Unfolding the Map
We pass through Hague and stop at Ticonderoga, New York because and wait for a ferry with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM). While LHM tells us about Fort Ticonderoga, we notice a mistake and that leads to a large post, below, about the fort, the French and the relationship between France and the U.S. To see the area that Hague and Ticonderoga occupy, storm the map.
"Route 8 dropped out of the Adirondacks to Lake George, the way lined with resort homes and summer camps that advertise in the back pages of the New York Times Magazine. At Hague, I turned north and followed the water up a narrow valley to Ticonderoga and cut through town to the shore of Lake Champlain where, under the dark brow of the fort built by the British against French and Indian raids, I waited for the ferry."
Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 7
Hague and Ticonderoga, New York
What do "freedom fries" and this area of New York have in common? In this post I'll try to draw a narrative that links them.
But first, I feel compelled to note that LHM, in his quote above, made a mistake. It's a minor mistake, but those who read Blue Highways might go away from the book thinking that the British built the fort for which the town of Ticonderoga is named. In fact, the French built the fort. It was eventually taken by the British, and then later still fell into the possession of the Americans. Originally called Fort Carillon and finished in 1757 at a strategic point on Lake Champlain, the fort allowed about 4,000 French defenders to turn back 16,000 British troops in a major battle during the Seven Years War (more commonly known in the US as the French and Indian War). The British eventually gained the fort in 1759 and renamed it Fort Ticonderoga. During the Revolutionary War, the fort changed hands a few times before the U.S. was able to defend its independence. By 1781, the fort's usefulness had declined, and it fell into ruin before being restored in the 20th century as a site of historical and tourist interest.
That mistake aside (and who of us hasn't made mistakes?) the fort has figured directly in American history, and also in literature. I've referred before to James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, which is set in this area. Fort Ticonderoga is part of a string of forts, including Fort William Henry which lies south on the southern end of Lake George, and Fort Edward which lies a bit further south of Fort William Henry. In the French and Indian War, a large contingent of French based in Fort Carillon (now Ticonderoga) attacked the British at Fort William Henry, who appealed for help from Fort Edward. Upon receiving news that no reinforcements would come, the British negotiated a surrender to the French, who offered them safe passage out of the fort on the conditions that their weapons remain unloaded, that British combatants refrain from fighting in the war for 18 months, and that French prisoners of war be freed. Unfortunately, the news either did not reach or was not understood by the Native American allies of the French, who attacked the British column as it left the fort. Some French officers and troops tried to the protect the British but before the British were able to flee some 200 or so people, including women and children, were killed. The battle and its aftermath are one of the key plot points in The Last of the Mohicans.
We don't hear a lot in American history about the French and their activities in North America before and after the U.S. gained independence. Unfortunately, U.S. public opinion about the French in our time in history often rests upon certain political differences and stereotyping. The French and Americans have tended to be squabbling allies. But modern sentiments obscure what seems to me to be an important historical fact: France and the United States are inextricably linked and I don't think that either would have existed in their modern forms without the other. And, lest we forget, France as a nation and many important French individuals have been staunch supporters of the U.S. democratic experiment.
Why are we inextricably linked with France? First, French explorers, like Spanish explorers, paved the way for the U.S.'s own acquisition and subsequent exploration of the interior of North America. French explorers, through their wanderings, were the first Europeans to set eyes on many of America's geographical wonders. These explorers included Jacques Cartier, the first European to see the St. Lawrence River; Samuel de Champlain, who explored much of the Great Lakes and New England; Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, the first Europeans to see the Mississippi River - they sailed on it as far south as the mouth of the Arkansas River; Pierre Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, a Jesuit priest who traveled extensively through the middle of the present day United States and provided some of the earliest known writings on North America; Robert de LaSalle who sailed the Mississippi to its mouth and discovered the site of modern day New Orleans; Julian Dubuque who founded the city of Dubuque; Jean-Baptiste-Point du Sable, who founded the city of Chicago; Jean Baptiste Bernard de la Harpe, who explored much of the South and established settlements near the Red River; Jean-Francoise la Perouse, who mapped much of the west coast of North America; Pierre de la Verendrye, who came very close to discovering the Missouri River; Jean Nicollet, who was the first European to travel through the Great Lakes area; and Pierre Esprit Radisson, who was the first European to see Minnesota.
When the U.S. bought the Louisiana Territory from France (another link!) and more than doubled its land area, Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to explore the new territory. They relied heavily on the information from past French explorers and current knowledge from French hunters and trappers along with Native American knowledge from Sacagawea and others to travel through the territory to the Pacific Ocean and thereby increase the U.S. government's knowledge of the territory it had purchased. Of course, Louisiana plays another ongoing role in our linkage with France as the home of thousands of descendents of Acadian exiles who settled its swamps and became known as Cajuns.
In the Revolutionary War, French moral and military support for the American colonists was essential to the U.S. victory. France first aided the colonists with shipments of arms, and entered the war on the side of the Americans in 1778, first with her fleet and then with troops. Key to this cooperation was the influence of the Marquis de Lafayette, who joined the American cause early in the war, was made a major-general under Washington and participated in and won many battles for the Americans. The victory of the Americans over the British restored French pride as a nation, and served as an inspiration for the French Revolution. Alexis de Toqueville, a French political thinker, legitimized the growth of American democracy (with warnings) in his book Democracy in America after extensive travels through the U.S. in the 1830s
Relations between the two countries have undergone many ups and downs since. France and the U.S. fought a quasi-war at sea during in the 1790s, and Jefferson considered going to war against Napoleon for control of the Mississippi before Napoleon surprised him by offering the whole territory for sale. In the mid-1800s, France and Britain conspired to check American expansionism by supporting a free republic in Texas and limiting U.S. access to California. The government of Lincoln was concerned that France would support the Confederacy, though France stayed neutral in the U.S. Civil War. France did install a French emperor in Mexico, though he was defeated by rebellious Mexicans shortly after. By World War I, however, world politics had moved France back into position as a U.S. ally. U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War started after French control in Vietnam began to crumble.
Which brings us back to freedom fries. In 2003, the French government opposed the U.S. effort to get U.N. authorization for an invasion of Iraq. When authorization was granted, the French aided the U.S., particularly in espionage and intelligence gathering. However, the American public was outraged and there were attempts to boycott French goods. Anything associated with France, such as french fries and french toast, were subject to symbolic renaming.
Eventually, passions cooled and freedom fries became french fries again. It's true that since the American Revolution, France and the U.S. have often been uneasy bedfellows. However, those that excoriate the French forget that without France, the U.S. might never have existed at all. Fort Ticonderoga, once the French Fort Carillon, on the shores of the French-named Lake Champlain reminds us of the deep and lasting French influence in our history.
As a co-host of a local global music show, I find myself quite taken by songs in French. I find this interesting, because unlike many people I know, I have never been truly taken by the French language. It's a fine language, but I haven't fallen in love with it as others have. But for some reason, when it's sung, regardless of the musical genre, I like it a lot! Try some French hip-hop sometime - it gives it a whole new flavor for me. France is a major crossroads of musical styles, and some really interesting music is created there. Here's a song in French that captured me a few months ago, Destins et Desirs by Toufic Farroukh featuring Jeanne Added on vocals. It's jazzy and sexy!
If you want to know more about Hague and Ticonderoga
Next up: Somewhere on Lake Champlain