When you stand along the shore of Lake George and look to the northeast on a quiet April day as I did recently, you’re struck by how beautiful the lake is. Lake George still looks pristine, surrounded by conservation land and state parks. The Adirondacks rise up in the distance. Lake George, like the finger lakes to the west and Lake Champlain to the north, is a long and sometimes narrow body of water, very much like a river. It was the primary transportation channel for countless generations of Native Americans and the French and English settlers who came after them. A relatively short portage to the Hudson River to the south and Lake Champlain to the north made this body of water a critical link in the chain.
There were several battles and skirmishes on this lake in the early colonial period, but two stand out during the French and Indian War. Just beyond the farthest point of the lake you can see in this picture the lake jogs eastward and narrows to a point of land where it turns northward again. This spot is called Sabbath Day Point, and it was here on July 23, 1757 that 350 New Jersey provincial soldiers (the “New Jersey Blues”) on a reconnaissance mission were surprised by hundreds of Indians who paddled out and attacked them in their boats.
“The whoops of our Indians impressed them with such terror, that they made but a feeble resistance; two barges only escaped; all the others were captured or sunk. I have 160 prisoners here, 5 of whom are officers. About 160 men have been killed or drowned.” — M. de Montcalm to M. de Vaudreuil.
On August 3, 1757 this pristine view of the lake terrified the troops stationed at Fort William Henry, as hundreds of bateau boats and canoes filled the lake forming a massive fleet rowing and paddling right towards where I was standing when I took this picture. They laid siege on the fort for six days until they forced the British to surrender as their cannon began to overheat and fail and the French artillery breached the walls. During the surrender a horrific massacre ensued as the Indians descended on the men, women and children surrendering to them looking for their plunder and scalps. That’s a story for another day, but there’s an excellent account of it from The Lake George Examiner worth reading.
I’ve looked out on this view of Lake George a few times over the years and it always fills me with awe at how beautiful the lake is. It’s hard to imagine the horror experienced by those soldiers in the summer of 1757 close to where I’d been standing. The Indians who committed the massacre – or their tribes – would suffer their own horrors in the years to come. There’s an inevitable friction that comes with expansion, and as Native Americans, the French, English and others wrestled for control of this continent violence would continue to escalate. This beautiful waterway, as with so many other beautiful places around the world, was once the center of violent conflict. And 1757 was a particularly dark time for this lovely place.