Many names (Porter, DeVeaux, Whitney) are famously connected to the history of Niagara, but one name seems to be neglected, that of Joncaire.
Perhaps this is because of the awkward way of naming French families of that era, or perhaps because of the confusion between Joncaire the father and Joncaire the son. Both went by the name of Chabert. The "junior" to distinguish father from son of the same name was not used.
The most popular historic story is of the elder Joncaire, a French frontiersman and fur trapper who, legend has it, escaped a torturous death at the hands of Seneca Indians by bopping a chief on the nose, thus displaying the courage so prized by the Iroquois.
The father, Louis Joncaire (full name and title, Louis Thomas de Joncaire, Sieur de Chabert) commonly called Chabert Joncaire, was born in Arles, France, in 1670. He came to the New World, Quebec, as a soldier in 1687, when he was 17 years old.
It was shortly thereafter when on patrol the contingent was captured by Senecas. This is when the legend began, as Robert West Howard put it in his book "Thundergate, the Forts of Niagara":
"As Joncaire was being led into the longhouse, he broke his bonds, knocked out both his guards, rushed a war chief and knocked him down with a haymaker that broke the chief's nose."
He was later adopted by the Senecas, lived among them and took a Seneca wife, according to the Indian tradition.
But he also had a white wife back in Montreal and fathered many children. The most prominent of his offspring were Philippe Thomas and Daniel Chabert. It was Daniel who took over most of his father's work and was also called just Chabert.
The father acted as a liaison between the Iroquois and French, providing French goods to the Indians and furs to the French. He even convinced the Senecas to allow a trading post, which he developed at the Lewiston Landing. The heavily constructed post was called Magazin Royal.
He also used his considerable influence with the Senecas to allow building of a "castle" at the mouth of the Niagara River, with assurances it would not be a fort. But the French constructed it so that it actually was a fort, which became Fort Niagara. The stone castle has been restored and stands proudly today for thousands of visitors to view.
The fort stirred up the English at New York City who were vying with the Montreal French for supremacy in the New World. This eventually led to the French and Indian War. By 1731, Philippe Joncaire was exploring the Ohio Valley and was named a lieutenant by the French governor.
Chabert the son was also proving useful to the French officials. The son covered the Joncaire exploits in a written memoir.
He wrote, "In 1736 I was ordered to go among the Iroquois to the Fort of Niagara, there to await the chiefs from the nations of the Sault St. Louis and from Lake of the Two Mountains and to escort them to Missisauges in order to make a good peace between these allies of France."
He was also ordered to travel among the various Iroquois nations, cement relations with France and break up any good will toward the English. These tasks, he wrote, "offer dangers as manifold and more formidable than those of battle, for they are concealed under the false appearance of peace and friendship."
In the summer of 1739, Joncaire the father was 69 years old and preparing to lead a French contingent to the Ohio Valley to establish French influence there. But while waiting at the Lewiston Landing for the French troops, Joncaire died on June 29. Chabert the son then took over.
He led them to the Chickasaw Nation, where a treaty was formed.
He wrote, "I served as interpreter. An understanding was reached. I led the chiefs of the Chickasaws to the Fort to ratify the treaty, after which the governor sent me back to Niagara whence I had to go all winter long from village to village with as much of risk as of fatigue to hold or regain several nations which the English had drawn to their side."
During that time, Sir William Johnson, who also learned the native language and took Mohawk Indian Molly Brant as his wife, was strongly influencing Iroquois to support the English.
In 1750, the French named Chabert the son master of the portage around the falls. He was also charged with building a fort at the portage end on the upper Niagara River. This was the start of Fort Little Niagara, where the famed but neglected Old Stone Chimney was first constructed. The site later became the site of Fort Schlosser.
During this period, Chabert the son also dug a diversion channel at the upper rapids to become the first to make use of water power to run a saw mill there.
He returned to France and, with several others, was charged with "graft and treason" for missing stores during the Ohio campaign, While imprisoned, Chabert began his memoirs. He was later cleared and returned to the front.
After the French victory in Ohio, the Joncaire brothers returned to Niagara. The Oneidas and Cayugas wanted peace, so Chabert accompanied them to Montreal, while Philippe went to the Onondagas to discuss peace.
The Joncaire brothers were also involved in the infamous Battle of LaBelle Famille, just outside Fort Niagara where Johnson and the English ambushed and slaughtered a French and Indian group marching to aid the besieged Fort Niagara. Chabert the son set fire to Fort Little Niagara, then led his contingent across the river to the Canadian side and down to Fort Niagara.
The French commander, Capt. Francoise Pouchot, was forced to surrender to Johnson and the English. The Joncaires and others were taken as prisoners of war. The French influence in Western New York was effectively ended.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||March 20 2012|