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                      historic calendar point au fer showing white house

Champlain Historic Calendar


A History of Point au Fer


Point au Fer is surely the most historic location in all of Clinton County.  The Town of Champlain locality was the site of a French and Indian War skirmish with the famous Rogers Rangers in June of 1760.  In 1774 the British built a stone garrison called the “White House” at the site of the former Scales house today.   During the Revolutionary War, the American and British controlled Point au Fer at different times and occupied the garrison.  In June of 1777, parts of British Gen. Burgoyne’s 7,500 man army camped here on their way to defeat in Saratoga.  After the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the Point was one of only a handful of locations in the United States still occupied by the British.  During this time, the British warned Champlain residents off of the soil which forced President George Washington to send an envoy on a secret mission to Champlain in 1791.  After the British left in 1796, the Point was surveyed in 1805 by William Beaumont and auctioned off in 1809.  During the War of 1812, it was used as a lookout post by the American army.  Many notable American and British dignitaries and military officers set foot on the Point or passed by it on Lake Champlain.  Over the years, the Point has changed from a farming community to a year-round residential community. 

No other location in Clinton County has seen so many notable historic events occur.

This calendar series has 13 large format images (about 10in wide) and smaller inset photos.  The calendar is printed on a high quality satin (semi-gloss) cream paper
to give the images a true photo-look. 

A history is written about each photograph and usually includes extensive primary sources and newspaper references.

The 2017 calendar also has an additional 19 page historical essay which includes original research.

The below images are presented in the calendar.


2017 champlain historic calendar images point
                      au fer

Monthly Image Descriptions
(partial descriptions)


The “White House” at Point au Fer.  This conceptual view of the British garrison was painted by Rouses Point resident Elaine (Rochester) Cloutier based on an interpretation of several descriptions.  Historian and author Dr. Allan Everest gave one of the most concise descriptions of the garrison in his book, “Point au Fer”: “The British construction of 1774 included a two-story stone and mortar building, about 40 by 50 feet, rectangular [or 35x45 feet according to a British drawing].  It had strong, ball-proof brick sentry boxes at each corner which commanded every inch of ground around the house.  The structure, actually a fort, had walls three feet thick and floors of nearly the same dimension.  The roof was double-boarded, and its oak shingles were attached with wrought nails.  The cellar was divided into four rooms, with one to serve as a magazine and another to surround a well.  The walls of the cellar had 44 embrasures for small cannon.  The building stood on a projecting point of land (today called Scales Point) about 150 feet inland from the lake.” 



For almost 300 years there has been confusion as to the original spelling of the peninsula in Lake Champlain now called “Point au Fer.”  One French map printed in 1748 (and based on a 1732 survey by Mr. Anger) shows “Point au Feu” and a 1771 British map made for Carrington Bowles shows the same.  However, two early maps created in 1740 and 1744 and not known by previous historians show the name of “Pointe au Fer” which is close to how it is spelled today.  Yet another map shows “Point au Fe”.  Interestingly, a British map printed in 1768 states “Pte au Feu, or rather Pte au Fer,” so mapmakers at the time knew of the confusion.   Maps made after the 1780s show variations of the name “Point au Fer”.  People have speculated that the name means “Point of Iron”, “Point of Fire” or “Horseshoe Point” depending on the spellings of “Feu” and “Fer.” 



Two early maps of Lake Champlain show the Point au Fer peninsula.  A 1762 map by William Brassier notes the general location of the Rogers Rangers battle with French soldiers in June of 1760 (note the crossed swords).  A prominent Rangers author believed the battle took place on the shoreline of King’s Bay and not in the swamp north of Catfish Bay.   A second color map made between 1778 and 1779 shows the soundings on Lake Champlain as well as a very accurate outline of the garrison with its stockade of cedar posts. 


Inset:  The montage shows the garrison drawn on three early maps.  The top map was made between 1778 and 1779.  The middle map was made by Capt. William Chambers when he charted Lake Champlain in 1779 and 1780.  The bottom map was made by Gother Mann (1747-1830) on June 13, 1791.  Mann was Colonel-Commandant of the Royal Engineers and Inspector General of Fortifications.  The top and bottom maps show a similar outline of the garrison and show its cedar post stockade.  These outlines agree well with a high-resolution, detailed drawing of the garrison shown in the December image.



A map shows an outline of the Point au Fer peninsula prior to 1805.  A long pole is shown fastened between two branches of a tree which was used as a fulcrum.  A rope extends from one end of the pole and possible weights hang at the other end.  The makeshift crane was likely used to lift items out of a boat.  A large tree stands next to the garrison and is likely an earlier generation cottonwood tree, a number of which grow today at this location.

Inset:  The montage shows three Refugee Tract maps made after the mid-1780s. The middle image has a date of 1804 which was one year before the garrison burned down.



