History of Warren County, Chapter 3



The French in New France - The Puritans in New England - The Dutch in New Netherlands - Activity of the French - Dutch Progress - The Jesuits - The Company of a Hundred Partners - Capture and Restoration of New France - Great Extent of the Province of Massachusetts Bay - Breboeuf and Chaumonot - Destruction of the Kahquahs and Eries - Seneca Tradition - French Account - Indian Hatchets.

IN’1534, only forty - two years after the discovery of America by Columbus, Jacques Cartier, a skilled French navigator, discovered the broad, beautiful river connecting Lake Ontario with the ocean. He sailed up that river to the future site of Montreal and formally took possession of all the country round about, on behalf of Francis I, the reigning sovereign of France. He named the newly discovered region New France. The following year he made a second voyage, with the object in view of finding a direct route to India, and on reaching the mouth of that magnificent stream named it the St. Lawrence, in honor of the day of its discovery. He passed up the river a considerable distance, finding many Indian villages, but, not knowing the climate or heeding the flight of time, the rigors of a northern winter were upon him ere he realized their terrors; and amid untold sufferings his hardy but unprepared seamen were compelled to remain on the St. Lawrence, their ship being ice - bound, until spring opened, when the survivors returned to France. Six years later Cartier made another voyage across the Atlantic, for the purpose of founding a permanent colony of French on the St. Lawrence; but in 1543 all was abandoned, and for more than a half century the disturbed condition of France prevented further progress in America.

On the 3d of July, 1603, Samuel de Champlain planted the white flag of France on the site of Quebec, and three years later on that of Montreal. From this time forward for many years the devoted missionaries and fearless explorers of France were unremitting in their efforts to spread the Catholic faith and extend the French dominions throughout the vast region bordering upon the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes.

In 1606 James I, king of England, granted to an association of Englishmen, called the Plymouth Company, the territory of. New England; but no’ permanent settlement was made until the 9th day of November, 1620, when from the historic Mayflower the Pilgrim Fathers landed on Plymouth Rock. The English settlements were expected to stretch westward, between north latitude 48° and 34°, from the Atlantic Ocean to the "South Sea," or Pacific Ocean, and patents were granted to accommodate this liberal expansion.

In 1609 the English navigator Henry Hudson, while in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, discovered the river which still bears his name, and soon after the Hollanders established fortified trading posts at its mouth and at Fort Orange, now Albany, and opened a commerce in furs, etc. They, too, made an indefinite claim of territory to the westward.

All European nations at that time recognized the right of discovery as constituting a valid claim to lands occupied only by scattered bands of savages; but there were numerous disputes as to application, and especially as to the amount of surrounding country which each discoverer could claim on behalf of his sovereign.

Thus during the first quarter of the seventeenth century three distinct streams of emigration, with three attendant claims of sovereignty, were converging toward the region of the Great Lakes. For the time being, however, the French had the best opportunity and the Dutch next, while the English, apparently, were third in the race.

The French were the first white men to make explorations in the vicinity of Lake Erie. As early as 1611 - 12 Champlain ascended the chain of lakes as far as Lake Huron, and from that time forward the Indians were visited by numerous French priests, on the double mission of spreading the gospel and promoting the interests of their king and nation.

In 1623 permanent Dutch emigration, as distinguished from mere fur - trading expeditions, first began upon the Hudson. The colony was named New Netherlands, and the first governor was sent thither by the Batavian Republic.

Two years later 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 other Catholic missionaries from Canada and the whole lake region, and substantially monopolize the ground themselves. In 1626 Father de la Roche Daillon, a Recollet missionary, visited the Kahquahs, or Neuter nation, and passed the winter preaching the gospel among them. This active, keen - sighted missionary also found time during his winter’s sojourn in the wilderness to visit and describe the oil springs in New York and Western Pennsylvania.

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 in going to China by way of Lake Erie, and not to any great extent in converting the Indians. By the terms of their charter they were to transport six thousand emigrants to New France and to furnish them with an ample supply of both priests and artisans. Champlain was made governor. His first two years’ experience was bitter in the extreme. The British men - of - war captured his supplies at sea, the Iroquois warriors, whose enmity he had incurred, tomahawked his hunters on land, and in 1629 an English fleet sailed up the St. Lawrence and captured Quebec. Soon afterward, however, peace was concluded, New France was restored to King Louis, and Champlain resumed his gubernatorial duties.

