During the seventeenth century, colonial soldiers defended an increasing number of territorial claims and European settlements in the hinterlands of the Upper Hudson and lower Lake Champlain. Navigable waterways became important military routes. Men and materiel could be moved much faster by boat than overland through the untamed countryside.
French & Indian Wars
European wars repeatedly manifested themselves in territorial conflicts on the North American continent. King William’s War (1689-1697) Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713) King George’s War (1744-1748) and the North American phase of the Seven Years War, known as the French and Indian War (1754-1763) brought raiding parties—French and their Huron allies versus the English and the Iroquois—across the Champlain Valley and deep into the Upper Hudson region. During this era of conflict, a series of British forts, blockhouses, encampments and trading outposts were strung out along the road from Albany to the St. Lawrence, at the north end of Lake Champlain.
By the terms of the treaty ending the French and Indian War, the French were expelled from North America in 1763. English dominion in Canada, New York and the New England Colonies led to the rapid settlement of the former frontier. Philip Schuyler began rebuilding his family’s country estate at Saratoga (Schuylerville) in 1760. Construction of the Knickerbocker Mansion, also on the frontier in Schaghticoke, was finally undertaken in earnest beginning in 1770.
The American Revolution
Within a generation of the English fight to dominate North America, the American colonists rose up in revolution against the Crown. The Hudson-Champlain corridor was a central theatre of the early years of the American Revolutionary War.
1777: British Offensive and American Victory
The Hudson River was seen as a critical military and trade highway that the British would have to secure to ensure victory. General John Burgoyne devised a plan to sweep southward from Quebec through the Champlain Valley, crossing present-day Washington County along the path of modern Route 4 and the Champlain Canal, and onward to Albany. He planned to meet at Albany with other British forces moving up from the south and a third column marching east from Lake Ontario and down the Mohawk Valley in an attempt to cut off New England from New York and the mid-Atlantic After victoriously reclaiming Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga for the English in the early summer of 1777, Burgoyne was bogged down at Skenesborough (now Whitehall) and Fort Ann as his army labored to build a road southward through horrendous obstacles. After a battle at Fort Anne (Fort Ann) on July 8, 1777,retreating Patriot forces burned the fort. Burgoyne continued his march southward along what is today Route 4, arriving in Fort Edward by the end of July, where he was further delayed awaiting supplies.
Bennington: August 14 and 16, 1777
“myself and Brother John was preserved through a very hot battel . . . we marcht Rite against there brest work with our Small armes. . . .”
Joseph Rudd, American militia, Bennington, in a letter written August 26, 1777
The Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site near Hoosick Falls, New York, preserves the battlefield and commemorates the Battles of Sancoick and Walloomsac of August 14 and 16, 1777. During Burgoyne’s advance south over the summer of 1777, British regulars, loyalists, German soldiers and Native Americans under Colonel Friedrich Baum, acting on intelligence about a stockpile of supplies and horses in Bennington, pushed south from Cambridge to try to capture the cache. The American militia commanded by General John Stark defeated the British forces in a heated battle involving hand-to-hand combat on the Hoosick hillside. The battle, weeks before the Battles of Saratoga, is credited with weakening British forces by depriving them of needed supplies, thus contributing to American success at Saratoga.
Saratoga, Turning Point of the American Revolution: September 19, October 7 and October 17, 1777
After marching south from Fort Edward along the east bank of the Hudson River, Burgoyne’s army crossed to the west side of the river just north of the present-day Dix Bridge. Days before, the Army of the United States commanded by General Horatio Gates moved to Bemis Heights, about nine miles south of Philip Schuyler’s farm at Saratoga, with the intent of constructing substantial defenses to prevent the British from marching south to Albany.
The two armies met in the early afternoon of September 19, 1777, engaging in farm fields a mile north of Bemis Heights. The fight, the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, ended in a tactical British victory. A second battle on October 7, 1777, known as the Battle of Bemis Heights, ended in a decisive American victory.
Following the second battle, the British retreated north toward Schuyler’s farm at Saratoga (now Schuylerville), where they were prevented from retreating north or advancing south. Burgoyne—overwhelmed by the superior American forces and running low on food, surrendered near Fort Hardy in present-day Schuylerville, on October 17, 1777. The American victory at Saratoga is considered the turning point of the American Revolutionary War. This victory convinced the French to recognize American independence and to join in an alliance against the British.