The Documentary History of the State of New York/Volume I/Chapter III/Article I

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The Documentary History of the State of New York by Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan
Chapter III, Article I

OF THE FIRST FORTS ERECTED ON THE IROQUOIS RIVER.[edit]

[Relation de ce qui s’est passé en la Nouvelle France ès années 1664 & 1665.]

At the same time that the Outaouaks embarked to return to their country, the wind becoming more favorable, the soldiers who had been obliged to stop at Three Rivers likewise embarked; and after having navigated Lake St. Peter arrived at the mouth of the River Richelieu, which leads to the Iroquois of the Mohawk.

The plan entertained at this first campaign was to erect on the route some forts, which were considered absolutely necessary as well to secure the passage and liberty of trade as to serve for stores for the troops and retreats for sick and wounded soldiers. For this purpose three advantageous posts were selected. The first at the mouth of the Iroquois River; the second seventeen leagues higher up, at the foot of a current of water called the Sault de Richelieu; the third about three leagues above this current.

The first fort, named Richelieu, was built by Mons. de Chamblay, who commanded five companies which Monsieur de Tracy sent there. The second fort, named Saint Louis, because it was commenced the week of the celebration of the festival of that great saint, protector of our Kings and of France, was built by M. de Sorel, who commanded five other companies of the Regiment of the Carignan Salières.... The [third] fort was fortunately finished in the month of October on St. Theresa’s day, whence it derived its name. From this third fort of St. Therese we can easily reach Lake Champlain without meeting any rapids to stop the batteaus.

This Lake, after a length of sixty leagues, finally terminates in the country of the Mohawk Iroquois. It is still intended to build there, early next spring, a fourth fort, which will command those countries, and from which continual attacks can be made on the enemy, if they do not listen to reason.

We shall give at the end of the next chapter, the plan of these three forts, with the map of the Iroquois country1 which has not been as yet seen, after having given some particulars of those people, who thwart us so long a time, because they have never been efficiently attacked.

1 For the Map above referred to, see the Vol. of Relations in the State Library.
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OF THE IROQUOIS COUNTRY AND THE ROUTES LEADING THITHER.[edit]

It must be premised that the Iroquois composed of five Nations, of which the nearest to the Dutch, that of the Mohawk consisting of two or three villages containing about three to four hundred men capable of bearing arms. These have always been at war with us, though they sometimes pretended to sue for peace.

Proceeding towards the West, at a distance of forty-five leagues, is found the second Nation, called Oneida, which has no more, at most, than one hundred and forty warriors, and has never wished to listen to any negotiations for peace; on the contrary it has always embarrassed affairs when they appeared about to be arranged.

Fifteen leagues towards sunset is Onnontagué, which has full three hundred men. We have been formerly received there as friends and treated as enemies, which obliged us to abandon that post, where we remained two years, as if in the centre of all the Iroquois Nations, whence we proclaimed the gospel to all those poor people, assisted by a garrison of Frenchmen sent by Monsieur de Lauzon, then Governor of New France, to take possession of those countries in his Majesty’s name.

At twenty leagues from there still towards the West is the village of Cayuga, of three hundred warriors, where in the year 1657, we had a mission which formed a little church filled with piety in the midst of these Barbarians.

Towards the termination of the Great Lake, called Ontario, is located the most numerous of the Five Iroquois Nations, named the Senecas, which contains full twelve hundred men in two or three villages of which it is composed.

These last two nations have never openly made war on us, and have always remained neuter.

All that extent of country is partly south, partly west of the French settlements, at a distance of from one hundred to one hundred and fifty leagues. It is for the most part fertile, covered with fine timber; among the rest entire forests of chestnut and hickory (noyer,) intersected by numerous lakes and rivers abounding in fish. The air is temperate; the seasons regular as in France, capable of bearing all the fruits of Tourain and Provence. The snows are not deep nor of long durations. The three winters which we passed there among the Onnontagués, were mild, compared with the winters at Quebec where the ground is covered five months with snow, three, four and five feet deep. As we inhabit the Northern part of New France and the Iroquois the South, it is not surprising that their lands are more agreeable and more capable of cultivation and of bearing better fruit.

There are two principal rivers leading to the Iroquois; one to those which are near New Netherland and this is the Richelieu river of which we shall speak hereafter; the second conducts to other Nations more distant from us, always ascending our great river St. Lawrence which divides above Montreal, as if into two branches, whereof one goes to the ancient country of the Hurons, the other to that of the Iroquois,

This is one of the most important rivers that can be seen, whether we regard its beauty or its convenience; for we meet there almost throughout, a vast number of beautiful Islands, some large, others small, but all covered with fine timber and full of deer, bears, wild cows which supply abundance of provisions necessary for the travellers who find it every where, and some islands, which otherwise have nothing agreeable beyond their multitude. For these are only huge rocks rising out the water, covered merely by moss, or a few spruce or other stunted wood whose roots spring from the clefts of the rocks which can supply no other aliment or moisture to these barren trees than what the rains furnish them.