In 1628 Charles I of England granted a charter for the government of Massachusetts Bay. It included the territory between latitude 40 degrees 2’ and 44 degrees 15’ north, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, making a province two hundred and fifty - four miles wide and about four thousand miles long. The present county of Warren was included within its limits, as well as the greater part of the State of Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile the Jesuit missionaries, fired with unbounded zeal and unsurpassed courage, traversed the wilderness, holding up the cross before the bewildered savages. They naturally had much better success with the Hurons, afterward known as the Wyandots, than with the Iroquois, whom Champlain had wantonly and foolishly attacked in order to please the Hurons (and to show the effectiveness of his firearms), and who afterward remained, with the exception of the Senecas, the almost unvarying enemies of the French.

Flourishing stations were soon afterward established by the Jesuits as far west as Lake Huron. One of these was Ste. Marie, near the eastern extremity of that lake, and it was from this station that Fathers Bréboeuf and Chaumonot set forth in November, 1640, to visit the Neuter nation. They returned the next spring, having visited eighteen Kahquah villages, but having met with very little encouragement among them. They reported the Neuter Indians to be stronger and finer - looking than any other savages with whom they were acquainted.

In 1641 Father 1’Allemant wrote to the Jesuit provincial in France, describing the expedition of Bréboeuf and Chaumonot, and one of his expressions goes far to settle the question whether or not the buffalo ever inhabited the country bordering upon and to the southward of Lake Erie. He says of the Neuter nation, repeating the information just obtained from the two missionaries: "They are much employed in hunting deer, buffalo*, wild - cats, wolves, beaver, and other animals."

Down to this time the Kahquahs had succeeded in maintaining their neutrality between the fierce belligerents on either side, though the Jesuit missionaries reported them as being more friendly to the Iroquois than to the Hurons. What caused the quarrel between the Iroquois and the tribes immediately to the westward of them on the south shore of Lake Erie is not known; but some time during the next fifteen years the Iroquois fell upon both the Kahquahs and the Eries, and exterminated them as nations from the face of the earth. The precise years in which these events occurred are uncertain, nor is it known whether the Kahquahs or the Eries first felt the deadly anger of The Five Nations. French accounts favor the view that the Neuter nation were first destroyed, while according to Seneca tradition the Kahquahs still dwelt at the foot of Lake Erie, and southward to the head waters of the Allegheny, when the Eries were annihilated by the Iroquois. This tradition has been repeated about as follows:

The Eries had been jealous of the Iroquois from the time the latter formed their confederacy. About the time under consideration the Eries challenged their rivals to a grand game of ball, a hundred men on a side, for a heavy stake of furs and wampum. For two successive years the challenge was declined; but when it was again repeated it was accepted by the confederates, and their chosen hundred met their opponents near the head of the Niagara River.

They defeated the Eries in ball - playing, and then the latter proposed a foot - race between ten of the fleetest young men on each side. Again the athletic Iroquois were victorious. Then the Kahquahs, who had a large village near by, invited the contestants to their home. While there the chief of the Eries proposed a wrestling match between the champions on each side, the victor in each match to have the pleasing privilege of knocking out his adversary’s brains with his tomahawk. This challenge too was accepted, though, as the veracious Iroquois historians assert, with no intention of claiming the forfeit if successful.

In the first bout the Iroquois wrestler threw his antagonist, but declined to play the part of executioner. The chief of the Eries, infuriated by his champion’s defeat, himself struck the vanquished wrestler dead, as he lay supine where the victor had thrown him. Another and another of the Eries was in the same way conquered by the Iroquois, and in the same way dispatched by the wrathful chief. By this time the Eries were in a terrific state of excitement, and the leader of the victorious confederates, fearing an outbreak, ordered his followers to take up their march toward home, which they did, with no further collision.

But the jealousy and hatred of the Eries was still more inflamed by defeat, and they soon laid a plan to surprise and, if possible, destroy the Iroquois. A Seneca woman, who had married among the Eries but was then a widow, fled to her own people and gave notice of the attack. Runners were at once sent out, and all the Iroquois were assembled and led forth to meet the invaders. The two bodies met near Honeoye Lake, about half way between Canandaigua and the Genesee, in New York. After a terrible conflict the Eries were totally defeated, the flying remnants pursued to their homes by the victorious confederates, and the whole nation almost completely destroyed. It was five months before the Iroquois warriors returned from the deadly pursuit.

