This page conforms to the XHTML standard and uses style sheets. If your browser doesn't support these, you may not see the page as designed, but all the text is still accessible to you.


Bringing the heritage of Schenectady County, New York to the world since 1996

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 16

History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 16: History of the Mohawks — 1646-1666.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 274-279 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

Go back to: Chapter 15 | ahead to: Chapter 17

The Five Nations conquer the Indians of northeastern North America — 1655, Glen buys lands of the Mohawks — 1658, Glen settles at Scotia — 1659-1660, Smallpox scourge among the Mohawk castles — 1660, Turtle Clan moves to Gandawague 1661, Schenectady settled by Hollanders — 1661, Hertel a captive among the Mohawks — 1666, De Courcelle's expedition against the Mohawks fails.

The history of the Mohawk country, from 1614 to 1662, and that of the Mohawks in brief is contained in that of the settlement of the Holland Dutch at present Albany.

In this period, while there were no permanent settlements of white men among the Mohawks, until that of Schenectady in 1661-2 and that of Glen at Scotia in 1658, there was a constant passing of French and Dutch traders and bos loopers to and from the Indian castles of the valley. Among the most famous of these woodsmen-traders was Hartell, the French trader, whose Mohawk wife was the "queen" of Hog Island at Schenectady, and who was the father of Ots-toch, the French-Mohawk wife of Cornelis Antonise Van Slyck, the father of Jacques Cornelise Van Slyck, one of the original proprietors of Schenectady.

The Mohawks also were frequent visitors to Fort Orange where, after 1640, they obtained the guns with which they conquered their enemies, especially the Hurons, the Algonquins and the Andastes (known also as the Susquehannas and Conestogas). It was during this period that the warfare of the Mohawks was most terrible, against both these Indians and the French of Canada. War activities were constant among the Mohawks, and war parties were constantly going out from the castles of Osseruenon, later Gandawague, Andagoron and Tionnontogen. The Mohawk country was a bedlam with the wild dances of the painted warriors and the screams of their tortured victims.

In 1659 the Dutch authorities of Fort Orange held a council with the Mohawks at Osseruenon, the first ever held in the Mohawk country.

One of the most interesting of the Frenchmen who were so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of the Iroquois during this hellish period was Francois Hertel, a youth of eighteen, who was captured at Three Rivers and taken to the Mohawk in the summer of 1661. Hertel wrote two letters at this time which are appealing in their showing of the brave despair of this boyish prisoner, surrounded by the ferocity and endless horrors of the Mohawk town in which he was held captive — without hope and without the solace of his religion. His letter to his mother is touching in its brief effort to spare her pain and anxiety. The first letter is to the Jesuit Father Le Moyne, who was then in Onondaga where he had gone to attempt the release of French prisoners in accordance with the terms of a truce. Both of Hertel's letters were written on the inner side of birch bark. They follow:

"My Reverend Father: The very day when you left Three Rivers, I was captured at about three in the afternoon by four Iroquois of the Mohawk tribe. I would not have been taken alive if, to my sorrow, I had not feared that I was not in a fit state to die. If you came here, my Father, I could have the happiness of confessing to you and I do not think they would do you any harm and I think I could return home with you. I pray you to pity my poor mother, who is in great trouble. You know, my Father, how fond she is of me. I have heard from a Frenchman who was taken at Three Rivers on the 1st of August that she is well and comforts herself with the hope that I shall see you. There are three of us Frenchmen alive here. I commend myself to your prayers, and particularly to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I pray you, my Father, to say a mass for me. I pray you to give my dutiful love to my poor mother and console her, if it pleases you.

"My Father, I beg your blessing on the hand that writes you, which has one of the fingers burned in the bowl of an Iroquois pipe, to satisfy the Majesty of God, which I have offended. The thumb of the other hand is cut off, but do not tell my mother of it.

"My Father, I pray you to honor me with a word from your hand in reply, and tell me if you shall come here before winter.

"Your most humble and most obedient servant,

Francois Hertel."

Following is the letter Hertel wrote his mother, probably at the same time as the one he sent Father Le Moyne.

