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Buffalo New York History, From The Beginning

The French were the first Europeans to explore Buffalo New York and the Niagara River Valley. In the 1620’s, the French Jesuit missionaries and the French traders were establishing contact with natives in Buffalo NY.

Who Are The Haudenosaunee Indians?

Haudenosaunee means: all of the Iroquois nations combined. All Iroquois speak the Iroquois language. The Tuscarora nation was added to the Haudenosaunee in 1722. Currently, the Haudenosaunee are comprised of 6 Iroquois Nations. The Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga and the Tuscarora Nation.



Early Visits To The Buffalo NY Area

In 1626 a missionary known as Joseph de la Roche Daillon and few others had lived among the Neutrals. (Neutrals are people not at war “peace keepers” mostly hunters and traders) In 1640 and 1641 the Jesuit priests Jean de Brébeauf and Pierre Joseph Marie Chaumonot were visiting Buffalo NY and met with the Neutrals. However, their visits to the Buffalo New York region were few and far between.


In 17th century Buffalo NY, the fur trade was a success for the Seneca Nation’s economy. However, the natural supply of animal furs diminished. Therefore, it was necessary to expand hunting operations to other areas. Particularly areas of other Iroquois nations.

The Haudenosaunee were successful in conflicts with other native nations. Even so, the supply of beaver pelts declined by the mid 1600’s. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy made even more aggressive attacks against their Western New York rivals. This left Buffalo NY a mostly uncharted region. The Seneca nation maintained control.

Buffalo NY And The Niagara Frontier

Most business activities in the Buffalo area in the 17th and 18th centuries would become known as the Niagara Frontier. Religious, commercial, and military endeavors had developed slowly. In 1678-1679, the men under the direction of René-Robert Cavalier de LaSalle constructed a ship called Le Griffon. Its main purpose was to facilitate fur trading on the Great Lakes. Construction of the Le Griffon began near Cayuga Island, opposite Grand Island. Grand Island is a suburb of Buffalo NY. At the time, the Le griffon was the largest ship on the Great Lakes. The ship sunk on its maiden voyage on Lake Michigan near what is now called Green Bay.



Early Europeans Relied On The Fur Trade

The fur trade was important for the Europeans during the 17th and 18th centuries. Stiff competition among early European immigrants resulted in the erection of fortified trading posts along the Niagara Frontier. Two forts of interest are the French Fort Conti in 1679 (later named, Fort Niagara), and the “British fort” near Geneva twenty years later. From an imperial perspective, the French sought to establish dominion over the interior of the continent.

What Was The French And Indian War About?

The French were hopeful in that Jesuit missionaries could provide religious influence with native nations in these regions. The efforts to spread Christianity to the Haudenosaunee were not effective. This was due to major cultural differences. The relationship between the French and the Haudenosaunee continually fluctuated between “wanted” and war.

The governor of New France (which is now Canada) had despised the fact that the European French and the Seneca’s had a monopoly on the fur trade. In retaliation, the governor (Jacques Denonville) of New France, led an attack against the Seneca Nation in July 1687. This attack had destroyed the Seneca’s corn crops. The New France troops retreated back to Fort Niagara (re-named Fort Denonville). Not long after this, a severe winter battered Fort Denonville cutting off all supply routes. This winter had claimed the lives of 88 percent of the troops stationed there. The French abandoned the fort and the region reverted back to Seneca Nation control.

Trading Posts Extended To Buffalo NY And Beyond

In 1720 a trader, interpreter, and former soldier, Louis-de Chabert was persuasive in getting permission from some of the Indian Nations to erect a series of trading posts along the Niagara River and north Lake Ontario. This included one at the lower landing in what is now the Village of Lewiston, ca. 1720.



A Reconstructed Fort Niagara And More Trading Posts

In 1726 after completing new construction at Fort Niagara the French began to exercise military control of the Niagara valley. By 1750 the French had created a multitude of military and trading installations. Geographically speaking, these installations extended quite far. They began at Fort Niagara making their way into the trading settlement at Buffalo Creek in Buffalo NY. Buffalo Creek runs upstream from Harlem Rd.in south Buffalo to Java Center in Wyoming county (approx. 35mi by car). Trading settlements would continue on along the southern shores of Lake Erie and all the way to Erie Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley.

