Character Of Lasalle, The Intrepid Explorer -- Seeks A Passage To China -- Early Life Of La Salle -- Starts For The West With Dollier -- Change Of Plan -- Fort Frontenac Is Built -- Receives A Royal Grant -- Builds The Frontenac -- The Great Voyage Begun -- Building The Griffin -- She Is Launched -- The Griffin Sets Sail -- Description Of The Voyage -- Storm On Lake Huron -- Touches At Michilimackinac -- Arrives At Green Bay -- Starts On Her Return Voyage -- Various Accounts Of Her Probable Fate -- La Salle's Subsequent Travels -- His Untimely Fate -- First Vessel On Lake Superior.
OF ALL the names that shed luster upon French discovery in America that of La Salle alone ranks with Champlain. On the Great Lakes he is best known as the owner and master of the Griffin, the famous craft of about sixty tons, which was the first vessel to spread its sails on Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan, and which excited the deepest emotions of the Indian tribes, then occupying the shores of these inland waters. The key to the character of La Salle has never been fully revealed. Conquest was his passion, and to this purpose he applied the energy and strength of a remarkable nature, accomplishing results few would have attempted. He was taciturn, trusted only himself, lacked sympathy and made enemies. Cavelier de la Salle, says Parkman, stands in history like a statue cast in iron.
His aim in the western world was to discover a passage to far Cathay to oriental trade and wealth in China and Japan, the ignis fatuus that stimulated the exertions of many early American explorers. On reaching Canada he found an established order of things, missions that monopolized the spiritual interests of the natives, currents of Indian trade that centered at Montreal. His ambitions led him to override these settled institutions, and he aroused the antagonism of priests and merchants. The French colonists, however, had already begun to fear the English encroachments upon the lake fur trade, and lent a willing ear to measures that would check it. "With a fort at the mouth of Lake Ontario and a vessel on Lake Erie," wrote Governor Frontenac, in 1673, after Fort Frontenac had been built, "the French could command all the upper lakes." La-Salle's dreams were far beyond these considerations. His thought spanned the globe, and the lakes were only a means to an end. But to accomplish his purpose, he recognized the need of a trade in Indian furs and its profit. Frontenac sympathized with his plans, and no doubt expected to share in the profits. And so the little schooner, Frontenac, plowed the waters of Lake Ontario, and the famous Griffin was constructed in the country of the hostile and powerful Iroquois, most of whom were absent at the time on a distant war expedition. Consent to the construction of the vessel was gained by La Salle, from the savages who remained at home, by methods and arguments known only to himself.
When La Salle established Fort Frontenac, he removed the fur trade from Montreal to points west. He thereby antagonized both the merchants and the Jesuits at Montreal. The former complained of a loss of profits, the latter of the corruption of converts. La Salle had conceived the scheme of pushing the depot of trade into the heart of the continent, and shipping either via the St. Lawrence or the Gulf of Mexico, thus cutting off the English entirely.
Early Life of La Salle. -- The name of La Salle in full was Rene Robert Cavelier, de la Salle. La Salle was the name of an estate near Rouen, France, belonging to the Caveliers. French burghers, owning considerable estates, often distinguished members of their families by designations borrowed from these estates.
La Salle, though in his youth a Jesuit, could not remain a member of that society. He had a brother in Canada, the Abbe Jean Cavelier, a priest of St. Sulpice, which fact appears to have shaped his destiny, and thus to have been an antecedent to much of the early history connected with the navigation of the Great Lakes, as well as of discovery and exploration in the great Mississippi valley.
He was born in 1643, and sailed for Canada in the spring of 1666 to seek his fortune, for having joined the Jesuits in his youth, he was, by French law, deprived of his share in his father's estate. However, when he left his native country, he had about 400 livres. He landed in Montreal, where was located the Seminary of St. Sulpice, the priests of which were granting out their lands to settlers upon easy terms. But La Salle was more fortunate than the ordinary settler, for Queylus, superior of the seminary, made him a gratuitous grant of a large tract of land at a place subsequently named La Chine, above the great rapids of that name, and about nine miles above Montreal, just at the foot of what has since been called the Lake of St. Louis.
