George Henry Harris.

Aboriginal occupation of the lower Genesee country online

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Antiquity, of Man — Antediluvian Relics — The Ancient Beach of Lake Ontario Inhabited by Man.

THE aboriginal occupation of America is a subject of exhaustless research.
Anion- the many divisions of this subject none present so broad a field
of observation to the thoughtful investigator as the antique remains of the con-
tinent. The inquiry regarding their origin, and its direct bearing on the ques-
tion of man's early history, opens the door of discussion to subjects diverse in
character, comprehending nearly every line of thought and course of study.
The prominence given to these antiquities has engaged the attention oi men
of every nationality and station in life, resulting in many ably-fought battles
between earnest advocates of dissimilar views.

The interest in such remains is not alone confined to those found in America.
The Old world has celebrated in prose and verse the antiquities of ancient em-
pires and the relics of nations and tribes of primitive people to whom it is not
difficult to trace an historical connection ; while men of the highest scientific
attainments engage in the collection and collation of evidences of the antiquity
of the human race. The New world possesses no record of historic reference
whereby the truth respecting her primitive peoples can be established. The
fragmentary knowledge possessed by historians is derived from evidences fur-
nished by time-worn remains, mythology and analogous reasoning, and Foster
tells us, in his admirable work, The Pre-historic Races of the United States,
that but recently a deep feeling of distrust pervaded the public mind of this

1 The first fifteen chapters of this work were prepared by Mr. George H. Harris.


i2 History of the City of Rochester.

country in reference to every discovery which is supposed to carry back the
origin of man to a period antecedent to the historical era; "and yet," contin-
ues the same author, "reasoning from palaeontological analogies, we ought to
expect to find evidences of the human occupancy of this continent, reaching
back to an antiquity as remote as on the European continent."

Happily, modern thought is progressive. The rapidity with which scientific
discoveries and inventions of a marvelous, though practical nature are success-
ively brought before the public view is exerting an appreciable influence in
the preparation of the human mind for a favorable reception of vital, though
recently admitted, truths; "and," remarks Sir John Lubbock, "the new views
in regard to the antiquity of man, though still looked upon with distrust and
apprehension, will, I doubt not, in a few years be regarded with as little disqui-
etude as are now those discoveries in astronomy and geology which at one
time excited even greater opposition." '

"Within the present generation," says Foster, "has been opened a sphere
of investigation which has enlisted an able body of observers, whose labors
have thrown a flood of light upon the question relating to our common hu-
manity. Ethnography has been raised to the rank of the noblest of sciences.
However strange these new views with regard to the origin and history of our
race may appear, they cannot be disregarded. We must weigh the value of
observations, and press them to their legitimate conclusions." The develop-
ment of those kindred sciences, geology and palaeontology, united with the re-
sults of ethnological research, during the past half-century, are truly amazing
in their possibilities and effect. The revelations of science are not only revolu-
tionising the world of thought, but actually overturning the foundations of an-
cient history. The New world of historians is the Old world of geologists, 2
who inform us that America was "first born among the continents, and already
stretched an unbroken line of land from Nova Scotia to the far West, while-
Europe was represented by islands rising here and there above the sea;" 3 that
the Laurentian mountains in Canada, and portions of the Adirondack's in New
York — the classical grounds of American geologists — are the oldest forma-
tions in the world, and along their surf- beaten coasts were developed the ear-
liest forms of organic life. Dawson describes the Eozoon Canadcnsc, or "dawn-
animal," a microscopic organism of the Laurentian foundations, and suggests
the possibilities of life existent in the waters of the ocean long before the ap-
pearance of land above the surface; 4 while the character of recent discoveries
tends to strengthen the belief that the origin of man, even, may be assigned to

1 Preface of Pre-historic Times, by Sir John Lubbock.

2 The early rise of the American continent was asserted, for the first time, by Foster, in his report
on the mineral lands of Lake Superior. The fact is too well established to require special quotation of
authorities, as nearly all works on American geology, issued subsequent to 1853, affirm the statement.

