Resource for Historians, Educators, Students and Visitors since 1997
Aerial photo courtesy of Frederic Chase
The Narrows of Lake George
(click for map)
By James P. Millard
Thomas Jefferson called it "...the most beautiful water I ever saw."1 Through the stunning passageway of the Narrows have traveled a host of individuals storied in American history- Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison to name but a few. Long before the coming of the first Europeans, the waterway had been an important transportation corridor for Native Americans- Kanyataro'kte' 2, it was called by the Iroquois. With the arrival of the Europeans, the beautiful route up the lake quickly became a vital passage for the newcomers as well.
As early as 1646, the Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was traveling the pristine waters of the lake through these Narrows. Jogues himself would give the lake its first European name- Lac du Saint Sacrement. This name was to stay for over 100 years, till it again was changed- reflecting the often-changing political scene on the continent during this time of ferment and conflict. In 1755, Sir William Johnson renamed the lake for his sovereign- George II. Despite efforts to change the name yet again, the waterway remains Lake George to this day.
Today the Narrows is traveled exclusively by pleasure boaters- the mountainsides echo the sounds and laughter of tourists, fishermen and an occasional adventurer. And yet, a study of travelers through this beautiful passage tells us a far different story- the story of a different time, when the lake was a different place. This tale is the story of America...
Travelers through the Narrows of Lake George...
?-19th Century. Native Americans utilize the passage through the impenetrable wilderness for commerce and warfare.
c. 1642. Iroquois war parties travel up the lake through the Narrows enroute to French settlements along the Richelieu and St. Lawrence.
c. 1646. Jesuit Missionary Isaac Jogues travels the Narrows on his mission to the Mohawk. He is later martyred at their hands and is later canonized a saint by the Church.
Spring/Fall 1666. French raiding parties several hundred strong travel through the Narrows to destroy Mohawk villages in territory claimed by the British.
July 1688. Some 1300 Mohawk warriors paddle north through the passage. Their journey will culminate in the LaChine Raid on French Canada.
February 1690. 210 French and Indian raiders pass through the Narrows. Their goal is the surprise and destruction of Schenectady.
January 1693. Yet another French force advances through the passage to raid Schenectady.
October 1749. Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm travels and writes of his trip through the Narrows during his "Travels in North America."
1754-1759. Rogers' Rangers, Continental Militia and British Regulars regularly travel the Narrows on missions for His Britannic Majesty. At the same time, French war parties, comprised of Regulars, Canadian volunteers, and Natives allied with France pass through the Narrows intent upon the same.
March 1757. 1500 French and Indians advance through the passageway in a failed attempt to evict the British from their new fortress- William Henry.
August 1757. Some 8,000 French Regulars, Militia and Indians under the Marquis de Montcalm travel pass through the narrow waterway. The undertaking will culminate in the the defeat of the British at the storied Battle of Fort William Henry.
July 1758. An expeditionary force of 15,000 British Regulars, Rangers and Continental Militia under General James Abercrombie advance on Ticonderoga through the Narrows. Their object is the French Fortress at Ticonderoga. They suffer a stunning defeat at the hands of a much smaller French force. Within days, the humiliated army returns to William Henry.
July 1759. Another enormous army advances north through the strait. General Jeffrey Amherst will succeed where Abercrombie did not. The French will abandon their works at Carillon and St. Frederic (Crown Point) and retreat into Canada.
April 1776. After a period of relative peace in the region following the defeat of the French, war has again come to the beautiful lakes. A delegation from the Continental Congress composed of three distinguished statesmen- Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll, travels up Lake George, through the Narrows to Canada in an attempt to encourage Canadians to the side of the American rebels.
1776-1783. British forces and American Rebels regularly traveled up and down the lake on missions in support of their respective sides during the American Revolution.
July 1783. George Washington visits Fort George at the southern end of the lake then travels up through the Narrows to inspect the works at Ticonderoga and Crown Point.
May 1791. Thomas Jefferson travels up the lake to Lake Champlain. While advancing all the way up Lake George, he only sees a small part of Champlain.
There were others who ventured through this mountain passage, wayfarers on the only route through the formidable Adirondack range. Their names have been to a large extent lost to history... The Narrows stands today, very much the same as it did then. Awesome in its beauty- a narrow jewel of water, placed by nature, or the hand of God if you will, between the towering mountains.
1 Sarah N. Randolph, "The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson" (Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, 1871) 201
2 Floyd G. Lounsbury: Iroquois Place-Names in the Champlain Valley. State University of New York, Albany. 1972. Our thanks to Mr. Peter Viechnicki of Silver Spring, MD for bringing the correct form of the name to our attention.
*America's Historic Lakes is grateful to Frederic Chase for his contribution of the aerial photo of the Narrows.
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