[ FROM PLATTSBURGH TO ALBANY ]
FROM LAKES GEORGE AND CHAMPLAIN TO THE HUDSON RIVER.
THE DISCOVERY OF LAKE GEORGE BY FATHER JOGUES. -- A PEDESTRIAN JOURNEY. -- THE HERMIT OF THE NARROWS. -- CONVENT OF ST. MARY'S OF THE LAKE. -- THE PAULIST FATHERS. -- CANAL-ROUTE FROM LAKE CHAMPLAIN TO ALBANY. -- BODFISH RETURNS TO NEW JERSEY. -- THE LITTLE FLEET IN ITS HAVEN OF REST.
History furnishes us with the following facts in regard to the discovery of the lake. While journeying up the St. Lawrence in a fleet of twelve canoes, on a mission to the friendly Huron aborigines, Father Isaac Jogues and his two friends, donnés of the mission, René Goupil and Guillaume Couture, with another Frenchman, were captured at the western end of Lake of St. Peter by a band of Iroquois, which was on a marauding expedition from the Mohawk River country, near what is now the city of Troy. In the panic caused by the sudden onslaught of the Iroquois, the unconverted portion of the thirty-six Huron allies of the Frenchmen fled into the woods, while the christianized portion defended the white men for a while. A reinforcement of the enemy soon scattered these also, but not until the Frenchmen and a few of the Hurons were made captive. This was on the 2d of August, 1642.
According to Francis Parkman, the author of "The Jesuits in North America," the savages tortured Jogues and his white companions, striping off their clothing, tearing out their fingernails with their teeth, and gnawing their fingers with the fury of beasts. The seventy Iroquois returned southward, following the River Richelieu, Lake Champlain, and Lake George, en route for the Mohawk towns. Meeting a war party of two hundred of their own nation on one of the islands of Champlain, the Indians formed two parallel lines between which the captives were forced to run for their lives, while the savages struck at them with thorny sticks and clubs. Father Jogues fell exhausted to the ground, bathed in his own blood, when fire was applied to his body. At night the young warriors tormented the poor captives by opening their wounds and tearing out their hair and beards. The day following this night of torture the Indians and their mangled captives reached the promontory of Ticonderoga, along the base of which flowed the limpid waters, the outlet of Lake George. Here the party made a portage through the primeval forests, carrying their canoes and cargoes on their backs, when suddenly there broke upon their view the dark blue waters of a beautiful lake, which Mr. Parkman thus eloquently describes:
"Like a fair naiad of the wilderness it slumbered between the guardian mountains that breathe from crag and forest the stern poetry of war. But all then was solitude; and the clang of trumpets, the roar of cannon, and the deadly crack of the rifle had never as yet awakened their angry echoes. Again the canoes were launched and the wild flotilla glided on its way, now in the shadow of the heights, now on the broad expanse, now among the devious channels of the Narrows, beset with woody islets where the hot air was redolent of the pine, the spruce, and the cedar,-- till they neared that tragic shore where, in the following century, New England rustics battled the soldiers of Dieskau, where Montcalm planted his batteries, where the red cross waved so long amid the smoke, and where, at length, the summer night was hideous with carnage, and an honored name was stained with a memory of blood. The Indians landed at or near the future site of Fort William Henry, left their canoes, and with their prisoners began their march for the nearest Mohawk town."
