Fort William Henry

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Fort William Henry
Fort William Henry
Site information
Controlled by Kingdom of Great Britain
 New France
Site history
In use1755–1757
Battles/warsFrench and Indian War
Location of Fort William Henry at the southern end of Lake George
A plan of the fort, published in 1765

Fort William Henry was a British fort at the southern end of Lake George, in the province of New York. The fort's construction was ordered by Sir William Johnson in September 1755, during the French and Indian War, as a staging ground for attacks against the French position at Fort St. Frédéric. It was part of a chain of British and French forts along the important inland waterway from New York City to Montreal, and occupied a key forward location on the frontier between New York and New France. In 1757, the French general Louis-Joseph de Montcalm conducted a successful siege that forced the British to surrender. The Huron warriors who accompanied the French army subsequently killed many of the British prisoners. The siege and massacre were famously portrayed in James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Last of the Mohicans.

The fort was named for both Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, the younger son of King George II, and Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, a grandson of King George II and a younger brother of the future King George III.[1] After the 1757 siege, the French destroyed the fort and withdrew. While other forts were built nearby in later years, the site of Fort William Henry lay abandoned for two centuries. In the 19th century, the ruins of the fort became a destination for tourists. Interest in the history of the site revived in the 1950s, and a replica of the fort was constructed. It is now operated as a living museum and a popular tourist attraction in the village of Lake George.


In 1755, Sir William Johnson, British Indian Supervisor of the Northeast, established a military camp at the southern end of Lake George, with the objective of launching an attack on Fort St. Frédéric, a French fort at Crown Point on Lake Champlain. The French commander, Baron Dieskau, decided to launch a preemptive attack on Johnson's support base at Fort Edward on the Hudson River. Their movements precipitated the British victory in the Battle of Lake George on September 8, 1755, part of which was fought on the ground of Johnson's Lake George camp. Following the battle, Johnson decided to construct a fortification near the site, while the French began construction of Fort Carillon near the northern end of the lake.

Design and construction of the new fortification was overseen by British military engineer William Eyre of the 44th Foot. Fort William Henry was an irregular square fortification with bastions on the corners, in a design that was intended to repel Indian attacks, but not necessarily withstand attack from an enemy armed with artillery. Its walls were 30 feet (9.1 m) thick, with log facings around an earthen filling. Inside the fort were wooden barracks two stories high, built around the parade ground. Its magazine was in the northeast bastion, and its hospital was located in the southeast bastion. The fort was surrounded on three sides by a dry moat, with the fourth side sloping down to the lake. The only access to the fort was by a bridge across the moat.[2] The fort could house 400 to 500 men; additional troops were quartered in an entrenched camp 750 yards (690 m) southeast of the fort, near the site of the 1755 Battle of Lake George.[3]


The fort was ready for occupancy, if not fully complete, on November 13, 1755. Eyre served as its first commander, with a garrison consisting of companies from his 44th, as well as several companies of Rogers' Rangers.[4]

In the spring of 1757, command of the fort was turned over to George Monro, with a garrison principally drawn from the 35th Foot and the 60th (Royal American) Foot.[5] By June the garrison had swollen to about 1,600 men with the arrival of provincial militia companies from Connecticut and New Jersey. Because the fort was too small to quarter this many troops, many of them were stationed in Johnson's old camp to the southwest of the fort. When word arrived in late July that the French had mobilized to attack the fort, another 1,000 regulars and militia arrived, swelling Monro's force to about 2,300 effective troops.[6] Johnson's camp, where many were quartered, was quickly protected by the digging of trenches. Conditions in both the fort and the camp were not good, and many men were ill, including some with smallpox.