Certain Iroquois Indians told him of a great river, which they called the Ohio, but which was the Mississippi, far to the west, which La Salle thought must flow into the Gulf of California, and would thus give him a western passage to China. His resolution was immediately formed, and having expended all his money in the improvement of his grant at La Chine, and not being able to obtain any from Governor Courcelles or of the intendant, Talon, he sold a portion of his grant to the Seminary of St. Sulpice, and the remaining portion to Jean Milot, and with the funds thus received bought four canoes, with the necessary supplies, and hired fourteen men.
Starts for the West with Dollier. -- But the priests of the Seminary of St. Sulpice had already formed a project, having for its object the exploration of the great Northwest, for the purpose of carrying the Faith to the benighted Indians in the upper Mississippi valley. Three years before they had established the mission at Quinte, on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, which was then in charge of two of their number, one of whom was the Abbe Fenelon, elder brother of the celebrated Archbishop of Cambray. The expedition fitted out by these priests was to be directed by Dollier, one of the priests of Quinte, and upon his going to Quebec to obtain his outfit, he was prevailed upon by Governor Courcelles to act in concert with La Salle. Galinee, one of the brother priests of Dollier, became his colleague, because he was skilled in surveying, and could therefore make a map of their route. Dollier's party procured three canoes, and the two expeditions, Dollier's and La Salle's, were combined into one. They began their voyage July 6, 1669.
The start was made from La Chine, twenty-four men embarking in seven canoes, on Lake St. Louis. In addition there was a party of Seneca Indians in two canoes, who went along as guides. They fought their way up through the rapids of the St. Lawrence river, then threaded their journey through the romantic channels of the Thousand Islands, and thence into Lake Ontario, landing at the great village of the Seneca Indians, near the banks of the Genesee. Here they remained about a month before they could find "another suitable Indian guide. Then an Indian from a village called Ganastogue, at the head of Lake Ontario, offered to conduct them to his village. Coasting along the southern shores of Lake Ontario they passed the mouth of the Niagara river, where they for the first time heard the roar of the Falls, soon afterward reaching Ganastogue.
The inhabitants of this village were friendly, and presented La Salle with a Shawnee prisoner, who offered to guide them to the Ohio river, which he said could be reached in about six weeks. As related in a previous chapter, La Salle fell in with Louis Joliet, at Ganastogue. Talon had sent Joliet to discover and explore the copper mines of the Lake Superior region, and the explorer was returning without having accomplished his mission.
Change of Plan. -- This first meeting between La Salle and Joliet caused a change in the plans of the former with reference to the course which he would pursue. On September 30, Dollier having said mass, and La Salle having received the sacrament, La Salle and the priests, who had accompanied him thus far, separated, the Sulpitians descending Grand river toward Lake Erie, and La Salle, as they supposed, returning to Montreal. But this was only supposition on their part. To return to Montreal was no part of La Salle's design. What he actually did, however, for two years thereafter is largely matter of conjecture, for it is involved in doubt and perplexity. But it would appear that he was engaged in exploring the country south and west of the Great Lakes, that he discovered the Ohio river and descended at least as far as Louisville or the Falls of the Ohio, and that he became convinced that the Mississippi river flowed into the Gulf of Mexico instead of the Gulf of California.
Fort Frontenac is Built. -- La Salle, it is well known, was wedded to ideas, and he was determined to discover a passage to China and Japan across the American continent. It was also his intention to anticipate the English and the Spaniards in the occupation of the great West, and to establish a fortified post at the mouth of the Mississippi. On his return to Montreal, about 1671, Count Frontenac became his powerful friend, and determined to erect a fort on Lake Ontario, to this end issuing an order to the inhabitants of Quebec, Montreal and Three Rivers, and other settlements, to furnish him with a certain number of armed men, besides the requisite canoes.
