Tag Archives: Oswego

Chester Sanders Lord of the New York Sun


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Chester Lord 3 x 4 BModern media includes television, radio, newspapers, and Internet sources, together bringing us news from local to international. But until about a century ago, newspapers did the job. By the mid-1800s, the process of delivering timely news to the nation’s dailies was achieved, courtesy of the telegraph. It wasn’t until the 1920s when other forms of media (radio and newsreels) began carving their own niche in reporting the news.

When newspapers ruled, editors wielded great power and thus bore great responsibility. Ethics were critical but weren’t always adhered to. It took men of courage to do what was right, and among the best of them was Chester Sanders Lord, a man with roots firmly embedded in northern New York State. Continue reading

War of 1812: Carrying the Great Rope


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During the War of 1812, control of Lake Ontario was one of many issues considered critical by both sides. A key position for the British was Kingston, Ontario, about thirty miles north of the vital American base at Sackets Harbor. In an effort to establish domination of the lake, the two sites engaged in a shipbuilding race.

The British finished first and gained control, but American builders quickly completed three new ships (two brigs and the huge frigate Superior, larger than its British counterpart). Their launch required only weapons and rigging, which were en route from Brooklyn via Albany. In 1814, hoping to keep those vessels in port, the British sought to disrupt American supply routes. A prime target was Fort Ontario, located at Oswego on the mouth of the Oswego River.


On May 5, the British fleet launched an attack that was repelled by the Americans. On the following day, an intensified assault featured heavy cannon fire from the British. Eventually, the Americans lost the fort and some important armaments, but most of the valuable supplies had been taken upriver to Oswego Falls (now Fulton) for safe storage. The preservation tactic worked, and shortly after the Battle of Oswego, a plan was in place to resume moving war supplies northward to the waiting ships at Sackets Harbor.

Following the attack, the British withdrew to Kingston, but a few weeks later, they were at the Galloo Islands near Sackets Harbor, blockading any marine attempts at supplying this strategic site. Should the materials slip through, it would dramatically tip the scales in favor of the American forces. By monitoring the harbor, the Brits were preventing that from happening, ensuring their superiority on the lake.

A British attempt to destroy the Superior was foiled, and on May 2, the ship was launched. But it was hardly battle-ready, still lacking guns and rigging. Less than three weeks after the attack on Oswego, the critical supplies hidden at Oswego Falls were once again on the move. They had already traveled from Brooklyn to Albany, and then to Oneida Lake. Now, from Oswego Falls, it was time for the final, dangerous leg of the journey.

A land contingent paralleled the 19 American boats as they fairly sneaked up the eastern shoreline of Lake Ontario. At Sandy Creek, the boats were taken inland as far as possible while scouts checked ahead for the presence of British ships. It was a wise move, for the enemy was indeed lurking nearby. Shortly after, the British launched an attack, but in less than a half hour, the Americans had won a resounding victory known as the Battle of Big Sandy Creek.

Despite the win, it was deemed unsafe to risk sending the valued supplies any farther by water, lest they again fall under attack and be captured or destroyed by the British. Wagons, oxen, horses, and manpower were summoned, both from the military and from local residents. The plan was to move the important supplies the remaining distance by land.

The bateaux (boats) were unloaded, and soon a lengthy caravan laden with guns, ship cables, and other supplies was on its way to Sackets Harbor, about 20 miles north. Only one item was yet to be moved—a length of rope, albeit an important one—and it presented a real problem.

This wasn’t just any length of rope. It was intended as the anchor line and/or rigging for the USS Superior, the huge new frigate that could alter the balance of power on the lake. That meant this was a BIG rope. Most descriptions portrayed it as 6 inches thick and 600 feet long, weighing in at just under 5 tons.

No cart was big enough to handle its tremendous size and weight, but if it wasn’t delivered, the Superior would remain port-bound, and the Brits would own the lake. Ingenuity often yields solutions at such critical moments, but sometimes good ol’ elbow grease is the answer. In this case, it was a combination of the two, but the emphasis was clearly on the physical.

A section of the rope (referred to as a cable) was piled on a cart, and the remaining cable was strung out along the trail. Militiamen heaved it to their shoulders, and like one gigantic, ponderous snake, the cable began moving slowly northward behind the cart.

There are various accounts of the trip, and claims as to the number of cable-carriers range from 84 to more than 200. Some say that discouraged men skipped out of the nasty job after a few hours, and that locals stepped in, literally shouldering the burden. None of the stories differed on one count, though: participants were left badly bruised from the incredibly difficult ordeal.

But, they did it! The cable arrived at Sackets Harbor on the afternoon of the second day. The tired men wore abrasions, cuts, and huge, deep-purple bruises as hard-earned badges of valor. At the close of their incredible 20-mile journey, “there was loud cheering the whole length of the cable,” as the men were greeted with music, drumming, flag-waving, and drink—and the princely sum of $2 each for their efforts.

They should have celebrated with a tug-of-war!

As soon as it was deemed seaworthy, the Superior turned the tables on the British, blockading their main shipyard at Kingston and helping establish American dominance of the lake. It was thanks in no small part to the “can-do” attitude exemplified by North Country pioneer folks.

Top Photo: Fort Ontario at Oswego.

Middle Photo: One of several plaques honoring the cable carriers.

Bottom Photo: Map of Lake Ontario sites.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Presentation: Fort Ontario: 250 Years of History


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George A. Reed, the author of Fort Ontario: 250 Years of History, 1755-2005 will offer a presentation on the truth and legends of Fort Ontario at 2 P.M. Oct. 17 at the Busy Corner Café, 234 Ford Street (at the intersection of Ford and State streets) in Ogdensburg. Reed’s informal talk, hosted by the Fort La Présentation Association, will focus on Fort Ontario’s rich history at the time of the French and Indian War.

The old fort Ontario was first constructed in 1755 overlooking the Oswego River, the main route west in colonial times, to protect the fur trading settlement at Oswego. Following the American Revolution, the fort remained in British hands until the Jay Treaty in 1796. 

The Fort saw action twice during the War of 1812 and received and trained troops during the Civil War. Troops from Fort Ontario fought in the Philippines during the Spanish American War and the fort was enlarged in 1909 and became the Flower Medical Unit, training Army doctors, nurses, and medics, and treating wounded troops from the battlefields of France. Between World Wars, Fort Ontario s mission changed to training National Guard troops and Artillery. Its currently serves as a historic site.

The Fort La Présentation Association is hosting New York State’s final 250th anniversary commemoration of the French and Indian War, July 16-18, 2010.

A Program On America’s Only World War II Refugee Camp


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Sixty-five years ago 982 people arrived at Fort Ontario in Oswego, NY. They would stay the next 18 months at the only World War II refugee camp on American soil. On August 20th at 6 pm in Sackets Harbor, Safe Haven President Elizabeth A. Kahl will share the story of those 982 “guests” of President Franklin D. Roosevelt from August 1944 to February 1946. The program is part of the 2009 Great Lakes Seaway Trail Experience Series at the Great Lakes Seaway Trail Discovery Center.

Kahl, who has served on the board of the nonprofit that administers the Safe Haven Museum and Education Center in Oswego since 1999, said in a press release that “The maelstrom that was World War II had millions of fugitives fleeing for their lives in Europe. A continent away, Oswego, New York on the shores of Lake Ontario was to play a unique role in history as the small community who gave 982 people shelter and hope.”

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is among those who visited the refugees at the fort.

The $5 admission to the August 20th program benefits the Seaway Trail Foundation and its educational programming.