A path of history on Onondaga Lake

Farah Jadran Pike 03/17/10More articles
This photo Onondaga Lake was taken March 3 in honor of the Jesuits' journey.
An arduous journey dating back more than 350 years is probably unknown to many who live in spaces that once belonged to the Iroquois and Onondaga nations.

While numerous cars drive down Onondaga Lake Parkway daily and pass by the Ste. Marie among the Iroquois Visitor Center, little may be understood of the history that resides.

After recently hosting its annual Mid Winter Festival, the Ste. Marie Mission site’s volunteers have been remembering the extensive trek taken by Jesuit Father Claude D’Ablon from Onondaga, now known as Manlius, to Quebec in March 2, 1656.

Causing the 28-day journey were years of troubling battles between the French, Huron and the Iroquois in the 1640s, when many Jesuit priests were martyred. The remaining Frenchmen retreated from their original plans to establish themselves farther south.

In hopes of beginning a permanent peace treaty, Jesuit Father Simon Le Moyne made a similar journey from Quebec to Onondaga to begin the negotiations July 2, 1654. Le Moyne stayed for more than one month before returning to Quebec.

Leader of the Iroquois, Chief Garakontie, traveled to Quebec to invite the Jesuits to build a mission in the territory of the Onondaga in the summer of 1655.

The French chose to restrain from sending any sizeable contingent on the journey because of mistrust of the Iroquois.

At this time, the French had been waiting almost three years for a clear response on a peace treaty with the Iroquois. In order to receive full concession for the mission to be built, D’Ablon and Jesuit Father Chaumonot were rushed to leave Onondaga with a settlement party and travel to Montreal.

Father D’Ablon’s words were captured and placed within “Relations,” which were highly popular among the Europeans as intelligent and informative writings.

“Therefore, fearing to lose so favorable an opportunity, we sought every possible way to send word to Kebek of their state of mind, and to hasten the coming of the French. But no one would undertake to conduct one of us to Kebek, fearing to let slip the season for securing the beavers and a while year’s supplies; for just then all young men were departing for the chase. We despaired of being able to make the journey, although it was absolutely necessary for our settlement. For more than two months we had been using all sorts of expedients to gain our end, but in vain.”

“At last it occurred to us to make a novena to St. John the Baptist, Patron of this Mission; and we said nine masses, to gain light upon a matter in which we were beset with utter darkness.”

“And lo! Contrary to our expectation and to all human probability, without knowing how or by whom it was effected, immediately after the ninth mass I left Onontague, accompanied by two of the village’s leading young men and by several others – whom St. John undoubtedly prompted to undertake this journey. Moreover, the leader of the escort was named Jean Baptiste, and was the first of the Iroquois baptized in perfect health.”
Within D’Ablon’s writings, he shared the travels he and Chaumonot made through thick paths of snow and icy patches.

“At times we had to climb with feet and hands over mountains of snow; again, to walk over great ice-blocks; and again, to pass over marches, plunge into thickets, fell trees for bridging rivers, cross streams, and avoid precipices, while, at the day’s end, we had make barely four short leagues. Finally, to comfort us, we lodged at an inn where there was neither bread nor wine nor bed; but truly God was wholly there.

After the 28-day journey, D’Ablon arrived in Montreal. Gov. Jean de Lauson granted the Jesuits a concession of land Lake on April 12, 1656. About a month later Lauson ordered a command of soldiers to remain at the Ste. Marie Mission.

A party of colonists, including 50 French and several Huron and Iroquois, left Montreal to begin construction on the Ste. Marie de Gannentaha Mission at Onondaga Lake. The site was established in the summer of 1656.

Like many volunteers at the current Ste. Marie Mission, Jon Anderson, vice president of the Friends of Historical Onondaga Lake, takes great pride in helping preserve the story behind the site located in Liverpool.

“I think the volunteers are very enthusiastic about it,” Anderson said. “It is a story recognized across the country.”

While it may be a well-known story in general, Anderson said he believes that community members, who live near the Mission, may not know what it is or how it came to be.

Anderson invites interested community members to use the Internet and research D’Ablon’s writings about his long journey. He said a simple search with “Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents,” would present many options to looking through historical writings that have now been electronically archived.

People can also call the site’s visitor center to arrange a visit during regular hours so that a guide can be assigned to a small or big party for further explanation of the site’s history.

Call 453-6768 for more informatio or visit

More background of the mission site will follow in future editions of the Star-Review.

Father Claude D’Ablon’s Departure from Onontague to Return to Kebek, Relations 1655 to 1656, Vol. 42, Chapter 13.

CATEGORY: General Society
TAGS: Onondaga Lake Park, Onondaga County, Ste. Marie Among the Iroquois, Father Claude D’Ablon’s
EDITION: Star-Review

Rating: 2.9/5 (21 votes cast)

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