Travel Diary: Fort Edward/Rogers Island

    Hi, everyone —

    I thought I'd pop in before I head to bed and share some images and moments from yesterday and today's adventures in New York.

    My mother and I flew into Ithaca, NY, yesterday where I was blissfully reunited with Ben. I have missed him so terribly! I couldn't even wait for him to reach the top of the stairs but ran down to meet him, which he found funny. Yes, I cried.

    I got to meet his wonderful roommate, Del, who poses here with my mom and Ben. I'm thrilled to have my mother with us. I've invited Del to visit us in Colorado, and I hope he'll take us up on it!

    Today (Thursday), we drove up to Fort Edward/Rogers Island from Ithaca, a four-hour drive through rainy countryside. This has really been the focus for me, seeing the place in which the MacKinnon's Rangers series is set. As most of you know, Fort Edward = Fort Elizabeth, and Rogers Island = Ranger Island. I've read about this place, looked at historical maps, read archaeological reports and read the diaries of rangers in an effort to research the series. After imagining it as it was in 1758-59 since 2005 I finally stood on the island. It was deeply moving.

    Here's a beautiful shot taken from Rogers Island looking back across the Hudson River toward what would have been the outer northern ramparts of Fort Edward back in its heyday. It's so incredibly beautiful here. We don't have deciduous forest in Colorado -- mostly evergreen trees and aspen. So this is very colorful to my eyes!

    At the Rogers Island Visitor Center, we met with Eileen Hannay, who was so incredibly giving of her own time, taking us on a tour of Rogers Island, which is closed for the season. She knows the history through and through and has read both Surrender and, yes, Untamed, too. She said she enjoyed both stories and had just finished the epilogue for Untamed this morning before we arrived. But I digress...

    In this photo, Ben is getting ready to film a segment for the film he's making of our visit. Behind us you see the Hudson, and beyond that you see a boat with a blue tarp on it. That's close to where the northern ramparts of Fort Edward stood. Down near the water, you see a couple white things which are small boats. That's near the site where the bateaux bridge stood that Annie fell off of in Surrender. And here Eileen introduced me to an historical error in my story: rivers in New York do not rush in quite the same way as rivers in Colorado. And the Hudson is not terribly deep here, though the depth can vary. She summed up her advice to Annie (applicable the moment Annie falls in): "Stand up!" D'oh!

    Here, we're standing on the edge of a field that has been heavily excavated by both amateur and professional archaeologists. It's off limits right now for reasons I won't go into... You can see white caps in the background among the grasses. Those are covering archaeological sites that have been left in situ. They're what's left of Ranger cabins with hearths and wooden beams and posts still extant in various states of decay. In these cabins, they've found lots of handmade nails, buttons, pipes, and other little things left behind by Rangers when they moved north after the British succeeded in taking Ticonderoga in 1759. It felt so amazing to stand there and think of Iain, Morgan, Connor, Captain Joseph, Killy, Dougie, McHugh, Brandon and the others living RIGHT HERE in this encampment... It gave me shivers.

    This is one of the excavated cabins, likewise covered to protect the "cultural resources," i.e., artifacts, beneath. It's the best, most intact cabin with a wonderfully intact hearth near which they found a Ranger's compass. They also found scraps of gold braid inside. Perhaps it's my imagination, but I thought that the quality of the finds in the cabin and the fact that it was set apart from the others, made it Iain's cabin in my mind. As commander of the Rangers, he would have had the nicest, most permanent dwelling in the encampment.

    After our tour of the island, we went into the visitors center to see some of the artifacts that had been dug up. Here, Eileen is showing me articles about the archaeological work on the island. On the table nearby are boxes of pottery shards that are in the process of being put back together. Most of them are from the sutler's cabin, which collapsed in on itself in a fire. Those of you who've read Surrender remember that the sutler died and was replaced. It was amazing to see buttons, belt buckles, canteens, bayonets, lead balls, shot, flints, forks, spoons, knives, pipes and other personal items that had been the property of real Rangers 250 years ago. Particularly poignant were the lead balls that had been bitten almost flat, deep teeth marks pressed into the soft metal. They were found near the hospital and had been bitten upon by soldiers who were undergoing painful (and primitive) surgeries for illness or injuries, including amputations. (Thanks, but I'll take anesthesia instead.) They found a lot of finger bones and toe bones — the fingers possibly from accidents firing muskets and the toes from frostbite amputations.

    Ben and I stand in front of a historic marker that stands where the northeast bastion of Fort Edward once stood. Behind it and to the viewer's left is a restaurant we ate at tonight. Fort Edward is very small so everything in these images is within walking distance. I love sharing this with Ben, who also loves the history of the French and Indian War. To those of you who love Last of the Mohicans, Fort Edward was where Webb was stationed from whom Monroe hoped to get reinforcements during the battle at Fort William-Henry to the north.

    Here's the marker for Fort Edward on the banks of the Hudson River. Across the river, you see Rogers Island, looking toward the area where the rangers' barracks stood.

    This was home for Iain, Morgan and Connor. It would have had no trees at all, because they would have been felled to build cabins and ramparts and to provide fuel for fires for cooking and heating. It would also have been muddy because thousands of boots would have destroyed the natural grass. So the island as the real Rangers and Iain and his brothers and men would have known it would have been a muddy strip in the river covered with cabins, gardens and, to the south end, a small pox hospital.

    What a wonder to be here, to breathe this air, to walk on this ground. Two hundred fifty years ago, it was one of the most dangerous places to be in the entire world. Now, it's beautiful, the violence of the past a distant echo.

    On a side note, guess what I have? Prizes. From Rogers Island. :-)

    Tomorrow, we head north to Fort Carillon/Ticonderoga, which is in both Surrender and Untamed.

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