A History of the City of Buffalo and Niagara Falls – John Devoy
This volume is the result of an earnest and conscientious effort to present in concise form a full history of Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and adjacent territory in Erie Conuty, containing an account of every event of importance from earliest times to the first years of the twentieth century. The compiler of this fantastic book has aimed to make the history complete and valuable as a book of reference.
A History of the City of Buffalo and Niagara Falls
Excerpt from the text:
THE section of country now Erie County was known to travelers as early as 1620 as ” A land of quiet, while tempests raged around.” It was inhabited by the Neuter Indians, a tribe who dwelt in peace, with hostile tribes on either side of them. They were a large and powerful nation with villages on both sides of Niagara River. The Eries occupied the greater part of the south shore of the lake bearing their name. The word “Erie” signified “cat,” and the lake was at that time frequently called ” Lake du Chat.” The Algonquins or Hurons occupied the territory to the northwest as far as Lake Huron, and the Iroquois, a warlike and hostile tribe, inhabited the country to the east. The latter at this time was composed of the “Five Nations,” and their “Long House,” as they called their confederacy, stretched from east to west through all the rich central portion of New York. The most deadly strife prevailed between the Hurons and the Iroquois, and between the latter and the Eries as well.
The French held Montreal and the Canadas, the English held control in Massachusetts, and the Dutch were masters on the Hudson. In 1625 a few Jesuits arrived on the banks of the St. Lawrence, and the following year Father De La Roche Daillon, a Recollect missionary, passed the winter with the Neuter nation, preaching the gospel. In 1627 Cardinal Richelieu organized the Company of New France, or Company of One Hundred Partners. It had three objects, to wit: The conversion of the Indians to Christianity; to discover a new route to China by way of the Great Lakes; and to extend the fur trade. In the last regard the company was successful, but not in the others.
In 1628 Charles I. granted a charter for the government of Massachusetts Bay. The County of Erie was included in the limits as well as the rest of Western New York. The Jesuits soon had flourishing stations as far west as Lake Huron. During the next fifteen years the quarrels between the Neuter Indians and the Iroquois were frequent, and the latter finally exterminated both the Eries and Neuters from the face of the earth. In 1794 or 1795 the first tavern was opened. The Duke De La Rochefoucauld Liaincourt says of the landlord: “If he kept a tavern, he kept nothing else, neither furniture, room, candles, nor milk.” The landlord’s name was Skinner. The village of Buffalo, or New Amsterdam as it was sometimes called, was only an Indian settlement, with few, if any, white inhabitants, when other towns in Western New York were important business centers. Admirable as was the site for purposes of trade, the adjacent country inhabited by hostile savages, and lying within easy range of a British fort, the settlement by whites was practically postponed until the War of the Revolution had resulted in the independence of the American colonies, and the growth of the infant settlement was then retarded by the War of 1812, when the town was destroyed by the British and their Indian allies, making the beginning of the effort to found here an important trade center far from propitious.
In January 1679, Robert, Chevalier De La Salle, a Frenchman of good family, arrived at the mouth of Niagara River, and built at the mouth of Cayuga creek a sailing vessel of sixty tons burden, to carry on trade with the Indians on the Western lakes. This vessel was called the Griffin, and the place where it was launched is now known as La Salle. The vessel was armed with seven small cannon, two of which were brass, and it was regarded with alarm by the wondering savages, who looked upon it as a floating fort. On the seventh of August the Griffin set sail with a crew of thirty-four men, all of whom were Frenchmen, except Tonti, an Italian exile. As the boat sailed into Lake Erie the priests led in singing a joyful Te Deum, and cannon were fired, the Indians shouting “Ganoran! Ganoran! ” — Wonderful! Wonderful! This was the beginning of commerce on the upper lakes, and, after all, the venture was a disastrous one. On August 11 the Griffin arrived at the mouth of the Detroit River, and sailing up this stream, arrived at Lake St. Clair, to which La Salle gave its name. On the twenty-third of the same month, the vessel entered Lake Huron, and being driven by a storm across Lake Saginaw, the party arrived four days later at Michelli Mackinack. The Griffin entered Lake Michigan September 2, and sailed to the mouth of Green bay. On its return voyage, loaded with furs, it was lost with all on board.
For forty-five years the French maintained substantial ascendancy in this region, although the disturbances by the Indians were frequent and serious. In 1687 De Nonville destroyed the Seneca villages in the vicinity of Victory and Avon, and defeated the Indians utterly in several engagements, who, after burning their towns, fled to the Cayugas. De Nonville then sailed to the mouth of the Niagara River and erected a fort, which for half a century was considered the key of Western New York, and, indeed, of the whole upper lake country. From this fort, in 1689, De Nonville sent Baron La Hontan to escort his Indian allies to their western home. He found a large Indian village at the eastern end of Lake Erie, and in his letters to Colbert, Minister of Louis XIV., he enlarged on the site of Buffalo, and pointed out the necessity for erecting a fort at this point to keep the Seneca Indians in check: ” For,” said the Baron, ” rest assured that at the mouth of this creek there will be a settlement which will rival the speculation in favor of Niagara; as the latter is at the head of Ontario, so this is at the foot of Erie.” In the light of subsequent events, this prophecy seems to savor of the humorous. Until 1697 the Five Nations were allies of the English and most of the time were engaged in active hostilities with the French.
