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Western New York History

Beginning the settlement of the Niagara Frontier

Western New York history dates back to well before the Revolutionary War. The beginnings date back more than 300 years to the late 1600's when on July 31st, 1687, the Marquis de Nonville took formal possession of a hastily constructed "fort of pales, with four bastions", in the name of the French king. Upon completing the fort, De Nonville headed to Quebec, leaving the garrison with 100 men and eight months supply of provisions under the command of De Troyes. In a short time after the main body of the French left, 800 Senecas surrounded the fort and laid siege to it. No Frenchman dared to leave to hunt fish or gather firewood out of fear of being attacked. Being cooped up in tight quarters for a long period of time was the highlight of the misery endured. The bad quality of the provisions allowed scurvy to set in and the men began to die. By the Spring of 1688 only 12 men were alive. Caving to British demands, De Nonville abandoned Fort Niagara on July 6th, 1688.

The vicinity remained largely unoccupied from 1688 until, in 1720, Chabert Joncaire, a Frenchman, who as a lad was taken prisoner by the Senecas, married a squaw and then adopted into the tribe, gained great influence with the warriors. He entered French service in 1700. His now friends, the Senecas granted him liberty to select on their territory a place most acceptable to him for purpose of living in peace. Receiving permission from them to build a house. He erected his bark cabin at Lewiston, on the river and hoisted a flag over it and called it "Magazine Royal". Lewiston was at the exact foot of the portage and at the head of navigation of the river, so the excuse of a store-house could be made for constructing and maintaining defensive work there. Joncaire quickly enlarged the cabin and site, for it was referred to as a large blockhouse forty feet long and thirty feet wide, enclosed with palisades, being musket proof with portholes for firing with small arms. This gave the French the foothold they needed in the region. This fortified trading posted remained a most important locale for the French during the next five years, becoming the French headquarters of influence. With Indians coming from the North, the West and the South to barter and French vessels bringing in merchandise and provisions, then leaving heavily laden in furs.

Fort Niagara

In 1725 Marquis De Vaudreuil proposed to build a stone house at Niagara and received consent from several Iroquois Nations at Onontague. Construction began in 1725 but was not completed until sometime in 1726. This stone house is commonly called "The French Castle". The first floor included storerooms, a powder magazine, a bakery, a guardhouse and a well. Living quarters and a chapel were located on the second floor. Also on the first floor was a Trade Room, as during the French occupation of the location, Fort Niagara was a trading post as well as a military outpost. Indians came in large numbers to exchange furs for merchandise and manufactured goods. This was the first permanent building erected by the Europeans, making this is the oldest building in "North America's Great Lakes region. The Chapel on the second floor is also the earliest permanent church in Western New York. Old Fort Niagara in the oldest continually maintained military installation in North America. For the next ten years or so, the fort will  be gradually strengthened from time to time. In 1736 Oswego supplied the fort with 24 guns of the highest caliber, in addition to the six already in it's possession, giving Fort Niagara a total of 30 mounted cannon.

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