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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 18: New North Side Mohawk Towns — 1667.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 285-295 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Jesuit missions — Caughnawaga, Canagorha, Canajohara and Tionnontogen or Tionondogue, described by Greenhalgh in 1677 — Chronology of Jesuit missions among the Mohawks from 1648 to 1684.

Following the destruction of their south side castles and towns by the French in the fall of 1666, the Mohawks spent a miserable winter among the ruins of their castles. They repaired and rebuilt and by dint of hardihood they survived the starvation and cold of the winter. The year 1667 found them somewhat cowed and miserable but at peace with their French and Algonquin enemies. The utter destruction wrought by De Tracy gave the Mohawks a changed idea of the power of New France and the peace party on both sides came more and more into control.

The Mohicans or Loups (Wolves) and the New England Algonquins now saw an opportunity for revenge against the Mohawks, who welcomed the French peace as it gave them a chance to face their Indian enemies in a new direction.

In the spring and summer of 1667, besides cultivating their old fields the Mohawks were clearing new castle sites at advantageous points on the north shore of the Mohawk and starting new corn fields in their vicinity. The labor of erecting new stockaded towns was a tremendous one for the small nation of the Mohawks. Their wars had cut their fighting strength almost in half since the time when they came into the valley. Where they had 500 warriors in 1640 they now had but 300. They had conquered their neighbors but had suffered terribly in their victories. Their warriors were also largely made up of adopted captives and the sons of captive women — but the strong national spirit of the Mohawks kept the tribe true to its traditions.

One of the most remarkable things in history is the power exercised by two small national bodies — who were deadly enemies — in America at the time of the English conquest in 1664. Then the French in New France numbered scarcely 2,500 souls while the Mohawks could never have exceeded 3,000 Indians. And yet these two little communities fought for the empire of North America and, when both were exhausted by the struggle, the English stepped in and won the prize.

We can but admire the spirit of the priests and warriors of New France on the St. Lawrence and, in spite of their ferocity (common to all the Indians of northeastern North America), we must grant the virility and valor of the little nation of Mohawks along our river, who, at one time, held the fate of nations in their hands.

The Mohawks chose sites for their new towns or castles on the north shore of the Mohawk at the following sites: Caughnawaga, (or Gandawague) on the west side of the Cayadutta Creek at the extreme western outskirts of present Fonda; Canagora, on Briggs Run, about one mile east of Yosts station; Canajorha, on the Knauderack or Schenck's Hollow Creek, about two miles north of the Mohawk; and Tionnontogen (or Teonnontogen or Tionondogue), at present Wagner's Hollow. While the Mohawk tribe was hard at work making villages on these new sites, some of them lived at the old, and some at the new locations.

The terms of peace between New France and the Mohawks, were concluded in the summer of 1667 at Quebec and, in July, the Mohawk deputies left that city accompanied by the three Jesuit Fathers, Fremin, Pierron, and Bruyas. They were a visible sign of peace to the Mohawks, and they signified not only the power of the church but the might of New France. A Canienga scouting party led them from Lake George to the Mohawk River, probably at Dadanoscara, where they crossed to ruined Gandawague. Instead of being received with cruelty and beatings as Father Jogues had been, they were treated as the ambassadors of a victorious foe. At that time, the Mohawks were having a grand festival of drunken debauchery at the Canienga capital of Tionnontogen, which had been temporarily rebuilt on the west side of the Onagerea, at present Sprakers village. The Fathers were therefore obliged to remain for three days at Gandawague and were lodged in the cabin of Tegakwitha's uncle. All the family, except the little Mohawk maiden, were at the savage revels to the westward and Tegakwitha cooked for and served the Fathers during their stay. Her Catholic biographer says that it was this incident which led the Canienga girl to Christianity. Cholenec writes of this incident as follows:

"She was charged with the task of lodging the missionaries and attending to their wants. The modesty and sweetness with which she acquitted herself of this duty touched her new guests; while she on her part was struck with their affable manners, their regularity in prayer, and the other exercises into which they divided the day".

While the blackgowns were the guests of this interesting Mohawk girl a Mohican war party killed an old squaw at the very gate of the town. The struggle between these two valiant Indian nations was again on. After repeated refusals, the dying Indian woman consented to baptism by one of the Fathers and the Jesuit missionary labors were thus again started along the Mohawk.

After three days at Gandawague, the French Fathers journeyed up the Mohawk to Tionnontogen, where the savages, shaken with their debaucheries, were easily overawed by the French Jesuit deputies' threats and words of authority, as the Jesuit Fathers doubtless knew they would be after their alcoholic orgie.

