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AMERICANS FORTIFY THEMSELVES ON THE LAKE-VER
MONTERS DECLARE THEIR INDEPENDENCE OF NEW
YORK AND ADOPT A CONSTITUTION
Declaration of Independence; Mount Independence.Unable to endure the arbitrary measures of Great Britain longer, Congress declared the United States independent of that country July 4, 1776. General Gates now took command of the army on the lake; and fearing he could not hold both Crown Point and Ticonderoga, abandoned the former and greatly strengthened the latter.
On a peninsula opposite in the town of Orwell, a site was chosen for another fort, a heavily timbered eminence, which was soon converted into a bare mountain by demolishing the timbers for the building of the fort and the use of the garrison. While this fort was in the process of construction, news came of the Declaration of Independence; and from this fact the position was named Mt. Independence.
Convention at Dorset, July 24, 1776.—When Mr. Allen returned from Philadelphia a general meeting was called to hear the report of the decisions of Congress, and also to consider what measures ought to be adopted in regard to their difficulties with New York. Circulars were therefore addressed to the different towns asking them to appoint delegates to attend this meeting.
The convention met at the appointed time and was attended by fifty-one delegates from thirty-one towns, only
one town east of the mountains being represented. After hearing Mr. Allen's report, the convention agreed to form
association among themselves for the defense and liber. ties of their country.” They also declared that they would not submit to the government of New York, and that any of the grantees who should do so would be considered enemies of their country. A proposition was made to make application to grantees to form that district known as the New Hampshire Grants into a separate district. This was adopted with but one dissenting voice, and was the first formal act of the grantees to form themselves into a separate district.
A committee, consisting of Heman Allen, Jonas Fay, and William Marsh, was then appointed to consult with the people on the east side of the mountains concerning this project. When, in August, committees of Gloucester and Cumberland counties met in convention at Windsor to nominate officers for their companies of rangers, these three men were on the ground. The subject of a separate jurisdiction was urged very forcibly by Allen ; and to learn the views of the people on the proposition the inhabitants of each town were requested to assemble in town meeting and there express freely their opinions.
As a result of this, most of the towns announced themselves in favor of withdrawing from the jurisdiction of New York and making of themselves a separate district; some were divided on the subject; and a few, firmly adhering to New York, voted not to send delegates to Dorset, where a general convention had been called for the following September to ascertain the voice of the people on this most important matter.
Convention at Dorset, September 25, 1776.- The leaven was working ; and the dissatisfaction with the New York authorities had now become so general that when the convention met at Dorset in September, the towns on the east side as well as the west were well represented ; and it was unanimously voted, “to take suitable measures, as soon as may be, to declare the N. H. Grants a free and separate district.”
They also resolved to obey no laws or directions received from New York, but to be governed henceforth by laws (not conflicting with the resolves of Congress) made in conventions of the N. H. Grants. They clothed themselves with the power of forming militia.companies and furnishing troops for the common defense, appointing a Committee of War, whose right it was to call out the militia at any time for the defense of the grants or any other part of the continent. They also ordered that a jail should be built at Manchester for the safe-keeping of Tories.
Two Fleets Built. —After driving the Americans from Canada, the British determined to construct a fleet by means of which they might also drive them from the lake and recover the forts which they had lost the year before. Accordingly, they established a navy-yard at St. Johns; and soon several boats were in the
process of construction. Sis armed vessels had been sent over from England, and these now moved forward to join the fleet at St. Johns; but when they came to the rapids at Chambly they could go no farther, and here had to be taken to pieces, transported, and afterward reconstructed.
At Skenesboro, at the other end of Lake Champlain, was a second navy-yard, where the Americans, under the direction of Benedict Arnold, were equally busy constructing a fleet, by means of which they hoped to keep the command of the lake. They had but scant material with which to construct their boats, save timber green from the forest; and this must be dragged by hand to the water's edge, where it was intended to be used. Ship carpenters were also hard to procure, and the equipment for the vessels had to be brought great distances over almost impassable roads. But, in the face of all obstacles, so expeditiously was the work carried on, the American fleet was ready by the last of August. About a month later the British fleet was in readiness. It was much stronger than that of the Americans, and manned by nearly twice as many men; but, in spite of the odds against him, Arnold advanced down the lake to meet the opposing fleet.
The Battle near Valcour Island ; Arnold's Retreat.On the morning of October 11, Arnold, being informed of the approach of the enemy, stationed his fleet between the New York shore and the island of Valcour. The thick foliage of the island hid the fleet from view of the main channel through which the British fleet passed. On discovering Arnold's fleet in their rear, the British turned and advanced upon them from the south. A severe battle ensued, in which both sides displayed much valor, and in which both sustained severe loss. From noon till night it raged, and much of the time so loud was the roar of battle that it could be heard at Crown Point, some forty miles distant.
At nightfall the British placed their whole fleet across the channel to prevent the escape of the Americans, meaning to renew the fight in the morning. But Arnold, now hoping for nothing better than escape with his shattered fleet, succeeded, under cover of a dark and foggy night, in getting away; some say directly through the enemy's lines, while others affirm that he made his escape around the north end of the island. However this may be, he made all speed southward and was out of sight of the enemy before dawn.
Naval battle on Lake Champlain, 1776. A, American flotilla under Arnold. B-C, British, under Carleton. D, probable line of retreat of the Americans when the British had
been forced back to E.
Discovering the escape, the British gave chase in the dim light of the morning. Sighting what they supposed to be a vessel, they poured broadside after broadside into it, until the increasing light revealed the astonishing fact