Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Carleton's Prize or Arnold's Mystery?

So for those that don't know there is a very small (about an acre or two at best) island in Lake Champlain off the southern tip of the town of South Hero. It rises vertically from waters edge up sheer cliffs to a 30 foot plateau. Called Carleton's Prize, it sits between two larger islands, Stave, and Providence. Its been so named since the revolutionary war when the Governeur Generale of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton brought it to notoriety.

As local lore goes the morning after Benedict Arnold escaped from behind Valcour Island with what was left of his small fleet, it was very foggy on Lake Champlain. Not believing the Americans could have slipped by them in the dark (which they did), the British patrolled to the north and east searching. In the heavy fog they sighted a ship and summarily lined up and pounded it with their cannons. Of course once you begin firing blackpowder you can't see what you're shooting at. After a half hour to hour of not being fired back at, either a breeze came up or the fog burned off. It was then the British realized they had not been firing on a ship.

This distraction is what allowed Arnold to escape to the shores of Addison county where he then proceeded to burn his fleet to prevent capture. Local lore goes further to say that local Islanders felled logs and floated them out and were then hoisted on the small island to look like masts. I dismiss this as there is no way anyone on the islands could have been in contact with Arnold's fleet, or known their plan to escape.

The problem is only one book I've ever read about Arnold or the Revolutionary war confirms this. No less than a dozen others completely fail to mention "Carleton's Prize". They all say the British fleet sailed down the lake after Arnolds fleet. Talk about a project for Art Cohn and the others down at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. All we need to do is find a few cannonballs to confirm the story. To think, Lake Champlain has kept this mystery to herself even to this day.

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