The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter I
Part I

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam



SUPREMACY (1609-1763)

After voyaging thousands of miles by different routes but with the same basic purpose--the discovery of the westerly way to the East--two intrepid navigators, in the year 1609, converged and almost met in the interior waters of New York. These two noble explorers, Samuel de Champlain and Henry Hudson, were destined never to meet, but their coming was the starting point of a century and a half of bitter contest between two Europeans nations, each bent upon gaining sovereign supremacy in America--a rivalry, political, economic and religious, to intense as to yield reason for thinking of the New York region as the "cockpit" of America, just as centuries of warfare in the low countries has caused Flanders to be aptly termed "the cockpit of Europe."

As though positively setting the future in the way of mars, the Frenchmen, Samuel de Champlain, descended southward, and the Englishman, Henry Hudson, ascended northward along a water route which seems to have been the "Great Warpath" of Indian nations of North America in earlier centuries. Hudson did some fighting against Indians near Manhattan, but Champlain began the war history of the Great Warpath--so far as Europeans are connected with it--on 1609, when he accompanied Algonquin Indians into the "Sea of the Iroquois" (Lake Champlain), and with his arquebus, the "white man's lightning," killed some Iroquois chieftains. It was in an unequal and unfortunate engagement, this of a man armed with firearms against savages who possessed only arrows, and who had never before heard the sound of gunfire. Consternation, indeed terror, seized them, the latter a humiliating state for a nation which dominated all the aboriginal nations of the Northeast. They lived to avenge the affront. It was unfortunate for France, but when Champlain unwittingly set the paramount native power of North America against his own nation, he sealed the date of France in America. For a century and a half thereafter, the Canadian French had to defend themselves against the persistent onslaughts of the vengeful Iroquois, who pursued them with implacable hatred. The French wee forced to live to all intents garrison life in fortresses while the English were free to pursue almost uninterruptedly the profitable ways of peace. The English were freed from apprehension inasmuch as between then and their Canadian rivals lay this powerful aboriginal buffer-state. The French were compelled to live continually under arms and spend a considerable part of their colonial effort during the first decades in fighting the Indians, while the English--save for occasional raids--enjoyed the benefits of peace, growing without hindrance out of a precarious colonial infancy into a vigorous provincial manhood before being called upon by the Iroquois to bear the brunt of the fight against the French invaders.

Champlain of France and Hudson of England were not the first Europeans to land upon the soil of beautiful New York. Nevertheless, the sequence of events in the march of civilization in America followed their coming so consecutively--with the basic difference between the two European powers continuing so positively--that one is inclined to see in the coming of Champlain and of Hudson the logical starting point in the struggle between Europeans peoples for North American supremacy. It is true that Cabot's discovery of the St. Lawrence River in 1497-99 was the base upon which English ministers relied to confute the claims of France to priority in North America. It is true that Frenchmen were in the ST. Lawrence--even as high was the site of Montreal--three generations or so before Champlain. But, when one is looking for positive causes, Champlain and Hudson seem to be gar enough back.

It was unfortunate for France that Champlain should have acted as he did at Ticonderoga in 1609. It was just s clearly unfortunate for her that international events since the time of Columbus and Cabot should have inevitably narrowed the struggle for American supremacy to England and France. It was New York's good fortune that , throughout the 150 years, the Great Warpath (which follows the line of the Hudson river, and with Lakes George and Champlain, connects with the St. Lawrence, carrying the warpath on to Montreal) should witness the ebb and flow of battle.

