At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Panton, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.
“We are on Arnold bay in Panton, Vermont, named after Benedict Arnold, a famous or infamous guy. And the marker, the water is a little high, but the marker back there talks about what was important about this site,” began Perkins.
“I think everyone gets so wrapped up in what happened with him selling out West Point to the British, or trying to, and getting caught doing that, that they forget that earlier in the war, he really had a great impact on the war and especially in this area,” explained Perkins. “He went with Ethan Allen to Fort Ticonderoga and took part in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and later Crown Point. And he was in charge of making sure this northern area stayed British-free. That was in 1775.”
“In 1776, the Continental Army decided they were going to go and attack Quebec. They took Montreal, but then they failed to take Quebec City, so it was a loss.”
“The British, now having raised this seige in Canada, said they’re going to come down the lake and they’re going to use Lake Champlain and the Hudson River Valley to go to New York City. They have an army in New York. They have an army in Canada. If those two can meet in Albany, it’s going to cut New England off from the rest of the colonies. They called it ‘cutting the head off the snake’,” said Perkins.
“Benedict Arnold was charged with creating a navy on this lake to stop the British from coming down, or at least slow them down. And he did that. He built it in Skenesborough, which is now Whitehall. He had some small sloops and a number of gundalows, which were basically large gun boats.”
“He brought them up and they met the British at Valcour Island and a battle happened there; the Americans were outgunned. They fought the British for a day, October 11, 1776. Then, in the night, they slipped away because they knew they couldn’t win this battle,” continued Perkins.
“Then, you had this running gun battle down Lake Champlain. If you can just imagine, these ships firing at each other, coming down Lake Champlain. Benedict Arnold is trying desperately to get to the safety of Crown Point. But the wind ended up coming up from the south and slowing them down.”
“The British start catching up with them and they caught up with them right around here. They had another pretty intense gun battle and then he took his remaining ships and boats into this bay, brought them right up onto shore where the Ferris Farm was, beached the boats, left the flags flying and burned them so the British couldn’t get the boats. They then escaped over land to get back to Crown Point and later Ticonderoga,” finished Perkins.
“So what did it do? It stopped the British from coming down the lake that year. It was too late in the season. People generally didn’t fight in the winter. So they went back to Canada and it gave the new United States another year to prepare. In the following year, 1777, we defeated the British first at the Battle of Bennington and then in Saratoga. It ended that threat to the north and brought the French into the war and ultimately allowed us to win,” added Perkins.
“From the day those ships burned in this bay, it became a tourist site or a pilgrimage site and folks would take pieces of the boats away with them. This is a piece of Benedict Arnold’s flagship, The Congress. It was placed in the care of the Historical Society in the 1960s. So, I went digging through the archives and there it is, a piece of Benedict Arnold’s ship.”
“There’s usually a beach here. There’s an old marker here and we spent some time finding it this morning. Sure enough, it’s partly underwater. But there’s another interpretive panel. It’s a public boat launch for the town of Panton, so you can come visit and just sort of imagine what happened here in 1776.”
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