The Early History of Ontario County , New York

 Kindly transcribed by Deborah Spencer

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From the History of Ontario County, NY    

Published 1893     Pg  17 - 23


European Discoveries and Early Occupations---Scandinavians Discover Iceland and Greenland---Columbus's Tropical Discoveries---Early Voyages of John and Sebastian Cabot--Jacques Cartier Sails up the St. Lawrence--Champlain Founds the Colony in New France---Visits the Iroquois Country--Henry Hudson at New York and Albany---English Colonies founded in Virginia and Massachusetts---Each Power Claims the Territory. 

FOUR hundred years ago the first Spanish adventurers landed on the American continent.  In 1492 the Genoese, Christopher Columbus, set out on a voyage of exploration under the patronage of the Spanish power, and in that and the two succeeding years made his tropical discoveries.  However, the first Europeans to visit America were Scandinavians, who colonized Iceland in 875, Greenland 983, and about the year 1000 had pushed their explorations as far south as the present State of Massachusetts; but under their discoveries there was not made any attempt at colonization on the continent.  In 1497, five years after COLUMBUS made his first American discoveries, the Venetian sailor, John CABOT, was commissioned by Henry VII of England to voyage to the new territory and take possession of it in the name of the crown.  He discovered Newfoundland and portions adjacent.  In 1500 the coast of Labrador and the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence were explored by two Portuguese brothers named Cortereal.  Eight years later Thomas AUBERT discovered the St. Lawrence, and in 1512 Ponce DE LEON discovered Florida.  MAGELLAN, the Portuguese navigator, passed through the straits which now bear his name in 1519, and was the first to circumnavigate the globe.  In 1534 Jacques CARTIER explored the St. Lawrence as far as Montreal, and five years later DE SOTO explored Florida.  In 1578 an English navigator named DRAKE discovered Upper California.  Thus we observe that not a century had passed after the discovery by COLUMBUS before the different maritime powers of Europe were in active competition for the rich prizes supposed to exist in the new world. 

Subsequently events fully demonstrated the accuracy of the conclusions of foreign powers, for no grander country in all respects ever awaited the advance of civilization and enlightenment.  With climate diversified between the widest extremes; with many of the longest rivers of the globe intersecting and draining its territory and forming natural commercial highways; with a system of lakes so grand as to entitle them to the name of inland seas; with mountains, hills and valleys laden with the richest minerals and almost exhaustless fuel; and with scenery unsurpassed for grandeur, it needed only the coming of the Caucasian to transform a continent of wilderness, inhabited by savages, into the tree, enlightened republic which is to day the wonder and admiration of the civilized world. 

While the Spaniards were pushing their acquisitions in the south, the French had gained a foothold in the northern part of the continent.  Here the cod-fisheries of Newfoundland and the prospect of a more valuable trade in furs opened as early as the beginning of the sixteenth century.  In 1518 Baron LIVY settled in Newfoundland, and in 1524 Francis I. of France, sent thither Jean VERRAZZANI, a noted Florentine mariner, on a voyage of exploration.  He sailed along the coast more than two thousand miles and is supposed to have entered the harbor of New York, where he remained fifteen days.  It is believed that his crew were the first Europeans to land on the soil of the State of New York.  This navigator proceeded north as far as Labrador and gave to the whole region the name of "New France," thus opening the way for future contests between France and England.  In 1534 the same French king sent Jacques CARTIER, a St. Malo pilot, to the new county.   

