Early settlers & natives: Did they get along?

Did early settlers and natives get along?
Published: Nov. 25, 2022 at 6:09 AM EST
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AKWESASNE (WWNY) - In what we know today as St Lawrence County, European settler Alexander Macomb owned the 10 towns divided in a treaty after the American Revolution. They were Louisville, Stockholm, Potsdam, Madrid, Lisbon, Canton, DeKalb, Hague, Cambray, and Oswegatchie. The area got its first settlers around 1800.

In what would later become Lewis County, the earliest settlement was Leyden in 1796, formerly called Steuben, four years prior. It was used as an important stop along the Black River canal.

And in Jefferson County as we know it today, Champion and Watertown were the first settlements in 1800.

But before any of those acts, treaties, or settlements, this was native land.

“If we’re rolling back the clock to before European contact, this area that became New York state was basically the domain of a number of different groups that lived from one end of the St. Lawrence River to the other end, and they were predominantly an Iroquois people,” said Darren Bonaparte, who’s director of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Preservation Office.

The Mohawk people moved to the area from the Mohawk Valley after diseases and warfare broke out in the 17th century.

“In 1754, the population grew so much, we decided to establish a new community where Akwesasne is today,” Bonaparte said.

So, when European settlers started arriving here, what was the relationship like?

“We didn’t just sit down and watch the world go by,” Bonaparte said. “We were involved with all the new settlements. We went to inspect what they were doing, and oftentimes they’d be in terror to see these Indians coming down the road, but they came to realize we’re very friendly and a lot of us were Catholic and prayed, so they realized we have nothing to fear from these people, they’re very nice.”

Akwesasne was seen as a religious hub, welcoming newcomers to church. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe was also a key player in the War of 1812 keeping settlers safe and fighting in battles.

“People end up with the stereotype of indigenous people that we’re passive victims to the colonial experience, when in actuality, we were active participants and willing to help people out,” Bonaparte said. “There are some who look upon the past and get angry because of the injustices that occurred, but I tell people, you do have to acknowledge and confront that, but take your ancestors off the hook. Take all the people of the past off the hook. Our teachings tell us to let them go and make the best world we can for the people still to come.”