Letter from J. V. H. Clark to Henry R. Schoolcraft

Manlius, Oct. 6th, 1845.


Agreeable to your request I have been upon the grounds in our vicinity once occupied as forts and places of defense. So devastating has been the hand of time and the works of civilized men, that little can now be possibly gleaned by observation. Our main reliance in these matters must depend almost entirely upon the recollections of early settlers and traditions. Many of these accounts, as you are aware, are differently related by different individuals, and not infrequently in material points contradictory. From careful investigation and inquiry I have been enabled to add a little to what I had previously gathered and referred you to, in the New York Spectator. A locality in the town of Cazenovia, Madison co., near the county line, and on Lot 33, Township of Pompey, Onondaga co., called the “Indian Fort” was not described in that paper. It is about four miles southeasterly from Manlius village, situated on a slight eminence, which is nearly surrounded by a deep ravine, the banks of which are quite steep and somewhat rocky. The ravine is in shape like an ox-bow, made by two streams, which pass nearly around it and unite. Across this bow at the opening, was an earthen wall running southeast and northwest, and when first noticed by the early settlers, was four or five feet high, straight, with something of a ditch in front, from two to three feet deep. Within this enclosure may be about ten or twelve acres of land. A part of this ground, when first occupied in these latter times, was called the “Prairie” and is noted now among the old men as the place where the first battalion training (military) was held in the county of Onondaga. But that portion near the wall, and in front of it, has recently, say five years ago, been cleared of a heavy growth of black oak timber. Many of the trees were large, and were probably 150 or 200 years old. Some were standing in the ditch and others on the top of the embankment. There is a considerable burying place within the enclosure. The plough has already done much towards leveling the wall arid ditch; still they can be easily traced the whole extent. A few more ploughings and harrowings and no vestige of it will remain. The specimens of dark brown pottery I send with this are from this locality. I picked them up at this visit. These specimens are some what numerous upon this ground now. Almost every variety of Indian relic has been found about here, but so fastidious are the holders of them, that I have not been able to procure any for you, and cannot, except at a price. However, they can be of little consequence, as they are described in the article above referred to. One fact, will, I think, apply to this locality, that does not belong to any other of the kind in this region, that I know of. Two cannon balls, of about 3 lbs. each, were found in the vicinity, showing that light cannon were used, either for defense, or in the reduction of this fortification. There is a large rock in the ravine on the south, on which are inscribed the following characters, thus, IIII1X, cut three-quarters of an inch broad, nine inches long, three-quarters of an inch deep, perfectly regular, lines straight. Whether it was a work of fancy, or had significance, I know not. Perhaps you may determine.

On the site of the village of Cazenovia, I am told there was a fort or embankment; some persons say it was “roundish,” others that it was ” angular, with sides at right angles” Recollections respecting it are very imperfect. Many relics have been found here, indicating an earlier occupancy than those usually found in this county. This was on the Oneida’s territory. There is a singular coincidence in the location of these fortifications which I have never observed until my recent visit. They are nearly all, if not quite all, situated on land rather elevated above that which is immediately contiguous, and surrounded, or partly so, by deep ravines, so that these form a part of the fortification themselves. At one of these (on the farm of David Williams, in Pompey,) the banks on either side are found to contain bullets of lead, as if shot across at opposing forces. The space between may be about three or four rods, and the natural cutting twenty or twenty-five feet deep. This only goes to show the care these architects had in selecting the most favorable situations for defense, and the fear and expectation they were in of attacks.

I do not believe any of the fortifications in this neighborhood are more ancient than the period of the French settlement of missionaries among the Onondagas, during the early part of the 17th century. But the more I investigate, the more I am convinced that there were many more of the French established here among the Indians, by far, than has been generally supposed, and their continuance with them longer.