This fort, through the advice of La Salle, was located at the mouth of the Cataraqui, on the present site of Kingston, to which point Frontenac proceeded in 1673 with about 400 men and 120 canoes, besides two large flatboats, which he caused to be painted in red and blue with strange devices in order that he might dazzle the Iroquois Indians, and thus the more easily reduce them to subjection. Passing the rapids of the St. Lawrence and up through the Thousand Islands, he reached Lake Ontario. Here, in order to overawe the Indians, he arranged his canoes in order of battle, the first line being composed of four divisions. Then came the two flatboats, and after them Frontenac, his staff, his guards and general volunteers, with the canoes. Three Rivers was on his right and the Indians on his left. The rear line was brought up in two divisions, and the whole was for those times and that place a most formidable array. Crossing over the smooth and peaceful waters of Lake Ontario, he at length approached the village at the mouth of the Cataraqui, where he was received by the Iroquois, whom he subdued and conciliated, making them his friends. Having completed the palisades of his fort, he sent his party home by detachments, who found it much easier to go down the St. Lawrence than the upward voyage had been.
Receives a Royal Grant. -- In 1674 Frontenac sent La Salle to France, where he obtained from the King a grant of Fort Frontenac and lands adjacent, agreeing to repay Frontenac for the expense of establishing the fort, and further agreeing to maintain a garrison there at his own expense. Returning to Canada, he strengthened Fort Frontenac in 1676, erected a strong stone wall on the land side, and made more secure the palisades facing the water. He brought cattle from Montreal, constructed barks to navigate the lakes (according to Margry i 334), keep the Iroquois in check and deter the English from trading on the lakes. In 1677 La Salle again visited France and obtained a permit dated May 12, 1678, allowing him to explore the western part of New France as far as Mexico, with the privilege of trading with the natives, but expressly excluding trade with the Ottawas and such tribes as already brought their beavers to Montreal. Governor Frontenac was to share in the proposed profits of the trade.
As soon as he received his grant from Louis XIV, May 12, 1678, authorizing him to build as many forts as he might need, provided they be built within five years, and to explore the country, to secure it by means of these forts, and find a passage, if possible, to Mexico, he procured iron, cordage and anchors for two vessels, one of them to be built on the Great Lakes above the falls in the Niagara river.
Builds the Frontenac. -- While in France securing the above grant and the means to carry out his enterprise, he became acquainted with Henry de Tonty, an Italian officer, a protege of Prince de Conti, who sent him to La Salle. They reached Quebec September 15, 1678, and upon their arrival at Fort Frontenac La Salle strengthened the palisades and built the little bark Frontenac, in which Tonty set sail for the Niagara river, November 18, 1678, with Father Hennepin and others. Tonty had instructions to build a fort "near the great cataract, by which the lakes of higher elevation precipitate themselves into Lake Frontenac (Ontario), for it is from there 500 leagues by water to the place where Fort Dauphin is to be begun." Fort Dauphin was afterward to be built on the Illinois river, but under another name. From this point it only remained to descend the great river of the Bay de St. Esprit to reach the Gulf of Mexico. This was La Salle's idea, he having been misinformed as to the Mississippi river discharging itself into Mobile bay, or Bay de St. Esprit.
The Great Voyage Begun. -- Fort Conti was to have been built on the site afterward occupied by Fort Niagara. La Salle called Lake Erie, Lake de Conti. He sent forward fifteen men to Lake Michigan, and the Illinois to trade with the Indians and to collect provisions. On the trip the Frontenac kept close along the northern shore of Lake Ontario to escape the fury of the winds, which blew savagely from the northeast. Reaching the vicinity of the Indian town, Taiaiagon, not far from the present site of Toronto, the vessel ran for safety into a harbor, which Parkman thinks was probably the Humber, where they were shut in by ice, and they were forced to cut their way out with axes. On December 5 they attempted to cross to the mouth of the Niagara river, but darkness overtook them and they spent the night just outside on troubled waters five or six miles from shore.
In the morning they entered the mouth of the Niagara river and landed on the eastern side of the river, where now stands Fort Niagara. From this point Hennepin, with several companions, ascended the river to the foot of the mountain ridge of Lewiston, "which, stretching on the right hand and on the left, forms the acclivity of the first plateau, rent with the mighty chasm, along which from this point to the cataract, seven miles above, rush, with the fury of an Alpine torrent, the gathered waters of four inland oceans."
