Three events benefiting the Wilmington Historical Society have been set for June 16th. Events include the annual Whiskey Run, a Wilmington Whiteface Heritage Celebration, and a Speakeasy Soiree at Pourman’s Tap House.
Many of the activities of the Heritage Celebration focus on the area’s historically recurrent theme of whiskey. In its early days, the part of Jay that is now Wilmington was said to have had the reputation for providing daily rations of good rye whiskey to American troops at the Battle of Plattsburgh during the War of 1812. About 100 years later, being a small, quiet Northern village close to the Canadian border, Wilmington became a safe haven for bootleggers and rum runners transporting illicit spirits across the border during Prohibition. Today, Wilmington is home to the whiskey barrel cooperage US Barrel. » Continue Reading.
Lakes to Locks Passage has completed the third in the series of Waterways of War guidebooks. Waterways of War: The Turning Point of the American Revolution focuses on the 1777 northern campaign of British General John Burgoyne. The book is also the centerpiece of a broader initiative to develop the Turning Point Trail, a narrated driving tour from Plattsburgh to Albany. » Continue Reading.
In the spirit of the September 10–13 Battle of Plattsburgh commemoration (check out what you missed, and make plans to attend next year), here’s a little Q & A fun from the battle itself, the War of 1812, and Lake Champlain history.
The answers immediately follow each question, so if you enjoy testing yourself and/or others, don’t peek. And if you’re not familiar with the Battle of Plattsburgh, it’s a fantastic story of Americans triumphing against great odds in both a land and water battle. As much as anything else, the victory at Plattsburgh helped end the war. » Continue Reading.
In the past the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration had grown into a two-week celebration. Now, for the first year, the City of Plattsburgh has condensed the commemoration into a tightly packed four-day celebration this weekend, September 10-13.
According to Sandra Geddes, Promotions and Special Events Coordinator for the City of Plattsburgh, the goal for shortening the event was to bring the focus back to the historical aspect of the battle, keep all the elements that brought a variety of people to the area and present it all in a more concise format. » Continue Reading.
As Americans pause today to mark the terrible events of 2001, it would be fitting to also mark a bicentennial of which few Americans are aware, but of which the North Country should be justly proud: the 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh.
These two momentous days, from across a span of nearly two centuries, share an importance that will forever be marked by historians.
Both are absolutely critical to the shape of the America we live in today. Both are fulcra, balancing a more innocent and vulnerable America of the past with a changed nation that confronted a vastly different future world. » Continue Reading.
“The naval battle of Lake Champlain was probably the greatest feat of arms that our navy achieved in the War of 1812,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt.
From Secretary of Navy William Jones on Oct. 3, 1814: “To view it in abstract, it is not surpassed by any naval victory on record. To appreciate its result, it is perhaps one of the most important events in the history of our country.”
According to Penn University historian John B. McMaster, it was “the greatest naval battle of the war,” and Thomas Macdonough was “the ablest sea-captain our country has produced.”
Like McMaster, author and historian Teddy Roosevelt called it “the greatest naval battle of the war,” and praised Commodore Thomas Macdonough thusly: “Down to the time of the Civil War, he is the greatest figure in our naval history. … he was skillful and brave. One of the greatest of our sea captains, he has left a stainless name behind him.” And one more: looking back, Sir Winston Churchill said it “was a decisive battle of the war.” » Continue Reading.
The War of 1812, sometimes called “America’s forgotten war,” was a curious affair. At the time, it was dismissed as “Mr. Madison’s War.” Later it was hailed by some as America’s “Second War for Independence” and ridiculed by others, such as President Harry Truman, as “the silliest damned war we ever had.” The conflict, which produced several great heroes and future presidents, was all this and more.
In America’s First Crisis: The War of 1812 (SUNY Press, 2014) Robert P. Watson tells the stories of the battles and leaders and shares the blunders and victories of the war. What started out as an effort to invade Canada, fueled by anger over the harassment of American merchant ships by the Royal Navy, soon turned into an all-out effort to fend off an invasion by Britain. » Continue Reading.
The anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh passed recently (it was fought September 11, 1814), and this week, the anniversary of another famous American battle is noted: the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Within the military, both battles are held in the highest regard as critical moments in American history, and oddly enough, the two have an unusual link of sorts.
I discovered this several years ago while working on one of my earlier publications, The Battle of Plattsburgh Question & Answer Book. It’s not earth-shattering stuff, but instead more of an “I’ll be darned!” moment that happened during research.
The book’s unusual format led me to several similar discoveries. I wanted to cover the entire story of Plattsburgh’s famous battle, but in a way that might be enjoyed by children as well as adults. When my children were young, I often made a game of things to keep their minds active and teach them when they didn’t realize they were being taught. » Continue Reading.
