May 18

The First Enterprise

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 12:49 AM

From our recently departed friend and shipmate, Mark L. Hayes. RIP Shipmate. You stand relieved. We have the watch.

The struggle during the American Revolution for the strategic Lake Champlain region began in the early morning hours of 10 May 1775 when Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen led a surprise raid that captured British-garrisoned Fort Ticonderoga, New York. Arnold knew that the patriot’s hold on the fort was precarious as long as the armed sloop Betsy, then at St. Johns on the northern end of the lake, remained under British control. Disciplined red coats from Montreal could sail down the lake in bateaux under the protection of Betsy and overwhelm the green Americans, reversing their important gains. Four days after taking Fort Ticonderoga, Arnold in command of a small schooner captured at Skenesborough, New York, rechristened Liberty, sailed to north end of Lake Champlain.

Liberty dropped anchor thirty miles from St. Johns as the sun began to set on 17 May. Thirty-five Massachusetts militiamen under Arnold’s command rowed ashore in two small bateaux, arriving at dawn the next morning. A British sergeant and twelve men guarding the sloop were armed and ready, but the sudden rush by the Americans convinced them to surrender. Learning that a force of forty red coats was expected at any time from Chambly only twelve miles distant, Arnold quickly made the sloop ready to get underway, taking on board all the stores and provisions available. A northerly wind allowed for a quick departure towing five bateaux and having burned five others, thus leaving no craft of any kind behind.

The small American flotilla soon arrived at Fort Ticonderoga where Arnold armed the sloop with six carriage guns and twelve swivels. She was also rechristened Enterprise, the first of American eight warships to carry that name. Arnold soon took his new command north to Crown Point to guard against any British incursion down the lake. For now, his was the only armed force afloat, and he stood master of Lake Champlain.

Following Arnold’s departure from the region later that summer, Enterprise assisted in convoying the American expedition to Canada under Richard Montgomery. She become part of the fleet that covered the American retreat in 1776 and fought with Benedict Arnold again in the desperate battle of Valcour Bay the following September. Enterprise was one of four ships that survived into 1777, but was burned in the face of British Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne’s march southward, toward eventual defeat at Saratoga in October.

 
 
 
  • Jim Valle

    The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum owns a replica of one of the gunboats Arnold had constructed for action on the Lake in 1776-77. It is a masterpeice of improvisation and make-do technology for its time and well worth a visit. Arnold was a skilled, resourceful and energetic commander. Too bad he had that fatal flaw in his character.

 
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