1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Champlain

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CHAMPLAIN, a lake lying between the states of New York and Vermont, U.S.A., and penetrating for a few miles into Canada. It extends about 130 m. from N. to S., varies from 1/4 m. to 1 m. in width for 40 m. from its S. terminus, and then widens until it reaches a maximum width of about 11 m. near Ausable Point. Its area is about 500 sq. m. Its surface is 96 ft. above the sea. In the north part it is generally from 200 to 300 ft. deep; opposite Essex, N.Y., near its middle, the depth increases to 400 ft.; but farther south it is much less; throughout the greater part of the lake there is a depth of water of more than 100 ft. Since the lake is caused by the ponding of water in a broad irregular valley, the shore line is nearly everywhere much broken, and in the northern portion are several islands, both large and small, most of which belong to Vermont. These islands divide the lake’s northern end into two large arms which extend into Canada. From the western arm the Richelieu river flows out, carrying the water of Champlain to the St Lawrence. The waters abound in salmon, salmon-trout, sturgeon and other fish, and are navigated from end to end by large steamboats and vessels of considerable tonnage. The lake was formerly the seat of extensive traffic, especially in lumber, but navigation has greatly decreased; the tonnage entering and clearing at the lake was twice as great in the early ’70’s as it was thirty years later. The principal ports are Burlington, Vt., and Plattsburg, N.Y. Lake Champlain lies in a valley from 1 to 30 m. wide, between the Green Mountains on the east and the Adirondack Mountains on the west, and the scenery is most picturesque. On the east side is a rather gradual ascent for 20 m. or more from shore to summit, while on the west side the ascent is by a succession of hills, in some places from the water’s edge. North of Crown Point low mountains rise 1000 to 1600 ft. above the lake, and behind these are the higher peaks of the Adirondacks, reaching an elevation of more than 5000 ft. Lake George is a tributary on the south, several small streams flow in from each side; the Champlain Canal, 63 m. in length, connects the lake with the Hudson river; and through the Richelieu it has a natural outlet to the north into the St Lawrence.

Lake Champlain was named from Samuel de Champlain, who discovered it in July 1609. The valley is a natural pathway between the United States and Canada, and during the various wars which the English have waged in America it had great strategic importance. In 1731 the French built a fort at Crown Point; in 1756, another at Ticonderoga; and both were important strategic points in the French and Indian War as well as in the American War of Independence. On the 11th of October 1776, the first battle between an American and a British fleet, the battle of Valcour Island, was fought on the lake. Benedict Arnold, the American commander, with a decidedly inferior force, withstood the British under Thomas Pringle for about seven hours, and then during the night escaped through the enemy’s line. Although overtaken the next day he again, after a fight of a few hours, made a successful retreat.

At the beginning of the War of 1812 the American naval force on the lake, though very small, was superior to that of the British, but on the 3rd of June 1813 the British captured two American sloops in the narrow channel at the northern end and gained supremacy. Both sides now began to build and equip vessels for a decisive contest; by May 1814 the Americans had regained supremacy, and four months later a British land force of 11,000 men under Sir George Prevost (1767–1816) and a naval force of 16 vessels of about 2402 tons with 937 men and 92 guns under Captain George Downie (d. 1814) confronted an American land force of 1500 men under Brigadier-General Alexander Macomb (1782–1841), strongly entrenched at Plattsburg, and an American naval force (anchored in Plattsburg Bay) of 14 vessels of about 2244 tons with 882 men and 86 guns under Commodore Thomas Macdonough (1783–1825). In the open lake the British naval force should have been the superior, but at anchor in the bay the Americans had a decided advantage. Expecting the British land force to drive the American fleet from its anchorage, Captain Downie, on the 11th of September 1814, began the battle of Lake Champlain. It had continued only fifteen minutes when he was killed; the land force failed to co-operate, and after a severe fight at close range for 21/2 hours, during which the British lost about 300 men, the Americans 200 and the vessels of both sides were greatly shattered, the British retreated both by land and by water, abandoning their plan of invading New York.

See C. E. Peet, “Glacial and Post-Glacial History of the Hudson and Champlain Valleys,” in vol. xii. of the Journal of Geology (Chicago, 1904); P. S. Palmer, History of Lake Champlain (Albany. 1866); and Capt. A. T. Mahan, Sea Power in its Relations to the War of 1812 (2 vols., Boston, 1905).