4. Ausable Chasm: Contrasts between Europe and America

Unconquerable landscape? Europeans in a foreign wilderness.

Listen to the Turning Point Trail Site 4 Audio Narration:


The Ausable Chasm is a sandstone gorge and one of America’s oldest tourist attractions. The first European to record having seen it was William Gilliland, in 1765. Gilliland owned some 50,000 acres of land that extended between present-day Crown Point and Cumberland Head. Much of his property remained uncharted at the time of the Revolution.

Northern New York and Quebec was still a fairly primitive place in comparison to the cultivated fields of Europe. Settlements grew along the waterways where there was easy access to markets. The principal city was Quebec, but other large communities grew up on the St. Lawrence and Richelieu Rivers. The interior parts of the continent were primarily occupied by various tribes of Algonquian-speaking peoples and a hardy group of Europeans—soldiers, hunters, trappers, and traders—that lived in distant outposts on the frontiers. For European soldiers first arriving on this continent, there was a feeling as if they had entered a new world.

The northern frontier was very different than the rest of the colonies. It had been occupied by the French since Samuel de Champlain founded New France and the City of Quebec in 1608. France ceded Quebec to the British at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, but Quebec remained a culturally French city. When the colonies of New England rebelled, the British became concerned that the Canadians might also decide rise up against the British military government.

In an attempt to maintain peace in Canada, the British Parliament passed the Quebec Act of 1774. The act ended military rule and installed a permanent local government that gave French Canadians complete religious freedom and restored the French form of civil law. The Quebec Act helped sway the Canadians from joining the Rebel cause. Despite these concessions, tensions remained between the British and French Canadians. Religion was a fundamental reason for this divide.

Despite their differences, the French Canadians and the British soldiers lived in peace. Most of the troops that were to take part in Burgoyne’s 1777 campaign had arrived the previous year and were part of Carleton’s 1776 campaign on Lake Champlain. About 8,000 regular troops were stationed between Quebec and Lake Champlain.

The soldiers were kept busy drilling during the winter. This was partly to prepare them for a campaign in this wilderness, but also to keep them out of trouble. Without an enemy presence, the time in Canada was quiet.

The soldiers enjoyed the modest comforts of a mild Canadian winter, but few of the soldiers were prepared for what lay ahead. They could modify their tactics in anticipation of wilderness combat, but surviving in this unforgiving landscape was something entirely different. The pests and peril were very real.

The French had been here for more than a century and had a good understanding of what it was like here. During a trip to France, a British Minister was told that “a well-trained European army might well conquer the people of America, but the country of America was unconquerable.”

Travel Tools

Park after you cross the bridge over the Ausable Chasm–on either side of the road. Walk to the east side of the bridge for an impressive view of the chasm. Play track 4 while sitting in your car in the parking lot, or while exploring the chasm.

Touted as the “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks,” Ausable Chasm offers a variety of recreational opportunities in the summer months—from walking trails to rock climbing, rafting, tubing, and camping. Visit www.ausablechasm.com for more information.

Local Bites:

  • Clover Mead Café: Authentic little farm-to-table café and farm store, featuring paninis, homemade sweets, and North Country Creamery’s famous cheeses and frozen yogurt(Limited hours.) 933 Mace Chasm Rd, Keeseville, 1 mile from Ausable Chasm.
  • Mc Lean’s Family Restaurant Simple, home-style menu that includes Michigans, soups, and fried fish. 1847 Rt. 9, Keeseville, 2 miles from Ausable Chasm


First-Hand Accounts

British impressions of North America’s wild landscape:
“In our passage up the river St. Lawrence [from Quebec to Three Rivers], our eyes were entertained with beautiful landscapes, the banks being in many places very bold and steep, and shaded with lofty trees, and in others crowded with villages, the air became so mild and temperate, that we thought ourselves transported into another climate…Indeed the whole country abounds with large lakes and rivers; so that here a man may wander one thousand miles on the banks of the finest lakes and rivers in the world, without meeting with a human creature.” –British Corporal Robert Lamb

Differences in religion caused tensions between the British and French Canadians:
 “When we first arrived in Canada, the [French] priests preached a great deal about us, describing us as the most dangerous heretics who are wont to seduce females; the latter should by all means avoid the company of these heretics. If females were so unfortunate as to become pregnant from such heretics, they would bring all such types of animals into this world as wolves, dogs, cats and the like… But as the fair sex likes to live in friendly surroundings, they could not bring themselves to resists here either for a long time (whether it just out of curiosity or something else, cannot be determined), and hardly a year had passed that several of them brought fair little boys and girls into this world and the priests exposed themselves to frightful ridicule. They hated us for the sake of religion because they were convinced that, according to their creed, we would not be saved.” –Brauschweig Surgeon Julius Wasmus

In the winter of 1776, army life for the British soldiers in Quebec was mostly peaceful:
 “Our army have remained very quietly in their winter quarters; in fact there has not been a solitary rife discharged against the enemy in the last ten months. The lakes, rivers, indeed, everything has been covered with ice. In addition to which, the monstrous deserts and forests have aided in putting an end, for the time being, to this insignificant war. Care for the health of the men, and drilling, have thus far been our only occupation. The entire army, which, by the bye, is in excellent condition, is always ready to march at a moment’s notice, and will move as soon as the melting of the ice will permit a passage down Lake Champlain.” – General Frederick Adolph Friedrich Adolf Riedesel to Duke Carl of Braunschweig

British soldiers were completely unprepared for the wilderness they encountered in Quebec and northern New York:
“The flies and mosquitoes have almost devoured us; everyone has bumps on hands and face from their poisonous stings. The faces of several of our men are so swollen from the stings that one cannot recognize them. There are wild pigeons in great quantity about, so bold that when they hear a shot, they do not even fly from one tree to another.  We have seen various birds here, and the bullfrog that lows like an ox, lets his voice be heard on the river.” – Braunschweig Surgeon Julius Wasmus