Niagara River – From La Salle To De Nonville

RECEIVING authority to explore the Mississippi to its mouth, as well as a grant made in 1675 of Fort Frontenac and surrounding lands as a seigniory, La Salle returned from France in 1678, and began the wonderful career that will hand Lis name down through countless years as the greatest explorer in the annals of America. He allied with him Tonty and Father Hennepin, the latter already known, as we have seen, along the Niagara frontier.

La Salle at once advanced to Fort Frontenac, which was to be his point of rendezvous and eastern base of supplies. His first act was to fortify this point strongly as though already foreseeing the recall of the sturdy Frontenac and the consequential uprising of the slumbering Iroquois.

The plan of Fort Frontenac published by Faillon shows that Frontenac’s hasty palisades were replaced by La Salle with hewed stone on at least two landward sides, and within were to be found a barrack, bakery, and mill; by 1780 fourteen families replaced the four lone habitans left at the fort in 1677; his improvements had cost La Salle thirty-five thousand francs. In Park-man’s graphic words we see La Salle reigning the autocrat of his lonely little empire] as feudal lord of the forests around him, commander of a garrison raised and paid by himself] founder of the mission, patron of the church. But he had no thought of resting here. He had gained what he sought] a fulcrum for bolder and broader action. His plans were ripened and his time was come. He was no longer a needy adventurer, disinherited of all but his fertile brain and his intrepid heart. He had won place, influence, credit, and potent friends. Now, at length, he might hope to find the long-sought path to China and Japan, and secure for France those boundless regions of the west.1

La Salle now pushed his impetuous campaign, showing as much foresight as daring in this conception. To hold the golden West in fee three important projects at once demanded attention: fitting out two ships, one for Lake Ontario and one for the upper Niagara River and the lakes from which its waters came, and the acquiring at some proper rendezvous of the first invoice of furs. A brigantine of ten tons was building simultaneously with Fort Frontenac, and in the fall of the year (1678) was ready for its cargo of material for a sister-ship to be built above the great falls. A party in canoes, carrying some six thousand francs’ worth of goods, had gone forward to the further lakes to engage and secure from the Indian tribes provisions for the expedition and a consignment of furs for the homeward voyage.

On November 18th the brigantine with its singular freight weighed anchor and sped from sight of La Salle and the watchers at Fort Frontenac; the party was under the temporal command of Sicur la Motte de Lussiere and the spiritual guidance of the famous historian Father Hennepin, ” who belonged,” writes one scholar, ” to that class of writers who speak the truth by accident”; of him La Salle generously said that he wrote more in conformity to his wishes than his knowledge. After a rough voyage this unknown craft entered ” the beautiful river Niagara,” as Hennepin truthfully stated, on St. Nicholas’s Day, December 6th and the Te Deum Laudamus was sung feelingly by the crew, which had barely escaped shipwreck near the mouth of Humber River.

Here, near the mouth of the Niagara River, La Salle had planned to build a fort to bear the name Fort Conti in honour of his chief patron, the Prince of Conti; Lake Erie he had already named Lac de Conti. ” It is situated,” he wrote Conti, before it was built, “near that great cataract, more than a hundred and twenty toises [780 feet] in height, by which the lakes of higher elevation precipitate themselves into Lake Frontenac.” A party of Senecas welcomed the little party, listening wonderingly to their anthem, supplying them with no end of white fish which they had come to catch here, living the while in a sort of a village near by, comprising probably a few huts erected for temporary purposes. It is possible these dwellings were of a more permanent character; at any rate Seneca sovereignty was assured, as the Frenchmen discovered just as soon as post-holes for Fort Conti were being dug. Concerning this, as well as the other features of this early Niagara River history, the record of Father Hennepin is about our only source of information; let us, therefore, quote from his A New Discovery concerning Frontenac and Niagara days:

That very same Year] on the Eighteenth of November, I took leave of our Monks at Fort Frontenac] and after mutual Embraces and Expressions of Brotherly and Christian Charity, I embark’d in a Brigantine of about ten Tuns. The Winds and the Cold of the Autumn were then very violent, insomuch that our Crew was afraid to go into so little a Vessel. This oblig’d us and the Sieur de la Motte our Commander, to keep our course on the North-side of the Lake] to shelter ourselves under the Coast, against the North-west Wind] which otherwise would have forced us upon the Southern Coast of the Lake. This Voyage prov’d very difficult and dangerous, because of the unseasonable time of the Year] Winter being near at hand.

On the 26th, we were in great danger about Two large Leagues off the Land, where we were oblig’d to lie at an Anchor all that Night at sixty Fathom Water and above ; but at length the Wind coming to the North-East, we sail’d on] and arriv’d safely at the further end of the Lake Ontario] call’d by the Iroquese] Skannadario. We came pretty near to one of their Villages call’d Tajajagon, lying about Seventy Leagues from Fort Frontenac, or Catarakouy.

