Niagara Falls History - British Settlement in Niagara

Over the next one hundred years, the French expanded west along the Great Lakes from Montreal, and the British expanded westward overland from their 13 colonies and southward from their trading posts on the shores of Hudson's Bay. Their European rivalry and occasional wars precipitated actions in the New World.

Monument at Old Fort Erie In 1759, the British attacked the French at Fort Niagara, who after 19 days, surrendered and withdrew, destroying their "Magazin Royal" and development at the lower landing at Lewiston. The British immediately took over the portage and graded the road so supply wagons could be pulled up the escarpment. They also replaced the workforce of French-favoured Seneca Indians, increasing hostilities in the area, forcing them to build Fort Demler at Lewiston as an auxiliary outpost between Fort Niagara and Fort Schlosser at Niagara Falls for safe refuge. By 1763, a treaty with the French gave Britain all the colonies along the North American east coast. In September 1763, a British wagon train was attacked (along with 80 soldiers sent to help them) by 500 Seneca Indians along the top of the Niagara Gorge above the Devils Hole Cave. This Indian attack became known as "the Massacre at Devils Hole". Two months later, the Seneca unsuccessfully attacked Fort Demler and launched the "Pontiac Rebellion".

In 1759, Daniel Joncairs was the first person to have harnessed the gravitational power of Niagara, digging a narrow ditch above the falls on the American side to draw enough water to turn a waterwheel to power his small sawmill.

By 1764, Lewiston had a series of military redoubts (a polygonal out-building providing flanking defenses) along the length of the portage. Captain John Montresor, a British engineer, strengthened the British fortifications with eleven two-storey log blockhouses strategically located along the length of the Portage Trail. The British also built the first elevator built in North America to move boats, supplies and arms to the top of the escarpment, with two wooden cradles on a pair of counterbalanced tramways inked by rope over a pulley at the top (when one went down, the other went up). This tramway, which coould carry 14 barrels at a time, ran till 1810. The British also built a fort at Lake Erie and the Niagara River, called "Fort Erie".

By 1775, the Battle of Lexington began the American Revolution. Divided loyalties tore apart the Iroquois Nation, with Iroquois tribes supporting the British, and the Tuscarora and Oneida Indians supporting the Americans. By 1778, the British and their supporters retreated to the west bank of the Niagara, around Fort Niagara, with American settlements growing along the East bank.

The British were reluctant to settle along the West side of the Niagara River because a 1763 treaty gave those lands to the Indians. In 1781, Colonel John Butler purchased a 100 acre tract of land near Queenston from the Mississauga Indians. The first settlers onthis land were the Secords , the Dolsons, the Showers and the Lute families, joined a year later by another eleven families.

The early settlers used a portage trail that led from Isaac Dolson's property located in Queenston below the Niagara Escarpment. and wound its way up to the top of the escarpment to Chippawa, now known as the Portage Road. By 1788, Ox drawn carts with supplies became a regular site along the Portage Road, which would become a vital transportation link during the War of 1812.

Prior to 1788, the Western New York area was Indian country, except for the French outpost at Fort Little Niagara (approximately one mile above the Falls, opposite Chippawa ), and the British outpost at Fort Niagara. Fort Little Niagara was destroyed in 1759 after the French surrender to the British, who replaced it with a small British stockade, which was later rebuilt by American soldiers and named Fort Schlosser.

The roadway between Niagara-on-the-Lake and Chippawa was the first designated King's Highway, with Upper Canada's first stage coach operating on this road from the late 1700s to 1896.

Eventually Indians signed treaties ceding their Niagara territory of Western New York. Augustus Porter, a surveyor, was the first person to purchase and settle upon the land along the American side of the Falls once the British occupation ended. In 1805, the State of New York offered lands along the American shoreline of the Niagara River for sale. John Stedman used Goat Island to establish a herd of goats, for which practice it is now named. More settlers moved into the area at Lewiston, Niagara Falls and Black Rock (Buffalo). In 1810, Niagara Falls, New York consisted of twelve dwelling houses, a gristmill, a saw mill, a tannery, a tavern, a post office and a rope walk measuring 360 feet long.

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