Category Archives: American history

Archaeology and the discovery of history at Fort Edward

The New York Times has an interesting article about archaeology at Fort Edward this summer, featuring, you guessed it, David Starbuck.

“Archaeology is its own catalyst,” Professor Starbuck said. “The things we find tell stories and create public interest. We’re generating story lines that I think people will come for in the years ahead.”

Starbuck, of course, was the archaeologist heading up the digs at Mount Independence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And he gave a name to the historic waterway that made our region so important in his book The Great Warpath.


I am participating in a panel discussion this Sunday

I’ll be joining three other panelists discussing some recent research about Mount Independence State Historic Site this Sunday, July 23. The event starts at 2:00 and takes place at the Visitor Center auditorium at the Mount. You can learn more about the event here.

Coming soon to a bookstore near you!

Willard Sterne Randall’s name should be familiar to anyone with an interest in early United States history. He has written biographies of Ethan Allen, George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Thomas Jefferson and other notables. His latest book departs from the biographical side of history for a broader look at America’s long struggle to become an independent nation. Surprisingly, that struggle doesn’t end with the Revolutionary War, but extends through the War of 1812, according to Randall.

The book is titled UNSHACKLING AMERICA: How the War of 1812 Truly Ended the American Revolution. It is a deeply researched, penetrating and exciting tale.

I am proud to say that I had a small part in the making of the Unshackling, as Will asked me to create two maps for the book.

“Randall brings to life the violent skirmishes that played out in the name of trade on sea, lake, and land.” —Publishers Weekly

The book is due out this coming Tuesday, June 27. You should be able to get a copy locally at the Vermont Book Shop in Middelbury.

A hike into history at Mount Independence this Saturday, May 6

Southern Battery

The central of three southern batteries started by the Americans in the late spring of 1777 and completed by German forces fighting for the British occupying the Mount after the American evacuation.

I’ll be one of three co-leaders of a hike along the rocky slopes of Mount Independence this Saturday, May 6. The hike will start at 1:00 p.m. with some show and tell at the museum, visitor center of artifacts found on site by archaeologists over the years. Then, we’ll venture out onto the trails, and even off trail, to explore the defenses built by American and British forces in 1776 and 1777. Learn more about the hike here.

A bridge across Lake Champlain

Back in 1777, Chief Engineer Jeduthan Baldwin of the American forces on Mount Independence commenced the building of a bridge spanning Lake Champlain between the Mount and the Ticonderoga peninsula. When completed, the bridge would be supported by 22 piers — or caissons — spread equally across the quarter mile expanse of water. Each caisson was about 25 feet wide at the bottom and tapered upward. No one is exactly sure of how the construction of these caissons was made, but we have some good guesses. The image below is by Gary Zaboly. It will be one of five featured drawings by Zaboly in the upcoming book about Mount Independence, called Strong Ground, being published by the Mount Independence Coalition.

Artist Gary Zaboly renders a theory about how the Great Bridge across Lake Champlain in 1777 may have been built while there was ice on the lake. (Image courtesy of the Mount Independence Coalition.)

This rendition depicts how the work might have gone with ice on the lake, but we know that the ice broke up in late March of 1777, so most of the piers must have been installed using a different method — most likely assembled on shore, then floated in to place and sunk with quarried rock for ballast.

The plan was to install a road bed atop the piers, but the Americans were forced to evacuate the site before the bridge was completed. Instead they relied on a temporary floating bridge to move men and supplies across the lake, including on the fateful night of July 5th, 1777, when the retreat began. A German soldier fighting for the British was so impressed by the work, he compared it favorably to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

In the early 1990s, I was one of many people attending a ceremony at the point on Mount Independence State Historic Site when we noticed a log from one of the caissons had bobbed up from the bottom of the lake. Some of us took off our shoes, waded into the water and helped wrestle the log onto shore.

Pulling a timber from the lake - circa 1991

With a few others, I (on the right) helped pull a loose log from one of the 220-year-old bridge piers from the lake at Mount Independence around 1991.

Today that log has been restored and resides comfortably in the museum at Mount Independence State Historic Site.

Museum with bridge pier logs

Visitors at the Mount Independence museum can view two of the logs used to build the bridge piers.


A terrific article about the retreat from Mount Independence

My colleague on the board of the Mount Independence Coalition, Ron Morgan, has done a fabulous job researching and then writing about Arthur St. Clair’s decision to retreat from the Mount in July 1777 as the British army was about to surround the American position. The causes and the effects have long been a question of debate among scholars. Ron has sifted through the transcripts of the court martial proceedings that followed this action, and has written an article that is must reading for anyone interested in the American Revolution or Vermont history. You can find this report here.