This map is a copy of William Beaumont’s survey map and was found on another document in the New York State Archives.  In early 1805, William Beaumont surveyed the 500 acre Point au Fer peninsula and divided it into three lots at the behest of the state’s surveyor general, Simeon DeWitt.  At the time, several people were living on the Point including Joseph Marin, Peter Ayotte and Toussaint Lavarnway.   Lavarnway lived at the White house and carelessly burned it down before the survey.  Beaumont drew an outline of the White House on his map and stated “Garrison Ruins” which generally verifies the date of the fire.  On February 19, 1805, he wrote a letter from Mooers to the surveyor general to state that he had finished the survey.  The survey was filed in the secretary’s office almost two years later on December 24, 1806. 

Inset: Beaumont’s map was remarkably accurate.  His map was superimposed on an aerial photograph of the Point and the shorelines of both maps were aligned.  The location of the garrison lines up exactly with the present-day location of the Scales-Langley house.  This comparison allowed for the accurate mapping of the location of Peter Ayotte and Joseph Marin’s houses.  Ayotte lived on land facing Kings Bay in what is now woodland.  Marin lived near today’s Lakeland Drive where houses are located.  Beaumont’s survey notes for Lot No. 1 state: “Lot No. 1 begins on the Lake Shore about 3 rods West of a large black oak tree marked on four sides - on the South Side No. 1 – North Side 1.1 with an axe.”  There are similar notes for Lot No. 2 and Lot No. 3.  See the essay for more of Beaumont’s notes.



The Point au Fer Memorial Park Dedication in 2009

On Memorial Day, May 25, 2009, in front of hundreds of Point au Fer and Champlain residents, Rogers Rangers and War of 1812 re-enactors and several American and Canadian military service organizations and members of the Saranac Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the new Point au Fer Memorial Park was dedicated.  The land had been donated to the Town of Champlain by Dan and Anne Rochester whose ancestors were some of the first settlers on the Point.  The original plaque dedicated by the D.A.R. in 1930 had been remounted on a new boulder found by Town of Champlain highway superintendent Allen Racine.



Brothers Freeman and Bartlett Nye of Champlain started purchasing land in Kings Bay and on Point au Fer in the 1830s and 1840s.  They acquired Refugee lots 36, 37, 38, 39 and 94 as well as Lot No. 3 on Point au Fer which consisted of 194 acres of cedar swamp. This amounted to 524 acres in the Kings Bay area and the property was called the “Lake Farm” as it included the old stone farmhouse on Route 9B now owned by the Tetreault family.  By 1900, Bartlett’s children owned the property and daughter Elizabeth had married Charles McLellan. The Nyes and McLellans had a shack on the shoreline of Kings Bay that was used as a picnic and hunting spot. A number of family photographs from 1899 and 1900 show the families at the shack during picnics. 



 “Nye’s Shack” on the shoreline of Kings Bay.  Margaret Bowman McLellan, wife of architect and Champlain historian Hugh McLellan, is shown aiming a rifle from the porch of the shack.


In 1783 Revolutionary War soldier Pliny Moore was stationed at Fort Plain, (also called Fort Rensselaer) in western New York.  It was on July 4, 1783, close to the end of the war, that the troops stationed there gave a 13 gun salute.  After the celebrations, Moore sent an account of the July 4th celebrations to a local newspaper as well as a list of the toasts that were given on that day.  On July 31, Gen. George Washington arrived at the fort during his tour of the chief military sites where British Gen. Burgoyne had fought and surrendered in 1777.  Moore was also a witness to Washington’s visit.  Seven years later, in 1790 and 1791, President George Washington would be reading Moore’s letters related to the British harassment of Champlain citizens.  In 1816, Moore visited Washington’s tomb in Washington DC. 


Pliny Moore wrote: “Friday last being the Anniversary of American Independence, The Officers of the Gerrison at Fort Rensselaer Gave a Splendid Entertainment to the Principal Characters of Tryon County, Consisting of the Members of Legislatures Magistrates Field Officers &c.  The day was usher’d in by the Discharge of Thirteen Twelve pounders from the Block Hous at 12 oClock, which was repeated at One Oclock while they with their Guests preceded by The band of musick of the 1st New York Regim’t walked in procession from the Long Room past the Block House to a Beautiful Bower from whence after Regaling themselves with a Drink of excellent Punch they Returned in the Same order.  At Half past Two Oclock the Company were reconducted to the bowe, where was a most elegant Diner prepared & Served up in a good order ¾ The Table being removed of & wine brought The Following Toasts were Drank too the Circulation of each which were announced with the discharge of a Field pice placed a few yards from the Bower for the purpose  ¾ Here come in the Toasts The discharge of Thirteen 12 pounders from the block House & Thirteen Field pices Closed the day, after which the Company Returned to the Long room, where Wine, Mirth Friendship & Good humor predominated over every other Idea.   In the evening were through Thirteen Shells by Order of Cap’t Wright who commanded the Garrison.”



