The Early History of Ontario County, New York

 Kindly transcribed by Deborah Spencer

Welcome to Ontario County, NY, History and Genealogy.  This is is a central point of entry to independent not-for-profit web sites with historical or genealogical content. Although independent, it is affiliated with The American History and Genealogy Project. To learn more about this group, click the link above.

Return to Home Page                         Return to History Index



From the History of Ontario County, NY    

Published 1893     Pg 42 - 50


The Seneca Indians--Continuation of the Preceding Chapter--English Colonists Incite the Iroquois against the French--The Latter Retaliate--Courcelle's Expedition--Denonville invades the Seneca Country and Destroys the Villages--Their subsequent Building Up--Names and New Locations. 

IN a preceding chapter mention has been made of the voyage of CHAMPLAIN up the lake of the same name, and how on that occasion the adventurous Frenchman brought down upon himself the almost never-ending hatred of the Iroquois, by allowing himself to engage in a battle with the Mohawks in which a number of the latter were slain.  Later on CHAMPLAIN made another invasion into the Iroquois country, but with fruitless results.  On both these occasions the Frenchmen were accompanied by the Canadian Indians, between whom and the Iroquois there was and old feud.  From this time on until the final overthrow of French power in America, there was little peace between the French and the Iroquois, and the periods were brief and of little effect.  As a consequence the whole of Northern and Western New York was the natural highway of various invading parties.  At this time and during the next hundred years England and France were frequently at war, and with each outbreak in the mother countries there was consequent strife between their American colonies. 

Samuel DE CHAMPLAIN died in 1635, and from that date down to 1665, there appears to have been no serious outbreak between the English and French colonies in America, but during that time the Iroquois made their grand conquest of other Indian nations east of the Mississippi. 

Among the tribes to feel their vengeance were those who dwelt in Canada, and all of whom were in friendship with the French.  In 1665 the colonists of New France, alarmed by the increasing English settlements south of them, and knowing that the English were inciting the Iroquois against their Indian allies, resolved to avenge past injuries and put an end to future incursions.  To this end Lord DE COURCELLES, then governor-general of Canada, in January, 1666, started with less than 600 men upon an expedition against in Iroquois in general, and the Mohawks in particular. 

This expedition, although it resulted in no disaster to the Iroquois, prompted them to sue for peace, and a treaty was concluded in May, June and July, 1666, by the Senecas, Oneidas and Mohawks, respectively.  In 1667 was concluded the peace of Breda between England, Holland and France, but it was of short duration, and 1669 the French were again at war with the Iroquois.  However, in April, 1672, Count DE FRONTENAC was appointed governor and lieutenant-general of Canada, and under his administration peace was again established in 1673. 

The Colonial History of New York, referring to FRONTENAC's administration, makes the latter say: "In spite of the efforts of the Dutch to get the Iroquois to make war on the French, the Iroquois came last year on solemn embassy to Montreal, brought eight children belonging to the principal families of their village, and ratified the treaty made with them in 1673." 

In 1684 another rupture occurred between the French and Iroquois.  M. DE LA BARRE and then governor of New France, and Colonel DONGAN governor of New York.  The Frenchman led an expedition against the Senecas, but hearing that the latter would be reinforced by DONGAN with "400 horse and 400 foot," he gave up his purpose.  This pretentious expedition, which ended so ignominiously, subjected DE LA BARRE to severe censure and in the following year he was superseded by Marquis DENONVILLE, who came over instructed to preserve a strict neutrality.  This he found to be impossible and so informed his sovereign.  Reinforcements were sent him for a determined attack upon the Senecas, and in the summer of 1687 an expedition of two thousand French and Indians was organized and marched against the enemy.  This large force impelled the Indians to adopt their customary tactics for self-preservation, and their villages were deserted, or nearly so.  The invaders destroyed the principal settlements of the Senecas, one of them, the large eastern village, being called St. James, or Gannagaro, which was located on Boughton...   south of Victor village, and the other the small village of St. Michael, or Gannagarae, distant a short league from the large village.  The western village was located on a bend of Honeoye outlet, some two miles north of Honeoye Falls.  This village was called "Totiakton, surnamed the great village of the Conception," and "the small village of Gannounata" was distant two leagues from Totiakton.  The    Belmont who accompanied the expedition, says: "The Tsonnontouans (Senecas) have four large villages which they change every ten years in order to bring themselves near the woods and permit them to grow up again.  They call them (meaning the villages) Gaensera, Tohaiton, which are the two larger; Onnutague and Onnennatu, which are the smaller." 

