Sunday, August 26, 2018

Episode 059: Taking Fort Ticonderoga

In the weeks that followed Lexington and Concord, neither side seemed to know what to do next.

Gen. Gage’s regulars entrenched themselves in Boston.  Worried that they would be unable to defend an assault, they pulled their soldiers out of Charlestown.  However, they warned the Patriot militia surrounding Boston that if the militia attempted to occupy Charlestown, they would burn it down.  So, for the time being, Charlestown became a no man’s land between the two armies.

Benedict Arnold

As word spread after Lexington and Concord, militia from neighboring colonies converged on Boston.  Some rushed to the scene, like Israel Putnam, who literally walked away from plowing his field in Connecticut heading straight to Boston on April 20th.  His son had to put away the plow and oxen left in the field.  Putnam had been an outspoken Patriot leader, who had herded a flock of sheep to Boston the year earlier, to feed the residents after the Boston Port Act had effectively ended all food imports by sea.  Now, Putnam, who would serve as a Major General, was there to fight.

Fort Ticonderoga (postcard, from Sutori)
Others took a little longer to arrive.  When word reached New Haven Connecticut, a young apothecary named Benedict Arnold decided it was time for decisive action.  A month earlier, the men of New Haven formed a new militia company and elected Arnold as their captain.

Benedict Arnold is going to be a major player in the war, so we might as well introduce him now.  In the spring of 1775, Arnold was 34 years old, married with three children.  He came from a prominent Connecticut family.  His great-grandfather, also named Benedict Arnold had been the Governor.  Arnold’s father had been a merchant.  He also became an alcoholic, leading to financial problems for the family.

Arnold had started life attending the best schools in the colony.  But his father’s business failures forced him to leave school early and take an apprenticeship as an apothecary.

At the outbreak of the French and Indian War, 14 year old Arnold attempted to enlist as a drummer, though his mother prevented him.  At 16, he finally joined a relief force to help relieve the British and Militia at Fort William Henry.  The Fort surrendered before they arrived, resulting in the Indian massacre of colonists at the Fort.  On hearing the news, Arnold’s regiment returned home without seeing any combat.

Arnold’s mother died in 1759, and his father two years later in 1761.  In 1762, Arnold borrowed money from some cousins to start a pharmacy and bookstore in New Haven. His business prospered and he soon repaid his loans.  He even bought back the house his father had been forced to sell years earlier.

Benedict Arnold, 1776
(from Wikimedia)
A few years later, he formed a partnership to buy three merchant vessels.  Arnold personally traveled throughout the colonies, the West Indies (what we now call the Caribbean) and Central America as a Yankee trader.  Things seemed to be going well for him until the Stamp Act threatened to destroy his bookstore and trade restrictions forced him to become a smuggler.

Arnold joined the Sons of Liberty in Connecticut and actively supported the Patriot cause from the beginning.  He also joined the local Masonic Lodge, and married Margaret Mansfield, the 17 year old daughter of the Sheriff.  They had three sons.

British restrictions on trade destroyed much of his business and he fell into debt.  Arnold lived the comfortable life of a merchant trader, but always had to be on the hustle for the next deal, and regularly had to worry about debt and financial troubles.  But in 1775, despite colonial trade embargos and British trade restrictions, he was doing well financially and enjoying a successful family and business.

Arnold Joins the War

When word of fighting arrived in New Haven on April 21, Captain Arnold assembled his Company to march to Boston.  The problem was, the Town Council would not release any gunpowder.  After several hours of bickering, Arnold had to threaten to attack the powder house and take the munitions by force before officials finally conceded and gave his company the powder they needed.  The guy preventing Arnold from taking the gunpowder was David Wooster, the head of the Connecticut Militia.  I mention Wooster here because soon he is going to become a general in the Continental Army and Arnold’s superior.  On this first day of heading off to war, Arnold was already making enemies that would make his life difficult in the future.

On the march to Boston, Arnold met up with Connecticut militia Col. Samuel Parsons, also a member of the Connecticut legislature.  Parsons was returning from Cambridge where he spoke with Arnold about the siege now underway.  The two men discussed the fact that the Provincial Army was going to need cannons if it wanted any chance of taking Boston by force.  Arnold told Parsons that there was a large number of cannons at Fort Ticonderoga in New York, which the British kept under only nominal guard.  Arnold had travelled to Ticonderoga on multiple occasions as a merchant.  He frequently visited the fort when heading to Montreal or Quebec for trade.  Through his visits had become quite familiar with the fort, its assets and its defenses.