He made two voyages and ascended the St. Lawrence River as far as Montreal (Hochelaga).  As he sailed up the river on St. Lawrence Day (August 10) he applied to the river the name of the saint whose name is perpetuated by that day.  In the following year Cartier again sailed from France with a fleet which bore many of the nobility, and who departed for the new country filled with high hopes and bearing the blessings of the church; they were to begin the colonization of New France.  They ascended the river as far as the Isle of Orleans, from whence CARTIER visited the Indian town of Hochelaga, and to which he gave the name of Mont Royal, the beautiful and opulent Montreal of modern times.  The explorer was warmly greeted by the Indians, who tendered him the utmost homage and hospitality.  The Frenchmen passed the following winter at the Isle of Orleans, suffering much from the rigors of the climate, and, having taken formal possession of the country, they abandoned their colonization scheme early in the following season and returned to France.  As a beginning of the long list of needless and disgraceful betrayals, treacheries and other abuses to which the too confiding natives were subjected by the different European nations, CARTIER inveigled into his vessel the Indian chieftain DONNEGANA, who had been his generous host, and bore him with several others into hopeless captivity and final death. 

The failure of this colonization movement and the severity of the northern winters prevented further attempts in the same direction for several years, but in 1540 CARTIER was sent back with Jean Francis de Robarval, a gentleman of Picardy, who was appointed lieutenant-general over the "New countries of Canada, Hochelaga and Saguenay."  His commission conferred power over a vast territory with plenary powers of vice-royalty.  Robarval made a second visit in 1543, and in company with the pilot, Jean ALPHONSE, took possession of Cape Breton, and afterward began a settlement at Quebec.  However, in colonization Robarval was no more successful than had been his predecessor, and for half a century afterward nothing was accomplished in that direction.  In 1598 another unsuccessful attempt was made to colonize New France, by pouring out upon the country convicts from the French prisons; but it was finally left to private enterprise, stimulated by the hope of gain from the fur trade, to make the first successful effort toward the permanent occupation of the country.  About the year 1600 Chauvin obtained a broad patent for lands in America, which formed the basis of a trade monopoly, and repeated and prosperous voyages were made, the success of which stimulated others to enter the same field.  In 1603 Aylmer de Chastes and a party of Rouen merchants organized a company, the existence of which becomes of historic importance to this work, as it introduces into the field Samuel de Champlain, discoverer of the lake which bears his name, and the real founder of New France, which included within its asserted limits all that now comprises Ontario county.  In 1608 Champlain made a permanent settlement at Quebec, and afterward founded Montreal, from which points the French fur traders and missionaries found easy access to Lake Ontario and even up Lake Erie many years before the occupation of this region by the whites. 

In 1609 Champlain, accompanied by a party of faithful Canadian Indians, made a voyage up Lake Champlain for the purpose of exploration and to extend the dominion of France, and as well to learn something of the characteristics of the Iroquois Indians, whose power as a nation and whose valor as warriors were made known to him by his attendants.  The exploring party encountered a few Mohawk Indians near the present site of Ticonderoga, and there was signalized the first hostile meeting between the civilized white man and the untutored Indian.  Champlain with his harquebus, which he had loaded with four balls, fired upon the unsuspecting Mohawks, killing two and wounding a third. 

A few weeks after the battle between Champlain and the Indians, Henry HUDSON, an intrepid English navigator, then in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, moored his vessel (Half Moon) in the waters of the great river that now bears his name; this was on the 3d of September, 1609.  He met and entertained the natives, and was hospitably received by them, but before his departure he conferred up-on them knowledge of the effects of intoxicating liquor, an experience perhaps more disastrous in its results than that conferred by Champlain with his new and murderous fire-arm.  Hudson ascended the river to a point within a hundred miles of that reached by Champlain on the St. Lawrence and the lake, returned to Europe and, through the information he had gained, afterward established a Dutch colony for which a charter was granted in 1614, naming the region "New Netherland."  In 1623 it was made a province or county of Holland.  In 1614 the Dutch built a fort on Manhattan Island, and one in the following year on or near the site of Albany, but the territory included within the Dutch patent extended indefinitely westward over the territory of this part of the present State which was then occupied and controlled exclusively by the Indians, and to which was given the name "Terra Incognito."  In 1621 the Dutch West India Company was formed and took possession of "New Amsterdam" under the charter granted.  For fifteen years they remained at peace with the natives, but the harsh and unwise administration of William KIEFT, who was appointed director-general in September, 1637, provoked the Indians to hostilities and opened a war which continued with but little interruption during the remainder of the Dutch occupancy, and often endangered the very existence of the colony.  Under the discoveries by Hudson the Dutch laid claim to the territory of the present State of New York and extending westward indefinitely. 

