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A Brief 1776 Preview

Documents such as this tailors bill for Captain John Lacey give very important details about clothing and their materials

As part of our year by year approach to tackling the immense story of Fort Ticonderoga, in 2014 the Department of Interpretation will be highlighting the year 1776. Fort staff will be portraying the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion who garrisoned Ticonderoga in that year. In the spring of 1776, Colonel Anthony Wayne’s 4th Pennsylvania Battalion had begun its march to join General Washington’s Army at New York City. Based on news of the deteriorating American campaign for the capture of Canada, reinforcements were ordered north, including a brigade of Pennsylvania soldiers. Along with other Pennsylvanians, the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion marched—and rowed—their way north, stopping at Fort Ticonderoga on their trek. When they joined the Northern Continental Army, their first service was disastrous, culminating in a headlong retreat that finally stopped at Fort Ticonderoga.

The Department of Interpretation will spotlight Captain John Lacey’s company within Colonel Anthony Wayne’s 4th Pennsylvania Battalion. Captain Lacey’s company was a picture of martial dress when it left Pennsylvania. Captain Lacey was not satisfied with the cloth available for the rest of the regiment in Philadelphia. In his memoirs he wrote:

I have used more industry to clothe my men than any of the other Captains, their regimentals were made in Philadelphia, by the taylors there, mine at Darby by my own men, and others at that place, under my own direction and of cloth that I had procured myself. Our regimental coats were deep blew faced with white, white vests and overalls edged with blew cloth. A very beautiful uniform, but on experience was found much better adopted for parade than utility in the hardships of a camp, as they too easily became soiled and hard to keep clean.

Modern experience using the Forts batteau hints at the wear and tear on clothing and equipment inherent in living out of these boats

Lacey’s company, along with two other companies of the regiment, rushed north to reinforce the Northern Continental Army in Canada. By the time they arrived back to Ticonderoga in July of 1776, these beautiful uniforms had been stained and tattered by marching through swamps and living out of bateaux for weeks. Like so many soldiers in the Northern Continental army, the men of Lacey’s company had to pull themselves together, rebuilding their company, as they began to dig in to defend Ticonderoga.

The story of John Lacey’s company is a microcosm of the issues facing not only the Northern Continental Army, but the newly independent nation at large. These men saw themselves as Pennsylvanians first and foremost. They cared little for New Englanders, and openly expressed their contempt. The entire Pennsylvania Brigade had to be separated from the New Englanders. General Horatio Gates, commander of the Army at Ticonderoga, ordered these Pennsylvanians to rebuild the French Lines, which they dubbed “Liberty Hill.” Here under the site of Montcalm’s Cross, the men of the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion rebuilt the French Lines, adding batteries and redoubts. As they dug into this historic ground they unearthed the bones of soldiers killed in the great 1758 Battle of Carillon.

Period images and documents indicate that the 4th PA Battalion had a sharp uniform appearance. Garments like their coats had a very fashionable cut.
Period images and documents indicate that the 4th PA Battalion had a sharp uniform appearance. Garments like their coats had a very fashionable cut.

As with so many other units in the Continental Army, the 4th Pennsylvania was far from harmonious. Rivalries and personal conflicts between officers filled otherwise productive days; John Lacey and Anthony Wayne appear to have never shared a kind word for each other. Even the basic idea of independence was a source of contention. To some defending rights their as Englishmen was a very different cause than founding a new nation. The Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment resigned his commission upon receiving news of the Declaration of Independence on July 28th, 1776. His resignation attests to how rapidly the war changed even in a matter of months. In spite of these setbacks, the men of Captain John Lacey’s company worked tirelessly to defend Ticonderoga, blocking a British invasion from the North, and putting real action behind the words of the Declaration of Independence so commonly remembered in 1776.

Beyond portraying this company, and bringing their presence, stitch-by-stitch, to life, the Department of Interpretation will show how they planned to defend Ticonderoga with musket and fatigue demonstrations. Visitors will be able to see how Captain Lacey’s company cooked their meals and survived while they were at Ticonderoga. Through tours and one-on-one discussions with costumed soldier, musicians and tradesmen, visitors will learn about the story of this company exploring the complex ideas and challenges inherent in American Independence.