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Fort LaPresentation, at left.

The Beginning


Francois Picquet in stylized view at left, portraint at right

  City founded in 1749 as French mission

  Ogdensburg, on the St. Lawrence River near the beautiful Thousand Islands region of New York State, was of course occupied for thousands of years by native populations before Catholic priest Francois Picquet arrived in 1749 to convert them, and establish a permanent French presence in America. But for all his hopes and the region's natural beauty, the community he founded away from what would become the major transportation and shipping routes of the North would never have opportunity to become a large city - nor was it for any failure of Picquet's, or any lack of his dedication to church, country and fellow man.

   Picquet was a remarkable individual whose mettle was successfully tested time and again. The hardship he endured and obstacles he overcame in establishing Fort LaPresentation would have destroyed men of lesser clay. In 10 years at the site of early Ogdensburg, he constructed a prosperous and promising frontier outpost while winning the undying loyalty of the Iroquois and the respect of friends and adversaries - the British, who were in near constant struggle with France during this period.

   France claimed the region by discovery but failed to fully extend itself into it. The British weren't about to walk away from it, or hand it over. Picquet's selection of Ogdensburg was based mainly on military strategy - he wanted to be close to British Fort Oswego.

   Picquet arrived in Canada in 1734 at age 25 and shortly, had mastered the Algonquin, Sioux and Huron languages - Huron being the master language of the five Iroquois Nations. He established a mission at the Lake of Two Mountains on the Ottawa River in Montreal where he built a stone fortress surrounded by moats and flanked with redoubts, a model he would employ in part at Ogdensburg. After some 60 chiefs of the Five Nations met at Quebec and promised to embrace Christianity if Picquet would minister to them, he explored the American side settled on Ogdensburg. He was lured by the natural harbor, protected by a peninsula at the confluence of the Oswegatchie (Soegatsi as the Indians called it) and St. Lawrence Rivers.

   Picquet first set foot here Nov. 21, 1748, and took the name of his mission from the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin. He left to make arrangements and returned May 30, 1749, with four Iroquois, a stonemason, carpenter, a few French soldiers, and Canadian laborers numbering 29 persons. Since the Feast of the Blessed Trinity fell on June 1, he waited until then to celebrate the opening of his mission with a solemn mass said at the site of today's Notre Dame Church.

  The first structure was a storehouse for provisions, followed by a simple house which would later serve as a bastion to the fort. He had built a fort of palisades, a square measuring 70 feet on each side, flanked by his house, which was constructed of dressed stone. A stone was carved: ''Francois Picquet laid the foundation of this habitation in the name of Almighty God, in 1749.'' It can be found mounted in a wall at city hall.

   That October, the settlement built an oven and barn and cleared 100 acres of wood for cultivation. Then came the first in a series of military engagements, large and small, that would involve LaPresentation in the coming years. While Picquet was gone, a party of Iroquois came down the Oswegatchie to attack the fort, guarded by only 3 soldiers - one of whom lost an arm when his gun exploded. The attackers were beaten back but torched the barn and half of the palisade. Several years later, the fort had been expanded, flanked with bastions, a chapel, store, hanger, stable and sawmill, and surrounded by fields of wheat and vegetables - as well as Indians. There were 49 bark Iroquois cabins, some from 60 to 80 feet long, and some wigwams 250 feet in length. The community boasted a population of 3,000, enough to persuade the governor of Canada to send more soldiers, and five cannon.

   Stonemasons also arrived and with the help of natives, dug moats, dressed the palisades, built stone bastions, leveled ground for more fields, built a munitions storehouse and one for provisions; a warehouse, stable, dam and sawmill. The fort now was guarded by stone bastions at every corner, surrounded by a large moat and entrenchment, and with curtains of high, cedar posts with a gallery for defense. The principal door opened to the Oswegatchie, and inside were five cannon and later, 11, four- to six-pounders.

   The occupants feasted on plentiful fish including salmon and trout fetched by Indians and weighing up to 80 pounds; pigeon, blackbird, doves, partridge, teal, bustards, wild duck and geese, rabbit, squirrel and deer. From Canada came rations of two pounds of bread and a half-pound of pork daily, per person.

   In 1753, Picquet journeyed to France with several natives to win more support, returning to LaPresentation in 1754 to find open hostilities between the French and English. Picquet and his warrior Indians participated in numerous campaigns - Indians from the fort were credited with the French victory against the English at Pittsburgh, defended then by 22-year-old George Washington who was allowed to leave with his life. How things might have changed for America had that not been the case. Picquet was there when, as England and France were at war, the French attacked Fort Bull on the Mohawk River, 30 miles from Oswego, in a fierce battle in which the Indians slaughtered nearly all the English at the fort and torched the powder magazine, leveling the place.