The events of the battle between DENONVILLE's forces and the Indians is briefly described.  Arriving at Irondequoit Bay on the 10th of July, the necessary preparations were soon completed, and on the afternoon of the 12th the march into the interior was begun.  After proceeding about three leagues the French encamped for the night, but resumed the march early the next morning.  The large town of the Senecas toward which the French were proceeding was that which we have referred to as situated on Boughton Hill, a mile south of Victor village.  About one and one-half miles northwest of this Indian town, and a little northwest of the village of Victor, is another hill, on which at the time was a great thicket of beech trees, and here the Senecas arranged an ambuscade.  Between these two hills is a small valley, through which passes the stream called Great Brook, the borders of the latter being planted with alders so thick that one could scarcely see.  Here the Indians concealed another ambuscade, it being their intention to allow the whole French army to pass the first ambuscade, and then by attacking them in the rear, force them to fall into the second trap, and so have them between two attacking parties.  However, the second division of the French army happened to be quite distant from the first, and as the advance guard passed near the thicket of beech trees, the Indians, supposing the whole army had passed, with a terrible whoop began the attack.   

Although much disconcerted by the sudden onslaught, DENONVILLE quickly rallied his forces, checked the Senecas, and having the superior force soon overcame the enemy, and compelled them to retreat.  The successful French encamped on the battle field, and the next morning marched on to the village, which they found in ashes, the Senecas themselves having applied the torch before they retreated from the neighborhood. 

From the various accounts written concerning the expedition of DENONVILLE, we learn that the four principal Seneca villages in existence of that time were as follows: Gandagaro, situated one mile south of the village of Victor and otherwise known as St. James, Gandagan, and Gaensera.  The second, Gandongarae, the St. Michael of the missionaries, and otherwise known as Canoenada and Onontague, peopled principally by captives from the Hurons, is thought by some to have been located on the south part of lot 13 in the northeast part of the present town of East Bloomfield, three miles southeast of Boughton Hill, near where the old Indian trail crossed the Ganargua or Mud Creek.  Another site of an Indian village was a little over a mile to the west of this on the STEELE farm on lot 16.  The sites of other Indian towns are also to be found in that region of country, and perhaps further investigation may be requisite to locate the precise site of the town. 

These two villages, after their destruction above noted, gradually drifted eastward, and a hundred years later were found by SULLIVAN near present Geneva.  In 1720 they were two miles east of the foot of Canandaigua Lake, and on the White Springs farm two miles southwest, and in 1750 on BURRELL's, or Slate Rock Creek, five miles southwest of Geneva, and in 1756 at the Old Castle, two miles northwest of Geneva. 

Sonnontonan, otherwise known as Totiacton, Tegaronhies, and also as La Conception, was located a mile and a half northwest of Honeoye Falls, on the northeaster-most bend of Honeoye outlet, in the town of Mendon, Monroe county.  It was about ten miles west of Gandagaro on Boughton Hill.  A second location of this village, and the one probably occupied by it when it was destroyed in 1687, was on the BALL farm, a mile west of Honeoye Falls village.  This great village was for some time the western door of the Long House, and the residence of Tegaronhies, and was therefore sometimes called Tegaronhie's town.

Gandachioragou, otherwise known as Gannounata and Keinthe, the western small town, was probably on the site of the present village of Lima, and four miles south of the great town when located near Honeoye Falls. 

After destroying everything of value DENONVILLE proceeded to the mouth of the Niagara River, where he erected a small fort on the east side.  This was the origin of Fort Niagara, one of the most celebrated strongholds in America, which, though for a time abandoned, was afterward for more than half a century considered the key of western New York, and of the whole upper lake country. 

The principal eastern Seneca villages after the invasion by DENONVILLE were those called Onnaghee and Ganechstage, both of which were between Canandaigua and Seneca Lakes.  The location of the former is definitely settled as having been about two miles east of Canandaigua Lake, near the old Indian trail on which the turnpike was afterward substantially laid.  The name Onnaghee, with its variations in spelling, carries the idea that it was the old castle or village.  The Seneca word "onagheh," meaning "head," would be an appropriate name for a settlement by people of the village which had been the head or capital of the tribe, as Gandagaro was then destroyed  by DENONVILLE.  The location of the other principal Seneca village is definitely fixed as having been at the White Springs, about two miles southwest from Geneva, and which was called Ganechstage. 

The precise date of the first settlement of these villages is unknown, but it must have been made as early, if not earlier, than the year 1700, from the fact that Colonel ROMER was then sent by the Earl of Bellomont to the Indian country with instructions "to go and view a well or spring which is eight miles beyond the Sineks furthest castle, which they have told me blazes up into a flame when a light coale or fire-brand is put into it."  As the Burning Spring is only eight miles from the foot of Canandaigua Lake, it might be inferred that the settlement at that time was at Canandaigua; however, there is nothing to confirm such an inference, and we must conclude that Onnaghee was the castle referred to, and inasmuch as Indian settlements are known to have extended over a large territory, we may well suppose that from the lake to the place of principal habitation, two miles further east, might be within the limits of the castle proper.  However, the settlement at Onnaghee was abandoned previous to 1750.  Canandaigua was undoubtedly an off-shoot or branch from it, as the name signifies that it was not only "a place selected for a new settlement," or "the chosen spot or city," but that it was a place chosen by a party separating from another.   

