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British Soldiers witnessed the first Stars & Stripes in Battle

Carleton Island and the tradition of the first unfurling of the Stars and Stripes in the face of an enemy

Travelling down the St. Lawrence River and passing Carleton Island, one does not think about the island’s historic past and consider the place was witness to some of the most important people and events of the Revolutionary War. Hidden on a 60 foot bluff above the river’s edge, are the brush covered remains of the British Fort Haldimand with its fallen chimneys, piles of rocks, parapets and ditches.

The construction of Fort Haldimand was started in 1778, a year after the island was used as a staging area by British forces that were part of the unsuccessful 1777 Campaign by British General Burgoyne to take control of the northern colonies. Its name was also changed from Deer Island to Carleton at the same time.

The western offensive of this action was under Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger. His force of British regulars, Hessians, Indians, Canadians and Loyalists landed on Deer Island [Carleton Island) in July 1777 before proceeding to Fort Stanwix (Rome NY).

The unsuccessful siege of Fort Stanwix along with the Battles at Oriskany, Bennington, and Saratoga thwarted the British in 1777. These actions in the defeat and surrender of a British Army by a rebel army, directly led to the American alliances with France and the Netherlands. This set the stage for the eventual independence of the United States.


In 1927 the Herkimer County Historical Society, collaborating with the Mohawk Valley Historic Association as well as other societies of the valley and North Country, celebrated the 150th anniversary of the tradition of the first unfurling of the Stars at Stripes in the face of an enemy that took place at Fort Stanwix in 1777. 

British forces, that were involved in this action and first saw the Stars and Stripes in battle, used Deer Island (Carleton Island) as a staging area both before and after their defeat. 

The following article in the Cape Vincent Eagle on Thursday, July 28, 1927 is about the ceremony that was held at Carleton Island:

 Marker Unveiled at Carleton Island

Impressive Ceremonies Are Held at Fort Haldimand By the Jefferson County Historical Society.  Carleton Island in the St. Lawrence river about three miles from Cape Vincent, named after Sir Guy Carleton, was the scene of a New York State Sesqui-Centennial celebration on Saturday afternoon of last week, the celebration being under the direction of the Jefferson County Historical Society working in conjunction with State Department of Education.

It was on this island; comprising about one thousand acres, where Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger made his rendezvous for a number of days when advancing toward Fort Stanwix, at Rome. 

Stuart D. Lansing, of Watertown, president of the Jefferson County Historical Society, presided over the exercises, which were very interesting and impressive.

The large assemblage was seated on the ground beneath the ancient trees almost in the shadow of the crumbling chimneys of the old Revolutionary fort. Four Boy Scouts, Edgar Berg, Frederick Knapp, Arthur Hauptman and Jack Maloney, stood near the speaker ready to carry the message of St. Leger's advance to Fort Stanwix. The Carthage Boys' Fife and Drum corps, played, while off the island floated at anchor the Naval Reserve cutter. Members of the Watertown Division Naval Reserves were present under the command of Commander Harrison J. Angley.

The Hon. Isaac L. Hunt, of Adams, was the first speaker. "It is historic ground on which we stand," said Mr. Hunt. "Here we find evidences of the occupation of many races: First the Eskimo, then the Algonquin, then the Iroquois, then the French, then the English and finally the Americans. Here we find their traces in implements of peace and implements of war.”  Here St. Leger mobilized his army for the advance on Fort Stanwix from Fort Haldimand on Carleton. From here they went to Oswego and from there to besiege Fort Stanwix. It was at the bloody battle of Oriskany that St. Leger was hurled back. We have a man here to-day, a man of 90, E. J. Seeber, of Adams, who had five ancestors killed in that battle. One more was wounded so that he was crippled for life, while the seventh escaped. "

A good many of those who followed St. Leger on that campaign never returned to Carleton Island. Their bones rest in the soil of the Mohawk valley. War swept the Mohawk valley like a flame' When the Revolution ended the whole valley from Schenectady to Rome was a plain of ruin. Devastation and death reigned through the whole region."

Mr. Hunt in the course of his address said that, as a boy he had sat at the feet of an aged aunt, Aunt Hannah, who had told him the story of the Cherry Valley massacres as she had witnessed it as a girl. From her, too, he heard of the horrors of the Revolution in the Mohawk. Mr. Lansing, following Mr. Hunt's speech called particular attention to this reference and asked the young people present to remember that they had heard the tale of the Revolution from one who had heard it from an eye witness. Mr. Lansing then gave to Scout Arthur Hauptman the message to Fort Stanwix of St. Leger's advance and the four Scouts left with the Naval Reserve division on the cutter for Oswego.

The next speaker was Dr. James G. Riggs, principal of the Oswego Normal school and president of the New York State Historical Society, and he sounded the keynote of the occasion and gave a graphic description of St. Leger's march on the. Mohawk valley and the part played by Fort Haldimand in the Burgoyne campaign.

During Dr. Riggs' remarks the tablet was unveiled. The reading on the same follows:


Fort Haldimand

Built by the English and Iroquois

Captured by the Americans in 1812

An Important Post During the Revolution

On the reverse”Carleton Island” was inscribed.

By Dennis McCarthy

Dennis McCarthy retired in 2009 from his professional career in engineering management in the Consumer Electronics and CATV industries. Having traveled to 28 countries in his business profession, he now prefers to spend his time with his wife Kathi living near Cape Vincent, NY and enjoying the Thousand Islands and St. Lawrence River. A certified scuba diver for over 40 years, he made his first dives in the River in 1971. Co-founder of the St Lawrence Historical Foundation ]SRHF[ in 1993, he helped organize the underwater survey of the Niagara Shoal Wreck which was identified as the French war ship L'Iroquois that sunk in 1761 (St. Lawrence River Historical Foundation Inc. website)

He and his wife Kathi (See Seeing Underwater… October 2011 and Kathi and Dennis McCarthy’s Discoveries …in March 2011.) now spend their time with their long time friend Skip Couch promoting Scuba Diving via the Thousand Islands Area Scuba Divers web site and by writing and publishing diving guides and shipwreck books. 

This article was first published in the Thousand Islands Sun, April 2, 2014, and we are pleased to share it again with our TI Life readers.

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