French Fort on Sodus Bay?
Did the French have a fort on Sodus Bay seventy years before Sodus Point was founded by Captain Charles Williamson in 1794? Surprisingly, the answer is probably yes. There is no doubt that in the late 1600s and early 1700s, the French were aware of the strategic value of our bay in regards to their lucrative fur trade. In those days, our bay was referred to as “Bay of the Cayugas” by the French.
What would the fort have looked like?
The fort would have been relatively small for holding a small garrison of French Soldiers permanently or semi-permanently. It almost certainly would have been made from local trees which would be sharpened and used for the fort walls with some type of building for the troops in the center. The photo below gives an idea of a typical small French Fort of this time frame. The central building may have resembled the famous blockhouse in Clyde, NY (pictured below) said to have been built by French trappers around 1722.
Where would it have been located?
We can’t be sure but we can narrow down the possibilities. Like any forts of that era, the fort would have been built for defense. This means that you would build on the high ground which not only would make it more defensible but also afford a good view of any approaching threats. This would suggest three possible locations around the Bay. Firstly, on the bluff where the current Lighthouse exists. Secondly on the bluff over near Chimney Bluffs or lastly on the heights at what is now Sodus Bay Heights in Sodus Point. This last area seems to be the most likely area as we see from the following article:
An article published in the Newark [NY] Courier, July 31, 1924. Also published in the Spring/Summer 2015 edition of The Magazine of the Sodus Bay Historical Society
Sodus Bay Heights & the King of France
The romance of the tract lies in the fact that it was discovered and claimed by the voyageurs of Champlain back in the middle 17 hundreds and selected by the King of France as a strategic point for a frontier fort. This very parcel of land was by royal grant given to the family of a French count and it has remained within that noble family until the present time. Only a few years ago, the Countess Bon Hemert, successor of the original grantee, died in France. During her life she refused to sell it. Upon her death the heirs agreed to dispose of it. This is how it becomes now available as a suburban home site.
How long was it occupied?
It most likely would have only been occupied for a few years. It undoubtedly would have been abandoned by Sept. 1760, after the French surrendered during the French and Indian War. There is no mention of such a structure in 1794 when Captain Williamson is surveying Sodus Point to become his vision of a major city on the bay.
What evidence is there for the fort’s existence?
The following information is from the book “Great Sodus Bay History, Reminiscences, Anecdotes and Legends” by Walter Henry Green (Sodus, N.Y. 1947) pp13-18.
In one of the histories there is what may be called documentary evidence that Sodus Bay was of importance at an early date, but not nearly as early as one, who has read of the regular visits by the French fishing vessels and the voyages for trade with the natives previous to 1600, may surmise. September 1, 1687, an Indian prisoner was sent from Albany to New York City for examination. A part of his testimony is here given in which he referred to “a passage to the Cayugas”. there can be no doubt but that Sodus Bay and the Indian trail to Lake Cayuga is meant:
“A few days after he had disposed of his peltry the French came and gave him all the Indians in Christian Castle, each thirty bullets and a double handful of powder and had them appear at a French gent’s house near Mount Royal, the Christina Indians being about one hundred and twenty or thirty strong, in the meantime: in the French and other Nations of Indians, all appeared at Mount Royal, and the second day after that the governor himself; the number of the French being two thousand, and all of the Indian one thousand. The army went all by water in boats and canoes three days from Mount royal to Kadraghkie, thence to an island, thence to Cadranganhie where about nine the clock, the next morning they saws the Onondages at Asanhage. The Governor gave orders not to meddle with them, upon which the Onondagas gave a great shout and went their way, and the army went along the shore side to a passage that goes to the Cayugas.”
From this same history is a copy of a letter from Sieur de Joncaire, to Sieur de la Fremere, the King’s Commandant at Fort Frontenac, dated at the Bay of the Cayugas, June 14, 1709:
“Sir — Affairs are at such confusion here that I do not consider my soldiers safe. I send them to you to await me at your fort, because should things take a bad turn for us, I can escape alone more readily than if I have them with me. It is not necessary, however, to alarm Canada yet, as there is no need of despair.
I shall be with you in twenty, or twenty five days at furthers and if I exceed that time, please send my canoe to Montreal. Letters for the General will be found in my portfolio which my wife will take care to deliver to him. If however you think proper to send them earlier, St. Louis will hand them to you. But I beg of you that my soldiers may not be the bearers of them. Calculating with certainty to find them with you when I arrive unless I exceed twenty five days.
The Rev. Father de Lamberville has placed us in a terrible state of embarrassment by his flight.
Yesterday I was leaving for Montreal in the best possible spirits. Now I am not certain if I will ever see you again. I am sir and dear friend Your humble and most obedient servant”
This letter indicates that there were some sort of defenses, possible as often has been suggested, a permanent fort at the Bay of the Cayugas as early as 1709, and at that time they were seriously menaced by some enemy. From the way Joncaire speaks of his soldiers it would seem that they were few in number perhaps only a company or possibly a regiment.
That there was a French Fort there in 1727 is evidenced by the following letter written by the French governor of Canada to the English governor of New York dated, June 20, 1727:
“You cannot be ignorant of the possession during a very considerable time when the King, my master, has of all of the lands of Canada of which those of Lake Ontario and the adjacent lands made a part, and in which he had built forts and made other settlements in various places as are those of Denonville at the entrance of the river Niagara, that of Frontenac another called La Famine, that which is called the Fore-des-Sables, another at the Bay of the Cayugas, at Oswego &c &c, without any opposition they have been one and all of them possessed by the French who alone having had a right and have had possession of carrying on trade there.”
From the above information, it seems there is little doubt that for some length of time, our area played host to a French Fort years before our village was founded in 1794.