It may be interesting, in this connection, to compare Champlain’s statements with those of the Jesuit Dablon, who traveled twice over the same route in 1655 and 1656, under much more favorable circumstances for correctly estimating the distances. He informs us that, in company with Father Chaumonot, he left Montreal on the 7th day of October, 1655, for the Onondaga country, and reached ” Otihatangue” (the mouth of Salmon river) by canoe on the 29th of the same month.That he landed the next day, and prepared to go on foot to Onondaga. That on the first day of November, after going ” five good leagues,” he encamped for the night on the banks of a small stream. Early the next day he continued his journey for “six or seven leagues,” and encamped for the night in the open air. On the third, before sunrise, he resumed his way, and reached ” Tethiroguen,” which he describes as ” a river which issues from Lake Goienho” (Oneida Lake), and ” remarkable as a rendezvous for a great number of fishermen.” Here he passed the night in an Indian cabin. The distance traveled this day is not stated, but we may assume it to have been six leagues, which is about the average of the other days. On the fourth he went “about six leagues,” and passed the night in an ” open country,” “four leagues” from Onondaga. On the fifth of November he reached the latter place, having spent five days in traveling from the mouth of Salmon river, a distance, according to the narrative, of twenty-seven and a half leagues.
Inasmuch, however, as the Iroquois fort is claimed to have been on Onondaga Lake, five leagues north of the ancient village of Onondaga, which the Jesuit reached on the fifth of November, the said five leagues should, for the purpose of comparison with Champlain, be deducted from the above twenty-seven and a half leagues. To the resulting difference should be added, for the same reason, six and a half leagues, being the distance from Stony Point to the mouth of the Salmon river, thus making, from the said Point to the fort, according to the Jesuit narrative, twenty-nine and a half leagues, which is a little short of the extreme distance of thirty leagues stated by Champlain.
Leaving Chaumonot at Onondaga, Dablon set out on his return to Quebec on the second day of March, 1656,4 over nearly the same route, and traveled that day five leagues. On the third he rested on account of the rain. On the fourth he traveled six leagues to Oneida Lake. Fearing to venture on the thin ice, he spent the next day on its banks. On the sixth, it was sufficiently frozen to enable him to cross at a point where the lake was a league and a half broad. He reached the mouth of Salmon River on the eighth, a little before noon, consuming in travel, exclusive of detentions, four and a half days. The rate of progress, after crossing Oneida Lake, is not given, but, estimating six leagues as an average day’s travel, would make twenty-six leagues from the Onondaga village to the mouth of Salmon river. After allowing the same deductions and additions as in the case of his previous trip, it would leave twenty-seven and a half leagues, which is the mean of the two distances stated by Champlain. By thus comparing Champlain’s estimates with those of the Jesuit, it will be readily seen that the expedition of the former could not possibly have extended west of Onondaga Lake.
Having thus examined the reasons which have been urged in favor of locating the fort in question on Seneca territory, founded on the similarity between the names which the Huron bestowed on the Iroquois and the Entouhonorons, and also the reasons for such location, based on the course of the ” dotted line ” laid down on Champlain’s map, between the point where he landed and the said fort, and on the distances which Champlain states were traveled by him, between the same points, it now remains to state and consider the objections which exist against placing the location of the fort as far west as the Seneca Country.
1st. The actual distance between the place of landing and the foot of Canandaigua Lake, measured on the shortest possible line, is ninety-six miles, or thirty-eight and a half leagues. It would be absurd, however, to suppose that the expedition could have followed so direct a course. On the contrary, in accomplishing the distance to the fort, it must have passed over, as stated on a previous page, at least one-fifth more than a straight line between the said points. This fact, without allowing anything for Champlain’s over-estimate, would, in case the objective point were Canandaigua Lake, make the distance actually traveled at least forty-six leagues, or not less than one hundred and fifteen miles. If, as is claimed by some, the fort were still further west, on a tributary of the Genesee, it would acid several leagues more to the difficulty.
2d. The design of the expedition was to attack an Iroquois tribe living south of Lake Ontario. The assailants were the Huron, living on the eastern shore of the lake, which bears their name. They started from their principal village, which was situated west of Lake Simcoe, on the borders of the Huron country nearest to the Iroquois.
Now, if it were their object to attack the Seneca, the shortest and most feasible route to reach them would have been either in a southerly direction around the western extremity of Lake Ontario, through the territory of the friendly Neuter nation, who then lived on both sides of the Niagara, or by canoe directly across the lake, or by coasting along its western shore, landing, in either case, near the mouth of the Genesee river. The fact that the expedition chose the circuitous and toilsome route by the river Trent, through crooked lakes and tortuous channels, involving numerous portages, and traveled eastward for the entire length of Lake Ontario, crossing its eastern extremity in search of an enemy on its south side, affords a strong presumption that the enemy thus sought was located near that eastern extremity.
3d. If the object were to attack the Seneca, the Herons and their allies would hardly have chosen a route which would separate them so far from their canoes, at the risk of being outflanked by the watchful and kindred Iroquois tribes whom they must pass on the way. After crossing the eastern end of Lake Ontario, it would have been much less hazardous and fatiguing to have coasted along its southern shore to Irondequoit bay, from whence the Seneca could easily be reached, as they were by Gallinée in 1669, and by Demonville in 1687.
Having examined the arguments which have been urged in favor of the location of the Iroquois fort in the country of the Seneca, and noticed a few of the principal objections against it, some of the affirmative proofs, establishing its site on or near Onondaga Lake, remain to be considered.
