History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Its Legends and its History
by Max Reid
New York and London G. P. Putman's Sons
The Knickerbocker Press, 1901
with illustrations from photographs by J. Arthur Maney
Chapter VII Count Frontenac and the Mohawk Valley
Count de Frontenac, who was twice Governor of Canada, is so closely connected with the history of the Mohawk Valley by his warlike expeditions against the Iroquois and the massacre of the inhabitants of Schenectady, that we cannot write the history of the valley without frequent mention of his name.
He was born in France in 1620, and in early manhood served in the French army and distinguished himself in a war against the Turks. In 1648 he married Anne de LaGrange Trianon against her father's wishes. She was a favorite companion of Mademoiselle de Montpensier, Princess of Orleans, and was one of the beauties of the Court of Louis XV. The happiness of the newly wedded pair was of short duration, as love, on her part at least, soon changed to aversion,and after the birth of a son, the countess left her husband, to follow the fortunes of Mademoiselle de Montpensier.
In 1672 Count de Frontenac received the appointment of Governor of all New France, and favor in the eyes of Madame de Montespan, one of the favorites of Louis XIV., and the jealous King appointed him Governor of New France to get him away from Madame.
Fontenac's administration was vigorous and satisfactory, but coming in contact with the Jesuits was recalled in 1681, and a new Governor, named LaFevre de la Barre, appointed in his place.
The affairs of New France soon going from bad to worse under the new administration of LaBarre, he was also recalled, and Marquis de Denonville assumed the vacant office. The new Governor soon found himself involved in a war with the Iroquois of such magnitude that the colony of New France was brought to the brink of ruin. He, also, was recalled, and Frontenac again made Governor. It is said that his wife used her influence in having him appointed the second time, in order to get him out of the country. This was in 1689. Frontenac entered into the campaign of 1690 with vigor, and sent three war parties of French and Indians against the English, one against Albany, which was diverted, and resulted in the massacre of Schenectady, one against the border settlements of New Hampshire, and the third to those of Maine, all of which were successful in murdering defenseless men, women, and children.
In 1696 Frontenac organized the famous expedition against the Onondagas and Oneidas, for the purpose of exterminating them, and thereby conquering the Iroquois. One the 4th of July of that year he left Montreal at the head of about twenty-two hundred men, about one-third of whom were Canadian Indians. The result of that expedition is well known to history, and may be called a failure in more ways than one.
It is said that the destruction of the Indian villages was secondary to the real object of this expedition.
It may be stated here that Frontenac, when he arrived at the Onondaga villages, found nothing but burned and deserted ruins and the Indians' standing crops. These he destroyed and took up his march home again. It is said that the Count was so infirm that he was carried most of the way on a litter.
Tradition says that in one of the periodical raids of the Mohawks on their foes, the Algonquins, during the absence of Frontenac in France, they secured a number of prisoners, among them was a beautiful half-breed girl that Frontenac had a paternal interest in, and who had received the rudiments of education by his efforts.
Every effort had been made in vain during occasional cessations of hostilities between the French and the Mohawks to recover this child. But beyond the report of a wandering Jesuit, that he had seen a Christian captive living contentedly as the wife of a young Mohawk chief, he had not been able to hear from his nut-brown daughter. The real object of the expedition of 1696 was to recover this child, whom he had learned to love.
We will now trace this child from her home in Canada to her new home on the banks of the Mohawk River.
The usual route of war parties between Canada and the Mohawk and Hudson valleys was by the way of Lake Champlain as far as Ballston, where the trail divided, one striking the Mohawk at Schenectady, another through Glenville to Lewis Creek at Adriuche, and another through Galway and down the Juchtanunda Creek.