Hennepin landed on the west bank near the foot of Queenston Heights, and passed on up to the Falls, the height of which he gives at 500 feet, and later at 600 feet. Hennepin spelled the name, Niagara, as it now stands in literature; but by various writers, both before and after him, it was spelled in many different ways. In 1641 Lalemont wrote it, Onguiaahra, and Sanson wrote it, Ongiara. Dr. O'Callaghan discovered thirty-nine distinct forms of the word. It is of Iroquois origin, and in the Mohawk dialect pronounced Ny-ag-ar-ah.
In order to conciliate the Senecas, and reconcile them to the prosecution of their enterprise, La Motte and Hennepin paid a visit to their chief village, near the present village of Victor, a short distance southeast of Rochester, which they reached December 31, 1678, after a march of five days. Their mission was not a success, and they set out upon their return.
The work of building this vessel was carried on through the winter of 1678-79 with vigor by the companions of La Salle, he being absent most of the time at Fort Frontenac, attending to his private affairs, which were in some confusion, and by which he was greatly embarrassed. Tonty and Hennepin had charge of the construction work. Although permission had been granted by the chief men of the Seneca tribe of Indians, yet there were many individuals of that tribe who did not approve of the building of the ship.
She is Launched. -- These hostile Senecas formed a plan of burning the growing vessel, as she lay upon her stocks, but happily their designs were frustrated by the receipt of timely information, furnished by a squaw. -Still the strictest vigilance was constantly observed. Then, too, the workmen themselves became dissatisfied, and it was with great difficulty that they were held to their duties. However, through the persistent efforts and persuasion of Hennepin and Tonty, the work went on, and the vessel was nearly ready to be launched in May. The looming up of its formidable hull in the stocks continued to excite the jealousy of the Senecas, and they again threatened to burn the new vessel, and this led to an earlier launching than was at first intended. This was carried out with due ceremony, she easily sliding off into the Cayuga channel of the Niagara river. About this time a party of Iroquois Indians, returning from the chase, were greatly astonished at the spectacle they witnessed, and they could not repress their admiration for the Frenchmen, who had built such a large floating fort in so short a time. To these Frenchmen they gave the name of Ot-kon, meaning penetrating minds, the corresponding word in the Seneca language being Ot-goh, meaning supernatural beings or spirits; and the Seneca, notwithstanding their continued opposition to the enterprise as it progressed, attended the launching of the vessel, and partook freely of the brandy, which was distributed with a liberal hand on the occasion.
The name selected by LaSalle for this pioneer of the Great Lakes was Le Griffon (The Griffin), in honor, some say, of Count Frontenac, whose coat of arms was ornamented with a figure of that mythical animal. Hennepin says she was named Le Griffon to protect her from the fire, with which she was threaten. The chimerical creature known as the griffin was most frequently represented as a cross between a lion and an eagle, having the body and legs of the former, and the beak and wings of the latter. In this form it appears on ancient coins, and as an ornament in classical architecture. And it was a figure, representing this imaginary creature, that Le Griffon carried on her prow, but which, even if it did save her from the fire of the Senecas, did not, about six weeks later, save her from the fury of the winds. Another account says: "The vessel was sixty tons burthen, completely rigged, and found with all necessaries, arms, provisions and merchandise; besides seven pieces of cannon, two of which were of brass. There was a griffin flying at the jib-boom and an eagle above, and the other ornaments that were used to grace a ship of war."
The Griffin remained in the river for some time, and then, when her rigging was complete, sailed up on the easterly side of Grand island by means of the force of the wind alone. She dropped her anchor below Squaw island, in ten feet of water, and there remained for some time. At length, on August 7, 1679, a favorable northeast wind having sprung up, an attempt was made to sail up over the rapids, which was successfully accomplished by the aid of a dozen stalwart men tugging away at a tow line on the shore. In this way Le Griffon passed up into Lake Erie. She had ori board of her a battery of seven small cannon and a quantity of musketry, a flag at her mast head, bearing the device of an eagle, and as stated before a carved griffin on her prow. As she passed up into the lake a dozen Seneca Indians watched her from the banks of the Niagara, and looked upon her as a ship with wings.
