What might Lake George have looked like 260 years ago, on the eve of the French attack on Fort William Henry?
That’s what Steve Collyer, an artist and Fort William Henry’s lead interpreter, has attempted to depict in a new display in the entryway to the museum and historical attraction.
The display, which includes three figures – an American colonial, a British regular and a ranger, all sculpted by the late Jack Binder decades ago – was unveiled in October.
It was dedicated to Bob Flacke, Sr., the former state commissioner of Environmental Conservation and longtime president of the Fort William Henry Corporation, for his stewardship of Lake George and its history.
According to Melode Viele, the museum’s director, the display “is the first thing visitors see when they enter Fort William Henry; it not only has to be up-to-date but authentic in its portrayal of Lake George in 1757.”
One inauthentic feature was a figure who looked more like Daniel Boone than one of Rogers’ Rangers or Hawkeye, the hero of the novel by James Fenimore Cooper that was based on the events at Fort William Henry in August, 1757.
“Daniel Boone was not at Fort William Henry in 1757 so Daniel Boone had to go,” said Viele.
The display is titled “Preparing for Battle.” Throughout the summer of 1757, the Marquis de Montcalm and his force of French regulars, Canadian militia and Native American warriors were moving south from Carillon, over the Tongue Mountain range, through the swamps and up the lake in bateaux.
The British had fortified their northernmost outpost with at least 18 cannons, one howitzer, two mortars and 17 swivel guns.
On August 1, they were anticipating the attack that would become one of American history’s most famous.
Following the siege and massacre, Montcalm ordered Fort William Henry destroyed. In the two centuries that followed its destruction, the only visible reminder of the fort’s past was the old well on the grounds of the Fort William Henry hotel.
In 1954, a replica of the fort opened to tourists.
The new display establishes a context to help visitors understand what they will see once they enter the fort, said Tom Wysocki, Fort William Henry’s director of sales and marketing.
The Archaeology Hall and other rooms in the Fort contain thousands of artifacts discovered on the grounds since the 1950s, when reconstruction of the fort began. Recent discoveries, such as prehistoric pottery shards as well as buttons from the uniforms of American soldiers in the War of Independence, suggest that the site was used before and after the fort was burned in 1757.
The exhibits are part of a larger “Living History Program” designed to enable visitors to better understand the history of the colonial era. The program includes tours led by guides in authentic costumes, the firing of 18th century muskets and cannons, recreated scenes of life at the fort and scenes from the events that took place there, as well as visits to dungeons, a powder magazine and a crypt of the victims of Montcalm’s 1757 massacre.
Fort William Henry is open from May through October.
Photos from above: Exhibit illustrating defence of Fort William Henry, 1757, Detail of exhibit, illustrating Rogers’ Ranger, and Interpreter Steve Collyer displays plaque dedicating exhibit to Robert Flacke, Sr. provided.
This story originally appeared in the Lake George Mirror.