Subsequently a large force composed of the descendants of the Eries came from the Far West to attack the Iroquois, but were utterly routed and slain to a man, near the site of the great city now seen at the foot of Lake Erie, their bodies burned, and the ashes buried in a mound lately visible, near the old Indian church on the Buffalo Creek Reservation. Such is the tradition. It is a very nice story - for the Iroquois; since, according to their account, their opponents were the aggressors throughout, that the young men of the Five Nations were invariably victorious in the athletic games, and nothing but self-preservation induced them to destroy their enemies.

On the other hand, scattered French accounts go to show that the Kahquahs were destroyed first. They had been visited by French Catholic missionaries as early as 1626. They were found to be living on terms of amity with the surrounding warlike tribes, and were governed by a queen, termed in their own language Yagowania, and in the Seneca tongue Gegosasa, who was regarded as the "mother of nations," and whose office was that of "Keeper of the house of peace." The chief warrior of the tribe or nation was Ragnotha, whose residence was at Teosahwa, or "Place of Basswood," the site of the city of Buffalo of today. About 1645 a bloody dissension broke out between the several branches of the Iroquois family. During its progress two Seneca warriors appeared at Gegosasa’s lodge and were hospitably received. They were preparing to smoke the pipe of peace when a deputation of Massassaugas (a tribe which occupied the region immediately to the westward of the Eries, or at the western extremity of Lake Erie) was announced, who demanded vengeance, for the murder of their chief’s son, at the hands of the Seneca tribe. This the queen, in her mediatorial capacity, was prompt to grant. She even set out with a large body of warriors to enforce her decree, and dispatched messengers to Ragnotha to command his assistance. The visiting Senecas hastened back to their friends to notify them of the queen’s course, and a body of fighting men was hastily gathered in ambush on the broad trail over which her army was passing. The Kahquahs had no anticipation of trouble at that point, and the first they knew of the presence of the Senecas was when they heard their dreadful war - whoop. The contest that ensued was one of desperation. At first the Kahquahs gained the advantage; but the Senecas rallied and finally compelled their enemy to flee, leaving six hundred dead upon the field of battle. This success was followed up and the defeated Kahquahs pursued and hunted relentlessly, until they were as a nation exterminated.

The war of extermination between the Eries and the Iroquois occurred about 1650 - 55, and was one of the most cruel in aboriginal history. From the beginning it was understood by both sides to mean the utter ruin of one tribe or the other. The Eries organized a powerful body of warriors and sought to surprise their enemies in their own country. Their plans were thwarted, however, by a faithless woman, who secretly gave the Iroquois warning. The latter at once raised a force and marched out to meet the invaders. The engagement resulted in a complete victory for the Iroquois. Seven times the Eries crossed the stream dividing the hostile lines, and they were as often driven back with terrible loss. On another occasion several hundred Iroquois attacked nearly three times their number of Eries, encamped on the Allegheny River** not far from the southern boundary of Warren county, dispersed them, killed a great many, and compelled the balance to fly to remote regions. In another battle, fought near the site of the Cattaraugus Indian mission house, on the upper waters of the Allegheny, the loss of the Eries was enormous. Finally a pestilence broke out among the Eries, "which," says an early writer, "swept away greater numbers even than the club and arrow." The Iroquois then took advantage of their opportunity to end all fear of future trouble from the ill - fated Eries. Those who had been taken captive were, with rare exceptions, tortured and remorselessly butchered, and their wives and children were distributed among the Iroquois villages, never again to be restored to their relatives and friends. The few survivors fled to distant regions in the West and South, and were followed by the undying hatred of the Iroquois.

Amid these conflicting statements it is only certain that between 1640 and 1655 the fierce confederates of Central New York "put out the fires" of the Kahquahs and the Eries. Traces of these tribes, however, were occasionally found by the French missionaries during their labors in the Far West. An early French writer, in describing the Christian village of La Prairie, says a portion of the settlement was made up of fugitive Eries. A number were also found living as slaves among the Onondagas, in Central New York, and appealed to the missionaries to aid them in securing their freedom, but abandoned all hope on finding that these zealous priests were powerless to help them.