We do not dwell heavily upon the fact that Henry Hudson, though an Englishman, was in Dutch employ when he discovered, or rediscovered the Hudson River. It is more significant that Champlain carried the standard of a Catholic power, whereas Hudson explored in behalf of a Protestant power. Although Champlain's earlier visit to America was in company with a Calvinistic knight, the proprietary interest soon passed to a Catholic order, the "Society of Jesuits," whose man purpose in American seemed to be to spread Christianity, while at the same time expending the temporal seat of the Catholic King of France. On the other hand, the European seats of Protestantism at that time were in the Netherlands, and in England. The Netherlands had fought Spain to a standstill, and England, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, had crippled her maritime power. The course of three generations had drawn the two Protestant peoples together, even though the governments had sometimes clashed. The United Netherlands, in three generations of dogged resistance to Spain, had developed a Protestantism as deep, unflinching and stern as the Puritanism that had steadily grown t be the basic thought of the British people, during the three generations that had passed since Henry VIII had separated England from the Church of Rome. Fear of the influences, religious and political, which swayed England, led some of the most unbending Puritans to seek religious freedom in the Netherlands. The same fear caused them to look over the seas to the New World. The reason for the marvelous maritime activity of the Dutch at that time as to make money primarily and in a lesser degree to fortify themselves against the time when, with the ending of the truce with Catholic Spain, their overlords might again strive to force Catholicism upon them. If Holland's place, on the fringes of the sea, were denied her, if she were driven altogether into the sea, the Dutch fondly hoped that they might by that time have a New Netherlands somewhere beyond the reach of Spain, where they might be prosperous and worship according to their innermost convictions.

Democracy was evident in both the English and the Dutch. The course of the centuries had developed a staunch democracy in the English people, and the same characteristics was becoming obvious in the Dutch. For four centuries England had had Magna Carta as its basis of government. As Elihu Root writes: "Englishmen had become accustomed to the assertion of individual rights of the citizen against arbitrary power." The Netherlands was too near to the European seats of feudalism to be so positively changed, but, in the face of two common dangers--the encroaching sea and the intolerable Spaniard--democratic principles had spread steadily among all classes of the Dutch people--at least in practice, if not in theory. So these two peoples, the English and the Dutch, so firmly fastened o the rock of Protestantism, so inherently imbued with the principles of democracy, naturally drew together under one standard when threatened in American by a sovereign power of the type they would not tolerate in Europe. As the struggles of these two peoples had inevitably drawn then together, so had it become inevitable that France should take the place of Spain, as the standard-bearer of Catholicism--at least in North America. When the "sea-dogs" of England had worried the Invincible Armada of Spain to death, when Drake and Hawkins, and Grenville, and others had made it unsafe for Spanish ships to be upon what, by usage, had come tot be recognized as the Spanish Main--the southerly route to the New World--King Francis of France had realized that the Papal decree which had divided the world into two parts, giving only Spain and Portugal the right to colonize overseas, had no force. He and succeeding royal heads of France resolved to plant a New France in the New World. It was not indeed to be a new France, but merely a placing of the old French institutions, despotism, feudal and Catholic, in a new environment. The political situation in North America is the opening decades of the seventeenth century is well defined by Elihu Root in the following:

For centuries the struggle between civil and religious absolution on the one hand and individual liberty on the other were waged alike in France and in England. The attempt to colonize America came from one side of the controversy in France and from the other side of the controversy in England. The virtues of the two systems were to be tried out and the irrepressible conflict between them was to continued in the wilderness.

Francis Parkman says that the issue was "feudalism against Democracy; Popery against Protestantism; the sword against the plowshare." He further explains that the issue was so long in doubt because "it was union confronting division; energy confronting apathy; military centralization opposed to industrial democracy."

One sees in this vital difference between the two European forces why it was that the French spread so far a field in America while the English and the Dutch built steadily and slowly from their bases. The French, like the Spaniards, were looking for peoples to dominate; they were imbued with a desire to rule. They yearned to spread the power of their sovereign lord, for the glory of France and of the catholic faith. The pastoral development of they land they would leave to the peoples they might subdue; the feudal lord must reign. On the other hand, the English and the Dutch applied themselves to tillage and trade. They gained the substance of America by the only way it could be gained--by hard work--while the French pursued what could never be found--the easy way to wealth, the mythical cities of gold, the portable wealth that could be carried to France. They hoped against hope that they might find the North American counterparts of what Cortez had found in the land of the Aztecs and Pizarro in Peru. They sought to live by the sword, and they were inevitably to die, as an American sovereignty, by the same means. Undoubtedly Champlain's misfortune in choosing as his aboriginal allies the weaker Indian tribes thereby incurring the enmity of the powerful Iroquois, was a factor of consequence in the failure of the French to become paramount in America. "It is that people, not monarchs, settlers not soldiers, build empires; that the spirit of absolutism in a royal court is a less vital principle than the spirit of liberty in a nation."

