Fort William Henry fell to French forces 260 years ago this month. For six days, fort defenders fought an artillery siege that left them short on supplies and ammunition. Most of the fort’s artillery exploded from overuse and hoped-for reinforcements from Fort Edward never arrived. British Colonel Monro surrendered the Fort to the Marquis de Montcalm on Aug. 9, 1757. To commemorate the event, several hundred French and Indian War reenactors gathered in Lake George to reenact the siege and surrender of Fort William Henry.
The weekend-long series of reenactments included a parlay between the two camps, with the French seeking a surrender before attacking the fort and its entrenched camp, a continuous siege of the fort, skirmishes and a surrender ceremony. The French set up their camp on the Festival Commons at Charles R. Wood Park. The British camped in Battlefield Park. The two camps were separated by West Brook. Camps were open to the public on both days giving 2017 a chance to meet 1757. Camp visitors were treated to demonstrations of military camp life, which included a sutler’s market selling clothing, baked goods, pottery, tin goods and other essentials.
The final skirmish came Sunday afternoon. The Fort had been turned over to the French and the British began to form a column to make the march to Fort Edward, 16 miles to the South. Under the terms of surrender, defenders of the fort were to be given safe passage to their fort on the Hudson River. French forces served as escorts; However, they were unable to stop their Native American allies from attacking the column.
The Native Americans were promised the spoils of war as payment for leaving their homes and fighting with the French. Under the surrender terms, the British were allowed to leave with their personal belongings. The supplies in the fort became the property of the French. This left no booty for the Warriors. The Indians felt cheated and were angry.
The ‘massacre’ that ensued became a sensitive political issue for the remainder of the war as many viewed Montcalm’s failure to protect the British as a violation of surrender terms. Sensationalized accounts of the attack after surrender spread across the colonies and affected attitudes towards Native Americans over the next century. The massacre at Fort William Henry was a climatic event in James Fenimore Cooper’s popular novel, “The Last of the Mohicans.”