Rene Robert Cavelier de la Salle
By Nancy Blumenstalk Mingus
An Excerpt from
Buffalo: Good Neighbors, Great Architecture
, by Nancy Blumenstalk Mingus. Pub. by
Arcadia Publishing 2003

Drawing source: Palmer's Views

In 1669, the French nobleman Rene Robert Cavelier de la Salle came with two others to explore the western New York wilderness.

La Salle returned to the area with a larger party in early 1678 and camped on the Niagara River at Lake Ontario. He was sent there by the Duke of Frontenac, who was the governor of New France (Canada) from 1672 to 1682 and again in 1689-1693.

Accompanying La Salle were three priests, including Father Hennepin, who became the party's scribe and the first to publicize the majesty of Niagara falls. The group's improvements to this area were later incorporated into what would become today's Fort Niagara.

According to Hennepin's accounts, La Salle then moved to a spot above Niagara Falls at Cayuga Creek, presently the La Salle area of the city of Niagara Falls. Here he constructed a ship he dubbed the Griffon after the mythical beast on Governor Frontenac's family coat of arms.

The ship was nearly finished in May 1679 and was launched early, as the Senecas were threatening to burn it. From relative safety now anchored in the river, the ship was completed.

La Salle and his party set sail upriver to the section of Buffalo now known as Black Rock. But weather conditions and a swift current kept the ship from traveling any further until August 7, when the breeze finally picked up and they were able to enter Lake Erie.

It is said that the Griffon was referred to as "The Great (or Big) Canoe" by the Indian natives who viewed it. With its cargo capacity of about 60 tons, crew size of 33-34, and artillery load of seven cannon, the Griffon became the first ship to sail Lake Erie.

Text Copyright © 2003 Nancy Blumenstalk Mingus


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