Lake George By S. Packer,New York artist 1920s The lake was originally named the Andia-ta-roc-te by local Native Americans. James Fenimore Cooper in his narrative Last of the Mohicans called it the Horican, after a tribe which may have lived there, because he felt the original name was too hard to pronounce.
The first European visitor to the area, Samuel de Champlain, noted the lake in his journal on July 3, 1609, but did not name it. In 1646, the French Canadian Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues, the first European to view the lake, named it Lac du Saint-Sacrement (Lake of the Holy Sacrament), and its exit stream, La Chute ("The Fall").
On August 28, 1755, William Johnson led British colonial forces to occupy the area in the French and Indian War. He renamed the lake as Lake George for King George II. On September 8, 1755 the Battle of Lake George was fought between the forces of Britain and France resulting in a strategic victory for the British and their Iroquois allies. After the battle, Johnson ordered the construction of a military fortification at the southern end of the lake. The fort was named Fort William Henry after the King's grandson Prince William Henry, a younger brother of the later King George III.
In September, the French responded by beginning construction of Fort Carillon, later called Fort Ticonderoga, on a point where La Chute enters Lake Champlain. These fortifications controlled the easy water route between Canada and colonial New York. A French army, and their native allies under general Louis-Joseph de Montcalm laid siege to Fort William Henry in 1757 and burned it down after the British surrender. During the British retreat to Fort Edward they were ambushed and massacred by natives allied to the French, in what would become known as The Massacre at Fort William Henry.
On March 13, 1758, an attempted attack on that fort by irregular forces led by Robert Rogers was one of the most daring raids of that war. The unorthodox (to Europeans) tactics of Rogers' Rangers are seen as inspiring the creation of similar forces in later conflicts—including the United States Army Rangers.
Lake George's key position on the Montreal–New York water route made possession of the forts at either end—particularly Ticonderoga—strategically crucial during the American Revolution.
Later in the war, British General John Burgoyne's decision to bypass the easy water route to the Hudson River that Lake George offered and, instead, attempt to reach the Hudson though the marshes and forests at the southern end of Lake Champlain, led to the British defeat at Saratoga.
On May 31, 1791, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to his daughter, "Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin... finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves... down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony."
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Lake George was a common spot sought out by well-known artists, including Martin Johnson Heade, John F. Kensett, E. Charlton Fortune, Frank Vincent DuMond and Georgia O'Keeffe.