History of Warren County, Chapter 5


FROM 1655 TO 1680

The Iroquois Triumphant - Obliteration of Dutch Power - French Progress - La Salle Visits the Senecas - Greenhalgh’s Estimates - La Salle on the Niagara - Building of the Griffin - Its First and Last Voyage - La Salle’s Subsequent Career.

The overthrow of the Kahquahs and Eries accomplished, the Iroquois, lords of all this vast region, went forth conquering and to conquer. This was probably the day of their greatest glory. Stimulated, but not yet crushed by contact with the white man, they stayed the progress of the French into their territories, they negotiated on equal terms with the Dutch and English, and, having supplied themselves with the terrible arms of the pale - faces, they smote with direst vengeance whomsoever of their own race were so unfortunate as to provoke their wrath.

On the Susquehanna, on the Allegheny, on the Ohio, even to the Mississippi in the west and the Savannah in the south, the Iroquois bore their conquering arms, filling with terror the dwellers alike on the prairies of Illinois and in the glades of the Carolinas. They strode over the bones of the slaughtered Eries to new conquests on the Great Lakes beyond, even to the foaming cascades of Michillimacinac and the shores of the mighty. Superior. They inflicted such terrible defeat upon the Hurons, despite the alliance of the latter with the French, that many of the panic - stricken refugees sought safety for a time on the frozen borders of Hudson’s Bay. In short, they triumphed on every side, save only where the white man came; and even the latter was for years held at bay by these fierce confederates.

Of the three distinct and rival bands of European colonists already mentioned, the French and Dutch opened a thriving fur - trade with the Indians, while the New Englanders devoted themselves principally to agriculture. In 1664, however, the English seized New Amsterdam (now termed New York city), and in 1674 their conquest of New Netherlands was made permanent. Thus the Hollanders as a governing power in the New World were disposed of, and thenceforth the contest for supremacy was to be between the English and the French.

Charles II, then king of England, granted the conquered Dutch province to his brother James, duke of York, from whom it was called New York. This grant comprised all the lands along the Hudson, with an indefinite amount westward, thus overlapping the previous grant of James I to the Plymouth Company, and the boundaries of Massachusetts under the charter of Charles I, and laying the foundation for a conflict of jurisdiction which was afterwards to have an important effect on the destinies of the country lying immediately to the northward of Warren county.

The French, meanwhile, if poor farmers, were indefatigable fur - traders and missionaries; but their priests and Indian traders mostly pursued a route westward, through the region now known as Canada. There were good reasons for taking such a route. The fierce Senecas guarded the southern shores of the Niagara, and they, like the rest of the Iroquois, were unfriendly, if not actively hostile, to the French. By 1665 trading - posts had been established at Michillimacinac, Green Bay, on the site of Chicago, and St. Joseph, Mich.

But a new era was approaching. Louis XIV was now king of France, and his great minister, Colbert, was anxious to extend the power of his royal master over the unknown regions of North America. Under his instructions small exploring parties were sent forward into regions not visited heretofore by his countrymen. Accordingly, in 1669 La Salle, whose name was soon, and forever after, to be indissolubly connected with the history of America, visited the Senecas with only two companions, and found four of their principal villages, from ten to twenty miles south from the present city of Rochester. In 1673 the missionaries Marquette and Joliet pushed on beyond the farthest French posts, and erected the emblem of Christian salvation on the shore of the Father of Waters. And in 1676 - 77 Father Hennepin visited the Indian villages along the Allegheny, traveling as far south as the mouth of the Venango River or French Creek.

During the year last mentioned - 1677 - Wentworth Greenhalgh, an Englishman, visited all of the Five Nations, finding the same four towns of the Senecas described by the companions of La Salle. Greenhalgh made very minute observations, counted the houses of the Indians, and reported the Mohawks as having three hundred warriors, the Oneidas two hundred, the Onondagas three hundred and fifty, the Cayugas three hundred, and the Senecas a thousand. It will thus be seen that the Senecas, the guardians of the western door of the Long House, numbered, according to Greenhalgh’s computation, nearly as many as all the other tribes of the confederacy combined, and other accounts show that he was not far from correct.

In the month of January, 1679, La Salle - his full name being Robert Cavalier de la Salle, appeared at the mouth of the Niagara River. He was a Frenchman of good family, thirty years of age, and one of the most gallant, devoted, and adventurous of all the bold explorers who, under many different banners, opened the New World to the knowledge of the Old. Leaving his native Rouen at the age of twenty - two, he had ever since been leading a life of adventure in America, having in 1669, as already mentioned, penetrated almost alone to the strongholds of the Senecas. In 1678 he had received from King Louis a commission to discover the western part of New France. He was authorized to build such forts and trading - posts as might be deemed necessary, but at his own expense, being granted certain privileges in return, the principal of which appears to have been the right to trade in buffalo skins. The same year he had made some preparations, and in the fall had sent the Sieur de La Motte and Father Hennepin (the priest and historian of his expedition) in advance to the mouth of the Niagara. La Motte, however, soon returned.

