It doesn’t get better than frolicking in gorgeous Vermont! Lincoln and I were on our way to the burial of my mother’s cousin, Bob Fletcher (more on that next week when the theme is Ancestors). Why not head out a day early to loop up through the Adirondacks in New York State to Lake Champlain?
It was just your basic rare and splendid moment…sunny and not too hot. To be driving north with nothing ahead other than forty-eight hours of pleasure and escape was a balm. Lake Champlain, between New York and Vermont and nosing into Quebec, is long (more than 100 miles) and mostly narrow, though it does swell to 14 miles wide in the northern part. It was a key strategic waterway during the colonial era and, strangely enough, the birthplace of the U.S. Navy. (For sure, an interesting story but not something I’ve delved into.)
In three hours, we arrived at the impressively rebuilt stone fortress, Fort Ticonderoga. I have recently become ridiculously interested in the role it played in July 1777, as related in a thick novel I got lost in a few months ago (Echo in the Boneby Diana Gabaldon). The British army planned to use the lake and the Hudson River to split New England off from the other colonies but first they had to rout the rebels from the several forts that defended the narrow passage.
Somehow, General Arthur St. Clair, who commanded strong rebel defenses on both shores, did not consider that the Redcoats could haul their deadliest cannons up an 800’ promontory that looked directly on to the forts on both sides…Whoa…
Help! Tell me to STOP! Stifle the yawns! I can hardly believe that all this is truly compelling to me, but it is. I could go on and on about the British lugging cannons up Mount Defiance, and team USA hastily abandoning Ticonderoga and the even bigger, more strategic Mount Independence on the Vermont side. It was indeed a rout but the American soldiers escaped and it did set our guys up for big success a couple of months later in Saratoga.
Meanwhile, literally, back at the farm… When I was born my parents indeed lived in a farmhouse on the Vermont side, just a few miles north of the tiny car ferry that crosses the lake between the forts. Consequently, Fort Ty is part of my earliest memories. The ruined fort was rebuilt by a rich history buff in the 1930’s. I realize now that when I was a young child around 1950, it was a fairly new attraction and the object of great pride in the area.
We took the ferry over to Shoreham, Vermont in golden late afternoon light and checked into the Shoreham Inn. Charming, comfortable, idiosyncratic with a touch of twee, lacking any pretension, it is lovingly operated by Elizabeth and Andrew Done. We strolled around Shoreham at dusk past the solid red brick Congregational Church where I was baptized. This is not gentrified Vermont á la Woodstock or Manchester. It is a main street of repurposed storefronts, modest houses, vinyl siding and aluminum window replacements. The inn’s pub was busy however and our dinner, simple and delicious, ending with a strawberry pie with berries from down the street, and a heap of fresh whipped cream.
The next morning was another fabulous sunny day. We went off to explore Mount Independence, a site I confess to being clueless about before reading Echo in the Bone. Three of four Continental battalions were stationed there, on the east side of the lake. The rise that was treeless in 1777 is now dense forest and peppered with subtle vestiges of its history. A short hike took us past markers that tried to make sense of a mound of earth or pile of rocks or small clearing. The visitors’ center has an elaborate installation that illuminates and confuses equally. It’s such an irony that my knowledge and excitement about this place comes from reading fiction. I bought a biography of Benedict Arnold’s wife. There are too few women in 18thcentury history. Both Arnold and his wife Peggy Shippen make appearances in Echo in the Bone.
One thing leads to another and next we know we are winding down shimmering back roads toward the Hubbarton Battlefield, fifteen miles south of Mount Independence. A real advantage of chasing history is the gorgeous scenery along these rural roads in between sites. The rear guard of the retreating rebels, with the storied Green Mountain Boys clashed here with the pursuing redcoats on July 7, 1777, delaying the British and giving the main American army time to make tracks to safety.
By now, ready for a late lunch, we stumble on Roxie’s, a food truck in Castleton, Vermont. Naturally I fall victim to their famous best-in-Vermont French fries and other unmentionables. (Hot dogs, if you must know!) We are now ready for more back roads and a hunt for ancestral cemeteries. More on that in a week.