3 Agassiz, Geological Sketches.

4 The Earth and Man, by J. W. Dawson, p. 23.

The First Human Occupancy. 13

this, the most ancient of continents. Revelations of so startling a nature are
the result of patient investigations pursued by learned men, who find the chro-
nology of the Hebrew Pentateuch, which would bring everything relating to
human history within the short compass of four thousand and four years ante-
cedent to the Christian era, 1 insufficient to account for the mutations the earth
has undergone,-' and the development of man from the low stage of wildest
savagery, which all evidences prove his primitive condition to have been, to
the modern plane of intellectual power and refinement.

We speak of the race of men found in possession of this continent at the
time of its discovery by Europeans in the fifteenth century as the Aborigines
of America, and long usage has rendered the term, in the sense in which it is
applied to the Indians, peculiarly fitting, though incorrect. They were natives
of America, but not its original inhabitants. There are proofs of the presence
here of people who lived at so early a period of time that no authoritative ref-
erence to them has ever been found in written history. We know of their ex-
istence, and occupation of the land, only through discovery of remains of a
character suggestive of the term "Mound-builders," which has become their
historical designation. For the history of time and events back of the red
man and the Mound-builder, we must penetrate the earth itself, and, from the
evidentiary material discovered, trace or reason out a parallelism with existing
forms and conditions, basing our conclusions entirely upon the principle that
from the beginning of time nature has worked upon the same plan, with like-
forces and results as at present.

Abstruse as the question of man's antiquity may appear, it is, nevertheless,
pertinent to our subject — the early human occupancy of this immediate local-
it}-. We are confident that the St. Lawrence basin and the near-lying moun-
tain districts of New York and Canada will yet furnish material aid to science
in the final solution of this great problem, but, if we attempt to trace the rec-
ord of man's remote occupation of our home territory by a chain of successive
events, we find many of the links of connection broken or entirely wanting;
still there would seem to be some grounds for the confidence expressed, in the
discovery of a certain class of ancient relics that has attracted little attention in
the world of science.

In a communication to the American Antiquarian society prior to l830the
late Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell, professor of natural history, and father of geology
in the state of New York, mentioned this class of antiquities as distinguished

1 The Samaritan Pentateuch places tin crea ion of the world B.C. 4700; the Septuagint, 5N72 ; fo-
sephus, 4658; the Talmadists, 5344; Scaliger, 3950; Petavius, 39S4 ; Playfair, 4007. In. Hales
places it al 541 1, and enumerates over one hundred ami twenty various opinions on the subject, the dif-
ference between the latest and remotest elates being no less than 3268 years. Good Bishop Usher,
whose chronological table is used in the English Bible, follows the Hebrew account, and places the
creation B.C. 4004.

2 Sir William Thomson thinks the time which has elapsed from the first foundation "fa solid crust
on the earth to the modern period may have been from seventy t e hundred millions of years.

14 History of the City of Rochester.

entirely from those which are usually ascribed to the Indians and Mound-
builders, as follows : —

" In the section of country about Fredonia, New York, on the south side of Lake
Erie, are discovered objects deservedly worthy of particular and inquisitive research.

This kind of antiquities present themselves on digging from thirty to fifty feet

below the surface of the ground. They occur in the form of fire-brands, split wood,
ashes, coals and occasionally tools and utensils, buried to those depths."

Dr. Mitchell also expressed an earnest wish that the members of the soci-
ety should exert themselves with all possible diligence to ascertain and collect
facts of this description for the benefit of the geologist and historian ; in the
expectation that, "if collected and methodised, conclusions could be drawn of
a nature that would shed light on the ancient and traditionary history of the
world." Priest tells us the relics mentioned by Dr. Mitchell were found be-
neath the ridge which borders the east shore of Lake Erie, and refers to their
origin as "antediluvian." 1 A superficial deposit, known as the "lake ridge,"
similar to the one on Lake Erie, extends from Sodus, New York, westward
around the head of Lake Ontario into Canada, at a distance varying from
three to eight miles from the present beach of the lake. Throughout its whole
extent in this state this ridge is well defined, bearing all the indications of hav-
ing once been the boundary of a large body of water, and of having been pro-
duced in the same manner as the elevated beaches of the ocean and larger
lakes. In height it varies from a gentle swell to sharply defined elevations
fifteen to twenty feet above the surface of the ground, occasionally descending
toward the lake for fifty or one hundred feet in an easy slope. Its seaward
side is usually covered with coarse gravel and often with large pebbles. Pro-
fessor Hall, our state geologist, says : —

