Cape Vincent ISLANDS

Submit Cape Vincent Island History



Fox Island is small and of no historical importance. Carlton is a little small then Grenadier, and one of the most beautiful of all the "thousand islands" in the St. Lawrence. According to some old land-titles, this territory was reserved by the State of New York in the cession to Alexander Macomb.

In October, 1786, Mathew Watson and William Guilland purchased the military county warrant which ad been issued to one William Richardson, a Revolutionary sergeant, and located the right to this island. If, however, Carlton island had become a part of Canadian territory, it was conditioned that another portion of land would be granted elsewhere. Watson soon after bought out the interest of Guilland. Only one of his children lived to inherit the property, or, rather, Only Margaret Watson came into final possession of it, which she disposed of to Charles Smyth. Before this sale she had married Jacob T. Broock. The matter of this sale and title was brought to the notice of the State legislature in 1821, when it was found that the title to the land covered by the military bounty was not good. The British held the island when Richardson sold his right, and continued to hold it till it was surrendered, at the commencement of the War of 1812. By special legislation, the title was made a legal one, and on March 2, 1821, an act was passed directing a patent to be issued for the amount of land designated as the original military bounty. This was 500 acres on the west end of the inland. In 1823, F. R. Hasler, who had charge of the coast-survey for many years, made a survey of Carlton island, and reported an area of 1274 acres. Chas. Smyth purchased the remainder in 1821, and thus became proprietor of the whole territory. At the time of Mr. Hasler's survey there were about thirty acres of old and highly improved land, which was known as the King's Garden. This garden was on the south shore, and about half-way down.

The original settlers were squatters. When Avery Smith and Abijah Lewis were here engaged in the lumbering business, which the commenced in 1822, the residents had become permanent, and trade was full of life. There was a post-office, and a school, James Ester had a tavern, four dwelling-houses were standing around the old chimneys, David Briggs had a shoe-shop, Abijah Lewis, James Wood, and Mr. Shaw kept stores, and sometimes ten or fifteen lumber-vessels would be anchored in the bays. At this time the population numbered one hundred and fifty or two hundred persons. The island is not divided into farms, and seven or eight families are living thereon. It is about three miles northeast of Cape Vincent village, and was the first settled territory of Jefferson county. (Jefferson County History, by L. H. Everts, 1878 - Transcribed by Holice B. Young. Original HTML by Debbie Axtmantop



No spot in northern New York has excited more historical curiosity than the head of Carlton Island, on which are now seen the conspicuous ruins of an old fort. The ruins are extensive, and are found on a rocky promontory, the southwestern face of which is fifty or sixty precipitous feet above the water. Eight of the massive stone chimneys are standing. Deep Excavations in the rock, probably used for magazines or secret storage, are very noticeable. The old circular well that was blasted through the rock, ten feet in diameter, and it may be sixty feet deep, always attracts attention. The fort was built on the arc of a circle, and the ditch around it is six feet deep and about twenty-two feet wide. "the covered way is twenty-four feet wide, and scarp and counterscarp vertical, the outer parapet four feet high, and the glacis is formed of material taken from the ditch. The rampart within the ditch was of earth, and is very much dilapidated,--in places is entirely obliterated…. Bastions, were so placed as to command the various approaches very effectually."

Pieces of wrecked vessels are distinguished, on a still day, at the bottom of the river. There is a sunken dock on the west side, and some little distance in the rear are the broken and almost obliterated graves of the soldiers' cemetery.

When Charles Smyth obtained possession of the island many of the burial-places were still marked by carved oaken pieces of wood, but when Mr. Hough published his "History of Jefferson County." 1854, he found only one grave that was indicated by a head-stone; on it was the following inscription: "J. Farrar, D. 23 Fy, 1792." This has since been destroyed. Many various military buttons, axe-heads, balls, belt-buckles, coins, and the like, have been picked up and preserved as relics. The oldest coin ever found was dated 1696. In july, 1696, Count Frontenac, when on his way to fight the Iroquois, encamped a short time on this territory. Carlton Island was then called Isle aux Chevreuils; another French or Indian name, according to an old map in Yale College library, was Cahihouonage.

Who built the fort is a question that has not yet been fully answered. After much research, the conclusion has been reached that a fort was commenced by the French, and subsequently enlarged and made formidable by the English. Could the military records of the French and Indian War of 1756-60, and the military records of the English during the Revolutionary War, be examined, the mysterious origin of old Fort Carlton might be solved. It could hardly have been a point of much military importance previous to the French and Indian War, for a French officer (Pouchot), who kept a diary of all that he saw and did along the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence, does not mention any military defenses on the site of the old ruins. If a fort was commenced by the French, it was commenced very soon after the visits of this military officer. It appears from some old Paris papers, still preserved in the documentary history of New York. That the governor of Canada, in 1758, had a plan in mind to build a fort at the head of this river, which had been left unprotected by the destruction of Fort Frontenac. Fort Frontenac was destroyed by Colonel Bradstreet, in August, 1758, and in November of the same year the governor had this plan of a new work on paper. The fort was to have magazines and barracks; certain shipwrights, whose names were given, were to be sent up the river from Quebec; supplies for those engaged in the work were to be obtained at Ogdensburgh; and the necessity for some fortification at the outlet of Lake Ontario was so urgently pressed that there is good reason to believe the first fort was commenced not far from 1759 This is a fair deduction, unless Frontenac stood on Carlton island, which is scarcely probable. If commenced by the French, it could not have been later than 1763, because the Dominion of Canada passed over to Great Britain on May 10, 1763, by the treaty of Paris. Fort Carlton was certainly occupied a hundred years ago. A Canadian author makes this statement:

