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1760 "Battle of the Thousand Islands"


What went down in history as the Battle of the Thousand Islands ended when the French and Canadian defenders struck their colors in August 1760; only when their artillery was destroyed by a prolonged bombardment. The few survivors of the 350-man garrison commanded by Captain Pierre Pouchot surrendered with honors to General Jeffrey Amherst’s Anglo-American army of 12,000.

On a nondescript stretch of waterfront in Ogdensburg, New York rest the foundations of Fort La Présentation under two metres and two centuries of historic strata. That may soon change, if the Fort La Présentation Association has its way.

“As small frontier forts go there were the usual stone bastions and log stockade, but we are determined to see the fort rebuilt because it is a major factor in our heritage,” said Barbara O’Keefe, President of the Fort La Présentation Association. “Although forts such as Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Niagara are more imposing; this is our history we want to bring to life.”

O’Keefe an energetic, retired educator is also a member of the New York State French and Indian War 250th Anniversary Commemoration Commission. Despite her hectic schedule, she always has time to share her enthusiasm for the fort’s reconstruction near the original site on Lighthouse Point where the Oswegatchie River enters the St. Lawrence River.

Fort La Présentation embodied a French toehold on the northern edge of the British Province of New York built to woo Christianized Iroquois to the French cause in the impending, final struggle for control of North America. In May 1749, when the Sulpician Abbé François Picquet journeyed from Montreal to found his mission, England and France had for 140 years periodically locked horns over continental dominance. The virulently anti-Protestant Piquet prayed to see his flock deliver destruction to the Anglo-American colonists. He nurtured a sizeable community to that end.

At its height in the mid 1750s, the parish of La Présentation congregated as many as 3,000 souls when Montreal’s urban population stood at 4,000. The people of La Présentation, centered on the fort, were dispersed along the New York shore, on adjacent islands and across the river in what is now Ontario. In this diffused community, lived warriors prepared, with some persuasion, to carry the fight to the British colonies when the French and Indian War erupted in 1754. To have them join the campaigns in the Mohawk Valley and the Lake Champlain Basin, French and Franco-Canadian military leaders were obliged to treat with their allies.

First came Canadian-born Lt. Gaspard Joseph Chaussegros de Lery to lead a mixed force on snowshoes to burn Fort Bull (near present-day Rome, NY) in March 1756. That August, Louis-Joseph Montcalm prevailed upon the warriors to help in the reduction of Fort Oswego on the southeast shore of Lake Ontario.

Some of their number supported Montcalm at the capture of Fort William Henry on Lake George in August 1757, and others trekked with another Canadian, Capt. François Marie Picoté, to victory at German Flats on the Mohawk River in November. A few warriors watched Montcalm’s victory at Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) in July 1758; they did not join the battle.

History was not kind to La Présentation. The British forces tightened their noose around New France. Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ontario) capitulated to Col. John Bradstreet’s Anglo-American army in August 1758, and the head of the St. Lawrence was sealed. A month earlier the Fortress of Louisbourg, the guardian of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, had fallen to Crown forces. In 1759 Abbé Picquet returned to Montreal, and La Présentation was abandoned.

“History books would have you think once the British controlled the St. Lawrence the last battle for control of North American blazed on the Plains of Abraham outside the walls of Quebec City in September 1759,” commented O’Keefe. “Well, that’s not quite right.

“Pieces of La Présentation found their way to Isle Royale three miles down river and into the construction of Fort Lévis. This was the site of the last battle.”

What went down in history as the Battle of the Thousand Islands ended when the French and Canadian defenders struck their colors in August 1760; only when their artillery was destroyed by a prolonged bombardment. The few survivors of the 350-man garrison commanded by Captain Pierre Pouchot surrendered with honors to General Jeffrey Amherst’s Anglo-American army of 12,000.

