordered his men to be forthwith paraded without arms, as he had given up the garrisons: In the mean time some of my officers had given orders, and, in consequence thereof, sundry of the barrack doors were beat down, and about one third of the garrison imprisoned, which consisted of said commander, a Lieut. Feltham, a conductor of artillery, a gunner, two serjeants, and forty four rank and file; abut one hundred pieces of cannon, one thirteen inch mortar, and a number of swivels. This surprise was carried into execution in the gram of the morning of the tenth day of May, 1775. The sun seemed to rise that morning with a superior lustre; and Ticonderoga and its dependencies smiled on its conquerors, who tossed about the flowing bowl, and wished success to Congress, and the liberty and freedom of America. Happy it was for me, at that time, that the then future pages of the book of fate, which afterwards unfolded a miserable scene of two years and eight months imprisonment, were hid from my view.
Ruins of Fort Amherst, (British) Crown Point
But to return to my narration: Col. Warner, with the rear guard, crossed the lake, and joined me early in the morning, whom I sent off, without loss of time, with about one hundred men, to take possession of Crown Point, which was garrisoned with a serjeant and twelve men; which he took possession of the same day, as also of upwards of one hundred pieces of cannon. But one thing now remained to be done, to make ourselves complete master of lake Champlain; this was to possess ourselves of a sloop of war, which was then lying at St. John’s; to effect which, it was agree in a council of war, to arm and man out a certain schooner, which lay at South Bay, and that Capt. (now general) Arnold should command her, and that I should command the bateaux. The necessary preparations being made, we set sail from Ticonderoga, in quest of the sloop, which was much larger, and carried more guns and heavier metal than the schooner. General Arnold, with the schooner sailing faster that the bateaux, arrived at St. John’s; and, by surprise, possessed himself of the sloop, before I could arrive with the batteaux: He also mad prisoners of a serjeant and twelve men, who where garrisoned at that place. It is worthy remark that, as soon as General Arnold had secured the prisoners on board, and had made preparation for sailing, the wind, which but a few hours before was fresh in the south, and well served to carry us to St. John’s now shifted, and came fresh from the north; and, in about one hour’s time, gen. Arnold sailed with the prize and schooner for Ticonderoga. When I met him with my party, within a few miles of St. John’s, he saluted me with a discharge of cannon, which I returned with a volley of small arms: This being repeated three times, I went on board the sloop with my party, where several loyal Congress healths were drank. We were now masters of lake Champlain, and the garrison depending theron…..”
Allen’s narrative was after his imprisonment in 1779. It should be noted that some of the facts vary from his remembrances. Briefly we provide our readers with some of those questionable items:
- Allen’s only authority was from his own small group who called themselves “Committee of War.” Nothing being written.
- His “speech” at the Cove probably was not said. Further research into other journals and records from those being there note nothing of this presentation.
- In the well repeated meeting with Capt. Delapalce: It was a junior officer, Lt. Jocelyn Feltham, not Delaplace that came to the door first.
- Their are questions of what was actually said, or not, when asked of authority for the capture. “Come out of there, you damned old Rat;” Come out of there you sons of British whores;” I’ll smoke you out.” As far as our research, there is no verification as Allen’s words about “Great Jehovah.” Maybe in the “heat of advancing up the stairs” a variation of all was spoken.
- It was Lt. Feltham that asked about whose authority the fort was captured.
- Capt. Delapalce later came out full military uniform.
- John Pell in his book provides this account of the capture: “A door opened at the head of the stairs and there appeared on the landing a man wearing an infantry lieutenant’s coat and waistcoat, but holding his breeches in his hand. Ethan shouted some such epithet as “come out of there, you damned old rat1” and with Arnold at his side began to climb the stairs, meanwhile demanding the surrender of the fort at the top of h is lungs. The man above motioned them to stop, and then asked by what authority they entered his majesty’s fort. Ethan shouted: “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” And, reaching the top, with his sword waving in the air, told the breechesless officer “that he must have immediate possession of the fort and all the effects of George the Third.”
- Some accounts have Arnold instead of Allen being asked the questions since Arnold being dressed in full military uniform while Allen was in the rough attire of buckskins, therefore, Arnold having the greater “presence of authority.”
We invite you to visit the restored Fort Ticonderoga and drive to the top of Mount Defiance for a beautiful panoramic view of the fort, Vermont and the lower Lake Champlain valley. Drive into the village and visit the Hancock House a replica of the John Hancock House which once stood on Beacon Hill in Boston. (On this day also, the Second Continental Congress began. It was presided over by John Hancock.) It is just a short drive to Crown Point to see the un-restored French and British forts located on the New York State side of the new Champlain Bridge.
The Hancock House opens Wednesday, May 20th with new exhibits with special exhibits and display commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the ending of World War ll. Mark your calendar – August 29th – on the lawn of the Hancock House we will have a full day of WWII activities for the entire family. WWII re-enactors from the Green Mountains with their equipment will be there. The closing event will be a USO style show.