We barter’d some Indian Corn with the Iroquese] who could not sufficiently admire us, and came frequently to see us on board our Brigantine, which for our greater security] we had brought to an Anchor into a River, though before we could get in, we run aground three times] which oblig’d us to put Fourteen Men into Canou’s, and cast the Balast of our Ship overboard to get her off again. That River falls into the Lake; but for fear of being frozen up therein, we were forced to cut the Ice with Axes and other Instruments.

The Wind turning then contrary, we were oblig’d to tarry there till the 15th of December] 1678] when we sailed from the Northern Coast to the Southern, where the River Niagara runs into the Lake; but could not reach it that Day, though it is but Fifteen or Sixteen Leagues distant, and therefore cast Anchor within Five Leagues of the Shore, where we had very bad Weather all the Night long.

On the 6th, being St. Nicholas’s Day, we got into the fine River Niagara, into which never any such Ship as ours entred before. We sung there Te Deum, and other Prayers] to return our Thanks to God Almighty for our prosperous Voyage. The Iroquese Tsonnontouans inhabiting the little Village, situated at the Mouth of the River, took above Three Hundred Whitings which are bigger than Carps, and the best relish’d, as well as the wholsomest Fish in the World; which they presented all to us] imputing their good luck to our Arrival. They were much surprized at our Ship] which they call’d the Great Woodden Canou.

On the 7th, we went in a Canou two Leagues up the River to look for a convenient Place for Building; but not being able to get the Canou farther up, because the Current was too rapid for us to master, we went over land about three Leagues higher, though we found no Land fit for culture. We lay that Night near a River] which runs from the Westward, within a League above the great Fall of Niagara, which, as we have already said] is the greatest in the World. The Snow was then a Foot deep, and we were oblig ‘d to dig it .up to make room for our Fire.

The next day we return’d the same way we went, and saw great Numbers of Wild Goats, and Wild Turkey-Cocks, and on the 11th we said the first Mass that ever was said in that Country. The Carpenters and the rest of the Crew were set to work; but Monsieur de la Motte] who had the Direction of them, being not able to endure the Fatigues of so laborious a Life, gave over his Design] and return’d to Canada, having about two hundred Leagues to Travel.

The 12th, 13th, and 14th, the Wind was not favourable enough to sail up the River as far as the rapid Current above mcntion’d where we had resolv’d to build some Houses.

Whosoever considers our Map] will easily see, that this New Enterprise of building a Fort and some Houses on the River Niagara, besides the Fort of Frontenac, was like to give Jealousie to the Iroquese, and even to the English, who live in this Neighbourhood, and have a great Commerce with them. There-. fore to prevent the ill Consequences of it, it was thought fit to send an Embassie to the Iroquese, as it will be mention’d in the next Chapter.

The 15th I was desired to sit at the Helm of our Brigantine while three of our Men hall’d the same from the Shore with a Rope; and at last we brought her up, and mooed her to the Shore with a Halser, near a Rock of a prodigious heighth lying upon the rapid Currents we have already mentioned. The 17th, 18th, and 19th, we were busie in making a Cabin with Pallisado’s, to serve for a Magazine; but the Ground was so frozen] that we were forc’d to throw several times boiling Water upon it to facilitate the beating in and driving down the Stakes. The Goth] 21st,, 22d, and 23d, our Ship was in great danger to be dash’d in pieces, by the vast pieces of Ice that were hurl’d down the River; to prevent which, our Carpenters made a Capstone to haul her ashore; but our great Cable broke in three pieces; whereupon one of our Carpenters surrounded the Vessel with a Cable] and ty’d it to several Ropes, whereby we got her ashore, tho’ with much difficulty, and sav’d her from the danger of being broke to pieces] or carryed away by the Ice, which came down with an extream violence from the great Fall of Niagara.

Returning to Niagara with little or no promise of success, yet La Salle’s avant-couriers were in no way dissuaded from their purposes of fortifying the important Niagara portage and building a vessel for the upper lakes in which to carry the produce of those regions to Niagara and from thence to Canada. Reaching the Niagara January 14th, the French party was joined six days later by the indomitable La Salle who, he reported, had paused on his way thither from Fort Frontenac and visited the unmoved Iroquois and secured their consent to the plan of fortification. Yet even La Salle was too optimistic as to his success, for certain Persons [wrote Hennepin], who made it their Business to Cross our Design] inspired the Iroquese with many suspicions, about the fort we were building at Niagara, which was in great forwardness; and their Suspicions grew so high, that we were obliged to give over our Building for some time, contenting ourselves with an Habitation encompass’d with Pallisado’s.

