Midway between Fort Pitt and Fort Niagara, the wilderness of the Chautauqua region stood largely dormant while armies clashed among the frontier campaigns during the American Revolution.
But the local landscape was not undisturbed from the conflict. Secrets held in the historic record are occasionally discovered - and rediscovered - which prove Chautauqua played host to the occasional war path or party.
Earlier this year Vince Martonis, town of Hanover historian, revisited the citation of a letter which turns the spotlight on a Seneca village in the extreme north of Chautauqua County. The correspondence is addressed to British Lt. Col. Bolton at Niagara, but it is dated Sept. 1 1779, from a mostly undocumented base of operations for the King's Army - the native settlement of Cataragaras.
In a revised map from the Holland Land Company, early roads intersect at the site of Cataragaras at the mouth of the Cattaraugus Creek. Other native trails are faintly visible as dotted lines, including the Broadway trail which crosses the Pennsylvania Road near Little Valley, and another which separates to the west and reaches the present-day town of Carroll.
With the help of historic maps and early sources of county history, Martonis has retraced a minor military campaign that carved its way south from the Lake Erie shoreline. At a special ceremony this week, the town of Hanover is appropriately honored as the point of origin for the earlier of what is now a pair of documented episodes of Revolutionary history that occurred in Chautauqua County.
In the late summer of 1779, the Allegheny River met her destiny as a participant in the sprawling continental war.
What: New York State Historical Marker Unveiling
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Hanover Boat Launch at Sunset Bay
From the south came Brodhead's Expedition, an often-forgotten American incursion that survives almost exclusively in the careful retelling of Pennsylvania's frontier militias and among a series of dusty local histories.
See MARKER, Page A-6
From Page A-1
In the History of Chautauqua County from 1875, author Andrew Young gathered the testimony and written correspondence about the plan from George Washington's command to disrupt and dislodge the Iroquois enemy along the northern frontier. While the Continental Army actively endorsed a more eastern assault up the Genessee River, on Aug. 11 a militia colonel named Daniel Brodhead led a force of 600 volunteers and Delaware scouts out of Fort Pitt and up the Allegheny River. Their target was the resident population of Senecas that were allied with the British.
By the middle of September, Brodhead's raiding parties had returned to the fort. Young cites his debriefing: "having burned ten Indian villages, containing 165 houses, having destroyed more than 500 acres of Indian corn, and taken 3,000-dollar's worth of furs and other plunder."
According to rediscovered British correspondence, it did not take long for news of Brodhead's advance to reach the British, especially since they had a presence in Chautauqua County. From Cataragaras, at what is now the Sunset Bay community at the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek, John Docksteder wrote the following on Sept. 1:
"A runner is just arrived at this place from the Ohio, who informs me that 30 of our Indians were attacked by a large Body of Rebels, about four miles below Conawago ... I am now going with about 40 warriors to meet the enemy. But the chiefs beg that you would send them some assistance, and that soon, as their distressed condition requires it."
This letter is supported by correspondence to Lt. Col. Bolton from a second source one week later, from a location near Geneva, N.Y., in which another runner reported the rebels "had penetrated as far as Canawago, the village at which Mr. Docksteder was stationed last winter."
These letters are available in the Haldimand Collection, copies of which reside in the National Archives of Canada, and includes period military correspondence from Generals John Burgoyne and Henry Clinton as well as all ranks of officers at Fort Niagara and other officials from British Canada.
While Martonis said it is a historian's desire to see the actual preserved letters, he credits the discovery of the locally significant letters to Gowanda historian Eber Russell in the 1920s. Moreover, Russell and Martonis come to many of the same conclusions about the array of place names provided in the letters.
"The Ohio" is sometimes confusing, but this refers to "The Allegheny" as it was documented by George Washington and pronounced by local native tribes. The frontier use of the term Conawago and its variants borrow from the Seneca's own Ga-na-wan-goo, states Russell in his article titled "The Revolutionary War Touches Gowanda." The native settlement was located at the present city of Warren at the confluence of the Conewango Creek with the Allegheny River.
Brodhead's own written testimony indicates this area was the highwater mark for his main body of militia, however Russell has invited other recounts that refer to a battle that took place further north at the mouth of Bucktooth Run. This is miles above the present-day Kinzua Reservoir on the western edge of Salamanca. While championing his discovery of the Docksteder letter, Russell concluded that this battle must have been the meeting engagement between the Brodhead's raiders and Docksteder's relief column that set out from the town of Hanover.
Martonis said the departure of Docksteder is unquestionable, noting how the British agent stressed "I am now going with about 40 warriors" in the affirmative to a military commander. But he has a distinct perspective on the route of the British-led force.
"In cases like this I go with possibilities and probabilities," Martonis said. Russell's earlier version describes Docksteder's journey as proceeding along the Cattaraugus Creek until reaching a moderately traveled native trail which follows the present-day Broadway Road south from Gowanda.
Martonis said he disagrees because "this is clearly not the most direct route to the Allegheny from the mouth of the Cattaraugus Creek."
He referred to maps from the Holland Land Company from the early 1800s, which lay out proposed roads that trace over the major native travel routes. The village of Cataragaras was the crossroads for the Erie lakeshore trail, which survives as Route 20 in Chautauqua County, as well as the Allegheny trail, which the Holland Land Company revised as the Pennsylvania Road. Either interpretation of the latter trail is appropriate, because it is the most direct route south.
Today, the Allegany Road proceeds south from Sunset Bay before diverging near South Dayton. But in its earlier form it was noted by surveyors as passing through "the eastern parts of Hanover, Villenova, Cherry Creek and Ellington."
Martonis said Russell should be credited with doing tremendous work with the historical period, but the historical marker rightfully belongs in the town of Hanover. It is significant that Docksteder used Cataragaras as his place of dispatch, he said, and it is logical because the archeological record proves the native settlement was very well supplied.
Native trails have been plowed over and abandoned; place names have been anglicized and forgotten; the frontier conflict may never achieve a detailed debriefing. Yet whatever aspects of the Allegheny expedition have been lost, the a marker will now stand at its origin. On Wednesday, Martonis will unveil a New York State Historical Marker at the Hanover Boat Launch in Sunset Bay. The event begins at 7 p.m.
Docksteder's encampment was the first such event in the county. The Sons of the American Revolution previously dedicated a plaque that observed the "only known organized military activity" in the county during the war. An updated version stands at McCrea Point park in Jamestown, referring to the 1782 voyage of 250 Senecas and a handful a British military foresters on Chautauqua Lake, as they travelled by water in an abortive attack on Fort Pitt.
Several historians note this attack, which was reorganized as a raid on Hannastown, Pa., was in retaliation for the Brodhead Expedition.