Lake George Oozes WMass Links

Midweek, early evening, front-yard burning bushes displaying a light, peaceful autumn crimson that’s brightening by the day.

My wife Joey is watching local news in the west parlor when she hears the familiar audible alert for an incoming text. It’s longtime friend Debbie, from Cohasset. Debbie wonders if we’d like to join her for the weekend in upstate New York, at her posh home on the shoreline of Lake George’s picturesque Dark Bay.

Hmmmm? Tempting.

Joey rises from her chair and walks through the wing to see what I think. I’m watching The Beat With Ari Melber in another parlor as she approaches through the dining room. She breaks the threshold and says, “Honey, Debbie just invited us to Lake George for the weekend. Would you be interested?”

“Sure. Why not?” was my kneejerk response.  “We can hit the road Friday morning.”

“OK. Let me check with her.”

The answer from Cohasset was yes. A midday Friday arrival would be perfect. Debbie planned to arrive on Thursday night. She proposed taking her boat to the south shore restaurant across the bay in Lake George Village for lunch?

Sounded good. We’d see what Friday brought.

You’d have to know the property to understand the generous offer. My arm never needs twisting for a trip to Lake George – the colonial, and before that Indigenous, inland gateway to the St. Lawrence Seaway. There kindred, starlit spirits lurk to the relaxing call of common loons accompanied by soothing percussion of short, quiet waves lapping the midnight shore.

I was psyched. The acreage where Debbie’s family compound sits was once owned by President Teddy Roosevelt’s New York City sportsmen’s club. Now situated in a privileged world folks like me can only visit, it’s a hop, skip, and jump across the water to the curling peninsula on which Red Sox owner John Henry’s palatial vacation home lies. You ought to get a look at that place. Judging from the staging assembled across the front, it’s about the get a new addition, maybe a spacious porch facing the water and mountains to the north.

The weather forecast looked great – all the makings for a glorious weekend in place. Hey, maybe we’d even find flaming foliage somewhere along the way, its peak running late after an exceptionally wet summer.

Anticipation of the trip immediately set my cranial wheels awhirl. I have rich ancestral connections dating back to the early colonial period in the upper Hudson Valley, as well as the foreboding yet stunningly beautiful Lake George-Lake Champlain corridor. I immediately dug into my library to accurately refresh my personal connections, just in case the topic came up in conversation or we visited an historic site where accurate data would come in handy.

The Connecticut Valley, and especially the Deerfield-Hatfield area, sent many soldiers, scouts, and militia to the Lakes George/Champlain theater from the final days of King Philip’s War (1675-78) right through to the War of 1812. Most intense around Lake George were the decades of the 1740s and 1750s, when the Hatfield-Deerfield Williams family not only commanded but also supplied a “Line of Forts” protecting western Massachusetts’ northern border from Northfield to North Adams. The same family connections also spilled into Stockbridge, the upper Hudson Valley, and, yes, Lake George, where Ephraim Williams, Jr. met his maker at the infamous September 8, 1755 Bloody Morning Scout ambush, a Battle of Lake George component.

That ambush site was near where we were staying, in the neighborhood of Fort William Henry, which was under construction at the time and occupied in November 1755.

The historic first English penetration up Lake George – which flows south to north – occurred following a September 19, 1677 Indian attack on Hatfield during which 21 captives were taken north to Canada. Among the hostages were the wives and children of well-known Hatfield scout Benjamin Waite (often spelled Wait) and neighbor Stephen Jennings, who became the first Englishmen to paddle the Lake George-Lake Champlain water route to Canada. Their mission was to find their way there, negotiate the release of their families, and bring them home.

When they reached Albany, after much official maneuvering, Waite and Jennings secured the assistance of a Mohawk warrior, who delivered them through deep snow to Lake George’s frigid southern shore on December 10. There the Native warrior equipped them with a canoe and sketched out the Lake George-Lake Champlain route to Canada on a piece of birchbark before bidding them adieux.

The Hatfield adventurers made it to Lake Champlain on December 16 and reached the Canadian frontier around January 6. In Quebec they negotiated the release of 17 surviving captives and were homeward bound on May 2, 1678. By May 23 they had reached Albany, where they rested while awaiting the arrival of a Hatfield escort team to help them home.

As my eighth-great-grandfather, Brave Benjamin Waite gives me English roots that grow no deeper in the Lake George/Lake Champlain corridor. In my world that’s a spiritual connection – one that pales in comparison to that of Native Americans who greeted Europeans to this continent, and even to the Frenchmen who had beat the English to these North Country Lakes by about 70 years.

Waite is one of many genealogical links that I and many other locals with early Connecticut Valley lineage share with Lake George colonials. They start with Waite and Jennings, continue with early 18th-century woodsmen and scouts like Captain Martin Kellogg, and intensify during the mid-18th century with the likes of Martin Severance, Agrippa Wells, and Moses Harvey, to name only a few.

On their heels came a new breed of pugnacious Scots-Irishmen who marched with (Robert) Rogers’ Rangers, and whose families populated inland New Hampshire and the earliest Colrain and Pelham settlements. Many soldiers from old, established Connecticut Valley families joined these Rangers and stayed with them right through to the conclusion in 1763 of the Seven Years War, which ended some 75 years of the so-called French and Indian Wars.

Today these colonial warriors, saluted for their rugged individualism, hatred of Red Coats, and healthy mistrust in government, lie in their final resting places, their graves marked by simple slate stones in our oldest burial grounds. Many of them were known soon after the Revolution for rejecting Federalism, which they saw as a breeding-ground for a new American aristocracy, and supporting Shays’ Rebellion.

I’m thankful that an evening text and trip to Lake George opened an old historical vein that loves to bleed, and brought me back to a place where my earliest North American ancestors braved the storm of colonial war. I’m also thankful that this exploration led me new, exciting information about an early Bloody Brook (South Deerfield) settler named William Anderson, who has for decades been a fascination of mine.

Anderson is said by Deerfield historian George Sheldon to have arrived on these shores as a Scottish soldier under British General James Abercrombie (1706-81), who arrived in 1757. Abercrombie’s claim to shame was his defeat as commanding officer at the siege of Fort Carillon, later Ticonderoga. There, on July 8, 1758, despite leading nearly 16,000 soldiers who greatly outnumbering the French, he suffered a humiliating defeat he would never live down, losing more than 2,000 soldiers in the process.

Anderson, a survivor, returned to Carillon a year later, this time under Lord Jeffery Amherst, who defeated the French and captured the fort. Five years later, according to Sheldon, the soldier from Dunfermline, Scotland, was settled at “the Old Anderson Place” in Bloody Brook, which may be so. Thus far, however, despite diligent searches, I have been unable to pin down the location.

Fresh genealogical information indicating that Anderson’s given surname was Jansson, not Anderson, may help me solve the vexing mystery.

Then again, maybe not.


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