HISTORY OF

SARATOGA COUNTY, NEW YORK.

by NATHANIEL BARTLETT SYLVESTER

1878

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CHAPTER VIII.

INDIAN WARS - THE MISSION OF ISAAC JOGUES, 1642-46.

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I. - LAKE GEORGE.

Among the earliest of the many French captives who were dragged by the cruel Iroquois from time to time along the old war-trails which crossed Saratoga, with maimed hands and bleeding feet, was the celebrated Jesuit father, Isaac Jogues, the discoverer of Lake George, and the founder of the Mission of the Martyrs, St. Mary of the Mohawks.

In the olden time, when the whole north continent was a vast howling wilderness from the frozen ocean to the flowery gulf land, many bright, fair lakes lay sleeping in its awful solitudes, their waters flashing in the sunshine like gleaming mirrors, and lighting up the sombre desolation like jewels in an iron crown; but the fairest and the brightest of them all was Lake George. It was the gem of the old wilderness. Of the thousand lakes that adorn the surface of northern New York there is none among them all to-day so fair, none among them all so like "a diadem of beauty," as Lake George - its deepest water as bright and as pure as the dewdrops on the lilies. Its authentic history runs back for two hundred and forty years. Its forest traditions extend into the dim, mythical, mysterious, and unknown romance of the New World. But its waters have not always been so pure as they are to-day, and we shall all grow weary of its story, for it is a story of blood.

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II. - ISAAC JOGUES.

The first white men who saw Lake George were the Jesuit father, Isaac Jogues, and his companions, René Goupil and Guillame Couture. They were taken over its waters as prisoners - tortured, maimed, and bleeding - by the Mohawks, in the month of August, 1642.

Isaac Jogues, the discoverer of Lake George, was born at Orleans, in France, on the 10th of January, 1607, and received there the rudiments of his education. In October, 1624, he entered the Jesuit society at Rouen, and removed to the College of La Fleche in 1627. He completed his divinity at Clermont College, Paris, and was ordained priest in February, 1636. In the spring of that year he embarked as a missionary for Canada, arriving at Quebec early in July.

At the time of his first visit to Lake George, Jogues was but thirty-five years of age. "His oval face and the delicate mould of his features," says Parkman, "indicated a modest, thoughtful, and refined nature. He was constitutionally timid, with a sensitive conscience and great religious susceptibilities. He was a finished scholar, and might have gained a literary reputation; but he had chosen another career, and one for which he seemed but ill fitted." His companions were young laymen, who from religious motives had attached themselves without pay to the service of the Jesuit missions.

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III. - WAR IN THE WILDERNESS.

Thirty-three years before, Samuel de Champlain on his voyage of discovery had first attacked the Iroquois on the shore of the lake that bears his name, and they had fled in terror from the murderous firearms of the first white men they had ever seen to their homes on the Mohawk. Since then they had ceased to make war upon their hereditary enemies, the Canadian Algonquins or the French colonists. But they had by no means forgotten their humiliating defeat. In the mean time they had themselves been supplied with firearms by the Dutch traders at Fort Orange, on the Hudson, in exchange for beaver-skins and wampum, and now their hour of sweet revenge had come.

The war with the Eries, the Hurons, and the other western tribes had been undertaken by the Senecas, the Cayugas, and Onondagas. It was left to the Mohawks and the Oneidas to attempt the extermination of the Canadian Algonquins and their French allies. They came near accomplishing their bloody purpose. But for the timely arrival of a few troops from France, the banks of the St. Lawrence would soon have become as desolate as the country of the lost Eries or that of the Hurons. The savages hung the war-kettle upon the fire in all the Mohawk castles and danced the war-dance. In bands of tens and hundreds they took the war-path, and passing through Lakes George and Champlain, and down the river Richelieu, went prowling about the French settlements at Montreal, Three Rivers, and Quebec, and the Indian villages on the Ottawa. The Iroquois were everywhere. From the Huron country to the Saguenay they infested the forests like so many ravenous wolves. They hung about the French forts, killing stragglers and luring armed parties into fatal ambuscades. They followed like hounds upon the trail of travelers and hunters through the forests, and lay in wait along the banks of streams to attack the passing canoes. It was one of those prowling hostile bands of Mohawks that attacked and captured Isaac Jogues and his companions.

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IV. - CAPTURE OF JOGUES.