It is probably that the latter route was taken by the party of Mohawks with the half-breed daughter of Count Frontenac, as one of the captives. At that time she was about sixteen years old, of medium height, well developed, and just budding into womanhood; her black hair and eyes, her erect form and firm step, while on the march, were indicative of her Huron mother and forest training, while the clear complexion, with its dusky hue, and the large, half-closed eyes and dignity of carriage, proclaimed the sin of her father. While encamped near the division of the trail at Ballston the warriors were joined by an Indian hunting party well laden with the spoils of the chase.
The leader of the hunting party, Achawi, a young Indian already noted in his tribe for his courage and skill in battle and his wisdom in council, was a model of savage beauty. His tall, well-proportioned form and well-poised head, his long black hair flowing from under a band of eagle feathers, his piercing black eyes and noble features unadorned with the war paint that marred the faces of his companions, were enhanced by the picturesque costume he wore. Over the short leggings which left his shapely limbs bare half-way above the knee, hung a heavy beaded skirt of buckskin, while depending from the left shoulder, and passing under the right arm, leaving the upper part of the breast bare, was a short robe of otter. Outside the robe on his right side hung a highly ornamented bow and quiver of arrows, and his feet were covered with beaded moccasins. His name, Achawi (settler of disputes), would indicate that he was a man of more than ordinary ability in the councils of his tribe at Tiononderoga (Fort Hunter).
As soon as the identity of the newcomers was established, the party assumed the usual stoical indifference of Indians, although their advent, well ladened with fresh venison was welcome to the weary and hungry warriors and their captives.
Oneta and her female companions were seated near the fire, their forms well covered with blankets, and did not attract the attention of Achawi, but out from the folds that covered her head, Oneta gazed with increasing interest on the form of this young warrior, who, compared with her war-stained and painted captors, with their belts decorated with the scalps of her slain friends, seemed like a creature from another world. On the following morning the young maiden was early awake, and hastened to the stream to wash away the stains of travel and pay additional care to the details of her simple toilet. Returning slowly through the forest, her eyes radiant and her cheeks glowing from her ablutions, she became aware of the approach of the young warrior. No wonder this untutored son of the forest gazed entranced at the vision that so unexpectedly appeared before him. Her beautiful form, but scantily covered by the simple robe worn by the denizens of the forest, was revealed in all its beauty of outline; her long black hair, bound with a band of silver across her forehead, and the tresses brought forward, half concealed yet half revealed the beauty of her naked arm and shoulder. Hastily drawing her blanket around her she returned his gaze of admiration with a smile that disclosed her pearly teeth and her delight at the accidental meeting. It was a case of love at first sight and after a few words in the Huron language they returned together to the camp, and found preparation being made for immediate departure for the Mohawk River, where they arrived in a drizzling rain at nightfall and at once found "shelter along the shore" under the hanging rocks of the Juchtanunda. Some of the party, however, were soon sent forward to procure boats to convey the captive women to Tiononderoga.
|The Juchtanunda, Amsterdam|
In the morning, the canoes having arrived, Achawi was placed in charge of one of the canoes containing the women, one of whom was Oneta, and improved his opportunity by making love to the stranger. Arriving at Tiononderoga it was decided that the canoe of Achawi should continue to Kanyeageh and that Oneta should be placed in the family of the aunt of Kateri Tekakwitha, who was formerly a Huron captive.
Although Oneta pined for her home on the St. Lawrence, the presence of the Jesuit Father De Lamberville and the frequent visits of Achawi made her life on the Mohawk more bearable than if she had been left entirely to the mercy of the fretful aunt of Tekakwitha.
Although Indian maids had occupied Achawi's lodge for a limited period in experimental marriages, which was made lawful by custom, he had never met a maiden before that he was willing to take as his wife. It was not long therefore before he gained the consent of Oneta and, with the blessing of Father De Lamberville, and according to the simple rites of his tribe, he took her to his lodge at Tiononderoga.
