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Letter from Lake George

Exploring the Great Warpath

Evidence from forts, hospitals, and taverns in upstate New York is illuminating the lives of thousands of British soldiers during the French and Indian War

September/October 2019

Lake George ViewOn a bluff above the southern shore of the picturesque Lake George stands a small granite memorial. A bronze plaque commemorates the burial of four soldiers who died nearby during the 1755 Battle of Lake George, an early skirmish in the French and Indian War, which pitted British forces against the French and their Native American allies. The men’s remains had been unexpectedly disturbed during road construction in the 1930s, and were eventually reinterred in their present location beneath the monument. They are believed to be the oldest unknown American soldiers in the United States.

 

Lake George Unknown Soldiers MonumentThis grim discovery is not altogether unusual for this region. There are many forgotten graves here, vestiges of a time when tens of thousands of soldiers roamed, fought, and died in these woods. “Given the long history of intense military activity here, I would expect that many additional unknown burials remain undiscovered in the area,” says Charles Vandrei, historic preservation officer with New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The sporadic encounters with fallen soldiers are reminders of a contentious chapter in North American history, when this frontier region was the chessboard on which two European superpowers played a bloody game that would determine the destiny of a continent.

 

Although today this section of upstate New York is bustling with throngs of summer tourists, 250 years ago it was harsh wilderness covered by tangled forests, marshy wetlands, and otherwise inhospitable terrain. It was also critically strategic territory, as it comprised a kind of no-man’s-land between French possessions in Canada and British possessions in New York and New England. War loomed on the horizon as each crown claimed the area as its own.

 

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