Researching the American Revolution

Your source for information on the American War of Independence

Naval Battle at Valcour Island

Lake Champlain

Valcour Island is on the western side of Lake Champlain between the present day states of Vermont and New York.  On October 11, 1776, the British fleet under the overall command of Guy Carleton traveled south on Lake Champlain from their supply base at St. John. Arnold was waiting in Valcour Bay, hidden from the British view until they rounded the island.  In the subsequent three day battle, the British destroyed or captured 11 of the 15 Patriot boats.  While a resounding tactical victory, the British were unable to capitalize on their control of Lake Champlain to capture Fort Ticonderoga.  After a desultory probe, Carleton led his forces back to Canada for the winter.

USS Philadelphia Gunboat which participated in the October 11, 1776 battle on Lake Champlain against the British (Smithsonian Museum of American History, Washington, DC)

This battle was the only ‘fleet on fleet” naval battle of the Revolutionary war between British and Patriot ships.

Primary Sources

Darley, Stephen. The Battle of Valcour Island: The Participants and Vessels of Benedict Arnold’s 1776 Defense of Lake Champlain, 2013.

Darley’s book contains many primary sources including letters, memoirs, statistics and listings of ships and sailors.

Enys, John. The American Journals of Lt. John Enys. Edited by Elizabeth Cometti. 1st ed. Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y.: Adirondack Museum, 1976.

A British officer’s perspective of the Battle of Valcour Island.

Secondary Sources

Laramie, Michael G. By Wind and Iron: Naval Campaigns in the Champlain Valley, 1665-1815, 2015.

Mahan, A. T. “The Naval Campaign of 1776 on Lake Champlain.” In History of the Royal Navy of Great Britain. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1898.

Mahon is the first historian to purport that Arnold saved Ft. Ticonderoga for a year by engaging the British at Valcour Island.  A naval historian described how Arnold used the winds and positioning to give his undersized fleet a fighting chance.  This interpretation has been accepted by most historians.

Nelson, Paul David. “Guy Carleton versus Benedict Arnold: The Campaign of 1776 in Canada and on Lake Champlain.” New York History 57, no. 3 (1976): 339-66.

Nelson provides a contrary view to Mahan asserting tht Benedict Arnold mistakenly engaged the British at Valcour Bay.  Nelson believes that Arnold should have moved his fleet to the safety to Fort Ticonderoga.

Nelson, James L. Benedict Arnold’s Navy: The Ragtag Fleet That Lost the Battle of Lake Champlain but Won the American Revolution. Camden, Me.: International Marine/McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. New York, New York: Viking, 2016.

Web Sites

The Journal of the American Revolution has published several articles which extends the scholarship contained in the published secondary sources.

New Eye Witness Account

Newly Discovered Letter

Order of Battle

Battlefield Archeology

Skeenesborough (modern day Whie

American Shipyard and sawmill originally built by Phlip Skene, a former British officer who received a land grant in the area for his service in the French and Indian War.
Former site of Rebel shipyard where Benedict Arnold’s Champlain fleet was built.  Now the mouth of the Champlain Canal.
Competing with  five or more other localses, Whilehall exerts its claim to be the birthplace of the US Navy.  

Outstanding local lore, but Whitehall is not recognized by the US Navy as its birthplace.  Likely, its ships not on blue water and built by Benedict Arnold, a traitor contribute to the Navy’s reluctance to recognize the Lake Champlain fleet.  For another view of the first American Navy ship, see an article on Philip Skene’s schooner Katherine, captured on May 9, 1775 which is before another other claimant.

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