The Toasts as written by Pliny Moore:


Toasts Drank too the 4th July 1783 –


1st       The United States of America –


2d        May we Support the Soverengty of our Country & may virtue and Unanimity ever be our National Charasteristick.


3d        His Excellency Gen’s Washington may that Illustrious Chief So distinguished for his Virtues and the many achieves that so signally rendered most important Services to his Country Long enjoy in the Soft embraces of Retirement all that felicity which is felt by Virtuous Minds. 


4th      The Retiring army, may they Receive the Just Rewars of merit. 


5th      The King of France and all Illustrious Allies.


6th      Our Plinepotintiaries whose Characters reflect the Highest Honor on American Politicks.


7th      May we never cease to Resist the power under whatever name that would oppress us.


8th      His Excellency Governor Clinton may he long live to participate the Blessings of that Peace which his many Services have so much contributed to Facilitate.


9th      The State of New York, long may the People of the State remain Happy under a Chief So deserving the Reward of his Country.


10th    The Auspicious period to the distresses of our Felow Citizens of Tryon County.


11th    The Fair Sex of our Country.


12th    The Memory of the Brave who have fallen contesting for Freedom. 


13th    Let us commemorate the Glorious Asknowledgment of our Soverngty & Independence. 


In 1783 General Washington made a tour of the battlefields and chief military posts of the Burgoyne campaign of 1777.  This is the journey referred to in Lieut. Thompson’s letter.  On his return from his trip up the valley to the site of Fort Stanwix, at present Rome, Oneida lake, Fort Herkimer and Fort Dayton, at present Herkimer, General Washington stopped for the night at the home of Peter Wormuth, on the east side of the Mohawk river, about one-half mile from Fort Plain, on July 30.  On July 31, he was received at Fort Plain (Fort Rensselaer) with full military honors, the garrison being drawn up for review and a salvo of artillery being fired.  He was then given a dinner by the officers of the garrison when, it is probable that, the toasts given above were drunk.  In the afternoon the General and his staff rode, over the Otsquago Trail, to Cherry Valley, where they spent the night of July 31.  On August 1, they rode to Otsego lake and returned to Canajoharie over Clinton’s portage route.  Washington dined and slept at the Van Alstyne house and the next day, August 2, left with his staff, for Schenectady.  



In 1779 and 1780, British Capt. William Chambers made a sailing chart of Lake Champlain and included soundings showing the depth of the lake as well as locations where rocks were close to the surface of the water.  One dangerous spot is found at the southern tip of Point au Fer. During low-water a person can walk on these rocks that are hundreds of feet out from the lakeshore.  Also on Chambers’ map is a very detailed drawing of the White House garrison, shown previously.



Two maps made in 1856 and 1869 show the Point au Fer peninsula. The Ligowsky map of 1856 shows the F&B Nye stone farmhouse on Route 9B as well as John Walker’s stone house a short distance south which still stands today.  A dotted line shows the road that extended from today’s Route 9B to George Rochester’s house. Note that the road follows the shoreline of the campground and is not the same access road that is present today.  Beers 1869 map shows the Refugee lots as well as Point au Fer lots. A crude road makes its way to Charles Rochester’s house which was John Walker’s original house and is now the location of the John Zurlo house. 


At the southern end of Point au Fer and close to its tip is a ridge of rock that is well-known to Point au Fer residents.  The bluff is directly behind John Zurlo’s house.  It is likely that the British built a post to look towards Isle la Motte and the southern end of Lake Champlain at this location.  A February 18, 1783 letter states: “Capt. Lord who commands at Point au Fer reports that he has caused a hut to be erected at the extremity of the Point, which is the most commanding situation he knows of, and about a mile from the house where a sergeant and 15 men are posted.”  The photograph was taken by the McLellans on September 15, 1900.  A later postcard shows the same location with summer cottages on the beach.



 “At the Unveiling of the Point au Fer Memorial,” Battle of Valcour Anniversary, October 11, 1930



After the British regained control of Point au Fer, they made a drawing of the White House garrison that was extremely accurate.  The circa 1791 drawing shows structures such as the garrison, existing and proposed buildings as well as several stockades of cedar posts.  This drawing was superimposed on an aerial photograph of the Point and the shorelines of both maps were lined up and scaled appropriately.  Amazingly, the outline of the garrison overlays with the existing house built by Richard Scales in the 1880s.  Richard Scales had noted that he built his house on the existing foundation of the old fort.  A log house previous to Richard Scales’s house was built by William Whyte and was said to have been built on the original garrison foundation.  This image montage confirms the legend surrounding the White House’s stone foundation.  Although the White House burned down in 1805 or earlier, its 1774 stone foundation still survives today in a slightly different form.



