At the southernmost tip of the Town of Fort Edward is the Hamlet of Fort Miller. The Hamlet takes its name from the 1709 and 1755 fortifications on the opposite side of the river, which protected a portage north of the mouth of the Batten Kill and what is known as the “Little Carrying Place.” Fort Miller was an important supply link to Forts Edward and George, but at the conclusion of the French and Indian Wars the fortifications fell into disuse with French Canada under British control. Soon soldiers, entrepreneurs and adventurers began settling the land, and exploiting the regions rich resources.
William Duer was the son of a successful West Indian Planter, and had originally come to the upper-Hudson to secure lumber for his family’s Caribbean plantations. Encouraged by Philip Schuyler, Duer purchased 1,300 acres from members of the Bayard family and established a settlement in what would become the Hamlet of Fort Miller. Duer realized the potential of the region’s vast resources, and quickly constructed saw and grist mills, a warehouse and a store. In 1773, Duer went to England and returned with a contract to supply the Royal Navy with timber for ship masts.
Duer would serve on the Provincial Congress, and was appointed as justice in the newly formed Charlotte County in 1773. At the outbreak of hostilities during the American Revolution, Duer found himself between the Loyalist Col. Phillip Skene (of today’s Whitehall) and Gen. Phillip Schuyler (of Saratoga), who commanded the Continental Army’s Northern Department. Duer found that he had more in common with the colonists, and was appointed the duty of commissary and as a delegate to the Continental Congress.
In July 1777, Lieut. General John Burgoyne had forced St. Leger to retreat from Forts Ticonderoga and Independence under the cover of darkness, and then wasted precious time pursuing the retreating colonists over land, rather than sailing down Lake George. When Burgoyne reaches Fort Edward, he has reached the extent of his supply line, and has cause for concern as he approaches General Horatio Gates at Saratoga. The vanguard of Burgoyne’s army is the first to arrive at the Hamlet, and diarist Julius Wasmus, a Brunswick Surgeon, marvels at Duer’s mansion, which sits above their camp about 300 miles from the Hudson River.
“I looked at the beautiful building … which could be called a small castle, and wondered what such a beautiful building could be doing in this wilderness”
On August 11, 1777, Burgoyne first arrives at Fort Miller. The cause for his arrival is to deliver a revised order to German Lieut. Col. Friedrich Baum, which changes the object of his expedition from Arlington, VT., to Bennington, VT. Burgoyne takes up headquarters in Duer’s mansion, while he awaits the much needed provisions. Lieut. William Digby records his experience:
We moved into a camp at Fort Miller, actually to the left (east) of it onto two heights close together near Duer’s House, in which General Burgoyne had his headquarters. This was the first house built in good taste that we had seen for a long time. It consisted of two stories and was covered with an Italian roof; a pavilion was built on each side of it in which were the kitchen and pantries; by means of a covered gallery, they were connected with the main building. This house was considerable damaged as to its doors and windows and devoid of all its furniture. Its owner is a member of Congress and holds the office of commissary of the enemy army.
Colonel Specht records what he sees of the old fortifications opposite the river:
“The so-called Fort Miller lies on that side of the river and had once consisted of two other buildings: a blockhouse, surrounded by palisades and a magazine. Some time ago, it served as a depot for victuals and war necessities when the Forts Edward and George had to be occupied by English Detachments to preserve these parts against an attack by the Savages. These fort have not been occupied for a long time, this post has gone almost completely to ruin and hardly any traces of its previous palisades can be seen.”
If you look across the Hudson River at the point where Fort Miller Road and N. River Road converge remnants of the fortifications glacis, a low-graded artificial slope of earth, which is the only remains of the old fort.
Burgoyne is staging his army for an attack on the American position at Saratoga on August 14 when he receives a note from Baum and learns that reinforcements are necessary. He sends Breymann Corps to assist Baum, but weather delays him, he arrives too late and is forced to retreat. From here, Burgoyne crosses the Hudson by way of a bridge of boats, near where the Dix Bridge enters Hudson Crossing Park.
Following the Revolutionary War, the landscape around Fort Miller was drastically changed by the construction of the Champlain Canal. Sidecuts were formed in the landscape to circumvent natural obstacles, creating the artificial “Island of Fort Miller.” On the east side of Route 4, remnants of the original canal still exist. On the west side of Route 4, three bridges span the canal. Fort Miller is now an important destination near Lock 6 of the Champlain Canal.