La Présentation, quickly refurbished by the British, became Fort Oswegatchie and housed a small bellicose garrison during the American Revolution. When finally relinquished to the Americans in 1796, the new name was Fort Presentation whose parlous walls were abandoned during the War of 1812.

The residents of Ogdensburg soon stripped the ruin of wood, stone and metal to build their community. In succession, a boat works, a railway yard, a tank farm and other enterprises came and went from Lighthouse Point. Their accumulating industrial detritus buried the fort’s stone floors.

“Fortunately, there remains one very significant material artefact,” O’Keefe said. “Abbé Picquet’s hand-engraved cornerstone, preserved in Ogdensburg City Hall, bears a Latin inscription which translated reads In the name of God this stone was laid by François Picquet 1749.

“The rough limestone block has inspired generations to dream of rebuilding Fort La Présentation,” she continued. “People may think we are wishful thinkers too, but in less than 10 years the Fort La Présentation Association has grown into a determined organization with the confidence to move ahead.”

After eight years of occasionally testy exchanges with Exxon-Mobil and the State of New York, the never-say-quit association succeeded in having subsurface petroleum contamination removed from the fort site. Following that success, the association plans a multi-million dollars fund-raising campaign to rebuild the fort.

Ogdensburg’s days as an industrial city have rusted away, but this dedicated group is intent on starting La Présentation’s reconstruction in 2010 as a step in the process of economic redevelopment. They know they have a challenge in this time of recession, but they are committed to preserving and vivifying history.

“We have laid the groundwork. Each July for nearly 10 years, the Association has sponsored Founder’s Day Weekend on our 22 acres, owned free and clear, on Lighthouse Point,” said O’Keefe. “Military, civilian and Native re-enactors from New York, New England, Pennsylvania, Ontario, Quebec and beyond camp here to bring our colonial and aboriginal past to life. For them, this is hallowed ground.”

Come July 2010, when Founder’s Day Weekend hosts New York State’s 250th anniversary commemoration marking the end of the French and Indian War, O’Keefe and the fort association plan a ceremonial groundbreaking for the resurrected Fort La Présentation.

By Michel Whittaker, Fort La Présentation Association

Michael Whittaker is a member of the Board of Directors of the Fort La Présentation Association, in Ogdensburg, N.Y.  He has been a military re-enactor for more than 25 years, as a member of Forsyth's Rifles, the United Train of Artillery of Rhode Island and similar organizations. Whittaker also provides heritage interpretation to schools, historic sites and community events. He has many years experience in media and public relations with the Government of Canada. He is a branding analyst in the International Markets Bureau of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Editor's Note: For more detailed information on Founder’s Day Weekend see video coverage of the 2008 Founder's Day Weekend by the Canadian Army News. The schedule for Founder’s Day Weekend July 18-19, 2009 is posted at http://www.fortlapresentation.net/2009poster.pdf.

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Comments

Ian Coristine
Comment by: Ian Coristine ( )
Left at: 9:35 PM Friday, June 19, 2009
Rebuilding La Presentation is a wonderful idea! Too few understand that this isn't just Ogdensburg's history, but the entire continent's. It was the final piece to fall in the extended chess match fought between the British and French in North America.

The game began in earnest two years earlier when the Fraser Highlanders took Louisbourg and a year later, Quebec City at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham which almost all believe was conclusive. It was not. Another battle was fought at Quebec in 1760 (the Battle of Ste. Foy) with the British losing. Montreal remained in French hands.

It was only when British General Amherst swept down the St. Lawrence in the fall of 1760 leaving behind legends and lore such as the story of the Lost Channel and the Battle of the Thousand Islands that the continent finally fell to the British. If it had not played out in this way, there is every likelihood that the U.S. and Canada would be vastly different places than they are today.

Bring on La Presentation!
Michael Whittaker
Comment by: Michael Whittaker ( )
Left at: 11:32 AM Saturday, June 20, 2009
Ian;

Thank you very much for your comment.

