Ancient Entrenchments on Fort Hill, near Le Roy, Genesee County

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Sketch of the Ancient entrenchments on Fort Hill, near Le Roy, Genesee County
Sketch of the Ancient entrenchments on Fort Hill, near Le Roy, Genesee County

The following diagram of this work has been drawn from a pen-sketch, forwarded by the Rev. Mr. Dewey, of Rochester.

The work occurs on an elevated point of land formed by the junction of a small stream, called Fordham’s Brook, with Allen’s Creek, a tributary of the Genesee River. Its position is about three miles north of the village of Le Roy, and some ten or twelve northeast of Batavia. The best view of the hill, as one of the natural features of the country, is obtained a short distance north of it, on the road from Bergen to Le Roy.

To attain a proper conception of its susceptibilities and capacity, as the site of a work of defense, it is essential to conceive the country, for some distance, to have had the level of the extreme plain, forming the highest part of the fort. The geological column of this plain, after passing down through the unconsolidated strata, appears to be composed of various strata of coniferous limestone, Onondaga or hydraulic limestone, and perhaps Medina sandstone. Geological causes, originating, so far as we can immediately perceive, in the two streams named, have cut down this series of stratifications, on the north, east and west, unequally, to the depth of some eighty or nine ty feet, isolating the original plain, on three sides, by the vallies of Allan s creek and Fordham brook. Availing themselves of this heavy amount of natural excavation, the ancient occupants of it further strengthened its position, by casting up a wall and ditch along the brow of the two vallies, at the points of their junction, from A. to B., 60 rods; from A. to D., 30 rods; and from B. to C. 15 rods. This is as much of the embankment as now remains; but tradition adds, that, on the earliest occupancy of the county, there were evidences that the work had been continued south from the extreme points, C. and D., and connected by an enclosure, parallel to A. B., which would have given it a regular quadrangular shape. The encroachments of the respective vallies, at C. and D., now terminate the trench. And if we concede that geological changes of this kind must have required some time for their production, by the present power of action possessed by the streams named, it is an argument for the antiquity of the work. But, however antique, it was still the effort of a rude, and at best half civilized people, at an epoch when bows and arrows, clubs, spears and stones, and the stone cassetete1 were the principal weapons of defense. For these are the chief objects of antiquarian interest dug from the ground. There are also disclosed by the place or its vicinity, the amuletum archaeus and other amulets of sea shell, bone and fissile stone, which were so much prized by the ancient red races of this continent, by whom they were manufactured, and exclusively used before the era of the disco very. That the spot continued, however, whether a ruin or not, to be visited or occupied, after this era, is proved by some remains of art, which were found here and described by Mr. Follet, in a letter, which constitutes a valuable part of the materials employed in this description. [See appendix.] But the most remarkable and distinctive trait connected with its archaeology is the discovery of human bones denoting an uncommon stature and development, which are mentioned in the same communication. A humerus or shoulder bone, which is preserved, denotes a stature one- third larger than the present race, and there is also a lower jaw bone, preserved by a physician at Batavia, from the vicinity, which indicates the same gigantic measure of increase.

To supply the fort with water, a trench was continued about fifteen rods, from B at the northeast angle to E, in order to reach a spring below the declivity. In the isolated portion of the hill, marked F. haiks of moderate sized round stones have been found, which were probably one of the ancient means of defense. This spot, from the remains found, appears also to have been an ancient place of burial. Among the articles exhumed, were several curious pipes of stone and earthenware. One of these was formed out of granular limestone; another was of baked clay in the form of a man s head and face, the nose, eyes and other features being depicted in a style resembling some of the figures in Mr. Stephens plates of the ruins of Central America. The top of the head is surrounded by a fillet; on the occipital part are also two fillets. The neck has a similar ornament, and there is another on the breast. The orifices of the ears are denoted, and the whole evinces no little degree of art. This is the most curious relic found.

Another pipe of reddish baked clay is ornamented with dots; two rows of which extend round it, and another in festoons, like a chain looped up.

Other parts of the topography are denoted by the plot. Q, W, is Allen’s creek. H, I, K, Fordham’s brook. L, P, M, a branch of Fordham’s brook. R, N, V, denote the road, which passes through the centre of the work. A former road led from U down the ravine to T. There was formerly a bridge at N, to cross the ditch. This trench was estimated by early observers at from eight to ten feet deep, and as many wide. The earth in making it, had been thrown either way, but much of it inwards. Forest trees were standing, both in the trench and on its sides. In size and age they appeared to be equal to the general growth of the forest. Prostrate upon the ground, there were found numerous trunks of the heartwood of black cherry trees of large size. These were evidently the remains of a more antique forest, which had preceded the existing growth of beech and maple. They were in such a state of soundness as to be employed for timber by the first settlers.

