YOUNGSTOWN – Hundreds of French, British and Native American re-enactors will help Old Fort Niagara stage its largest re-enactment of the year, the French and Indian War Encampment, Saturday, next Sunday and July Fourth.
The re-enactors will descend on this national historic landmark to portray the 1759 siege of Fort Niagara in new and interactive ways for the public. They will depict the events of July 1759, when British and provincial forces, alongside their Native allies, laid siege to the fort for 19 days. The event also features a large camp of 18th century merchants and artisans.
Organizers are changing things up this year, presenting different battles, tours, programs and activities each day as re-enactors follow a timeline of actual occurrences from the conflict over the event’s three days.
“This year’s re-enactment has been designed with visitor interest and engagement in mind,” said Robert Emerson, executive director of Old Fort Niagara.
“Our staff invested time over the winter to dissect the siege and then translate it into an interactive and engaging three-day timeline of events for the public, who can look forward to exciting battles plus new tours and new features that will teach them about – and involve them in – the circumstances that led to the British victory and French defeat at Fort Niagara in 1759.”
Also new this year is the construction and exhibition of the British “sap,” or trench, outside the visitors center. It will portray the offensive strategy used by the British to approach and attack Fort Niagara during the 19-day siege. New interpretive tours and vignettes that share historical background information and explain the circumstances that led to specific actions also will be presented.
A new $30 three-day pass offers visitors a discount on multiple-day admission.
Special features during the event also include: engineering and exhibition of 18th-century trench defenses; French women sewing sandbags and powder bags and treating the wounded; kids learning manual exercises with wooden muskets and playing period games; British artillery firing on the French and the French firing on the British; Native and French people trading furs for European goods; British and French people preparing food and feeding the troops; Native people playing lacrosse; and French and British “sutlers” (period merchants) demonstrating and selling handmade products, like pottery, ironworks, clothing, soap and food.
The weekend is meant to educate the public on the fort’s key role. In the 18th century, New France’s Fort Niagara was a strategic gateway to the inner continent of North America via the Niagara River’s connection to the Great Lakes region and subsequent waterways.
From 1754 through 1760, France and Britain battled for control of these areas while also fighting the Seven Years’ War on European soil. Following a 19-day British siege of the fort in July 1759, France finally lost its hold on Fort Niagara, the western gateway to the heart of the continent.
Under the terms of the treaty that ended the war, Britain took control of Canada and the Great Lakes region. The war’s cost led to new taxes on the king’s American subjects, which spawned political unrest in the 13 colonies. Colonists like George Washington gained their first military experience during the conflict. This would serve them well during the subsequent Revolutionary War.
Admission to the encampment is $13 per person per day.
Here is the schedule for the re-enactment:
9 a.m. – Doors open
9:30 a.m. – Siege Tour: “The French Rebuild Fort Niagara 1755-59”
10 a.m. – The Fur Trade: Natives and French traders gather to barter furs for European-made goods.
10:30 a.m. – French Colors Ceremony.
11:00 a.m. – Battle Demonstration: Public must arrive before 10:30 a.m. for shuttle to site. British advance and French forces withdraw to the fort under cover of artillery.
11:30 a.m. – The Interrogation: British officers interrogate several French prisoners they took during the previous skirmish.
12:30 p.m. – Preparing the Fort for Siege: French defenders move trade bales, barrels and artillery and conduct a musket and artillery demonstration, followed by ongoing siege demonstration through 4:30 p.m.
1 p.m. – Rutherford’s Embassy: British Capt. Walter Rutherford requests a parley with the French commander, Capt. Pierre Pouchot.
1:30 p.m. – Opening the Sap: British engineer explains why his forces are digging trenches.
2 p.m. – Battle Demonstration of French Sortie: French forces exit the fort and attack the British trenches.
3 p.m. – British Mortars: The British present a mortar demonstration in the sap. French guns return fire.
3:15 p.m. – Kaendae’s Embassy: The Seneca chief Kaendae stops the fighting and calls a council with the French.
4 p.m. – French Bombardment: French artillery batteries resume fire.
9 a.m. – Doors open
10 a.m. – Kaendae’s Embassy, Part Two. With Sir William Johnson in attendance, Kaendae holds council in the British camp. Six Nations warriors agree to withdraw from the siege and camp nearby at La Belle-Famille. Ongoing siege demonstrations through 4:30 p.m.
11 a.m. – Siege Tour: British and New York provincial troops advance the sap and trade fire with the French.
Noon – Foodways: A demonstration of camp cooking in the British camp.
1 p.m. – Siege Tour: The British advance their artillery and open up on the fort.
2 p.m. – Battle Demonstration of British Assault on the Fort: British forces attempt to storm the fort as French defenders stand firm.
3 p.m. – Women’s Program: French women sew sandbags and gunpowder bags and treat the wounded.
4 p.m. – Kids Drill: Hands-on program for children including learning how to handle a wooden musket and play period games.
9 a.m. – Doors open
10 a.m. – Siege Tour: Both sides enter their lines and trade musket and cannon fire. Ongoing siege demonstrations through 2:30 p.m.
11 a.m. – Battle Demonstration of the Battle of La Belle-Famille – A French relief force tries to break through but is defeated by British troops.
Noon – Artillery Demonstration: British guns pound the fort. French return fire.
1 p.m. – Desperate Measures: British musket fire and artillery continue to pound the fort. Many French guns are put out of service and defenders refuse to fire over the parapet.
2 p.m. – Battle Demonstration of British Assault on the Fort: British successfully assault the outer works and French sue for terms.
2:45 p.m. – Surrender Ceremony: British troops enter the fort, French troops form on the parade ground. Native people help themselves to French goods and the fort surrenders.