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Contributors...                            James G. Bailey

front-page story told of a visit to the island by a group from the Catholic Summer School of America, located at Cliff Haven, exactly one mile away by water.  Only after much searching in the dense underbrush did they find traces of the burials.  This is the last newspaper-recorded sighting of the Crab Island graves.
   It would be five years before Congress acted, but this agitation did have effect on the local Plattsburgh military command.  On Oct. 21, 1903 Colonel Adams of the Barracks supervised the erection of a l00-foot metal flag staff on the island.  This still stands in 1988 at the south end, though in badly rusted condition.  No trace of a date or any memorial plaque can be seen on its base.
   On Dec. 4, 1905 Congressman Flack of Malone introduced HR 320, a bill to appropriate $20,000 to enable the Secretary of War to establish Crab Island as "Macdonough National Memorial Park" with the erection there of a monument.  HR 320 did not pass both houses, but on June 12, 1906 the 59th Congress passed an Army appropriation "to enable the Secretary of War to prepare the ground and suitably mark the graves of soldiers and sailors buried on Isle Saint Michel, commonly known as Crab Island (an appropriation of) the sum of $20,000, or such portion thereof as may be necessary."
   By June 21, 1907 the Plattsburgh Sentinel was reporting "the work of making a National Park out of Crab Island ... is well underway, and J. J. Fitzpatrick, the contractor, has finished clearing the island and has nearly completed the caretaker's cottage." A later paragraph about the planned monument is significant.  "Mr.  Fitzpatrick's men are now attempting to locate the graves of the soldiers of the War of 1812 who are buried on the island." No subsequent newspaper story mentions finding the graves.  The dedication of the monument took place Aug. 25, 1909 on the grounds of the Catholic Summer School.
   In the concrete walk approaching the monument, under years of encroached sod, the writer found an embedded "J.J. Fitzpatrick" brass disc, indicating that this contractor built at least the monument's base.  Recently acquired copies of documents dated 1908 show that the U.S. Army Quartermaster awarded the contract for construction of the obelisk to the Van Amringe Granite Company of Boston, Mass.

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Eyewitness accounts indicate the hospital tents were on the north half of the island, and that the burials were south of the tents.  But no account says how far south.  In trips to the island over recent years, the writer has come upon six stone piles in the dense underbrush of the southeast quarter.  They must be man-made and there is no trace of mortar to suggest they were foundation pillars.  They line up in three north-south pairs, about l00 feet apart.  Could these have been heaped up to mark the ends of three trenches?  Someone else must have had the same idea, since the most southeastern pile, closest to the shore, has been excavated in years past.  The 1877 Republican reporter had noted in his article that "one of the burial mounds has been opened as was shown by a large quantity of fresh earth thrown up."

Crab Island's obelisk provides a backdrop for a photograph of the Meserve family's outing.  The picture was probably taken soon after the monument was unveiled.  Clinton County Historical Museum.

This uncertainty as to the burial site is the compelling reason why the entire island must be considered an integral historic site, rather than just a quarter acre around the granite monument, as some have suggested.
   With the $20,000 of taxpayers' money was built a caretaker's cottage, a concrete wharf, graded paths all over the island, as well as the 50-foot granite obelisk with its four bronze plaques.  A 1909 Barracks Quartermaster's map of "St.  Michel or Crab Island" survives at P.A.F.B. It shows these improvements, but does not indicate a gravesite anywhere.

 

 

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Other Crab Island related links on America's Historic Lakes:

The Secrets of Crab Island by James P. Millard

The Battle of Plattsburgh- The War of 1812 on Lake Champlain

Dr. James Mann's account of the Battle of Plattsburgh

Return of killed and wounded on board the United States squadron on Lake Champlain, in the engagement with the British fleet, on the 11th of September, 1814 - official listing of American losses from the naval engagement.

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