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Champlain's battle with the Iroquois- July 30, 1609

The Secrets of Crab Island: Part III

Conflict: The coming of the Europeans

by James P. Millard

On July 4, 1609, an inauspicious event occurred at Crab Island. Several small vessels passed the island headed south up the lake. Of itself, this would not have seemed noteworthy. After all, travelers had been journeying the great lake for millennia.

Aboard these vessels were white men, European discoverers seeing the great waters for the first time. Had they simply been on a journey of discovery that would have been one thing. These whites, however, were planning to do battle with an enemy they had never seen.

Samuel de Champlain, together with 2 other whites and about 60 Algonquian Indians, continued south, exploring both sides of the lake until they reached the Crown Point or Ticonderoga peninsula. Here, in a bitter and one-sided battle, the Europeans and their native companions routed the Iroquois they had come to purposely to defeat. The Iroquois, stung by these strange newcomers and their terrible new weapons, would never forget what happened that fateful day. The stage was set for a long and bitter conflict between the French and their native allies and their enemies to the south who would ally themselves with the Iroquois.

Île St. Michel, Nouvelle-France

The French established themselves in the north, calling this land New France. To the south, the English had settled in abundance. This was New England to them. Each side claimed parts of this region for its sovereign. The native people, who had lived here for millennia, were largely discounted, except for their value as allies in war. Unfortunately, for them, they often took sides in the white man's conflicts. They also suffered terribly from the white man's diseases. Whole villages were wiped out by strange new maladies from which the natives had no natural immunity.

By  1640 the French were sending their missionaries up and down the lakes. Serving God and King, it was their mission to convert the "savages" and enlist them in the service of the French king. Tiny Crab Island would have borne witness to countless canoe trips by the Black Robes, as they were called. Isaac Jogues himself, now a Catholic saint, may have stopped off at the island.

In July 1666 the French had erected a fort on Isle la Motte, some miles northeast of Crab and Valcour Islands. Here they had a staging ground for what were to be a series of incursions against their Iroquois enemies to the south and west. A long period of bloody warfare ensued, with one expedition after another traveling up and down the lake, with only one real objective in mind- death and destruction.  These raids were usually conducted in the dead of winter, in conditions almost unimaginable to us today. Marching on snowshoes past Crab Island, the French and their Abenaki allies and the Iroquois raiders heading north would travel the frozen lake, often hundreds of miles, to strike their foes in stealthy guerilla warfare.

Our little island, named by the French St. Michel, witnessed one conflict after another. The local wars between the native peoples gave way to bloody battles between the Europeans. In time, the settlers from each far away land would claim the lake for its sovereign. King William's War, Dummer's War, Queen Anne's War, King George's War, and the French and Indian War would all take place upon the lake in the span of less than 75 years. Crab Island was the mute witness to all of this...

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Visiting Crab Island...
Crab Island is publicly owned land- the property of the people of New York. It is also a very special, unique place that merits respect and consideration. Keep in mind the island is covered with Poison Ivy. It is also the home of protected fauna and flora. Look, but do not touch. Metal detectors and digging are strictly prohibited on the island.

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