Category Archives: Mount Independence – the historic site

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.


Mount Independence Spring Wildflower Walk – April 30

My wife, Amy Olmsted, is the chief horticulturist with Rocky Dale Gardens in Bristol, Vermont. Each spring in recent years she has led a walk on Mount Independence to view and share knowledge about early wildflowers.

A cluster of bloodroot.

This year’s hike is on Sunday, April 30. We’ll meet at the Mount Independence State Historic Site visitor center by 1:00 p.m. The site is not open officially yet (that’s Memorial Day weekend). However, regular admission fees do apply — namely Mount Independence Coalition Members and children under 15 get in free, everyone else is $5.

Learn more here.

Lovely trout lily.

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.

Cinco de Mayo on Mount Independence

Archaeological Walkover at Mount Independence

Steve and Hutch from Northeast Archaeology Research Center provide orientation for volunteers prior to the walkover.

Steve and Hutch from Northeast Archaeology Research Center provide orientation for volunteers prior to the walkover.

Saturday, April 27, I joined a bunch of volunteers working with the professional archaeologists from Northeast Archaeology Research Center in a surface walkover of Mount Independence. The purpose of the event is to comb a section of the Mount looking for unusual surface features that might be man-made and dating from the Revolutionary War. The volunteers mark these spots and the archaeologists map the feature using a sophisticated GPS unit.

The weather was fantastic and it was great fun to walk Mount Independence with an eye to identifying significant features. During the past 34 years I must have visited the Mount 300 times at least, and yet I always seem to see something new on each visit. It helps to be with professional archaeologists and other knowledgeable enthusiasts, because Mount Independence is tricky. There are so many ledges and rocks that it is often difficult to determine if that clump of stones is the remains of the hearth of a soldiers’ hut or just a natural feature.

Just a pile of rocks, or is this the remains of a soldiers hut?

Just a pile of rocks, or is this the remains of a soldiers hut?

Mount Independence chert was prized by Native Americans for use as projectile points, and the soldiers stationed here in 1776-1777 for the manufacture of gun flints. A good part of the day involved scouring the area where the chert was quarried and worked. There are areas where it is quite clear that a lot of effort was put into the shaping of the stone.

Chert chips are a good sign that someone was working diligently to shape the stone into useable pieces.

Chert chips are a good sign that someone was working diligently to shape the stone into useable pieces.

It was also a good day for viewing wildflowers, like these blood root:

Blood root in bloom on a glorious day to  be on Mount Independence.

Blood root in bloom on a glorious day to be on Mount Independence.

War games at Mount Independence

Scenes from the trails of Mount Independence

Thank you, Middlebury Rotary

Yesterday morning, I was up and out of the house early for my rendezvous with the Middlebury Rotary, who had graciously given me the opportunity to address their weekly gathering. I gave them a brief history of Mount Independence, why we should care about what happened there, and hopefully a reason or two to visit soon. I was very gratified by their warm reception, so say, “Thank you.”

My “hike into history” – a report

A couple of weekends ago I led my annual “Hike Into History” at Mount Independence.  I like to do this hike AFTER July, when the deer flies have abated somewhat. But this Sunday, as I was leaving home for the 25 minute drive to the Mount, the skies opened up and it began pouring. I thought to myself, “well, this will be a wasted drive.” However, when I pulled into the parking lot at the historic site, I was suprised at the number of cars there. The rain had let up, but it was still drizzling, yet there was a hearty group still eager to accompany me on the walk.

The rain had stopped by the time we got started, but it remained overcast and the warm air was heavy with humidity. This gave me the chance to ask the group to imagine they were the retreating American army on July 6, 1777, a day with weather much like this, but instead of wearing comfortable lightweight clothing, they had on wool uniforms and were each carrying 30 pounds or more of gear as they tried to outrace British and German soldiers chasing them through the steaming woods.

Anyway, the 20 people who joined me for the walk seemed to enjoy themselves and I hope learned something about the importance of Mount Independence in the struggle to establish the American republic.

Happy Independence Day

Mount Independence Monument

It was July 1776. The American rebellion against British rule was not going so well. The Northern Army had invaded Canada the previous fall trying to bring the fight to the enemy. They believed that once they “liberated” that country, the locals would join the fight. That familiar strategy failed, as it would many other times throughout history, and the invasion stalled outside the walls of Quebec. When British reinforcements arrived as the ice of the St. Lawrence River gave way to spring, the Americans began a full-scale retreat.

But this unit was not just battling the Redcoats. Their numbers were decimated by small pox and they didn’t have enough food or clothing. They retreated first to the northern end of Lake Champlain and then back to Crown Point. John Adams described this miserable lot to Abigail.

Our Army at Crown Point is an Object of Wretchedness, enough to fill a humane Mind, with Horror. Disgraced, defeated, discontented, dispirited, diseased, naked, undisciplined, eaten up with Vermin—no Cloaths, Beds, Blanketts, no Medicines, no Victuals, but Salt Pork and flour…

Col. John Trumbull was dispatched by his commander, Gen. Horatio Gates, to assess the situation. He reported that half the 5200 men in the army were in need of hospitalization. In a letter to his father, Trumbull wrote that at Crown Point he had “found not an army but a mob, the shattered remains of twelve or fifteen very fine battalions, ruined by sickness, fatigue, and desertion, and void of every idea of discipline or subordination. You will be surprised, sir, to know the real state of affairs in this department.”

This army, all that stood between the rebellious colonies and the mighty British army massing at the border, retreated once again, dropping back to Fort Ticonderoga. Gen. Philip Schuyler, commander of the Northern Army, decided the Americans would make a stand at that crumbling French fort, and across the lake on the spit of land known as Rattlesnake Hill. By the 28th of July, work had begun in earnest on the new fortifications. It was on this day that Col. Arthur St. Clair gathered the men together to read them a document that had been sent from Philadelphia.

One of the soldiers on hand that day wrote a letter describing the scene:

Immediately after divine worship this day, the Declaration of Independence was read by Colonel St. Clair; and, having said “God save the free independent States of America!” the Army manifested their joy with three cheers. It was remarkably pleasing to see the spirits of the soldiers so raised, after all their calamities; the language of every man’ s countenance was, Now we are a people; we have a name among the States of this world.

From that day onward, Rattlesnake Hill had a new name: Mount Independence. And it was upon this Mount named for the idea of freedom that the Army of the United States of America faced off in October against the British. The American forces had swelled with militia streaming in from the northeast. They had built a formidable artillery park at the northern end of the Mount. That “disgraced” and “defeated” army was now a determined fighting force ready to defend its brand new nation.

After assessing his chances, the British commander turned his troops back to Canada for the winter, ensuring that the United States would survive at least until its first birthday. This was a year’s reprieve that would make all the difference, as the next time the Redcoats invaded from Canada under John Burgoyne, the American’s gave him a greeting at a place called Saratoga and turned the tide of the war.