"If anything were wanting in the external appearance of this ridge to convince the
observer of the mode of its formation, every excavation made into it proves conclusively
its origin. The lowest deposit, or foundation, is a coarse sand or gravel, and upon this
a regular deposit of silt. The layer of vegetable matter is evenly spread, as if deposited
from water, and afterward covered with fine sand, and to this succeeds coarse sand and
gravel. Fragments of wood nearly fossilised, shells, etc., are found in digging wells and
cutting channels through the ridge; and there can be no doubt of its formation by the
waters of Lake Ontario, which once stood at that level." 2

The grand Indian trail from the Genesee falls to the Niagara river passed
along the summit of this ridge, and for over seventy years the white man has
used it as a road-bed (for one of the most extensively traveled highways in
New York) between Rochester and Lewiston. The farm of David Tomlinson
is situated on the Ridge road, half a mile west of the village of Gaines, Orleans
county. When first occupied in 1814 the ground was covered by forest trees
of large growth, many being three and four feet in diameter, and the stumps
of two, specially noted as standing over a mile north of the ridge, measured,

1 Antiquities of America, by Josiah Priest.

2 Geology of New York. Part IV., p. 349.

Ancient Remains. i 5

each, nearly eight feet across the top. As far as the eye could reach in either
direction the ridge in this vicinity then declined toward the lake in a smooth,
unbroken grade, and about one hundred and fifty feet north of its center the
clear waters of a spring bubbled forth and darted away lakeward in a tiny riv-
ulet. From the main Indian trail on the ridge a path led down to the spring,
which was well known to the Indians, who often camped in the neighborhood.
In 1824 the spring-basin was cleaned out and stoned up in the form of a
well. In 1853 the water failed and the well was deepened. In 1864 the well
bottom was lowered to a total depth of twenty feet. About eighteen feet be-
low the original surface the digger came upon a quantity of brush overlying
an ancient fireplace, consisting of three round stones, each about one foot in
diameter, placed in the form of a triangle. A mass of charcoal and ashes sur-
rounded the stones which were burned and blackened by fire and smoke.
Several sticks were found thrust between the stones, the inner ends burned
and charred as left by the expiring flames. A careful inspection of these
sticks by a gentleman 1 thoroughly acquainted with the nature and grain of va-
rious woods proved them to be hemlock ami ash. Some were denuded of
bark and had the smooth surface usually presented by water-washed wood
found on any beach. Several sticks were split, and surrounding one was a de-
pressed ring, or indentation, as though some dull instrument had been em-
ployed in an effort to weaken or break the wood. The ashes were indurated
to a degree requiring the use of a pick in their removal, and rested upon a
stratum of sand, which was also in a hardened condition, being taken out in
1, pieces that proved to be very fine grained, with a smooth surface slightly
creased in places, possibly ripple marks. When first discovered the brush was
closely packed over the fireplace and had every appearance of having been
forced into position by the action of water. The fireplace and all the details
n| its narrow 2 surroundings, which were carefully noted, clearly indicated that
it had been made upon a sand-beach, and was subjected to an inundation that
washed the mass of brush, possibly gathered for fuel, over the stones and ashes,
which were afterward covered many feet deep by successive strata of the same
gravelly soil of which the ridge is composed, and was thus preserved for ages

In a survey of the grounds and after thorough consideration of the circum-
stances the writer became assured of the following conclusions: The fireplace
was ((instructed by persons having the use of rude implements and possessed
of some knowledge of cookery, at a period just previous to the formation of
the ridge. In its formation this ridge was extended along the base of an ele-

1 John Null, nf Rochester, to whose excellent knowledge of the early history of this locality the
w nter i> indel iced for nuns fa< ts.

