YOUNGSTOWN – One of the largest events of the year at Old Fort Niagara, the French and Indian War Encampment, will welcome hundreds of re-enactors and thousands of visitors Friday through Sunday.
Each day the dramatic events of the summer of 1759 will be re-enacted, with two battles daily, as well as living history demonstrations, 18th century artisans, music, Native American dancing, games and other events.
The three-day event commemorates the historic siege of July 9, 1759, when Capt. Walter Rutherford entered the French-held Fort Niagara and demanded its surrender, setting off a chain of events that forever changed the history of the Niagara region and all of North America, according to Robert L. Emerson, executive director of Old Fort Niagara.
“It’s the most important event in the fort’s history,” Emerson said. “Until that time, the French had controlled the Niagara region, and then the British came along with New York troops in support – the colonists who were still British subjects – and laid siege to the fort, captured it, and in the end the French were all transported away as prisoners of war.”
He said that up until 1759, French and Native languages were what were heard in the Niagara region. Britain took control of the Great Lakes region, and the war’s cost led to new taxes on the king’s American subjects and spawned political unrest in the 13 colonies.
“It had a tremendous impact on the language we speak today and the customs that we follow. One historian called it the war that made America,” Emerson said.
The re-enactment event started small in 1979, Emerson said, but has grown over the years into the largest annual French and Indian War event anywhere in the world. He said each year 7,500 to 10,000 visitors attend over the weekend, with a high of 15,000 visitors for a national event in 2009, which additionally drew 2,300 re-enactors. He said most years draw an average of 500 to 1,000 re-enactors. All re-enactors must be pre-registered.
Re-enactors from across the Great Lakes region, the Eastern seaboard and Canada will re-create the 19-day siege that ended French occupation of Western New York. Participants portray Native American warriors as well as French and British soldiers who clashed over the strategic outpost at the mouth of the Niagara River 254 years ago.
French troops and their Native allies will occupy the fort and its labyrinth of earthen fortifications while British soldiers and their Native allies camp outside the fort.
Doors open at 9 a.m., and each day re-enactors will assault the fort at 11 a.m., with a larger-scale assault at 3 p.m. Sunday, the Battle of La Belle Famille will be staged at 11 a.m., and the final British assault and surrender will begin at 3 p.m. Emerson said the battles are among the most popular events of the weekend, but there is much more to see. He suggested visitors come early and experience a number of the programs.
Visitors will be able to experience frontier life during the mid-18th century, and artisans will establish a tent city, where there will be period wares for sale and demonstrations of skills such as blacksmithing, woodworking and soap making.
Emerson said there also will also be Native American councils, musket firing, cooking demonstrations and even an 18th century surgeon set up in the French Castle, which, Emerson said, “will absolutely curl your hair.” He added: “You didn’t want to get wounded or sick in the 18th century.”
The full schedule for the encampment is available at www.oldfortniagara.org.
Admission to the encampment is $13 per person, free for children 5 and under. Old Fort Niagara is located 14 miles north of Niagara Falls via the Robert Moses Parkway North and is open daily, year-round, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.