In October 1763, six hundred British soldiers under Major Wilkes, who were on their way by boats to reinforce the troops at Detroit, were fired upon by a band of Seneca Indians from a point near the present site of Black Rock. About fifty soldiers were landed and attacked the Indians, but were repulsed with a loss of ten killed and as many wounded. This is the first recorded conflict of arms in Erie County in which white men participated.
In April 1764, Sir William Johnson concluded a treaty of peace with the chiefs of the Senecas at Johnson’s Hall, by which the Indians conveyed to the King of England a tract of country around Niagara Falls, fourteen miles in length by four miles in breadth, for carrying or portage purposes. In the summer of this year General Bradstreet, with twelve hundred British and Americans, came by water to Fort Niagara, accompanied by a body of Iroquois warriors. He held a council with the friendly Indians at the fort, and satisfactory treaties were made. The Seneca Indians, however, held aloof, and General Bradstreet ordered their immediate attendance, under penalty of the destruction of their settlements. The chiefs came and ratified the treaty and afterwards faithfully adhered to the terms.
In the meantime, a fort had been erected on the site of Fort Erie, the first one ever built at this point. In August, Bradstreet’s army had increased to three thousand, including three hundred Senecas, and came to Buffalo creek. Israel Putnam, a loyal soldier of King George and lieutenant colonel, commanded the Connecticut battalion. This was the same brave soldier who rallied the wavering lines of the Continental troops at Bunker Hill.
The War of the Revolution began in 1775, and for a time the Seneca Indians maintained a strict neutrality, but two years later they joined in a treaty with the Cayugas, Onondagas and Mohawks at Oswego, agreeing to serve the British throughout the war. The Oneidas remained neutral, and the whites on the Canadian frontier were assailed by the Indians in all directions. Joseph Brant, or Thay-en-dane-ga, was the most active and distinguished of the Iroquois chiefs. Farmer’s Brother, Cornplanter, and Governor Black Snake were the principal chiefs of the Senecas at this time. At the massacre of Wyoming, Young King was the principal chief. The devastation of the Wyoming valley led to the expedition in 1779 of General Sullivan against the Six Nations with four thousand men. He destroyed all the Seneca villages on the Genesee and about Geneva, and the Indians fled to Fort Niagara. The Onondaga villages were also burned, and the league between the Six Nations was practically destroyed by this expedition. The year following a body of Senecas, with a few Cayugas and Onondagas, came from Niagara and established themselves near Buffalo creek, about four miles from its mouth, near the present site of Ebenezer. This was the first permanent settlement in Erie County by the Senecas since the extinction of the Neuter nation 135 years before. In 1784, the year of Fort Stanwix treaty, the county of Tryon, of which Erie County was part, was changed to Montgomery, in honor of the slain hero of Quebec.
In 1788 Massachusetts sold all her land in New York, about six million acres, to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, for themselves and others, for one million dollars, subject to the Indian right of occupancy. A council with the Indians was held at Buffalo July 5 of that year. Brant, Red Jacket, and Farmer’s Brother taking part. The rights of the Indians to occupy two million six hundred thousand acres of their purchase was ceded to Phelps and Gorham at one-half cent an acre. At this council a Yankee named Phelps purchased the Indians’ title to a tract of land for a mill-site. When asked how much land he required, Phelps replied that he wanted a tract twelve miles wide from Avon to the mouth of the river, now Rochester, a distance of twenty-eight miles. The Indians thought this a very large mill-site, but let him have the land, containing over two hundred thousand acres.
In 1791 Colonel Thomas Proctor was commissioned by the United States Government to solicit the intervention of the principal chiefs of the Senecas with the Miami and other hostile tribes to secure a treaty of peace. A council was held at which Red Jacket, Farmer’s Brother, Captain Snake, Captain O’Beil, and Young King were present. The latter used every effort to defeat the plan and even appeared at the council in the full uniform of a colonel of the British army. The eloquence of Red Jacket however prevailed, but the mission was not accomplished for want of a vessel to carry the embassy to Sandusky.
In Colonel Proctor’s report he notices the existence of a store kept by Cornelius Winney on the north side of Buffalo creek, which was doubtless the first house occupied by a white resident. The close of the Revolutionary War gave confidence to trade, and settlers from New England began to arrive in this section. In 1784 the treaty of Fort Stanwix was agreed upon between the United States and the Six Nations, the latter agreeing to relinquish all claims to the “country lying west of a line beginning at the mouth of Oyonagra creek, four miles to east of Niagara, thence southerly to a line four miles east of the Carrying path; to the mouth of Buffalo creek; thence to the northern boundary of Pennsylvania; thence east to end of boundary, and thence south along the Pennsylvania line to the Ohio river.”