A careful examination of Champlain’s narrative will show that, as before stated, he must have landed on what has been designated as “Pointe tie Traverse” or “Stony Point,” in Jefferson County. It is the nearest and most feasible landing from the islands which are grouped in the eastern extremity of Lake Ontario, and along which the expedition undoubtedly passed before reaching its southern shore.’ It is well known that from the earliest times the Indians and voyageurs, as they crossed the Lake in rough weather, availed themselves of the protection of those islands. They form a continuous chain, stretching from shore to shore, embracing the Inner Ducks, Outer Ducks, Great Galloo, Little Galloo, Calf and Stony Islands. The distances between them are unequal, in no case exceeding seven miles. The expedition could not easily have landed directly upon the point in question, as it presents a perpendicular rocky bluff, washed at its base by the lake, and forms a bold and insurmountable barrier for some distance in either direction. By passing around the northern extremity of the point, now called “six town point,” a safe and sheltered bay is accessible, at the bottom of which is the present harbor of Henderson. This convenient and secluded position was undoubtedly chosen by Champlain and his companions as a favorable point for leaving and concealing their canoes. Having accomplished their debarkation, the invaders followed, for four leagues in a southerly direction, the sandy beach which still borders the lake as far south as Salmon river. It is about six and a half leagues from Stony Point to that river. The many small streams and ponds mentioned. by Champlain can easily be identified by the aid of a correct map. The “two small rivers” are undoubtedly those now known as the Big Sandy creek and Salmon River. The invaders were four days from the time of their landing in reaching the Iroquois fort. The narrative states that after passing the two small rivers above mentioned, ” they crossed another issuing from a lake, which empties into that of the Entouhonorons.” This undoubtedly refers to Oneida River and Lake. “This Lake,” says the narrative, “is about twenty-five or thirty leagues in circumference, contains beautiful islands, and is the place where the Iroquois catch their fish, which are there in abundance.” After crossing Oneida River, the scouts encountered and captured a party of Iroquois, “going to the fishery, distant four leagues from the enemy’s fort.” This locates the fort four leagues south of the outlet of Oneida Lake. The latter point was always a noted resort for Salmon fishery in the early history of the country. It is so referred to in one of Dablon’ s Journals above quoted, and in many other early narratives.
The expedition must have met the party of Iroquois, which included women and children, not far from the fishery and the village, which were only about four leagues or ten miles apart. They were probably going from the latter to the former. This was on the 9th of October. On the next day, at 3 P. M., they reached the fort. It would have required two or three days more time, and sixty miles more of hard marching, to have arrived at Canandaigua Lake.
It is impossible, from the meager details given by Champlain, to ascertain the precise locality of the fort. He places it near a small lake, and there is no site more probable, nor one which corresponds in more particulars to Champlain’s description, than the banks of Onondaga Lake. The late Joshua V. H. Clark, author of the ” History of Onondaga,” states that traces of an ancient Indian fortification were discovered by the first settlers, on the east side of that lake, near the present village of Liverpool. These may have been the remains of the fort in question. There is reason to believe that Monsieur Dupuis and his companions, including several Jesuit missionaries, occupied the same locality in 1656. It is described by the Jesuits as a beautiful, convenient and advantageous eminence, overlooking Lake Gannentaa (Onondaga Lake) and all the neighboring country, and abounding in numerous fresh water springs. Its distance from the chief village of the Onondagas, where burned from time immemorial the ancient council fire of the Iroquois Confederacy, is stated to be four leagues, which would indicate that its location must have been near Liverpool.
It is also supposed that the Count de Frontenac encamped in the same place, when he invaded the Onondaga country in 1696, and that Col. Van Schaick occupied the identical ground while on his expedition against the Onondagas in 1779. 3 It was a position, which undoubtedly commended itself to the sagacious Iroquois as eminently suitable for a defensive structure, and was thus early used for that purpose.
In the discussion of this question, I have endeavored fully and fairly to present the points, and to give due force to the arguments which have been urged in favor of the identity of the Entouhonorons with the Seneca, and of the location of the Iroquois fort in the territory of the latter. It is submitted that the weight of testimony is decidedly, if not conclusively, against those propositions, and that we must look on the banks of the Onondaga Lake, in the heart of the central canton of the great Iroquois Confederacy, for the site of that rude fortification which, more than two centuries and a half ago, so bravely and successfully resisted the allied Huron and Algonkin of the northwest, aided by Champlain and his firearms, and after repeated assaults and a siege of several days compelled the assailants to abandon the enterprise, and retreat ignominiously from the Iroquois country.
O. H. MARSHALL
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- Relation of 1656, p. 7. Quebec Edition.↵
- Onondaga was situated a few miles south of the present city of Syracuse.↵
- Jesuit Relation for 1657, p. 14. Quebec edition.↵
- Jesuit Relation for 1656, p. 35. Quebec edition.↵
- Laverdière’s Champlain, p. 528, note I.↵
- Jesuit Relation, 1640, p. 90, Quebec edition. Laverdière’s Champlain, p. 518, note 1.↵
- Lake Ontario.↵
- These dimensions are, as usual, over-stated.↵
- A natural landing place of rock formation, existed there in olden time, known as the ” Indian Wharf.” A trail or portage road, 300 rods long, led from the landing to Stony Creek. See French’s N. V. State Gazetteer, p. 358. MS. letter of the Hon. Win. C. Pierrepont, of Pierrepont manor, to the author.↵
- On the first settlement of the country, the outlines of a fortification at this point were plainly visible, of which a sketch was made in 1797, by Judge Geddes, then Deputy Surveyor General of New York. A copy is given in the second volume of Clark’s Onondaga, page 147. A spring exists, at the present time, near the site of the fort, called Gannentaa Spring.↵
- Relation 1657, p. 14. Quebec edition.↵
- Clark’s Onondaga, Vol. I, p. 256.↵