In February 1826 one of America’s seminal works of historical fiction, James Fenimore Cooper‘s The Last of the Mohicans, was first published. Last of the Mohicans has also been adapted to film at least eight times, most recently in 1992 starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. The novel is one of five Cooper wrote that make up the Leatherstocking Tales series, all of them set in Upstate New York between the years 1740 and 1804.
Warren County, NY is where many of the real-life actions of 1757 depicted in the novel occurred, including at what is now Lake George Battlefield Park, the location of several other important historical events.
Issac Jogues landed there on his way south with the Mohawk in 1642 (they called the lake Kaniá:taro’kte). A statue of Jogues graces the Park, which overlooks the lake he renamed Lac du Saint-Sacrement (Lake of the Holy Sacrament). Sir William Johnson named the lake after King George II, and Fort William Henry after the King’s grandson Prince William Henry, a younger brother of King George III. Cooper called the lake Horican, after a tribe he thought had lived there. Just south of the fort on the Hudson River in Glens Falls, is the location of the cave that helped inspire Cooper to write the story.
In 1755 the Battle of Lake George took place when Jean Erdman, Baron Dieskau, launched an unsuccessful attack on Sir William Johnson’s forces here. Johnson ordered Fort William Henry constructed. It was later destroyed by the French, but a reconstructed fort stands there today.
In 1757 Lieutenant-Colonel George Monro, a Scottish-Irish officer in the British Army, was commander of Fort William Henry, and several hundred of his troops were positioned on the grounds of what is now Lake George Battlefield Park when the fort was under siege by the French and their indigenous allies. This is the story told in Last of the Mohicans.
The Battlefield Park’s grounds were witness to the killing of British and provincial soldiers, family members, and others in camp that took place after terms of surrender had been agreed upon by Monro and the French Commander Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Grozon, marquis de Montcalm de Saint-Veran.
The Land Tortoise, built by Colonial and British troops near at the site in 1758, lies two miles north in 107 feet of water. The 52-foot long radeau was found in Lake George in 1990 and a marker was erected in the Park in 1995.
In addition to William Johnson, Baron Dieskau, Marquis de Montcalm and Munro, among those that are closely tied to the Battlefield Park were such important historic figures as Mohawk leader Henderick Peters Theyanooguin (known as King Hendrick); Williams College founder Ephraim Williams; and Robert Rogers and Rogers Rangers. Theyanooguin and Williams were killed nearby during the Bloody Morning Scout in 1755. Ethan Allen was enroute to Fort William Henry in 1757 when he learned it had fallen and his unit turned back.
During the American Revolution Henry Knox led his “noble train” of cannon through here and Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys operated from the site occasionally. After the war Thomas Jefferson and James Madison visited the site.
Officially the Lake George Battlefield Park Historic District, the Park is a part of a national historic district. The land was purchased and developed by New York State between February 24, 1898, when the first purchase was made, and 1965. It includes archaeological sites dated from about 1755 to 1814, including Fort George (1759), earthen trenches (1757-1758), and barracks and hospitals dated to the 1750s. Nearby is a campground, a Delaware and Hudson Railroad right of way (ca 1880), the Dowling Farmhouse (ca 1870), and the maintenance complex (ca 1890-ca 1920s). The Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.
Complementing the many statues, historic and interpretive signs, plaques and memorials at the site are Leatherstocking Literary Trail signs, installed in recent years by the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership in Lake George and nearby areas. These markers trace the progression of Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and other characters Cooper created, in their fictional journeys.
The Lake George Battlefield Park Alliance was established in 2001 to support activities of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in the preservation and interpretation of the Lake George Battlefield Park. (The Park is one of several that are overseen by DEC rather than State Parks).
A new Visitor Interpretive Center is expected to open to the public in spring 2022, more than 120 years after the idea was first publicly aired to establish a museum at the Battlefield Park to display artifacts and exhibits that highlight its extraordinary history. Meanwhile, a committee organized by the Town of Lake George continues its collaboration with the State and interested local historical associations in defining an appropriate final resting place for the remains of 40+ Continental soldiers discovered in Lake George in February 2019. The deceased were smallpox victims, likely treated at the hospital located in 1776 in what is now the Battlefield Park, and may ultimately be re-interred in the Park in 2023.
A scene from the film The Last of the Mohicans (1992); “Plan of Fort William Henry and Camp at Lake George” ca 1760 (Library of Congress); and a Leatherstocking Literary Trail panel.