"It (Carlton island) was a military and naval station during the American rebellion, at which government vessels were built for navigating the lake, and possessed fortification. Its name is derived from Guy Carlton, Esq." *

The building of ships indicates a post of much importance; and the origin of the old chimneys, the deep moat cut through the solid rock on the land side, the huge well, and other elaborate ruins now visible, will very likely be traced to the military records of the English, as indicated by the foregoing facts. In 1706, Fort Carlton was defended by a small British guard and six pieces of cannon. In 1812, as soon as the news reached Cape Vincent that a second war had been declared against Great Britain by the American Congress, Abner Hubbard, an old revolutionary soldier, living at Millen's Bay, authorized himself and several of his neighbors to capture the post. They crossed over the river in the night, and demanded its surrender. Two women and three invalid men surrendered. The following day the ofrt was destroyed and the prisoners taken to Sacket's Harbor.

In a letter received from Francis Parkman, the historian, regarding the question whether Fort Frontenac was or was not situated on the Carlton island promontory, he says:

"There are several French maps, both manuscripts and printed, in which Fort Frontenac is laid down, and several plans of it at different periods, from that of De Nouville, in 1685, to that made during the war of 1755. Many of these maps are in my possessions. I have also the tile deeds of neighboring lands, and of the place itself, in La Salle's Time.

"The impression that the fort on Carlton island dates back 150 years is certainly erroneous. There could not have been a fortification here of any consequence before the old French war. Even then I know of no mention of this or neighboring island as occupied for military purposes, except in one instance, when a guard of twelve men is reported to have been stationed here. They were sent from Fort Frontenac. The remarkable works of which the remains are now so conspicuous must have been of a later date and of British origin, probably early in the Revolutionary War." (Jefferson County History, by L. H. Everts, 1878 - Transcribed by Holice B. Young. Original HTML by Debbie Axtmantop



Fox, Carlton, and Grenadier islands belong to the township. Owing to the uncertainty of the boundary line between the United States and Canada, up to 1819 the islands of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence were not patented, although they were included in the great Macomb contract. An interesting negotiation concerning the purchase of Grenadier Island and some others, is found in a letter written from London, under date of June 4, 1792, by Patrick Colquhoun to William Constable, who controlled the interest in the Macomb purchase at hat time. It would seem, however, that no bargain was consummated. This was five years before permanent settlement was made in Jefferson County. In 1803 Samuel English and Hezekiah Barret petitioned the legislature of New York of the grant of Grenadier Island, which they evidently supposed belonged to the State, and which they proposed to settle within twelve months after such grant was made; but no good title could be given until the national boundary-line had been agreed upon. This was done in 1819; the islands were patented soon after, and by a survey made in 1823 Grenadier was put down as containing 1290 acres. John Mitchel was probably the first settler. There is good reason to suppose that Basin Harbor was frequently visited by French explorers, more than a hundred years before the settlement of the county, in their journeys westward. La Salle and County Frontenac were probably here more than one hundred and seventy-five years ago. During the excitements of the war of 1812 Richard M. Esselstyn sent his family around to Sacket's Harbor, and on the way the party stopped overnight at Grenadier Island. This water-route was a common one from Cape Vincent to the Harbor and Watertown in those early days. But the most noticeable event connected with Grenadier Island was the disastrous expedition of General Wilkinson, who went out from Sacket's Harbor with several thousand men, late in the fall of 1813, for the ultimate purpose of capturing Montreal. It was too late in the season for an undertaking of that character. It was nearly dark of October 26 when the army pushed out upon the lake in scores upon scores of open boats,--scows, bateaux, sail-boats, and Durham boats, with their flags flying in the breeze and their military bands thrilling the air with music and enthusiasm. The surface of the water before the fleet was like a mirror, and all along the western horizon were still seen the beautiful colors of the setting sun. Both the heavy and light artillery were afloat, and all had orders to rendezvous at Grenadier Island. Everything were prosperously until a little after midnight, when a stiff breeze arose, which increased in two hours to a gale. The October weather was true to itself; and the result was the complete wreck of the fleet and an immense loss of ammunition and supplies. It was four days before all the army that survived reached Basin Harbor. Some of the boats had been driven to Wolf Island; some to Chaumont bay; others stood off for Kingston after working out into the lake; and the morning of the 27th revealed the shores of the islands and the mainland "strown with broken and sunken boats." On the way to Cape Vincent from Grenadier, Gen. Wilkinson encountered similar difficulties. He had a small fight with the British near Clayton. Below Ogsensburgh there was another valueless battle. And then what was left of the flotilla went into winter quarters on the banks of Salmon river. This was about the middle of November, and Montreal was not frightened. The blunder was partially due to the weather, partially to military generals, and much more to whiskey. General Wilkinson was court-martialed and removed from command. (Jefferson County History, by L. H. Everts, 1878 - Transcribed by Holice B. Young. Original HTML by Debbie Axtmantop


© Kevin Subra.   This site was begun September 7, 2000 in order to encourage interest in the history and ancestry of Cape Vincent. Thank you for visiting! E-mail the webmaster, or visit his Subra Family website which he is developing to help his family get to know THEIR history!

Thanks to Holice B. Young and Debbie Axtman for their previous efforts in launching this project!


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