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French and Indian War Returns to Fort Ontario

Submitted article

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The annual encampment of the French and Indian War will again take place at Fort Ontario State Historic Site on Saturday August 23 from 10 AM to 4:30 PM, and Sunday August 24 from 10 AM to 3 PM.  The sights, sounds, and smells of camp and garrison life will greet visitors as they visit camps of British, French and native American troops and warriors who fought each other on these ground in the 1750’s.

A special treat is in store for kids at the fort as Shari Crawford, early American activities specialist and teacher, will present her 18th Century Toys and Games program during public hours on Saturday and until 4 PM on Sunday.  Some of the toys and games include stilts, trundling hoops, two-balls, bat & trap, shinny, marbles, cups and balls, skittles, and quoits.  Crawford has conducted this and other programs for adults and children such as Open Fire Cooking, Clothing and Laundry, and English Country Dance at historic sites, schools, scout camps, and adult day camps around New York.  A member of the Brigade of the American Revolution, Crawford has published articles on many aspects of 18th century life (www.18thcenturytoysandgames.com).

Oswego was once the scene of international rivalry between the French and British, and the location of one of the most important trading posts in North America.  Sometimes up to 300 traders operated out of Oswego with their own semi-permanent village of 70 log huts, situated in the vicinity of what is now Water Street.  The first Fort Ontario was built in 1755 and was a simple eight-pointed wooden stockade.  Along with Fort Oswego (built 1727) and Fort George (built 1755), these lonely outposts of the British lost about 400 men or half of their garrisons to disease, starvation and exposure during the terrible winter of 1755-56.  Reinforced in the spring, the British and colonial troops were constantly harassed by scalping parties of Canadians and Indians.  Most of these attacks originated from a secret advance French base established at “Cabin Cove”, today’s Sunset Bay.  Fort Ontario was attacked by the French and Indians in May and June but held out.

In a massive attack in August, 1756, the French commander-in-chief, the Marquis de Montcalm led 4000 troops and Indians and along with more than 25 pieces of heavy artillery, managed to get ashore at Baldwin’s Bay without detection.  Quickly siege operations began against Fort Ontario which fell on Friday the13th.  After British commander Colonel James Mercer was cut in two by a cannonball, the other two forts quickly surrendered.  All three forts were destroyed, the trader’s village leveled, and a new British fleet taken.  Of the 1700 prisoners 100 to 150 were massacred and scalped by the natives and Canadian militia who had broken into the rum supply.

In 1758, Colonel John Bradstreet returned with 2000 colonial troops and used Oswego as his launching point in his successful campaign to take Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ontario).  A large victory cross erected by Montcalm’s troops two years earlier was chopped down by Iroquois warriors.  A replica of that cross may be seen today overlooking the lake near the parking area.  This highly important campaign was a decisive blow to the French who found their supply lines cut off to the western posts, and helped to turn the war in favor of the British.  At 3 PM on Saturday, historian George Bray will host a seminar on Bradstreet and the campaign of 1758 in commoration of its 250th anniversary.

The second Fort Ontario was built in 1759 by General Thomas Gage, the earthworks of which still exist today.  In 1760 General Jeffery Amherst and over 12000 troops encamped here, and prepared for the final offensive against Canada resulting in the capture of Montreal.  Oswego was also the setting for much of James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novel “The Pathfinder”.

On both days military drills, ceremonies, cooking, sewing and other living history demonstrations will be held at the old fort.  Regular admission prices will be charged, children 12 years of age and current members of the Friends of Fort Ontario will be admitted free.  Fort Ontario State Historic Site is one of six historic sites and eighteen parks in the Central Region administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Carol Ash – Commissioner.  For more information on NYS Parks visit the agency website at www.nysparks.com or www.fortontario.com  for additional information on the event call Richard LaCrosse at (315) 343-4711.