Taking a retrospective view, it is possible, as some have claimed, "that the numerous iron hatchets which have been picked up in Western New York and the northwestern counties of Pennsylvania belonged at one time to the unfortunate Eries and Kahquahs. They are undoubtedly of French manufacture, and similar ones are used in Normandy to this day. They are all made after substantially the same pattern, the blade being three or four inches wide on the edge, running back and narrowing slightly for about six inches, when the eye is formed, by beating the metal out thin, rolling it over, and welding it. Each is marked with the same device, namely, three small circles something less than an inch in diameter, each divided into compartments, like a wheel with four spokes. These hatchets would be convenient articles to trade for furs, and were doubtless used for that purpose. It is extremely improbable that any Indian would have thrown away such valuable instruments in the numbers which have since been found, except from compulsion; and the disaster which befell the Kahquahs and Eries at the hands of the Iroquois readily accounts for the abandonment of these weapons."

Thus reason’s a recent writer, who but re - echoes the opinions of earlier annalists. Yet when we turn to another period in the history of French occupation - a hundred years later, too (1747) - we find that the French were then deeply intent on securing firm possession of the Mississippi valley and the entire basin, even to the summits of the Alleghenies in Pennsylvania, and were busy establishing trading - posts along the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers. They employed the most artful means to win the simple natives to their interests, giving showy presents and laboring to convince them of their great value. Pennsylvania, as compared with other provinces, had then won a reputation among the Indians of making presents of substantial worth. The natives, not knowing the difference between steel and iron, the French distributed immense numbers of worthless iron hatchets, which the savages supposed were the equal of the best English steel axes. The Indians, however, soon came to distinguish between the good and the valueless; and, understanding the Pennsylvania methods of securing peace and friendship, they became very artful in drawing out vast quantities of presents.

The provincial government at this time was alive to the dangers which threatened from the insinuating methods of the French. A trusty messenger, Conrad Weiser, was sent among the Indians in the western part of the -province to observe the plans of the French and to ascertain the temper of the natives; and especially to magnify the power of the English, and the disposition of Pennsylvania to give great presents. This latter policy had the desired effect, and worthless and wandering bands, which had no right to speak for the tribe, came teeming in, desirous of scouring the chain of friendship, intimating that the French were making great offers, in order to induce the government to large liberality, until this "brightening the chain" became an intolerable nuisance. Indeed, at a single council held at Albany, N.Y., in that year (1747) Pennsylvania distributed goods to the Indians to the value of £1,000, and of such a character as would be most serviceable and valuable to the recipients; not worthless gew - gaws, but steel hatchets, blankets, and the many articles which would contribute to their lasting comfort and well - being, a protection to the person against the bitter frosts of winter, and sustenance that would minister to the continued wants of the body and alleviation of pain in time of sickness. Can it not be presumed, therefore, that the many iron hatchets found in the localities mentioned were not the last tokens or relics of the exterminated Eries and Kahquahs, but, rather, that they were the worthless implements of French manufacture, thrown away as valueless by the Senecas and other Indians, after obtaining possession of the steel hatchets so liberally and widely distributed by the English colonists?

For many years after the signal defeat and extermination of the Kahquahs and Eries the territory bordering the southern shore of Lake Erie, and for many miles to the eastward and southward of the same, was regarded as a kind of neutral ground between the eastern and western tribes of Indians. True, the victorious Iroquois claimed the country by right of conquest, and their claims were recognized and respected; yet nomadic bands of Delawares, Munseys, and other tribes, who were vassals of, or at peace with, the Iroquois, frequented it from time to time in quest of the game and fish with which it teemed.


* A French memoir, written in 1714, says: "Buffalo are found on the south shore of Lake Erie, but not on the north shore."

** It is probable that this fight took place at the point mentioned- - by General Irvine in 1785 as the "Burying Ground," which was about fourteen miles below the mouth of the Brokenstraw.

*** It is our opinion that the bows and arrows in the hands of the confederates were considered by them of but secondary importance during the wars of extermination referred to. The Iroquois for nearly forty years had maintained peaceful relations with the Dutch upon the Hudson River, and, in exchange for valuable furs, had obtained firearms and learned how to use them. Thus armed they were more than a match for any of their savage adversaries, who depended upon Indian weapons alone; and here we think is explained the secret of their successes and easy victories over the Eries, the Kahquahs, and other nations.

SOURCE: Page(s) 21-28, History of Warren County, J.S. Schenck & W.S. Rann, Syracuse, New York: D. Mason, 1887