The embassy to the Iroquois mentioned by Hennepin was duly organised and sent forward through the winter snows to seek the good-will of the famous owners of the soil in a fort-building project; in order to allay the suspicions of the Senecas in what Hennepin calls ” the little village of Niagara,” they were told that their purpose was, not to build a fort, but ” a Hangar, or Store-house, to keep the Commodities we had brought to supply their Occasions.” Nevertheless it was necessary to supply gifts and make assurances that an embassy would forthwith depart for the Iroquois council house. Anything less than Hennepin’s own account would not fairly describe this interesting mission:

We travelled with Shoes made after the Indian way, of a single Skin, but without Soles, because the Earth was still cover’d with Snow] and past through Forests for thirty two Leagues together carrying upon our Backs our Coverings and other Baggage] lying often in open Field] and having with us no other Food but some roasted Indian Corn: ‘T is true] we met upon our Road some Iroquese a hunting] who gave us some wild Goats, and Fifteen or Sixteen black Squirrels, which are excellent Meat. However, after five Days’ Journey, we came to Tagarondies, a great Village of the Iroquese Tsonnontouans] and were immediately carry’d to the Cabin of their Principal Chief, where Women and Children flock’d to see us, our Men being very well drest and arm’d. An old Man having according to Custom made publick Cries, to give Notice of our arrival to their Village; the younger Savages wash’d our Feet, which afterwards they rubb’d over with the Grease of Deers, wild Goats] and other Beasts, and the Oil of Bears.

The next Day was the First of the Year 1679. After the ordinary Service I preach’d in a little Chapel made of Barks of Trees, in presence of two Jesuites, viz. Father Gamier and Rafeix; and afterwards we had a Conference with 42 old Men, who make up their Council. These Savages are for the most part tall, and very well shap’d, cover’d with a sort of Robe made of Beavers and Wolves-Skins, or of black Squirrels] holding a Pipe or Calumet in their Hands. The Senators of Venice do not appear with a graver Countenance, and perhaps don’t speak with more Majesty and Solidity] than those Ancient Iroquese.

This Nation is the most cruel and barbarous of all America, especially to their Slaves] whom they take above two or three hundred Leagues from their Country] . . . however, I must do them the Justice to observe, that they have many good qualities; and that they love the Europeans, to whom they sell their Commodities at very reasonable Rates. They have a mortal Hatred for those] who being too self-interested and covetous, are always endeavouring to enrich themselves to the Prejudice of others. Their chief Commodities are Beavers-Skins, which they bring from above a hundred and fifty Leagues off their Habitations] to exchange them with the English and Dutch, whom they affect more than the inhabitants of Canada, because they are more affable, and sell them their Commodities cheaper.

One of our own Men nam’d Anthony Brossard, who understood very well the Language of the Iroquese, and therefore was Interpreter to M. de la Motte; told their Assembly:

First] That we were come to pay them a Visit, and smoak with them in their Pipes, a Ceremony which I shall describe anon: And then we deliver’d our Presents, consisting of Axes, Knives, a great Collar of white and blue Porcelain] with some Gowns. We made Presents upon every Point we propos’d to them, of the same nature as the former.

Secondly, We desir’d them, in the next place to give notice to the five Cantons of their Nation] that we were about to build a Ship] or great woodden Canou above the great Fall of the River Niagara] to go and fetch European Commodities by a more convenient passage than the ordinary one] by the River St. Laurence, whose rapid Currents make it dangerous and long; and that by these means we should afford them our Commodities cheaper than the English and Dutch of Boston and New-York. This Pretence was specious enough, and very well contriv’d to engage the barbarous Nation to extirpate the English and Dutch out of America: For they suffer the Europeans among them only for the Fear they have of them] or else for the Profit they make in Bartering their Commodities with them.

Thirdly, We told them farther, that we should provide them at the River Niagara with a Black-smith and a Gun-smith] to mend their Guns, Axes, &c. having no body among them that understood that Trade, and that for the conveniency of their whole Nation, we would settle those Workmen on the Lake of Ontario, at the Mouth of the River Niagara We threw again among them seven or eight Gowns, and some Pieces of fine Cloth, which they cover themselves with from the Wast to the Knees. This was in order to engage them on our side] and prevent their giving ear to any who might suggest ill things of us, entreating them first to acquaint us with the Reports that should be made unto them to our Prejudice, before they yielded their Belief to the fame.

We added many other Reasons which we thought proper to persuade them to favour our Design. The Presents we made unto them, either in Cloth or Iron, were worth above 400 Livres besides some other European Commodities, very scarce in that Country: For the best Reasons in the World are not listened to among them, unless they are enforc’d with Presents.

The next Day the Iroquese answered our Discourse and Presents Article by Article] having laid upon the Ground several little pieces of Wood, to put them in mind of what had been said the Day before in the Council; their Speaker, or President held in his Hand one of these Pieces of Wood, and when he had answer’d one Article of our Proposal] he laid it down] with some Presents of black and white Porcelain, which they use to string upon the smallest Sinews of Beasts; and then took up another Piece of Wood; and so of all the rest, till he had fully answer’d our Speech, of which those Pieces of Wood, and our Presents put them in mind. When this Discourse was ended] the oldest Man of their Assembly cry’d aloud three times, Niaoua; that is to say, It is well, I thank thee, which was repeated with a full Voice; and in a tuneful manner by all the other Senators.