There were no traditions among the Indians of the country respecting the use and design of this work. It was to them, as to the first settlers, an object of mystery. About half a mile below the hill, Allen’s creek has a fall of some eighty feet. It is a perpendicular fall of much beauty. At this place the hydraulic limestone is seen to be the underlying rock. This rock had also been struck in excavating the north line of the trench, on “Fort Hill,” and some portions of it had been thrown out with the earth.

Such are the interesting facts communicated to me, by the gentle men whose names have been mentioned. The notice of the present altered state of the site, and the following just reflections naturally springing from the subject, may be stated in the exact words of Dr. Dewey:

“The forest has been removed. Not a tree remains on the quadrangle, and only a few on the edge of the ravine on the west. By cultivating the land, the trench is nearly filled in some places, though the line of it is clearly seen. On the north side the trench is considerable, and where the road crosses it, is three or four feet deep at the sides of the road. It will take only a few years more to obliterate it entirely, as not even a stump remains to mark out its line.

” From this view it may be seen or inferred,

  1. “That a real trench bounded three sides of the quadrangle. On the south side there was not found any trace of trench, palisadoes, blocks, &c.
  2. “It was formed long before the whites came into the country. The large trees on the ground and in the trench, carry us back to an early era.
  3. “The workers must have had some convenient tools for excavation.
  4. “The direction of the sides may have had some reference to the four cardinal points, though the situation of the ravines naturally marked out the lines.
  5. “It cannot have been designed merely to catch wild animals to be driven into it from the south. The oblique line down to the spring is opposed to this supposition, as well as the insufficiency of such a trench to confine the animals of the forest.
  6. “The same reasons render it improbable that the quadrangle was designed to confine and protect domestic animals.
  7. “It was probably a sort of fortified place. There might have been a defense on the south side by a stockade, or some similar means, which might have entirely disappeared.

“By what people was this work done?

“The articles found in the burying-ground at F, offer no certain reply. The axes, chissels, &c. found on the Indian grounds in this part of the State, were evidently made of the greenstone or trap, of New England, like those found on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. The pipe of limestone might be from that part of the country. The pipes seem to belong to different eras.

  1. “The limestone pipe indicates the work of the savage or aborigines.
  2. “The third indicates the age of French influence over the Indians. An intelligent French gentleman says such clay pipes are frequent among the town population in parts of France.
  3. “The second and most curious, seems to indicate an earlier age and people.

” The beads found at Fort Hill are long and coarse, made of baked clay, and may have had the same origin as the third pipe.

“Fort Hill cannot have been formed by the French as one of their posts to aid in the destruction of the English colonies. In 1689, or 156 years ago, the French in Canada made serious attempts to destroy the English colony of New York. If the French had made Fort Hill a post as early as 1660, or 185 years ago, and then deserted it, the trees could not have grown to the size of the forest generally in 1810, or in 150 years afterwards. The white settlements had ex tended c only twelve miles west of Avon in 17 98, and some years after 1800, Fort Hill was covered with a dense forest. A chesnut tree cut down in 1842, at Rochester, showed 254 concentric circles of wood,, and must have been more than 200 years old in 1800. So opposed is the notion that this was a deserted French post.

“Must we not refer Fort Hill to that race, which peopled this country before the Indians, who raised so many monuments greatly exceeding the power of the Indians, and who lived at a remote era?

Letters to Henry Schoolcraft Concerning Fort Hill

  1. Letter from Frederick Follet to Henry R. Schoolcraft
  2. Letter from C. Dewey to Henry R. Schoolcraft

Footnotes

  1. I find the French word cassette more exactly descriptive of the probable and exclusive uses of the antique stone tomahawk, than any other which has been met with. The shape of this warlike instrument resembled strongly the ancient crossbill. It presents the figure of a crescent, tapering gradually to the ends, which are rounded, and proceed to a sharp point. In the concave center of the crescent is an orifice for a helve. It is an instrument denoting skill, and the possession of some mechanical tool for carving it harder than the dark silicious slate, from which it is generally made. One of these instruments, sent to me by Mr. Follet, of Batavia, and which, from an inscription, was found “in that vicinity by Jerome A. Clark, Esq. on the 16th May, 1844,” is worthy the chisel of a sculptor. 



MLA Source Citation:

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Notes on the Iroquois: Or, Contributions to American History, Antiquities, and General Ethnology. E. H. Pease & Company. 1847. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 23 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/ancient-entrenchments-on-fort-hill-near-le-roy-genesee-county.htm - Last updated on Jun 22nd, 2014


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