French in New York 1642 to 1713

New York and New France

For seventy years New York stood in the front rank of English colonies struggling with the French possession of North America. New France, a name given to Nova Scotia, New Foundland, Canada and the valley of the Mississippi, embraced also, as the French would have it, that part of the present State of New York, from which the water flows into the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence.

On the other hand the New York Colonists claimed that these lakes and river themselves were their northern boundaries, using the poor argument that Charles II had thus specified in his grant, and giving as a much better reason that the land in dispute was occupied by their allies , the Iroquois.

French Missionaries Among the Iroquois

In 1642, some twenty-five years after Champlain failed to establish the arms of France in New York, Isaac Jogues, a Jesuit priest, scholar and traveller, was dragged from his canoe on the St Lawrence by a band of Iroquois and carried to their towns on Mohawk. He ran the gauntlet and suffered the keenest tortures; he finally reached New Amsterdam, went back to Canada and returned as a missionary to the Indians. With woods for a chapel and a cross cut in bark of a tree he was the first preacher of Christ's gospel among the red men of New York.

Conditions of the Iroquois

The tribe among whom Jogues preached and soon suffered death was the Mohawk. These were the fiercest of the Iroquois and the tribe most friendly to the Dutch and English. They lived nearest the whites, westward from Albany, along the river named after them. The Iroquois, however, had no fixed location, changing their villages as the soil was impoverished. A general idea of the situation of the Five Nations may be had from the five bodies of water and the four counties named from the tribes. The Mohawks long dwelt on the land of Montgomery county. At the extreme west of the "Long House" as the Iroquois termed their territory, were the Senecas, by far the most numerous of the tribes.

The total number if the Iroquois at the time could not have been much more over ten thousand*. Of these, about two thousand were warriors, who might be found now on the banks of the St Lawrence, and now sailing in birch bark canoes to the mouth of the Ohio. The old men, the women and the children remained in villages called castles; these were composed of long, bark or framed houses, each holding many families and all surrounded with palisade.

* There were in 1880, according to the cencus, about the same number of their descendants on various part of the United States and Canada. The number, contrary to the general idea, is not decreasing.

Progress of the Jesuits

These towns soon after the death of Jogues were visited by many French Catholic priests, anxious to convert the savages, if might be, intent, at all events, on making the Iroquois friendly to Canada. One of the missionaries, Father Le Moyne visited the Onondagas, there tasted a well which they said was infest with evil spirits and thus discovered the great salt springs of central New York. Le Moyne, at the deceitful invitation of the Indians, brought up the Oswego river a colony of fifty Frenchmen, who on the shore of Onondaga Lake made the first French settlement in New York. This happened in the administration of Stuyvesant. But the adventurous band soon saw the murderous purpose of their pretending friends and fled. Yet on the whole the Jesuits made progress; they met craftiness with greater craftiness and gained converts while Dutch and English preachers, who could not adapt themselves to the savage ways made little headway.

Invasion of New York

The Jesuits were finally defeated in their efforts to ally the Indians to the French by the fickle and deceitful nature of the Indians and by the interference of the French soldiers impatient of the slow progress of the priests. A foolhardy company of daring men, in the dead of winter of 1666 came up the frozen Sorel and Lake Champlain; but upon hearing that the wide awake English and not the slow going Dutch then held the fort at Albany, they quietly returned.

Still again in pleasanter weather of the same year thirteen hundred Canadians and Indians came over the same route and destroyed the Mohawks towns. These were the first of the score of like expeditions, which made the name of the French a terror to the child of New York, which undid the work of the priests, but which extended little the borders of New France.

The French in Western New York

After the expeditions of 1666, there were twenty years of peace. Meanwhile the French coveted New York; and so much did the rulers of Canada value the position of the English in the Hudson valley that they proposed to their king to purchase the territory, "which," as they wrote" would render His Majesty master of all North America." Not able to buy the Hudson Valley the French governors determined to try force once more upon the Five Nations. One governor on pretense of making peace enticed to Fort Frontenac* a band of Iroquois and thereupon murdered some and sent others to France as slaves. Thus to break a truce was the blackest of crimes to an Indian, and henceforth it was war to the knife.

Soon after, the Canadian governor landed at Irondequoit Bay and defeated the Senecas in Ontario county, near the town of Victor; then sailing to the mouth of the Niagara River, he landed on the New York side and built Fort Niagara. Thereupon Governor Dongan, unwilling to see the French hold this passage to the west, sent a protest, claiming that the land to be " within my Master's territoryes without question." The Five Nations were more excited by the encroachment than Dongan, and without his aid they so harassed the little garrison that they were glad to escape from the new fort. The terrified fugitives did not stop at Fort Frontenac but blew up that stronghold and withdrew to the island of Montreal. Even here they were besieged by the Indians and all Canada shivered before the avenging fury of the Iroqois. 

*Fort Frontenac, the first building on Lake Ontario, had been put up by governor of that same name to catch the trade of the western Indians. The city of kingston now stands on the spot.

(continues ... Raids of the French and English)