VICTOR — This fall we again recreated the year 1669, when a small group of Frenchmen led by the famous Robert de LaSalle journeyed to the heart of Seneca country seeking fortune and knowledge. People from as far away as Minnesota and Wisconsin converged on Ganondagan State Historic Site on Sept. 27 to present what was hoped would be the most historically accurate reenactment of LaSalle’s famous visit that has been attempted.
Canandaigua fourth graders were among those visiting the site on Saturday.
For the past two years researchers and re-enactors have been discussing this period of French colonial presence in North America on Internet message boards and over the phone. Images and documents were shared and sent instantly, making a very effective method of community study. The discussions ranged from firearms and clothing to religion and French social class systems. The researchers compiled hundreds of documents and images pertaining to the appearance of the 17th century. The French colonial re-enactors were busy developing accurate patterns for coats, breeches, vests and hats. Never before has this era of French colonial presence been recreated in such detail. It was a historic event.
The main scenario focused on the well-documented first meeting between the LaSalle party and the Seneca leaders. The meeting would prove to be peaceful and positive for the time period. French-Iroquois relations during the 17th century were not always on friendly terms, and any attempt at peacemaking was important.
With the details of the LaSalle journey so well-documented by the priest Galinée, Ganondagan could almost recreate the entire French group’s numbers. Most reenactments have to rely on “representative” numbers, which can limit the experience. But with the original French presence at Ganondagan being only 10 men, it was within our grasp. Five men came from the Midwest, two French re-enactors from Chambly, Quebec (descendants of the French colony of New France) attended, and a member of the Furriers guild of Beverwyck acted as the “Dutch interpreter.” A local re-enactor and I rounded out the true numbers of the original LaSalle expedition. I feel a sense of historic karma when we can bring the descendants of the same people who were here in 1669, both Seneca and French, together in a peaceful way over 300 years later.
In addition to the re-enactment, there were demonstrations of Native American and early Colonial arts, tours of Ganondagan’s bark longhouse, hands-on activities and food and seldom-seen period arts and crafts.