Fort William Henry
Lake George, New York, USA

Constructed: 1755
Used by: Great Britain
Torched by: France
Conflict in which it participated:
French & Indian War

In the 18th century, the superhighway of rivers and lakes that connected New York City and Montreal were a blessing indeed for travelers. As tensions betwixt Britain and France rose (to an even higher state than usual) in the 1750's, military leaders in the region viewed this inland waterway instead as a vile curse, a virtual invitation for invasion in both directions.
Fortunately for us now, the military reaction to threat in the 18th century was forts forts forts. The French and Indian War (1754-1763) saw British commander of Iroquois and colonial troops Sir William Johnson (1715-1774) lead his men into the mess that was the Battle of Lake George (September 7-8, 1755). Johnson was interested in attacking the French at Fort Saint Frédéric at Crown Point (where Fort Crown Point was later built by the British), on Lake Champlain. This lake is connected to the Hudson River by Lake George, all of which constituted the aforementioned inland waterway betwixt New York and Montreal.

The battle itself was bloodily inconclusive, but Johnson did manage to solidify some gains up Lake George, and ordered Fort William Henry to be built at the southern end of the lake to serve as a base of operations. Captain William Eyre was put in charge of this project in September of 1755, and within a few months he had whipped up enough of a wood-and-earth fort to be ready for occupancy. Fort William Henry was named for both Prince William, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765) and Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1743-1805), the son and grandson of King George II (1683-1760), respectively and probably respectfully.

The French leapt to build yet another fort to counter Fort William Henry: Fort Carillon (which would soon be captured by the British and renamed Fort Ticonderoga) was constructed just fifteen miles south of Fort Crown Point...thus protecting Fort Crown Point with another fort. Because, as has been proven in numerous experiments on laboratory rats, you simply can't have too many starforts.

In the spring of 1757, British Lieutenant Colonel George Monro (1700-1757) took command of Fort William Henry. The French, led by General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm (1712-1759) and their Indian allies headed for Fort William Henry in overwhelming numbers in August of 1757. After a few days of siege and a bombardment that put most of the fort's guns out of action and damaged most of the guys inside, Monro raised the white flag.

The surrender of the English at Fort William Henry began a sequence of events that has been much retold, often with much exaggeration, as befits any encounter between savage Injuns and dainty white men. As was fairly standard practice in European conflicts of the time, the intention was to allow the fort's British garrison to leave the area unharmed, after promising not to fight the French or their allies for a period of 18 months. All 2308 of the British who had surrendered, including families and other followers, were brought to a nearby camp to spend the night, before being marched off the following morning.

French sentries were stationed around this camp, where they spent all night shooing away their crazed Indian allies, who thought this whole honours of war business was so much doodoo. As far as they were concerned, an enemy wasn't truly defeated until one had poked their eyes out with burning sticks, stolen all of their clothing and done various unpleasant things to their women.

Which was precisely what the Indians set out to do once the British column got on their way the next morning. This event was retold in James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)'s book Last of the Mohicans, which to my shame I have not read yet. General Montcalm reportedly did his best to prevent this massacre, as did many other French officers...but some just kind of stood there and smiled happily.
General Montcalm tries unsuccessfully to stop crazed Indians from beating white women to death with their own babies.

Somewhere between 69 and 1500 British men, women and children were killed (and assumedly eaten) by whooping Indians, and though more recent accountings tend towards the lower number, this was still quite uncalled for. The Indians also dug up several graves the British had left behind, in the process infecting themselves with Smallpox, which they cheerfully brought back to their villages.

Once the screaming, flaming, naked British had been driven from the area, the French breathed a sigh of relief and put Fort William Henry to the torch. Montcalm and his men returned to Fort Carillon, which was in turn captured by the British in July of 1759. In 1763 the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years' War (generally known on this side of the Atlantic as the French 'n' Indian War), and Fort William Henry remained a charred hole in the ground for the next 190 years.

Some of the lucky Fort William Henry residents who were not cremated in the fire: Only to be ripped from their graves and laid out for us to poke at them.
Until the 1950's, when Fort William Henry was completely reconstructed by civic-minded New Yorkers. Archaeological digs unearthed fifteen intact skeletons of soldiers who had been buried at the fort, which were duly displayed in entertaining positions for visitors.

In 1993, as part of the 230th anniversary of the end of the French 'n' Indian War, the people of Lake George held a somber burial ceremony to rebury the soldiers...only to find that twelve of the skeletons were in Canada and Arizona, being studied by anthropologists, who refused to return the skeletons.

Most of the brave skeletons are still imprisoned in climate-controlled storage at Arizona State University. The folks of Lake George would like them back to rebury them, and ASU anthropologist Susan Baker insists that, once a proper climate-controlled system is built at the fort to protect the skeletons (from being buried?), she'd be only too happy to return them. Impasse!