The settlement at Ganechstage was broken up in 1732 by ravages of the small-pox, at which time a large number of the inhabitants died, and nearly all the others fled and settled in scattered fragments in the neighborhood of Slate Rock or Burrell creek, about three miles further southwest.  Here they were found by the Moravian missionaries, Bishop CAMMERHOFF and Rev. David ZEISBERGER, in 1750, their settlement in that place being called New Ganechstage.  The record in the journal of these Moravians is so minute that it previously establishes the fact that Ganechstage was the identical Gandagaro that was formerly located on Boughton Hill.  In 1756, during the progress of the last French war, Sir William JOHNSON, in order to conciliate and attach the Iroquois to the British interest, erected palisade fortifications in the Indian country, one of them being in the Seneca territory on Kanadesaga or Castle Brook, about two miles northwest from Seneca Lake, and about the same distance north of the former site of Ganechstage.  At that time the scattered Indian settlements were brought more closely together on the new location, which was then and for many years afterward called Kanadesaga, but now more familiarly known as the Old Castle.  The Indian name of the place, according to Seneca dialect, was Ganundasaga, meaning "a new settlement village." 

Sir William JOHNSON calls it Kanadasero, which means the grand village, not that it differed from others, but from the fact that is was a village of the Turtle clan, and the residence of the Smoke Bearer, who alone could light the council fire.  The name Gaensera of DENONVILLE and Kanadasera are identical but of different dialects.  Gandagaro is another variation, the garo and sera carrying the idea of grand.  This place being the capital of the Seneca nation, was by far the most important village of the tribe, and was wholly destroyed by General SULLIVAN in 1779. 

The fortifications at Kanadesaga, as they were provided to be built, were one hundred feet square; the stockades to be of pine or oak, fifteen feet long, at least three of which to be sunk in the ground, well pounded and rammed, and the two touching sides square so as to lay close; loop-holes to be made four feet distant.  There were also two block-houses each twenty feet square below, the upper portion projecting one and a half feet over the beams, both well roofed and shingled, and a good sentry-box on each; also a good gate of three-inch oak plank and iron hinges, and a small gate of oak plank of the same thickness. 

The name Kanadesaga (Ganundasaga) was applied by the Indians also to the creek, the lake and its outlet, and at a subsequent day was transferred to Geneva.  It has been found written and spelled in more than one hundred different ways, yet Kanadesaga has ever been the accepted form, and carries quite fully the pronunciation as used by the early settlers.  After the destruction of the village by SULLIVAN's army in 1779, there was no further permanent occupation of its site by the Indians.  After the close of the Revolution, when traders and speculators were penetrating the whole Genesee country, the center of operation was at Geneva, "under the hill," south of Cemetery Creek, or at and south of the east end of Seneca street in Geneva, as it had then become known.  This locality then became known as Kanadesaga, while the old site was called the Old Castle. 

Although all traces of the old fortification and its block-houses have long since been destroyed, the burial-mound of the Senecas is still in existence, and is in the lot on the southwest corner of North street, or the Old Castle road, and the old Pre-emption road.  The center of this mound is 200 feet south of North street, and 190 feet west of the old Pre-emption road.  The stockade was a short distance south of the mound, its northeast corner being ninety feet west of the Pre-emption road referred to, while toward its southeast end the distance to the road was about seventy feet.  The farm of the State Agricultural Experiment Station is directly opposite, on the east side of the old Pre-emption road. 

In the present connection we may also briefly mention other Indian village sites than those already noted, but so far as known they were of very little importance.  Some of them were in the immediate vicinity of Canandaigua.  In the neighborhood of Geneva, and about seven miles to the northwest and on the lake shore was Gothseunquean, or Kashong.  This place was visited by Missionary KIRKLAND in 1765, and in 1779 was destroyed by a detachment from SULLIVAN's army.  On the opposite shore of the lake and a little further south was Kendaia, or Appletown, which also was destroyed at the same time.  The CAMMERHOFF journal mentions a Cayuga town called Nuquiage, at the northeast corner of Seneca lake.  In the center of lot 33, Fayette, Seneca county, was at one time a fortified Indian town of which but little is known.  A short distance northwest of Geneva, in the southwestern part of lots 56 and 58, town of Seneca, were two Indian village sites.  They were examined by E. G. SQUIER in 1848, and are figured and described in his "Antiquities of New York," that on lot 58 being a regular fortified work, and on lot 56 a palisade fortification, the latter being about one-half mile west of the former.  They are undoubtedly ancient works, long antedating Kanadesaga, but nothing whatever is known about them.  On lots 101 and 120 at Oaks Corners in the town of Phelps, was also an Indian village site, but of modern date.  

Created by Dianne Thomas  

These electronic pages may be printed as a link or for personal use, but is NOT to be reproduced in any format for profit or presentation by ANY other organization or persons.

Copyright 2006 - 2016

[NY History and Genealogy