Champlain, it is true, was the first European to attempt to found an agricultural colony in America; but as early as 1612 the Society of Jesuits gained almost proprietary authority in North America; and Champlain's subsequent activities in America beat the stamp of the church which sought to convert to the Christian faith the heretic American Indians. This evangelizing spirit was destined to carry the sword as well as the cross far into the interior.

The English could not tolerate a Jesuit, since the English Jesuits in 1605 had knowledge of the plot of Guy Fawkes to blow up King and Parliament and had not raised a hand to present it. Therefore, when the English in Virginia heard that the French were attempting to settle in Arcadia (Maine), they took quick action. Captain Argall, in 1613, pounced upon Port Royal,. blotted out the settlement, and came near to hanging a Jesuit priest whom he found there. This was the first clash between the English and French in North America. Champlain led an expedient into central New York in 1615, but met only Indians. He narrowly escaped death on that occasion. In the next year one of his interpreters--Stephen, the Burnt--was almost burned at the stake by Indians. In 1627 a missionary, Joseph de la Roche Dallion, worked among the Neutral Nation to the northward of Lake Erie. As a sequence Father Breoeuf, while with the Neuters in the Niagara region, "had a vision of a great luminous cross in the sky, moving towards him from the land of the Iroquois." It was interpreted as presaging "martyrdom for him and destruction for the Neutrals." And the interpretation was true, the Neuters being exterminated by an Iroquois nation in 1655. Whom the French befriend, the Iroquois marked as enemies.

Champlain had long since passed out of the record. He had had to defend himself even in Quebec in 1620, the Iroquois having pursued his native allies even to his own fortress. And he had had to surrender Quebec to an English naval force which appeared before it in 1629.

Were it not for the coolness of Champlain a year earlier in defying the English fleet to take Quebec by storm, England might then and there have ended France's experiment in America. Champlain, although woefully weak and unable to hold Quebec if the demand to surrender were pressed, had shown such firmness that the English admiral had feared to risk weakening his fleet by attacking the fortress until he had first met and defeated the French fleet. So he had drawn off. A few days later Kirke had sighted the French fleet, had engaged it and had gained such a complete victory that he had resolved to return to England with the news, thinking that he could safely deter the storming of Quebec until the next year. In the following spring he again sailed westward and, in July, had appeared before Quebec. Champlain would not then resist, so he had capitulated. But when peace came again between England and France the status quo of 1628 was the basis of the treaty. Hence, Quebec again came into the possession of France, and Champlain became Governor of Quebec. He died there in 1635.

