A Little History Gets Complicated

Walking back and forth between our project site at Fort Ticonderoga and the hotel in town has given me the opportunity to see a bit of the town. The picture above is the entrance to the local library, which is obviously a Carnegie Library. While Andrew Carnegie gave money for libraries all over the country, the memorial name struck me as a bit odd. There was no direct connection between the town of Ticonderoga and Carnegie, as the local industry revolved around wood, not steel.

The formal name of the Black Watch was, until the late 1800s, the 42nd Regiment of Foot, which means I need to review the early military history of the area. There have been a number of occasions when British armies have been in North America, but the two most important are the French and Indian War (otherwise known as the North American portion of the Seven Years War, and, incidentally, the context of The Last of the Mohicans) and the American Revolution. In both of those wars, the geography of the eastern portion of the New York colony played a role in strategy. In short, before there were decent roads, the fast route between New York City and Montreal (and therefore between the center of the British colonies that became the United States and the Canadian colonies further north) was almost all water: the Hudson River, Lake George, and Lake Champlain. Only short stretches of land separate the Hudson from Lake George, George from Champlain, and Champlain from the St. Lawrence River.

The French built a fort between the two lakes in 1755, just before the war with Britain, named Fort Carillon. In 1758, the French stopped a British advance in a battle that had the greatest number of casualties on the continent in a single day until the American Civil War over one hundred years later. In 1759, the British returned and then captured and renamed the fort “Ticonderoga.” American rebels captured the fort in 1775, and then lost it back to the British in 1777; after the Battle of Saratoga was won by the Americans, the British abandoned the fort.

The battle on July 8, 1858, was a memorable loss for the British forces, which included regular army regiments and colonial forces. The Black Watch – remember them? I started by talking about them – were in the middle of it.

Apparently the memory of the loss and later victory at Carillon/Ticonderoga has stayed with the regiment. This mattered to the town because Carnegie was known to be more generous with library grants when he felt a personal connection. His early libraries were near his factories and near his hometown in Scotland. I don’t know whether the idea of making the local library a memorial to the Black Watch originated with Carnegie or with the town, but I suspect the latter: he would have known about the regiment but not necessarily its connection to a small and out-of-the-way New York town.

In short, everything has a complicated history once you start to look into it.

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