Meanwhile, in 1607, the English had made their first permanent settlement at Jamestown, Va., and in 1610 planted a second colony at Plymouth, Mass.  These two colonies were destined to become the successful rivals of all others, of whatever nationality, in the strife that finally left them masters of the country. 

On the discoveries and colonization efforts we have briefly noted it will be seen that three great European powers laid claim to the territory of the State of New York.  England, by reason of the discovery of Cabot, who sailed under letters patent from Henry VII, and on the 24th of June struck the sterile coast of Labrador, and that made in the following year by his son Sebastian, who explored the coast from New Foundland to Florida, claiming a territory eleven degrees in width and extending westward indefinitely.  France claimed the territory by reason of the discoveries of Verrazzani, and Holland by reason of the discoveries of Hudson, the latter claiming the country from Cape Cod to the southern shores of Delaware Bay.  As we have stated the Dutch became for the time being the possessors of the region of which we write.  Thus, during the early years of the seventeenth century, there were three distinct streams of emigration, with three attendant claims of sovereignty, converging toward the original Ontario county.  For the time being the French had the best opportunity, the Dutch the next, while the English, the ultimate masters of the soil, were apparently third in the race. 

In 1623 permanent Dutch emigration, as distinguished from mere fur-trading expeditions, first began upon the Hudson, and the first governor was sent thither by the Batavian Republic.  In 1625 a few Jesuits arrived on the banks of the St. Lawrence, the advance guard of a host of representatives of that remarkable order, which was in time to crowd out almost all Catholic missionaries from Canada and the whole lake region, and substantially monopolize the ground to themselves.  In 1626 Father De La Roche DAILLON, a Recollect missionary, visited the Indians of the Neuter Nation, and passed the winter preaching the Gospel among them, but did not venture into the territory of the Iroquois, who were then at deadly enmity with the French on account of Champlain's murderous attack upon the Mohawks several years before.  In 1627 Cardinal RICHELIEU organized the company of New France, otherwise known as the Company of a Hundred Partners.  The three chief objects of this association were to extend the fur trade, to convert the Indians to Christianity, and to discover a new route to China by way of the great lakes of North America.  The company succeeded in extending the fur trade, but not to any extent in converting the Indians, nor in going to China by way of the lakes.  Champlain was governor of the province and colony, and the first two years of his rule were unfortunate in the extreme.  British men-of-war captured his supplies by sea; the Iroquois warriors invaded Canada and tomahawked his hunters; and in 1629 an English fleet sailed up the St. Lawrence and captured Quebec.  However, peace was soon after concluded between England and France, and Champlain resumed his gubernatorial powers.  Following this the Jesuit missionaries, fired with zeal and valor, traversed the wilderness, holding up the cross before the bewildered pagans.  They met with much better success among the Huron, Eries and Neuter Nation Indians than with the Iroquois, and soon had flourishing stations as far west as Lake Huron.  They next visited the Kahquahs, whom they reported as possessing eighteen villages, but met with very little encouragement among them.

The latter were a tribe of Indians residing on the shores of Lake Erie in part in the present county of Erie.  The Eries inhabited the borders of the lake which still bears their name, while the Neuter Nation was between them and the fierce warriors of the Iroquois Confederacy. 

Having frequently referred to the Indian occupants of the region, the first inhabitants of the soil of the present State of New York of which we have any reliable record, we may now briefly turn from the subject of European discovery and occupation and furnish an account of the savages who played so prominent a part in the early history of our county and State.


Created by Dianne Thomas  

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