Samuel Parsons
(from Journal of Am. Rev.)
Parsons continued on his way to Hartford.  There he met with Silas Deane, another legislator, who had served in the First Continental Congress.  On their own, the two men decided to allocate £300 to finance an attack on Ticonderoga.  They named Captain Edward Mott to lead the expedition, and recruited Heman Allen, brother of Ethan Allen to involve the Green Mountain Boys in fight.  As we discussed back in Episode 38, Allen was a well respected militia leader who had been fighting against New York for years.  He was living in what was then eastern New York, today Vermont, only a few miles from Ticonderoga.

Back in Hartford, Parsons and Deane ordered this force to take Fort Ticonderoga and acquire the cannon for the Provincial Army.  Parsons apparently decided on this course after leaving Arnold, as he did not discuss it with him.

Arnold and a company of the Connecticut Guard, marched on to Cambridge, where Arnold witnessed the chaos and confusion there.  Officers and men camped around the city with little purpose or direction. Within a few days, Arnold sought out Joseph Warren to discuss the idea of taking Fort Ticonderoga.  Arnold told Warren about the cannon and how poorly defended they were.

Massachusetts had already received intelligence and a similar recommendation from John Brown, a member of the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence who had visited Ticonderoga and Montreal a few months earlier.  He had been there in an attempt to get Canadians to join the Patriot cause.  Unknown to the men now discussing the capture of Ticonderoga, Brown was already headed toward the Fort under Col. James Easton of the Pittsfield Massachusetts militia, as part of Parsons’ plan to take the fort.

Green Mountain Boys (from Britannica)
Unaware of the planned attack, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety considered Arnold’s proposal.  Despite the state of war, Arnold’s plan was still pretty controversial.  It was one thing for colonists to defend themselves against a British column bent on attacking them and seizing their property.  It was quite another to attack a distant British fort and seize British property.  Some colonial leaders still hoped that events would play out much like the Stamp Act Riots a decade earlier.  The colonists would show a little violence to prove they were serious, and the British would back down and compromise.  They were reluctant to do more than sit and wait to get a response from London before embarking on all out war against their King.

The other big issue was that fort Ticonderoga was in New York. They would have to invade another colony that had not sent any support troops to the army surrounding Boston. Such an invasion might convince New York to support the Loyalist side and send troops against the New Englanders.

After some debate though, the majority accepted that they were at war and that they needed take more decisive action.  The Committee of Safety agreed to back Arnold’s expedition to take Ticonderoga.  On May 3, they appointed Arnold as a Colonel in the Massachusetts militia and gave him £100 in hard currency, 200 pounds of gunpowder, and other ammunition, as well as 10 horses.  They also authorized Arnold to draw on their credit to pay for whatever he needed to complete his mission. They did not, however, give him any soldiers.  They gave him a few officers and told them to recruit soldiers in western Massachusetts, closer to the fort.

He ditched his old Connecticut Company, and set out with several other newly appointed Massachusetts Captains to raise new companies in western Massachusetts.  As Arnold began recruitment, the locals told him that a planned attack was already underway.  Several Connecticut Companies under Captain Mott had recently passed through town on their way to link up with Allen.

Arnold and Allen Fight for Command

By the time Arnold heard of this other group, Mott had already met up with Ethan Allen and the men were assembling local militia for the attack.  On May 8, the men formed a Committee of War, naming Allen as commander of the expedition, with Massachusetts Militia Col. Easton as second in command after the Green Mountain boys refused to serve under anyone but Allen.

Disturbed that he would be left out of the assault on Ticonderoga, Arnold ditched his captains who were still trying to raise soldiers, and rushed to Castleton. On May 9th, he met up with Allen, who was still assembling his force, about a day’s march from the fort.

Map showing Ticonderoga (from U-S-History)
Arnold apparently tried to waive around his commission and demand that Allen turn over his men and serve under his command.  The Green Mountain Boys, fiercely loyal to Allen, refused to serve under anyone but Allen, certainly not some stranger who showed up with no men, arms, supplies, nor anything but a piece of paper and his own uniform.

