The 1755 Battle of Lake George, which confirmed Britain’s title to the lake and surrounding lands, will be commemorated on September 22, 23 & 24 with re-enactments and an encampment at Lake George Battlefield Park.
“I am building a Fort at this lake which the French call St. Sacrement,” William Johnson wrote in a letter dated September, 1755. “I have given it the name of Lake George, not only in honor to his Majesty but to ascertain his undoubted dominion here.”
Johnson knew that British dominion over Lake George had long been in doubt.
With that in mind, in the summer of 1755, he marched north with 3000 colonials and 250 Indians in order to assert Britain’s claim on Northern New York.
Johnson’s Native American ally, King Hendrick, was killed on September 8, the first day of the battle.
Johnson successfully repelled a French counterattack, but failed to take advantage of the opportunity to seize Crown Point; France retained control of Lake Champlain which meant that New York was still vulnerable to an invasion from Canada.
According to many historians, the Battle of Lake George was little more than a skirmish between two raiding parties.
But it fed the tensions between Great Britain and France, and those tensions erupted into the Seven Years’ War, known in North America as the French and Indian War.
Sponsored by the Fort William Henry Museum, the encampment and battle re-enactment will feature soldiers representing the British and French forces and their Native American allies, as well as tradespeople and camp followers who, with the soldiers, will be available to speak with visitors. Engagements between the contending armies will be held both Saturday, September 23 and Sunday, September 24 at 1 pm. The encampment will be open to visitors on Saturday at 9 am.
According to Andrew Menzie, the Director of Interpretation at the Fort William Henry Museum and the coordinator of the event, this year’s encampment
and reenactment will include participants from Canada and will be the largest hosted by Fort William Henry since the re-opening of the U.S.-Canadian border.
“It is gratifying to see the number of people who are committed to passing on their knowledge to others about what it was like to live and fight more than two and a half centuries ago,” said Menzie.
The encampment will take place near the very site of a British camp that was a base for approximately 2,000 provincials, trades people and camp followers for the next two years, until the siege and destruction of Fort William Henry in August 1757.
Among the living historians at the encampment will be Sue Brenz of Granville, who will demonstrate in the encampment how people of that era would have made bread, corn fritters and stew.
“It’s fun to do things the old way, to realize how difficult it was and how they survived. I always thought history was boring in school, but once you can participate and see a historic place, it becomes more interesting,” said Brenz.
In ‘Empires in the Mountains,’ historian Russell Bellico established that the Fort William Henry captured by the French in 1757 was, in fact, the second fort built at that site.
Historians knew from journals and letters that Johnson wanted to build a substantial fort with ramparts and firing platforms, one that could withstand artillery fire, while his troops refused to build anything more than a picketed stockade.
“Johnson accused the troops of being lazy, of having an aversion to digging,” said Bellico, a trustee of the Fort George Alliance, which manages a center for visitors to the historic site.
Johnson prevailed, of course, but without the map that Bellico found in Canadian archives, we might never have known that the stockade fort was substantially completed before the second fort was built.
By the autumn of 1755, the walls of the second fort were standing. On November l3, l755 the British flag flew over it for the first time.
Fort William Henry was designed to act as a base for an attack on Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) and Fort St. Frederic (Crown Point), as well as guard the lands between Lake George and the Hudson River to discourage a French attack.
Although the French captured Fort William Henry, which Johnson named for King George II’s grandson, they ultimately lost their North American empire, thanks in part to British forces that re-established themselves on the site of the Battle of Lake George.
Historian and re-enactor John-Eric Nelson will kick off the weekend at 7 pm on Thursday, Sept. 21 with a presentation in the Albany Room of the Fort William Henry Conference Center, “The Battle of Lake George: Clash of Empires 1755.”
Throughout the weekend, the Fort William Henry museum will be open from 9:30 am to 5 pm. The Lake George Battlefield Park Visitors Center will be also be open both days, from 9:30 am to 4 pm.