The repeated attempts made by the count to regain his daughter kept them in constant fear that he would at last succeed, and it was on this account that Achawi removed his lodge to the present city of Amsterdam. This precaution was well taken, for in 1693 Count Frontenac sent an expedition against the Mohawks, destroyed their three castles or villages, and three hundred men, women, and children were taken prisoners, hoping that among them he might find his lost daughter. The expedition was pursued by General Schuyler and a party of Mohawks, and narrowly escaped destruction. The fleeing Frenchmen reached the Hudson, where, to their dismay, they found the ice breaking up and drifting down the stream. Happily of them a large sheet of it became wedged at the turn of the river forming a temporary bridge, over which they crossed in safety.
Among the border scouts and traders that were scattered along the valley of the Mohawk was a renegade Fleming by the name of Hanyost. In early youth he had deserted from the French ranks in Flanders, came to New France, afterward made his way down to the Dutch settlements on the Hudson, and later became domiciled among the Mohawks, and adopted the life of a hunter. Up to this time he had been faithful to the interests of the Dutch settlers and the Mohawks, and was aware of the presence in the valley of Count Frontenac's half-caste daughter, and of the efforts of the count to recover her.
Previous to the expedition of the french against the Onondagas, Hanyost had a difficulty with an Indian trapper which had been referred for arbitration to the Young Mohawk chief, Achawi (settler of disputes) and had felt aggrieved at the award that had been given against him. The scorn with which the young chief met his charge of unfairness stung him to the soul, but fearing the strong arm of the young savage he had nursed his revenge in secret.
Hearing of the presence of Frontenac on the shores of Lake Ontario he deserted his friends and offered his services to the count as guide, at the same time informing him of the whereabouts of his daughter and her husband.
Achawi, ignorant of the hostile force that had entered his country, was off with his party at a summer camp near Konnediega, or Trenton Falls. Hanyost having informed the commander of the French forces that by surprising this party he would be able to recover his long-lost daughter, Frontenac at once detached a small but efficient force from the main body of the army to strike the blow. It is said that a dozen musketeers, with twenty-five pikemen led by Baron de Bakencourt and Chevalier de Grais, the former having the chief command, were sent upon this duty, with Hanyost to guide them to the village of Achawi.
Just before dawn of the second day, the party found themselves in the neighborhood of the Indian village, and at once made preparations for an attack while yet the savages were wrapped in repose.
The baron, after carefully examining the hilly passes, determined to head the attack, while Chevalier de Grais, with Hanyost to mark out his prey, should pounce upon the chieftain's wife. The followers were warned not to injure the female captives, but to give no quarter to their defenders.
The inhabitants of the fated village, secure in their isolated situation, had neglected all precautions against surprise, and were aroused from slumber with the whizzing of hand grenades, which set fire to the main row of frail wigwams which formed the little street, and kindled the dry mats stretched over them into instant flames. And then, as the startled warriors leaped, all naked and unarmed from the blazing lodges, they found themselves surrounded by the French pikemen. Waiting only for a volley from the musketeers, the soldiers rushed upon the wretched savages, slaughtering them. Many there were, however, who, with Achawi at their head, acquitted themselves like warriors. Snatching their weapons from the flames, they sprang upon the pikemen with irresistible fury. Their heavy war-clubs beat down and splintered the fragile spears of the Frenchmen, while their corselets rang with the blows of tomahawk and knife.
De Grais, in the meantime, watched the shrieking forms of the females, expecting each moment to see the pale features of the Christian captive. The Mohawks began now to wage a more successful resistance, and just when the fight was raging hottest he saw a tall warrior disengage himself from the melee and dash upon and brain, with his tomahawk, a Frenchman who had also separated himself from his party. The quick eye of De Grais caught a glimpse of a lithe female form, with an infant in her arms, in pursuit of whom the luckless Frenchman met his death by the strong arm of Achawi. It was the wife of Achawi fleeing to the hills for safety. De Grais raised his pistol to fire at the chieftain, when the track of the flying girl brought her directly in his line of sight, and he held his fire.