"My dear and honored mother: I know very well that my capture must have distressed you very much. I ask you to forgive my disobedience. It is my sins that have placed me where I am. I owe my life to your prayers and those of M. de Saint-Quentin and of my sisters. I hope to see you again before winter. I pray you to tell the good brethren of Notre Dame to pray to God and the Holy Virgin for me, my dear mother, and for you and all my sisters.

"Your poor


This boyish captive survived, to the great cost of New England in blood and suffering. In 1690, Frontenac sent out three war parties from Canada, which descended on Schenectady, Salmon Falls (now Berwick) in New Hampshire, and Casco Bay (now Portland) Maine. Francois Hertel was the commander of the war party from Three Rivers, which massacred the people of Salmon Falls and burned the settlement. On the retreat he defended the rear with great valor and was ennobled for his savage deeds.

The young French boy, who at one time sat lonely and disconsolate in a Mohawk cabin while writing to his mother on a scrap of birch bark, became the founder of one of the most distinguished families of Canada and died at the ripe old age of eighty years.

When Schenectady was settled in 1661-2, the Iroquois had conquered the territory adjacent to that of the Five Nations for hundreds of miles in every direction. The many campaigns of this savage warfare are detailed in Beauchamp's "History of the New York Iroquois" as well as in Parkman's works.

As previously described in detail, Father Jogues was a prisoner at Osseruenon from 1642 to 1644, being cruelly tortured there at first. His return and murder have been related in a previous chapter.

In the winter of 1659-1660, a dreadful scourge of smallpox visited Osseruenon, as though in retribution for the sufferings of Father Jogues and the hundreds of other victims who there had been tortured to amuse the Mohawks.

A thousand Mohawks are said to have perished in this epidemic. Following it the Turtle Village moved, in 1660, to a new site a short distance westward from the former village, where the palisades were re-erected and the place called Gandawague, which probably means "Village-Turtle-At", or "At the Turtle Village", although the general translation is given as "At the Rapids". After this removal the three principal Mohawk towns were located as follows: The Turtle Clan castle of Gan-da-wague, just west of present Auriesville; the Bear Clan castle of Andagoron, a mile or more west of present Fultonville; and the Wolf Clan castle of Ti-on-non-to-gen (or Te-non-to-ge-re) on the hill south of present Sprakers Village and on the east side of the Onagerea or Plattekill.

At the same castle of Osseruenon, where Jogues was kept captive by the Mohawks for two years, Kateri Tegakwitha, the "Lily of the Mohawks" was born in 1656. The piety and goodness of this Christian Mohawk maiden, in the face of abuse and cruelty, set a religious example to her race, which made many of them converts who followed the Lily to Canada in 1677, after her escape to the Christian village of Caughnawaga, on the St. Lawrence opposite Montreal.

At Auriesville stands a statue to Tegakwitha, whose name, like those of other Indians, has had many and various spellings. The lifelike figure of this Mohawk maiden is by the sculptor, Joseph Sibbel, and it is a replica of the one which stands in the hall of Dunwoodie seminary. "It is not intended as a religious but a civic monument, because Kateri rendered a very memorable civic service to her people. Her ardent religious fervor was not merely of mystical benefit to herself; it inspired her fellow tribesmen with an exalted idea of morality and incited them to imitate what they saw possible in one of their own blood."

The inscription placed on the mound tells the whole story in brief:

Kateri Tekawitha,
Iroquois Maiden,
Lily of the Mohawks.
Born at Osseruenon Castle,
Situated Here, A. D. 1656.
Dwelling at Caughnawaga Castle.
Fonda, A. D. 1667-1676.
At Caughnawaga, Canada, A. D. 1677-1680.
Dying There April 17, 1680,
In the Fragrance of Holiness.
Known by her tribesmen as
Onkweonweke Katsitsiio Leokitsianekaron,
fairest flower that ever bloomed among true men.

The reader will find in "The Life and Times of Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks," by Ellen H. Walworth, Albany, N. Y., a very interesting story of this Christian Mohawk maiden as well as a perfect picture and record of Mohawk Indian life from 1656 to 1680.

