My name is Lt. Col. Jeduthan Baldwin and I was the Chief Engineer of the American Northern Army during the American Revolutionary War. I’ve traveled from the 18th century to the 21st century to see what’s happened with the fortification I designed on Rattle Snake Hill in Orwell. Perhaps you’ve sensed me here? I understand thousands of visitors come to the site and have perceived the presence of the spirits of some of the 12,000 people who were here in 1776 and 1777. Open your mind and you too may experience a special feeling that many of us have lingered.
In the early years of the American Revolution to free the Colonies from British rule, the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia was concerned that the British would launch an invasion on the Colonies from Canada and head south on Lake Champlain. The British plan was to cut the New England colonies off from the other rebelling colonies and quickly end the revolution. After Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured the old French fort at Ticonderoga, John Trumbull and I scouted the area to plan how to defend the Colonies. We discovered a rocky peninsula known as Rattle Snake Hill on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. It was strategically positioned directly across the lake from the old crumbling French fort at Ticonderoga and could be developed as a military cantonment facing north towards Canada. After receiving approval from the Continental Congress and General George Washington, my work began to design and oversee the construction of a fortification that was to become one of the largest fort complexes built by the American Colonial forces.
Have you walked along the trails and seen the Citadel along the shore of Lake Champlain? The remains of this impressive shore battery and the horseshoe shaped battery I designed to protect the Colonies from a British invasion are still here as I had built them in 1776! The heavy cast iron cannons are long gone but if you lay on the mown grass behind the shore battery and look through the shaped slots pretending to be a cannon you can understand the strategic significance of the shore battery. I also designed and had constructed the horseshoe shaped battery overlooking the shore battery as a second line of defense. From this battery, which we called “The Citadel”, you can have a commanding view north on Lake Champlain and across the lake to Ticonderoga. If you go into the museum you’ll find one of the cannons formerly at Mount Independence. Did you know that cannon was cast in Scotland? Why do you think it ended up here at Mount Independence? And can you figure out how it got into the museum? Modern day historians have unraveled this exciting story.
Walk the trails designed to pass by the remains of this 300 acre Revolutionary War fortification. Have you ever seen a block house? You can see many of the foundations for the various structures I had built by the soldiers. Do you know why only foundations can be seen today?
There was a hospital at Mount Independence; can you find it on one of the trails? It was an impressive two-story structure, 250 feet long and 25 feet wide with the capacity of 600 beds. We even built a bridge to connect Mount Independence to the old French fort at Ticonderoga. The bridge across the lake was 700 feet long! In the museum you will find one of the log cribbings used to anchor this engineering wonder. Building Independence and becoming independent was quite an undertaking but look at where we are today!
The museum was constructed long after I was gone. The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation had it designed to resemble a bateau like those which sailed on the lake during the war. It’s an amazing building which is seen as you approach the historic site and disappears when you begin your exploration of the site and its landscape. Inside the museum there is much for you to discover and to understand the importance of Mount Independence and how our independence was won. Come, stroll, walk, run, roll down the hillside, wade in the lake and have fun learning about our shared heritage.