May 1996

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More on Canisteo Castle


George Dickey

The Crooked Lake Review recently featured two articles by David Robinson about Canisteo Castle, Canisteo Castle: The Outlaw Fort, and Canisteo Castle Builders Found?. George Dickey presents another version of what may have happened 200 years ago and earlier at the site.

Although the murder of two Dutch traders is the widely quoted reason for the destruction of the "Castle" by Montour, the transgressions of the Delawares during the summer of 1763 were much greater than that. The Delaware and Senecas had joined whole heartedly in the bloody Indian war called Pontiac's Rebellion. The Pennsylvania frontier had been pushed back to Lancaster. Hundreds of settlers had been killed. The British Fort at Venango had been captured and its garrison butchered, and a British force of 200 men ambushed and wiped out on the Niagara portage by the Seneca. A 500-man force under command of General Bouquet marching to the relief of Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) had been ambushed by the Delaware and other Indians. Bouquet had proved a better general than Braddock, and though his force suffered nearly 50% casualties the Delawares were driven off with heavy casualties. By October of 1763 it became apparent that Pontiac would not succeed in driving the British from the lands they had so lately captured from the French, and by the spring of 1764 Sir William Johnson had convinced the rest of the Iroquois League to punish the warring tribes. The Seneca as members of the League would not be attacked, but their allies the Delawares were not so fortunate and as soon as the snow melted that spring the Mohawks were turned loose on the Delaware towns along the Susquehanna River. All of the inhabitants fled to the Seneca towns on the Allegany River. Squash-cutter and Long Coat, the two renegades the Seneca would turn over to Sir William were in fact two of the principal chiefs of the Delaware. In July a council was held at Fort Niagara and the Seneca were forced to give up the Delaware chiefs they had sheltered, and cede to the British a strip of land four miles wide on both sides of the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. For a good account of the events of 1763 see Allan Eckert, The Conquerors, even if he does place Kanestio in central Pennsylvania rather than New York.

Near's description of buildings with four stone chimneys does not appear in any of the contemporary accounts of Kanestio and I fear he became confused with the cabin built by the original party of settlers in 1790 who built a large log cabin the first winter, with a fire place in each corner, one for each of the families.

As to log cabins at Kanestio, I doubt that there were any before the Delaware town of the 1760s. DeVilliers' account of 1690, according to the notes I have from Leora Drake, talks of large well-built long houses. Who the inhabitants of the valley were at that time is hard to determine. The valley had long been a no-man's land between the Iroquois and the powerful Susquehanna tribe to the south. If the Susquehanna had not met the white man first and been decimated by his diseases they might well have stopped the Iroquois rise to power. The force from Kanestio that had attacked the Seneca was undoubtedly Susquehanna. DeVilliers' march to Kanestio was probably in search of allies against the Senecas, as Brulé had done in 1615, rather than to destroy the village. Apparently he was not impressed with what he found. In 1660 the village at Canisteo, was probably primarily Susquehanna, the 1760 villages primarily Delaware.

There are at least two areas of burial from the colonial period in Canisteo, one along East Main Street and the other between 1st Street and the river. I have seen one burial that was discovered when the Smith Funeral Home was expanded. It was of a large male, around six feet tall. The chest area was covered with tiny blue and white beads (seed beads), and he had been buried with a brass-hilted sword, as near as I can tell a British Infantry sword (captured at Braddock's defeat?).

The forts that Montour is supposed to have missed when he burned the village probably never existed. The elaborate earth works that existed when the settlers arrived in the valley in 1790, were far older than the Delaware occupation of the valley. They have been dated to around 80 A.D. and were built by Hopewell Indians. The Hopewell (Mound Builders) had the organization to build elaborate earthen structures.

Finally, the villages of the mid 1600s and the mid 1700s were in

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