Intent on taking control of the Richelieu-Champlain-George-Hudson waterways to separate New England from the rest of the colonies, a British army headed south from Canada in the spring of 1776. But when the British commander, Sir Guy Carleton, learned that the Americans were putting together a "fleet," at the southern end of Lake Champlain, he decided to do likewise before proceeding, and the summer passed as both sides labored to build makeshift—but amazingly capable—vessels to supplement the few they already had.
As an early winter set in, the Americans took station part way up the lake with their 16 vessels—eight gondolas, four galleys, three schooners, and one sloop. The oncoming British force of 25 ships included 20 gunboats, some larger vessels, and a raft-like monstrosity that was crewed by 300 men and carried a formidable battery of guns. All told, the Americans could fire about 600 pounds of shot to the British total of 1,100 pounds.