‘T is to be observ’d here, that the Savages] though some are more eunning than others, are generally all addicted to their own Interests; and therefore tho’ the Iroquese seem’d to be pleas’d with our Proposals, they were not really so; for the English and Dutch affording them the European Commodities at cheaper Rates than the French of Canada, they had a greater Inclination for them than for us. That People, tho’ so barbarous and rude in their Manners, have however a Piece of Civility peculiar to themselves; for a Man would be counted very impertinent if he contradicted anything that is said in their Council] and if he does not approve even the greatest Absurdities therein propos’d; and therefore they always answer Niaoua; that is to say Thou art in the right Brother ; that is well.

Notwithstanding that seeming Approbation, they believe what they please and no more; and therefore ‘t is impossible to know when they are really persuaded of those things you have mention’d unto them, which I take to be one of the greatest Obstructions to their Conversion: For their Civility hindering them from making any Objection, or contradicting what is said unto them, they seem to approve of it, though perhaps they laugh at it in private] or else never bestow a moment to reflect upon it, such being their indifference for a future Life. From these Observations, I conclude that the Conversion of these People is to be despair’d of, ’till they are subdu’d by the Europeans, and that their Children have another sort of Education, unless God be pleas’d to work a Miracle in their Favour.

On the 22nd of the month the party struck out for the upper Niagara for the purpose of carrying out the original design of building a ship for the upper lake trade. Hennepin gives the site of this interesting adventure as “two leagues above the great Fall—this was the most convenient place we could pitch upon, being upon a River which falls into the Streight [Niagara River] between the Lake Erie, and the great Fall of Niagara.” Even had the common portage around the Falls and Rapids been on the American side Hennepin’s account makes it fairly clear that the boat building took place on Cayuga Creek; the only other ” river” above the Falls falling into the Niagara is the Chippewa, and Hennepin clearly notes this stream in his first tour of exploration above the Falls as ” within a league above the great Fall” ; it is clear that the Cayuga, therefore, is the probable site of this first boat building along the Niagara frontier.’ The little village at this point has been appropriately named La Salle from the famous adventurer who here dreamed that emparadising dream of discovery and empire-founding. Hennepin’s account, quaintly worded, again becomes of more interest than any record of those days to be made from it:

The 26th, the Keel of the Ship and some other Pieces being ready] M. de la Salle sent the Master-Carpenter] to desire me to drive in the first Pin; but my Profession obliging me to decline that Honour, he did it himself, and promis’d Ten Louis d’Or’s] to encourage the Carpenter, and further the Work. The Winter being not half so hard in that Country as in Canada, we employ’d one of the two Savages of the Nation call’d the Wolf] whom we kept for Hunting] in building some Cabins made of Rinds of Trees; and I had one made on purpose to perform Divine Service therein on Sundays] and other occasions.

M. de la Salle having some urgent Business of his own] return’d to Fort Frontenac, leaving for our Commander one ‘fond, an Italian by Birth, who had been forc’d to retire into France after the Revolution of Naples, in which his Father was concern’d. I conducted M. de la Salle as far as the Lake Ontario at the Mouth of the River Niagara, where we order’d a House to be built for the Smith he had prornis’d to the Iroquese; but this was only to amuze them] and therefore I cannot but own that the Savages are not to be blam’d for having not believ’d everthing.

The exact spot of building is the subject of a monograph The Shipyard of the Griffon by Cyrus Kingsbury Remington (Buffalo, N. Y. 1891), in which the author, while advocating his own theory, presents liberally views held by those in disagreement with himself. We find 0. II. Marshall in accord with Mr Remington that what is known as the “Old Ship Yard ” or Angevine place, at La Salle, was the site of the building of the Griffon.

He undertook his Journey a-foot over the Snow] having no other Provisions, but a little Sack of Indian Corn roasted, which fail’d him two Days before he eame to the Fort, which is above fourscore Leagues distant from the Place where he left us. However he got home safely with two Men] and a Dog, who dragg’d his Baggage over the Ice or frozen Snow.

When I return’d to our Dock, I understood that most of the Iroquese were gone to wage War with a Nation on the other side of the Lake Erie. In the mean time, our Men continu’d with great Application to build our Ship ; for the Iroquese who were left behind] being but a small number] were not so insolent as before] though they come now and then to our Dock, and express’d some Discontent at what we were doing. One of them in partieular, feigning himself drunk, attempted to kill our Smith, but was vigorously repuls’d by him with a red-hot Ironbarr, which, together with the Reprimand he receiv’d from me, oblig’d him to be gone. Some few Days after, a Savage Woman gave us notice, that the Tsonnontouans had resolved to burn our Ship in the Dock, and had certainly done it, had we not been always upon our Guard.

These frequent Alarms from the Natives, together with the Fears we were in of wanting Provisions, having lost the great Barque from Fort Frontenac] which should have relieved us, and the Tsonnontouans at the same time refusing to give us of their Corn for Money] were a great discouragement to our Carpenters, whom on the other hand, a Villain amongst us endcavour’d to reduce: That pitiful Fellow had several times attempted to run away from us into New-York, and would have been likely to pervert our Carpenters] had I not confirmed them in their good Resolution] by the Exhortations I us’d to make every Holy-day after Divine Service; in which I represented to them] that the Glory of God was concern’d in our Undertaking, besides the Good and Advantage of our Christian Colonies; and therefore exhorted them to redouble their Diligence] in order to free our selves from all those Inconveniences and Apprehensions we then lay under.

