Mysterious America

The Highlander's Legend and Weeping Woman of Ticonderoga

Two colonial-era ghost stories, one of which sparked an international legend, make Fort Ticonderoga one of Lake Champlain’s most haunted places.

Originally called Fort Carillon by the French, Fort Ticonderoga is a stone star fort near the southern end of Lake Champlain at the New York/Vermont border. French engineer Michel Chartier de Lotbinière, Marquis de Lotbinière constructed the fort between 1755 and 1757 during the French and Indian War. The French and Indian War was part of the larger Seven Years’ War between France and Great Britain.

In 1758, the British launched an invasion of what was then the French colony of Canada. Fort Carillon was key to French defenses on the shore of Lake Champlain. Today, visitors to Fort Ticonderoga are likely to overlook the secluded battlefield about three-quarters of a mile west of the citadel, but for seven hours on July 8, 1758, it was the scene of the bloodiest battle in the French and Indian War.

British General James Abercrombie took a force of 6,000 British regulars and 12,000 colonial volunteers, rangers, and American Indians to lay siege to Fort Carillon. The French, under General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and the Chevalier de Levis, numbering about 3,600, dug entrenchments and erected breastworks on a hill west of the fort. Abercrombie ordered poorly coordinated frontal attacks on the French lines. The slaughter resulted in 800-1,000 British killed and 1,500 wounded to the French’s 104 killed and 273 wounded.

In this quiet corner of Fort Ticonderoga, you can see what remains of the French entrenchments. There is also a monument to de Montcalm, as well as the British 42nd Regiment, “Black Watch”, a Scottish infantry regiment that sustained nearly 50 percent casualties. It was from the maelstrom of the Battle of Carillon that one of America’s oldest legends emerged.

Major Duncan Campbell was an officer in the Black Watch, who lived at Inveraray Castle in the county of Argyll, Scotland. In 1855, a man covered in blood appeared at his door, requesting asylum from his pursuers. Duncan swore he would not give the man up, and even when it was revealed the murderer had killed his own cousin, Duncan denied knowing anything about it. Than night, the ghost of his murdered cousin appeared before him, crying, “Inverawe! Inverawe! Blood has been shed. Shield not the murderer.”

Conflicted, Duncan led the murderer to a nearby cave, but again his cousin’s ghost interrupted his sleep. When he returned to the cave, Duncan discovered the murderer had fled. His cousin’s ghost appeared to him a third time and said: “Farewell, Inverawe! Farewell, till we meet at Ticonderoga.” Duncan had never heard the strange word “Ticonderoga” before, yet when his regiment confronted the French at Carillon three years later, he would learn it was the name the native tribes gave to that area.

The ghost of his cousin appeared to him again on the eve of battle, and his dreaded prophecy was fulfilled when Duncan died of his wounds several days later. It’s said the flashes of musket fire, smoke, and cries of battle appeared over Inveraray Castle in Scotland. The story has become a Campbell Clan legend, and Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson later immortalized it in a poem called “Ticonderoga: A Legend of the West Highlands” (1887).

There is another ghost who allegedly haunted Fort Ticonderoga, that of a widow named Nancy Coates. In 1775, American militiamen called Green Mountain Boys surprised and captured the small British garrison. George Washington put Brig. Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne in charge of the fort, where he had a number of liaisons with the local women. Among them were Nancy Coates and a young woman named Penelope Haynes.

According to Cheri Farnsworth, author of Haunted Northern New York, Vol. 4 (2010), Nancy Coates was devastated when she saw General Wayne with another woman. Teased by her friends, she threw herself into Lake Champlain and drowned. To this day, visitors to Fort Ticonderoga report seeing the spectral form of a woman sobbing and wandering the lake shore. In Haunted Places: The National Directory (1996), Dennis William Hauck reports the ghost of “Mad” Anthony has sometimes been seen in the reconstructed commandant’s dining room.

The British eventually recaptured the fort, but abandoned it and destroyed what they could. Locals stripped the ruins for raw materials to build houses, barns, and fences. Once a picturesque ruin, preservationists and private investors slowly restored Fort Ticonderoga to its former glory, and today it is a premier museum of eighteenth and early nineteenth century military history. Fort Ticonderoga’s artillery collection is internationally recognized as the largest and most significant in North America.

Fort Ticonderoga is located at 102 Fort Ti Road, Ticonderoga, New York. It is open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., from the first weekend in May through the last weekend in October. Admission during peak season costs $24.00 for adults, $22.00 for seniors, and $12.00 for children ages 5 to 15. A 90-minute, narrated boat tour is also available. The Carillon Battlefield Trail is a 1.7 mile loop beginning and ending outside the Log House Welcome Center picnic area.

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