History of Fort William Henry and the French and Indian War

“The French and Indian War (1755-1763) was the extension of the Seven Years War in Europe between England and France. It involved people on three continents and the Caribbean and is considered by many to be the true first World War.

In the 1750’s, the area north of Albany was primarily vast wilderness. The English built a large fortress at “The Great Carrying Place” on the Hudson River. This would become Fort Edward. When garrisoned, it would also become the third largest settlement in North America behind Philadelphia and New York. The French settled territory north of the St. Lawrence River and into what would become western Pennsylvania and Ohio. Thus, the stage was set for these two great powers to clash over land, furs and trade in this Northern territory.”

Fort William Henry Museum

The History

The French traveled to the southern end of Lake Champlain and began work on Fort Carillon in the year 1755. To protect their colonies, the English sent William Johnson to the south end of Lac du Saint Sacrement (later known as Lake George), to begin work on a fortification to be named Fort William Henry, after two royal grandsons. The outpost served as a staging ground for attacks against French entrenchments and used to protect the important waterways from New York City to Montreal. It could house 300-500 men. In addition, an entrenched camp was located just to the east.

In July 1757, the French mobilized to attack Fort William Henry. Because of this , Regulars (including militia) arrived under the command of Lt. Colonel George Monro, bringing their total to about 2,300. Under General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, the French forces arrived on August 3, 1757. The French set up siege lines that surrounded the fort and cut off the military road to Fort Edward.

Montcalm’s forces totaled over 3000 French regulars, 3,000 militia, and approximately 2,000 Native Americans. Over the next few days, the French moved their heavy guns along trenches to within 150 yards of the Northwest bastion. In addition, they continually harassed the entrenched camp to the east. During this siege, many of the fort’s guns had exploded due to overuse.

Monro surrendered on August 9, 1757

Monro surrendered on August 9, 1757, after six days of bombardment. This was also attributed to General Webb who refused to send reinforcements from Fort Edward in support.

The terms of surrender were actually quite generous for the time. The British, and their camp followers, were allowed to withdraw, under French escort, with full honors of war, on condition that they refrain from participation in the war for 18 months. They were allowed to keep their muskets but no ammunition, and a single symbolic cannon. In addition, British authorities were to release French prisoners within three months.

It is said that French General Montcalm attempted to explain these terms to his Native American allies, however unfortunately many did not understand. The Native allies to the French had been promised war booty as payment for participating in the attack. Now it appeared to the Natives, that the French were not living up to their promises.

The massacre

What happened next was a horrific massacre. Some Native allies of the French entered the fort and plundered it, butchering some of the sick and wounded the British had left behind. In the process, French guards posted around the nearby entrenched British camp, were unsuccessful at keeping the Natives out of that area as well. It took significant effort to prevent the plunder and the scalping in that camp.

As the English marched off, they were harassed by the swarming Natives who snatched at them, grabbing for weapons and clothing, and killing those who resisted their actions including many women, children, and black servants.

During the attack on the march, the columns began to dissolve and some prisoners tried to escape the Native onslaught, while others actively tried to defend themselves. It is said that French General Montcalm and other French officers tried to stop these attacks, but others did not. Some just refused any further protection to the British.

Estimates of the numbers captured, wounded, or killed are widely varied. The estimates range from 200 to 1,500. During detailed reconstruction of the action and its aftermath, it is estimated the final tally of missing and dead ranges from 69 to to 184, which puts it at about 7.5% of the 2,308 who surrendered.

Atrocities described in the accounts of the massacre include killing and scalping of the sick and wounded and of those marching on to Fort Edward. In addition, the Natives also dug up of the graves to take additional trophies from those who had died during the initial siege.

Many survivors did find their way back to Fort Edward, days after the surrender. The siege held up the French army for days and resulted in the Native allies (and some militia) abandoning French General Montcalm to return home. Lacking the forces necessary to continue on to Fort Edward. Montcalm took anything of value and burned Fort William Henry before returning back home to Fort Carillon.

Fort William Henry remained abandoned and untouched for 200 years until the 1950’s. A group of local businessmen bought the land in order to protect the site from development, The site was then excavated, and the Fort was reconstructed using the original plans and within its original footprint.

Today you can visit the Fort and see history come alive with tours, field trips, and activities in the exact spot where it originally stood. Check out the museum website HERE!

FUN FACT!

A replica of Fort William Henry was constructed on Lake James (a large reservoir in the mountains of western North Carolina that straddles the border between Burke and McDowell counties), to serve as a filming site for the movie “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992).

Replica fun fact

Haunted?

It is wildly agreed and accepted that the Fort and surrounding grounds are in fact haunted. Numerous reports of phantom soldiers have been reported by visitors and Fort staff. Perhaps these soldiers are still attempting to protect the fort against the French raids?

Fort William Henry is open to paranormal investigations and even has nightly public history and ghost hunts. Private paranormal teams can request investigations as well. You can see photographic evidence caught at the fort when you visit the location.

Have you ever been to Fort William Henry? Do you have any stories to share yourself? As a fan of historical places, Fort William Henry is one that I believe everyone should check out at least once. Please drop us a comment if you have anything you’d like to share! We’d love to her about it! As always, happy hunting!

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Disclaimer: This article does contain affiliate links that we may, or may not, make a small commission on at absolutely no additional cost to you. Any commissions that we may make goes to the upkeep of our equipment, and travel expenses to locations we investigate.

Dawn Gervais Education

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