The two Savages we had taken into our Service, went all this while a Hunting] and supply’d us with Wild-Goats] and other Beasts for our Subsistence; which encouraged our Workmen to go on with their Work more briskly than before, insomuch that in a short time our Ship was in a readiness to be launched; which we did, after having bless’d the same according to the use of the Romish Church. We made all the haste we could to get it afloat, though not altogether finish’d] to prevent the Designs of the Natives, who had resolv’d to burn it.

The Ship was call’d the Griffon, alluding to the Arms of Count Frontenac, which have two Griffons for Supporters; and besides] M. la Salle us’d to say of the Ship, while yet upon the Stocks, that he would make the Griffon fly above the Ravens. We flr’d three Guns, and sung Te Deum, which was attended with loud Acclamations of Joy; of which those of the Iroquese, who were accidentally present at this Ceremony, were also Partakers; for we gave them some Brandy to drink] as well as our Men, who immediately quitted their Cabins of Rinds of Trees, and hang’d their Hammocks under the Deck of the Ship] there to lie with more security than ashore. We did the like, insomuch that the very same Day we were all on Board, and thereby out of the reach of the Insults of the Savages.

The Iroquese being returned from hunting Beavers, were mightily surprised to see our Ship a-float] and call’d us Otkon] which is in their Language, Most penetrating Wits: For they could not apprehend how in so short a time we had been able to build so great a Ship, though it was but 6o Tuns. It might have been indeed call’d a moving Fortress; for all the Savages inhabiting the Banks of those Lakes and Rivers I have mentioned, for five hundred Leagues together] were filled with fear as well as Admiration when they saw it.

Being thus prepar’d against all Discouragements, I went up in a Canou with one of our Savages to the Mouth of the Lake Erie, notwithstanding the strong Current which I master’d with great difficulty. I sounded the Mouth of the Lake and found] contrary to the Relation that had been made unto me] that a Ship with a brisk Gale might sail up to the Lake, and surmounted the Rapidity of the Current; and that therefore with a strong North] North-East Wind, we might bring our Ship into the Lake Erie. I took also a view of the Banks of the Streight] and found that in case of Need, we might put some of our Men a-shore to hall the Ship, if the Wind was not strong enough.

The Griffon being more or less completed Father Hennepin followed La Salle in returning to Fort Frontenac to secure necessaries for the tour of the upper lakes. Returning, La Salle and Hennepin did not reach Niagara again until the 30th of July, but found the Griffon riding safely at anchor within a league of Lake Erie.

We were very kindly receiv’d [writes the Father], and likewise very glad to find our Ship well rigg’d, and ready fitted out with all the Necessaries for sailing. She carry’d five small Guns, two whereof were Brass] and three Harquebuze a-crock. The Beak-head was adorn’d with a flying Griffon, and an Eagle above it; and the rest of the Ship had the same Ornaments as Men of War use to have.

The Iroquese were then returning from a Warlike Expedition with several Slaves, and were much surpriz’d to see so big a Ship, which they compar’d to a Fort, beyond their Limits. Several came on board, and seem’d to admire above all things the bigness of our Anchors; for they could not apprehend how we had been able to bring them through the rapid Currents of the River St.. Laurence. This oblig’d them to use often the Word Gannorom] which in their Language signifies] That is wonderful. They wonder’d also to find there a Ship] having seen none when they went; and did not know from whence it came, it being about 250 Leagues from Canada.

Having forbid the Pilot to attempt to sail up the Currents of the Streight till farther order, we return’d the 16th and 17th to the Lake Ontario, and brought up our Bark to the great Rock of Niagara, and anchor’d at the foot of the three Mountains Lewiston] where we were oblig’d to make our Portage; that is, to carry overland our Canou’s and Provisions, and other things, above the great Fall of the River] which interrupts the Navigation: and because most of the Rivers of that Country are interrupted with great Rocks, and that therefore those who sail upon the same, are oblig’d to go overland above those Falls, and carry upon their Backs their Canou’s and other Things. They express it with this Word] To make our Portage; of which the Reader is desir’d to take notice, for otherwise the following Account] as well as the Map] would be unintelligible to many.

Father Gabriel, though of Sixty five Years of Age, bore with great Vigour the Fatigue of that Voyage] and went thrice up and down those three Mountains, which are pretty high and steep. Our Men had a great deal of trouble; for they were oblig’d to make several Turns to carry the Provisions and Ammunition, and the Portage was two Leagues long. Our Anchors were so big that four Men had much ado to carry one; but the Brandy we gave them was such an Encouragement, that they surmounted cheerfully all the Difficulties of that Journey; and so we got on board our Ship all our Provisions, Ammunitions] and Commodities.