   Indians from LaPresentation also were responsible for an attack on the English fleet on the St. Lawrence River near Oswego, with most of the ships destroyed. They burned Fort George, then Forts Ontario and Oswego during the Seven Years War, which ended with the fall of Quebec to the English and the death of French Gen. Montcalm, a friend of Picquet's and frequent visitor to LaPresentation. With France defeated, in 1760, a detachment of French troops was sent to the fort to retrieve anything salvageable and pull down all the structures. Picquet left Canada later that year and stayed in New Orleans for 3 years until he returned to France in 1763, where he died in 1781.

   That began 36 years of English rule over LaPresentation, rebuilt as Fort Oswegatchie to guard British fur and lumber interests - the forest was denuded for miles around the fort. Only one expedition of American forces marched against the British fort during the American Revolution in 1779, only to be beaten back when they lost the element of surprise.

   During the English occupation, little attention was paid the Indians, most of whom left. America became owners of the area with the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War in 1783, but the British remained on, ostensibly to guard their fur trade but also to reap timber and even, with the natives, sell leases to land they didn't own. The British rebuilt the sawmill at the west end of Picquet's dam across the Oswegatchie River and lumbering was the major business of the fort. In 1785, with the British still present, the region was surveyed, towns laid out, and much of St. Lawrence county sold to Alexander MaComb, who then sold off parcels. What was to become Ogdensburg was aquired by Samuel Ogden, who, after Jay's Treaty of 1796 finally displaced the British, sent agent Nathan Ford, pictured at left, to clear titles, establish a community, and begin selling plots to families.

   This marked Ogdensburg's beginning as a community. Ford set up shop in the sergeant's quarters at the fort where he operated a store. He obtained men and oxen from Canada, rebuilt the dam and sawmill and built a grist mill which began grinding wheat in 1797. By 1800, a fueling mill was built and kettles obtained for making potash. In 1801, a road was extended to Black River and in 1802, the community celebrated the Fourth of July with cannon taken from a French gunboat scuttled near the fort in the French evacuation of 1760. This gun was named Long Tom and was used in the village for many years.

   The county board of supervisors convened in the city in 1802 - the first house erected was the American Hotel. Streets were laid out and Louis Hasbrouck became the first county clerk. The unsold village areas were purchased by David Parish, who built a brick house in 1809 - now site of the Remington Art Memorial. In 1808, Joseph Rosseel hired 40 Canadians to work at boat-building and constructed his house across from Parish's, now the Ogdensburg Public Library.

   The community continued to prosper, even during the War of 1812. When war was declared against England, there were 8 schooners in the harbor which tried to escape but were pursued by British gunboats on the St. Lawrence. Six made it back and a section of the Ford Street Bridge was removed to give them protection further up the Oswegatchie River. Companies were drafted when it was learned the British intended to attack. Capt. Benjamin Forsythe arrived with a company of riflemen and the city prepared defenses.

  On Oct. 2, 1812, 40 British boats escorted by two gunboats came up the St. Lawrence and with batteries at the British fort at Prescott, Ontario, directly across the river, opened up on the community. The fire was repeated the next day, and returned by two American 12-pounders at the Parish Store (now the U.S. Custom's House) dock and by 1,200 American infantry. There followed another attack by 25 British boats and two gunboats with additional shelling from Prescott. This attacked died down and peace set in for the winter.

  On Feb. 6, 1813, Forsythe was told that a large number of Americans were being held in a jail at Brockville, across the river from Morristown, NY, about 10 miles south on the St. Lawrence. Forsythe and 200 men left for Morristown by sleigh, crossed the river ice in two divisions and took the jail, freeing prisoners and capturing British troops, including a major, 3 captains and 2 lieutenants. British revenge followed on Feb. 22, 1813, when two columns marched across the river ice toward Ogdensburg. One column of 300 came under fire from the American side as they reached shore near the Parish store. The other column of 500 marched into the village to the east without opposition until they came under attack on what is now Ford Street. The American forces retreated to Black Lake, then to DePeyster, as the British ransacked the city. The ''old barracks'' were burned, never to be repaired. Practically every house in the city was ransacked and great property damage effected. (You can read an account of the battle written by the British commander who attacked Ogdensburg by clicking this text)

   The Canadian Patriot War of 1837-40 held the community's interest since friends and relatives on the Canadian side were involved. There was great sympathy on the American side for the patriots and on Nov. 11, 1838, the steamer United States arrived at the village from Oswego with 100 men who had come to make a military demonstration against British rule. Early the next morning, they seized arms and munitions, including two cannon, took control of the steamer, and, while under British fire from a gunboat at Prescott, entered Canada at the site of Windmill Point, across from the village at its eastern end. The windmill was occupied, as well as several nearby structures. On Nov. 12, British armed steamers arrived with troops and village residents watched from the American side as the site was attacked. The attack was repulsed, but with the arrival of 1,500 British regulars, another attack was successful. The prisoners were taken to Kingston for trial.

   The register of Fort LaPresentation, including death records, 409 baptismal records and 56 marriage records from Jan. 9, 1750 to July 23, 1760, was destroyed. But fortunately for history, a copy had been made and it now is in the possession of the Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg.