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Lake Champlain Islands
A History Tour

"...the view over sparkling Champlain water to the carved grandeur of the Adirondacks is an awe-inspiring one. Wall on wall the mountain barriers are massed high against the western skyline, shutting in the gleaming stretch of the inland sea that Champlain discovered for the Old World, but which long before that time knew that glide of birch canoes and the thrust of Indian paddles...."*

Map of the Lake Champlain Islands region in 1914A Trip through the Lake Champlain Islands south from the Quebec border...

By James P. Millard

Alburgh, Vermont
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Click the thumbnail to see an aerial photo taken in April 2005 of the Alburg Tongue and Blockhouse Point by AHL Guest Contributors Roger and Doug HarwoodNot really an island, Alburgh is actually a peninsula reaching south into the lake from Quebec. Also known as Pointe Algonquin and Point of the Tongue, here is located Windmill Point, where on September 3, 1776 Benedict Arnold anchored his fleet prior to the Battle of Lake Champlain

Click the thumbnail to see a stunning aerial photo of Windmill Point by AHL Guest Contributors Roger and Doug HarwoodThere was a significant skirmish here with Indians allied with the British. On September 6, a landing party dispatched from the American fleet was attacked by the Indians. After a furious fight on shore, the Americans managed to flee back to their boat (the gondola Boston ) and cast off- but not before three were killed and six wounded. As the survivors furiously rowed back to the ships, a few well placed cannonballs sent the natives scurrying back into the woods.1

It was off Windmill Point that the radeau Thunderer sank in 1777 while carrying sick and wounded from the Battle of Saratoga.

Reportedly the British kept a gunboat stationed at the Point from 1783-1796.

  Isle La Motte, Vermont
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Click the thumbnail to see the site of Fort Ste. Anne on Isle La MotteThe first European to see this large island was Samuel de Champlain. He set foot on the island in 1609. Here in 1666, French soldiers under Captain Sieur de La Motte of the famed Carignan regiment, built Fort Ste. Anne. This outpost was to become the site of Vermont's first white settlement. The fortress itself was not terribly impressive. A simple structure- 144 ft. in width, it had four log bastions. The size of the fort is deceiving, however, for Fort Ste. Anne was the staging area for several military expeditions against the British and the Mohawks. In September 1666, some 600 veteran troops of the Carignan-Salieres regt., together with an equal number of volunteers, (or habitans )Click the thumbnail to see a photo of Fisk Quarry by Jim Millard met here with approximately 100 Huron warriors, preparing to march against the Mohawk villages on the river named for them. Some three hundred bateaux and bark canoes set off from the Western shore of the island for this expedition. Isle La Motte is the site of the world-famous Isle La Motte Reef. Here are found some of the most ancient fossils in the world. Isle La Motte's Fisk Quarry provided stone for many local buildings, including Fort Montgomery and Isle aux Noix's  Fort Lennox on the Richelieu River.


North Hero, Vermont
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Recreational boaters now grace the lovely waters off North HeroCertainly a unique name for a town, North Hero was part of a land grant on October 27, 1779, by the Republic of Vermont to Ethan Allen and "associates". This parcel of land was named "Two Heroes" in honor of Ethan Allen and his brother Ira. In 1788 the "Two Heroes" were divided into two separate Townships known as "North Hero" and "South Hero". This changed yet again in 1798 when "South Hero" was split into two with the addition of a "Middle Hero.7"

Click the thumbnail to see an aerial photo of Blockhouse Point by Roger and Doug Harwood (April 2005)The British maintained a blockhouse here at what is now known as Blockhouse Point. They referred to it as Dutchman's Point. The blockhouse guarded the entrance to "Carry Bay," so-called because it led to a very narrow tip of land referred to as the carrying place. It was utilized by natives and other lake travelers as an important portage or shortcut across the islands. A truly fascinating note about Click here to see the Alburg Passage and Blockhouse Point from the air (Courtesy of Doug and Roger Harwood)this blockhouse is that the British refused to abandon it after the Colonies attained independence and became the United States in 1783. Not until the signing of Jay's Treaty in 1794 did the Crown feel compelled to part with this property.4

It was to be many years later before the Canadians would feel "comfortable" with their neighbors to the South. After all, the USA did invade Canada on two occasions!

Grand Isle, Vermont
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Known as "Middle Hero" until 1810 , Grand Isle (the town) came into existence on November 7, 1798 when the Township of South Hero was divided in two7. Situated as it is in the center of the lake, directly opposite Cumberland Head, residents of the town have watched some dramatic events take place from her shores.

