When Did Our WNY History Begin?
The national weather report maps on TV show a multi-colorful set of the United States, accompanied by a vast green blur of north country called Canada—as if it is only marginally there.
In a similar sense, we have written history that begins in any region with the arrival of the first “white man.” Everything prior seems rendered blurrily less significant. Here’s an example: “In 1626, the first authenticated white man in the Niagara region was Father Joseph de la Roche-Dallion. Father Roche-Dallion preached to the Neutral Indians at various villages.”
History focuses that On This Day, September 16th in 1620, that the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England, bound for the New World. Let us remember, though, that in 1615, already five years earlier, Samuel de Champlain arrived in Ontario. The Huron Indians were at war with the Iroquois Indians at the time of his arrival.
Champlain sought to contribute to the brawl and went about organizing a war party of Hurons and Algonquins to attack the Iroquois using his European muskets and bayonets. This got things going. The Iroquois retaliated by totally wiping out the Hurons and thereafter opposing French expansionism. Welcome to the New World.
Yes, the Mayflower’s 66-day journey across the cold and angry ocean was and is truly significant. Imagine journeying with them On This Day. (Aside from a treat of fish or salted beef, the main sustenance would derive from eating “ship’s biscuit”—a type of bread cooked three times to exit all the moisture; it could last up to five years, and was eaten by patiently soaking in water—we have Twinkies, they had dunkies.). The Mayflower’s journey is significant because the numbers prove it so—over 35 million Americans derive their ancestry to this one ship’s settlers in Plymouth.
Back in the Already-Here World, on the Niagara Frontier, in the early 1600’s, accounts report that between 20,000 and 40,000 Native Americans set up home here. But history rarely counts them into the time table—they’re from Before, and Real history begins as follows:
History seen from the white man’s eyes would suggest that the area’s first permanent settlement was established in 1758, when Daniel Joncaire, a French explorer, organized an outpost at the mouth of what is today the Buffalo River. Our area history continues that after passing through the hands of the French, the Seneca Indians and the British, the United States took control of the area in the mid-1790s.
Then in 1799, Joseph Ellicott, an agent for the Holland Land Company, which owned most of the area, began planning the city. Local citizens called it “Buffalo Creek” and the name’s hung on.
But what about our Niagara Region’s Neuter Nation of peoples from the early 1600’s? This was a peaceful nation, whose peoples lived in villages on both sides of the Niagara River and as far east as the territory of present day Orleans County. The Neuters were a peaceful people, hence the name Neuter, or Neutral. In 1651, however, nearly the entire Neuter population was exterminated by the Senecas who then claimed the Neuters’ lands as their own.
There were several changing holds on the Niagara region over a hundred year period, more than in 10,000 years coming before it. The Neuter Nation survived only to 1651; when then came Seneca and Iroquois ownership of these lands from 1651 to 1669; and from 1669 to 1725 there was increasing French influence; then the French occupation 1725-1759; followed by more Seneca and Iroquois ownership, then ended by English-or-American occupation 1759-1783; and so the history rose.
There are roughly 55,000 square miles to New York State—all of which was Indian cared for lands prior to the early 1600’s. European markets wanted beaver pelts, and so trade began. History shows that the beaver, our state animal, was the unwitting cause of the demise of the Neutrals—whose civilization was torn apart as an expense of the Beaver Wars—the fight for pelts for European consumer wear.
The Neutrals own name for themselves has been lost, but they were called Attawandaron by the Hurons, meaning “people of a slightly different language”. The name Neutral was applied to them by the French because they tried to be neutral between the warring Huron and Iroquois peoples. They possessed about forty villages in a highly productive agricultural, mostly treed region.
And Before the Neutrals? Our area has a rich and colorful history that can be traced back some 12,500 years. Archeological sites along the Niagara River show evidence of inhabitants as early as 11,000 B.C.
Cheers to the efforts of programs now offered at colleges and universities entitled “Native American Studies.” May the map of history increasingly un-blur and shine its richness and detail.
Cheers to the Mayflower, too, and happy sailing—but just so you know, the question asking how long ago did we get here really depends on who you mean when you say “we”.
That’s the news from On This Day from Buffalo.
When Did Our WNY History Begin?