Aug 28, 2010

Visit the French Fort in Liverpool

On a recent visit to St. Marie among the Iroquois, John and I learned about the history of the first European settlement in our area. During the 17th century the French began to settle in Canada. They were especially interested in the fur trade, which led to encounters with the native population. The French traded furs for glass beads, cloth, and metal tools, which the native people wanted to replace their stone and wooden tools. The beaver pelts made waterproof hats and coats that were very popular in Europe.

Living south of the French Canadian settlements was the powerful Iroquois Confederacy, which comprised the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. The Mohawks were trading with the Dutch, the other nations were interested in trading with the French. In 1653 the French and Iroquois agreed to a peace treaty. As part of the treaty the French were invited to build a Jesuit mission on the land of the Onondagas.

Father Simon LeMoyne, a Jesuit priest, was chosen by the French governor to work with the Onondagas because of his previous experience with the Iroquois. LeMoyne kept a dairy of his arduous journey. By canoe and on foot the LeMoyne party made its way to the shore of Onondaga Lake. Heat and insects made the journey difficult. He wrote that the area was beautiful and one day he saw a herd of hundreds of deer. Along the way he stopped at several small Iroquois fishing villages where they were happy to see him. The Iroquois gave him an Iroquois name which translates into “Bird of Prey.”

On August 5, 1654, LeMoyne and his small party reached the main Onondaga village near present day Manlius. The village was home to about 1000 natives. LeMoyne spent two weeks preaching peace and religion then returned to Quebec.

The next year the Onondaga chief invited the “Black Robes” to return to build a mission and teach them about the Christian religion. In 1656 about 50 Frenchmen and their Iroquois guides left Quebec with 20 canoes loaded with supplies, tools, baby pigs and chickens along with other items they would need in their Mission. Traveling for two months via the St. Lawrence and Oswego River they arrived on July 11, 1656 not far from the present location of the living history museum and village in Liverpool.

The goal of the mission was to establish fur trade in the area, spread the Christian faith, and to maintain peace in the area. The mission only lasted twenty months. Troubles developed over trade and religion plus a new French Governor lost interest in the project. The French fled quietly and safely in 1658 while the natives were resting after a two-day feast. The French attempted no other French missions in Iroquois territory.

Like the original Mission, St. Marie among the Iroquois is surrounded by a stockade with a lookout affording a great view of Onondaga Lake. Life-size figures portray the 1653 peace treaty negotiations presenting varying viewpoints to the treaty. Another display has interesting insight into the conflict of cultures. The Mission is a living history project with costumed interpreters on weekends during the summer.