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 50 - 58


French and English Rivalry--The Iroquois destroy Montreal--The Treaty at Ryswick--Queen Anne's War--The Five Nations Become the Six Nations--Joncaire's Trading-post---Events Preceding the French and English War--Attitude of the Iroquois--Influence of Sir William Johnson--The Senecas Remain Neutral, but Favor the French--Final Overthrow of French Power in America.


THE bold incursion of DENONVILLE's army, and his allied Huron and Algonquin Indians, into the country of the Senecas, the strongest nation of the Iroquois, so alarmed the latter that they applied to Governor DONGAN, of the colony of New York, for protection.  It was promised them, of course, with advice that the Iroquois should not make peace with the French.  However, DENONVILLE called a meeting of the chiefs of the Five Nations at Montreal to arrange a treaty, and they decided to send a representative; but before the meeting was consummated, and on account of alleged treachery on the part of DENONVILLE,  the Iroquois became deeply angered against the French and burned for revenge.  The result was that in July, 1689, Montreal was sacked, plundered and burned; men, women and children massacred or carried into captivity.  In October following the Iroquois made a similar incursion at the lower end of the island, which was likewise devastated. 

At this period the fortunes of France in North America were brought very low.  The recent Iroquois invasions compelled the abandonment of Forts Frontenac and Niagara, and proved almost sufficient to overthrow the French dominion in Canada.  Many of their former Indian allies, disgusted with DE LA BARRE's successive failures, deserted the French standard and sought an alliance with the English.  However, a welcome change was at hand for the French.  The divided counsels of the English colonies, growing out of the revolution in the mother country, resulting in the accession of the Prince of Orange to the throne, gave a new aspect to affairs and was speedily followed by another open war with France.  In 1689 Count DE FRONTENAC, the same energetic old peer who had encouraged LA SALLE in his brilliant discoveries, and whose name was for a while borne by Lake Ontario, was sent out as governor of New France.  This vigorous but cruel leader partially retrieved the desperate condition of the French colony.  He, too, invaded the Iroquois, but accomplished no more than DENONVILLE.  The war continued with varying fortunes until 1697, the Five Nations being all that time the friends of the English, and a greater part of the time engaged in active hostility against the French.  Their authority over the whole Genesee country and far up the south shore of Lake Erie, was unbroken, save when a detachment of French troops was actually marching along the border. 

At the treaty of Ryswick in 1697, while the ownership of other lands was definitely conceded to France and England respectively, that of the Genesee country was left wholly unsettled.  The English claimed sovereignty over all the lands of the Five Nations; the French with equal energy asserted the authority of KING LOUIS over the same region as a part of New France, while the Iroquois themselves, whenever they heard of the controversy, repudiated alike the pretensions of VONNONDIO and CORLEAR, as they denominated the governors respectively of Canada and New York.

Scarcely had the echoes of battle died away after the peace of Ryswick, when, in 1702, the rival nations became involved in the long conflict known as "Queen Anne's War."  By this time, however, the Iroquois had grown wise and prudently maintained a neutrality, commanding the respect of both French and English, the former being wary of again provoking the powerful confederates, while the Colonial government of New York was very willing that the Five Nations should remain neutral, as they thus furnished a shield against French attacks for the whole frontier of the colony. 

Meanwhile, through all the western country, the French extended their influence.  Detroit was founded in 1701.  Other posts were established far and wide.  Notwithstanding their alliance with the Hurons and other foes of the Iroquois, and notwithstanding the enmity aroused by the invasions of CHAMPLAIN, DENONVILLE and Frontenac, such was the subtle skill of the French that they rapidly acquired a strong influence among the western tribes of the confederacy, especially the Senecas.  Even the powerful socio-political system of the Hodenosaunee weakened under the influence of European intrigue, and while the eastern Iroquois, though preserving their neutrality, were friendly to the English, the Senecas, and perhaps the Cayugas, were almost ready to take up arms for the French. 

