Tourmate #2: Conflict and Settlement

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Natural Forces and Native People

From this vantage point, if you look across the Hudson, remnants of the old confluence of the Battenkill River may be seen to this day. For Native People, this was a most important highway into the hills of Central Vermont. Looking above, at a rise to the south, you might imagine the strategic location of Fort Saratoga where the artful French staged well-planned trickery resulting in a brutal massacre during the French and Indian Wars.

With the British victory in 1763 ending those Wars, many people thought ejecting the French from North America would eliminate most problems that had bedeviled settlers for decades. However, it became very apparent that even without the French, there were many unresolved issues, both about control of the land and the running of an empire.

Almost immediately after the French and Indian Wars' end, more and more settlers encroached on the lands of the Native People, killing or driving off animals that had provided food and furs for generations. It didn't matter to the settlers that some of these People, notably the Iroquois, had fought alongside the English against their common enemy the French. The situation became more and more dangerous as England could not halt the expansion of her colonies nor protect colonist or Native from the other's violence.

Clashes between redcoats and rebels during the Revolutionary War might have been over the theories of taxation and running an empire, but along the frontiers, the causes for violence were far more personal and immediate.

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Conflict and Settlement

The silence must have seemed deafening in mid October, 1777 when the cannons stopped firing.

British General John Burgoyne’s army was surrounded and trapped in the small town of Saratoga which had been bombarded and starved by the much larger army of American Rebels under Major General Horatio Gates. Burgoyne’s weary army, already defeated in two battles further downriver near Stillwater, had no choice but to lay down its arms.

For the thousands of American troops, it was a military triumph to be savored. For some, particularly from land-hungry New England, the countryside held great promise for farming timber and other ventures. With the end of the Revolutionary War, many would re-settle in the region and exploit the resources to their fullest.

As early as the 1790’s the area near Saratoga was emptied of its previously bountiful timber resources.

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Corridor of Commerce

If you were a traveler through this valley, like Congressman Charles Carroll in 1776, the quickest and easiest part of your journey would be on the water. Unfortunately, even the most navigable waterways had limitations and sometimes obstacles, like shallows, rapids and even waterfalls. When the water was no longer navigable, then travelers had to follow roadways and paths.

Roads in the 18th century were unpaved and ungraded, filled with pothole, ruts, axle-breaking rocks and even tree stumps. Wagons lacked springs or any sort of shock absorption, making a ride a jarring, uncomfortable experience. The roads Charles Carroll encountered between Albany and Saratoga were muddy from the spring thaw and “worse than ever” from the many supply wagons passing through toward Canada.

As Carroll’s wagon labored through the mud and ruts, sitting next to him was a man who had found a solution to the deficiencies of the local waterways: Philip Schuyler. Several years earlier Schuyler had visited England where they were improving transportation by constructing “water carriages” or canals.

From his many business and economic ventures in the region Schuyler was familiar with the advantages and limitations of the rivers and lakes of the region. Schuyler recognized that the best solution would be the construction of canals and locks to connect various waterways. Schuyler recognized the opportunity to share his vision with Carroll. Following their meeting, Carroll’s diary of the trip is filled with notes about creating a canal system through the areas he traveled.

Years after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, the Northern and Western Lock and Navigation Companies were established. Their creation owed a great deal to Philip Schuyler’s foresight and energy.

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Magnet for Tourism

“I have lately made a tour through the Lakes George and Champlain as far as Crown point; then returning to Schenectady, I proceeded up the Mohawk river to Fort Schuyler (formerly Fort Stanwix), and crossed over to the Wood Creek which empties into the Oneida Lake, and affords the water communication with Ontario.”

Although he loved his home in Virginia, George Washington was an inveterate traveler throughout his life. In the last, less active years of the Revolutionary War he journeyed north in 1783 to the battlefields that saw the American victory at Saratoga six years earlier.

Washington was not just site seeing; his practiced eye was alert to the economic potentials of places through which he traveled. He noted the resources of timber, animal life, soils and waterways in hopes that they would provide livelihood and profits to those who could exploit them. Washington was foremost in the notion of making full use of these resources.

Indeed, one regional attraction caught Washington’s eye, and he noted his interest in acquiring rights to them in a letter to New York Governor George Clinton.

“I should be much obliged to you for intimating to me, before I go, what will be necessary for me to do respecting our purchase of the Saratoga Springs. I have money now by me, and shall, at any time, be ready to answer your call for this purpose….”