Eventually, the two reached some sort of compromise.  Arnold recalled later that the two men would share command.  Allen seemed to be more of the mind that, sure, you can come along with us and be there when we take the fort, but I’m running the show.

The force assembled totaled between 250 to 400 officers and men (accounts differ).  Most of them were Green Mountain Boys with their allegiance to Allen.  Some were Connecticut and Massachusetts Militia.  The soldiers made their way to the fort, approaching it from the opposite side of Lake Champlain.  They would cross the lake overnight and storm the fort before dawn. 

Unfortunately, the plan ran into problems at the outset.  Allen had sent ahead an advance party to acquire the ships necessary to cross Lake Champlain.  On their way, the men instead found a cache of alcohol and got drunk. When the main force arrived late in the evening of May 9th, there were no boats.  Finally, they found a small craft that could ferry the men over.  But by then it was getting dangerously close to dawn.  A daylight crossing would likely be spotted and they would lose the element of surprise.

Allen and Arnold decided to take the fort with the 83 men who had come over in the first two trips.  They had no time to wait for another round if they wanted to attack before daylight.

Fort Ticonderoga

You may recall that way back in 1759, the British, after several attempts, finally defeated the French at Ticonderoga.  The French blew up their Fort Carillon.  Because of the key location, the British built two new forts, a smaller one called Fort Ticonderoga, and a larger one a few miles north at Crown Point.

After the French ceded Canada though, the lack of any enemy in the area made the forts unimportant.  This region was home to the Iroquois, who remained close British allies, so these were now forts in middle of friendly territory.  When a fire destroyed Crown Point in 1773, the British did not bother to rebuild it, simply using Ticonderoga as the primary center of British authority in the region.

Capt. William Delaplace commanded the garrison of less than 50 officers and men.  Like many unimportant garrisons, many of the men were on the invalid list, meaning they were not capable of full duty.  They could be sick, old, or infirm.  They were capable of light work, but not hard marching and fighting that an active duty soldier might need to do.  Also in the fort were several dozen women and children, families of the soldiers.

The garrison had allowed the fort to fall into disrepair.  Several walls had collapsed and not been fixed.  Although Gen. Gage had sent warning a few weeks earlier to the commander to be on guard against a possible raid, it appears he had not taken much of any precautions.

The Attack

As Allen and Arnold approached the Fort just before dawn on the morning of May 10, they saw that the main gates were closed.  Without any artillery or scaling ladders, they had no way to enter.  Fortunately, there was a smaller door built into the main gates, large enough for people, but not horses or wagons. They found the door unlocked and rushed inside.

As with many incidents, there are conflicting stories about exactly what happened.  Part of the problem is that both Arnold and Allen tried to glorify their own roles in the matter.  Allen wrote extensively four years later, when memory of details may have faded a little.

Just inside the gate they found a sentry, who had been asleep.  He awoke as the men entered and fired a shot point blank at Arnold.  Fortunately for Arnold, the shot misfired.  In some accounts the sentry then dropped his gun and ran for the barracks, a second guard then appeared, whom Allen knocked down with his sword in a nonfatal blow.

The attackers forced the sentry to take them to the officers’ quarters as the rest of the raiding party moved into the Fort.  As they approached, a young lieutenant Feltham, who had been at the fort for little more than a week, heard them.  Rushing out of his room, he banged on the Captain Delaplace’s room to alert him.  The Captain did not come out.  Eventually, he forced his way into the Captain’s room, only to find the man slowly dressing himself in no particular hurry.

Feltham then rushed to confront the men moving up the stairs toward them.  Just out of bed, he was still carrying his pants in his arms as he called out to demand by what authority they had entered the King’s fort.

Allen Captures Ticonderoga (from Land of the Brave)
In his recollections, Allen responded famously “by the authority of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.”  This was probably made up since at the time, Congress had not convened and they were operating under the authority of the Connecticut Provincial Army. Other witnesses reported him simply responding “come out of there you god-damned old rat,” which sounds more like something Allen would say.  After a few more minutes, Delaplace exited his bedroom in full uniform, prepared to turn over his sword to the invaders without a fight.  Other soldiers had gotten to the enlisted men before they could reach their guns.  They too, surrendered without a fight.

