John Fagant - Table of Contents
The Settlers of Western New York
By John Fagant
the dawn of the 17th century, there were 3 Iroquoian speaking tribes living
in the Western New York region. The
people that inhabited the lands along the south shore of Lake Erie were known as
for short, which was interpreted as "long-tail" or "cat", presumably
in reference to the panthers or mountain lions that roamed the area. Their name may
also have referred to the robes of panther skin which they wore over their heads.
The French called them the Nation du Chat, or
the nation of the cat. To the east was a significantly smaller group of people known
by their Huron name of Wenrohronan,
or the Wenro. This
tribe apparently controlled the oils near present-day Cuba, N.Y. which were considered
to have medicinal value. The Kahquahs lived
on the northern shore of Lake Erie and the Niagara Peninsula. Known also as the Attawandarons
by the Hurons and the Neutrals by
the French, they had 28 to 40 villages; 3 or 4 of which were located east of the
Niagara River in New York State. One of those villages was near present-day Lewiston
and known as Ongiara or Onguioaahra,
from which the name of
Niagara came from.
These three tribes formed an alliance for protection against the Iroquois
Confederacy to the east. By mid-century, their pact had fallen apart and the Iroquois
destroyed them one by one. By 1655, all three had disappeared as distinct tribes,
either having been killed, captured, adopted or escaped out west.
Senecas did not immediately move into their newly acquired territory, but did use
it for hunting and fishing lands; setting up temporary camps in various areas of
Western New York. 0ne of those seasonal
camps existed at the junction of Lake Erie and the Niagara River. The French referred
to this location as "le petite rapide" or
the Little Rapids. The rapids formed by the flow of the Lake Erie water over the
Onondaga escarpment which runs through the river at this point. In 1747, several
drunken Frenchmen at Fort Niagara mistreated the "Grand Chief of the Senecas,
who is very much dissatisfied." Daniel Joncaire was sent to the village of the
Little Rapids to restore harmony between the two groups. Not only did the Native
Americans make use of the future site of Buffalo, but so also did the French.
In Celoron’s 1749 expedition into the Ohio valley, Father Bonnecamps wrote
of "our camp at the Little Rapid."
exactly was this Little Rapid village and why was it used as a temporary site? William
Hodge, writing from the late 19th century, suggested that the Black Rock
area was well known to the early villagers of Buffalo as an excellent location for
fishing. It was also known as the spot where the Indians traveled to for fishing.
Hodge mentioned that the construction of the Black Rock pier greatly affected, in
a negative way, this fishing hole. More
than likely then, the seasonal Seneca village was located in or near the Black Rock
area and was used as a fishing village.
In April of 1758, orders
arrived at Fort Niagara from the French government in Quebec:
said Sieur de Chabert shall apply himself to cultivate the lands at the river Aux
Chevaux … where the pasture is excellent.
He will plant there Indian corn, tobacco, etc. and to that end he will take to the
Little Fort the bateaux and vehicles needed to send to the straight the animals and
other things needed for the establishment of the said river."
Joncaire, also known as the Sieur de Chabert et de Clausonne,
had been ordered to develop a settlement on the lands by the Buffalo Creek.
He was the youngest son of his more famous father, Louis Thomas de Joncaire,
who played a critical role in the negotiations with the Senecas which culminated
in the building of Fort Niagara. Like his father and brother before him, Daniel Joncaire
had lived with the Senecas for a period of time and had been accepted as part of
the tribe. He acted as an interpreter and a moderator of differences between the
two cultures. He, like his father and his older brother Philippe Thomas (the
Sieur de Joncaire et Chabert), had traveled throughout
the Niagara Frontier and the Ohio Valley extensively and was familiar with the lands
and waterways of the region. So when ordered to travel to the Riviere aux chevaux
and establish a settlement, he knew exactly where that was and what was needed to
and his employees arrived at the riviere aux chevaux and
settled the area between the mouth of the creek and the lake shore; the land
now occupied by the General Mills Corp on the peninsula.
Referred to as the Little Rapids, it was "low, rich meadows, with fine,
large trees bordering the stream." Crops were planted and structures raised.
Chabert reported that he had built "a shed 100 feet long, of pine; a barn, 100
feet, with cedar timbers… a stable, a dwelling, 45 feet; a shop, 20 feet, for the
blacksmith; a storehouse 25 feet long; a second barn nearly finished." Horses
were used to plow and till the fields. Corn,
tobacco and hay were cultivated within an area of one half mile by three fourths
of a mile. Not only was Joncaire’s settlement the first attempt by any of the Europeans
to establish a permanent residence on the future site of Buffalo, but
it also predated by 21 years
the Seneca's first
permanent village on the creek.
Little Rapids was established not only as a trading center for the Native Americans
but also as a communications center
between the French posts at Fort Niagara and the ones located farther inland, such
as Fort Presque Isle, Fort le Beouf and Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania.
happened to Joncaire’s settlement along the creek? It survived for just over one
year. In July of 1759, the British army laid siege to Fort Niagara, eventually forcing
its surrender. The Little Rapid was burned to the ground and Joncaire was captured,
exchanged and ended up back in France where he was imprisoned in the Bastille with
the charge of traitor. After writing his memoirs in jail, he was released and returned
to America, ending his days there in his native land.
Lee Sultzman website:
dickshovel.com for the Wenro, Erie and Neutral tribes
History of the Seneca
Nation by Parker, p.21
Frank A. Severance;
An Old Frontier of France, Volume 1 p.303-305; 402; 413-414; Volume 2 p. 376-377
Hodge; Memoirs of
William Hodge, sen. p. 79
Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2009
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