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Old topographical map showing the location of Sandy Point on Isle la Motte, site of Fort Ste. Anne. French Fort Ste. Anne
Isle La Motte, Vermont

by James P. Millard

"Here in the calm of shaded lakeside beauty, French soldiers under Capt. de La Motte built a fort in 1666 for protection against the Mohawks, and here in the essence of Champlain island loveliness was the scene of Vermont's first, though impermanent, white settlement. The beauty of Ste. Anne is deepened by history— the pictures brought to mind of swashbuckling French gallants casting off uniform-coats to swing axes and ply spades; the solemn-faced Jesuits in their dark garb; and a garrison of 300 men celebrating mass on this wilderness isle in the chapel of Fort Ste. Anne, the first mass to be held in the State."1

That is how a 1937 travel guide to the Green Mountain State described the site of Fort Ste. Anne in Isle la Motte. It is an interesting, albeit romanticized, description of a lovely, sacred, and historic location.

The fort that was built here was one of the earliest French outposts on the lakes. Completed in July 1666, the fort itself was quite small; only measuring some 144' x 96'. Coolidge tells us there was a double log palisade some 15' high; and that there were four bastions.2

Historic Marker identifying the location of Fort Ste. Anne. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger image.Entrance to the 'Way of Calvary' at St. Anne's Shrine. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger image.All traces of the wooden fort were obliterated by the mid-1800-s, but it is still possible to determine where the fort stood. The sandy point where the structure was located now is the site of the 'Way of Calvary' at Saint Anne's Shrine; a lovely, tree-shaded place where devout Catholics can visit the Stations of the Cross.

The sandy point itself has figured prominently in the early history of the lake.

 

Interpretive signage helps to understand the historical significance of the site. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger image.Before the first French missionaries visited the region the point was a gathering place for Native Americans. Father (now Saint) Isaac Jogues surely stopped off at the point during his numerous and ill-fated journeys up and down the lakes.

LCBP Wayside Exhibit *

Though Fort Ste. Anne was occupied for only a short time, from 1666-1671, it was the scene of many important events during its short history. This fort, the fourth in a line of bastions stretching along the Richelieu River south, was, during the earliest years of French occupation, the one most vulnerable to attack by the Iroquois. For this reason, and because of numerous deadly Mohawk attacks on French settlements to the north, the decision was made early on to take the offensive and attack the Iroquois at their villages, far south along the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. The sandy point (and the area opposite it at the mouth of the Chazy River) became a staging ground for several major attacks on Iroquois villages. In late September, 1666 a large force made up of at least 400 crack troops of the Carignan-Salieres regiment gathered here together with a greater number of habitants and allied Indians for an expedition south. This expedition, led by the Sieur de Tracy and M. de Courcelles, was to set the stage for an increasing number of French attacks on British settlements and Iroquois villages that would continue from such places as Fort St. Frédéric and Carillon long after Fort Ste. Anne was abandoned.**

Fort Ste. Anne was undoubtedly a fearsome place to be stationed. Situated in the deepest reaches of an impenetrable wilderness, accessible only by water, subject to fierce winds and deep snows, the few hardy souls who resided here suffered terribly from both the elements and disease. Scurvy was rampant. Isolation and loneliness certainly took a terrible toll. Fortunately for the tiny garrison, they were able to find comfort in their strong faith. Isle la Motte has been a center of religious devotion since those early days, a tradition that continues today with Saint Anne's Shrine.

Saint Anne's Shrine

Late in the 1800's, Louis de Goesbriand, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont acquired the property where the fort was located. The Rev. Joseph Kerlidou was instrumental in organizing local Catholics for the work of clearing the land and building a small chapel on the site.

The Shrine, dedicated to Saint Anne de Beaupre, as was the French fort, was opened by the Bishop on July 26, 1893. In 1904, the Shrine was entrusted to the care of the Edmundite Fathers, founders of Saint Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont the same year.

This crucifx stands in the center of the 'Way of Calvary'. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger image.Statue of French explorer Samuel de Champlain, sculpted in 1967 at the World's Fair in Montreal.Over the years the Shrine has grown in both size and popularity. In addition to a large, open-air chapel, there are now several other buildings on site, including one that houses a small museum with a number of artifacts excavated from the site of the French fortress. In addition to the Chapel and the  'Way of Calvary' a 15' gilded statue of the Virgin Mary serves the devotional needs of visitors. This impressive statue used to adorn the bell tower of Burlington's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The Cathedral was destroyed by fire in March, 1972. The Diocese of Burlington donated the statue in 1991 to the Shrine.3

In 1968, the State of Vermont donated a statue of the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain. This impressive monument was sculpted by F.L. Weber in Montreal during Expo '67.

Images of Saint Anne's Shrine, Isle la Motte
Site of French Fort Ste. Anne 1666-1671
(Click on the thumbnails to see a full-size image)

 

Other events in Isle la Motte history

Monument honoring Revolutionary War figures was erected in 1909 during the Champlain Tercentenary.The Island played a role in the American Revolution. During the Northern Campaign Invasion of Canada in 1775, General Richard Montgomery encamped here as did forces from General John Burgoyne's mighty invasion army in 1777. In the days preceding the Battle of Valcour, Benedict Arnold's fleet anchored off the shore.

During the War of 1812, Capt. Daniel Pring erected a battery just south of here to protect Chazy Landing on the opposite shore.  And, like Arnold's fleet before them, the mighty fleet of Captain George Downie anchored just offshore prior to sailing to defeat at Cumberland Bay on September 11, 1814.

It was here on Isle la Motte, at the Fisk Farm, in September 1901 that Vice President Theodore Roosevelt heard the news that President McKinley had been assassinated. Roosevelt, staying with the prominent Fisk family, was guest at a Vermont Fish and Game League dinner.

In 1909 the site was the scene of great activity as the Champlain Tercentenary Celebrations took place here. Great Indian 'pageants' were staged, and visiting dignitaries from near and far came to the point to extol the virtues of the great French explorer who gave his name to the lake.

Today, beautiful Isle la Motte retains its rural charm and beauty. The island is a refuge for travelers seeking sanctuary from the hustle and pace of urban life. In much the same way as those early Frenchmen took comfort and found refuge within the tiny chapel of Fort Ste. Anne, modern-day visitors seek comfort within the lovely confines of the Shrine of Saint Anne at Sandy Point on Isle la Motte.

Sources/Notes:

*The Lake Champlain Basin Program provides wonderful interpretive signs throughout the region. To learn more about the LCBP Wayside Exhibits program, and to view all of the signs click here.
**For a detailed account of early activity at Fort Ste. Anne, visit the America's Historic Lakes Timeline-PART I (a) New France and New England: Discovery, Exploration, and War JUNE 1609- December 1743 by James P. Millard here.

1
Vermont State Planning Board, "VERMONT, A Guide to the Green Mountain State" (Houghton, Mifflin Company, Boston, 1937) 304, 305

2
Guy Omeron Coolidge, "The French Occupation of the Champlain Valley from 1609 to 1759". 1938, 1940. Fleischmanns, New York: Purple Mountain Press, Ltd. Reprint of second edition (1989), with biographical indexes.

3
Dan Heath, Saint Anne's Shrine- A Spiritual Sanctuary in the Lake Champlain Islands, TrailMarkers, apnmag.com, Fall 2002, < http://www.apnmag.com/Trail%20Markers/fall%2002/StAnnesShrine/Shrine.htm > (28 September 2003)

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