The Location of the Fort Ticonderoga

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It is utterly impossible, from the Champlain text and map, aided by the best modern charts, and an accurate knowledge of the country, to establish, with any certainty, the exact position of the Iroquois fort. The location which I suggested was on or near Onondaga Lake, 4 leagues or 10 miles from the great Iroquois fishery at the foot of Oneida Lake. The limits of this article forbid my presenting at this time my reasons for this conclusion I will therefore confine myself to an examination of General Clark’s position. He locates the fort on Nichols Pond, in the north-east corner of the town of Fenner, in Madison County, 3 miles east of the village of Perryville, and 10 miles by an air line, south of the east end of Oneida Lake. The following are some of the reasons suggested by Champlain’s text and engraved view, against this proposed location.

First. Nichols Pond is over 24 miles, measured on a direct line, from the outlet of Oneida Lake, where the expedition crossed that stream. By any route practicable in 1615, it could not have been reached by less than 30 miles travel, owing to the intervening impassable swamps. Champlain states that the fort was 4 leagues (10 miles) from the “fishery,” a distance more likely to be exaggerated than understated.

Second. The expedition reached the fort at 3 P. M. on the l0th of October, the day after they had met and captured a party of Iroquois, who were on their way to the fishery. Now if the fishery referred to was on Oneida Lake, and within 10 miles of Nichols Pond, it must have been directly north of the latter. How then could Champlain have met a party going north from the fort to the lake, when his course, if bound for Nichols Pond, was on a line from the west end of that lake in a direction south of east? The lines of travel of the two parties could not have intersected.

Third. Nichols Pond does not correspond in important particulars, with Champlain’s engraved view of the site of the fort. I do not attach much importance to that birds-eye sketch, evidently fanciful in most respects, but as General Clark and Dr. Shea rely on its correctness, it is fair to use it in testing the soundness of their positions. The original is a well-executed copper plate line engraving, inserted in the editions of 1619 and 1632. The copies reproduced by Lavèrdiere, and in this Magazine (vol. p. 561) are wood cuts, and do not, of course, do justice to the original. The latter represents the fortified village as bounded on two sides by two streams, emptying into the lake from elevated ground in the rear whereas the inlets into Nichols Pond are on opposite sides, not contiguous to each other. The pond is quite insignificant, scarcely an acre in extent, nearly surrounded by a marsh of perhaps four acres more, which may, in wet seasons, have formerly been overflowed.

Fourth. The view represents the lake as much broader than the palisaded waterfront of the fort, and the fortified village as quite extensive, much larger than Nichols Pond could ever have been. The latter therefore fails to answer the conditions required by the engraving.

Fifth. General Clark says, that ” the fortified village on Nichols Pond was occupied from about 1600 to 163o.” The mean between the two happens to be the exact year of Champlain’s invasion. How has General Clark ascertained those dates? How does he know that the village had not ceased to exist long anterior to Champlain’s invasion? In fixing limits to the periods of aboriginal occupancy, it would be more satisfactory to have the evidence cited. In regard to this village, if one of any considerable extent existed on Nichols Pond, all we can certainly know is, that it belonged to the Stone Age. Who can tell when its fires were first kindled, when, or how they were finally extinguished? History, and even tradition are silent.

Sixth. General Clark concedes that the expedition was directed against, and besieged a fort of the Onondagas. Why then does he seek to locate it on a pond in the ancient territory of the Oneida?

Seventh. The site of the fort, as claimed by General Clark, is on the watershed between the sources of the Susquehanna and the tributaries of Oneida Lake, an elevation of nearly 1,000 feet above the latter. To reach it would have involved an ascent so difficult and toilsome for an army like Champlain’s, that he would hardly have failed to notice the embarrassments in his narrative.

Eighth. The siege lasted six days. If the fort had been on the heights of Fenner, a beacon light in its neighborhood could have flashed a summons to the confederate tribes, and brought such prompt assistance that the besiegers would speedily have been attacked and overwhelmed. Champlain would hardly have trusted himself so long in a hostile country, and so far from his landing.

Ninth. Champlain mentions the islands in Oneida Lake. General Clark assumes the knowledge of their existence could only have been derived from their having been seen by Champlain from the hills near Nichols Pond, forgetting they are only four miles distant, and in plain sight, of the place where he crossed the Oneida outlet.

Tenth. Champlain says they raised the siege of the fort, and began their retreat on the 16th of October, and reached their canoes on the 18th, a march quite incredible, if from so distant a point as Nichols Pond, encumbered as they were with their wounded, and impeded by a driving snow storm on the last day.

Having discussed the location of the fort, aided by the text and engraved view of Champlain, let us now see what assistance can be derived from the map, claimed by General Clark and Dr. Shea to be so accurate and authentic. Whenever the text and map agree, they must be accepted as conclusive. Where they do not, and particularly in those instances where the map differs from well-authenticated modern surveys, I prefer to reject it, whether it was made by Champlain or not.

