1759, Essex County, Crown Point, New York
General Jeffrey Amherst began building the fortress in 1759. This impressive fort, when completed and garrisoned, was seven times the size of the old French fort on the site (Fort St. Frederic), and was the largest British fortress in colonial America. The main fort was pentagon shaped with bastions situated at each point. Located inside the fortress were a number of stone barracks and officer’s quarters.
Earthen ramparts faced with logs, ditches and cleared fields of fire covered about seven acres and mounted 105 cannons. The entire fortification complex, including redoubts, blockhouses and redans, covered over 3.5 square miles. Located to the East was Grenadiers Redoubt, to the South East was the Light Infantry of Regiment’s Redoubt, and to the South West was General Gages’ Redoubt.
A major fire destroyed much of the fort in April 1773. During the Revolutionary War, General Benedict Arnold made repairs and used some of the barracks. American troops occupied the Grenadier’s Redoubt and constructed another small fortification in that area.
Fort St. Frederic:
In 1734 France began construction of a fort at Crown Point; this was the first substantial fortification in the Champlain Valley.
From 1734-1755 France maintained complete control of the Champlain Valley. Fort St. Frederic controlled the narrows between Crown Point on what is now the New York side of Lake Champlain and Chimney Point in what is now Addison, Vermont.
Charles de Beauhamois, Governor of New France (Canada), actively encouraged settlement around Fort St. Frederic, and created a French community around the fort. This combined military and civilian presence blocked British expansion. In 1759 about 12,000 British regulars and provincial troops captured the fort. Following the French retreat from Crown Point in 1759, General Amherst embarked upon an ambitions plan to secure the area for Britain.
Fort Crown Point:
The British immediately began construction of “His Majesty’s Fort of Crown Point,” as well as three redoubts and a series of blockhouses and redans, all interconnected by a network of roads. The fortification complex covered over three and one-half square miles, making it one of the most ambitious military engineering projects undertaken by the British in colonial North America.
An elaborate system of fortifications was begun on the point. At times, as many as 3000 soldiers and artisans were engaged in the construction of Fort Crown Point, three smaller forts, called redoubts, several block houses, store houses, gardens and military roads. A village grew up close to the Fort wall with a tavern, store, apothecary shop, and the home of soldiers families and retired officers.
When control of Canada passed to Britain, at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, construction ceased leaving one barracks building unfinished. Lake Champlain became a vital highway linking two diverse regions of British North America. Crown Point, located midway between Albany and Montreal, became the center of communication between New York and Canada.
In April 1773, a chimney fire spread from the soldier’s barracks on the log walls of the fort and resulted in the explosion of the powder magazine and the virtual destruction of the main fort.
Troop strength at Crown Point was gradually reduced until only a small garrison remained to surrender the fort to American rebel troops commanded by Seth Warner in May of 1775.
Fort Crown Point during the American Revolution:
At the outbreak of the American Revolution, the rebellious colonists looked to Crown Point to aid their cause.
The surrender of Fort Crown Point to American rebel troops commanded by Seth Warner in May of 1775 yielded 114 pieces of cannon and heavy ordnance sorely needed by the Americans. Colonel Henry Knox carried twenty-nine of these to Boston during that winter to force the British out of the city.
On May 23, 1775, Fort Crown Point was the meeting place for Ethan Allen, the Green Mountain Boys, Benedict Arnold and his small American Navy. Ethan Allen was returning from an attempted penetration of Canada, but was driven out by British troops. A month later, the British would take Allen prisoner in another unsuccessful attempt. Benedict Arnold and his navy would assume control of Crown Point and Lake Champlain. A month later, he would relinquish it to General Philip Schuyler’s Northern Department of the Continental Army in a dispute over control.
In the fall of 1775, Schuyler and his army embarked from Crown Point with 1,700 troops for another attempt to conquer Canada. Beaten, they returned from Quebec in June 1776, to lie in makeshift hospitals at Crown Point.
In May 1775, Seth Warner’s American Forces captured the fort and Crown Point became a springboard for an invasion of Canada. General Richard Montgomery’s force sailed down the lake in August 1775. Despite initial success in Montreal, the combined forces of Montgomery and Benedict Arnold were defeated at Quebec in December 1775. They retreated in disarray, riddled with smallpox, to Crown Point. Men died by the hundreds in makeshift field hospitals and were buried in mass graves.
In the fall of 1776, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Hartley and the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment heard the sounds of the naval engagement at Valcour Island from their entrenchments at Crown Point. The American Navy, once again led by Benedict Arnold, ambushed the British Naval Force, but was eventually forced to retreat down Lake Champlain. The regiment at Crown Point also retreated southward to Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence.
While Arnold directed the construction of a Naval Squadron in the summer of 1776. Tripps fortified Crown Point in preparation of an expected British attack. Not until Arnold’s squadron was badly beaten at the battle of Valcour Island in October did the last American troops abandon Crown Point to occupy Mount Independence overlooking Fort Ticonderoga.
Crown Point was a staging area for the British in both 1776 and 1777. After the Americans abandoned Crown Point, the British assembled their troops here. Delayed by the American Navy, Sir Guy Carleton arrived here with his troops in October of 1776, but retreated north for the winter shortly thereafter. British General John Burgoyne’s army arrived here in June of 1777. Crown Point remained under British control until the end of the war.
The last major action to involve Crown Point was Burgoyne’s expedition in 1777. As support for his advancing army, a hospital was erected, a garrison of 200 men, was left at Crown Point that summer. Despite Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga, the British retained absolute control of Lake Champlain with the garrison at Crown Point for the remainder of the war. Their ships cruised regularly between Crown Point and the naval shipyard at St. Jean. Crown Point did not return to American control until after the Peace Treaty in 1783.