With the reoccupation of Canada, or New France, by Champlain in 1632, it would seem that the same company of the Hundred Associates--which Richelieu had chartered in 1628, with despotic rights over a territory extending from Newfoundland to Florida, in which region none but Catholics could settle--came again into control. New France became "a devout centre for the conversion of savages." During the remainder of the seventeenth century the Jesuit fathers passed in seemingly endless procession--many to a martyr's death--from "the wave-beaten shores of Nova Scotia to the prairies of the unknown west, from the region of Hudson's Bay to the mouth of the Mississippi." Among the martyr's were Breboeuf, Lallemont, Garnier, Garreau, Buteux, Jogues and Chabanet. Under the shadow of the crucifix went the brave laymen, the explorers and traders, many to meet violent deaths in the wilderness. There were Chaumont, Brulé, Lalande and others. The tortures suffered by chatelaine, Chaumont, couture and others were so dreadful that none but the bravest would dare to follow where they went. Yet, no perils could turn the brave men, clerical and lay, of New France from what they looked upon as their sacred or patriotic mission--to spread the glory of God and of France. Her explorers ventured everywhere. Following the example of Champlain, who discovered Lake Champlain, Nipissing, Huron and Ontario, others penetrated farther. Jean Nicolet sighted Lake Michigan in 1634; he may have sighted Lake superior in that year, for he was then in the vicinity of Sault Ste. Marie. Fathers Jaques and Raymbault were at the Sault Ste. Marie in 1641; Radisson and Groseilliers were exploring Lake superior between 1655 and 1660., and even reaching out into the prairie beyond. Some years later, Radisson turned northward, reaching the "Bay of the North." (Hudson Bay). Father Marquette, with a layman, Joliet, discovered the upper waters of the great Mississippi in 1673; Nicholas Perrot stood upon the site of Chicago; Daniel de Gresolon, Sieur de Luth was upon the site of the city that bears his name in 1680; and some of his men, exploring farther, were told of that the "great salt water" now known as Salt Lake, Utah. Hennepin heard the thunders of Niagara in 1678, and La Salle in that year built the "Griffon" above the falls, next year sailing up Lake Erie, "thus beginning white men's traffic on these waters." In 1682 La Salle began the voyage which took him along interior waters as far as the delta of the Mississippi River. The French had seemed to have overrun the whole continent before the English has ventured far inland from the Atlantic Coast colonies; and wherever the French went, they bespoke the territory for their King. The most indefatigable and fearless explorers were Jesuit missionaries. They seemed to be everywhere. "For the glory of God, for the advancement of their order and of new France," the priests had so thoroughly pioneered exploration in America that, as Bancroft puts it, "not a cape was turned, not a river was entered buy a Jesuit led the way."

The French had penetrated the New York region. they did not seem especially eager to possess southern New York, but the strategic watercourses of northern New York were vital trade routes for them. They were reaching out westward--reaching our for peltries. They desired to protect those routes from the marauding Iroquois nations. As early as 1640 the Iroquois were pouncing upon voyageurs along that route. Montmagny then, in self defense, built a fort at the mouth of the Sorel River. in 1641, two Frenchmen who had been captured by Iroquois were taken by them, as interpreters, to Montmagny. The Iroquois wished to negotiate a treaty with the French, but from that treaty they would exclude France's allies, the Hurons. The French commander spurned such a suggestion, and the Iroquois chieftains then threw down the gage of war to both the French and Hurons on the lake of St. Peter. Father Isaac Jogues, with his lay assistants, Rene Goupil and Guillaume Couture, had to bear torture of incredible intensity. They were taken, by way of the Sorel River and Lake Champlain to a palisade town on the banks of the Mohawk river, and later to other Mohawk towns, in each of which they were tortured., In September, Goupil was tomahawked, Couture was adopted into the tribe--having shown exceptional courage--and Jogues was "compelled to serve the Indians." He tried to teach them the Christian faith, with some success apparently. In 1643 he was rescued by the Dutchman, Arendt van Corlear (Curler) who was commissary of the patroonship of Rensselaerwyck and who rode into the Mohawk county as soon as he head that the Frenchmen were being tortured, but arrived too late to save Goupil. The Dutch are said to have ransomed Jogues, but the Iroquois would no release Couture. Governor Kieft sent Jogues to Europe. However, the fearless priest was again in Canada in 1644 and in May, 1646, again ventured into the Mohawk country. After torture he was killed in October of that year, his body being thrown into the river and his head placed on the palisades. The scene was near the village of Auriesville, New York. Another Jesuit missionary who suffered torture and was finally ransomed by the Dutch was Joseph Bressani, in 1644. Father Joseph Poucet also passed along the torture route to Fort Orange in 1653, but only to have his wounds dressed. He was carried back by the Iroquois, who did not release him until November of that year, when they made a treaty of peace with the French. One of the conditions of that treaty was the release of Poucet.