The Griffin now spread her sails to the auspicious breeze, and commenced her adventurous voyage. The vast inland seas, .over which she was about to navigate, had never been explored, save by the canoe of the Indian, timidly coasting along their shores. Without chart to warn of hidden dangers, she boldly ploughed her way, the pioneer of the vast fleets of modern lake commerce. A moonless night and a thick fog settled on the lakes, so they cautiously felt their way, sounding as they went. They had been told that Lake Erie was full of shoals, fatal to navigation. Suddenly the sound of breakers was borne to the ears of the watchful crew. All but La Salle were sure it was the noise of the waves, occasioned by a change of wind. But he had seen the rude chart of Galinee, made ten years previous, containing a rough outline of the northern shore, showing Long Point, extending southeastward across the course of the Griffin. Suspecting they were approaching this danger, he ordered the pilot to change the course to east northeast. The little vessel proceeded on that course under a light breeze for two or three hours, hearing the same noise and sounding constantly without finding any bottom. An hour later the depth suddenly diminished to three fathoms. All hands were aroused and the course again changed. At length the fog lifted and Long Point lay directly before them.
La Salle's conjectures proved correct. His caution and vigilance had saved his barque from probable wreck. On the next day they doubled the dangerous headland, which they named St. Francis, now known as Long Point. At sunset they had sailed forty-five leagues from the outlet of the lake. After another anxious night they reached the widest part of the lake, from the shores of which, on either hand, stretched illimitable forests, unbroken by the faintest sign of civilization.
On the 9th of August, the winds being favorable and the lake smooth, Point aux Pins and Point Pelee were doubled on the starboard side, and on the 10th, early in the morning, passing between Point Pelee and the Bass islands, they reached the mouth of the Detroit river. Here they found Tonty and his men, waiting for the bark. They had encamped on a narrow beach, at the mouth of the strait, with the river in front and a marsh in the rear. A fresh northeast wind had suddenly raised the water during the night at that end of the lake, and it surprised and threatened to wash them during their slumbers. At break of day the Griffin appeared, a welcome sight. They signaled her with three columns of smoke. She came to anchor at the summons and received them on board.
On the 11th she entered the river and sailed up between Grosse Isle and Bois Blanc island. It is said that Hennepin was even more impressed with the beautiful scenery of the Detroit river than that of the Niagara. Following the official account, he describes the strait as "thirty leagues long, bordered by low and level banks, and navigable throughout its entire length; that on either hand were vast prairies, extending back to hills covered with vines, fruit trees, thickets and tall forest trees, so distributed as to seem rather the work of art than of nature." All kinds of game abounded, including many species new to the travelers. The awnings, which covered the deck of the Griffin, were garnished with carcasses of deer, killed by the crew. Abundance of all kinds of timber, suitable for building purposes, was growing on shore; also nut and fruit-bearing trees, and wild vines loaded with grapes. "The inhabitants," said Hennepin, "who will have the good fortune to some day settle on this pleasant and fertile strait, will bless the memory of those who pioneered the way, and crossed Lake Erie by more than a hundred leagues of an unknown navigation."
Hennepin had failed to induce La Salle to found a colony on the banks of the Niagara. He now set forth the superior merits of the Detroit river for such an enterprise, pressing its commercial advantages, while his real object, as avowed in his narrative, was to advance the interests of his religion under cover of secular considerations. But he made no impression on the fixed purposes of La Salle, who resolutely pursued his way in the Griffin, intent on the accomplishment of the great enterprise he had inaugurated.
On the 10th of August the festival of Saint Claire, they entered and crossed the lake, which they named after that saint. In attempting to pass from the lake into the river above, they encountered the same obstacles which, after a lapse of two centuries, confront the mariners of to-day. In describing it, Hennepin says: "We found the mouth of the St. Clair river divided into many narrow channels full of sand bars and shoals. After carefully sounding them all we discovered a very fine one two or three fathoms deep and almost a league wide throughout its entire length." Contrary winds delayed their progress through the St. Clair river for several days. At length they were enabled to approach Lake Huron, but the violent current, increased by a northerly gale, prevented their advancing. The wind shifting to the south, they succeeded, with the aid of a dozen men towing on shore, as at the outlet of Lake Erie, in surmounting the rapids, which were pronounced by Hennepin almost as strong as those of Niagara. They entered the lake August 23, the Franciscans chanting the "Te Teum" for the third time, and thanking the Almighty for their safe navigation thus far and for the sight of the great bay of Lake Huron, on the eastern shores of which their brethren had established one of the earliest missions in North America, sixty-four years before.
