Fort Ste. Anne, Isle La Motte, Vermont
In 1665, the French sought to protect their colony in New France (now Canada) along the Saint Lawrence River from attacks by the Iroquois. Their defensive plan was to built a string of five forts stretching along the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain. Alexandre de Prouville de Tracy had the forts built by four companies of the Carignan-Salières Regiment. The first three forts were built in 1665, and the other two in 1666. Fort Richelieu, Fort Chambly, Fort Sainte Thérèse and Fort Saint-Jean protected the Richelieu itself.
Fort Ste. Anne, the southernmost fort was built on a sandy point on Isle La Motte in Lake Champlain – about six miles from where the Lake empties into the Richelieu River. The fort was dedicated to Saint Anne. Fort Ste. Anne was the most vulnerable to attacks by the Iroquois, because it was the last of five forts stretching along the Richelieu River route going south. It was completed in July 1666 by French troops under the command of Captain Pierre de La Motte, and was quite small; only measuring about 144′ x 96′. It was a double log palisade about 15′ high – with four bastions.
Though occupied for only six years, Fort Ste. Anne was the scene of many important events. Because of numerous deadly Mohawk attacks on French settlements to the north, the decision was made to take the offensive and attack the Iroquois villages, far south on the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. The sandy point (and the area across the lake at the mouth of the Chazy River) became the staging grounds for several major attacks on Iroquois villages. French attacks on British settlements and Iroquois villages would continue from Fort St. Frédéric (Crown Point) and Carillon (Ticonderoga) long after Fort Ste. Anne was abandoned.
Fort Ste. Anne was undoubtedly a desolate and fearsome place to be stationed. Deep in an impenetrable wilderness, accessible only by water, subject to fierce winds and deep snows, the few hardy souls who resided here suffered terribly from both the elements and disease. Scurvy was rampant. Isolation and loneliness took a terrible toll.
All traces of the wooden fort were gone by the mid-1800-s, but you can still determine where the fort stood. The sandy point where the structure was located now is now the site of the ‘Way of Calvary’ at Saint Anne’s Shrine; a tree-shaded place where Catholics can visit the Stations of the Cross.
That sandy point of Isle La Motte has been significant in the history of the lake.
- Before the first French missionaries visited the region the point was a gathering place for Native Americans.
- Samuel de Champlain stopped here when he first visited the lake in 1604.
- Father (now Saint) Isaac Jogues most likely stopped off at the point during his numerous and ill-fated journeys up and down the lakes.
- French troops and their allies staged here for attacks against the Iroquois and British.
In a 1937 travel guide to Vermont the description of the site of Fort Ste. Anne in Isle la Motte offers an interesting, but romanticized, description of a lovely, sacred, and historic location.
“Here in the calm of shaded lakeside beauty, French soldiers under Capt. de La Motte built a fort in 1666 for protection against the Mohawks, and here in the essence of Champlain island loveliness was the scene of Vermont’s first, though impermanent, white settlement. The beauty of Ste. Anne is deepened by history— the pictures brought to mind of swashbuckling French gallants casting off uniform-coats to swing axes and ply spades; the solemn-faced Jesuits in their dark garb; and a garrison of 300 men celebrating mass on this wilderness isle in the chapel of Fort Ste. Anne, the first mass to be held in the State.”
Saint Anne’s Shrine
In the late 1800’s, Bishop Louis de Goesbriand, of the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont acquired the property where the fort was located. A shrine, dedicated to Saint Anne de Beaupre, as was the French fort, was opened by the Bishop on July 26, 1893. In 1904, the Shrine was entrusted to the care of the Edmundite Fathers, founders of Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont.
Over the years the Shrine has grown in both size and popularity. In addition to a large, open-air chapel, there are now several other buildings on site, including one that houses a small museum with a number of artifacts excavated from the site of the French fortress. In addition to the Chapel and the ‘Way of Calvary’ a 15′ gilded statue of the Virgin Mary serves the devotional needs of visitors. This impressive statue used to adorn the bell tower of Burlington’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The Cathedral was destroyed by fire in March, 1972. The Diocese of Burlington donated the statue in 1991 to the Shrine.3
In 1968, the State of Vermont donated a statue of the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain. This impressive monument was sculpted by F.L. Weber in Montreal during Expo ’67.