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The Secrets of Crab Island:
After a brief period of relative peace on the lakes after the end of the French and Indian War, conflict returned to the waterways. No longer were the American colonists concerned about France as an enemy. This time, Britain herself would become the chief antagonist. The strategic importance of the Richelieu/Champlain/Lake George corridor would again weigh heavily in this conflict.
By 1775 open rebellion had erupted in New England. Lake Champlain was the scene of some of the first major incidents of the Revolution. On May 10, Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold and the Green Mountain Boys seized Ticonderoga in a daring raid. The following day Seth Warner and Remember Baker captured the token British force at Crown Point. With one stroke, the weak British presence on Lake Champlain had been eliminated. Caught unaware, the Crown had left open an invasion route to Canada. The rebels would soon exploit this opening.
Crab Island, probably still known by the name given it by the French- St. Michel, lay along the route of one major military expedition after another. It is not believed the island itself played a key role during the Revolution, but the immediate area, especially the larger island to the south- storied Valcour Island, was to play a role the significance of which is still being discovered to this day.
In late August, early September, an American invasion force under General Richard Montgomery moved north up the lake. A parallel force sets out through the wilderness of Maine. Their intention was to take the key British outposts of Montreal and Quebec. As it had so many times previously, the island of St. Michel witnessed hundreds of batteaux laden with men and munitions en route to war.
In April 1776, a boat carrying Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll passes the island enroute to Montreal to negotiate with the Canadians. Their efforts fail, along with the invasion itself. By June of 1776 the plucky American invasion force is engaged in a miserable retreat south up the lake from Canada. Hundreds of batteaux, laden with the ragged, sick and wounded remnants of Montgomery's army retreat towards the forts at Crown Point and Ticonderoga. It is a time of unspeakable misery for the Americans on the lake. They leave behind hundreds of their colleagues in unmarked graves at places such as Isle aux Noix and Isle aux Tętes and Isle la Motte. It is possible some were left behind at Isle St. Michel. We do not know for sure... possibly another of Crab Island's secrets. With their sorrowful journey south, goes any hope of uniting North America as one against British rule.
The summer of 1776 was spent fortifying the important outposts at Crown Point and Ticonderoga. Both sides were engaged in constructing fleets with which each hoped to gain control of the lake. These fleets would clash in an epic battle just south of Crab Island at Valcour.
The British drive south up the lake
The morning of October 11, 1776 saw an enormous British flotilla round Cumberland Head, pass Crab Island and continue to the south. A detailed account of the battle that ensued is discussed in detail elsewhere on the site. The vicinity of Crab Island was the scene of a truly pivotal exchange- one that played a crucial war in the history of the Revolution. The British won what was to prove to be a rather hollow victory at Valcour, the battle was carried south past Split Rock to Ferris's Bay. Seeing the mighty fortifications at Ticonderoga and Mt. Independence, Carleton turned his fleet around and returned to Canada for the winter. Several months later another mighty armada would travel south past Crab Island.
On June 13, 1777, an awesome military force left St. Johns on the Richelieu for an expedition up Lake Champlain. Their objective was nothing less than the splitting of New England from the rest of the colonies. By June 16th, Burgoyne's mighty army was encamped just north of Crab Island on the large peninsula known as Cumberland Head. The massive force consisted of
Accompanying these large vessels were hundreds of batteaux and long-boats carrying thousands of troops.
We know that Burgoyne's mighty force sailed south to ultimate defeat at Saratoga. With this loss came the beginning of the end for His Majesty's forces in New England. Ultimately, the American rebels emerged victorious, and events upon Lake Champlain and Lake George were to prove key to the resolution of this latest contest in North America. A new nation was the result.
‡ James Hadden. Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books: A Journal Kept in Canada and Upon Burgoyne's Campaign in 1776 and 1777, by Lieut. James M. Hadden, Roy. Art. Edited by Horatio Rogers. (Albany: Joel Munsell's Sons, 1884)
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