Onondaga Towns and Villages

Onondaga. The former chief Onondaga town of central New York, whose site and name were shifted from time to time and from place to place. Within its limits formerly lay the unquenched brands of the Great Council Fire of the League of the Iroquois. During the American Revolution, Washington found it necessary to send an army under Gen. Sullivan to punish the Iroquois tribes for their cruel and bloody work in pursuance of their alliance with Great Britain. The chastisement was so thoroughly administered by the total destruction of more than 40 Iroquois villages and the growing crops surrounding them, that the integrity of the League was disrupted and the scattered remnants forced to seek shelter in Canada and elsewhere. Finally, on Grand river, Ontario, the brands of the Great Council Fire of the League were rekindled by the allied portions of all the tribes of the Six Nations, and here the fire is still burning. The portions of the tribes which elected to remain in New York relighted a fire at Onondaga and sought to reestablish the ancient form of their government there, in order to formulate united action on questions affecting their common interests; but this attempt was only partly successful, since the seat of government had forever departed. The establishment at Onondaga of the seat of federal power by the founders of the League of the Iroquois, made Onondaga not only one of the most important and widely known towns of the Iroquois tribes, but also of North America N. of Mexico. At the zenith of the power of the Iroquois it was the capital of a government whose dominion extended from the Hudson river on the east to the falls of the Ohio and Lake Michigan on the west, and from Ottawa river and Lake Simcoe on the north to the Potomac on the south and the Ohio in the southwest.
     Around the Great Council Fire of the League of the Iroquois at Onondaga, with punctilious observance of the parliamentary proprieties recognized in Indian diplomacy and statecraft, and with a decorum that would add grace to many legislative assemblies of the white man, the federal senators of the Iroquois tribes devised plans, formulated policies, and defined principles of government and political action which not only strengthened their state and promoted their common welfare, but also deeply affected the contemporary history of the whites in North America. To this body of half-clad federal chieftains were repeatedly made overtures of peace and friendship by two of the most powerful kingdoms of Europe, whose statesmen often awaited with apprehension the decisions of this senate of North American savages.
     The sites with their approximate dates here ascribed to Onondaga are those identified by Clark, Beauchamp, and others, and listed by Beauchamp in the notes to his map (Jes. Rel., Thwaites ed., Li, 294, 1899): The site in 1600 was probably 2 miles west of Cazenovia and east of west Limestone creek, Madison county, N. Y. Two sites of towns are accredited to 1620, the one 2½ miles south west and the other 1 mile south of Delphi, Onondaga county, N. Y. The site of 1630 was 1½ miles north west of Delphi; that of 1640 was about 1 mile south of Pompey Center, Onondaga county, on the east bank of West Limestone creek. That of 1655, in which was established the mission of Saint Jean Baptiste, was about 2 miles south of the present Manlius, in the same county, on what is called Indian hill; the Jesuit Relation for 1658 says that this town was large and was called “Onnontaghe, because it was on a mountain.”
     This town, with its site, is probably identical with that visited by Greenhalgh in 1677, and described as large, unpalisaded, consisting of about 140 houses, and situated on a very large hill, the bank on each side extending at least 2 miles, all cleared land and planted with corn. Greenhalgh learned that there was another village of 24 houses situated 2 miles westward; he estimated the Onondaga warriors at about 350. The site of 1696 was 1 mile south of Jamesville, east of Butternut creek, Onondaga county. Count Frontenac burned this town in 1696. The site of 1743 was east of the creek and north of the present reservation in Onondaga county, while that of 1756 was west of the creek. The site of 1779 was that of one of the 3 towns plundered and burned in April by the troops of Col. Van Schaick; they were situated within 2 miles of one another and contained 30 to 40 houses. In 1655 the mission of Saincte Marie de Gannentaa was founded, on the shore of Lake Onondaga, 12 miles north of the mission of St Jean Baptiste; it was also called Saincte Marie du Lac de Gannentaa. To this mission village, which was abandoned in 1658, the Jesuits brought 5 small cannon. For the use of the mission the French Governor Lauson, Apr. 12, 1656, granted to the Jesuit fathers “10 leagues of space in every direction, to wit, 10 leagues of front and 10 leagues in depth and in the place where they shall choose to establish themselves in the country of the Upper Iroquois called Onondageoronons, be it in the town or near the town of Onondage, or at Gannentae, the said place and extent of 10 leagues square is to be possessed by the said reverend Jesuit fathers, their successors and assigns, in freehold forever.” This grant was made evidently without the knowledge or consent of the Onondaga and without any compensation or emolument to them, a course of procedure quite in contrast with that of the Dutch and the English colonists in New York, but on the other hand in close accord with the policy of Gov. Winthrop of Massachusetts, tersely expressed in the formula that “if we leave them sufficient for their use, we may lawfully take the rest, there being more than enough for them and us.” This doctrine was embodied into law by the General Court of Massachusetts in 1633, justifying its action by Biblical citation.
     From the Jesuit Relations it is learned that under the operation of the principle of conferring citizenship by adoption into some definite stream of kinship common to the Iroquois state, there were colonized at Onondaga persons and families from at least 7 different tribes. According to the same authority (Thwaites ed., Lxv1, 203, 1900) the Jesuit missions to the Onondaga and the Seneca were abandoned in 1709, and in 1711 a French expedition built a blockhouse at Onondaga, 24½ ft long and 18 ft wide, which Peter Schuyler ordered destroyed along with other building material as “there was other wood ready to build a chappell” (N. Y. Doe. Col. Hist., v, 249, 1855).
     Of the Onondaga of 1682, Father Jean de Lamberville (Jes. Rel., Thwaites ed., lxii,1900) wrote the following interesting facts: “I found on my arrival the Iroquois of this town occupied in transporting their corn, their effects, and their lodges to a situation 2 leagues from their former dwelling-place where they have been for 19 years. They made this change in order to have nearer to them the convenience of firewood, and fields more fertile than those which they abandoned.” This was probably the town visited by Greenhalgh in 1677.

The books presented are for their historical value only and are not the opinions of the Webmasters of the site.   Handbook of American Indians, 1906

Index of Tribes or Nations


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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