The rebuilding of the fort will be a multi-million-dollar project...about $3-million to install the subsurface infrastructure. We hope to soon start our major fund-raising campaign.

The Fort La Présentation Association has researched, consulted and planned to build the fort. Realistically, we will have to build sequentially as the funding comes in. Abbé Picquet's home that became a corner bastion will be the first constructed.

We have established an endowment fund and are working on building our fort association membership. As you can image we have a number of challenges to overcome.

As an indication of our commitment, the Abbé Picquet Monument will be moved from Notre Dame Church to near its original site on Lighthouse Point the week of June 29 to July 3. A number of weather- and vandal-resistant plaques will be part of this small heritage complex. A time capsule is to be included next year when the 250th anniversary of the end of the F&I War is commemorated in Ogdensburg.

The consent of the Notre Dame Parish and the Swe-kat-si Chapter of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution was essential to move this project ahead. Funding came from the Sweetgrass Foundation.

The monument will be rededicated at 10 A.M., Saturday, July 18 as the opening ceremony for Founder's Day Weekend.

Teresa Frazier
Comment by: Teresa Frazier ( )
Left at: 9:00 PM Wednesday, September 29, 2010
As my great great great grandfather lived nearly just outside the Fort LaPresentation's walls, I have a personal interest in Fort LaPresentation, and would much like to see it survive so that at sometime before I die, I might walk where he walked, being of French and American Indian heritage, this is a fond dream that I have and I hope to go on dreaming it. I very much appreciated seeing the reinactment of the battle at LaPresentation via my computer. I extend my sincerest gratitude to the people who support Fort LaPresentation and Ogdensburg.
Michael Whittaker
Comment by: Michael Whittaker ( )
Left at: 7:54 AM Thursday, September 30, 2010
Ms. Frazier, I am very moved by your comment and pleased you can follow us with the aid of your computer.

We too dream of seeing the fort's wall rise again. The Fort Association will soon launch a formal fundraising campaign to allow us to construct an interpretive center/museum before starting the fort. Potential donors have told us this is what they want to see first. The Greater Ogdensburg Chamber of Commerce has expressed an interest in establishing their office in this building to serve tourists and other visitors to the city.

The 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Thousand Islands we commemorated this summer was a great event, the largest we have yet organized. Everyone, visitors, re-enactors, sutlers and special guests, came away happy. You would be very welcome at Founder's Day Weekend, or anytime you could visit Ogdensburg, given your family connection to the fort's history.

Best wishes to you!
Ron Revello
Comment by: Ron Revello ( )
Left at: 1:40 PM Friday, February 4, 2011
I think it is an awesome idea to keep History Alive. I woul dvery much love to be part of the work that is involved. My side of the Family came into this area many years ago and was part of the history in that Fort.
I thnk it would be an honor to be part of the re-build of this great place.
I'll put some hard labor in this plan, just let me know..

looking at a visit soon to the area, to see where my roots started.

Good luck with the adventure!
Philippe Gensou
Comment by: Philippe Gensou ( )
Left at: 6:52 PM Friday, September 16, 2011

This is definitely a great project to honor the memory of l'Abbé Picquet. Amazingly enough, due to the strong friendship links Abbé Picquet had developed with the christian Abenaki-Wyandot-Iroquois natives living at La Présentation, the Marquis de Montcalm once said : « L’Abbé Picquet vaut plus que dix régiments » (Abbé Picquet is worth more than ten regiments !).
Keep up the good work.
Michael Whittaker
Comment by: Michael Whittaker
Left at: 7:54 AM Monday, September 19, 2011
Merci, M. Gensou

Abbé Picquet is the name associated with the La Présentation; Montcalm, Bougainville and the other men of history who visited the mission are almost footnotes to the story of Abbé Picquet.

The Fort Association has begun a multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign to build an interpretation centre adjacent to the fort's archaeological remains.

I hope you have an opportunity to visit Ogdensburg and Founder's Day Weekend someday.

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