Friday, November 12, 2010

Ethan Allen, military hero or drunken thug? 10.12.10

Oh, the people we run into and the stories they tell.....

More on that in a bit.

First, after our little mishap in Syracuse, we ended up having a beautiful, well deserved if you ask me, drive through the Adirondack Mountains of upstate NY.  We had not expected such beauty!  Wow!

We stopped to 'take care of business' and stretch our legs along this sparkling lake -


We took picture after picture of gorgeous fall foliage -


I have to admit, the Adirondack mountains are way way more beautiful than I imagined.  I'm impressed.  And that statement doesn't come easily from someone who loves the beauty of the west so much.

Once we arrived in the town of Ticonderoga we were greeted with red coats


And blue coats


At almost every corner.

I think we must be in revolution land or something.....

Finally, we saw our destination up ahead -


Ah yes, a fort.  Fun fun for the boys and a bunch of good ol' history for us all.  On the way up btw, the kids watched Liberty's Kids for about the gazillionth time.  We pulled in just as the appropriate episode about Ethan Allen taking the fort came to an end.  I have to admit, the kids weren't the only ones watching.  I kept trying to lean back and watch, not easy from the front seat, but I love watching it too!  And I learn from it.  I've never had the pleasure of taking American History in school so never really learned this stuff.  Though maybe it's better I never learned it in school, I probably would have been turned off of it!  Anyway, it's surprisingly historically accurate I've come to realize.  If you haven't seen it, or heard of it, and you or your children want to learn about American History in a fun way, I can't recommend it enough.  My kids love it and can pretty much tell you all about the revolution, start to finish, thanks primarily to this show.

Once inside, more amazing fall colors greeted us - this time in combination with Lake George.  Put the two together and WOW!


OK, let's back up in history and talk about what this place is.

First of all, for at least 6000 years the Indigenous population farmed, fished and hunted in this area.  The Iroquois called this place Ticonderoga, which means 'the place between the waters'.

What waters?  The significance of geography here is key as IT is why fort after fort was built here.  This location overlooks Lake George and Lake Champlain.  If you want to control the route between the St. Lawrence river (today's Montreal) in Canada and the Hudson river (today's NY) in the US, you want your people sitting right here where they have command over who comes in and out.

So who were fighting for control?  Well, first the French in Canada used this corridor to attack the Mohawks.  Soon after that, in 1667, the French built a trading post here. Much later, in 1755 the French built an actual fort here to assure its control of the area.  At that point the fight for control was between the French and the British.  In 1759 the French abandoned the fort and the British finally took over.

In 1775, during the American Revolution, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys took the fort from the British.  If you believe the history books, this was a highly strategic middle of the night surprise attack on the fort.  The British didn't see it coming and the fort was taken without a single shot being fired.  Command was simply handed over when it was demanded.  Those last two sentences are true,'s what we learned from a chance meeting with a local high school history teacher here at the fort....

Ethan Allen was really no more than a rowdy gang leader.  His Green Mountain Boys were a bunch of thugs who spent most of their time drinking late into the night and causing a ruckus everywhere they went.  Well, that fateful night Mr. Allen got drunk, per usual, and basically said, 'Hey! Let's go raid the fort, its got all kinds of wine in the cellar!'  Yes, he was after the liquor...Well, he was lucky.  The British force was on the smaller side and not very 'well put together'.  Taking the fort was easy, as history shows us.  Seeing how easy it was, Mr. Allen got drunk, again, and decided to raid another fort, again.  This time it was Montreal and this time he wasn't so lucky and was caught by the British.

But, details shmetials!  The capture of Fort Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys was the first victory for the revolution and hence, highly significant.  I guess we can forgive his drunken stupor....and general nasty behavior.

BTW, most of the canons here at the fort were taken that winter down to Boston to help the desperate General Washington fight off the British.  So you see, the fort really did make a significant contribution to the revolution.  Who knows what would have happened otherwise....

OK, back to the timeline.  The British took the fort back two years later, the Americans then tried unsuccessfully to recapture it a couple months later, and finally, the British abandoned it.  Once abandoned, most of the fort was taken apart brick by brick by the locals (as opposed to the natives) for their own building needs.  In 1816 a Mr. Pell acquired the fort and his descendants began the restoration process.  The fort was opened to the public in 1909.

Whew! That's the history in a nutshell.  Oh, but wait, there's more!

From our friendly history teacher we also learned that the fort wasn't exactly built in the smartest fashion.  One could actually see into into it from the nearby hills!  How dumb is that?!  Well, the French, those silly original builders, and everyone else, ended up digging 8 foot trenches to hide behind outside the fort and fighting their battles from the outside instead of from inside.  Guess the fort was mainly used for storage!

And so ends our little history lesson.  Boy, I tell you, if we didn't end up staying 'till after closing and that teacher wouldn't have been there with his track team we would have missed the punch line of this whole heroic saga!  BTW, we started talking to him because he needed to lock the place up and we were holding him up.  So, we started chatting, of course.  The kids soon shared their knowledge about the area and the history and he, being a history teacher, jumped all over it.  He would have stopped sharing but Analyzer kept asking questions and expressing interest.  He was so animated and is obviously so absolutely passionate about history and teaching it, it made me jealous of his students!  I wish I had a history teacher like that way back when.  Wait, I did. One.  One among many.  The rest were boooorrrriiinnngggg....

Getting back to the fort here,

Cannons and more cannons, told you it'd be fun for the boys!  They jumped into, onto and around every cannon they possibly could.  Some of these are o-l-d.  We're talking cannons from 1724, 1780, 1794 and such.  OK, not Greek or Roman or anything, but for this country, old.


The fort has what's called the Education Center.  There was a brief film about the fort and then an extensive display about the history.  I have to say though, it was way too wordy.   Yes, it had artifacts and life size Mohawk Indians and soldiers, but the walls were simply covered in writing to the point where it was just too much to follow along with in such a setting.



Heading back outside there were of course more and more cannons....


Will the joy never cease?!


Inside the fort walls are more significant exhibits relating the the era and the location.

Ahh! Here's more coolness, Ethan Allen's gun and sword!!



They even had some hands on activities for the youngest among us - design your own fort!


Now this little guy has an interesting history and has been to some, um, interesting's a capsule that contained a message for 'the other side'.  The messenger, realizing he was caught, swallowed it as ordered so that the message would not be read by the wrong people.   Unfortunately for him, the message was 'retrieved', read and he was subsequently hung.....


We saw many many powder horns.....


Drums, we learned, were not just for 'fun'.   Different 'beatings' signaled different messages or announcements: work, mealtime, bedtime etc.  There were beatings for different marches and approaches as well.  They basically regulated life in the camp and at war.


We met with a colonial soldier while touring the museum which was cool,


We saw a trundle bed belonging to Benedict Arnold -


Various artifacts belonging to George and Martha Washington -


We got to hold a musket and see how heavy it really was.  Pretty darn heavy!


And of course, we examined the diorama depicting Ethan Allen easily taking the fort.


The tour of the fort finally came to an end and as the kids waited for me to make dinner they had the opportunity to do something they never really get to do -


Climb onto a school bus!

The bus that brought the high schoolers to their track meet was parked right next to us.  Oohhh how exciting!  Or so it seemed.  After requesting permission, the kids clamored aboard, sat, wandered up and down the aisle and then got off.  Duly impressed they were not.

Good.  ;-)

Darkness was fast approaching and we had more driving to do.  We needed to get ourselves almost halfway though VT that night if we were going to make it to Maine on time to meet the in-laws tomorrow night!

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