The King’s Shipyard Archaeological Project Series – Part 1: Historical Context

By Daniel E. Bishop, PhD Student, Nautical Archaeology Program, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University

Hi folks – Cherilyn here reporting from the Nautical Archaeology Center! Since the public won’t be able to stop by our conservation lab this season, we decided to keep everyone updated with our ongoing projects through the blogosphere! Last season our archaeologists worked with Texas A&M PhD candidate, Dan Bishop on his dissertation project exploring The King’s Shipyard, which lies in the shallow waters of southern Lake Champlain surrounding Fort Ticonderoga. Over the next few weeks we will release a series of blog posts presenting Dan Bishop’s research and covering some of the previous research conducted at this fascinating archaeological site in Lake Champlain. As I’ve stated before, in archaeology, context is everything– so we will begin this series with the historical context of this complex and multi-layered archaeological site. Enjoy!

We begin amidst the North American theatre of the French and Indian War, just following the bloody Battle of Carillon (1758), and subsequent Battle of Ticonderoga (1759). The Battle of Ticonderoga left Fort Carillon in the hands of the British, who renamed the site Fort Ticonderoga:

Despite abandoning their southern forts on Lake Champlain during the fall campaigns of 1759, the French still had a considerable naval presence on the lake. In May of that year, British General Geoffrey Amherst wrote to Joshua Loring, a captain in the Royal Navy, and ordered him to return to the northern lakes to oversee the building and to take command of Lake Champlain’s forthcoming British flotilla.

It was the vessels on Lake George, the smaller ones such as the batteaux, that were some the first British military vessels on Lake Champlain. Amherst needed these simple “flat bottomed boat[s]” in the first stages of moving the army and supplies up the lake. An example of a batteau can be seen here in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Illustration of a batteau by Kevin Crisman

These batteaux and other small boats were not the best solution for transporting large quantities of troops and supplies, especially in bad weather, as evidenced by the a number of them that were damaged in a storm off Crown Point. Additionally, these vessels were no match for the French sloops and schooner still cruising on the lake. Even from the early stages of planning for the 1759 campaign, Amherst wanted to build larger vessels for the lake. He wrote to Loring stating, “I shall have occasion for two Brigs… from your experience & knowledge of the place where they are to be Employed, you must be the best Judge of what burthen & strength they ought to be”.[1]

Loring began to accumulate materials for the vessels soon after Amherst’s orders, but it would not be until mid-August that Loring would be able to start sawing timbers at the newly named Fort Ticonderoga. Even then, the sawmill was in high demand, as construction and repairs at Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point were needed. On top of this, Amherst ordered Loring to supply timber for an additional vessel, a large radeau intended for Major Thomas Ord, of the Royal Artillery. Loring was not only in contest with Major Ord for supplies and carpenters, but the sawmill was in constant disrepair.

Despite the many delays, complications, and complaints from Amherst and other officers, Loring built and fitted the brig Duke of Cumberland (roughly 90 feet in length) and sloop Boscawen (around 75 feet in length) in the very short time of two months. It was on October 11 that all three large vessels, the brig, radeau, and sloop were loaded with final ammunition and stores at Crown Point, and were given orders to sail down the lake to pursue the French fleet. Captain Loring had command of Duke of Cumberland and its crew of 130 seamen and soldiers. Command of the Boscawen and its crew of 110 seamen and soldiers was given to Lieutenant Alexander Grant.

The painting in Figure 2 shows a view of fortifications at Crown Point in the year 1759, as drawn and signed by, “Thomas Davies, Captain Lieutenant of the Royal Artillery.” Figure 3 shows a close up of the ships in the far right of the painting labeled, “Slops of Warr,” or ‘sloops of war.’ To the far left in Figure 2, another ship is labeled, “A Radaux.”

Figure 2: “A South View of the New Fortress at Crown Point” by Thomas Davies, 1759. Courtesy of Winterthur Museum.

Figure 3: Sloops of War, detail from “A South View of the New Fortress at Crown Point” by Thomas Davies, 1759. Courtesy of Winterthur Museum.

As the fleet made their way north, Loring and Grant sailed ahead of the rest of the fleet, with Amherst sailing in the radeau Ligonier. The British brig and sloop continued to move north through the night, and ended up sailing past the French sloops, south of Four Brothers Islands, without noticing them. Early the next morning, Loring and Grant saw the French topsail schooner Vigilante to the north, and made chase. As Loring and Grant pursued Vigilante into Missisquoi Bay, both of their vessels ran aground. After much effort, both vessels, surprisingly undamaged, were freed. As Loring and Grant maneuvered to continue their chase of the schooner, they spotted the three French sloops heading north to Île-aux-Noix to inform the rest of the garrison of the impending British attack. The commanders of the three French sloops did not realize until this moment that Loring and Grant had passed them the previous night. Fearing the loss of their men and supplies from a direct naval battle (as these sloops were considerably smaller than their British counterparts), the French commanders quickly sailed into Cumberland Bay to scuttle their vessels and make their retreat by land.