After leaving this melancholy abode, the Lake is discovered appearing like unto a sea without islands or bounds, where barks and ships can sail in all safety; so that the communication would be easy between all the French colonies that could be established on the borders of this Great Lake which is more than a hundred leagues long by thirty to forty wide.

It is from this point that all the Iroquois Nations can be reached, by various direct except the Mohawks, the route to whom is by the River Richelieu, of which we can safely say two words since they regard it that our troops have already constructed the three fort of which we have spoken.

It is called the Richelieu River because of the fort of the same name which was erected there at its mouth at the commencement of the wars; and which has been rebuilt anew to secure the entrance of that river. It likewise bears the name of the River of the Iroquois, because it is the route which leads thither, and it is by it these Barbarians used most ordinarily come to attack us. The bed of this river is one hundred to one hundred and fifty paces wide almost throughout, though at its mouth it is somewhat narrower: its borders are decorated with beautiful pines through which we can walk with ease; as in fact fifty of our men have done a foot by land nearly twenty leagues of the way from the mouth of the river to the Sault, which is so called, though it is not properly a waterfall but only an impetuous rapid full of rocks, that arrest it course and render the navigation almost impossible for three quarters of a league. In time however its passage may be facilitated. The remainder of the river has from the beginning a very fine bottom; as many as eight islands are to be met with before arriving at the basin, which is at the foot of the Sault. This basin is like a little lake, a league and a half in circumference and six to eight feet deep, where ash abounds almost at all seasons.

To the right of this basin going up, is seen Fort Saint Louis, built quite recently here, which is very convenient for the design entertained against the Iroquois, since its position renders it almost impregnable and causes it to command the whole river.

After passing the rapids of the Sault which extend three leagues, the third fort is visible that terminates all these rapids: for the river afterwards is very beautiful and quite navigable to the Lake called Champlain, at the extremities of which we enter on the lands of the Mohawk Iroquois.

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OF THE WAR AND THE TREATIES OF PEACE OF THE FRENCH WITH THE IROQUOIS.[edit]

[Relation, &c., ès années, 1665, 1666.]

The great varieties of Nations which are in these countries, the changeable and perfidious disposition of the Iroquois and the barbarism of all these tribes not permitting us to hope for any stable peace with them except inasmuch as it can be maintained by the terror of the king’s arms, it is not, to be wondered at that peace succeeds war so easily, and that wars terminate so quickly in peace.

The ambassadors of five different Nations were seen in one year at Quebec, who came there to solicit peace yet these did not prevent us punishing by a good war those who answered badly by their conduct the promises of their deputies.

The first of these Ambassadors who came from the Upper Iroquois, were presented to M. de Tracy in the month of December of the year 1665, and the most influential among them was a famous Captain, called Garacontié, who always signalized his zeal for the French, and employed the credit which he has among all these tribes, in extricating our prisoners from their hands, as he has liberated very recently Sieur Le Moine, an inhabitant of Montreal, who had been captured three months ago by these Barbarians.

M. de Tracy having notified him by the usual presents that he would give him a friendly audience, he pronounced a harangue full of good sense and an eloquence evincing no trace of the barbarous. It contained nothing but courtesies and offers of friendship and service on the part of all his tribe; wishes for a new Jesuit Mission, and expressions of condolence on the death of the late Father Le Moine, the intelligence of which he had just received.


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However as no advantage can be expected from these Nations except in so far as we appear able to injure them, preparations were made for a military expedition against those with whom no peace could be concluded. Monsieur de Courcelles, who commanded, used every possible diligence so that he was ready to start on the 9th January of the year 1666, accompanied by M. du Gas, whom he took for his Lieutenant; by M. de Salamper, Gentleman Volunteer; by Father Pierre Raffeix, Jesuit; by 300 men of the Regiment of Carignan Sali'eres and 200 Volunteers, habitans of the French Colonies. This march could not but be tedious, every one having snow shoes on his feet, to the use of which none were accustomed, and all, not excepting the officers nor even M. de Courcelles himself, being loaded, each with from 25 to 30 pounds of biscuit, clothing and other necessary supplies.

A more difficult or longer march than that of this little army, can scarcely be met with in any history, and it required a French courage and the perseverance of M. de Courcelles, to undertake it. In addition to the embarrassment caused by the snow shoes, which is a species of great inconvenience and that of the burthen which each one was obliged to carry, it was necessary to walk three hundred leagues on the snow; cross lakes and rivers continually on the ice in danger of making as many falls as steps; sleep only on the snow in the midst of the forest and endure a cold surpassing by many degrees in severity that of the most rigorous European winters.