About 1712 an important event occurred in the history of the Iroquois confederacy, the Five Nations then becoming the Six Nations.  The Tuscaroras, a powerful tribe of North Carolina, had become involved in a war with the whites, growing out of a dispute about land.  The colonists being aided by several other Indian tribes, the Tuscaroras were defeated, many of them killed, and a number of other captured and sold as slaves.  The greater part of the remainder fled northward to the Iroquois, who immediately adopted them as one of their tribes of the confederacy, and assigned them a location near the Oneidas.  The readiness of the haughty warriors of the Iroquois to extend the shelter of the Long House over a band of fleeing exiles was due to the fact that the latter had been the allies of the Five Nations against other southern Indians; which would also account for the eagerness of the latter to join in the overthrow of the Tuscaroras. 

Not long after this Chabert JONCAIRE, a Frenchman, who had been captured in youth by the Senecas, and who had been adopted into their tribe and had married a Seneca wife, but who had been released at the treaty of peace, was employed by the French authorities to promote peace among the Iroquois.  Pleading his claims as an adopted child of the nation, he was allowed by the Seneca chiefs to build a cabin on the site of Lewiston, which soon became a center of French influence.  All the efforts of the English were impotent either to dislodge him or to obtain a similar privilege for any of their own people.  "JONCAIRE is a child of the nation," was the sole reply vouchsafed to every complaint.  Though Fort Niagara was for the time abandoned, and no regular fort built at Lewiston, yet JONCAIRE's trading post embraced a considerable group of cabins, and at least a part of the time a detachment of French soldiers was stationed there. 

About 1725 they began rebuilding Fort Niagara on the site where DENONVILLE had erected his fortress.  They did so without opposition, though it seems strange that they could so easily have allayed the jealousy of the Six Nations.  It may be presumed, however, that the very fact of the French being such poor colonizers worked to their advantage in establishing a certain kind of influence among the Indians.  Few of the Gallic adventurers being desirous of engaging in agriculture, they made very little effort to obtain land, while the English were constantly arousing the jealousy of the natives by obtaining enormous grants from some of the chiefs, often doubtless by very dubious methods.  Moreover, the French always possessed a peculiar facility for assimilating with savage and half-civilized races, thus gaining an influence over them.  Whatever the cause, the power of the French constantly increased among the Senecas.  Fort Niagara was their stronghold, and the Genesee country was for more than thirty years to some extent under their control.  The influence of JONCAIRE was maintained and increased by his sons all through the second quarter of the eighteenth century. 

In the war between England and France, begun in 1744 and closed in 1748, the Six Nations generally maintained their neutrality, though the Mohawks gave some aid to the English.  During the eight years of nominal peace which succeeded the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, both the French and the English made every effort to extend their dominion beyond their frontier settlements, the former with greater success.

To Niagara, Detroit and other posts they added Presque Isle (now Erie, Pa.), Venango, and finally Fort Duquesne on the site of Pittsburgh, designing to establish a line of forts from the lake to the Ohio, and thence to the Mississippi.  Frequent detachments of troops passed through along this line.  Gaily dressed French officers sped backward and forward, attended by the fierce warriors of their allied tribes, and not infrequently by the Senecas.  Dark-gowned Jesuits hastened to and fro, everywhere receiving the respect of the red men, and using all their art to magnify the power of both France and the Church of Rome. 

It is possible that the whole Iroquois confederacy would have been induced to become active partisans of the French, had it not been for the influence of one man, the English superintendent of Indian affairs in America, he then being known as Colonel, afterward as General, and still later as Sir William JOHNSON.  Colonel JOHNSON then dwelt at Mount Johnson, afterward known as Fort Johnson, on the banks of the Mohawk River, and in the very heart of the Mohawk Indian territory.  Later on, in 1763, Sir William occupied Johnson Hall, a magnificent residence in the village of Johnstown, in this State.  The hall is still standing, as also is his former dwelling at Mount Johnson, both being well preserved and retaining much of their original appearance. 

