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Historians Commemorating 270th Anniversary of Ft. Mass. Siege

Area historians are gathering in North Adams tomorrow to commemorate the siege of a forgotten fort in hopes of preserving the outpost’s history.In August 1746, roughly 30 British settlers hunkered into an outpost called Fort Massachusetts in present-day North Adams. As Wendy Champney describes, the defenders were surrounded by about 900 French soldiers and Native Americans. Stricken with disease and low on ammunition, the defenders eventually surrendered.

“In the fort there were sick people,” Champney said. “They had dysentery. There were 22 men, three women and five children.”  

They were taken captive and the French flag was raised. Still, Champney and other area residents want to celebrate the Britons’ bravery during the two-day siege.

“It’s such a compelling story,” said Champney.

Champney’s family home sits next to what is known as Indian Ledge, which overlooks the fort. The French and Native American forces occupied the higher ground, typically a strategic military maneuver. But Champney, who has written a book on what she calls the “forgotten ledge,” says it allowed the attackers to see their enemy’s bravery.

“After they surrendered, Reverend Norton, an eyewitness who was taken captive, he says how when the French came into the parade ground they were gentlemen and they treated them kindly,” Champney said. “On August 21st, one of the pregnant women had a baby and they named the baby Captivity. The wounded and the hurt were carried by the natives. It’s just a really touching story of bravery and how they were able to try to defend this community in the beginning of North Adams.”

Champney believes the attackers’ ability to witness the plight of their enemies saved the defenders’ lives. Based on her research, Champney says Thomas Knowlton was the only fort defender killed in the siege. The survivors were marched to Canada and the fort was plundered, but later rebuilt.

On Saturday, the 270th anniversary of the siege, the North Adams Historical Society will commemorate the event at the St. Francis Indian Ledge in North Adams. Historical characters in period attire will be on hand and the story of the siege will be told. The first 200 children will get a version of Champney’s book. Craig Chicoine is the president of the Friends of Fort Massachusetts. The group formed after the February closing of the North Adams Price Chopper raised concerns about the future of a portion of the fort’s 1930s replica on the store’s property and the site of the original fort.

“There is no other historic site in Northern Berkshire that is more worthy of preservation than the site of Fort Massachusetts because it was really was and is the origin of our community,” Chicoine said. “The soldiers at Fort Massachusetts settled in this area.”

The group is looking to preserve the site as a public park by drawing attention to the historic event.

Click the links for more information on the fort and Saturday’s event

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org