This community is an off-shoot of the Iroquois stock, but not a member of the confederacy. It originated in the efforts commenced about the middle of the 17th century, by the Roman Catholic church of France, to draw the Iroquois into communion with that church. It was, however, but a part of the public policy, which originated in the reign of Louis XV., to colonize the Iroquois country, and wrest it from the power of the British crown. When this effort failed, replete as it was with wars, intrigues and embassies, battles and massacres, which make it the heroic age of our history, the persons who had become enlisted in the ritual observances of this church, were induced to withdraw from the body of the tribes, and settle on the banks of the St. Lawrence, in the area of the present county of St. Lawrence. It was, in effect, a missionary colony. Its members were mostly Mohawks, from Caughnawaga, with some Oneidas, and perhaps a few of the Onondagas, amongst whom there had been Catholic missions and forts established, at early dates.
The exertions made to organize this new canton were, politically considered, at direct variance with the colonial policy of New York, and were therefore opposed by the persons entrusted by the crown with Indian affairs, and also by the councils of the confederacy.
Those persons who composed it assimilated in faith, and almost as a necessary consequence, they soon did so in politics. 1 They went off in small parties, secretly, and after they had become embodied and located, they were regarded, in effect, as foreign Indians and were never recognized or admitted to a seat in the confederacy. The feeling caused by this separation, among the tribes themselves, amounted to bitterness, and it is a feeling which, I had occasion to observe on one occasion, is not forgotten by the existing cantons even at this day.
The St. Regis colony increased rapidly, but had some extra stimulants to promote its growth, its success being equally dear to the political and ecclesiastical policy of France. It became a thorn to the frontier towns and settlements of New England, during the whole of the old French war, so called, and of the American revolution. Some of the forays of this band into the Connecticut valley were productive of thrilling and heart rending events, as those must have realized who have had their youthful sympathies excited by narrations of the touching captivities of the Hows and the Williams, of that valley.
When the 54° parallel came to be drawn, under the provision of the treaty of Ghent, it cut the St. Regis settlement unequally in two, leaving the church and the larger portion of the Indian population within the bounds of Canada. Those who reside within the limits of New York, numbered, the past summer, three hundred and sixty souls.
- Some exceptions to this existed. The noted chief called Col. Louis, who rendered the American cause such essential service, during the siege of Fort Stanwix, in 1777, was of the St. Regis tribe, agreeably to information given to me, at Oneida Castle, the present year, by Abraham Dennie.