Fort Niagara Taken Over

The age-old rivalry between the British and the French rekindled itself. By the 1750’s it reached a turning point. Once again, the two countries had declared war against each other. An attack at Fort Denonville commenced in July 1759. In the aftermath of a 19-day siege, British troops captured Fort Denonville. (now called Fort Niagara) This crippled the French presence in the region. After the French defeat, some Seneca’s who remained loyal to the French, joined Pontiac’s uprising. They were harrying English-American settlers along the frontier.



Workers Compensation Buffalo NY

Massacre At Devil’s Hole

On September 14, 1763, a group of Native Indians stormed a wagon train and its military escorts near Devil’s Hole. Devil’s Hole was used as a stopping point along the portage between Fort Niagara and Fort Schlosser. (constructed during the French and Indian War) Today this is where the giant water intakes for the Niagara Power Project are located. 90 more soldiers were slain there after the previous attack, their bodies and goods were tossed into the gorge. A nearby creek got its name from this attack. They named it Blood Run Creek.



Buffalo NY And The Revolutionary War Period

During the Revolutionary War, both the British and Americans enlisted Iroquois nations into their battles in the Niagara Frontier. Some of the nations allied with Great Britain and some with the Americans. Initially, most warfare was dealt well east of Buffalo NY.

Raids had begun by Britain’s Indian allies due to supply shortages. This happened as a result of Britain’s efforts to take over the Niagara Frontier economy. The raids were against isolated farming communities, most notably in the Mohawk valley. In response to these raids, Major General John Sullivan led an assault against the Native Indians in 1779. This was meant to prevent more attacks against American settlers.

They destroyed more than 40 Indian villages and hundreds of acres of crops in an area between the eastern Finger Lakes and the Genesee River. Many of the Indians that were burned out of their villages sought refuge with their British allies at Fort Niagara. Here they would suffer through a difficult winter with hunger and hardship.

Fort Niagara served as the center for training activities and strategic planning. It was also the headquarters of British Colonel John Butler. The British Rangers and Native Indians were provisioned and armed there. Despite the lengthly assault by General John Sullivan, they still periodically attacked colonial settlements until the end of the Revolutionary war. By 1780, Some Indians subsequently settled along Buffalo Creek. Buffalo Creek would later be incorporated into the Buffalo Creek Reservation.



The British and their allies were expelled from the new United States after the Treaty of Paris (1783) which ended the Revolutionary War. They settled on the west bank of the Niagara River in what was then called Upper Canada.

Land Divided

Native Indians that were abandoned by the British after the war were forced to make peace with the Americans. This was a result of the Fort Stanwix Treaty (1784). The Native indians relinquished all of their land west of the Genesee River except for several small reservations. The treaty of 1784 was disputed by several groups of Indian Nations until a treaty was signed at Canandaigua in 1794.

Indian Reservations

The Treaty of 1794 defined the boundaries of Seneca lands and the reservations to the other Iroquois nations. Additionally, Native title to land in Western New York was largely extinguished by the Treaty of Big Tree (present-day Geneseo, New York) in 1797. Several areas were reserved for the Native Americans to use and live on. The areas are the reservations at Buffalo Creek, Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Tonawanda.

The Buffalo NY reservation consisted of 130 square miles. The land extended east from Lake Erie to William Street in the Town of Cheektowaga NY. The later was the reservation’s approximate northern border. The Pickering or Canandaigua Treaty of 1794 defined the boundaries of Seneca Indian lands. It also defined the reservations of other Indian nations throughout the Townships of Buffalo NY & Beyond.

Mapping Of Cities And Townships Of Buffalo NY Began

Theophilus Cazenove, an agent of the Holland Land Company, contracted Joseph Ellicott in July 1797 to survey the company’s land in the Buffalo NY area and divide it into townships.

The future City of Buffalo was sited and laid out by Ellicott, who called the village on Buffalo Creek New Amsterdam” and named the streets after his Dutch patrons and the local Indian nations. However, an increasing number of local residents resisted the new name and referred to the village as “Buffaloe”

In 1809, the community of Black Rock (one of the earliest parts of Buffalo NY) consisted of Porter, Barton & Company,the Frederick Miller’s house, a ferry-house and a tavern. The residents were, one white family and two black families. Niagara Street had been laid out and constructed between 1807 and 1809, By 1812 Black Rock centered around Niagara and Ferry Streets and had a natural harbor.


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