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July 28, 2006

Visitors Can Witness French and Indian War Battle at Fort Ontario Aug. 10 - 13

Oswego -- The largest gathering of French and Indian War re-enactors to ever assemble in Central New York will meet at Fort Ontario State Historic Site in Oswego to recreate the 250th anniversary of the 1756 French capture and destruction of the three forts of Oswego. The re-enactors will recreate the historical events from August 10 to August 13.

Visitors will be able to experience the sights and sounds of camp and garrison life of a fort under siege in the 18th century as part of the commemoration of Major-General Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm's first great victory over the British.

The event will feature over 1,000 British, French, Provincial, and French Canadian militia, sailors, and Native American re-enactors along with oar and sail powered bateaux; a tall ship; war canoes; cannons; merchants; fur traders; craftsmen; fife and drum music; storytelling; children's games; lectures and displays.

Fort Ontario's event is the second signature event selected by the 250th Anniversary of the French and Indian War Commemoration Commission and the I Love New York state tourism office.

"Oswego was once the scene of an intense rivalry between the French and British, as it was the site of the most important trading posts in America. Over 300 traders operated out of Oswego with their own village of 70 log huts, located near today's Water Street," said Paul Lear, site manager of Fort Ontario.

The first Fort Ontario was built in 1755 and was a simple eight-pointed wooden stockade. Along with Fort Oswego (b.1727) and Fort George (b.1755), these lonely outposts of the British lost about 300 men, or half of their garrison, to disease, starvation, and exposure during the terrible winter of 1755-56.

Reinforced in the spring, British and colonial troops were constantly harassed by scalping parties of Canadians and Indians. Most of these attacks originated from a secret advance French base established at "Cabin Cove," now called Sunset Bay.

In 1756, Fort Ontario was attacked by the French and Indians in May and June but was able to withstand the attack.

A convoy of bateaux, or flat-bottomed supply boats, was ambushed on the Oswego River near the modern Fulton-Minetto area on July 3, 1756. Their resourceful commander, John Bradstreet, led the American colonials to defeat them near Battle Island, now a state golf course.

On Friday afternoon, August 11, nearly 400 re-enactors with bateaux and canoes will recreate the French and Native American attack on Bradstreet's bateaux column at the original site.

In August, 1756, the Marquis de Montcalm led 4,000 troops and Indians ashore at Baldwin's Bay without detection along with more than 25 pieces of heavy artillery. The French troops and natives staged a massive attack on the fort, and Fort Ontario fell on August 13.

Highlights of the weekend include:

  • Historian John Gosek Jr. will discuss Montcalm's campaign during a special Seaway Trail walking tour of Fort Ontario on Thursday, August 10, at 7 p.m. Walkers will gather at the Enlisted Men's Barracks inside Fort Ontario. Fee for the walks are $8 for adults and $4 for children.
  • On Friday at 8 p.m., historian George Bray, will discuss Lt. Thomas Davies, a British military artist of the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars.
  • Historian Al Sterling of Herkimer Home State Historic Site will discuss the supply line along the waterways from Schenectady to Oswego on Saturday at 11 a.m. He will sign copies of his book on the subject. Bob Bearor will also be on hand to sign his three publications on the famous Battle of the Snowshoes, French and Indian war sites, and military leadership.
  • On Saturday at noon and 3:15 p.m., the Fife and Drum Corps of Fort Ticonderoga will perform at the fort.
  • Also on Saturday, the battle at the fort will begin at 2 p.m. and start with the ambush of French Engineer Des Combles by his own Native American allies, and end with British and Provincial troops firing from the walls of Fort Ontario to drive away the French.
  • The tall ship Fair Jeanne from Ottawa will be in the Oswego harbor on Saturday and Sunday "patrolling the harbor to contain the British fleet."
  • A British cannon will be set up on the pier by the H. Lee White Marine Museum and a massive artillery bombardment of Fort Oswego will take place from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Fort Ontario will remain open until 9 p.m. on Saturday night so visitors can view the bombardment from the ramparts. The public can watch the bombardment from the pier near the museum as well as the fort. At the fort, the French earthworks have been re-created on the bluff beneath the forts' walls and will be filled with cannons. Over 300 blank artillery rounds will be fired from cannons and mortars in the longest artillery engagement ever staged at a French and Indian War reenactment. Charles Vandries will portray British commander Colonel James Mercer, who was cut in two by a French cannonball signaling the beginning of the end of British resistance.
  • Historian Tom Howard will speak on Sunday at 11 a.m. on the forgotten British fleet at Oswego in 1755-56.
  • On Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., Fort Ontario will be attacked by the French from the earthworks, who will storm the ramparts and occupy the fort. A surrender ceremony will be held at the end of the battle. The British will lay down their arms and turn over their flags to the victorious French. Meanwhile, as happened after the original battle, 20 Provincial soldiers will be selected and turned over to Montcalm's Native allies who, along with Canadian militia, broke into the rum supply and began massacring the wounded in the fort's hospital. The British troops and civilians will be escorted into Fort Ontario by French regular troops for protection from the Canadian militia and Native allies.
  • At 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, a cross will be erected with the Latin inscription "In Hoc Signe Vincet," translated "In His Name We Conquer," as was done by Montcalm after his victory. Montcalm subsequently destroyed forts Ontario, Oswego, and George, plus the traders' village. He captured 1500 soldiers and civilians, as well as British ships in the harbor, and returned to Canada. Victory at Oswego was considered so important to French King Louis XV that a commemorative medal was struck commemorating the Oswego attack along with three other battles. A reproduction of the medal, owned by the Oswego County Historical Society, will be offered for sale at the event in their Museum Shop.
  • Shari Crawford will offer interactive games for children on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Food and refreshments will be available for sale at the fort.

Over 40 historical merchants will be selling eighteenth century reproduction clothing, uniforms, woolen and linen materials, hats, furniture, wood carvings, musical instruments, muskets, swords, black powder gun cleaning supplies, pottery, glass, ironwork, canoes, Native American basketry and musical recordings. "Re-enactors invest time and effort in their historical interpretation and are more than happy to share their wealth of accumulated knowledge at their camp area," said Lear.

A $6 vehicle fee will be charged for the event; no admission fee to the fort will be charged. The fort is located at the north end of East Fourth Street in the City of Oswego.

For additional information on the fort or the event, call (315) 343-4711, or go to www.fortontario.com. Fort Ontario State Historic Site is one of six historic sites and 16 parks in the Central Region administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

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