"...we heard a heavy cannonading down the lake which continued for some hours, by which we knew that our Fleet was engaged with that of the Enemy..."
By the Fall of 1776, Dr. Samuel Adams, surgeon to the 2nd Continental Regiment of Artillery, found himself at Mount Independence, the major American installation next to Fort Ticonderoga. From this position, he listened to the Battle of Valcour Island unfold to the north of his position, up Lake Champlain. The engagement pitted a scratch-built American fleet, consisting mostly of flat-bottom gondola gunboats, against a squadron of British ships, including specially-designed Royal Artillery gunboats.
The prize at stake was control of the Lake Champlain corridor. In order to strike at rebel-held upstate New York, the British needed the freedom to sail unmolested up and down the Lake. For Americans, this body of water provided a vital buffer for frontier defense. Beyond control of Lake Champlain, the Battle of Valcour Island also had significant ramifications on the American occupation of Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. Built by the French in the 1750s, Fort Ticonderoga was designed to defend against an attack from the south: while it had some batteries facing Lake Champlain, this was the weakest side of the fortifications. Mount Independence boasted an impressive array of earthwork defenses, which were, in fact, too impressive, since they required more men to defend than could easily be spared.
The American victory at Valcour Island, one of the narrower points in Lake Champlain, delayed the trial of the Ticonderoga and Mount Independence defenses for a year, though it was achieved at a high price: the destruction of most of the American fleet. This battle was also a major feather in the cap of a man who is still well known to Americans today, but for very different reasons. His name was Benedict Arnold, commander of the American fleet on the Lake. For a more detailed contemporary perspective, see the full text of Dr. Adams' letter below. Our thanks go to Library volunteer Paul Davis for transcribing this letter.