Undoubtedly the experiences of these pioneers caused the French to dread the Iroquois. Father Vimont once declared: "I had as lief be beset by goblins as by the Iroquois. The one is about as invisible as the other, Out people on the Richelieu and at Montreal are kept by them in a closer confinement than ever were monk or nun in our smallest convents in France." The Mohawks wee the most vindictive, but all the tribes of the Five Nations hated the French. Nevertheless priests were not wanting who would risk torture and death in order to carry the crucifix among the heretic Indians. Their persistence was rewarded eventually, for it seems that Onondagas asked that a Jesuit father be sent to live with them and Simon le Moyne was sent, in July, 1653. He was the first white men to see the salt spring at Onondaga, unless Radisson sighted them in 1862. The French had earlier been told of these springs, but until Father le Moyne returned to Quebec with some salt, they had not realized how valuable the springs were. Not to be outdone by the Onondagas, the Mohawk tribes a few months later asked for a missionary also. It was then agreed that le Moyne should serve both nations. The future seemed so promising that plans were made to extend the Catholic influence. Father Joseph Chaumonot and Claude Dablon came into the Onondaga country in 1655. In a day the Indians built a chapel of bark under their direction, "and there in the heart of New York the solemn services of the Roman Catholic Church were chanted as securely as in any part of Christendom." In the next year another six Jesuits arrived, with an escort of fifty Frenchmen. Soon upon an eminence overlooking Onondaga Lake, a redoubt was built and five pieces of cannon mounted. The Iroquois did not object to the presence of the priests, but they were shrew enough to see that the colony of Frenchmen augured permanent occupation of their country. So they planned to end it. One night, a year or two later, the colony disappeared in a night. The French settlers had heard that the colony was to be annihilated, so Dupuys one evening arranged a feast for the Onondagas, by whom they were surrounded. The French were indeed virtually prisoners. While the Indians were in a drunken stupor after the feast Dupuys led his fellow colonists over the floating ice. They reach Canada safely.

This experience, it might be thought, would have ended the efforts of the French to Christianize the Iroquois, but Father le Moyne was again on Onondaga lake in 1661, eager to reestablish his mission. The Mohawks did not welcome him, but the Senecas and Cayugas joined with the Onondagas in greeting him.

In this way, three of the Iroquois nations were seemingly friendly toward the French. Canada, however, was sufficiently troubled by the raids of the other two nations, the Mohawks and the Oneidas. They made the woods resound with their war-whoops, and carried the blood-curdling challenge even to the walls of Montreal. Life outside the fortresses became more precarious. He nuns abandoned their stone convents, and many settlers either returned to France or sent their families home. The Iroquois were not as successful as they would have been if all had been united, but the Mohawks were sufficiently bloodthirsty to spread terror throughout New France. When news reached the French, in 1660, that the Iroquois had unified their command, under one general and were about to descend upon Ville Marie (Montreal), consternation reigned.

In that extremity one heroic young Frenchman thought of an expedient by which he might stave off the appalling massacre that seemed to impend. Daulac des Ormeoux entered into a compact with sixteen other equally heroic patriots to join him in giving their lives to save their country. They planned to g out on the Great Warpath and meet the advancing aboriginal horde. They were going to show the savages how Frenchmen could fight--how they could die. So these seventeen determined young men calmly made their wills, and, after receiving the sacrament of the church, set out from Montreal, accompanied by six brave Hurons. They crossed the Lake of the Mountains, and selected a battleground. There they calmly awaited the invading army, after having raised such fortifications as the forest could provide. Deliberately they examined their firearms as the Mohawks drew near. Without flinching they began the engagement which they knew would end with their deaths. Behind their barricade they fought--and so desperately that when at last their palisade was stormed only one Frenchman remained "sufficiently alive to make torture worth while."

