Fort Niagara: History & Battle

Instructor: Greg Hanichak

Greg has a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Scranton and is an operations manager with a leading logistics provider.

At the mouth of the Niagara River, where it spills into Lake Ontario, stands Fort Niagara. Let's take a look at this proud and historical landmark, its history, and the battle that takes its name from it.

History of Fort Niagara

At the mouth of the Niagara River, where it empties into Lake Ontario, lies Fort Niagara, a historical and architectural landmark. The history of the site dates back centuries. Due to its geographical location, the site was a popular trading post for Native American tribes and early European explorers. As European exploration and trade expanded in North America, the site became a vital passageway for fur traders into North America.

The first European post was established by the French in 1678 and was called Fort Conti. In 1687, the governor of New France, Marquis de Denonville, renamed the fort after himself, calling it Fort Denonville. Fort Denonville was abandoned a year later due to the harsh weather conditions and persistent attacks by Native American tribes.

The French built what is known as the French Castle, the first permanent fortification on the site, in 1726. This fortification was constructed to defend French interests in the New World against the British as well as the ever-present threat posed by Native American tribes. The masonry castle was built with special permission from the council of The Five Nations, a confederacy of Native American tribes active in New York and Canada. The Five Nations, in particular the Seneca tribe, were skeptical of the French building a stone fortification on the site. The French gained permission by calling the fort a 'house of peace', ensuring the council it would be used only as a trading post and not for military purposes.

Fortifications and the Old French Castle as seen from Lake Ontario

The French and Indian War

The French hold on Fort Niagara came under threat in the 1750's as the French and Indian War against British colonial forces began to heat up. As part of the American theatre of the Seven Year War, the French and Indian war pitted British forces against the French and their Native American allies. Fort Niagara served as a major launching point for raids by French and Native American forces against British posts in upstate New York. In an effort to secure the region and cutoff the French supply lines, a British regiment under the command of John Prideaux set out for Fort Niagara in the spring of 1759.

Prideaux's forces arrived at Fort Niagara on July 1st, 1759 boasting the strength of almost 3500 British and Native American soldiers. The French force was less than 1000 men, but had the advantage of the fortifications built in preparation for the British attack. Unable to attack the fort directly, the British force undertook a siege against the fort. The French withstood 24 days of constant bombardment before surrendering the fort to the British on July 25th, 1759.

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