Our troops, however, having gone the first day to Sillery to recommend the success of their enterprize to St. Michael the Archangel the patron of that place; many had, as early as the third day, the nose, the ears, the knees and the fingers or other parts entirely frozen and the remainder of the body covered with cicatrixes, and some others wholly overcome and benumbed by the cold would have perished in the snow, had they not been carried, though with considerable difficulty, to the place where they were to pass the night.

Sieurs De la Fouille, Maximin and Lobiac, Captains in the the Carignan regiment, having joined this little army on the 24th January, each with 20 soldiers of their companies and some habitans of the place were treated by the cold, on the day following, worse than any had previously been, and many soldiers were obliged to be brought back, of whom some had the legs cut by the ice and others the hands or the arms or other parts of the body altogether frozen. These losses were repaired by Sieurs de Chambly, Petit and Rogemont, Captains of the same regiment, and by the Sieurs Mignardi, Lieutenant of the Colonel’s company which was withdrawn from Forts St. Louis and St. Therese, where the troops rendezvoused on the 30th of the same month. So that the army being still 500 men strong finally arrived on the 14th of February, with the same difficulties and the same dangers, as before, in the enemy’s country, at 20 leagues distance from their villages. The journey yet to be travelled, was very long in consequence of the prodigious depth of the snow and the delay of the Algonquin guides, in whose absence unknown routes were to be tried and continual mistakes experienced.

Finally information was received from prisoners who were taken in some detached cabins, and from the Commandant of a hamlet inhabited by the Dutch of New Netherland, that the greater part of the Mohawks and Oneidas having gone to a distance to make war against other tribes called the Wampum Makers, (les faiseurs de porcelaine) had left in their villages only the children and the helpless old men; and it was considered useless to push farther forward an expedition which had all the effect intended by the terror it spread among all the tribes, who were haughty and perfidious only because they considered themselves inaccessible to our troops. Before returning however we killed several savages who from time to time made their appearance along the skirts of the forest for the purpose of skirmishing with our people. Sieur Aiguemorte and some of our soldiers were also killed pursuing them.

The effects of the terror produced by his Majesty’s arms on the hearts of these savages were apparent at Quebec in the month of May following, by the arrival of ambassadors from the Senecas, (Sonnontouaeronnons) who demanded the King’s protection for their nation and the continuation of peace, which they pretended they never violated by any hostile act. M. de Tracy had already refused 34 presents that they had tendered him, but perceiving that it affected them sensibly and that they considered it the greatest insult that could be offered, he finally accepted their wampum belts, repeating to them that it was neither their presents nor their goods that the King desired, but their true happiness and salvation; that they would derive all sorts of advantages from their confidence in his goodness which should be extended to the other Nations also, that they might experience its most favorable effects, if they took the same care in imploring it by sending their ambassadors forthwith.

These were soon succeeded by those of other tribes; among the rest by those from the Oneida and even by those from the Mohawk, so that the deputies from the Five Iroquois Nations were almost at the same time at Quebec as if to confirm by one common accord a durable peace with France.

In order the better to accomplish this it was deemed proper to send some Frenchmen with the Oneida Ambassadors, who were also responsible for the conduct of the Mohawks, and even gave hostages for them. The Dutch of New Netherland had likewise written in their behalf and went security for the faithful observance by all those Barbarians of the articles of peace entered into with them. These French delegates had orders to inform themselves of every thing carefully on the spot, and to learn if it were safe to confide again on the Savages, so that His Majesty’s arms should not be retarded by an illusive hope of peace.

But scarcely were the Ambassadors two or or three days journey from Quebec, when news came of the surprisal by the Mohawks of some Frenchmen belonging to Fort St. Anne who had gone to the chase, and of the murder of Sieur de Traverse, Captain in the Carignan Regiment and Sieur de Chusy, and that some volunteers had been taken prisoners. The French delegates were at once recalled, and the Oneida savages who remained as hostages whose heads could have been at once split by axes according to the laws of war in this country, were imprisoned. But without having recourse to these barbarous laws, means were adopted to derive greater advantage from this treachery; and M. de Sorel, Captain in the Carignan Regiment, immediately collected a party of three hundred men, whom he led by forced marches into the enemy’s country, resolved to put all, every where, to the sword. But when only 20 leagues distant from their villages he encountered new Ambassadors bringing back the Frenchmen taken near Fort St. Anne, and who were coming to offer every satisfaction for the murder of those who were slain and new guarantees for peace, so that this Captain having returned with his troops, there was no more talk but of peace, which they pretended to conclude by a general council of all the Tribes who had at the time delegates at Quebec.