This week we finish the tale started two weeks ago, the story of when the North Country saved the Republic. Like all great stories of war this one has its heroes. The naval exploits of one of them, Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough, are fairly well known, credited among students of war if not the general public.
The story of another, Brigadier General Alexander Macomb, is all but unknown. In this final installment I will introduce you to a third gentleman, a lesser player in the story to be sure, but one who happens to be one of the most iconic characters in Adirondack lore and who represents the gallantry of all the militia, the citizen-soldiers who helped turn the tide. » Continue Reading.
Last week I wrote about the significance of September 11th, being a date that illustrates the surprising, narrow and often untold margins by which history unfolds. I wrote of two fateful events that occurred on that date: the terrorist attacks of eleven years ago and the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. I left that tale unfinished.
When last we left the story the fate of the nation lay in the hands of a passel of barely trained regulars, invalids, soldiers unfit due to dysentery and typhoid, teenagers and sporadic militia, many of whom didn’t arrive in time for the battle and many of whom changed their minds as things got dicey. This less-than-glamorous force faced upwards of ten-thousand battle-hardened British troops poised to invade from Canada. It should have been hopeless for the Americans: there was not a chance that the British force could have been defeated had Sir George Prevost, the Military Commander for North America, prosecuted his invasion without letup or hesitation. » Continue Reading.
This week is the anniversary of a horrible attack upon the United States. At the time it occurred I was working in a field related to policing and intelligence. As I watched the agonizing drama unfold along with so many riveted Americans I could not have foreseen how much my world, how much everyone’s world, would change, how much was truly at stake. I have many ties to New York City and at the time almost all of my closest family lived in Manhattan. In November of that year I went to the city and was pulled to the raw, still-smoldering ruins of ground zero. I’ll never forget it. » Continue Reading.
The New York State Board for Historic Preservation has recommended the addition of five Adirondack and North Country properties to the State and National Registers of Historic Places, including the nationally significant War of 1812 Cantonment in Plattsburgh, and Putnam Camp in St. Huberts.
Listing these properties on the State and National Registers can assist their owners in revitalizing the structures, making them eligible for various public preservation programs and services, such as matching state grants and state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.
Lake Champlain was a corridor for warfare beginning with Samuel de Champlain’s exploration, but perhaps no moment in the Champlain Valley was as important as the Battle of Plattsburgh, something recognized by both Roosevelt and Churchill. Although other, more famous, engagements of the War of 1812 were ruses meant to divert U.S. troops away from the prize – Plattsburgh. The Chesapeake Campaign for example, which included the British capture of Washington, DC, the bombardment of Fort McHenry captured in the National Anthem, was intended, as Donald Graves notes, “as a large raid to draw off American troops from the northern theatre of the war.”
The northern theatre, which saw the most desperate fighting and bloodiest engagements of the war, was the pathway to cut the colonies in half. Not surprisingly, the battles at Plattsburgh, are considered by historians to have been crucial to securing peace between Great Britain and America in 1814. Author Keith Herkalo retells stories of the battles at Plattsburgh in a concise and readable narrative, The Battles of Plattsburgh: September 11, 1814 (2012, History Press). » Continue Reading.
Although it has taken a backseat to the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and has been largely forgotten outside the areas it was fought, this year marks the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. In the reissued The American Invasion of Canada: The War of 1812’s First Year (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012), Pierre Berton transforms history into an engrossing narrative that reads like a fast-paced novel. To America’s leaders in 1812, an invasion of Canada seemed to be “a mere matter of marching,” as Thomas Jefferson confidently predicted. How could a nation of eight million Americans fail to subdue a struggling British colony of 300,000 already enmeshed in a life and death struggle with the armies (and navies) of Napoleon? Burton is deft at describing the mood of the nation at the outbreak of war, and lends a well-needed dose of Canadian perspective. The War of 1812, he says, was “the war that Canada won, or to put it more precisely did not lose, by successfully repulsing the armies that tried to invade and conquer British North America. The war was fought almost entirely in Upper Canada, whose settlers, most of the Americans, did not not invite the war, did not care about the issues, and did not want to fight.”
Drawing on primary sources such as memoirs, diaries, letters and official dispatches, Pierre Berton gets inside the characters of the men who fought the war, from common soldiers to generals, bureaucrats, profiteers, traitors, and loyalists. Berton is at his best when describing the lives and motives of individual soldiers and politicians, an effort he doesn’t accomplish as well for Native American warriors who were as much a part of the story of the War of 1812.