The nature of the articles found, utensils of farmers and mechanics, hoes, axes, horseshoes, hammers, &c., go to prove that agriculture was practiced somewhat extensively, as well as the mechanic arts. The Indian name by which it was anciently called, and is now, by the natives, I think goes to substantiate this fact: “Ote-que-sah -e-eh,” an open place with much grass, an opening, or prairie. The timber has a vigorous growth, and although in many places large, there is a uniformity in the size and age, which show s that it has all grown up since the occupancy; because under the trees are not only found the relics, but among them in many instances, corn hills can be traced in rows at considerable distances.

The presentation of medals, I believe to have been a very common custom among the missionaries and traders. Several have been found. A valuable cross of pure gold, sold for $30, was found on the farm of Mr. David Hinsdale, west part of Pompey. The significant “IHS” was upon it. Brass crosses are frequently found, and so are medals of the same metal. One recently found on the last named farm, about the size of a shilling piece. The figure of a Roman Pontiff in a standing position, in his hand a crosier, surrounded with this inscription, “B. virg. sin. P. origi. con,” which I have ventured to write out, “Bata virgo sinepeccato originali concepta,” or as we might say in English, “the blessed virgin conceived without original sin.” On the other side was a representation of the brazen serpent, and two nearly naked figures, looking intently upon it. This is by far the most perfect one I have seen. The letters are as perfect as if struck but yesterday. It was undoubtedly compressed between dies. It is oval in shape, and bored that it might be suspended from the neck. A silver medal was found near Eagle village, two miles east of this, about the size of a dollar, but a little thinner, with a ring or loop at one edge to admit a cord by which it might be suspended. On one side appears in relief, a somewhat rude representation of a fortified town, with several tall steeples rising above its buildings, and a citadel, from which the British flag is flying. A river broken by an island or two, occupies the foreground, and above, along the upper edge of the medal, is the name Montreal. The initials D. C. F., probably those of the manufacturer, are stamped below. On the opposite side, which was originally made blank, are engraved the words Canecya, Onondagoes, which are doubtless the name and tribe of the red ruler on whose dusky breast, this ornament was displayed. A valuable token of friendship of some British governor of New- York, or Canada, to an influential ally among the Six Nations. There is no date on this, or any of the medals. But this must be at least older than the revolution, and probably an hundred snows at least, have fallen on the field where the plough disinterred it, since the chief whose name it has preserved, was laid to rest with his fathers.

I have sent with this, such relics and Indian trinkets, as I could prevail upon our people here to part with. They are less than I expected to obtain. The gun lock, spear head, axe, piece of gun barrel, and lead ball, are all of the size and patterns usually found. They are from the farm of Mr. David Hinsdale, in the town of Pompey, west part. All the gun barrels, or parts of them, are found flattened similar to this. Not a perfect one has been found. The two parts of the axe, want about two inches between the broken portions to make the ” bit” of the ordinary length. The stone axes, I thought might interest you. I have no doubt they were used in flaying animals slain in the chase, as well as in cleaving wood. I did intend to send you a beautiful gouge of hornblende, but to my surprise, it is not to be found; the like are frequently found here. It proves conclusively, that the natives were at an early day acquainted with the virtues of the maple, and possessed the art of making sugar. I have sent, as you will see, fragments of pipes of many varieties. The patterns are as various as the articles are numerous. The specimens of glass are different from any I have seen from any other quarter. I think some of the beads may have been used in rosarys, for the native proselytes. I have lately seen a fragment of a bell, which, when whole, would have weighed probably 200 lbs., the metal is very fine, and from appearance, this article must have been of considerable value; time and exposure has not changed it in the least. When found, some 20 years since, it was broken up and the pieces found, enough to make it nearly entire.

I am aware, that I am corresponding with one far more experienced in these matters, than myself, and therefore, forbear obtruding my views and opinions further. If you have not a particular desire to place these things in your own cabinet, they might perhaps, be profitably disposed of, among the rare things of the New York Historical Society. Dispose of them as you think best, I am sorry I could not obtain more.

I am, with sentiments of high regard,
Your ob’t,

Iroquois, Letter,

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Notes on the Iroquois: Or, Contributions to American History, Antiquities, and General Ethnology. E. H. Pease & Company. 1847.

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