Father Jogues had come down the savage Ottawa river a thousand miles in his bark canoes the spring before from his far-off Huron mission to Quebec for much-needed supplies. He was now on his return voyage to the Huron country. In the dewy freshness of the early morning of the 2d day of August, with his party of four Frenchmen and thirty-six Hurons, in twelve heavily-laden canoes, Jogues had reached the westerly end of the expansion called Lake St. Peters. It is there filled with islands that lie opposite the mouth of the river Richelieu. It was not long before they heard the terrible war-whoop upon the Canadian shore. In a moment more Jogues and his white companions and a part of his Hurons were captives in the hands of the yelling, exulting Mohawks, and the remainder of the Hurons killed or dispersed. Goupil was seized at once. Jogues might have escaped; but seeing Goupil and his Huron neophytes in the hands of their savage captors, he had no heart to desert them, and so gave himself up. Couture at first eluded his pursuers, but, like Jogues, relented, and returned to his captured companions. Five Iroquois ran to meet Couture as he approached, one of whom snapped his gun at his breast. It missed fire, but Coutour in turn fired his own gun at the savage, and laid him dead at his feet. The others sprang upon him like panthers, stripped him naked, tore out his finger-nails with their teeth, gnawed his fingers like hungry dogs, and thrust a sword through one of his hands. Jogues, touched by the sufferings of his friends, broke from his guards and threw his arms around Couture's neck. The savages dragged him away, and knocked him senseless. When he revived they gnawed his fingers with their teeth, and tore out his nails as they had done those of Couture. Turning fiercely upon Goupil, they treated him in the same way. With their captives they then crossed to the mouth of the Richelieu, and encamped where the town of Sorel now sands. {Parkman's Jesuits in North America, p. 217.}

The savages returned to the Mohawk with their suffering captives by the way which they came, - across the old hunting-ground, Kay-ad-ros-se-ra, now Saratoga. On the eighth day, upon an island near the south end of Lake Champlain, they arrived at the camp of two hundred Iroquois, who were on their way to the St. Lawrence. At the sight of the captives these fierce warriors, armed with clubs and thorny sticks, quickly ranged themselves in two lines, between which the captives were each in turn made to run the gauntlet up a rocky hillside. On their way they were beaten with such fury that Jogues fell senseless, half dead, and covered with blood. After passing this ordeal again, the captives were mangled as before, and this time were tortured with fire. At night, when they tried to rest, the young warriors tore open their wounds, and pulled out their hair and beard.

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V. - THE DISCOVERY OF LAKE GEORGE.

In the morning they resumed their journey, and soon reached a rocky promontory, near which ran a forest-covered mountain, beyond which the lake narrowed into a river. It was more than a hundred years before that promontory became the famous Ticonderoga of later times. Between the promontory and the mountain a stream issued from the woods and fell into the lake. They landed at the mouth of the stream, and, taking their canoes upon their shoulders, followed it up around the noisy waters of the falls. It was the Indian Che-non-de-ro-ga, "the chiming waters." They soon reached the shores of a beautiful lake, that there lay sleeping in the depths of the limitless forest, all undiscovered and unseen by white men until then. It was the forest gem of the old wilderness, now called Lake George. But it then bore only its old Indian name, Caniad-eri-oit, "the tail of the lake."

Champlain, thirty-three years before, had come no farther than its outlet. He heard the "chiming waters" of the falls, and was told that a great lake lay beyond them. But he turned back without seeing it, and so our bruised and bleeding prisoners, Isaac Jogues and his companions, Goupil and Couture, were the first of white men to gaze upon its waters. "Like a fair Naiad of the wilderness," says Parkman, "it slumbered between the guardian mountains that breathe between crag and forest the stern poetry of war." {Jesuits of North America, p. 219.}

Again they launched their frail canoes, and, amid the dreamy splendors of an August day, glided on their noiseless course over the charming waters. On they passed, under the dusky mountain shadows, now over some wide expanse, now through the narrow channels and among the woody islands, redolent with balsamy odors. At last they reached the landing-place at the head of the lake, afterward the site of Fort William Henry, now Caldwell, so famous as a summer resort. Here they left their boats and took the old Indian trail that led across old Indian Kay-ad-ros-se-ra from Lake George, a distance of forty miles, to the lower castles on the Mohawk. It was the same trail afterwards followed by the Marquis de Tracy, in October, 1666, on his way to the Mohawk castles with his army and train of French noblemen, to avenge the death of the youthful Chasy.

