Our region played a pivotal role in defining two nations. The War of Independence created the United States and the War of 1812 crystallized Canada. We celebrate both nations this week in our region that helped forge two great nations.
Our early decades were much more fragile than we remember today. More than two centuries ago, a nation realized that, if it stood divided, it would surely fall to an imperial power with whom it continually skirmished. But while Massachusetts had Concord and its shot heard ‘round the world, and had its Boston tea parties, attacks were being staged constantly from a British stronghold just a few miles to our north.
Two important battles were fought here. Both were critical in defining a fledgling nation.
In 1775, the Continental Army of a young and independent set of states realized the British were amassing fleets in Montreal. From there, they could mount military campaigns that would allow Britain to take Lake Champlain and the Hudson River, bisect the states, and divide a young nation.
Plattsburgh was ground zero, halfway between the British stronghold in Montreal and the Continental Army stronghold at Fort Ticonderoga. Benedict Arnold, then an American hero, was sent to attack Quebec City and Montreal and seize Canada.
In 1776, he was repulsed and retreated down Lake Champlain. Lurking behind Valcour Island in his retreat, he attacked and delayed a pursuing British invasion that had planned to overtake Ticonderoga and the Hudson River and command everything to its east. Arnold bought the Continental Army time to fortify its protection of the river. His clever tactics allowed our nation to fight another day.
In 1812, America once again tried to overcome Britain’s foothold in North America. Still a weak and divided United States, it surmised a strong offense was its best defense. It attacked Canada, but was surprised when British loyalists didn’t capitulate.