- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. — History lessons don’t have to be confined to classrooms. In summer, they will be given outdoors by redcoats and Rangers, American Indian warriors and frontier wives, all accompanied by the roar of cannon and the rattle of muskets.

The views aren’t bad, either.

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the start of the French and Indian War in New York. The conflict began in Pennsylvania in 1754 and ended in Canada in 1760, but in between, most of the key events of the war — from set-piece battles to bloody forest ambushes — took place in upstate New York.

Beginning this year, historic sites from Fort Ticonderoga along the Vermont line to Old Fort Niagara in western New York are hosting a five-year series of events, including battle re-enactments and Colonial military encampments.

The living-history events offer visitors a glimpse into what life was like in an 18th-century army campaigning in North America. The re-enactors portraying British, American and French soldiers, Indians, sutlers (peddlers who followed the troops, selling provisions) and their families welcome questions about their uniforms, weapons and camping methods.

“It takes it beyond a textbook,” says State Police investigator Randy Patten of Schenectady, a re-enactor helping organize an event at Lake George this summer. “It’s the closest thing you’re going to get to walking back in time. You come away learning something even if you don’t like history.”

Because much of the action during the war centered on control of New York’s key waterways, summer’s events are being held at some of the most scenic locations the Empire State has to offer: Fort Niagara, where the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario; Lake George, ringed by the Adirondack Mountains; and Ticonderoga, tucked between the Adirondacks and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

Visitors will see “some of the loveliest scenery in North America while they travel some of the most historic landscapes in the world,” says Vermont writer Howard Coffin, an author of “Guns Over the Champlain Valley,” a guide to military sites in the region.

Fort Ticonderoga

Great Encampment, June 25 and 26, Ticonderoga, Essex County; visit www.fort-ticonderoga.org or call 518/585-2821.

This restored fortress on a bluff overlooking Lake Champlain’s southern end was one of the most fought-over places in American history. The French built the fort in 1755 and turned back a British attack three years later, killing hundreds of Scottish Highlanders who were part of an ill-advised frontal assault.

Maj. Robert Rogers’ Rangers fought a bloody guerrilla war against French, Canadian and Indian partisans along nearby forest trails.

About 800 French and Indian War re-enactors from the United States and Canada gather here every summer and stage battle re-enactments each morning of the weekend. Events include the arrival of a flotilla of replica bateaux, the boats used to transport troops and supplies on the region’s lakes and rivers in the 1700s.

Guided tours of the encampment are available.

OLD FORT NIAGARA

Encampment, July 2 through 4, Youngstown, Niagara County; www.oldfortniagara.org or 716/745-7611.

A French stronghold for decades, the fort was a vital link between Montreal and French outposts in the Ohio Valley. The British finally captured Fort Niagara in July 1759 after a 19-day siege.

The annual encampment is the largest gathering of French and Indian War re-enactors, with about 1,000 expected to re-create the 1759 siege of Fort Niagara. Events include battle re-enactments, military drills, artillery demonstrations and living history programs.

OLD FORT JOHNSON

Colonial Days, July 23 and 24, Fort Johnson, Montgomery County; www.oldfortjohnson.org or 518/843-0300.

William Johnson, an Irish immigrant who became one of the most influential men in pre-Revolution America, built this homestead in 1749 on the north bank of the Mohawk River. The stone structure served as a home, fortress and trading post for Johnson as he rose to prominence as a British official and friend of the Mohawks. In 1755, he commanded the provincial force that defeated the French at the Battle of Lake George.

Now a national historic site, Fort Johnson is hosting a weekend event featuring re-enactors, blacksmiths and other craft makers who will offer a glimpse of life in 18th-century America.

FORT LA PRESENTATION

Founders Day Weekend, July 23 and 24, Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County; 315/393-3620.

Founded as a Catholic mission in the 1700s by a French priest, the fort on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River prevented the British from attacking Montreal from the west. It also was the site of a large village of French-allied Indians who launched raids on the English settlements in New York and Pennsylvania.

The weekend events at the site include battle re-enactments, gunsmiths and other craft makers, a fife-and-drum corps and a replica 18th-century Great Lakes ship.

CROWN POINT

Re-enactment, Aug. 13 and 14, Crown Point State Historic Site, Essex County; www.nysparks.com (click Historic Sites and then choose Crown Point from the drop-down menu) or 518/597-4666.

The French built Fort St. Frederic in 1734 on a crown-shaped piece of land jutting into a narrow section of Lake Champlain. The English initiated several campaigns to dislodge the French, but all failed until 1759, when the defenders blew up the fort’s four-story citadel as a large British force advanced on Canada.

More than 300 re-enactors from New York, New England and Quebec will gather to re-create the August 1755 arrival here of the French regular troops, who would be defeated a month later at the Battle of Lake George.

FORT ONTARIO

Re-enactments, Aug. 27 and 28, Fort Ontario State Historic Site, Oswego, Oswego County; www.fortontario.com or 315/343-4711.

A French force led by the Marquis de Montcalm captured the fort in 1756. Montcalm’s Indian allies slaughtered scores of prisoners, a precursor to a more infamous massacre at Lake George’s Fort William Henry in 1757. Montcalm, also in command during that attack, died at the Battle of Quebec in 1759.

A weekend of battle re-enactments commemorates the 1755 founding of Fort Ontario, located where the Oswego River meets Lake Ontario.

LAKE GEORGE BATTLEFIELD PARK

Battle re-enactment, Sept. 16 through 18, Lake George, Warren County; www.historiclakes.org or 518/623-1200.

On Sept. 8, 1755, inexperienced provincial troops and their Indian allies, commanded by Col. William Johnson, defeated a force of professional French soldiers, Canadian militiamen and Indian warriors, stopping their advance toward Albany.

Afterward, Johnson ordered the construction of Fort William Henry, which the French captured and destroyed two years later. The subsequent massacre of some of the fort’s defenders was immortalized in James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.”

About 600 re-enactors from several states and Canada will re-create the 1755 battle, fought along the southern shore of this Adirondack lake.

ROGERS ISLAND

Encampment, Sept. 24 and 25, Fort Edward, Washington County; www.rogersisland.org or 518/747-3693.

Re-enactors gather at the Rogers Island Visitors Center on the Hudson River island named after Maj. Robert Rogers.

The famed New England-born frontiersman led “ranging companies” on raids and reconnaissance missions for the British, often venturing deep into enemy territory.

Located next to the village of Fort Edward, a major British outpost during the war, the island served as the base camp for Rogers’ Rangers. It’s also where, in 1757, Rogers wrote his rules for forest warfare, rules that are still taught to today’s Army Rangers and other U.S. commandos.

MORE INFORMATION

• French and Indian War 250th Inc.: www.frenchandindianwar250.org

• New York State Tourism: www.iloveny.com

• Howard Coffin’s publisher: www.countrymanpress.com.


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