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Part 3

This webpage reproduces part of
Historic Old Fort Niagara

by
Claud H. Hulzén, Sr.

Old Fort Niagara Association
1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part 5

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p29 The Stone House

Humble in office as compared with many of the makers of early Niagara Frontier history, but the outstanding figure of that dark period between the evacuation of Fort Denonville in 1688 and the building of Fort Niagara in 1726, was Louis Thomas de Joncaire, usually referred to as Chabert de Joncaire. Holding a minor commission in the French forces, he became associated with colonial struggles, probably by accompanying the Marines under Chevalier de Vaudreuil on his trip to America in 1687.

Had it not been for Joncaire, no doubt the history of the Niagara region — yes, of half of the present United States — might have been vastly different. A volume devoted to his exploits, his unusually thrilling adventures, and his masterful diplomacy, would read most entertainingly.

At just what date his association with the Seneca Indians began is uncertain, though it dates back at least to 1701. Early in his colonial experience, he and several of his companions were captured by Senecas. Different writers tell the tale in varied detail. It seems apparent that a display of exceptional bravery in the face of threatened typical Indian death torture saved his life. With subsequent diplomacy, this characteristic served to insure a lifetime friendship from the Indians. He was adopted into their tribes and raised to the high office of Sachem. This association meant more to France in her dealings with the Iroquois at Niagara than any other alliance in the history of French America.

England and France at times during this period were at peace — at least technically — but at no time was there peace between the competing English and French traders on the Niagara and Lake Ontario. Both had long since visualized the importance of fortifying the river and thus controlling the fur trade. To the French, it was imperative to control Niagara for it was the only logical connecting link between their western cordon of forts and their eastern headquarters at Quebec and Montreal. The Iroquois, lying between two fires, leaned first one way and then another. It finally became possible for Joncaire, in 1720, through his friendship with the Senecas, to build on the present site of Lewiston, N. Y., a flimsy bark house which marked the beginning of a new era of French control of the Portage.

p30 This frail dwelling was enlarged to the proportions of a 30‑foot by 40‑foot store house, surrounded by a substantial stockade of vertical logs with pointed ends. Here the portage fur trade was practically controlled until 1725, when the French obtained permission from the Iroquois to build on the Niagara, a "stone house."

It is interesting to note that the resultant "stone house," now called the French "Castle" at Fort Niagara, is not of the conventional type of fortification for the period in which it was constructed. Perhaps there is a distinct reason for this. For many years the French had cherished the idea of building a fortification upon the strategic river. In 1725 the faithful Joncaire and his fellow diplomat, Lieutenant de Longueuil, obtained from the Senecas permission for the French to build on the river. In presenting this project to the Indians, the emissaries dared not to call the building a fort, persistingº it was to be "a stone house for the purpose of storage."

Historians tell us that the de Longueuil presented the plans of the building to the Indian chiefs. It may not be altogether unlikely, however, that as the emissary related their plans for a stone building on the Niagara, that the wise old Indian chiefs, many of whom had visited Montreal and Quebec, demanded to see such plans. They knew well the appearance of the typical French fort and they also knew the lines of the typical French-Canadian abode house. Perhaps Joncaire and de Longueuil, at all costs determined to carry out the essential French plan of fortifying the Niagara, drew plans for the proposed building in the presence of the Indians. And, perhaps, realizing the Chieftains' knowledge of French architecture, they durst draw no other plans than those of the typical abode house. In any event, the Old Castle was built substantially on the plan of the French Provincial Chateau or home.

The French Provincial Government appropriated 29,295 livres, or approximately $5,592.00 and appointed Gaspard Chaussegros de Lery to prosecute the work of building the "stone house." Along with the appropriation for the building of the new fort, was one covering the cost of two ships, to be built at Kingston for the purpose of carrying supplies and materials for building and to conduct the fur trade across the lake.

While de Longueuil had planned that the new fort at Niagara should be located in the vicinity of Joncaire's store house, the present site of Lewiston, de Lery soon determined that the greater vantage point, both from the angle of river and lake control, was on the ancient triangle, successively recognized as the most strategic by his predecessors La Salle and Denonville. He was upheld in this contention, p31even though he actually started the work on this site before having authority to do so.

While de Lery's stone house retained an appearance in keeping with its design, it was a veritable fort; its walls four feet thick; huge stone arches to absorb the lateral sway that might be created by firing cannon from the top deck; its inside well as a precaution against siege; in fact, the finest fortress that had been built to date in the west.


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De Lery's "Castle"

What toil and engineering ingenuity was required to build so serviceable a structure in the wilderness Frontier of that time. Trim stone for doors and windows was shipped from Frontenac (now Kingston, Ont.) quarries; timber was cut and hauled from the surrounding countryside. The balance of the stone used was taken from the Niagara Escarpment, while the iron and other materials were shipped from Quebec and Montreal through Frontenac.


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Artificer's Cabin


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The Forge, Artificer's Cabin

Page updated: 15 Oct 13