A great public reception of the ambassadors of New France was held in the public square of Tionnontogen, the Canienga (Mohawk) capital, which was attended by all the people of the Mohawk castles and towns. Father Fremin had had here erected "a great pole forty or fifty feet in height, from which a wampum belt was suspended. He then declared, on the part of Onnontio, (the governor of New France, as the Iroquois called him) that in like manner would hang the first Iroquois who should come to kill a Frenchman or any of their allies. The several thousand Mohawks, crowded into the village square, regarded with awe and horror this symbol of a form of death which they seemed to dread more than the torture fire. After a period of impressive silence, an old Mohawk, one of the best Canienga orators, arose and replied to Father Fremin's effective speech. He went through all imaginable mimicries to show his astonishment. As if ignorant of its meaning, he gesticulated and declaimed in the livliest manner, though a man of more than sixty years of age. Then he pretended to discover its true significance; he seized his throat, as Father Fremin tells us, "with both hands in a frightful way, grasping it tightly to represent, and at the same time, impress upon the multitude about him the horror of this kind of death. After he had spoken at length and with a surprising eloquence, exhibiting flashes of wit by no means common, he finished by delivering up the captives we demanded, and giving us the choice of the place where we would build our chapel, in the erection of which they proposed to go to work with all despatch. They moreover, delivered up to us a Frenchman, whom they had held captive for some time, and promised us the liberty of twelve Algonquins, partly of the nation of the Nez Perces, partly of that of the Outaouacs (Ottawas)."

Father Fremin thus established the mission of St. Mary's in a bark chapel at Tionnontogen, which had been temporarily rebuilt on the low, steep bluff on the west side of the Onagerea (Plattekill) at present Sprakers Basin. Just how long the Wolf Clan remained there is not known. The Mohawk Wolves were working on a new castle, probably on the site where the remains of a large Mohawk town lie, near present Wagner's Hollow, about three miles northeast of present Fort Plain. The Canienga capital was probably moved to the new site as soon as possible (probably before 1670), as it was essential, for safety, to have all the castles on the north side of the river, where all the others were building. Father Bruyas was stationed at the south side (Sprakers) Tionnontogen and also in the new north side town of that name, and here he compiled his valuable dictionary of the Mohawk language. Later Bruyas went to labor among the Oneidas, leaving Father Fremin alone with the difficulties of maintaining peace and establishing Christianity among the intractable Mohawks. Fremin gathered the Christian Hurons who were held captive in the Mohawk towns and preached, taught and baptized with but seemingly small results among the Mohawks. His position as a representative of French power, gave him influence with these Indians and he even saved an Ottawa captive from burning, a most unusual exhibition of power.

After the beginning of Jesuit missionary work at Tionnontogen, Father Pierron made a journey eastward to visit his Dutch friends in Schenectady and Albany, where he was hospitably received. Early in 1668, he retraced his steps over the Mohawk warpath northward to Quebec, where he reported the work of the Jesuit embassy to Governor de Courcelles.

Father Pierron returned to the Mohawk castles, reaching Tionnontogen, October 7, 1668. Here he replaced Father Fremin, the founder of St. Mary's, who went westward to the Oneida mission. Pierron was thus left in sole charge of the difficult missionary work among the Mohawks.

After 1668, Pierron located his mission at the castle of Caughnawaga, on the western edge of Fonda, (Dutch, Caughnawaga) on the (1890) Vedder farm. Here Pierron built a log chapel which he called the mission of St. Peter's, after which he made his home at the lower or Turtle Castle of Caughnawaga. The Mohawks, who were here converted on the banks of the Mohawk River carried this town name with them and gave it to their new Caughnawaga, on the south shore of the rapids of the St. Lawrence above Montreal. The name Caugh-na-wa-ga, pronounced Kaug-na-wa-ga (with a hard guttural g sound), has been variously translated as "the Turtle village" or "at the rapids". The Caughnawaga Castle lay on the low bluff rising from the rapids of the Cayadutta and the new home beside the foaming "sault" of the St. Lawrence, was appropriately named with regard to either meaning.

Father Pierron, like a number of priests and nuns of his day, had considerable skill as an artist and he painted several pictures which he found more useful in spreading the Gospel than teaching by word of mouth. His pictures were the wonder of the Mohawk villages and these Canienga people probably secretly held him in high repute because of them. As Pierron was doubtless the first artist of the Mohawk Valley, his description of one of his religious paintings is of much interest. In the Jesuit Relations he tells that:

"Among these representations I have made, there is one contrasting a good with a miserable death. What led me to make this was that I saw the old men and the old women would stop their ears with their fingers the moment I began to speak to them of God, and would say to me 'I do not hear'. I therefore represented, on one side of my picture, a Christian who dies a saintly death, with the hands joined as of one holding the cross and his rosary; then his soul is carried by an angel to heaven and the blessed spirits appear awaiting it. On the other side, I have put, lower down, a woman broken with age who is dying, and unwilling to listen to a missionary Father who points her to paradise; she holds both ears closed with her fingers; but a demon from hell seizes her arms and himself puts his fingers in the ears of the dying woman. Her soul is carried by three demons and an angel, who comes out of a cloud sword in hand, and hurls them into a bottomless pit. This representation has furnished me an occasion to speak of the immortality of our souls and of the good and bad of the other life; and when they once catch the import of my picture, no one presumes to say any more 'I do not hear'."