This shortcoming is perhaps understood, considering Berton’s relaince on primary written sources, few of which are Native American. And it is outweighed to some extent by the author’s broad inclusion of lesser battles, attacks and massacres in which Native Americans played the key role. Still, his “Cast of Characters” list precious few Native American names: Tenskwatawa, “The Prophet”; Tecumseh, the Shawnee killed in the Battle of the Thames, in October 1813, who is considered one of Native America’s most important political leaders; the Wyandot Chief Roundhead; and the Mohawk Chief John Brant, the son of Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) who was instrumental in stopping an American attack at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812. Overall however, this book is a fascinating popular history of a complex war from an outstanding historian; the first of two volumes. His second work in the series, Flames Across the Border, picks up where this account ends.
Pierre Berton was an internationally renowned bestselling author of fifty books including Vinny, Klondike, and The Last Spike, and the recipient of over thirty literary awards including three Governor General’s Awards for Creative Non-Fiction. He was raised in Yukon (he was Chancellor of Yukon College), served almost four years in the army, was an editor at the Toronto Star, and a writer and host of CBC programs (and a member of the Newsman’s Hall of Fame).
Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.
As the 200th anniversary approaches, there will be a steady stream of new books about the War of 1812. But for readers interested in the effects of the war on the ground in the Champlain Valley, there remains just one foundational text, now available for the first time in paper by Syracuse University Press. Although first issued in 1981, Allan S. Everest’s The War of 1812 in the Champlain Valley is still required reading for those hoping to understand the Plattsburgh campaign, considered critical to the war.
The War of 1812, ranks with the often overlooked American conflicts of the 19th century, but unlike the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) or the Spanish-American War (1898-1902), the War of 1812 really was a Second War for Independence. America stood at the other side of Britain’s own Manifest Destiny, the homes, farms, property, and lives of Americans in the Champlain Valley stood in the middle. The first months of 1814 spelled gloom for America, then only 35 years old. The war against England was stalled. The British continued to kidnap and impress American for service on their warships. They supported Native Americans who attacked outposts and settlements on the American frontier. American harbors were blockaded by the British and New England, never sympathetic with the narrow vote of Congress for war, had become openly hostile and was threatening to secede.
Still worse, Napoleon had been defeated in Europe and Britain could now devote more time and effort to America. The British saw an opportunity to split the new American republic and once again take control of sections of the young colonies. The bold plan called for a combined army and naval strike at Plattsburgh, followed by a drive down the lake and through the Hudson Valley to New York City, splitting the colonies in two. The Americans saw that opportunity too.
The Navy Department contracted Noah Brown, one of New York’s finest shipwrights, to build a fleet to protect the way south from Canada along Lake Champlain. In less than two months, Brown constructed, armed, and launched a total of six of war ships: Allen, Borer, Burrows, Centipede, Nettie, and Viper. With the help of the small Vermont town of Vergennes and its iron foundry that could supply spikes, bolts, and shot, and it’s water-powered sawmills, and surrounding forests filled with white oak and pine for ship timber, Brown built the 26-gun flagship Saratoga, in just 40 days, and commandeered the unfinished steamboat and completed it as the 17-gun schooner Ticonderoga.
Vastly out-manned and outgunned on both land and sea, a rag tag inexperienced group of 1,500 Americans commanded by Capt. Thomas Macdonough met the greatest army and naval power on earth. Because of a serious shortage of sailors for his fleet, he drafted U.S. Army soldiers, band musicians, and convicts serving on an army chain gang to man the ships.
Their leader Macdonough had some experience. He had served against the Barbary pirates in North Africa, but two decades of warfare had given the British considerably more experience. It had for instance, led to the promotion of officers by merit, rather than by purchase or birth. As a result the British forces were the best trained and most experienced in the world and they enjoyed the backing of the world’s greatest military power. Sir George Prevost led the large British army and its fleet into New York and down Lake Champlain to meet the Americans. But what happened that September 11th no one could have predicted.
By the end of the day, the U.S. had achieved the complete and unconditional surrender of the entire British fleet and the full retreat of all British land forces. More importantly, the American victory at Plattsburgh helped persuade the British to end the war.
That’s the bigger story, but the local story is the strength of Allan Everest’s history. As a professor of history at SUNY Plattsburgh, and the author of Moses Hazen and the Canadian Refugees in the American Revolution, Our North Country Heritage, and the seminal book on the region’s prohibition history drawn from local interviewees, Rum Across the Border, Everest had a grasp of the topography of the region’s political, social, and cultural history.
Over some two and a half years, the region saw armies raised, defeated, and disbanded, including their own militia, which was repeatedly called out to protect the border areas and to serve under regular army units. Everest catalogs the political and military rivalries, and the series of disheartening defeats, loss of life, and destruction of property and markets resiliently borne by local people, who were forced to flee when battle threatened, and returned to rebuild their lives.
2001’s The Final Invasion: Plattsburgh, the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Victory painted with a broader brush and suffered criticism for misunderstanding the Plattsburgh campaign. As a result, Everest’s 30-year-old work – despite its age – is still the definitive work on the impact of the War of 1812 on northern New York.
Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.
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