23. Old Fort House Museum: The Great Carrying Place

From here, Burgoyne could take the Hudson River all the way down to Albany, the goal of his expedition, but it wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

Listen to the Turning Point Trail Site 23 Audio Narration:


Old Fort House Museum. Courtesy of Fort Edward Historical Association.

The Indians called Fort Edward “the great carrying place” because they would take their boats out here, below Baker’s Falls, and carry them to Lake George or Wood Creek. After spending 21 days marching through boggy wilderness from Whitehall, British General John Burgoyne and his troops had finally arrived on the Hudson River. It was a welcome sight indeed! The home that Burgoyne commandeered during his stay was the Patrick Smyth house. Smyth had constructed the Old Fort House with timbers from the French and Indian War fortification in 1772. Smyth lived there for five years before he was arrested for being a Loyalist.

The Rebels had evacuated the area as the forefront of Burgoyne’s army arrived in Fort Edward, falling back to a position south of the village and eventually to Stillwater, where there was a growing Rebel army. Among them was Benedict Arnold, who had been dispatched by George Washington.

Arnold now fell under the command of Rebel General Horatio Gates. He was only one of two officers in the Continental Army with significant experience in the British regular army. He had served in Europe during the War for Austrian Succession and in America during the French and Indian War. Gates’ previous wartime service in administrative posts was invaluable to the Rebel army, but he wanted a field command. He took command of a growing army that was primed to square off against Burgoyne.

Having cut his way through the wilderness between Whitehall and Fort Edward, Burgoyne was now stalled. His supply-line stretched all the way back to Canada and was greatly over-extended. One of Burgoyne’s lieutenants declared that for every hour Burgoyne spent thinking about how to fight his army he had to devote 20 hours figuring out how to feed it. He took up headquarters at the Old Fort House in Fort Edward while he stockpiled his supplies.

On August 3, just a few days after Burgoyne arrived in Fort Edward, three mounted men—a British officer and two soldiers—arrived with a message from General William Howe, who commanded the British forces in America. It was the first that Burgoyne had heard from Howe since he left Canada. Hidden in a silver bullet and written on a silk cloth was a note that informed Burgoyne that his aim was Philadelphia, not Albany, and that Burgoyne should not expect the reinforcements he was counting on.

His supply-line over-extended, a lack of sufficient horses and wagons, the Indians stirring up trouble, and a growing Rebel army forming just south of him, and no reinforcements anticipated, Burgoyne amended Riedesel’s plan. He dispatched Brunswick Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum toward a Rebel depot in Bennington, VT, where he had been informed that there were horses, supplies, and munitions left scantily guarded. His mission was to gather horses, oxen, carts, and supplies while diverting the attention of the enemy forces.

While Baum led his troops to Bennington, the main body of Burgoyne’s army remained in the vicinity of Fort Edward. During this time, the Baroness Riedesel and her three children were permitted to join the army. They stayed here at the Old Fort House, where the family enjoyed several weeks of peace.

Local Bites 

The Anvil Inn Restaurant. Located in a former 1840s blacksmith shop decorated with hundreds of lucky horseshoes, this cozy restaurant offers a wide choice of delicious food. On the top shelf behind the bar is a display of original Fort Edward pottery, made in the late 1800s. 67 Broadway, Fort Edward.

Travel Tools

Located on the Hudson River, historic Fort Edward has long been a spot where travelers would get off the Hudson to make the portage to Lake George. Little Wood Creek, on the bank of the Hudson River near the Old Fort House, was the site of major Native American occupations. Local folklore says that the area was originally called Wahcoloosencoochaleva, which means the great carrying place.

Fort Edward derives its name from the 1755 French & Indian War fortification named after the Duke of York and Albany, Edward Augustus. During the French and Indian War, Fort Edward stood on the frontier that bordered the French-Canadian colonies, and protected the portage that guarded settlements in Saratoga and Albany. The military population at the time made Fort Edward, and adjacent Roger’s Island, the third largest “city” in colonial North America. It became home to Roger’s Rangers, a precursor to today’s U.S. Army Rangers.

The Fort Edward Historical Association is housed at the Old Fort House Museum. (Although Baroness Riedesel describes the building as red, it is now yellow.) Its collection is made up of roughly 200,000 artifacts from Fort Edward and the surrounding region. The museum features a five-building complex of local artifacts including a “Toll Keepers” house from 1840, the Riverside School House, the 1853 A. Dallas Wait Law Office, the Cronkhite Pavilion, the Water Works Barn, the Doctors Apothecary Garden, and the Schoolhouse Privy.

The museum itself is the 1772 home of Patrick Smyth, with authentic furnishings depicting the lives of occupants from the 1770s through the 1940s. Built with timbers taken from the ruins of the French & Indian War fortification called Fort Edward, the house was used as headquarters by both British and American generals in the Revolutionary War.

If you’re up for a short detour, visit Rogers Island Visitors Center and explore the story of Native Americans and their trade with European settlers. Learn about Fort Edward, the largest British military fortification and the 3rd largest city in colonial American, during the French & Indian War.

Park at the Old Fort House Museum and listen to Track 23 here.

Old Fort House Museum: 29 Broadway, Fort Edward, NY 1282. Phone: 518-747-9600


First-Hand Accounts

After such an arduous journey by foot, British soldiers were happy to finally reach Fort Edward:
“As yet, the fickle goddess Fortune had smiled upon our arms and crowned our wishes with every kind of success, which might easily be seen from the great spirits the Army, in general, were in; and the most sanguine hopes of conquest [and] victory. There is still a rebel force standing between Burgoyne and his objective. Albany!”

–Journal of Lieutenant William Digby

Benedict Arnold showed up just in time to have a little fun with Burgoyne:
“The enemy were encamped about 4 miles from us; but it was not thought they intended to make a stand. At this time a letter appeared addressed to General Burgoyne, I believe found nailed to a tree. There was no name signed, yet it was thought –(how true heaven only knows)—to be wrote by brigadier general Arnold, who opposed our fleet the preceding year on Lake Champlain and was then second in command under General Gates. He first tells him, not to be too much elated on his rapid progress, as all he had as yet gained was uncultivated desert.”

–Journal of Lieutenant William Digby

Baroness Riedesel and her family were able to enjoy a few weeks of peace before the devastating battles soon to come:
“The surrounding country was magnificent; and we were encircled by the encampments of the English and German troops. We lived in a building called the Red House. I had only one room for my husband, myself, and my children. When it was beautiful weather we took our meals under the trees, but if not, in a barn, upon boards, which were laid upon casks and served as a table. It was at this place that I ate bear’s flesh for the first time, and found it of capital flavor. We were often put to it to get anything to eat; notwithstanding this, however, I was very happy and content, for I was with my children, and beloved by those by whom I was surrounded. The evening was spent by the gentlemen in playing cards, and by myself in putting my children to bed.”

–Baroness Riedesel