William JOHNSON was of Irish birth and parentage, and came to America in 1738 as the agent of his uncle, Sir Peter WARREN, the latter having been the owner of an extensive tract of land in the Mohawk valley.  JOHNSON located in the valley just below the present city of Amsterdam, where he acted as agent for his uncle in the development and sale of the lands, and at the same time opened a general store for trade with the Indians and the few whites then living in the region.  By honesty and straightforward dealing among them, JOHNSON acquired a great influence over the Mohawks, and his reputation soon spread throughout the whole Six Nations, and he gained an almost complete mastery over them.  During the later French war, JOHNSON was elevated through various ranks to the generalship, but preferred to be in direct command of his faithful Iroquois rather than of the continental British soldiery.  For distinguished services as soldier and as a diplomat, he was rewarded by the crown with a baronetcy and made sole superintendent of Indian affairs in North America. 

Just preceding the last great struggle in America between England and France, JOHNSON, in fulfillment of promises made to the Iroquois, built strong fortifications in the territory of each of the nations, wherever the same was most desirable and would afford the greatest protection to the neighboring Indians.  One of these defenses was built under his direction on the site of the Seneca village, Kanadesaga, near the corporate limits of Geneva, and which has been more fully described in the preceding chapter. 

JOHNSON witnessed the successes of the last French and English war; in fact he was an important factor in accomplishing the grand results of that struggle, gained distinction for himself therein, but viewed with alarm and apprehension the gradual separation of the American colonies from the mother country.  He did not live to see the final overthrow of the British power in America, having died in 1774, after which his office of Indian superintendent, but never his grand influence, descended to his son, Sir John JOHNSON, and to his nephew, Col. Guy JOHNSON, the latter being deputy-superintendent in Canada.  Soon after the outbreak of the Revolution, Sir John and Col. Guy JOHNSON fled from Johnstown and "Guy Park" and took up their residence in Canada, being followed there by nearly all of the Mohawks, many of the Onondagas and Cayugas, some of the Senecas, and a few of the Oneidas and Tuscaroras. 

Returning from this digression to the general narrative, we find in 1756, after two years of open hostilities in America, war was again declared between England and France, being their last great struggle for supremacy in the New World.  The ferment in the then wilderness of Western New York grew more earnest, and more frequently were seen the gaily dressed French officers and soldiers of KING LOUIS, speeding from Montreal, Quebec and Frontenac to Niagara, Venango, Duquesne and other French posts in the extreme west, all passing along the western border of old Ontario county; staying perchance to hold brief counsel with the Seneca sachems and chiefs, then hurrying forward to strengthen the line of posts on which so much depended.  In this war the Mohawks took the field in favor of the English under JOHNSON, but the Senecas were friendly to the French and were only restrained from taking up arms for them by unwillingness to fight against their Iroquois brethren farther east.

At first the French were everywhere victorious.  BRADDOCK, almost at the gates of Fort Duquesne, was slain, and his army cut in pieces by a force very small in comparison with his own.  MONTCALM captured the little British post at Oswego, and the French lines up the lakes and across to the Ohio were stronger than ever.  However, in 1758 the British government entered more earnestly into the contest.  Fort Duquesne was captured by the English and Provincial army, Fort Frontenac was seized by Col. BRADSTREET, and other victories prepared the way for still greater successes in 1759.  The cordon was broken, but Fort Niagara still held out for France, and still the western Senecas strongly declared their friendship for that power. 

The next year, 1759, WOLF assailed Quebec, the strongest of all the French strongholds, and almost at the same time General PRIDEAUX, with two thousand British and Provincials, accompanied by Sir William JOHNSON with one thousand of his faithful Iroquois, sailed up Lake Ontario and laid siege to Fort Niagara.  This post was defended by only six hundred men and its capture was certain unless relief could be obtained.  But its commander was not idle, and away through the forest sped his lithe redskin messengers to summon the allies of France.  D'AUBREY responded with his most zealous endeavors, and at once set forth to the relief of Niagara.  The siege was scarcely begun when General PRIDEAUX was slain, upon which JOHNSON assumed command and continued until the 24th of July, when a large body of French and Indians attempted to raise siege.  A sharp conflict followed and the effort was defeated, whereupon the garrison surrendered the next day. 