Kateri's father was a Mohawk chief and warrior and her mother a Christian Algonquin captive, who had been brought up and baptized amongst the French settlers at Three Rivers in Canada. Captured in Canada, this Indian maiden was brought down Lake Champlain and Lake George and thence to Osseruenon. "She was saved from the torture and the fire by a fierce, pagan Mohawk warrior, who took the young Algonquin for his wife. The gentle girl had captured the heart of her conqueror."

Jogues had been dead ten years when Kateri was born and, in that interval, the Mohawks and the five other nations had not only conquered or annihilated all the chief tribes which surrounded them, but they had killed, burned or tortured to death many of the dauntless souls who had braved the world's greatest horror — Iroquois torture — to save the souls of these savages. Chief among them were Jogues, Daniel, Brebouef, Lalement, Garner and Garren, all slain by Mohawk warriors.

Ondessonk, or Lemoyne, the namesake of Jogues, visited the Mohawk villages for the third time in 1657. He was held a prisoner until May, 1658, when he was allowed to depart for Canada. The Onondaga French colony was broken up that year and Frenchmen and Jesuits escaped, by strategy, with their lives. Not a blackgown was left among the Iroquois. Hurons and Eries had been defeated and now, with their armies once more free, the Iroquois wanted no more peace with their ancient French and Indian enemies in Canada.

The smallpox which swept the Mohawk lodges in the winter of 1659-60, was a terrible scourge in Osseruenon. Tegakwitha's father, mother and little brother all died within a few days from this dread disease, following which, the little Indian girl went to live with her uncle, also a Mohawk chieftain. Then the Turtle village, on the east side of the Aurieskill, was broken up and moved to a new location, called Gandawague, on a hill to the westward of that stream. As the names Gandawague and Caughnawaga have been applied to both of these villages, as well as to the later one near Fonda from 1667 to 1693, there naturally has been considerable confusion as to these sites. In 1664 the Mohawks made new treaties with the English conquerors of New Netherland, at Albany.

In 1665, Marquis De Tracy and Courcelle, the French governor, arrived at Quebec with instructions to conquer the Iroquois and the regiment of Carignan-Saliers was sent over to operate in this campaign. Its soldiers were veterans of the Turkish wars and they filled both the Canadian settlers and the assembled Indians with admiration, as they marched up the rugged way which led to the fort on the heights of Quebec. De Tracy was the French King's viceroy for all his American dominions. The same year the Senecas, Cayugas and Onondagas made peace with the French at Quebec, but the Mohawks and Oneidas remained a thorn in the flesh.

In January, 1666, Governor Courcelle with 500 men on snow shoes started on an expedition against the Mohawks. 200 of these soldiers were Canadian "blue coats", the rest, French regulars. Courcelle's regulars, not used to the hardships of a Canadian winter, suffered severely on the march down Lake Champlain and Lake George. The French fell into an ambuscade and a sharp battle followed in which they lost a number of killed and wounded, while they took a few Mohawk prisoners. By missing the right trail, they came to the Mohawk at Schenectady, or Corlaer, as the French called the little Dutch town. Here the chief men in authority told them that most of the Mohawks and Oneidas had gone to war with a neighboring tribe. Worn and famished, they camped in the woods near Schenectady, where three envoys appeared from Albany to demand why they had invaded the territories of his Royal Highness, the Duke of York. It was now that they learned for the first time that the New Netherlands had passed into English hands, a change which boded no good to Canada. The envoys seemed to take their explanations in good part, made them a present of wine and provisions and allowed them to buy further supplies from the Dutch of Schenectady. They even invited them to enter the village, but Courcelle declined, partly because he feared that his men, "once seated in a chimney corner, could never be induced to leave it." The French repaid the kindness of the Dutch burghers by the later terrible Schenectady massacre of 1690.

Sufficient Mohawks had gathered to man their castles and make a fight of it, but Courcelle retreated to Canada. Sixty men died from the hardships of the winter retreat of 300 miles and the Mohawks, who followed, took some prisoners.

Go to top of page | back to: Chapter 15 | ahead to: Chapter 17

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 16 updated March 30, 2015

Copyright 2015 Schenectady Digital History Archive — a service of the Schenectady County Public Library