As soon as they entered the lake a fresh wind drove them rapidly along its eastern shores until evening, when it changed violently to the southwest. The Griffin then tacked to the northwest, and, running on that course all night, crossed the Bay of Saginaw, thirty miles in width, and which penetrates twice that distance into the heart of the Michigan peninsula. When morning came they were running in sight of land on a northwesterly course, parallel with the western coast. This continued until evening, when they were becalmed in two fathoms of water, among the Thunder Bay islands.
They sought under easy sail for an anchorage, during a part of the next night; but finding none satisfactory, and the wind increasing from the west, they steered north to gain an offing, sounding their way and waiting for the day. La Salle, having discovered evidence of negligence on the part of the pilot, took personal supervision of the lead during the remainder of the voyage.
Storm on Lake Huron. -- On the 25th they were becalmed until noon, when, favored by a northerly wind, they started northwest. Suddenly the wind veered to the southwest. At midnight they changed their course to the north to avoid a cape, since known as Presque Isle, which projected into the lake. Hardly had they doubled this, when a furious gale compelled them to beat to windward under main and foresail, and then to lie-to until morning. On the 26th the violence of the gale obliged them to haul down their topmasts, to lash their yards to the deck, and drift at the mercy of storm. At noon the waves ran so high, and the lake became so rough, as to compel them to stand in for land. At this juncture, as related by Hennepin, La Salle entered the cabin, in much alarm, exclaiming that he commended his enterprise to the Divine protection. "We had been accustomed," says Hennepin, "during the entire voyage, to fall on our knees, morning and evening, to say our prayers publicly, and to sing the hymns of our church. But the storm was now so violent that we could not remain on the deck. In this extremity each one performed his devotion is independently, as well as he could, except our pilot, who could never be persuaded to follow our example. He complained that the Sieur de la Salle had brought him thus far to lose in a fresh water lake the glory he had acquired by many successful voyages by sea."
In this fearful crisis, La Salle was induced by the importunity of the Recollects to make a special vow, and, by taking St. Anthony de Padua, the tutelary saint of the sailor, for his patron, he promised that if God would deliver them from their present peril, the first chapel erected in Louisiana should be dedicated to the memory of that venerated saint. The vow seems to have met a response, for the wind slightly decreased. They were obliged, however, to lie-to, drifting slowly all night, unable to find either anchorage or shelter. On the 27th they were driven northwesterly until evening, when, under favor of a light southerly breeze, they rounded Point St. Ignace, and anchored in the calm waters of the bay of Michilimackinac, described as a sheltered harbor, protected on all sides except from the southeast. Here our voyagers found a settlement, composed of Hurons (Kis-ka-kons), Ottawas and a few Frenchmen.
The safe arrival of the Griffin in this secure haven was the occasion of great rejoicing to the weary voyagers. A salute was fired from the deck, and thrice responded to by the firearms of the Hurons on the shore. Mass was gratefully celebrated by the Franciscans in the chapel of the Ottawas. La Salle attended, robed in fine clothes, including a scarlet cloak bordered with gold lace, his arms being laid aside in the chapel in charge of a sentinel. More than a hundred bark canoes gathered around the Griffin, attracted by the novel spectacle. La Salle found at Michilimackinac some of the fifteen men he had sent forward from Fort Frontenac to trade with the Illinois Indians, and whom he supposed were already among the latter. They had listened to reports on the way that the plans of La Salle were visionary, and that the Griffin would never reach Michilimackinac. La Salle seized four of the deserters, and learning that two more were at Sault Ste. Marie, he dispatched Tonty with six assistants to arrest them.
