An early American victory during the American War of Independence. Built as Fort Carillon by the French in 1755 to control passage from Lake George onto Lake Champlain as part of a string of forts linking French possessions in Canada with those in Louisiana, the fort was captured by the British in 1759 and renamed Fort Ticonderoga.
With the French threat removed after the Seven Years War, Ticonderoga was allowed to gradually decay, until in 1775 it was barely defendable. The garrison was only fifty strong, nowhere near strong enough to defend the fort even if it had been intact. Nevertheless, once fighting broke out between the colonists and the British many Americans began to worry about Ticonderoga. Rumours persisted that the British commander in Quebec, Guy Carleton, was planning to put together a force of Indians, French from Quebec and the regulars based in Canada and invade New England and New York down Lake Champlain and the Hudson River. As the events of 1776 and 1777 were to show, occupation of Ticonderoga was essential for the success of such a plan. A second reason to attack Ticonderoga was that despite the poor condition of the walls, the fort still contained heavy guns and mortars left over from the French and Indian wars, and still in workable condition.
Two separate groups came up with plans to take Ticonderoga. Their efforts were typical of the independent actions that seized control of the colonies from the British during 1775, control that the British never really recovered. The most serious of the plans involved Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys. This was a militia force raised as part of a dispute between New York and New Hampshire over control of what is now Vermont, but was then the New Hampshire Grants. Allen was originally from Connecticut, and he was approached by a group of Connecticut business men, who offered to help him seize the fort. Meanwhile, Benedict Arnold had managed to persuade the Massachusetts committee of safety to give him a commission to seize the fort.
The two commanders met on 10 May at Hand’s Cove, only two miles from Ticonderoga. While Arnold could argue that he had the most official mandate to command the attack, only Allen had thought to provide any troops, two hundred men mostly made up of Green Mountain Boys with a few other troops from Connecticut. Effective command thus lay with Allen, as the only man the majority of the troops would actually obey. Luckily for the Americans, the ‘garrison’ of Ticonderoga was in no position to take advantage of this disagreement.
The following morning the Americans launched a dawn attack. The garrison was actually surprised in their beds. Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham, who had only arrived in the fort a few days before the attack, was surprised and surrendered before he even had time to dress, although this did give Captain William Delaplace, the commander of the fort, time to get dressed himself before agreeing to the formal surrender of the fort.
Two days later the even less well defended Crown Point was also captured. That was the limit of Allen and Arnold’s permanent successes. St. Johns on the Richelieu River was captured then abandoned by Arnold, then garrisoned and lost by Allen. Connecticut decided to keep Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point, although under different commanders. With Lake Champlain at least temporarily secured, the rebelling colonies could feel a little more secure about their rear and concentrate on dealing with the British garrison in Boston. Meanwhile, the guns taken from Ticonderoga were eventually moved from there to Boston, where early in 1776 they were to play an important part in forcing the British to retreat from the city.