In the latter part of July, 1759, while the English army was still camped around the walls of Quebec, while WOLFE and MONTCALM were approaching that common grave to which the path of glory was so soon to lead them, a stirring scene took place in the western part of old Ontario county.  The largest European force which had yet been seen in the region at any one time were marching to the relief of distressed Niagara.  On the one side were soldiers, trained to obey every command of their leader, while on the other were only wild savages who knew no other law than their own fierce will. 

History has preserved but a slight record of this last struggle of the French for dominion in this region of the State, but it has rescued from oblivion the name of D'AUBREY, the commander, and Delignery, his second: of Marin, the leader of the Indians, and of Captains DE VILLIERS, REPERTINI, MARTINI, and BASONE.  The Senecas, snuffing the battle from their homes in the region, were roaming restlessly about, uncertain how to act, more friendly to the French than the English, and yet unwilling to engage in conflict with their brethren of the Six Nations. 

Following JOHNSON's victory over the French at Niagara, there came the life-bought victory of WOLFE at Quebec, which gave the latter to the triumphant Britons.  Still the French clung to their colonies with desperate but failing grasp, and it was not until September, 1760, that the governor-general of Canada surrendered Montreal, and with it Detroit, Venango, and all the other posts within his jurisdiction.  This surrender was ratified by the treaty of peace between England and France in February, 1763, which ceded Canada to the former power. 

It has already been stated that a stockade fortification and block-houses had been erected by Sir William JOHNSON in 1756, at Kanadesaga, for the Senecas in the war then pending.  At this time the Senecas seemed to have been divided into two branches or sections, those in the western part of the State under the leadership of FARMER's BROTHER, CORNPLANTER and other influential chiefs.  This branch of the tribe were in fact the "Door-keepers."  Those gathered at Kanadesaga, or the eastern section, became the capital of the nation and were under the domination of the great Turtle clan, with Tagechsadon as the head chief, who was succeeded upon his death by SAYENQUERAGHTA, or Gui-yah-gwaah-doh, as his name was in the Seneca dialect, with various different or dialectical variations, the signification of the name being, "disappearing smoke," or the "the smoke has disappeared."  The interpretation thus given, conveys the idea of a glimpse of a flying runner bearing a smoking brand, hurrying and soon lost in the obscurity of the wilderness--one moment the banner of smoke is seen and then lost.  It is an exclamation put into the mouth of the beholder.  The word is idiomatic, but wonderfully picturesque, and is very applicable to an official position of smoke-bearer or fire-kindler.  He was more familiarly known by the white people as Old Smoke or Old King, and also as the King of Kanadesaga. 

While the official position held by Old Smoke gave him great prominence, his greater popularity and influence resulted from his individual personal merit.  He was a valiant warrior; his bravery and sagacity in war won for him the trust and confidence of his people.  He was a wise and judicious counsellor, and this secured for him the respect and esteem of the Indians.  RED JACKET testified of him that he was "a man of great understanding."  His superior talents, together with his good and sterling qualities, gained for him the regard and veneration of the Indians, and secured for him a greater prominence and a more commanding influence than that possessed by any other of the chiefs or sachems of his time.  He was, indeed, one of the most distinguished men of the Iroquois, the most popular and prominent of the Senecas, always a firm friend where he pledged fidelity, possessing a warm and generous heart; he had the respect of enemies and the love of friends; was brave, sagacious and wise.  While he was opposed to the Indians taking any part in the War of the Revolution, yet it having been decided against him, he yielded obedience to the decision and became one of the most untiresome and active and ferocious on the war path, and under his leadership more daring and savage incursions on our frontier settlements were made than under any other leader. 

The object of Sir William JOHNSON in erecting the fortification at Kanadesaga was in a great measure accomplished.  The eastern Senecas either became neutral, or else aided their brethren of the league in their assistance to the English, and it is now an acknowledged fact that in the evenly balanced and stubborn contest between France and England for the supremacy of the country the friendship and aid thus rendered finally turned the scale in England's favor, and hence the result is that we to-day are an English instead of a French speaking people.

Created by Dianne Thomas  

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