NATIVE AMERICANS OF ERIE COUNTY
Many different Native American tribes inhabited the Northeastern region of the United States prior to European contact. The arrival of Europeans drastically changed tribal boundaries and the number of native inhabitants. Warfare sparked by trade disagreements, as well as the spread of foreign diseases such as smallpox, ravaged Indian populations, resulting in the shift of tribal boundaries. The Europeans’ desire to expand their colonial empires also resulted in the shrinking of tribal territories. As the early settlers and explorers claimed more and more land for colonial development, less and less was available for the Native Americans.
Today, Native American communities continue to exist throughout the United States; however, their tribal lands and cultures are limited to reservations, areas designated by the federal government. These lands are usually only a fraction of the territory their ancestors once commanded.
Very little is known about the Eriez Indians, because they no longer lived along the Lake Erie shore by the time European explorers and missionaries arrived. The information that is available to modern historians (young and old) primarily came from French explorers and missionaries who recorded accounts of the Erie Indians from the neighboring Huron and Neutral Indians, as well as the rival Seneca.
There are very few facts pertaining to the Erie Indians that are not heatedly debated by local historians. It is readily accepted that the Erie Indians occupied lands along the southeastern shore of Lake Erie; however, precise boundaries are unclear. Some historians assert that Erie territory included western New York, northwestern Pennsylvania, and northeastern Ohio. Estimates concerning the Erie population range from 4,000 to 15,000. It is also readily accepted that the Erie, a group linguistically related to the Iroquois, ceased to exist as a distinct cultural group by 1656. They were defeated, destroyed, and dispersed by the neighboring Seneca in that year.
The End of the Eriez:
At the start of European contact, many newcomers offered peace and trade with local inhabitants. The natives, viewing friendly relations with the new settlers as signs of strength and prestige, accepted European offers. As the fur trade (1650-1870) developed, the French befriended the Huron, the strongest group in their region of settlement (Lower Canada), and the Dutch befriended the Mohawk, one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy (Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Mohawk, Seneca, Tuscarora), near Albany. The Huron quickly developed a fur trade monopoly on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River with the French in Montreal. The two tribes encountered opposition hunting and trading expeditions in their territories, for the fur trade quickly depleted traditional hunting grounds. Angered by the encroaching Huron hunters, the Mohawk, aided by their Iroquois allies, raided and pillaged Huron villages between 1648 and 1650. Many Huron survivors sought refuge with the Erie, and were absorbed into Erie villages. The Iroquois also defeated the Neutral Indians (Lower Canada) in 1650, and they too sought refuge with the Erie. (This offers one reason for dramatic differences in population estimates of the Erie.)
Peace between the Erie and the western Iroquois (Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga) was kept for only a few years. The Erie were destroyed as a separate cultural group and dispersed in 1656 by Seneca warriors and their Onondaga allies. Many Erie, Huron and Neutral refugees were absorbed into various Seneca tribes.
Iroquois Lands Diminish – The United States Expands:
Seneca Indians and their Iroquois allies inhabited this region after the fall of the Erie, and until the newly formed United States began its ambitious expansion project following the Revolutionary War. Due to vaguely worded charters (unclear boundary lines), New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania all laid claims to the Erie Triangle. (The Erie Triangle makes up most of Erie County today.) In 1780, the Triangle was ceded to the federal government. In 1792, the state of Pennsylvania purchased the Triangle from the federal government. Concurrently, federal and state governments were negotiating a succession of treaties with Native Americans in the surrounding areas. Despite these treaties and negotiations, the Six Nations claimed ownership of the Triangle.
The Fort Harmar Treaty, signed 1789, confirmed an earlier treaty and fixed the western limits of the possessions of the Six Nations. The Fort Harmar Treaty outlined hunting and fishing rights, and awarded the Iroquois $2,000 from the state of Pennsylvania, and an additional $1,200 from the United States government for the Triangle. Dissatisfaction with the terms of the treaty was widespread among the Iroquois. Seneca chief Ki-on-Twog-Ky, known as Cornplanter, was unable to resolve differences among the tribes. Confident Western Woodland Indian tribes would provide much needed support, the Six Nations disregarded boundaries outlined by the Fort Harmar Treaty and refused to relinquish claims to the Erie Triangle. Continued threats of violence delayed settlement of the Erie Triangle until 1795.
The Six Nations signed a treaty forfeiting claims to the Triangle after receiving news of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne’s victory over the Western Woodland Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. Fallen Timbers extinguished the Iroquois’ last hope of creating an independent state in the Erie Triangle. The Canandaigua Treaty was signed in 1794. Several chiefs received payment for their roles in negotiating the treaty.
Andrew Ellicott and his surveying party laid out “A Town at Presque Isle” in 1795.
Other Interesting Stories
Erie County Toy Box
What are as old as history, can be found in every culture and are guaranteed to amuse future generations? Toys! Toys are a very important part of history. They reflect social customs, family traditions and technological innovations…
Eries Blackest Day
Just as politics, religion, industry and culture are important aspects of our region’s history; climate and weather have influenced the history of Erie County as well.
Eries Link to Space
Erie County is more than one thousand miles from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida and Mission Control in Houston, Texas. So, what links Erie to the moon landings of the 1960′s and 70′s, or even NASA astronauts?
Victorian Era in Erie: Part I
There are a variety of Victorian architectural styles that can be found throughout Erie City and County, each with its own distinctive features.
Victorian Era in Erie: Part II
Did you ever stop to wonder…When did bicycles become popular? Where did the people of Erie shop before upper Peach Street was developed? What high fashion magazines did men and women read before Glamour Magazine?
A Good Days Catch: Commercial Fishing Part I
The Lake Erie watershed is a fisherman’s paradise. Fishermen have found success fishing the waters of Lake Erie for centuries because the lake offers a variety of species of fish in great abundance.
A Good Days Catch: Commercial Fishing Part II
Many different industries have contributed to the success and growth of Erie County, but none have used our region’s most important natural resource – Lake Erie – like the commercial fishing industry. The commercial fishing industry began shortly after the War of 1812.
History of Erie Rails
As a result of Erie County’s growing population, and increased trade on the Great Lakes, it became apparent in the mid 1800s to local government officials and regional business leaders that Erie needed improved methods of transportation – Erie’s steamship lines and stagecoaches quickly faded and were replaced by a state-of-the-art electric trolley line and miles of railroad track.
The Settlement of Erie…Town and County
After the American Revolution (1775-1783), the newly formed state of Pennsylvania looked forward to expanding settlement of its western lands. The territory known as the “Erie Triangle,” the northern-most piece of Pennsylvania today, offered access to the Great Lakes and a safe harbor.
Strong Vincent Biography
Strong Vincent is best known for his leadership of soldiers during the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg in July 1863, but to friends and family he was known for much more – a handsome appearance, unquestionable bravery and intelligence.
Wings Over Erie
From the earliest days, humans have dreamed of flying and have attempted to achieve it. Inventors of the 15th century through the 19th century flew using artificial wings, gliders, airships (such as blimps) and hot air balloons.
Famous Women of Erie
Sarah A. Reed was born in 1838, the granddaughter of Erie’s first female settler, Hannah Reed. As an educated woman, Ms. Reed spent most of her life improving the lives of others in the Erie community. In 1871, she helped to form the first welfare agency in Erie.