In 1774, the British built the “White House” on Point au Fer probably at the behest of land owner William Gilliland.  The British chose the high ground on the eastern side of the Point which gave a good view to the north towards Windmill Point.  After the Battle of Valcour in October 1776, the British gained control of Point au Fer and held it until June 1796.  During this time, various improvements were made and other modifications were planned but probably not carried out.   A drawing shows that the garrison was 35x45 feet wide.  It had a small stockade of cedar posts on the right side of the house that were noted to be “quite decayed.”  The west side of the house had more cedar posts and enclosed a larger area.  These posts were described as “logs wanting repairs” and “quite decayed.”  Closer to the lake was a guard house, bake house and cow house.  The drawing also shows several buildings that were proposed including a bake house attached to the left side of the garrison, a magazine building for ammunition and a guard house that was next to a path that led to the lake.  A stockade of cedar posts is shown surrounding the fort (an eyewitness to the posts said many years later that they were 12 feet high).  This may have been the stockade that American Gen. John Sullivan is thought to have built in June of 1776.  Sullivan may have also added an entrenchment around the fort that formed a moat.  Remnants of the entrenchment now form a small creek that drains from the nearby cornfield. 

A History of Point au Fer

by David Patrick


  Point au Fer is surely the most historic location in all of Clinton County.  The Point was the site of a French and Indian War skirmish with the famous Rogers Rangers in 1760.  It saw constant activity during the Revolutionary War by both the American and British armies; it was a campground for one of the largest British invasion armies at the time; it was used as a lookout post during the War of 1812; and the Point was one of only a handful of locations in the United States occupied by the British 13 years after the Revolutionary War ended.  Many notable American and British dignitaries and military officers set foot on the Point.  No other location in Clinton County has seen so many notable historic events occur on its soil.  Only Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga in Essex County have comparable histories.  Today, Point au Fer is now a residential and farming community.  Residents are aware that the Point has historical significance but the details of these events have not been documented in recent years.

 Several local authors have written about Point au Fer’s history over the past 150 years and numerous articles are found in the local newspapers going back to the late 1800s.  One of the best sources of information is the book “Point au Fer on Lake Champlain” by historian Dr. Allan S. Everest who referenced many local and national sources.  Local Point au Fer resident Eugene Zurlo funded the book’s publication by the Clinton County Historical Association in 1992.  This essay will expand on the book’s content with additional information gathered in recent years by this author.


Early History of Point Au Fer

Point au Fer is a small peninsula of land on the eastern side of the Town of Champlain that borders Lake Champlain.  For most of its history, the Point was an island that was almost completely inaccessible from the mainland due to a large cedar swamp that filled when the lake was high.  Only since the 1950s was the Point connected by a high road that is open year-round.  This has enabled the Point to transform from a farming and summer camp location to a year-round residential community.


Point au Fer and Kings Bay were first occupied by Native Americans for thousands of years.  In 1609, French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed past Point au Fer and camped opposite it on Isle la Motte.  The French claimed land in New York down to Fort Ticonderoga and issued grants for land along the shores of New York and Vermont.  They built forts at today’s Fort Ticonderoga (Fort Carillon), Crown Point (Fort St. Frederic) and on Isle la Motte (Fort St. Anne).  French surveyor M. Anger published an early map in 1748 that was based on a 1732 survey.  Unfortunately, the French only had a small number of settlers in Québec and even fewer willing to settle grants so far away from Montreal and Quebec City.


One confusing aspect of the early maps is the name of the peninsula.  A French map made in 1732 and British map made in 1771 shows the name “Point au Feu” which translates to “Point of Fire” but two other French maps from 1740 and 1744 show “Point au Fer” which means “Point of Iron” (a 1776 British map also shows “Pt au Fe”).  Most interesting is a British map from 1768 that shows the French land grants.  The map listed both names in the form: “Pte au Feu, or rather Pte au Fer,” so mapmakers at the time knew of the confusion.  By the 1780s, the British and American maps consistently show “Point au Fer.”  Historian Hugh McLellan noted that the Point is in the shape of a horseshoe which translates to “Fer de cheval” (or simply “Fer”) according to an 18th Century French – English dictionary.  Perhaps the name meant “Horseshoe Point.”  The name “Point au Fer” has also been written in various ways in letters, official documents and maps such as Point O’fer, Point au Faire, Point Fair and other variations.