Thus did the clever Jesuit Father impress the intractable Mohawks with an object lesson in his religion. Father Pierron's task was not an easy one in the turmoil of the Canienga country. Every month he visited the seven towns of the Mohawks, which lay along the Mohawk from the Cayadutta to the Garoga, a distance of over twenty miles by the trails of that day. Besides the castles of Caughnawaga, Canagora, Canajorha and Tionnontogen, there were three unfortified towns and, as usual with the Mohawks, a number of scattered hamlets. Also, after the first fear of the power of the French Jesuit priests had worn off, the Caniengas frequently treated the blackgown rudely. During their frequent drunken debauches, both his person and his mission were in danger. Father Boniface arrived at Tionnontogen to help Pierron in his labors. The Father thus describes the drunken turmoil of a Mohawk village debauch:

"It seems sometimes as if the whole village had run mad, so great is the license they take when they give up to drinking. They have hurled firebrands at our heads; they have thrown our papers into the fire; they have broken open our chapel; they have often threatened us with death; and, during the three or four days that the debaucheries last and which recur with frequency, we must suffer a thousand insults, without complaint, without food or sleep. In their fury, they upset everything which comes their way and even butcher one another, not sparing relative, friend, countryman or stranger. These things are carried to such excess that the place seems to us no longer tenable; but we shall leave it only with life. When the storm is over, we are left to go on with our duties quite peaceably."

Pierron preached so strongly against this dreadful evil, which was harming the Mohawks more than their constant warfare with their enemies, that the chiefs at last gave heed to his warnings. They held a council and, as a result, in 1668, addressed Governor Lovelace, through Father Pierron, asking him to stop the deadly traffic in liquor by the traders of Albany. The governor replied, with a promise "to take all possible care, under the severest penalties, to restrain and oppose the furnishing any excess to the Indians. And I am delighted to see such virtuous thoughts proceed from heathen to the shame of many Christians; but this must be attributed to your pious instructions, for, well versed in strict discipline, you have shown them the way of mortification both by your precepts and practise."

These promises to stop the liquor traffic among the Mohawks were frequently made but seemingly without any permanent effect. Sir William Johnson was one of the strongest advocates of its prohibition, but he never seemed able to suppress it. The rum and brandy sold to the Indians not only wrecked their bodies but had a permanently brutalizing effect on their already savage minds, making them less terrible to their enemies but a source of great danger to their friends and neighbors. However, as some so-called human beings will always do anything for money, so these depraved traders of Albany continued this traffic at the risk of their own scalps. As there are two sides to every story and, as the vacillating and capricious Indian character is well known, it also should be understood that, had the Albany traders discontinued the liquor traffic among the Mohawks and other Iroquois, these Indians would have sought firewater in Montreal and Quebec, to the great detriment of the English cause. As the Indian had far less self control than the white man, the race was practically doomed when the first American Indian swallowed his first drink of rum. Governor Lovelace's reservation as to "any excess to the Indians" is amusing as even a spoonful of rum was "excess" to an Indian.

To the student of psychology, the actual conversion of the Mohawks to the Christian religion in the Seventeenth century, seems an impossible task, but the zeal of the Jesuits was unbounded and they actually succeeded in time in making a number of Mohawk converts. Father Pierron, however, knew the limitations and set character of the Iroquois mind as the following will show:

"I have attacked drunkenness and lewdness, which are divinities of this country, so madly are these people devoted to them. I have combated these vices * * * I have employed gentleness and vigor, threats and entreaties, labors and tears, to build up this new church and to convert these poor savages. There remains nothing more than to shed my blood for their salvation, that which I long for with all the desires of my heart. But, after all, I have not yet observed in them those marked amendments which the Holy spirit effects in those of the heathen whom he would put in the number of the faithful."

Taking courage from the blow dealt the Mohawks by the French, the enemies of the Caniengas grew bold in their attacks. While the new castles were being built on the north side, Mohican and other enemy scalping parties infested the Mohawk River country and cut off individuals and small parties of Mohawks. A number of Canienga squaws were killed and scalped or captured, as they were easy victims. The Mohawks seem to have been too busy with their moving to have seriously retaliated at this time.

