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Get a map; see where you are

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Maps. For as long as I can remember I have liked maps, especially old ones. When I have two or more of the same place, I am time traveling. This paring back the layers of history is archaeology without a trowel in hand. However, the revelations of old maps may well lead to an archaeological dig.

The oft-quoted Anonymous said, “A good map is a useful tool and a magic carpet to faraway places.” The meaning is absolutely true, and those faraway places are distant from us by time and the changed landscape. Some detective work by the curious can be very revealing.

Attached to this column is a portion of an 1874 Ogdensburg map. What a story is there to unfold!

But let’s step back to before there was an Ogdensburg, before any European attached a name to the confluence of the Oswegatchie and the St. Lawrence.

I contend Abbé Picquet arrived with the point of land and the sheltered river mouth in mind. By 1748 the French had been voyaging up the St. Lawrence from Quebec City for almost 140 years. This location was known. A map, dated 1719 as I recall, shows an X, nothing else, on the east bank of the Oswegatchie about where the public swimming pool is today.

Across the St. Lawrence the French founded La Galette in 1673, a forwarding post at the top of the rapids established in association with the construction of Fort Frontenac at what is now Kingston, Ontario. Abbé Picquet rejected Fort Frontenac as a location for his mission.

He wanted a site free of corrupting European influence, a notion possibly shared by tribal elders. Here his first Haudenausonee (Iroquois) parishioners, from the Cayuga and Onondaga tribes, could use the Oswegatchie for part of their journey to and from their traditional lands.

Subsequent maps trace the first four years of La Présentation’s short, but significant 10-year life on the western shore of the Oswegatchie.

I rummaged the Internet for maps, but there are challenges to online investigators. The French text (as I expected and can read) is blurred. By modern convention, maps are oriented with north at the top. The four accessible maps view La Présentation with north to the bottom or the left side of the sheet.

Three, (1749, 1751, 1752), which can be viewed in their entirety, share common features. They are scaled, with the fort having four corner bastions and outlying Indian longhouses, and illustrate the narrow shape of the point, the island/sand bar at the mouth of the Oswegatchie, and river depths into the Oswegatchie.

The 1751 and 1752 maps are virtually identical as to shorelines, indicators of rising land and the fort’s façade with gate and bastions. Interestingly, the 1752 map is official, bearing the stamp of the Marine i.e. the French Navy below the fort and within the legend. This version contains far less annotated information than the one dated a year earlier, while showing a larger, more grid-like Indian community.

In the mid-18th century spelling and capitalization had not been captured by rules. Oswegatchie is rendered as Chouekatsy, which according to the United States Navy means “at the very outlet” or as “black water” in a less official source.

The St. Lawrence recorded as Fleuve St. Laurent in 1749 becomes Riviere De Katarakoui, then Riviere De Catarokouy on the later maps. The variations of today’s Cataraqui strove to transliterate the Haudenausonee word interpreted as “impregnable,” “muddy river,” or “place of retreat.” The use of “riviere” is noteworthy because in the French concept only a “fleuve” flows into an ocean.

The maps I referenced are found at The National Archives of France hold many of them. Regrettably, the Ogdensburg Public Library does not have copies. The two interesting maps held there are framed outside the local history room.

My intention has not been to interpret the maps, only to arouse the inquisitive to delve into history, poke around the roots and follow as they trace the community’s growth. Look at a contemporary map of Ogdensburg. The street names are lessons in local and American history: Ford, Ogden, Hasbrouck and Rosseel; or Washington, Greene, Knox and Lafayette. There are more.

I encourage the reader to explore via maps the arrival of the first American settlers with Nathan Ford in 1796 through to the mid-20th century. What remarkable changes!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many are maps worth?

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