When La Salle arrived he went two leagues above the falls, built a rude dock, and laid the keel of a vessel with which to navigate the upper lakes. Strangely enough, Hennepin does not state on which bank of the river this dock was situated; but the question has been carefully investigated, especially by Francis Parkman, the historian of French power in Canada, and by other eminent writers on early history in Western New York, who have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that it was on the east side, at the mouth of Cayuga Creek, in Niagara county, N.Y.; and, in accordance with that view, the little village which: has, been laid out there has received the appellation of "La Salle."

Hennepin distinctly mentions a small village of Senecas situated at the mouth of the Niagara; and it is plain from his whole narrative that the Iroquois were in possession of the entire country along the river, though few of them resided there, and watched the movements of the French with unceasing jealousy.

The work of construction was carried on through the winter, two Indians of the Wolf clan of the Senecas being employed to hunt deer for the French party, and in the spring the vessel was launched, "after having," in the words of Father Hennepin, "been blessed according to the rites of our Church of Rome." The new ship was named Le Griffon (the Griffin), in compliment to the Count de Frontenac, minister of the French colonies, whose coat of arms was ornamented with representations of that mythical beast. It was a diminutive, vessel compared with the leviathans of the deep which now navigate these inland seas, but was a marvel in view of the difficulties under which it had been built. It was of sixty tons burden, completely furnished with anchors and other equipments, and armed with seven small cannon, all of which had been transported by hand around the great cataract.

The Griffin remained in the Niagara River below the rapids for several months. Meanwhile Father Hennepin returned to Fort Frontenac (now Kingston, Canada), where he obtained two priestly assistants, and La Salle superintended the removal of the stores and armament from below the falls.

When all was ready the attempt was made, and several times repeated, to ascend the rapids above Black Rock, but without success. At length, on the 7th of August, 1679, a favorable wind sprang up from the northeast, all the Griffin’s sails were set, and again it approached the troublesome rapids. There were thirty-four men on board, all Frenchmen with the exception of Tonti, an Italian, who had been chosen by La Salle as second in command.

As the little vessel approached the rapids a dozen stalwart sailors were sent on shore with a tow - line, and aided with all their strength the breeze which blew toward Lake Erie. Those efforts were soon successful. By the aid of sails and tow - line the Griffin surmounted the rapids, all the crew went on board, and the pioneer vessel of the Great Lakes swept out on the bosom of Lake Erie. As it did so the priests led in singing a joyous Te Deum, all the cannon and arquebuses were fired in a grand salute, and even the stoical Iroquois, watching with suspicious eyes from the shore, gave evidence of their admiration by repeated cries of "Gannoron! Gannoron!" Wonderful! Wonderful!

This was the beginning of the commerce of the upper lakes; but, like many another first venture, it resulted only in disaster to its projectors, though it was the harbinger of unbounded success by others. The Griffin was navigated to Green Bay, where La Salle and Hennepin left it, started on its return with a cargo of furs, and was never heard of more. It is supposed that it sank in a storm and that all on board perished.

La Salle was not afterward identified with the history of the lower lake region; but his chivalric achievements and tragic fate have still such power to stir the pulse and enlist sympathetic feelings, that one can hardly refrain from a brief mention of his subsequent career: After the Griffin had sailed on her return voyage, La Salle and Hennepin proceeded in canoes to the head of Lake Michigan. Thence, after building a trading - post and waiting many weary months for the return of his vessel, he went with thirty followers to Lake Peoria, on the Illinois River, where he built a fort and gave it the expressive name of "Crêve Coeur" - Broken Heart. But, notwithstanding this expression of despair, his courage was far from being exhausted, and, after sending Hennepin to explore the Mississippi, he, with three comrades, performed the remarkable feat of returning to Fort Frontenac on foot, depending on their guns for support.

From Fort Frontenac he returned to Creve Coeur, the garrison of which had in the mean time been driven away by the Indians. Again the indomitable La Salle gathered his followers, and early in 1682 descended the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, being the first European to explore any considerable portion of that mighty stream. He took possession of the country, and of all lands drained by waters tributary to the Mississippi, in the name of King Louis XIV, and called it Louisiana.

Upon his return to France he astonished and gratified the court with the stories of his discoveries, and in 1684 was furnished with a fleet and several hundred men, to colonize the new domain. Then everything went wrong. The fleet, through the blunders of its naval commander, went to Matagorda Bay, in Texas. The principal store - ship was wrecked, the fleet returned, and La Salle failed to find the mouth of the Mississippi. His colony dwindled away, through desertion and death, to forty men; and at length he started with sixteen of these, on foot, to return to Canada for assistance. Even in this little band there were those who hated him (he was undoubtedly a man of somewhat imperious nature), and ere he had reached the Sabine he was murdered by two of his followers, and his body left unburied upon the prairie.

Thus ended the life of the man who was the first white navigator of the upper lakes and the first explorer of the Mississippi River; who added Louisiana and other vast regions to the French empire, and upon whose discoveries the latter power laid claim to territory extending from the Allegheny Mountains westward to the western limits of the Mississippi basin, including, of course, the present county of Warren.

SOURCE: Page(s) 34-38, History of Warren County, J.S. Schenck & W.S. Rann, Syracuse, New York: D. Mason, 1887