That it does not agree in important particulars, either with the text or with the actual topography of the country, is clearly evident, as I have already shown and will now endeavor to point out more in detail. The map differs from the text:

First In landing the expedition directly at the point on the south shore of Lake Ontario, where it passed into the interior, instead of first carrying it for at least ” four leagues along the sandy beach of the lake,” as clearly represented by the text.

Second. In representing Champlain to have landed at a stream claimed by General Clark to be Little Salmon Creek and to have passed directly inland from the mouth of that stream, and to have crossed it twice before reaching the fort.

Third. In representing, at the sources of that creek thus crossed, three large and two small lakes, near the largest two of which the expedition passed. If, as General Clark holds, neither of those lakes is Oneida Lake, then the five lakes thus delineated on the map are not noticed in the text at all. Champlain is utterly silent in regard to them, and rightfully so, for in point of fact there are no suck lakes in existence. They will be sought for in vain on any reliable map of the country.

Fourth. The map differs from the text in another important particular, that is, if the theory advanced by General Clark and Dr. Shea is correct. The route, as indicated on the map, after winding among those mythical lakes, and leaving the sources of the Little Salmon, passes directly by a southwesterly course to the Iroquois fort. This fort is located, by the map, on the easterly end of a lake, assumed by both General Clark and Dr. Shea to be Oneida Lake, the outlet of which flows into Lake Ontario. If it is not Oneida Lake, then that lake is not represented on the map at all, unless it is one of the five imaginary lakes on the sources of the Little Salmon, which is disclaimed by General Clark. But the route of the expedition, as shown by the map, instead of crossing the outlet of what he claims to be Oneida Lake, as distinctly asserted by the text, does not go near it. Dr. Shea says, General Clark and Mr. Marshall agree that Champlain crossed that outlet. I certainly do, because the text asserts it. But the map contradicts it. It is for General Clark to reconcile the two. Both General Clark and Dr. Shea repudiate the map when they say, ” the dotted line of the march on the map, to coincide with Champlain’s text, should have continued across Oneida outlet, which it already approaches on the map.” They are in error in saying that it approaches the outlet. The whole length of the lake lies between them. If the dotted line had crossed the outlet, where, on the hypothesis of General Clark, would it then have gone?

Fifth. If the map locates the fort at the east end of Oneida Lake, as it certainly does on the theory of General Clark, what then becomes of his location on Nichols Pond, at least to miles in a direct line south of that lake?

Sixth. The map places the fort on a small lake, the outlet of which empties into Lake Ontario. But the waters of Nichols Pond flow into Oneida Lake, first passing through Cowasselon, Canaserago and Chittenango Creeks. How is this discrepancy reconciled?

Dr. Shea impugns the correctness of the facsimile map in one particular. He says: “In the reproduction in the magazine the dotted line goes to the town in the original, however, it stops before reaching the lake near which the town is placed.” I do not understand the force of this criticism. Both the original and facsimile place the town on the lake. The dotted line of the facsimile quite reaches the town, while that of the original falls’ two or three dots short of it. The line of the original is evidently intended to exhibit the route as extending to the town whether carried quite to it or not. Does Dr. Shea mean to be understood that the expedition did not reach the town by the line indicated?

The considerations which I have presented conclusively show that the map and the text are irreconcilable, and that one or the other must, in some of the particulars, be rejected. I prefer, for the reasons already stated, to be governed by the text. Yet Dr. Shea says that “General Clark seeks a theory which will reconcile the text and the map.” Whether he has found it the reader can now decide. The effort to harmonize what cannot be reconciled has led to much of the obscurity and confusion which have involved this subject. The route of the expedition, as claimed in my two articles, is certainly the most natural, the most feasible, and the most in harmony with the narrative of Champlain. No other across the lake, and inland to the fort, presents so few objections, and no other which has yet been suggested can stand the test of critical examination. As to the location of the fort, I reached the conclusion, after a careful consideration of all the data that could be obtained a comparison of the map and text of Champlain, a study of the topography of the country, aided by the best maps attainable, and by correspondence with persons familiar with the various localities that the objective point of the expedition, the fortified village of the Onondagas, was on the lake which bears their name.

I have seen nothing in the publications of General Clark, or in the learned article of Dr. Shea, to disturb my first impressions. Certainly no other place so free from objection has been pointed out. The strong language used by General Clark in support of his views, while it is in keeping with his enthusiastic convictions, is not justified by his facts or reasons. His conclusions are valuable, to the extent only in which they are sustained by reliable data. I understand that he has ready for the press, a work on the ” Homes and Migrations of the Iroquois.” Possibly it will contain his views more at large on the questions here discussed. Whenever any additional facts and arguments to disprove my positions are presented, I will give them a candid and careful examination. I am constrained to believe, however, that we cannot hope for any new data, but must be content to rest the case on the scanty records of Champlain, the testimony of the early travelers, and the few relics, which time has spared, of the era in which the Iroquois met and successfully resisted the firearms of the white man, in the heart of Central New York.



MLA Source Citation:

Champlain's Expedition of 1615 Against the Onondaga Magazine Of American History Vol. I January 1877. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 21 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/new-york/the-location-of-the-fort-ticonderog.htm - Last updated on May 15th, 2012


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