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Antiquities of Pompey and Adjacent Parts of Onondaga County

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No part of western New York has furnished a larger number of antiquarian remains, or been more often referred to, than the geo-graphical area which constituted the original town of Pompey. There is, consequently, the less need of devoting elaborate attention to the details of this particular locality. It was first visited and described by De Witt Clinton, in 1810-11,1 and the plough has since rendered it a task less easy than it then was, to examine the lines of its ancient works and its archaeological remains. It is quite evident, from the objects of art disclosed at and about these antique sites of security and defense, that civilized man dwelt here in remote times, and there must be assigned to this part of the State a period of European occupancy prior to the commonly received historical era of discovery and settlement, or, at least, if falling within it, as there is now reason to believe, yet almost wholly unknown, or for gotten in its annals. Sismondi has well remarked, that only the most important events come down to posterity, and that fame, for a long flight, prepares to forget every thing which she possibly can. That no accounts should remain of obscure events, in a remote part of the country, at an early date, is not surprising. As it is we must infer both the dates and the people, from such antiquarian remains of works of art and historical comparisons as can be obtained.

There appear to have been two or three nations, who supplied very early visitors or residents to ancient Onondaga, namely, the Dutch, French and Spanish, the latter as merely temporary visitors or explorers. Both the Dutch and the French carried on an early trade here with the Iroquois. It is most probable, that there are no remains of European art, or have ever been any disclosed, in this part of the country, one only excepted,2 which are not due to the early attempts of the Dutch and French, to establish the fur trade among these populous and powerful tribes. To some extent, missionary operations were connected with the efforts of both nations. But whatever was the stress laid on this subject, by Protestants or Catholics, neither object could be secured without the exhibition of firearms and certain military defenses, such as stockades and picketed works, with gates, afforded. No trader could, in the 16th and 17th centuries, securely trust his stock of goods, domestic animals,, (if he had any,) or his own life, in the midst of fierce and powerful tribes, who acknowledged no superior, and who were, besides, subject to the temporary excitement created by the limited use of alcohol. For we can assign absolutely no date to the early European intercourse with these tribes, in which there was no article of this kind, more or less, employed. Probably we should not have been left, as we are, to mere conjectures, on this subject, at least between the important dates of 1609 and 1664, had not the directors of the State paper office in Holland decided, in 1820, to sell the books and records of the Dutch West India company, as waste paper.3

In examining the archeology of this part of New York, we are, therefore, to look for decisive proofs of the early existence of this trade in the hands of the two powers named. The Dutch were an eminently commercial people, at the epoch in question, and pursued the fur trade to remote parts of the interior, at an early date. They had scarcely any other object at the time but to make this trade profitable. Settlements and cultivation was a business in the hands of patrons, and was chiefly confined to the rich vallies and intervals of the southern parts, of the State. They were, at the same time, too sagacious to let any thing interrupt their good understanding with the natives; and on this account, probably, had less need of military defenses of a formidable kind than the French, who were a foreign power. It was, besides, the policy of New France, a policy most perseveringly pursued, to wrest this trade, and the power of the Indians, from the hands of the Dutch and their successors, the English. They sought not only to obtain the trade, but they intrigued for the territory. They also made the most strenuous endeavors to enlist the minds of the Indians, by the ritual observances of the Romish church, and to propagate among the Iroquois its peculiar doctrines. They united in this early effort the sword, the cross, and the purse.

Were all the libraries of Europe and America burned and totally destroyed, there would remain incontestable evidences of each of the above named efforts, in the metallic implements, guns, sword-blades, hatchets, locks, bells, horse-shoes, hammers, paste and glass beads, medals, crucifixes and other remains, which are so frequently turned up by the plough in the fertile wheat and cornfields of Onondaga.

Looking beyond this era, but still found in the same geographical area, are the antiquities peculiar to the Ante-Columbian period, and the age of intestine Indian wars. These are found in various parts of the State, in the ancient ring forts, angular trenches, moats, bar rows, or lesser mounds, which constituted the ancient simple Indian system of castramentation.

This era is not less strongly marked by the stone hatchets, pestles, fleshing instruments, arrow-heads and javelins of chert and horn-stone; amulets of stone, bone and sea-shells, wrought and unwrought; needles of bone, coarse pottery, pipes, and various other evidences of antique Indian art. The practice of interring their favorite utensils, ornaments and amulets with the dead, renders their ancient graveyards, barrows and mounds the principal repositories of these arts. They are, in effect, so many museums of antiquity.

The field for this species of observation is so large, and attractive to the antiquarian that far more time than was at my command, would be required to cultivate it. Early in the present year, Mr. Joshua V. V. Clark visited some of the principal scenes mentioned. Subsequently, at my suggestion and solicitation, he re-visited the same localities and extended his inquiries to others of an interesting character, in the county of Onondaga, descriptions of which are presented under letter [C] of the documentary appendix.

Footnotes

  1. Trans, of Philo. and Lit. Society of New York. 

  2. Antique stone with an inscription, Albany Academy. 

  3. Vide Mr. Brodhead s report. 


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