LAKE CHAMPLAIN. More than a hundred miles long and seldom more than ten miles wide, Lake Champlain drains Lake George to the south and parts of New York and Vermont to the west and east. Just south of the Canadian border, it feeds into the Richelieu River—hence into the St. Lawrence River—and protrudes into Quebec as Missisquoi Bay. Easily navigable and situated along the same axis as the Hudson River, to which it was linked by canal in 1823, the lake was a strategic waterway until the late nineteenth century, when more stable geopolitical relations and improved land transport reduced its military and commercial significance.
Some 9,000 years ago, a rising land mass created a lake from what had been a swollen arm of the Champlain Sea. For a brief period around a.d. 1500, eastern Plano hunters probably explored its shores, and northern Iroquoians were the first to establish villages there. In the sixteenth century, the Mohawk Iroquois hunted in the Adirondacks west of the lake, and the Abenakis soon controlled the opposite side. The Iroquois, especially the Mohawks, followed what would become known as the Champlain-Richelieu route on northward journeys to raid, make peace, trade, or hunt. Moving in the opposite direction, Samuel de Champlain joined Native allies in 1609 to defeat a Mohawk army near Crown Point, New York, "discovering" and giving his name to the lake.
For close to a century, until the conquest of Canada in 1760, both colonists and Native people used the route to practice an often lively contraband trade, and in the armed conflicts of the turn of the eighteenth century and during the last years of New France, invaders frequently plied these waters. In 1758, at the height of the French and Indian War, the French repulsed General James Abercromby's forces at Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga). After the French had been driven from the lake two years later, the British traced the intercolonial boundary, not suspecting that it would eventually become an international one. In 1775, General Richard Montgomery's army invaded Canada via the lake, and the British controlled the area from 1777 through the end of the American Revolution. Thereafter, European Americans settled both sides of the border. Lake Champlain has, in more recent times, been mainly of recreational significance and has figured in ongoing environmental discussions between the United States and Canada. Thanks to north-south rail and highway links, the regional economy continues to have a strong transborder orientation.
Lecker, Robert, ed. Borderlands: Essays in Canadian-American Relations Selected by the Borderlands Project. Toronto: ECW Press, 1991. See "St. Lawrence Borderlands: The Free Trade Agreement and Canadian Investment in New York and Vermont" by Prem P. Gandhi.
Snow, Dean R. The Iroquois. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996.
Sturtevant, William C., ed. Handbook of North American Indians: Northeast. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. See especially "Western Abenaki" by Gordon M. Day and "Mohawk" by William N. Fenton and Elizabeth Tooker.
Van de Water, Frederic F. Lake Champlain and Lake George. Port Washington, N.Y.: Friedman, 1969.
See alsoAbenaki ; Revolution, American: Military History ; Tribes: Northeastern .
CHAMPLAIN, LAKE. Stretching 125 miles from north to south and varying in width between four hundred yards and fourteen miles, Lake Champlain was a vital link in the strategic waterway between the Hudson and St. Lawrence River valleys. Ten miles of rapids in the Richelieu (or Sorel) River between St. Johns and Chambly bar navigation to the St. Lawrence, and five miles of swift, narrow channel bar navigation between Ticonderoga and Lake George. Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga were scenes of battle during the colonial wars and the Revolution. St. Johns and Chambly also were military objectives during the Revolution. Valcour Island saw the important conflict between Champlain squadrons in 1776. Note that "up Lake Champlain" should be used in the sense of "upstream," or south.
SEE ALSO Chambly, Canada; Champlain Squadrons; Colonial Wars; Crown Point, New York; Lake George, New York; St. Johns, Canada (5 September-2 November 1775); Ticonderoga, New York, American Capture of; Valcour Island.