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1757 French Raid on Fort William Henry to Be Reenacted March 25

1757 French Raid on Fort William Henry to Be Reenacted March 25 March 21, 2023
Photo of Vaudreuil’s Raid reenacted at Fort William Henry.
Vaudreuil’s Raid will be reenacted at Fort William Henry.

More than 265 years ago, in March, 1757, Fort William Henry was attacked by 1,500 French regulars, Canadians and Native Americans, “which, for America, should be regarded as a real army,” a contemporary witness noted in his journals.

Francois-Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, the French commander, hoped to drive the British from Lake George, not just to harass them. Had Vaudreuil succeeded, Montcalm’s attack later that year would have been unnecessary and the massacre that made Lake George the most famous battlefield in the colonies – and the inspiration for Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans – would never have happened. 

On Saturday, March 25, Vaudreuil’s Raid, as the attack has come to be called, will be reenacted at Fort William Henry.

Reenactors will start garrisoning Fort William Henry on Friday, March 24. Battle reenactments, which will be staged at 10 am and again at 2 pm on Saturday, will be open to the public.

According to historians, Fort William Henry was garrisoned in 1757 by both Rogers Rangers and British regulars, although Major Robert Rogers himself was recovering from smallpox in Albany.

Fort William Henry historians tell us: “The force from Carillon (known today as Fort Ticonderoga) traversed a frozen Lake George, arriving at the head of the lake on the night of March 18, 1757,  hoping to surprise the garrison. If the raid was successful, the British would be thrown off guard and, perhaps, prevented from expanding into Canada.”

According to Fort William Henry’s staff: “Sentries at Fort William Henry heard a tapping noise, which turned out to be the advance troops checking the strength of the ice. The fort immediately began firing their cannon at the noise and forced the French off the ice.

“Over the next two days, Vaudreuil demanded that the fort surrender, but this was met with cannon and gun fire.  Realizing he could not take the fort, he turned his attention to buildings and stores outside the fort walls, burning a sawmill, boats, firewood, and provisions.  The raiders then set out for home on snowshoes.

“A storm, estimated to have dropped three feet of wet snow, hindered their progress north and many were reported to suffer from snow blindness in the days to follow as the spring sun shone brightly on the new snow.  By the end of March, they were safely back in Montreal.”

Although the reasons for the raid’s failure are many, one cited most often involves a St. Patrick’s Day celebration hangover.

Knowing that the Irish soldiers would still be suffering from the after-effects of the holiday, Rogers’ stand-in John Stark withheld the rangers’ ration of rum, guaranteeing that they would be in fighting shape when the attack occurred. “Concerted fire from the rangers stopped any surprise in its tracks,” one historian writes.

Members of several British, French and Native American groups are expected to take part in the re-enactment. For information, call 518-668-5471.

Rights of Reenactors Clarified

When reenactors converge upon Fort William Henry on March 25 to commemorate Vaudreuil’s 1757 Raid, they can rest assured that no law enforcement officers will be there to arrest them for violating New York State’s 2022 law banning guns from so-called “sensitive locations,” which, according to the law’s opponents, included places where reenactments are staged, such as state parks and historic sites.

In her 2024 executive budget, released in February, Governor Kathy Hochul inserted language stating that the law does not apply to “persons engaged in historical re-enactments.”

Last summer, the annual commemoration of Lake Champlain’s Battle of Plattsburgh was pronounced a bust, apparently because many would-be reenactors believed they would be arrested if they brought their guns. This despite the fact that Governor Hochul’s staff took pains to inform legislators and historical societies that “Individuals who have lawfully participated in re-enactments should continue to do so.”

Kathy Flacke Muncil, CEO of the Fort William Henry Corp, admits that she was “was concerned that there could have been unintended consequences of a regulation that was adopted with the best of intentions.”

She said she was “very pleased the Governor has moved quickly and supportively to address our issues.”

For some, a clarification of the law’s intent was unnecessary. Beth Hill, president and CEO of Fort Ticonderoga, said Fort Ti’s scheduled re-enactments would proceed as usual. “Muskets will be fired,” she told the media. “They are reproduction muskets firing blanks. We do that every day.” Warren County Sheriff Jim LaFarr said he had no intention of disrupting reenactments at Fort William Henry or the state-owned Battlefield Park in Lake George.

Since the law was never intended to apply to historical reenactments, the language contained in the 2023-4 executive budget may be redundant. But many observers believe that it is better to have it than to not.

“I am pleased to see that the governor has proposed common-sense legislation on this issue,” said Matt Simpson, the Lake George region’s representative in the New York State Assembly.

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