The Patriots took the Fort in about ten minutes without a death on either side.  The only injuries came to the British guard whom Arnold had banged on the head.  One American attacker suffered a minor bayonet wound from one of the sentries.  The British though had been caught completely by surprise and did not put up any sort of defense.

Eventually the rest of the invasion force under Seth Warner made it across the Lake and joined the attackers at Fort Ticonderoga.  Arnold immediately set about dealing with the prisoners and securing the Fort and its contents.  Allen insisted that the prisoners be sent to Connecticut since he was operating under Connecticut authority.  Arnold seems to have acceded to this demand without argument.  Allen also got Captain Mott, who had received the Commission from Parsons in Connecticut to conduct this raid, to name Allen as Fort Commander, thus giving Allen some authority against Arnold’s Massachusetts Commission.

Allen’s men, however, had little interest in any efforts to organize the fort..  They discovered Captain Delaplace’s personal stash of 90 gallons of rum and proceeded to get drunk for several days.  They also began looting the fort for anything of value.  Arnold tried to stop this, only to find the men pointing their guns at him and telling him to back down.  Without any support from Allen, Arnold had no choice but to do what he could by himself and try to ignore the drunken looters all around him.  Allen’s only contribution was to give Delaplace a receipt for his rum so that Connecticut officials could reimburse him for the loss of his personal property.

Neither Allen nor Arnold wanted to leave the fort in control of the other, so neither would lead an attack on nearby Crown Point or Fort George.  Allen dispatched a smaller contingent of men under Seth Warner, to take Crown point, defended by only nine soldiers, and Fort George, defended by only two.  Like the raid on Ticonderoga, Warner and his men caught the garrisons by surprise and surrendered without any attempt to defend their forts.

After a few days, the men that Arnold’s captains had been recruiting in Western Massachusetts began to arrive.  Arnold finally had a small command independent of Allen.  At the same time, many of the Green Mountain Boys decided they had accomplished their mission and began to return home.  Allen’s force would remain intact for a few weeks longer, but would continue to hemorrhage soldiers as militiamen only stuck around as long as they wanted.

Still, the attack was a great success for the Patriots.  The main goal had been to secure artillery.  Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point housed about 200 cannons, half of which were in usable condition for the Patriot cause.

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Next Episode 60: Securing Lake Champlain

Previous Episode 58: Slavery and Liberty

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Further Reading:


Fort Ticonderoga Blog:

Ethan Allen Takes Fort Ticonderoga:

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum: Revolutionary War,

Bascom, Robert and James Holden “The Ticonderoga Expedition of 1775” Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, Vol. 9 (1910), pp. 303-389:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Allen, Ethan A Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen's Captivity, Burlington: H. Johnson & Co, 1838 (First written in 1779).

Arnold, Benedict Benedict Arnold's regimental memorandum book, Philadelphia: Collins 1884.

Bascom, Robert O. The Ticonderoga expedition of 1775; list of men with Ethan Allen, 1910

Chipman, Daniel Memoir of Seth Warner, Middlebury: L.W. Clark, 1848 (Also in this same volume is The Life of Ethan Allen by Jared Sparks).

Gilchrist, Helen Ives Fort Ticonderoga in history, Fort Ticonderoga Museum, 1920(?).

Hall, Hiland The capture of Ticonderoga, in 1775: a paper read before the Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier: Poland’s Steam Printing, 1869.

Hill, George C. Benedict Arnold: A Biography, Boston: E.O. Libby & Co. 1858.

Lincoln, William (ed) The journals of each Provincial congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of safety, with an appendix, containing the proceedings of the county conventions-narratives of the events of the nineteenth of April, 1775-papers relating to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and other documents, illustrative of the early history of the American revolution, Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1838.

Mott, Edward Papers relating to the expedition to Ticonderoga, April and May, 1775, 1860.

Trumbull, J. Hammond The origin of the expedition against Ticonderoga, in 1775: a paper read before the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford: Reprint from Hartford Courant, 1869.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)

Beck, Derek, Igniting the American Revolution 1773-1775, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2015.

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Hatch, Robert Thrust for Canada, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.

Martin, James Benedict Arnold: Revolutionary Hero, New York: NYU Press, 1997.

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution,  New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Randall, Willard Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, New York: William Morrow & Co., 1990 (book recommendation of the week).

Randall, Willard Ethan Allen: His Life and Times, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1992 (book recommendation of the week).

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.



  2. Love your content.