The north shore Mohawk castles, as newly built, are described in detail in the account of Wentworth Greenhalgh, the explorer, who passed through the Mohawk Valley in 1677, "in a journey from Albany to ye Indians, westward; begun May 20, 1677, and ended July ye 14 following". He says:

"The Maquaes have four towns, vizt. Cahaniaga, Canagora, Canajorha, Tionondogue, besides one small village about 110 miles from Albany.

"Cahaniaga is double stockadoed round; has four ports, about four feet wide apiece, conteyns about 24 houses, and is situate upon the edge of an hill, about a bow shott from the river side.

"Canagora is only singly stockadoed; has about four ports like the former, conteyns about 16 houses; it is situated upon a fflatt, a stone's throw from ye water side.

"Canajorha is also singly stockadoed, and the like manr of ports and quantity of houses as Canagora; the like situaçon; only about two miles distant from the water.

"Tionondogue is double stockadoed around, has four ports, four foot wide a piece, contains abt 30 houses; is scituated on a hill a bow shott from ye River.

"The small village is without ffence, and conteyns about ten houses; lyes close to the river side, on the north side, as do all the former.

"The Maquaes pass in all for about 300 fighting men.

"Their Corn grows close by the River side."

The sole remaining evidence of these long vanished Mohawk towns is Tekakwitha's spring, situated about a half mile north of the Mohawk Turnpike, on the banks of the Cayadutta. This served the household purposes of the squaws and maidens of Caughnawaga, in their day, and it also forms a pleasing picture, in one of Miss Walworth's graphic descriptions of "The Life and Times of Kateri Tekakwitha."

"Above the spring at Fonda, on the high plateau, where is now the well-tilled farm, stood, two centuries ago, the log-built palisades of ancient Caughnawaga. In tall and close-set ranks, they served to hide from view and shield from ambush the long, low Indian houses, twenty-four in number. 'Double-stockadoed round, with four ports', as when the traveller Greenhalgh saw the place in 1677, 'and a bow-shott from the river', stands the strong Mohawk castle. The blackened stumps that now dot the sunny hillside of the Cayadutta, change into the old-time, mighty forest, and present a scene that is full of life; for down a well-worn footpath come the Indian girls to fill their jugs at the spring — afterwards to be known as Tekakwitha's Spring."

*****

"A manuscript of the time," says Shea, "describes the Indian maiden with her well-oiled and neatly parted hair descending in a long plait behind, while a fine chemise was met at the waist by a neat and well-trimmed petticoat reaching to the knee; below this was the rich legging and then the well-fitted moccasin, the glory of the Iroquois belle. The neck was loaded with beads while the crimson blanket enveloped the whole form."

"This, in general, is the costume of the merry group with Tekakwitha at the spring. The upper garment, however, is a kind of tunic or simple overdress; nor can it be said that all are equally neat in their appearance. Some have their dark, straight hair tied loosely back and hanging down or else with wampum braided in it. A few are clothed in foreign stuff, bought from the Dutch for beaver skins and worn in shapeless pieces hung about them with savage carelessness. On their dark arms the sunlight flashes back from heavily beaded wrists and arm bands, begged or borrowed from their more industrious companions. Not like theirs is Tekakwitha's costume. It is made of deer and moose skins — all of native make and stitched together by a practised hand, as every one of the pretty squaws well knew. Her needle was a small bone from the ankle of the deer, her thread the sinews of the same light-footed animal, whose brain she mixed with moss and used to tan the skins and make the soft brown leather which she shaped so deftly into tunic, moccasins and leggings. Her own skirt was scarce so richly worked with quills of the porcupine as that of her adopted sister there beside her, though both were made by Tekakwitha's hands.

"The Indian girls about her like her for her generous nature and her merry, witty speeches. She makes them laugh right heartily, while she stands waiting for her jug to fill at the trickling spring.

"These daughters of the Iroquois are bubbling over with good spirits and their pottery jugs with water, when all at once they spy a band of hunters coming homeward down the Cayadutta valley from the Sacondaga country. Knowing there is one among them who but waits his chance to lay his wealth of beaver skins at Tekakwitha's feet and take her for his wife, they turn girl-like to tease her; but the quick and timid orphan, dreading the license of their tongues, has bounded up the hill and hastens to her uncle's cabin with her jug, leaving her companions to bandy words with the young hunters as they stop beside the little pool for a draught of refreshing water."

Gone is the forest glade and its Mohawk maidens, — gone the Indian town and its painted warriors — gone the Caniengas from the scene of their former greatness, but Tekakwitha's spring still wells its clear waters beside the Cayadutta.

*****

The following interesting chronology covers the period of the French Jesuit missions along the Mohawk, from the time of the death of Father Jogues, in 1646, to their end in 1684. It is taken from the August, 1902, issue of "The Pilgrim of Our Lady of Martyrs," which was published for a time in the interests of the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs at Auriesville. This condensed record covers the years described in this and the two following chapters:

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