These treaties had not, however, all the success which was expected from them, and M. de Tracy concluded that, to ensure their success, it was necessary to render the Mohawks by force of arms more tractable, for they always opposed new obstacles to the publick tranquillity. He wished, despite his advanced age, to lead in person against these Barbarians, an army composed of 600 soldiers drafted from all the companies, of six hundred hahitans of the country and one hundred Huron and Algonquin savages. Through the exertions of M. Talon, all the preparations for this war were completed by the 14th Septr, the day fixed on for departure, being that of the exaltation and triumph of the Cross, for whose glory this expedition was determined on. The general rendezvous was fixed for the 28th of Sept., at Fort St. Anne recently constructed by Sieur La Mothe, Captain in the Carignan Regiment, on an Island in Lake Champlain. Some of the troops not being able to come up in sufficient time, M. de Tracy would not proceed before the 3d of October, with the main body of the army. But M. de Courcelles impelled by his characteristic impatience for the fight, started some days ahead with 400 men, and Sieurs De Chambly and Berthier, commandants of the Forts St. Louis and Assumption were left to follow M. de Tracy, four days afterwards, with the rear guard. As it was necessary to march one hundred and twenty leagues into the interior to find the enemy’s villages, and as several large lakes and many considerable rivers were to be crossed before arriving there, it was necessary to be provided with conveniences for land and water. Vessels requisite for this expedition had been prepared. Three hundred were ready; consisting partly of very light batteaux, and partly of bark canoes, each of which carriers at most five or six hundred persons. On crossing a river or lake, each was obliged to take charge of his own canoe and to carry the batteaux by main strength. This caused less labor than two small pieces of artillery which were conveyed even to the farthest Iroquois villages, to force more easily all the fortifications.

Notwithstanding the care taken to accomplish this march with little noise, we could not prevent some Iroquois, despatched from 30 to 40 leagues to discover our troops, seeing from the mountain tops this little naval expedition, and running to warn the first village of it; so that the alarm spreading aft from village to village, our troops found them abandoned, and these barbarians were only seen on the mountains at a distance utteiing great cries and firing some random shots at our soldiers.

Our army halting only for refreshment at all these villages, which were found void of men but full of grain and provision's, expected to meet with a vigorous resistance at the last which we prepared to attack in regular form, because the barbarians evinced by the great firing they made there, and the fortifications they had erected, every disposition for a desperate defence. But our people were again disappointed in their hope; for scarcely had the enemy seen the vanguard approach, when they immediately fled to the woods where night prevented our troops pursuing them. A triple palisade, surrounding their stronghold, twenty feet in height and flanked by four bastions, their prodigious quantities of provisions and the abundant supply of water they had provided in bark tanks to extinguish fire when necessary, afforded sufficient evidence that their first resolution had been quite different from that which the terror of our arms had caused them so suddenly to adopt. A few persons whom their advanced age had prevented withdrawing from the village two days previously with all the women and children, and the remains of two or three savages of another tribe whom they had half roasted at a slow fire with their accustomed fury, were all that were found. After having planted the Cross and celebrated Mass and sung the Te Deum on the spot, all that remained was to fire the palisades and cabins and to destroy all the stores of Indian corn, beans and other produce of the country found there. The other villages were again visited where as well as throughout the whole country, the same devastation was committed; so that those who are acquainted with the mode of living of these barbarians doubt not but famine will cause as many to perish as would have been destroyed by the arms of our soldiery had they dared to await them, and that those who survive will be reduced by terror to peaceful conditions and to a demeanor more difficult to be obtained from them by mere sanguinary victories.

The return route of our troops was more disagreeable than that taken in going, because the rivers being swollen some seven or eight feet by the rains, were found much more dificult to cross, and a storm which arose on Lake Champlain wrecked two canoes with eight persons, amongst whom was to be particularly regretted Sieur du Lugues, Lieutenant of a company, who made frequent displays of his valour in France as well as in Canada.

The courage of our troops was ever wonderfully excited in the hardships of this expedition and in the face of danger, by the examples of M. de Tracy, M. de Courcelles and M. de Sallière, Quarter Master (Mestre de Camp) of the regiment and of Chevalier de Chaumont who desired always on approaching the villages to be of the forlorn hope; and their generosity was animated by the zeal and pious sentiments with which Messrs. du Bois and Cosson, secular Priests, and Fathers Albanel and Rafaix, Jesuits, endeavored to inspire them.

Our excellent Prelate who had his hands ever raised to Heaven and had called every one to prayers, during the absence of our troops, caused thanks to be given to God and the Te Deum sung on their return. Every body here has conceived renewed hopes in consequence of the King’s goodness towards the country and of the manner in which the West India Company, to whom his Majesty has confided it, is affected towards it. So that we doubt not but we shall very soon see most populous towns in the place of these extensive forests, and JESUS CHRIST worshipped in all these vast countries.

END.