Rogers Rangers Battle in 1760

The first European conflict at Point au Fer occurred during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) in June of 1760.  Major Robert Rogers was the leader and founder of the famous British military group called “Roger’s Rangers”.  On May 25, General Amherst, commander in chief of the British army in North America, gave him the order to destroy the French military posts along the Richelieu River in Canada.   His orders stated: “You will with 250 men land on the west side in such manner that you may get to St. John's (without the enemy at the Isle aux Noix having any intelligence of it) where you will try to surprise the fort and destroy the vessels, boats, provisions, or whatever else may be there for the use of the troops at the Isle aux Noix.  You will then march to Fort Chambly where you will do the same, and you will destroy every magazine you can find in that part so as to distress the enemy as much as you can.”  Rogers had led his men on many skirmishes in the Lake George region and now he was to engage the French at Lake Champlain, 100 miles away. 


British Occupation of Point au Fer and the Building of the “White House” garrison in 1774

The first occupation by British subjects in the Champlain and Chazy regions was in the late 1760s or early 1770s by settlers recruited by William Gilliland (1734-1796).  Gilliland was an Irish immigrant who had been a British soldier during the French and Indian War.  He was honorably discharged in 1758 and acquired land for service in the war similar to how Pliny Moore would later acquire land in Champlain 20 years later.  These so-called “soldiers’ rights” to land were endowed by a royal proclamation in 1763 and enabled Gilliland to acquire land along the lakeshore at places such as Cumberland Head, Willsboro and a large amount of land in the present towns of Beekmantown and Chazy, including land along the Chazy Rivers.  Gilliland was also given land on Isle La Motte and land in the Dean purchase on Grand Isle, all considered part of New York State at the time (20 years later, Pliny Moore was also given the land grant of Isle La Motte by the State of New York but had to relinquish it when Vermont claimed the island in 1787). 


In 1773 Gilliland had 50 families settled on the Great Chazy River and he was worried about their protection in such a remote location.  He may have suggested to the British that a post was needed on Lake Champlain for the protection of his settlers.  A garrison was built in 1774 that became known as the “White House” due to its white-washed stone walls.   Historian and author Dr. Allan Everest gave one of the most concise descriptions of the garrison in his book, “Point au Fer”: “The British construction of 1774 included a two-story stone and mortar building, about 40 by 50 feet [or 35x45 feet according to a British drawing], rectangular.  It had strong, ball-proof brick sentry boxes at each corner which commanded every inch of ground around the house.  The structure, actually a fort, had walls three feet thick and floors of nearly the same dimension.  The roof was double-boarded, and its oak shingles were attached with wrought nails.  The cellar was divided into four rooms, with one to serve as a magazine and another to surround a well.  The walls of the cellar had 44 embrasures for small cannon.  The building stood on a projecting point of land (today called Scales Point) about 150 feet inland from the lake.”  Everest’s description is based on a letter written by Gilliland in 1775 and shown in the next section.  It was in 1775 that Gilliland switched sides and supported the American rebels which caused British commander Guy Carleton to offer 100 pounds of British currency for his capture.


American Occupation of Point au Fer in 1775 and 1776

On May 10, 1775, Crown Point and Ticonderoga were captured from the British by Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys, Benedict Arnold and militia from Massachusetts and Connecticut.  Arnold then proceeded to St. Johns where the garrison occupants quickly surrendered and a sloop was captured.  On the way there he wrote in his memo book: “Wednesday [May] 17th [1775]: Wind being fair proceeded within 30 miles of St. John at Point Au Fare, when being cautioned, we manned out two Battoes with 35 men, and after rowing all night arrived at St. Johns Six Oclock Thursday morning, where we surprised and took a sergeant and his party of 12 men.” 


American Gen. Sullivan’s Retreat from Canada in June 1776

As the British advanced toward Montréal, Gen. Sullivan and his 6,000 man army retreated from St. Johns back to Isle aux Noix.  Many soldiers in his army had become sick with smallpox and severe dysentery and the commander of the forces, 70 year old Gen. Thomas, died of smallpox on June 2 (it should be noted that Champlain founder Pliny Moore also got smallpox when he served in the army in Western New York but fortunately survived.)  In a letter from Gen. Sullivan to Gen. George Washington, written between June 8 and 12th, he noted that some of his regiments had recovered from the smallpox but that other regiments were: “…all Down in the Small pox not a Single man fit for duty.  This will be remedied in time….” A second letter written by Sullivan to Gen. Washington on June 24 from Isle au Noix described the seriousness of the smallpox epidemic and his desire to retreat from Canada: “I find myself under an Absolute Necessity of quiting this Island for a place more healthy.  Otherwise the Army will never be able to return, As one fortnight longer in this place will not leave us well men Enough to Carry off the Sick, Exclusive of the publick Stores, Which I preserv’d thus far.  The Raging of the Small Pox deprives us of whole Regiments in the Course of a few days, By their being taken down with that Cruel disorder.  But this is not all, the Camp Disorder [dysentery] Rages to such a degree, that of the Regiments remaining from Twenty to Sixty in each, Are taken down in a day, And we have nothing to give them but Salt Pork Flour & the Poisonous waters of this Lake.  I have therefore Determin’d with the Unanimous voice of the Officers, to remove to Isle Le Mott a place much more healthy than this where, I have some hope we Shall preserve the health of the few men we have till some order is taken.”   


