John Fagant - Table of Contents

The Settlers of Western New York
1600- 1759

By John Fagant 

At 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 the Erielhonan or Erie 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.

The 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."

Where 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:
"The 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." 
Daniel 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 thrive there. 

Joncaire 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.

The 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.

What 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: 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

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