After the French forces made their escape, Amherst ordered Loring to pursue Vigilante to the north while Grant was to organize the salvage and raising of the scuttled French vessels. The search for Vigilante proved unsuccessful, and Amherst’s hopes of leading an attack on Île-aux-Noix that year dwindled. By November 16, both the army and the fleet, now with three raised French sloops, were back at the southern end of the lake. Loring made preparations for the fleet to winter over at Ticonderoga, and would put up a defensive wall on the ice to protect the vessels against any French attempts to burn them.

The following spring, Duke of Cumberland, Boscawen, and the captured French sloops, were utilized for troop and supply transport for the 1760 campaign. Alexander Grant was promoted to the rank of captain and given command of the Lake Champlain fleet and took Duke of Cumberland as his vessel. In preparations for the attack on Île-aux-Noix, Grant aided Major Robert Rogers in an amphibious assault on Saint Jean. On August 14, British forces arrived at Île-aux-Noix with the entire flotilla and army from Crown Point and began to lay siege on the fort. After two weeks, the French abandoned the fort and withdrew to Montreal. By September 6, Amherst’s plan for the British forces to converge on New France came to fruition. Only two days later, the French agreed to a complete surrender.

Duke of Cumberland and the rest of the fleet were brought back to the “King’s Shipyard” at Fort Ticonderoga, still under the command of Grant, where they remained for the final years of the war. In 1763, Grant wrote that the fleet, “laid up [at Ticonderoga], consisting of a large Brigantine which mounted 20 guns, two Schooners, two sloops, and some smaller craft; also a sloop constantly [are] employed in the summer season between this place and St. John’s.”[1] Later reports in 1765 and 1778 describe the poor condition of the fleet and that Boscawen and Duke of Cumberland are “Lay’d up And Decay’d.”[2]


The material and vessels from the Seven Years’ War is the focus of my research at Texas A&M University, and what we will be exploring in the rest of this blog series. The King’s Shipyard is a small site but it has a very complex and layered history beyond its use during the mid-eighteenth century. During the War for American Independence, the shipyard was used as the staging point for the western side of the “Great Bridge.” This bridge connected Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence, as pictured in Figure 4. When this bridge was built in 1776, these fortifications were under American control.

Figure 4: “Mt. Independence ca 1776-1777” by Ernie Haas, 2003. Courtesy of Mt. Independence Coalition.

This shipyard also saw continued use during the lake’s commercial era in the nineteenth century. When the fort was purchased by the Pell family, its structures and grounds were refurbished and opened to the public as a museum and tourist destination. The commercial era brought considerable disturbances to the sunken material in the shipyard. With the advent of steam-powered watercraft, for example, the fort’s owners built a steamboat dock in the old shipyard to enable easier access to the fort from the waterfront. A later stereographic image of this dock can be seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Steamboat Dock at King’s Shipyard, Courtesy of Fort Ticonderoga Collections.

All of this “additional” material in the shipyard, as you will read in subsequent blog posts, contributed to the many challenges the teams of archaeologists faced as we surveyed this multifaceted site.

Stay tuned for our next post in this series covering the 2019 King’s Shipyard project and past archaeological work at the King’s Shipyard site!


These projects were made possible by collaborations among numerous organizations, including Texas A&M University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, and Fort Ticonderoga Museum.

Funds for these projects were graciously provided by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, the South Lake Champlain Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation, and Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory.


Bibliography

Bellico, R. P., Sails and Steam in the Mountains: A Maritime and Military History of Lake George and Lake Champlain (New York, 1992)

Public Records Office, War Office Records, Amherst Papers, Sections 34/42, 51, 64, and 65, 1759–63 (Kew, London)

Webster, C. J. (ed), The Journal of Jeffery Amherst: Recording the military career of General Amherst in America from 1758 to 1763 (Toronto, 1931)


[1] Naval Documents from the Gage Papers, vol. 35.

[2] Bellico, Sails and Steam,109; Naval Documents from the Gage Papers, vol. 35.


[1] PRO, W.O.R. 34/64, 196, Amherst to Loring, June 13, 1759.