Gen. Sullivan’s Possible Fortification of the “White House” in June of 1776

As Sullivan retreated from Canada in June of 1776, he expressed his concern that the enemy would continue down from Montréal to the border following the American retreat.   He wrote George Washington and stated: “…unless the Enemy make a Sudden push which Indeed we Expect every hour if so we must with the Numbers we have Sustain their Efforts & I hope Repulse them.”    A letter written on June 16 by Gen. Washington to Sullivan stated:  “Your conduct in pushing & securing posts low down the Country is certainly judicious & of the utmost advantage—For the farther down we can take posts and maintain them, the greater will our possession of the Country be, Observing at the same time, that a safe retreat should be left in case you should be ever obliged to abandon them by a Superior force.” A series of orders from the Board of War and Ordnance in mid-June and a letter from the president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, to George Washington made it official that a fort should be built at Point au Fer: “That the General to be sent into Canada be directed to view Point-au-Fer, and to order a Fortress to be erected there, if he should think proper.”  Washington concurred with this assessment in a June 20th letter: “I have communicated to Major-General Gates the resolve of Congress for him to repair to Canada, and directed him to view Point-au-Fer, that a fortress may be erected if he shall judge it necessary; he is preparing for his command, and in a few days will take his departure for it.”   



Additional Descriptions of the “White House” after 1776

Two more descriptions of the White House were found in British documents made during the time of British occupation.  A December 9, 1778 letter states: “the House is in good repair, conveniently fitted up and surrounded with a strong double Abbates and Barriers….The proposed Well is not yet sunk sufficiently deep for Water, but I ordered a miner from the Isle aux Noix, who will certainly perform that service in a few days.”   Another letter dated February 4, 1781 stated: “the House at Point au Fer is very habitable…. The Cellar and Fireplaces are nevertheless in bad repair, therefore I propose to lay before your Excellency the plan for a permanent floor over the Sellers, which shall be proof against small shells, to be executed in summer during which the Garrison is to live in Huts.” 


A more detailed description of the fortified White House was made by mapmaker Gother Mann in a letter written on June 13, 1791.  He wrote: “the post established here consists of a strong stone building of two stories and cellars, which has been made subservient to the purposes of defense by piercing the walls for musketry to fire through constructing a breastwork of logs at the angles, the last of flank the same.  The whole is surrounded with a strong double picketing, on which souls are placed to angles, and a six pounder is mounted within to defend the entrance, and to oppose the landing of boats…. It was estimated that as many as 50 men could man the Fort but that it would immediately fall under artillery fire.” In the 1860s, there were people alive in Champlain who remembered the garrison and noted that the cedar post stockade was 12 feet in height.  As noted in a letter written in 1778, the White House had a cedar stockade (double abates) surrounding it.  It is not clear if the British or Americans fortified the garrison after it was built in 1774.  The historical record, however, gives American General Sullivan this credit.


The Re-Occupation of Point au Fer by the British in October 1776

During the summer of 1776, the Americans and British prepared for battle on Lake Champlain by building a small navy.  In early October, the British started their move up the lake.  A British captain named Lanodiere had been sent out on a scouting party and returned on October 3 to say that the Americans had abandoned Point au Fer and Isle la Motte and that he could not see any of the American boats.  Additional boats were sent up the lake to try to find the American fleet.  Meanwhile, the British army, including the German New Brunswick soldiers under the command of Maj. Gen. Riedesel, were advancing towards the border.  A few days later, British Gen. Carleton and 400 Indians arrived at Point au Fer and they were ordered to march to the southern point of under command of Capt. Fraser.  Another party of Indians marched along the lakeshore opposite Point au Fer.  British and German soldiers now occupied Isle aux Noix, St. Therese, St. Johns and Chambly. Lieut. William Digby of the 53rd Regiment of Foot gave a firsthand account of the movement of the British army to Point au Fer:  “7th.  The First Brigade moved up to our post at Riviere-la-Cole, and ours went up to point-au-Faire, seven miles higher.”  The editor of Digby’s journal noted that Burgoyne considered Point au Fer an important location and fortified it with a block house.  The editor may have been referring to a remark in a second diary written by Lieut. James Hadden of the Royal Artillery.  Hadden wrote in his journal that the army camped at the Lacolle River on October 10 but the Navy’s fleet continued to Point au Fer where a “Block House” was erected and four companies of soldiers were left to defend it.  Digby also wrote about the conditions at Point au Fer: “at Point-au Faire, the Lake turns quiet a sea, forming a most beautiful prospect, being intersperced with numerous islands, mostly thick with trees, which at that time of the year (the trees changing their colour) added still to the scene.  This place is thickly covered with wood, under which we pitched our tents, waiting for the Inflexible;…”  It is not clear if Hadden is referring to making improvements to the existing garrison or if the troops built an additional building.