This old Indian trail, so often the war-path, led from the south end of Lake George, on a southerly course, to the great bend of the Hudson, about ten miles westerly of Glen's Falls. From the bend it led southerly, through the towns of Wilton and Greenfield, along in plain sight of and but four or five miles distant from Saratoga Springs, and through Galway to the lower castles on the Mohawk, four or five miles westerly from what is now Amsterdam, on the New York Central railroad.

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VI. - THE CAPTIVITY OF JOGUES.

After their arrival at the Mohawk castles, Father Jogues and his companions were again subjected to the most inhuman tortures, with the horrid details of which the reader need not be wearied. Among the Mohawks Jogues remained for nearly a year, a captive slave, performing for his savage masters the most menial duties. Soon after his arrival more poor Hurons were brought in and put to death with cruel tortures. But, in the midst of his own sufferings, Jogues lost no opportunity to convert the Indians to Christianity, sometimes even baptizing them with a few rain-drops which he found clinging to the husks of corn that were thrown him for food.

Couture had won their admiration by his bravery, and, after inflicting upon him the most savage torture, they adopted him into one of their families in the place of a dead relation. But in October they murdered poor Goupil, and after dragging his body through the village, threw it into a deep ravine. Jogues sought it and gave it partial burial. He sought it again and it was gone. Had the torrent washed it away, or had it been taken off by the savages ? He searched the forest and the waters in vain. "Then, crouched by the pitiless stream, he mingled his tears with its waters, and, in a voice broken with groans, chanted the service for the dead." {Jesuits of North America, p. 225.}

In the spring, while the snows were melting, some children told him where the body of poor Goupil was lying farther down the stream. The Indians and not the torrent had taken it away. He found the bones scattered around and stripped by the foxes and birds. He tenderly gathered them and hid them in a hollow tree, in the hope that he might some day be able to lay them in consecrated ground.

Late in the autumn after his arrival he was ordered to go with a party of braves on their annual deer-hunt. All the game they took they offered to their god Ar-esk-oui, and ate it in his honor. Jogues came near starving in the midst of plenty, for he would not taste the food offered to what he believed to be a demon. In a lonely spot in the forest he cut the bark, in the form of a cross, from the trunk of a large tree. There, half-clad in shaggy furs, in the chill wintry air he knelt upon the frozen ground in prayer. He was a living martyr to the faith before whose emblem he bowed in adoration - a faith in which was now his only hope and consolation.

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VII. - THE ESCAPE.

At length, in the month of July, 1643, he went with a fishing-party to a place on the Hudson about twenty miles below Fort Orange. Some of the Iroquois soon returned, bringing Jogues with them. On their way they stopped at Fort Orange and he made his escape from the savages.

Jogues was secreted by the Dutch, and the savages made a diligent search for him. Fearing his discovery and re-capture by the Indians, the kind-hearted Dutch paid a ransom for the captive, and gave him a free passage to his home in France. He arrived in Brittany on Christmas-day and was received by his friends, who had heard of his captivity, as one risen from the dead. He was treated everywhere with mingled curiosity and reverence, and was summoned to Paris. The ladies of the court thronged around to do him homage. When he was presented to the queen, Anne of Austria, she kissed his mutilated hands, the hands of the poor slave of the Mohawk squaws.

In the spring of 1644, Jogues returned to Canada, soon to become a martyr to his faith in the valley of the Mohawk.

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VIII. - THE LAKE OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT.

For still another year the Iroquois war raged with unabated violence.

Early in the spring of 1645, a famous Algonquin, chief named Piskaret, with a band of braves, went out upon the war-path toward the country of the Mohawks. Upon an island in Lake Champlain they met a war-party of thirteen Iroquois. They killed eleven of the number, made prisoners of the other two, and returned in triumph to the St. Lawrence.

At Sillery, a small settlement on the St. Lawrence, near Quebec, Piskaret, in a speech, delivered his captives to Montmagny, the governor-general, who replied with compliments and gifts. The wondering captives, when they fairly comprehended that they were saved from cruel torture and death, were surprised and delighted beyond measure. Then one of the captive Mohawks, of great size and of matchless symmetry of form, who was evidently a war-chief, arose and said to the governor, Montmagny, -

"Onnontio, I am saved from the fire. My body is delivered from death.

"Onnontio, you have given me my life. I thank you for it. I will never forget it. All my country will be grateful to you. The earth will be bright, the river calm and smooth; their will be peace and friendship between us. The shadow is before my eyes no longer. The spirits of my ancestors slain by the Algonquins have disappeared.

"Onnontio, you are good; we are bad. But our anger is gone. I have no heart but for peace and rejoicing."