Historic Site marker at the Hyde Log CabinGrand Isle is the home of the Hyde Log Cabin, an original structure built circa 1783, by one of the islands pioneer settlers, Capt. Jedediah Hyde. A fascinating building to see, this cabin is one of the oldest in the United States. It consists of one large room- 20'x25', with an overhead loft and a huge fireplace at one end 2. British Lt. John Enys, in his American Journals,  spent the night in this house during his return visit to the fledgling United States in 1787-1788. He writes "we saw up in a small Bay just after we had passed the small Island that lies opposite to Valcore. Here we found an excellent harbour and a small house belonging to one Captain [Jedediah?] Hyde Hyde Log Cabin in Grand Isle, Vermontwho[s]e wife received us very civily he being absent. This place was so very small that there was hardly Room for us all to sleep upon the floor."3 The cabin served as a home to members of the Hyde family for nearly 150 years.

Abby Maria Hemenway, in her Vermont Historical Gazetteer, tells us of the early settlement of Grand Isle (the island):

"From the commencement of settlement to 1785, the following named persons came, the most of them had families who accompanied them, viz; Cyril Reed, William Hyde, Jonathan Griffith, Uzziel Clark, Wm. Campbell, Jacob Vantyne, John Minckler, John Sawyer, Reuben Clapp, John Gibson, and Ephraim Click the thumbnail to see the rocky shoreline of Lake Champlain at Grand IsleSawyer, Jr. These persons all settled within the limits of this town. However, the settlement made very little progress for some years, or not until about 1787. The forests, which were dense, and mainly composed of the hard varieties of timber, yielded slow submission to the attacks of the settlers, and were to some extent infested with wild animals; while bilious and intermittent fevers prevailed in a dangerous degree, and proved fatal to many of the early inhabitants. The first settlements were all made on the borders of the lake; and very little progress was made, for some years, in settling the interior portions of the town. The principal means of communication which the inhabitants had with each other, was furnished by canoes, or "dug outs", and by ice in winter; though a road was cut, within a year or two after the settlement was commenced, from Lamberton Allen's house, in this town [Grand Isle], to Col. Ebenezer Allen's house, in South Hero, which was wide enough to admit the passage of a pair of oxen." 8Click here to see the Grand Isle Ferry at Gordon Landing

In addition to having great armies with hundreds of boats pass on their way to war, the town has been the home of an important ferry crossing at Gordon's Landing since 1796. Standing upon the western shore on September 11, 1814 an onlooker would have had a dramatic view of the Battle of Plattsburg Bay.
 

South Hero, Vermont
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*"...the view over sparkling Champlain water to the carved grandeur of the Adirondacks is an awe-inspiring one. Wall on wall the mountain barriers are massed high against the western skyline, shutting in the gleaming stretch of the inland sea that Champlain discovered for the Old World, but which long before that time knew that glide of birch canoes and the thrust of Indian paddles...." so reads a passage from a 1937 guidebook describing the view west from South Hero.5

For in addition to its striking natural beauty, this southernmost of the Grand Isles is also rich in Click here to see a photo of South Hero's Keeler Bay by Jim Millardhistory. Long home to native peoples, in 1775 a scouting party brought news that "there is a body of Indians now lying on the west side of Lake Champlain... by the best information not less than four or five hundred." This was likely a large Abenaki village located at the Southern end of the township. A band of Abenaki is noted in the town census as living here as late as 1870, where they listed their occupation as " basketmakers." A lovely, intact Iroquoian pot was recovered from the waters of Keeler Bay in 1986.

Marker dedicated to Ebenezer Allen in South Hero, VermontEthan Allen spent his last night on earth in South Hero. In the tavern of his distant cousin, Ebenezer Allen (a figure of note in his own right) located at the very southernmost tip of the island, the storied hero of the revolution whiled away the evening of February 11, 1789. Legend has it his last night was spent reminiscing with a group of former Green Mt. Boys. It was on the trip home that Ethan Allen died, crossing the frozen lake on his hay wagon.
 

Crab Island, New York State
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Crab Island from the air, view east toward Vermont.