Gen. Burgoyne’s Campaign of 1777 and the Battle of Saratoga

The next major event that occurred at Point au Fer was the encampment of Gen. John Burgoyne’s army as he made his way from Isle aux Noix to Saratoga during his ill-fated conquest of northern New York.  This was the largest army the Lake Champlain region had ever seen and was only surpassed when the British took almost the same route from Isle aux Noix to Plattsburgh 37 years later during the War of 1812. 


Burgoyne’s Encampment at Point au Fer in June 1777

Very few historical books mention Burgoyne’s encampment at Point au Fer.  Even Burgoyne’s orderly book starts its entry on June 20 near Willsboro after some of the troops had passed through Point au Fer.  There are, however, some written accounts of Point au Fer in the historical literature.  Writing in his orderly book from camp near Ticonderoga on July 2, Gen. Burgoyne wrote:  “Upon the order to establish Point au Fer a military post, Lieut. Twiss of the Corps of Engineers, with Lieut. Beacroft of the 24th Regiment, Assistant Engineer, were sent there to form the establishment accordingly.  A detachment of infantry was also sent there to cover the workmen and defend the post, when it became a matter of doubt whether the officer commanding that detachment was to consider himself under the orders of the engineer at that point, although of senior rank by commission.”


Burgoyne’s Military Road in Champlain and Chazy

When Burgoyne’s army left St. John’s, many of the soldiers marched along the west side of the shore line with horses and carts managed by hundreds of hired Canadians.  The military train was one of the longest ever seen in North America at the time.  Burgoyne employed Canadians, called Corvees, to build a road for his army from Canada to Saratoga.  In Burgoyne’s orderly book, he described the problems he encountered with his military train.  The lack of corvees delayed his Army from leaving Canada. “The corvees, which are detachments of provincials without arms, to repair roads, convey provisions, or any other temporary employment for the king's service, could not be obtained in sufficient number, nor kept to their employments, although Sir Guy Carleton used every posible exertion and encouragement for the purpose.  Drivers for the provision carts, and other carriages, could not be fully supplied by the contractor, though no expence was spared; a circumstance which occasioned much inconvenience afterwards.  To these unavoidable disappointments were added the difficulties occasioned by bad weather, which rendered the roads almost impracticable at the carrying places, and consequently the pasage of the bateaux, artillery, and baggage exceedingly dilatory: we had beside a great deal of contrary wind.” Another author noted that the newly made carts pulling the supplies continued to break down: the axles would break because the wood was too green, and horse shoes came off from the horses exerting to pull the wagons out of the mud-filled roads.  This problem plagued Burgoyne’s army all the way down to Saratoga and caused considerable delays.


An old Champlain tradition states that the road built by Burgoyne was visible up to the mid-1800s on the lakeshore starting south of the Great Chazy River.  The road was composed of oak logs and ran along the shoreline over an impassable flat of land before the land elevation increased near Saxe’s Landing.  For Champlain’s first 70 years, it was called the “Military Road.”  Today, no trace of this road exists and the buried logs likely lie undisturbed on people’s land.


British Occupation of Point au Fer after Burgoyne’s Surrender (1777-1783)

On October 17, 1777, Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga after his army was vastly outnumbered and his supply line from Canada was cut off.  The forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point transferred back into American hands.  But the post at Point au Fer was so close to the Canadian border that it was not considered a strategic location to the Americans.  The British left a small group of soldiers at the Point but it was not a force that could mount an attack.  A letter to George Washington from Major General Philip Schuyler, written on November 24, 1778, described the fort’s occupation: I have six Indians now with me who left Canada about the 30th ult: they Inform me that the Enemy have a Small post Occupied by fifty men at point-au-fer, that the troops at Isle-au-noix amount to about four hundred, that [half] that number Garrison St Johns, that there are very few at Montreal, that they are Constructing a fort Near the mouth of Sorrel on the Spot where General Sullivan proposed to make a stand in 1776.”

British Occupation of Point au Fer after the Revolutionary War (1783-1796)

After the Revolutionary War ended, hostilities between the United States and Great Britain ceased.  The Treaty of Paris was supposed to have defined the boundaries of the United States but the British considered the 45th parallel in dispute.  It was claimed that British territory extended 10 miles south of the border to Chazy.  The British hoped to limit American settlement on this disputed land in the belief that the boundary would be redefined at a later date.  They subsequently retained soldiers at eight different locations in the United States including in Detroit, several forts on the Great Lakes and two forts on Lake Champlain: Point au Fer and Dutchman’s Point at North Hero, Vermont.