Arrives at Green Bay. -- As the season was rapidly passing away he was unable to wait for Tonty's return, and gave orders for the departure of the Griffin. On September 12, five days before Tonty's return, she sailed out of the straits into Lake Michigan, then called Lake Illinois. A prosperous run brought her to an island, since called Washington island, forty leagues from Michilimackinac, inhabited by the Pottawatomies. It is situated at the entrance of La Grand Baie, now Green bay. Some of the party were found there, who had been sent forward by La Salle to the Illinois the year previous. They had collected a large quantity of furs, to the amount of twelve thousand pounds, in anticipation of the arrival of the Griffin. The navigators found secure shelter in a small bay, now known as Detroit Harbor, on the southerly side of the island, where they rode out at anchor, a violent storm of four days' duration.
Griffin Leaves for Niagara. -- As winter was now approaching La Salle loaded the Griffin with the furs, which had thus been collected, intending to send them to the store house he had built above the Falls, from there to be transhipped to Fort Frontenac, in satisfaction of the claims of his creditors. His own purpose was to pursue his route by canoe to the head of lake navigation, and from there to the country of the Illinois. Being unable to obtain more than four canoes, which were wholly insufficient to contain all the merchandise and various articles destined for his southern enterprise, he was obliged to leave a portion of his goods in the Griffin with directions to the pilot to deposit them at Michilimackinac, until the vessel should call for them on the return voyage.
The Griffin sailed for the Niagara September 18. A favorable wind bore her from the harbor, and with a single gun she bade adieu to her enterprising builder, who never saw her again. She bore a cargo, valued with the vessel at fifty or sixty thousand francs ($10,000 or $12,000), obtained at great sacrifice of time and treasure. She was placed under the command of the pilot, Luc, assisted by a supercargo and five good sailors, with directions to call at Mickili-mackinac, and from thence proceed to the Niagara. Nothing more was heard of her.
It was not until the following January that La Salle abandoned hope that the Griffin was safe. She had on board material, including rigging and anchors, for another vessel, which he had expected to build on the Illinois river, thence to descend the Mississippi river to the West Indies.
Parkman says of the ill-fated Griffin: "Indians, fur traders, and even Jesuits, have been charged with contriving her destruction. Some say that the Ottawas boarded and burned her, after murdering those on board; others accuse the Pottawatomies; others affirm that her own crew scuttled and sunk her; others again that she foundered in a storm. As for La Salle, the belief grew in him to a settled conviction, that she had been treacherously sunk by the pilot and the sailors to whom he had entrusted her. La Salle, in a letter to Frontenac, written in 1683, said that a young Indian belonging to him, told him that three years before he saw a white man, answering the description of the pilot, a prisoner among a tribe beyond the Mississippi. He had been captured with four others on that river while making his way with canoes, laden with goods, towards the Sioux. His companions had been killed. Other circumstances which La Salle details at great length, convinced him that the white prisoner was no other than the pilot of the Griffin. The evidence, however, is not conclusive."
Of the destruction of the Griffin, Hennepin says: "It came to anchor at the mouth of Lake Illinois, where it was seen by some savages, who told us that they advised our men to sail along the coast, and not toward the middle of the lake, because of the sands that make the lake dangerous when there are high winds. Our pilot, as I said before, was dissatisfied, and would steer as he pleased without hearing to the advice of the savages, who, generally speaking, have more sense than the Europeans think at first. But the ship was hardly a league from the coast when it was tossed up by a violent storm in such a manner that our men were never heard from since; and it is supposed that the ship struck on the sand, and was there buried. This was a great loss, for the ship and cargo cost 60,000 livres. The rigging, anchors and goods were brought by canoes from Quebec and Fort Frontenac, which is such a vast charge that the carriage of every hundredweight cost eleven livres."
Among the Jesuits is a tradition that the Griffin was driven ashore during a gale, and the crew murdered and the vessel plundered. The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser of January 26, 1848, published a letter from James W. Peters, of East Evans, Erie county, referring to some interesting relics found near Buffalo, to substantiate this tradition: "Some thirty-five or forty years ago, on the Ingersoll farm, in Hamburg, below the Eighteen-mile creek, and on a high bank in the woods, was found by Mr. Ingersoll a large quantity of wrought iron, supposed to be 700 or 800 weight. It was evidently taken off a vessel, was of superior quality, much eaten by rust, and sunken deep in the soil. A large tree had fallen across it, which was rotted and mixed with the earth. There were trees growing over the iron from six to twelve inches in diameter, which had to be grubbed up before all the iron could be reached. About twenty-seven years since, a man by the name of Walker, after a heavy blow on the lake, found on the beach, near where the irons were found, a cannon, and immediately under it a second one. I was there not forty-eight hours after they were found; they were much defaced by age and rust, and filled up with sand. I cleared off enough from one to lay a number of letters bare. The words were French and so declared at the time. The horns or trunnions were knocked off." It is highly improbable, however, that these were the remains of the Griffin.