- In [880 these fact-., as presented, were brought to the notice of Lewis H. Morgan, of Rochester,
who assured the writer that the discovery was the most interesting and valuable one within his knowl-
edge, respecting the ridge, and he earnestly advised its publication.

1 6 History of the City of Rochester.

vation connected with the mountain-ridge, and constituted a solid dam, from
one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet wide, across the mouth of a little
valley and inward curvature of the hillside. The accumulation of water, shed
by the surrounding slopes, originally transformed the basins thus created into
ponds, and subsequently, when drained, converted them into marshes. The
valley waters, aided by the current of an inflowing stream, forced a channel
through the ridge, but the waters of the small pond were gradually released
by soaking through the mud bottom and following the course of a vein under-
neath the ridge to its northern side, where they rose to the surface in the form
of a spring. The failure of the spring was caused by the clearing and cultiva-
tion of its marsh source. It is evident that the spring came into operation lung
after the ridge was formed, and the rise of the water directly above the fire-
place was incidental, there being no connection whatever between the two

If these conclusions are justified by the conditions related, it would appear
that man was a habitant of the south shore of Lake Ontario before the ridge
existed, and, if the age of the ridge can be even approximately determined,
some idea can be had of the length of time he has occupied our home terri-
tory. The results of a special study regarding the peculiar topographical feat-
ures of Western New York lead to the conclusion that the ridge is of very an-
cient origin — in fact, that it antedates the present rock-cut channel of the
Genesee — and, though our range of inquiry is necessarily limited, a brief ex-
position of reasons influencing this conclusion may prove of interest.


Surface Geology — The Great Sea — Origin of the Genesee River — Great Age of the Lake Ridge
— Man's Antiquity in the Genesee Country.

IN every direction about Rochester we behold the effects of aqueous action.
The hills, domes and pillars of sand and gravel, the rolling plains and allu-
vial ridges, the great valleys and deep channels of watercourses, the polished
rocks of limestone beneath the soil, and huge boulders scattered over the sur-
face, all combine in an appeal to our reason, arouse an interest and create a
desire to learn the primary cause of these singular forms of nature. The sci-
ence of geology teaches that the earth first appeared above the waters of the
ocean in the form of azoic rock, and those grand scientists, Agassiz and Dana,
tell us that certain portions of the territory of the Empire state were among
the very first kissed by the warm sunlight of heaven.

Peculiar Formation of the Genesee River. 17

Passing over the changes occurring during many succeeding geological
ages, we reach a period when the rising continent had divided the waters of
the ocean by the elevation of mountain barriers, and converted all this part
of America into an inland sea. The physical contour of much of the state of
New York is directly due to the active agency of the waters of this sea, which
left its impress upon so large an area of our natural surroundings; and its his-
tory, as revealed by geological developments, has a local application which
may worthily excite an interest not usual in matters of this character. Even
the noble river, quietly carrying its daily trihute of mountain waters from the
Alleghanies through the heart of Rochester to Lake Ontario, has its place in
the history of the great sea, and it is a curious fact that the results of scientific
research show the history of the Genesee as differing from that of other rivers
in the processes of its formation. The tinge of romance, lending attractiveness
to all narrations of man's early acquaintance with the Genesee, deepens to a
flush in the recital of the ancient river's history. The spring gushing from a
hill-side, its sparkling waters finding their way to some natural depression,
forms a purling brook, by small degrees and successive additions enlarging to
the size of a creek, increasing in volume and magnitude to the full development
of a river flowing in silent majesty, with great sweeps and curves, along its well-
defined channel, crushing with irresistible force through some rock-bound
mountain gorge, plunging with mighty thunderings over a great precipice
into the deep basin below, and thence passing onward to lose their identity
forever in the commingled floods of lake and ocean — such is the natural
history of rivers.