In 1784, New York State set aside land in the newly formed 231,540 acre Canadian and Nova Scotia Refugee Tract that stretched down from the Canadian border to Plattsburgh and included Champlain, Ellenburg, Beekmantown, Chazy and parts of the town of Plattsburgh.  The Point au Fer tract of 500 acres was set aside for “military purposes” as the state did not control this land. 


The British Harassment of Champlain’s Citizens

Four years after the signing of the Treaty of Paris and the end of the Revolutionary War, the Canadian government decided to instill upon Champlain’s residents that they were settled in British territory and not in America.  In 1787, Quebec governor Guy Carleton, who was now given the title of Lord Dorchester, ordered that all men living up to 10 miles south of the Canadian border were to enroll in the Canadian militia and be governed by the laws of Québec.  This caused considerable anxiety among the people of Champlain although Loyalists living in Alburg were happy with this order.  Little else came of this order and all was quiet for three more years. 

  The magnitude and boldness of the British harassment also worried President George Washington but his top concern was to keep the peace between the two countries, regardless of what was happening in Champlain.  On September 14, 1791, Washington wrote, in part: “The intelligence, it communicates, is of a nature both serious and important. Indeed, the step it announces, as about to be taken by the British, would be one so extraordinary in every view…. Nor has the matter failed to receive from me the degree of attention to which it is intitled.  Yet in a point of such vast magnitude as that of the preservation of the peace of the Union—particularly in this still very early stage of our affairs, and at a period so little remote from a most exhausting and affecting, though successful war, the public welfare and safety evidently enjoin a conduct of circumspection, moderation and forbearance.”  


Steel’s Garden

“Steel’s Garden” was a patch of land on Stony Point in Rouses Point where British Capt. John Steel (1737-1826) grew a garden.  After Steel was given the command of the Maria anchored at Point au Fer, he planted a vegetable garden that was one acre in size on the southern slope of a high bluff that overlooked Lake Champlain.  At the time, the bluff was probably unreachable by land as it was surrounded by water on the east side and swamp on the north, west and south sides.  Today, the bluff is reached by a road that has been built in the northern part of the swamp and residents have houses on this land.  This area was known as “Steel’s Garden” for over 60 years and it is said that Steel planted the Mallow flower here which is a white or purple flower that grows like up to six feet high.  Perhaps this flower still resides on the bluff.  A boulder offshore is supposed to have figures carved into it by Steel or a soldier.


The William Beaumont Survey of Point au Fer in 1805 and the Burning of the White House

After the Revolutionary War, William Gilliland lost most of his land grants in Clinton and Essex Counties when the New York State legislature decided not to honor royal grants that did not have a formal patent issued.   After the British left Point au Fer in June of 1796, several families lived in the abandoned garrison.  Edward Thurber (1736-1806) and his wife Abigail lived in it in 1797 for a short time.  Unfortunately, Abigail died on May 29, 1797 and is considered the first English speaking person to have died in Rouses Point.  Perhaps she was living at the White House at the time of her death.  Afterwards, Edward moved to Rouses Point with his children where they all became respected citizens.   Edward and his family are now buried in Maple Hill Cemetery after being moved from the Thurber Cemetery (see the 2012 Champlain Historic Calendar).  In 1798 and 1799 a Mr. Dillingham lived in the garrison and between 1801 and 1802 another person named Blanchard occupied the building for a short time, according to Everest.


The Rochesters on Point Au Fer

The Rochester family has lived on Point au Fer since 1839 and several descendents of the family continue to live there today.  George Rochester of England was the first Rochester to buy land from John Walker.  In 1839 and 1842 Rochester became owner of the Lot No. 1.  John and his brother Charles are now buried in the unmarked Rochester and Walker burial ground at the end of the Point, along with other family members.  John Walker’s wife and his children died later and are buried in Maple Hill Cemetery.



The Point Au Fer Memorial Park Dedication in 2009

In 2008 with the Quadricentennial celebrations being planned for the summer of 2009, grants became available for dedication ceremonies along Lake Champlain with the help of Celine Racine Paquette who was vice-chairperson of the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission. 



Read or hear about the 2017 Champlain Historic Calendar in local media:

About the sources of material for this calendar series

Some archive information is courtesy the Special Collections, Feinberg Library at Plattsburgh State University College

To purchase a

            This calendar, with an expanded 19 page historical essay, will benefit the Glenwood Cemetery Association of Champlain.    It can be purchased at many locations in the Champlain and Plattsburgh areas.


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