Military Road Car Tour, August 24

Here’s some news for local history buffs from the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation:

HUBBARDTON, Vt.—For the second annual guided driving tour of sections of the Mount Independence-Hubbardton Military Road of 1776-77, join leader Jim Rowe at the Hubbardton Battlefield on Saturday, August 24, starting at 9:30 a.m.  The trip will go from the Hubbardton Battlefield down to the Otter Creek, with stops along the way.  Drive in the path of history!

Meet at the Hubbardton Battlefield at 9:30 a.m. for your orientation.  The tour is $2.00 for adults and free for children under 15, and includes admission to the Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site.

Rowe, president of the Crown Point Road Association, has a lifelong interest in this Revolutionary War military road and is an engaging presenter.  He will be assisted by several other knowledgeable members of the Association.

The road was built after the September 7, 1776, order of Gen. Horatio Gates to connect the American Revolutionary War fortification being constructed at Mount Independence on Lake Champlain to Hubbardton and Rutland, Vermont, and Fort No. 4 in New Hampshire.  Gates considered the road “so Essential to the Interest of the United States” and “the safety and protection of the inhabitants of all the Middle States of this Union.”  Soldiers, ammunition, and stores used the road to reach Mount Independence.  On the night of July 5 and 6, 1777, as the British invaded the lake, American forces withdrew from Mount Independence and Fort Ticonderoga along the road, engaging the British at the Battle of Hubbardton on July 7.

Last year’s tour started at Mount Independence in Orwell and ran to the Hubbardton Battlefield.  The Hubbardton Battlefield, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is the site of the only Revolutionary War battle fought in Vermont.  It is located at 5696 Monument Hill Road, Hubbardton.  Call (802) 273-2282 for more information.

Favorable review in Vermont History

My book, Mount Independence, was reviewed in the Summer/Fall 2012 issue of Vermont History: The Journal of the Vermont Historical Society. The reviewer, I must disclose, is a colleague and a friend, Ennis Duling. He generously writes:

Two times, author Steve Zeoli asserts, “I am not a historian” and then proves himself wrong. Although the book is far from a complete history of Mount Independence, the material it covers is thoughtful, accurate, and enlivened by quotes from Washington, John Adams, Anthony Wayne, and doctors and soldiers who served on Lake Champlain.

I am grateful to the Vermont Historical Society for deeming my book worthy of attention, and to Ennis for taking the trouble to tell our part of the world about it. Thank you.

Upcoming talk at Mount Independence

This notice came in today from the Elsa Gilbertson, site administrator for Mount Independence:


ORWELL, Vt. – On Saturday, October 20, at 1:00 p.m., historian Douglas Cubbison will present a program at the Mount Independence State Historic Site in Orwell on Burgoyne and the 1777 Saratoga Campaign of the American Revolution.  The event, the annual Robert J. Maguire lecture, is offered by the Mount Independence Coalition.

Cubbison, who lives in Mission, Kansas, has done extensive research on Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne, and his book, Burgoyne and the Saratoga Campaign: His Papers, was published this June by the University of Oklahoma Press.  The book includes an extensive introduction to the subject and many of Burgoyne’s papers, previously unpublished.  Burgoyne had gathered these papers m for his defense when parliament was looking into his conduct during the northern campaign in 1777.

This talk will provide keen insight into Burgoyne’s thoughts and strategies for the northern campaign.   The American Northern Army withdrew from Mount Independence the night of July 5 and 6, 1777, in the face of Burgoyne’s arrival, and the British and Germans garrisoned the Mount until November of that year.

Doors open to the public at 12:30 p.m.  The event is free.  Donations are appreciated.  Copies of the book will be available for purchase.  This is the last chance of the year to visit the Mount Independence museum, which closed for the season after Columbus Day.

The Mount Independence Coalition is the official friends group for the historic site and every year offers the Maguire lecture to present the latest and best research on the American Revolution or Mount Independence.

Mount Independence, one of Vermont’s state-owned historic sites, is a National Historic Landmark and is considered one of the least disturbed Revolutionary War sites in America.  The site is located six miles west of the intersections of VT Routes 73 and 22A in Orwell, near the end of Mount Independence Road.  Call 802-759-2412 for more information.

Congratulations to Boston 1775

If you’re interested in the Revolutionary War or early America, you should make a regular trip to Boston 1775, the blog by historian J.L. Bell. The site recently had its one millionth page view (I think my site is working on its hundreth or so).

I want to thank Mr. Bell for mentioning my book, Mount Independence, in his blog post marking his site’s milestone, which you can read here.

Congratulations J.L. Bell, your site is terrific.