As he said this he began to dance, holding his hands upraised as if apostrophizing the sun. Suddenly he snatched a hatchet, brandished it for a moment like a madman, then flung it into the fire, saying as he did so, "Thus I throw down my anger; thus I cast away the weapons of blood. Farewell war. Now, Onnontio, I am your friend forever."

Onnontio means in the Indian tongue "great mountain." It is a literal translation of Montmagny's name. It was forever after the Iroquois name for the governors of Canada, as Corlear was for the governors of New York, so called from Arent van Curler, first superintendent of the colonies of Rensselaerswick, who was a great favorite with the Indians.

The captive Iroquois were well treated by the French, and one of them sent home to their country on the Mohawk, under a promise of making negotiations for peace with his people, and the other kept as a hostage.

The efforts of the captive chief who returned to the Mohawk were successful. In a short time he reappeared at Three Rivers, with ambassadors of peace from the Mohawk cantons. To the great joy of the French, he brought with him Couture, who had become a savage in dress and appearance.

After a great deal of feasting, speech-making, and belt-giving, peace was concluded, and order and quiet once more reigned for a brief period in the old wilderness.

But ambassadors from the French and Algonquins must be sent from Canada to the Mohawk towns, with gifts and presents to ratify the treaty. No one among the French was so well suited for this office as Isaac Jogues. His, too, was a double errand, for he had already been ordered by his superior to found a new mission among the Mohawks. It was named, prophetically, in advance, "the mission of the martyrs."

At the first thought of returning to the Mohawks, Jogues recoiled with horror. But it was only a momentary pang. The path of duty seemed clear to him, and, thankful that he was found worthy to suffer for the saving of souls, he prepared to depart.

On the 16th of May, 1646, he set out from Three Rivers, with Sieur Bourdon, engineer to the governor, two Algonquin ambassadors, and four Mohawks as guides.

On his way he passed over the well-remembered scenes of his former sufferings upon the river Richelieu and Lake Champlain.

He reached the foot of Lake George on the eve of Corpus Christi, which is the feast of the Blessed Body of Jesus. He named the lake, in honor of the day, "the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament." When he visited the lake before, as a poor bleeding prisoner, it was clad in the dreamy robes of the early autumn. Now its banks were clothed in the wild exuberance of leafy June. For more than a hundred years afterwards this lake bore no other name.

When Sir William Johnson began his military operations at the head of the lake, in the summer of 1755, he changed its name to Lake George, in honor of England's king.

From Lake St. Sacrament, Jogues proceeded on his way to the Mohawk country, and, having accomplished his political mission, returned to Canada.

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IX. - THE MISSION OF THE MARTYRS.

His work was only half done. Again, in the month of September, he set out for the Mohawk country. On his way he again passed over the shining waters of Lake St. Sacrament. Now it was adorned with the gorgeous gold and crimson glories of the mid-autumn forests.

This time he went in his true character - a missionary of the gospel. But he had a strong presentiment that his life was near its end. He wrote to a friend, "I shall go and shall not return." His forebodings were verified. While there in July he had left a small box containing a few necessary articles, in anticipation of au early return. The superstitious savages were confident that famine, pestilence, or some evil spirit or other was shut up in the box, that would in time come forth and devastate their country. To confirm their suspicions, that very summer there was much sickness in their castles, and when the harvest came in the autumn they found that the caterpillars had eaten their corn. The Christian missionary was held responsible for all this, and was therefore doomed to die.

He arrived at their village near Cach-na-ua-ga, on the bank of the Mohawk, on the 17th of October, and was saluted with blows. On the evening of the 18th he was invited to sup in the cabin of a chief. He accepted the invitation, and on entering the hut he was struck on the head with a tomahawk by a savage who was concealed within the door. They cut off his head, and in the morning it was displayed upon one of the palisades that surrounded the village. His body they threw into the Mohawk.

Thus died Isaac Jogues, the discoverer of Lake George, at his Mission of the Martyrs, St. Mary of the Mohawks, in the fortieth year of his age. He was but an humble, self-sacrificing missionary of the Cross, yet his was

 

"One of the few, the immortal names

That were not born to die."

 

The old trail followed by Jogues through Saratoga County ran from the Hudson at Glen's Falls along the foot of Mount MacGregor, and turning northerly at the Stiles tavern, crossed the whole length of Greenfield, and passed near Lake Desolation, over the Kayadrosseras range, into the Mohawk valley.

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