We endeavour’d several times to sail up that Lake; but the Wind being not strong enough, we were forc’d to wait for it. In the mean time, M. la Salle caus’d our Men to grub up some Land, and sow several sorts of Pot-Herbs and Pulse, for the conveniency of those who should settle themselves there, to maintain our Correspondence with Fort Frontenac. We found there a great quantity of wild Cherries and Rocambol] a sort of Garlick, which grow naturally in that Ground. We left Father Melithon, with some Work-men, at our Habitation above the Fall of Niagara; and most of our Men went a-shore to lighten our Ships] the better to sail up the Lake.

The Wind veering to the North-East, and the Ship being well provided, we made all the Sail we could, and with the help of Twelve Men who hall’d from the Shoar, overcame the Rapidity of the Current, and got into the Lake. The Stream is so violent, that our Pilot himself despair’d of Success. When it was done, we sung Te Deum, and discharg’d our Cannon and other Fire-Arms, in presence of a great many Iroquese, who came from a. Warlike Expedition against the Savages of Tintonha; that is to say] the Nation of the Meadows, who live above four hundred Leagues from that Place. The Iroquese and their Prisoners were much surpriz’d to see us in the Lake and did not think before that, we should be able to overcome the Rapidity of the Current: They cry’d several times Gannorom, to shew their Admiration. Some of the Iroquese had taken the measure of our Ship, and immediately went for New-York to give notice to the English and Dutch of our Sailing into the Lake: For those Nations affording their Commodities Cheaper than the French] are also more belov’d by the Natives. On the 7th of August, 1679, we went on board being in all four and thirty men, including two Recollets who came to us, and sail’d from the Mouth of the Lake Erie.

The loss of the Griffon by shipwreck on its initial voyage and the subsequent misfortunes that seemed to follow the brave La Salle up to the very day that witnessed his brutal murder in a far Texan prairie in 1687, are, in a measure only a part of the story of Niagara. Had that great man lived to realise any fair fraction of his emparadising dream of empire the effect on the history of the Niagara frontier would have been momentous; a mere comparison of what now did transpire at the mouth of the Niagara, in the very year of La Salle’s death, illustrates perfectly the lack of enterprise that seems suddenly to have faded from the situation. With La Salle gone, the whole attitude of the regime in power at Quebec seems to change; whereas La Salle was on the very point of establishing at Niagara an important station on the communication to Louisiana. What actually did happen here is pitiful by comparison.

The new Governor, De Nonville, in order to bring the Iroquois into a proper state of submission and compell them to desist from annoying travellers on the St. Lawrence, determined to repeat Champlain’s feat of invading their homeland. The record of this expedition from the mouth of its commanding officer, the Governor himself, is a very interesting document, especially to those interested in the study of that famous Long House that lay south of Lake Ontario.’ Embarking at Fort Frontenac July 4, 1687, the expedition landed at Irondequoit Bay six days later, where De Nonville was reinforced by a party of French which had rendezvoused at Niagara from the West. Of this party little is known; possibly some of La Salle’s crew were here, coming from their cabins at either end of the Niagara portage path, or possibly from the ship yard at the present La Salle. ” It clearly appears,” writes Marshall, ” from De Nonville’s narrative, that the party which he met at the mouth of the bay, was composed of French and Indians from the far west, who sailed from . . . Niagara, to join the expedition pursuant to his orders.” These Indians, Mr. Browne affirms, were from Michilimackinac. Marching inland to the region Mr. Marshall believed, in the neighbourhood of the village of Victor, ten miles north-west of Canandaigua, a party of Senecas was put to flight and the entire region devastated until the 23rd; it was estimated that in the four Seneca villages the soldiers had destroyed about 1,200,000 bushels of corn-350,000 minots, of which all but 50,000 were green. On the 24th the lake was again reached.

The situation on the Niagara frontier at this moment could not better be described than it has been by Mr. Browne in his The St. Lawrence River, as follows:

The Narrative is given in full with careful introduction and explanations in Marshall’s Writings, 123-186.

Denonville had now a clear way to build his fort at Niagara, which he proceeded to do, and then armed it with one hundred men. If triumphant in his bold plans, he had to learn that the viper crushed might rise to sting. The Senecas had their avengers. Maddened by the cowardly onset of Denonville and his followers, the Iroquois to a man rose against the French. This was not done by any organised raid, but, shod with silence, small, eager war-parties haunted the forests of the St. Lawrence] striking where they were the least expected, and never failing to leave behind them the smoke of burning dwellings and the horrors of desolated lives. From Fort Frontenac to Tadousac there was nut a home exempt from this deadly scourge; not a life that was not threatened. Unable to cope with so artful a foe, Denonville was in despair. He sued for peace, but to obtain this he had to betray his allies] the Indians of the Upper Lakes, who had entered his service under the conditions that the war should continue until the Iroquois were exterminated. The latter sent delegates to confer with the French commander at Montreal.