Achawi, in the meantime, had been cut off from his people by the soldiers, who closed in upon the space which his terrible arm had a moment before kept open. Seeing the hopelessness of his position, he made a dash at his foes with his war-club, fairly cleaving a path to his fleeing wife, and with arms outstretched to protect her from the dropping shots of the enemy, he bounded after her, and before De Grais and Hanyost, with seven others fairly got in pursuit, Achawi, who still kept behind his wife, was far in advance of the pursuing party. Her forest training had made Oneta fleet of foot, and hearing the cheering voice of her loved warrior behind her, she urged her flight over crag and fell, and soon reached the head of a rocky pass which it would take some moments for any but an American forester to climb. Lifting his wife to the ledge above, he placed her infant in her arms, and bade her speed her way to the cavern among the hills. Achawi looked a moment after her retreating form, and then coolly swung himself to the ledge which commanded the pass. His tomahawk and war-club had been lost in the strife, but he still carried at his back his bow and quiver. There were but three arrows in the quiver, and the Mohawk was determined to have the life of an enemy in exchange for each of them.
Placing himself behind a rock that partly concealed his form, he strung his bow, and fitting an arrow to the string, he aimed at the foremost soldier that was climbing the crags below. With the swiftness of a bullet the arrow took its flight and buried itself in the throat of its victim, who fell, dislodging two of his comrades in the fall, and temporarily checking pursuit. Achawi, waiting until the soldiers were again advancing, sent another arrow in their midst, with almost the same result. Fitting his last arrow to the string, he raised his bow, but before he could fire, a shot from the gun of Hanyost struck his thumb, disabling it. Again fleeing, he took a different direction from that taken by his wife, hoping to draw the soldiers in pursuit of himself until she should reach a place of safety. After a while he observed that three of the soldiers were following him, while DeGrais, Hanyost, and one of the pikemen were taking a direct route to the cavern, with Hanyost in the lead, who was undoubtedly aware of the situation of this hidden rendezvous, and rightly guessed the ruse of Achawi.
The young Mohawk at once saw the object of Hanyost, and quick as thought took a few steps within the thicket to still mislead his pursuers, bounded across a mountain torrent, leaving his footmarks in its banks, and then turned shortly on a rock beyond, re-crossed the stream, and concealed himself behind a fallen tree, until his pursuers had passed by on the false trail. A rocky hillock now only divided him from the point to which he had directed his wife by another route, and to which Hanyost and his party were urging their way. Springing from crag to crag, the hunted warrior at last planted his foot on the roots of a blasted oak, that shot its limb above the cavern, just as his wife, with her babe clasped to her bosom, sank exhausted within the shadows of the cavern. Looking down, he saw De Grais and his followers making a laborious ascent of the crags below, with Hanyost in advance, and De Grais and the musketeer close behind. The scout, who had evidently caught sight of the exhausted female at the mouth of the cavern, gave a exultant cry.
God help thee, bold archer! the game of life is nearly up; thy quiver is empty. In his agony at the thought of his wife, he raised his bow and became aware that the forgotten arrow was clasped in his bleeding fingers. Although his stiffened thumb forbade its use, Achawi fitted the remaining arrow to the string, prepared to take the life of one more of his enemies if possible. Bracing his knee upon the flinty rock, while the muscles of his body swelled as if all of its energies were embodied in this supreme effort, he drew the arrow back with his two fingers, without the use of his bleeding thumb, and aimed at the treacherous scout. The twanging bowstring dismissed his last arrow straight to the heart of Hanyost. The dying wretch clutched the sword chain of De Grais, and the two went rolling down the glen together; and De Grais was not unwilling to abandon the pursuit when the musketeer, hastening to his assistance, had disengaged him, bruised and bloody, from the rigid embrace of the corpse.
Achawi, descending from his cavern, collected the remnants of his band and wreaked terrible vengeance upon the murderers, most of whom they cut off before they could join the main body of the French army.
Count Frontenac returned to Canada in 1698, and the existence of his half-caste daughter was soon forgotten.
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