The small, densely forested island just to the north of Valcour was the home to a small American battery of two guns and more importantly, a large hospital. Before the battle some 700 of Macomb's troops had been sent here, mostly sick with typhus and dysentery. On September 10, 1814, another 40 men, casualties of the land skirmishes at Culver Hill and Halsey's corners, arrived.6 

Monument on Crab IslandFinally, on the morning of the naval battle, 400 of the sick and injured were moved to Burlington. The physicians and hospital tents remained however, for the suffering and death was to continue on Crab Island. It was here, on the Northern end of the island, that the dead were buried. The dead, British and American, 148 in all, were buried together in long trenches. There is a simple monument at the island commemorating those who suffered and died there. For a listing of American casualties of the naval battle, click HERE. Dr. James Mann was the U.S. Army physician assigned to Crab Island during the battle. To read excerpts of his dramatic account of the battle, click HERE.

Be sure to visit The Secrets of Crab Island by Jim Millard. Click HERE.

Valcour Island, New York State
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This beautiful island, much larger than Crab Island, is located just south of Plattsburgh Bay. The natural beauty and peace that one enjoys there today belie the fact that here was the scene of a desperate and pivotal struggle on October 11, 1776. Here on that early Fall day the tiny American navy under Benedict Arnold waited in the bay for the mighty British fleet. Only a tiny monument on the shore stands to tell the tale of the dramatic engagement fought here. For the full story of Valcour Island, click HERE.

Providence Island, Stave Island & Carleton's Prize, Vermont
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Just 5 years after the end of the War of 1812 tragedy again struck the Champlain Islands. On the evening of September 4, 1819 the new Steamer Phoenix, left Burlington for Canada. Aboard were 46 passengers and crew. In the middle of the night, just off Providence Island, it was discovered the vessel was on fire. Most of the passengers made their way to the island in lifeboats, but six lives were lost in the blaze of the ship. Despite a very short life, the Phoenix had carried President James Monroe aboard her decks and had transported the mortal remains of Revolutionary war hero Richard Montgomery to their final resting place. The wreck of the Phoenix remains today a popular diving site as it has been designated an Underwater Historic Preserve by the State of Vermont.

Click here to see a photo of Carleton's PrizeCarleton's Prize is a solitary chunk of rock that rises from the lake about three miles east of Valcour, just off Providence Island and what is now known as White's Beach in South Hero. Supposedly it received its name after being mistakenly bombarded by the British fleet in search of  Benedict Arnold's vessels in 1776. One wonders how Sir Guy Carleton would have felt had he known of the "prize" named for him! The Abenaki knew this tiny island as odzihózoiskwá or "Odzihozo's wife". Odzihozo himself, the Transformer, "resides" in Burlington Bay, some distance from his "wife".9


 

Sources/Notes:

1 Peter S. Palmer,  "History of Lake Champlain, from its first exploration by the French in 1609 to the close of the year 1814 (New York: Frank F. Lovell & Company 1886)105
2
State of Vermont, 1992. "Grand Isle Vermont: THE HYDE LOG CABIN" (Brochure: Agency of Development & Community Affairs. Division for Historic Preservation, Montpelier, VT)
3
John Enys, 1757-1818. The American Journals of Lt. John Enys. Edited by Elizabeth Cometti. Syracuse, New York : Syracuse University Press. 175
4
Andre Charbonneau,  "THE FORTIFICATIONS OF ILE AUX NOIX" (Minister of Supply and Services, Canada  Parks Canada, Canada Communication Group, 1994. Translated from the original French) 111-116
5
Vermont State Planning Board, "VERMONT, A Guide to the Green Mountain State" (Houghton, Mifflin Company, Boston, 1937) 307
6
 James G. Bailey, "THE FORGOTTEN GRAVES OF CRAB ISLAND" (The Antiquarian-Fall 1988, Allan Everest, Editor Clinton County Historical Association, Plattsburgh, NY) 13
also
republished with permission: America's Historic Lakes, <http://www.historiclakes.org/ccha/bailey1.htm > May 2001
7
State of Vermont, Secretary of State. "Index to Papers of the Surveyors-General" Vol. I (Marble City Press, Rutland, VT, 1918)
8
Abby Maria Hemenway: The Vermont Historical Gazetteer, Vol II. 1871. Burlington, Vermont. 521
Last modified: 07/02/2013
9
Day, Gordon, M. 1998. IN SEARCH OF NEW ENGLAND'S NATIVE PAST- Selected Essays by Gordon M. Day. Edited by Michael K. Foster and William Cowen. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press. 246

Last modified date Tuesday, July 02, 2013

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