While this conference was under way, a Huron chief showed that he was the equal of even Denonville in the strategies of war where the code of honour was a dead letter. Anticipating the fate in store for his race did the French carry out their scheme of self-defence, this chief, whose name was Kandironk, “the Rat]” lay in ambush for the envoys on their way home from their conference with Denonville, when the latter had made so many fair promises. These Kandironk captured, claiming he did it under orders from Denonville, bore them to Michilimackinac, and tortured them as spies. This done, he sent an Iroquois captive to tell his people how fickle the French could be. Scarcely was this accomplished when he gave to the French his exultant declaration, “I have killed the peace!” The words were prophetic. Nothing that Denonville could say or do cleared him of connection with the affair. his previous conduct was enough to condemn him. To avenge this act of deceit, as the Iroquois considered it, they rallied in great numbers] and on the night of August 4] 1689] dealt the most cruel and deadly blow given during all the years of warfare in the St. Lawrence valley. Fifteen hundred strong, under cover of the darkness] they stole down upon the settlement of La Chine situated at the upper end of the island of Montreal, and surprised the inhabitants while they slept in fancied security. More than two hundred men] women, and children were slain in cold blood, or borne away to fates a hundred times more terrible to meet than swift death. The day already breaking upon the terror-stricken colonists was the darkest Canada ever knew.

The result of the expedition, so far as result appears, was effected when the ships bearing his men turned toward the Niagara River and were anchored off the point of land where now stands historic Fort Niagara. Here a fort was to be built forthwith, as much to secure the fur trade and to overawe the Indians as to keep the English from making any advance toward the territory of the Lakes. On the very clay of his arrival De Nonville set his men to work. The fortification was constructed partly of earth surmounted by palisades. The building of the structure was no easy matter. There were no trees in the immediate vicinity, so the soldiers had to obtain their timber to the east along the lake or across the river. After the timber had been obtained from these forests, it was a very difficult matter to drag it up the high bank. However, De Nonville was so energetic and his men worked so faithfully that in three days a fort was built with four bastions, where were mounted two large guns. Several cabins were also built. As the work progressed, many of those who had come with De Non-vile] both French and Indians, began to leave. Du Luth, Durantaye, and Tonty, together with the Illinois Indians who had allied themselves with the French against the Iroquois, departed for the trading-posts of Detroit and Michilimackinac. Soon after De Nonville himself left for Montreal, taking with him all but a hundred men. Those whom he left behind were placed under the command of De Troyes, with promises to send provisions as soon as possible, and fresh troops in the spring.1

The men left behind were truly in a surly mood. In spite of De Nonville’s assurance of provisions, and his assertion that the Senecas had been subdued, these men knew only too well not to depend too much on the first, and as to the second, that the Indians had only been enraged, rather than vanquished.

For a time there was enough work to keep all hands busy. M. de Brissay left on the 3d of August, commanding M. de Vaudreuil to help in the constructing of the cabins and the completion of the fort. There was an immense amount of work to be accomplished in the cutting, dragging, hewing, and sawing of the timbers; but, despite the hot weather, there was soon completed a house with a chimney of sticks and clay for the commandant. Three other cabins were afterward built in the square and in the midst of these a well was dug; but its waters were always roiled from improper curbing.

Vaudreuil left toward the latter part of August after having seen the company well roofed. Many of the number, who were at first fired by the spirit of adventure and a desire to remain at Niagara, now, foreseeing the suffering to be undergone, desired to return with Vaudreuil; but nearly all were compelled to remain at the fort.

A most thrilling account of this fort-building effort at the mouth of the Niagara is to be found in Severance] Old Trails of the Niagara Frontier, on which the present writer has based his description here given.

Although the expedition when it set out against the Senecas was tolerably well supplied with necessaries for an Indian campaign, those who were left at the fort were left in a bad condition indeed. About three thousand bushels of corn had been destroyed which belonged to the Senecas; but scarcely a week’s rations had been brought along to their destination. Very few had brought any seeds, and not much gardening could have been done anyway, on account of the lateness of the season. The few attempts that were made brought no returns on account of a drought. No hunting could be undertaken except in large parties so as to be secure from the savages. Almost the only food supply was the fish caught in the lake.

There was unbounded joy at the fort when the sail of the ship with supplies, which had been promised by Denonville, was seen on the horizon. But even then the unlading was delayed two days by calms which prevented the vessel from coming nearer than several miles from the shore. Finally a landing was effected; and the cargo was quickly stowed in the fort. The ship immediately returned to Canada.

From the very first the provisions proved to be bad. Still with these, together with the few herbs of the forest, a small amount of game and fish, the men managed to eke out an existence. There was no labour to perform—nothing to do but complain of the food and hard life which they were compelled to live.

Toward the latter part of September, the Indians made their first appearance. A hunting party in the vicinity of the Falls lost two men. Another party was cut off from the fort. Their dead bodies were found scalped and mutilated by the savages. The commander, De Troyes, soon fell ill, as did also Jean de Lamberville, the only priest in the colony. Thus at almost the same time was the company deprived of leadership and religious consolation. Christmas season drew on; but it was a sorry time for those at the fort. The weather had become severe, and fierce snow-storms were frequent. No one ventured beyond the palisades except in quest of firewood; and it was almost impossible at times to obtain this. Many were nearly frozen in their cabins. One day the wood-choppers were overwhelmed in the snow in sight of the fort. No one dared to go to their succour for fear of suffering the same fate. Two days after, those within the stockade saw their dead comrades devoured by wolves. Not a charge of powder was left. The food was almost unbearable. The biscuits were full of weevil from the first, and the meat was in such a putrefied condition that no one could eat it. Scurvy broke out. De Troyes could not leave his cabin and was compelled to trust everything to his men.

