Reply to Dr. Shea and General Clark

The first number of this magazine (Jan., 1877) contains an article on the Expedition of Champlain against the Onondagas, in 1615. It was founded on a communication read before the New York Historical Society in March 1849, in which I had discussed the evidences, which exist as to the route of the expedition, and the site of the Iroquois fort, which it besieged. My position having been questioned by several eminent historians, who claimed a more western location for the fort, the main object of my last article was to fortify my former conclusions. In it I endeavored to trace Champlain’s route across Lake Ontario to its south shore, and from thence to his objective point. While my location of the fort in the Onondaga, rather than the Seneca Country, has generally been approved, some difference of opinion is entertained as to its exact site, as well as to the precise route by which it was reached.

General James S. Clark, of Auburn, in a paper read before the Buffalo and New York Historical Societies, and Georges Geddes, Esq., of Camillus, in an article in the last September number of this magazine, vol. I., p.. 521, while they agree that the site was in the Onondaga Country, dissent from my views in other particulars. Dr. John Gilmary Shea, in a recent article in the Penn Historical Magazine, vol. II., p. 103, coincides in the main with General Clark. I am glad that a writer of Dr. Shea’s ability has taken the field. I have read his paper attentively, and fail to see that it has disproved any of my main positions.

It may be proper to state that General Clark’s address, thus reviewed and endorsed by Dr. Shea, has never been published. It was delivered before the above societies during my absence in Europe. Since my return, I have endeavored, without success, to obtain a copy. I can only judge of its contents from the references in Dr. Shea’s review. That the General is accurately quoted therein may be inferred from his having reproduced the article, with verbal corrections, in an Auburn journal.

In a published address, delivered last September before the Pioneers’ Association at Syracuse, General Clark stated the conclusions to which his investigations had led him, but gave no facts or arguments to support them. In doing so, he used the following emphatic language:

“I claim especially to understand the record of Champlain by following his narrative verbatim et literatim, and accepting his estimates of distances, his map and illustrations. I stand on no uncertain ground. I understand this question thoroughly. I know that I am right. I desire no misunderstanding on this question. I take the affirmative and throw down the gauntlet to all corners and if any choose to enter the list, I have the most unbounded confidence that it will not be me that will be borne from the field discomfited. I identify the site as certainly as any gentleman present can identify his wife at the breakfast table after ten years of married life,” etc., etc.

It is to be regretted that General Clark has not accompanied his challenge, so forcibly stated, with the proofs and reasons on which he relies. The public could then judge whether such historians as O’Callaghan, Parkman, Broadhead, Laverdière and his neighbor Geddes are, as he asserts, mistaken in their conclusions. Is is quite evident that General Clark is an enthusiast in his Study of Aboriginal History. A certain amount of zeal may be desirable in the investigation of such subjects, but conscientious convictions, however decidedly entertained, are not always in harmony with just conclusions. It is only by patient and candid investigation, by comparing, weighing and sifting the evidence, that historical truth can be elicited.

I will consider in their order:

  1. The authenticity and accuracy of the map.
  2. The starting point of the Expedition on Lake Ontario.
  3. The route across the Lake.
  4. The landing on the south shore.
  5. The march on the beach.
  6. The inland route to the Fort.
  7. The location of the Fort.

Champlain's Expedition of 1615 Against the Onondaga Magazine Of American History Vol. I January 1877.

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