Resource for Historians, Educators, Students and Visitors since 1997
|"...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...."*|
A Trip through the Lake Champlain Islands south from the Quebec border...
Not 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.
There 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.
The 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 ) 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.
Certainly 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"
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 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!
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.
Grand 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 who[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):
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.
For in addition to its striking natural beauty, this southernmost of the Grand Isles is also rich in history. 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.
Ethan 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.
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
Finally, 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
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
Last modified date Saturday, November 10, 2012
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