Charlevoix gives this account of the loss of the Griffin: "No very authentic tidings were had of it after it left the bay. Some have reported that the Indians no sooner perceived this large vessel sailing over their lakes, than they gave themselves up for lost, unless they could succeed in disgusting the French with this mode of navigating; that the Iroquois in particular, already preparing for a rupture with us, seized this opportunity to spread distrust of us among the Algonquin nations; that they succeeded, especially with the Ottawas, and that a troop of these last, seeing the Griffin at anchor in a bay, ran up under pretext of seeing a thing so novel to them; that, as no one distrusted them, they were allowed to go aboard, where there were only five men, who were massacred by these savages; that the murderers carried off all the cargo of the vessel, and then set it on fire. But how could all these details be known when we are moreover assured that no Ottawa ever mentioned it." This is the account given by De la Potherie and adopted by Colden in his "History of the Five Nations." Hennepin says that it put in at the north of Lake Michigan, and that soon after it left some Indians saw it suddenly disappear. Tonty merely says it was never heard of afterward.
La Salle's Subsequent Travels: -- After the loss of his vessel, La Salle went west and built Fort Creve Coeur, which was destroyed by some of his men in the absence of Tonty, who had been left in charge. In the meantime Father Hennepin, Michael Accaut and Du Gay, in obedience to orders from La Salle, had penetrated to the upper waters of the Mississippi, and had been taken prisoners by the Sioux. Under the Falls of St. Anthony, Hennepin met with Duluth, who was familiar with the Sioux, and who was then forming the design of exploring the entire region west of Lake Superior. Father Hennepin, who had been adopted by an aged Sioux chief, was free to follow Duluth back to the French post at the Straits of Mackinac, which he did, and this is the adventure, which is famous for Hennepin's attempt a few years later to make it appear that he had followed the Mississippi to its mouth, in the Gulf of Mexico.
His Untimely Fate. -- La Salle, upon again venturing into the West, found that the fierce and savage Iroquois had been recently on the warpath, killing their enemies and destroying their villages, and owing to these difficulties that it was not until the next spring that he found his faithful Tonty at Mackinaw. In the spring of 1682 La-Salle in company with Tonty and Membre, the latter a priest of the Recollect order, which La Salle always preferred to the Jesuit order, made that famous voyage down the Mississippi river to the Gulf of Mexico, the same year that Count Frontenac was recalled from the governorship of Canada to France. In the wilds of Louisiana, not many years afterward, La Salle was killed, and his body left a prey to wild beasts.
For over a half century French explorers had navigated the Great Lakes in frail canoes and bateaux, but none had attempted the construction of a craft till La Salle, with his dream of exploration and conquest, had fashioned the Griffin to aid him in the acquisition of western territory. In a brief year the Griffin had been built and lost, and for three-quarters of another century there were no vessels on the lakes above Niagara Falls.
The earliest builder of a vessel on Lake Superior, with sails larger than an Indian blanket, whose name has been discovered in the New Dominion archives at Ottawa, was La Ronde, a Frenchman, who, about 1731, had already constructed at his own expense a bark of forty tons, though he was obliged to transport the rigging and other materials as far as the Sault in canoes. His reward was the monopoly of the fur trade at La Pointe -- the only post on the south shore of the lake for a century afterward. He thus became an autocrat there. Made-laine island, on Bellin's map, issued at Paris in 1745, is printed "Isle de la Ronde." About 1766, Capt. Jonathan Carver spent a year in crossing Lake Superior. He states that "the French, while they were in possession of Canada, had kept a small schooner on this lake." In the Calendar of Canadian Archives there is a notice of the loss of this vessel, soon after the conquest of Canada, in 1763.
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.