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Guest Contributors...                   James G. Bailey*

by James G. Bailey

As the century drew to a close, a persistent campaign by Plattsburgh area citizens finally convinced the government to acquire Crab Island to protect and honor the still-unmarked graves of American and British sailors killed in the September 11, 1814 naval battle which helped to decide the outcome of the War of 1812.
   Now, history students, comes the quiz.  Which century closing--the 19th or the 20th?
   Here is the story behind the paradoxical answer, "both."
   Samuel de Champlain was the first white man to see Crab Island, on his July 1609 paddle up the lake to which he gave his name.  It was either he or another of the subsequent French explorers, missionaries, and soldiers who gave the island its first name, St. Michael.  This name appears on the more detailed French maps of the lake, though not on Champlain's own map.


Gradually the name Crab appeared on English maps, either replacing St. Michael or, as in Willsborough pioneer William Gilliland's journal of 1765, together with it.  "The peculiar name ... is evidently derived from the fact the limestone rocks around the shore swarm with a species of mollusk which a casual observer might easily mistake for crabs," notes the writer of a Sept. 22, 1877 Plattsburgh Republican article on the island.
   The earliest record of visitation to Crab Island is a nine-page "Field Book and Maps of the Island of Valeur, Crab Island, and Schuyler's Island" by Jonas Addoms, pursuant to a warrant from the Surveyor General of New York State to Zephaniah Platt.  The letters patent in the State Archives are dated Feb. 28, 1787.  The island's transfer away from Platt does not seem to be recorded.  But in Clinton County's deed book E is the record of sale made March 16, 1810 by William Bailey and Benjamin Mooers to Caleb

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*Republished with permission of the author and the Clinton County Historical Association. This article originally appeared in The Antiquarian: Fall 1988. America's Historic Lakes is grateful to the Association, James Bailey, John Tomkins III and Roger Harwood for their efforts in making this article available. To learn more about the author, click here.

Other Crab Island related links on America's Historic Lakes:

The Secrets of Crab Island by James P. Millard

The Battle of Plattsburgh- The War of 1812 on Lake Champlain

Dr. James Mann's account of the Battle of Plattsburgh

Return of killed and wounded on board the United States squadron on Lake Champlain, in the engagement with the British fleet, on the 11th of September, 1814 - official listing of American losses from the naval engagement.

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