Located on Lake Champlain in northeastern New York, Fort Ticonderoga served as a key point of access to both Canada and the Hudson River Valley during the French and Indian War. On May 10, 1775, Benedict Arnold of Massachusetts joined Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont in a dawn attack on the fort, surprising and capturing the sleeping British garrison. Although it was a small-scale conflict, the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga was the first American victory of the Revolutionary War, and would give the Continental Army much-needed artillery to be used in future battles.
Background of Fort Ticonderoga
In 1755, French settlers in North America began building a military fortification, Fort Carillon, on the western shore of Lake Champlain. Because of its location, which offered access to both Canada and the Hudson River Valley, the fort saw more fighting during the French and Indian War than any other post. In July 1758, British forces unsuccessfully attacked the fort, suffering heavy casualties. Under the command of General Jeffrey Amherst, the British returned the following year and were able to defeat the French, who destroyed much of Fort Carillon and withdrew to Canada.
With the fort now under their control, the British renamed it Fort Ticonderoga. By April 1775, when hostilities broke out between colonial militiamen and British soldiers at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, the British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga numbered barely 50 men.
A Surprise Attack
Fort Ticonderoga was located directly across Lake Champlain from Vermont, where the Green Mountain Boys–a militia organized in 1770 to defend the property rights of local landowners–joined the revolutionary effort without hesitation. On the morning of May 10, 1775, fewer than a hundred of these militiamen, under the joint command of their leader, Ethan Allen, and Benedict Arnold of Massachusetts, crossed Lake Champlain at dawn, surprising and capturing the still-sleeping British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga.
As the first rebel victory of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga served as a morale booster and provided key artillery for the Continental Army in that first year of war. Cannons captured at Fort Ticonderoga would be used during the successful Siege of Boston the following spring. Because of its location, the fort would also serve as a staging ground for Continental troops before their planned invasion of British-held territory in Canada.
The Revolution & Beyond
Also in 1776, a fleet of small warships under the command of Benedict Arnold fought the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain. In July 1777, Fort Ticonderoga changed hands again, after British General John Burgoyne managed to place a cannon on Mount Defiance and force Ticonderoga’s garrison under General Arthur St. Clair to evacuate. The Redcoats finally abandoned the fort permanently that November, following Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga.
In the years following the Revolutionary War, no military regiment would occupy Fort Ticonderoga, though at times the fort provided shelter for scouting parties or raiding detachments. In 1816, a New York merchant named William F. Pell began leasing the grounds of the fort. He bought the property in 1820, building a summer home there known as The Pavilion, which in 1840 was converted into a hotel to house a growing numbers of tourists in the area. In 1908, Stephen Pell began a restoration of Fort Ticonderoga; the fort opened to the public as a tourist attraction the following year.