The French force of General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm arrived on August 3, and established camps to the south and west of the fort. French forces totaled some 8,000, consisting of 3,000 regulars, 3,000 militia and nearly 2,000 Native Americans from various tribes.[6] Following heavy bombardment and siege operations that progressively approached the fort's walls, it became apparent that General Daniel Webb, the commander at Fort Edward, was not sending any relief.[7] The garrison surrendered on August 8 with full honours of war, being allowed to keep their colours, muskets with no ammunition, and a single symbolic cannon. The British would be allowed to withdraw to Fort Edward under French escort, on condition that they take no further part in the war until properly exchanged. British authorities were to release French prisoners within three months.[8]

Montcalm attempted to make sure that his Indian allies understood the terms, but the Indians began plundering the fort almost immediately. The next morning, the Indians renewed attacks on the British before they could leave. As they marched off, they were harassed by the swarming Indians, who tried to take their weapons and clothing.[9] As the last of the men left the encampment, a war whoop sounded, and warriors seized some men at the rear of the column.[9][10] At this point, the column dissolved as some prisoners tried to escape the Indian onslaught, while others actively tried to defend themselves. While Montcalm and other French officers tried to stop these attacks, others did not.[11] Estimates of the numbers captured, wounded, or killed have varied widely between 200 and 1,500.[12] However, a detailed reconstruction of the action and its aftermath indicates that the final tally of missing and dead ranges from 69 to 184 (at most 7.5%) of the 2,308 who surrendered to the French.[13]

The Indians killed occupants of the fort as well as unarmed British soldiers whom the French had allowed to leave the fort. The victims included children, women, African Americans, and British-affiliated Native Americans. Rufus Putnam described the tragedy in his memoirs: "The Indians fell on them, and a most horrid butchery ensued, those who escaped with their lives were striped almost naked, many in making their escape were lost in the woods where they wandered for several days without food, one man in particular was out ten days and there is reason to believe some perished, in particular the wounded..."[14]


After the siege, the French systematically destroyed the fort before returning to Fort Carillon.[15][10] The site lay abandoned for 200 years until a replica fort was reconstructed in the 1950s.[16] During the production of the 1992 epic war film The Last of the Mohicans, a $1 million copy of Fort William Henry was built on Lake James in western North Carolina.[17]


  1. ^ For information on the name of the fort, see Anderson, p. 123
  2. ^ Starbuck, p. 6
  3. ^ Starbuck, p. 7
  4. ^ Starbuck, p. 8
  5. ^ Nester, p. 55
  6. ^ a b Nester, p. 56
  7. ^ The siege is recounted in e.g. Nester, pp. 56–59
  8. ^ Nester, p. 59
  9. ^ a b Nester, p. 60
  10. ^ a b Hubbard, Robert Ernest. Major General Israel Putnam: Hero of the American Revolution, pp. 28-31, McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina, 2017. ISBN 978-1-4766-6453-8.
  11. ^ Dodge, p. 92
  12. ^ Nester, p. 62
  13. ^ Steele, p. 144
  14. ^ Hubbard, Robert Ernest. General Rufus Putnam: George Washington's Chief Military Engineer and the "Father of Ohio," pp. 15-16, McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina. ISBN 978-1-4766-7862-7.
  15. ^ Nester, p. 64
  16. ^ Terrie, Philip. "The Legacy of Fort William Henry: Resurrecting the Past". The Adirondack Explorer. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  17. ^ "THE FILMING AT LAKE JAMES". Retrieved February 26, 2020.
  • Anderson, Fred (2000). Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754 to 1766. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Brooks, Victor (1999). The Boston Campaign. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Publishing. ISBN 1-58097-007-9. OCLC 42581510.
  • Chidsey, Donald Barr (1966). The Siege of Boston. Boston, MA: Crown. OCLC 890813.
  • Dodge, Edward J (1998). Relief is greatly wanted: the battle of Fort William Henry. Heritage Books. ISBN 978-0-7884-0932-5.
  • Nester, William R (2000). The first global war: Britain, France, and the fate of North America, 1756–1775. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-275-96771-0.
  • Starbuck, David (2002). Massacre at Fort William Henry. UPNE. ISBN 978-1-58465-166-6.
  • Steele, Ian K (1990). Betrayals: Fort William Henry & the 'Massacre'. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505893-3.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°25′13″N 73°42′40″W / 43.42028°N 73.71111°W / 43.42028; -73.71111