From a band of gallant soldiers, they had been reduced to a mere handful of disease-infected skeletons. In six weeks there were sixty deaths; and this was only the middle of February. Only a few of the stronger were left able to do the work which was absolutely necessary, such as supplying firewood and burying the dead, and these duties were performed with infinite toil and danger. More than twenty died in the month of March; in this number was the brave commander De Troyes. With their leader seemed to perish all the little spirit left in his followers. Almost no hope was left for the suffering inmates of the fort. It was still many weeks until the promised succour could possibly come from Montreal. The Western savages had promised an alliance and aid to the French against the Iroquois, but little confidence was to be placed in their promises.

Just as the men left in the fort were reduced to the very last extremity, and were wishing for death to relieve them of their miseries, a war-party from the Miamis on an expedition against the Senecas reached the fort and gave that relief so long vainly looked for by the inmates. Several of these who first regained their strength set out for Montreal to carry the news of their sore straits to the government; and on one pleasant, beautiful day in April the long expected sail was seen on the horizon bringing relief to the remnant of those who had been left in the fort the preceding summer.

In command of the expedition was D’csbergeres, and with him Father Milet, besides a large company of companions. As soon as they landed, Father Milet conducted mass and then put all the men who were able to work constructing a large cross. While they were at the work, Father Milet traced upon its arms: ” Regnat, Vincit, Imperat Christus.”

On Good Friday, the priest again held mass, and erected the cross in the centre of the square of the fort, thus symbolising a victory wrung from the clutches of defeat itself.

With spring, the new companions, and a goodly supply of provisions, was born new hope in the fort. The little company were very busy during the summer, despite the fact that the Iroquois, stirred on by the English, gave them continual trouble. In September Mahent came with the vessel La General, with orders to D’esbergeres to abandon the fort. This was quite a blow to the commander, as having held the post all summer he hoped to continue to do so. The outer barracks were all destroyed, which was not so difficult a task, as the severe storms of the previous winter had done much of this work; but the cabins were all left standing. On the morning of the 15th of September, 1688, the garrison sailed away, once more leaving the shores of the great Niagara untroubled by the contentions of white men, and open to the nation who should seize it or conciliate the savages who held the surrounding regions.

Yet Dc Nonville had done something for which to be remembered beyond raiding the Long House and fortifying the river of the Neuters; he had left it a name that should live as he had, first of white men, so far as we know, written it. The orthography of the name Niagara seems to have now been established-1687. Champlain did not use any name in 1613, though on his map we find the following words attached to the stream connecting Lakes Erie and Ontario, chute d’eau, giving us our first genuine record of Niagara Falls.

We have seen that L’Allemant spelled the name Onguiaahra in 164o. In 1657 it appears on Sanson’s map as Ongiara, and is applied to the Falls; in 166o Ducreux’s map shows us “Ongiara Cataractes.” In 1687 De Nonville gives us our present Niagara. Of the name Mr. Marshall has left this authoritative opinion:

Onguiaahra and Ongiara are evidently identieal, and present the same elements as Niagara. They are undoubtedly compounds of words expressive of some meaning, as is usual with aboriginal terms, but which meaning is now lost. The ” o ” which occurs in both the French and English orthography is probably a neuter prefix] similar to what is used by the Senecas and Mohawks. One writer contends that Niagara is derived from Nyah’-gaah’, or as he writes it, ” Ne-ah’-gah,” said to be the name of a Seneca village which formerly existed on the Niagara River below Lewiston, and now applied by the Senecas to Lake Ontario. This derivation] however] cannot be correct, for Onguiaahra, and its counterpart Ongiara, were in use as names of the river and falls long before the Seneca village in question was in existence. The Neutral Nation, from whose language the words were taken, lived on both borders of the Niagara until they were exterminated by the Senecas in 1643. It is far more probable the Nyah’-gaah’ is a reappearance of Ongiara in the Seneca dialect] and this view is strengthened by the fact that the former, unlike most Iroquois names, is without meaning, and as the aborigines do not confer arbitrary names, it is an evidence that it has been borrowed or derived from a foreign language. The conclusion then is, that the French derived Niagara from Ongiara] and the Senecas] when they took possession of the territories of the Neutral Nation] adopted the name Ongiara, as near as the idiom of their language would allow, and hence their name Nyah’-gaah’.

The Niagara River:Niagara River – Buffalo And The Upper NiagaraNiagara River – From The Falls To Lake OntarioNiagara River – The Birth Of NiagaraNiagara River – Niagara Bond And FreeNiagara River – Harnessing Niagara FallsNiagara River – A Century Of Niagara CranksNiagara River – The Old Niagara FrontierNiagara River – From La Salle To De NonvilleNiagara River – Niagara Under Three FlagsNiagara River – The Hero Of Upper Canada