The battle of course had been won by the Iroquois but the ultimate victory went to the heroic dead. The fight had been won at such staggering cost that the superstitious natives pondered. If seventeen Frenchmen could hold at bay for many days seven hundred of the infest warriors that the Iroquois nations could sent to war, and pile the dead high before them before being themselves overcome, how great an army would it not be necessary to send against Ville Marie with any hope of taking that fortress, and of ultimately driving the French usurpers out of their land? So the Iroquois chieftains pondered long. Eventually the native legions faced right about and went back to their lodges. Montreal and New France were able to breathe easily again for time, but they had to be eternally vigilant.

How different was the situation of the Dutch at Albany. The Canadians were incessantly at war, and the New Netherlands were enjoying almost perpetual peace with the nearby Mohawks and were profiting by trading relations with them. Possibly the Iroquois were bringing into Albany some of the furs which the French had risked their lives to procure in the unknown West, and which they had carried many hundreds of miles over the Great Lakes, only to be intercepted and despoiled by the warlike Iroquois when near Montreal. The Dutch were apparently quite content to make Albany their outpost of civilization, as well as the head of navigation. They were quite willing to pay the Iroquois in guns and bullets for their peltries, knowing well that the bullets, if destined for human billets, would probably pierce French, not Dutch skins. They did not apparently concern themselves much regarding the ambitions of the French in Northern New York. With Albany as the northern limit of the Dutch, there lay a stubborn buffer state between them and the French. So at least they might be thankful that trade was good and peace their lot. Of course, the home government looked farther, disputing the claim of France to any part of New Netherland just as they disputed the right of Connecticut to the territory drained by the Connecticut River, but the Dutch of Albany showed no belligerent attitude toward the French of beyond. They would have expanded in time, probably, and have clashed with the Canadians, but for the present the were content that the French should clash with the Mohawks.

In time the French became convinced that the Dutch had no right beyond Albany. They looked upon the Fort Orange (Albany) region as the limit of Dutch jurisdiction in the New World. At one time, indeed, they considered the advisability of pressing for the cession of the whole of New Netherland to them, thus assuring them two passages from the Atlantic to their great inland empire, the natural lines of communication of which extended over thousands of miles of interior waters. When Arendt van Corlear, in 1661, acquired from the Indians the title to the "Great Flats," of the Mohawk River, and in the next year led a band of settlers from Albany to these flats, founding Schenectady, the French seemed almost to have asserted a prior interest, though they named the place "Corlear," which to the Mohawks signified "the English." (the founder of Schenectady had great influence with the Mohawks, and in 1667 the French governor sought to profit by this influence. Van Corlear was invited to Quebec, and was on his way thither in 1667 when drowned off Split Rock in Lake Champlain.)

By that time the Dutch had ceased to be in sovereign control of New York. As a matter of fact England and Holland had become bitter enemies and were struggling desperately for maritime supremacy.

While the peoples had not changed and were as naturally akin in 1664 as they had been in 1609, political expediency and exigency had brought astonishing changes in governmental policy. Although the reigning heads of Protestant countries were curbed in their absolutism by the democratic tendency of their subjects, they lost no chance of strengthening their positions. King James I was willing to ally Protestant England with Catholic France--even against the wish of the English Parliament. He met their resistance, in 1621, by dissolving Parliament. He did not raise a hand to prevent the Catholic League from overrunning the Palatinate, notwithstanding that his own daughter, Elizabeth was wife of the Elector. King Charles I, son of James I, was more consistent; yet, in sending English troops to the aid of the Huguenots at La Rochelle in 1627, he angered victorious France. English Puritans dreaded that France might even overcome England, and that their land would again become Catholic. This, and violations of Magna Charta by Charles, caused Puritans to look toward America. They were determined that King Charles should not levy taxes without consent of Parliament. The King was equally unbending, and in 1629 dissolved Parliament.

In that year the great exodus of English Puritans to New England began. It continued throughout the more than a decade in which the people were denied parliamentary government by Charles. The King ws absolute, but the people were not abject. They sailed overseas in such numbers, between 1629 and 1740 that in the latter year the population of New England numbered about 25,000. During the same period, the Dutch colony, New Netherland, had had almost no increase in population.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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