No record like this bears the Genesee. The growth of its formation was
om of recession. Not at the bubbling fountain of distant plain or hill-slope
began the inceptive movement of its birth, but near its very entrance into the
greal fresh water sea of its deposit. Springing into life with the full force born
of bursting lake barriers, its first current must have been a mighty stream of
great width and power, capable of rending asunder the rock foundations of the
earth ; and the course now pursued from its modern headwater sources on the
mountain plains of Pennsylvania is the result of a decreasing volume, narrow-
ing its bounds from the broad expanse of its mother-lakes to the contracted
space of the latest channel in the valley bottom. This, and many other facts
of special interest, we learn in the history of the great sea whose boundaries,
at the period of its first separation from the ocean, are not clearly defined; but
an idea of their general course at a later date, when the configuration of the
earth was nearly complete, can be formed by a brief study of the topography
of North America, which discloses an immense basin, bounded on the north
by the range of mountains extending through Canada to the far West; on the
east bv the New England range, extending southwesterly by the Highlands of
New York and the Alleghanies of Pennsylvania, thence west and south toward
the Mississippi river.

History of the City of Rochester.

The elevation of the interior of the continent produced its natural effect in
a subsidence of the sea-waters into the depressions of the earth then existing,
their divisions into lesser seas, and in time by successive drainage at outlets of
different elevation, the formation of lakes. The immense basin of the St.
Lawrence, which extends from the gulf of St. Lawrence to the headwaters of
the Mississippi — a distance of two thousand miles — formed the first reser-
voir. This, in time, was divided by natural barriers into three sub-basins.
The first of these has an area of about 90,000 square miles, more than one-
fourth of which is occupied by the waters of Lake Superior. The next, or
middle, basin has an area of at least 160,000 square miles and contains Lakes
Huron, Michigan and Erie in its lowest depressions. The surface of the lower
basin has an area of about 260,000 square miles and is covered in part by the
waters of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence river. The upper basin prob-
ably had its outlet into the middle basin, which, previous to the destruction
of the original coast-ridge at the northeastern end of Lake Erie and conse-
quent birth of Niagara river, had its drainage to the south through the valleys
of the Des Plains, Kankakee, Illinois and Mississippi rivers, into the gulf of
Mexico. 1

The period in which the actual division of the middle and lower basins
took place cannot be fixed, but the occurrence marked an era from which our
interest in the subsiding waters of the great sea is confined to the lower, or On-
tario, basin. About the time of this separation the Mount Hope and Pinnacle
range of hills, on the southern boundary line of the city, formed a barrier at
the north end of the Genesee valley, and, dividing the waters, produced a
great shallow lake covering all the valley between Rochester and Dansville.
The waters of the sea, now Lake Ontario, continued their retirement to the
north, and coast lines formed during the period of recession can be traced at
many points on the slopes of the Ontario basin where the waves left their mark-
on cliff and hillside, or washed up great alluvial ridges in open plains. At
least a dozen such ridges can be found at different places in New York, and
two at Rochester, the lake ridge being the most distinct. It is probable that a
barrier across the St. Lawrence then restrained the lake waters, which escaped
through the valley of the Mohawk at Little Falls into the Hudson. The low-
est part of the old channel through the rocky gorge at Little Falls is 428 feet
above the ocean, and the ridge in Rochester is about 441 feet. 2 It is supposed

1 Niagara Falls and Other Famous Cataracts, by George W. Holley. This book contains a very
interesting history of the middle basin and the probable origin of the Niagara river and falls.

2 Through the kindness of R. J. Smith, A. J. Grant and E. B. Whitmore, civil engineers, the ele-
vation of various points between the upper Genesee fall and Lake Ontario, which has never been pub-
lished before, has been obtained. The ridge at the intersection of the Charlotte boulevard west of Han-
ford's Landing, is 193.91 feet above Lake Ontario. At the crossing of the Ontario Belt railroad, about

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Online LibraryGeorge Henry HarrisAboriginal occupation of the lower Genesee country → online text (page 1 of 12)