The Story of Fort Ontario
As told through the paintings of George Gray

In 1937, George Gray, a well-known American artist was commissioned to paint a series of epic paintings for the Pontiac Hotel depicting some of the most dramatic moments in the history of Fort Ontario. When the hotel was sold several years ago, the paintings were saved by the owners of the hotel (Mrs. Lombardo and Mr. Vivenzio) and graciously donated to the museum. Measuring up to 6' by 20', these huge oil on canvas works are displayed in their own "gallery" at the museum, and comprise one of the centerpeices of its holdings.



1. Pontiac
Pontiac mural Pontiac was chief of the Ottawa Indians and leader in "The Conspiracy of Pontiac," 1763-64. An ally of the French, Pontiac met British Major Robert Rogers 1760, and agreed to let his troops pass unmolested through Ottawa territory to occupy Michilmackinac on condition that he should be treated with respect by the British. When that was not forthcoming, in 1762 Pontiac enlisted the support of nearly all the tribes from Lake Superior to the lower Mississippi for a joint move to expel the British from the western Great Lakes and what is now the State of Michigan. His "conspiracy" or "Pontiac's War" as it was also called, continued throughout 1763 and 1764. However, after their devastating defeat at Bushy Run, the Indians were forced to sue for peace and release their prisoners. Pontiac made the long journey from Michigan to Oswego by way of the Great Lakes with his fleet of war canoes. At Oswego he met with Sir William Johnson, the king's most successful Indian agent. Here, on July 25, 1766, he signed a treaty of peace and amity which concluded his leadership of the Indians and hostilities in the west. The meeting with Johnson was the largest gathering of Indians on the North American continent during the colonial period. Pontiac was one of the most remarkable leaders in American history, possessing a commanding energy and force of mind combined with subtlety and skill and an extraordinary gift for leadership. His valiant battle for the rights of his people made him one of the first great spokesmen for freedom on the North American continent.

2. The British Meet with Pontiac at Oswego in 1766.
Meeting Major Robert Rogers was one of the most colorful and romantic figures on the colonial frontier. During the French and Indian War he organized his famous Rangers and took an active part in the campaigns around Lake George. He led the notorious raid on the Indians at St. Francis which crippled the Indians loyal to the French and changed the face of the war. He and his Rangers took part in Wolfe's expedition against Quebec and the Montreal campaign of 1760. In July of 1766, he was named Governor commandant of Michilimackinac in the northern part of what is now the State of Michigan. While on his way there, he was ordered to proceed first to Oswego and take charge of the meeting with Pontiac and the western Indians. Details of the meeting are given by Mary Jemison, an English woman who had been captured by the Indians and who chose to remain with them in her fascinating autobiography, "A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison." Upon Rogers' eventual arrival at Michilimackinac, he launched his famous expedition in search of the Northwest Passage, which was immortalized by Kenneth Roberts in his classic novel of the same name. Rogers' colorful life made him the romantic prototype for the adventurers of his time and insured him a prominent place in the history of colonial America.

3. Major Lundie's School House on Wheels
School House In 1760, the commander of Fort Ontario was Major Alexander Duncan, commonly called, "Duncan of Lundie," from the estate which belonged to his family. One of his captains was Duncan McVicar, who came to the fort in October of 1760 accompanied by his wife and six-year old daughter. Nearly fifty years later Annie McVicar, now Mrs. Grant, wrote a book entitled, "Memoirs of an American Lady." In it she described the fort as it looked in the middle of the Eighteenth Century. Historians and artists, including George Gray, have used the book ever since as a definitive work on the early fort. Mrs. Grant says that Major Duncan had a small house built on wheels, which could be moved to any part of the parade ground. The walls and floor were covered with deer and bear skins and the interior was divided into two parts; one seving as the commander's bedroom and the other as a dining room and library. Here, during the long winters, when all communication with the outside world ceased, Major Duncan gathered his men and instructed them in the rudiments of mathematics, reading, writing and geography. Since many of them were illiterate, this became a valuable experience as well as a way to ease the boredom of a long, uneventful winter. Thus, the little building became Oswego's first school house. The beautiful woman in the foreground is said to be the artist's interpretation of the wife of one of the junior officers. She becamse the central figure in the fort's first romantic story. Legend has it that her husband and one of the other officers fought a duel over her.

4. Triumph at Saratoga
SaratogaSaratoga Few people realize that infamous traitor Benedict Arnold led one of the great naval victories of the American Revolution. It took place on Lake Champlain off Valcour Island, October 11. 1776. Arnold had supervised the building of a fleet on the lake and led it to a victory which was a major factor in the defeat of the British in the Champlain area.

A second story depicted in the larger part of the painting makes the connection between Fort Ontario and the Battle of Saratoga. Colonel Barry St. Leger had arrived at the fort in the Spring of 1777. He was to be part of the famous "pincers movement." This was a British military plan which intended that St. Leger, "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne and Lord Howe would converge on Albany and split the colonies. In the latter part of June 1777, St. Leger set forth on what he thought was to be his triumphant march down the Mohawk Valley to Albany. Fate, however, intervened in the form of a doughty little band of Dutch farmers led by General Nicholas Herkimer, who met St. Leger at Oriskany and defeated him. This, combined with the unsuccessful siege of Fort Stanwix, forced St. Leger to turn back. His dispirited troops returned to Fort Ontario, regrouped, and set off again in their attempt to reach Albany. They joined Burgoyne at Montreal and were with him at the Battle of Saratoga. The painting depicts St. Leger's Hesssians, in their meeting with destiny, falling before Benedict Arnold, their long, roundabout journey from Fort Ontario finally at an end.

5. The US Army Ninth Infantry Victorious in the Boxer Rebellion
Battle of TientsinAt the end of the Nineteenth Century, China was in turmoil. Resentment against foreigners rose to a fever pitch culminating in an order from the dowager empress to reactivate the militia. Combining with the militia were bands of local rowdies and numerious secret societies, all violently anti-western. They practiced rites which they believed would make them invulnerable to bullets and came to be known to foreigners as "Boxers," a loose translation of the Chinese name for the societies. The conflict within the country finally reached its climax with an order from the empress ordering all foreigners to be killed. This resulted in combined action by the western powers which came to be known as the Boxer Rebellion. Although formal war against China was never declared, troops were raised in Europe and the United States, among them the Ninth Infantry stationed at Fort Ontario. The painting tells their story which culminated in victory at Tientsin.