Human habitation in the Lake Champlain valley began as early as 10,000-12,000 years ago, after the glacial waters receded. In 1609 Frenchman Samuel de Champlain became the first known European to enter what he named Lake Champlain. He traveled south on the lake at least as far as what is now Chimney Point in Addison, Vermont, and Crown Point, New York, if not further south to what is now named Ticonderoga, New York. He made notes on the region and its inhabitants, and surveyed the physical attributes and resources, using the information to create maps. He observed “several rivers flowing into the lake, on whose banks are many fine trees of the same varieties we have in France, with many of the finest vines I had seen anywhere. There are many chestnut trees which I had only seen on the shore of this lake, in which there is also a great abundance of many species of fish” (Russell Bellico, Chronicles of Lake Champlain: Journeys in War and Peace (Fleischmanns, N.Y.: Purple Mountain Press, 1999), p.36).
Reports from the travels of Champlain and others excited European interest in the Champlain valley area. The countries of France and Great Britain struggled for control of the region and its plentiful natural resources. The Europeans traded with the native people for furs, as trapping in Europe had depleted many wild animal populations and beaver pelts were prized for making fashionable hats.
Europeans also brought with them conflict and new diseases, for which the original inhabitants had no resistance. From the early 1600s until the 1760s, the area around the lake was in the path of numerous French and English expeditions and military operations, disrupting and changing forever the way of life of the native peoples.
The French, who were based in Canada, and the English based in New York to the south, worked to claim vast areas of land all over the northeast and west to the Great Lakes. Lake Champlain was a transportation corridor for trade, military, and diplomatic activities for both the Europeans and native peoples. Securing the region was a slow process, limited by the difficulties of recruiting people in their countries of origin and the problems of transport on small vessels.
By the 1640s, the French had trading posts near the mouths of the Winooski River and Otter Creek in what would become Vermont. In 1666 Captain Pierre La Motte built the first fort on the lake, on what is now Isle La Motte, Vermont, as part of a line of French forts along the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain as a defense against the Iroquois and to protect trade routes. The French used Fort St. Anne (on the site of today’s St. Anne’s Shrine) for about five years.
In 1690 the British governor of New York sent Captain Jacobus de Warm, a Dutchman, from Albany north to what is now Chimney Point, Vermont, to watch the French on Lake Champlain and engage them as enemies if possible. It is thought he built a small, temporary, stone defense, where he, 20 Mohawks, and 17 soldiers stayed for about a month.
In the late 1600s and early 1700s the English granted land tracts for development at the south end of the lake, but most early settlement was unsuccessful.
France and England signed the Treaty of Utrecht in 1711, settling many property and boundary issues in Europe and the “New World.” In the Champlain Valley, the dividing line between English territory and New France was settled upon as Split Rock, near what is now Westport, New York, and Basin Harbor in Ferrisburgh, Vermont. Because waterways were the easiest routes for travel, whoever controlled Lake Champlain controlled the region. In 1731 the French became concerned about English entering the lake for trade and control. That year they built, well to the south of Split Rock, a wooden stockade of posts (fort de pieux) on the bluff at Chimney Point, Vermont, at one of the narrowest points on the lake. For the French this was the simplest way with limited resources to control the lake and keep out the English. The British were greatly angered, as they felt this violated the Treaty of Utrecht and also blocked their travel on Lake Champlain north to Canada.
The stockade fort at Chimney Point measured about 100 feet by 100 feet. It had chambers for the commandant, a chaplain, and the guard, and a kitchen, bakery, and storehouse. There was room for 30 soldiers and over the first winter of 1731-32 it was garrisoned by 20 soldiers. This was the start of long-term French settlement of the Champlain Valley. Because of the topography of rounded mounds, the French called the area Point-à-la-Chevelure or Crown Point. The word “crown” refers to the shape of the top of one’s head—a crown—not to royalty.
Starting in 1733 King Louis XV of France granted large land tracts (seigneuries), along the lake and in 1734 France began construction of a more permanent stone fort, St. Frédéric, opposite Chimney Point, in what is now New York.
Most of the land tracts were returned to King Louis XV in 1741 after the grantees did not succeed in land development. In 1743 the king tried again and granted to Gilles Hocquart, the intendant (presiding officer) of New France, a large seigneury of about 115,000 acres on the lake’s east (Vermont) side to encourage permanent domestic settlement. Settlers (habitants) were given long narrow tracts of land (rotures), which bordered the lake for ease of travel and safety reasons, to build their houses and farms. They cleared land up to three or four miles north of Fort St. Frédéric and started farms, planting fruit trees, berries, and gardens, and fields with grains and peas. As an incentive from the King of France, they were able to procure some supplies and livestock from Fort St. Frédéric.
This area became one of the frontiers of New France. By 1753, when Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm traveled through the region, he observed that there were 21 houses on the east side of the lake and 19 on the west side. Another small French settlement was started near the mouth of the Missisquoi River.
During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the struggle between the French and British intensified. In the summer of 1759, as British Major General Jeffery Amherst and his army advanced northward from Albany, New York, the French on Lake Champlain decided to retreat to Canada. They destroyed Fort Carillon (renamed Fort Ticonderoga by the British) and Fort St. Frédéric, and burned all their houses on both sides of the lake around the fort. All that remained were the house chimneys and a new name for the eastern side of the lake—Chimney Point. In 2009-2010, archaeologists working on the Lake Champlain Bridge project uncovered what likely is the chimney base for the 1731 French fort bakery. It is in the same location as “the chimney” marked on a c.1760 British map (of Chimney Point).
British control of what had been an important frontier of New France began. Amherst built a large new stone fort at Crown Point in 1759 and ordered the completion of the military road across Vermont that connected Crown Point to Fort No. 4 on the Connecticut River at what is now Charlestown, New Hampshire. The Crown Point Military Road was the first major cleared land trail into the area. After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763 to end the French and Indian War, a new era of travel and settlement in the region began.
To learn more read Lake Champlain Voyages of Discovery - Bringing History Home
|9,000 BC - Present||Native American occupation of Champlain Valley.|
|1534||Jacques Cartier explores St. Lawrence River Valley.|
|1609||Samuel de Champlain enters Lake Champlain.|
|1666||French build Fort St. Anne on Isle la Motte (1st French occupation & 1st fort on Lake Champlain).|
|1690||Stone defense built at Chimney Point, VT, for English to watch French on the lake.|
|1731||French build a wooden stockade fort at Chimney Point; start of long-term French settlement in Champlain Valley.|
|1734||French build permanent stone fort (St. Frédéric) at Crown Point, NY.|
|1743||King Louis XV of France grants 115,000 acres around Chimney Point to Gilles Hocquart to encourage permanent domestic French settlement in Champlain Valley.|
|1759||French abandon Fort St. Frédéric and settlement around the fort British oust French in valley, capturing Carillon (Fort Ticonderoga) British build new fort at Crown PointBritish build new military road across Vermont from Crown Point, NY, to Charlestown, NH.|
|1761||Gov. Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire begins granting towns in what would become Vermont .|
|1763||Treaty of Paris ends the French and Indian War.|