Father Jogues lived among his captors until the fall of 1643, when he escaped in a vessel from the Dutch settlement of Rensselaerswyck (Albany), to which place the Iroquois had gone to trade with the inhabitants. He arrived at the Jesuit college of Rennes, France, in a most destitute condition, on the 5th of January, 1644, where he was joyfully received and kindly cared for. When he appeared before Queen Anne of Austria, the woman who wore a diadem thought it a privilege to kiss his mutilated hands. -- In the Roman Catholic church a deformed or mutilated priest cannot say mass; he must be a perfect man in body and mind before the Lord. Father Jogues wished to return to his old missionary field; so, to restore to him his lost right of saying mass, the Pope granted his prayer by a special dispensation. In the spring of 1643 he returned to the St. Lawrence country to found a new mission, to be called the Mission of Martyrs. His Superior at Montreal ordered him to proceed to the country of the Mohawks, and in company with Sieur Bourdon, a government engineer, and six Indians, he followed the Richelieu and Champlain, which the savages called "the doorway of the country," until the little party stood on the northern end of Lake George, on the evening of Corpus Christi; and with the catholic spirit of the Jesuit missionary he christened it Lac St. Sacrement, and this name it bore for a whole century. On the 18th of October, 1646, the tomahawk of the savage ended the life of Father Jogues, who, after suffering many tortures and indignities from his Iroquois captors, died in their midst while working for their salvation in his field of Christian labor.
The right of a discoverer to name new lakes and rivers is old and unquestioned. A missionary of the cross penetrated an unexplored wilderness and found this noblest gem of the lower Adirondacks, unknown to civilized man. Impressed with this sublime work of his Creator, the martyred priest christened it St. Sacrement. One hundred years later came troops of soldiers with mouths filled with strange oaths, cursing their enemies. What respect had they for the rights of discoverers or martyred missionaries? So General Johnson, "an ambitious Irishman," discarded the Christian name of the lake and replaced it with the English one of George. He did not name it after St. George, the patron saint of England, of whom history asserts that he "was identical with a native of either Cappadocia or Cilicia, who raised himself by flattery of the great from the meanest circumstances to be purveyor of bacon for the army, and who was put to death with two of his ministers by a mob, for peculations, A. D. 361;" but he took that of a sensual king, George of England, in order to advance his own interests with that monarch.
For more than a century Lake George was the highway between Canada and the Hudson River. Its pure waters were so much esteemed as to be taken regularly to Canada to be consecrated and used in the Roman Catholic churches in baptismal and other sacred rites. The lake was frequently occupied by armies, and the forts George and William Henry, at the southern end, possess most interesting historical associations. The novelist Cooper made Lake George a region of romance. To the young generation of Americans who yearly visit its shores it is an El Dorado, and the very air breathes love as they glide in their light boats over its pellucid waters, adding to the picturesqueness of the scene, and supplying that need ever felt, no matter what the natural beauty, -- the presence of man. I believe even the Garden of Eden itself could not have been perfect till among its shady groves fell the shadows of our first parents. The cool retreats, the jutting promontories, the moss-covered rocks against which the waves softly break, -- if these had tongues, they would, like Tennyson's Brook, "go on forever," for surely they would never have done telling the tender tales they have heard. Nor would it be possible to find a more fitting spot for the cultivation of love and sentiment than this charming lake affords; for Nature seems to have created Lake George in one of her happiest moments. This lake is about thirty-four miles long, and varies in width from one to four miles. Its greatest depth is about the same as that of Champlain. It possesses (like all the American lakes when used as fashionable watering-places) the usual three hundred and sixty-five islands.
When I left the Mayeta I followed a narrow footpath to a rough mountain road, which in turn led me through the forests towards Lake George. In an isolated dell I found the home of one Levi Smith, who piloted me through the woods to the lake, and ferried me in a skiff across to Hague, when I dined at the hotel, and resumed my journey along the shores to Sabbath Day Point, where at four o'clock P. M. a steamer on its trip from Ticonderoga to the south end of the lake stopped and took me on board. We steamed southward to where high mountains shut in the lake, and for several miles threaded the "Narrows" with its many pretty islands, upon one of which Mr. J. Henry Hill, the hermit-artist, had erected his modest home, and where he toiled at his studies early and late, summer and winter. Three goats and a squirrel were his only companions in this lonely but romantic spot.
During one cold winter, when the lake was frozen over to a depth of two feet, and the forests were mantled in snow, Mr. Hill's brother, a civil engineer, made a visit to this icy region, and the two brothers surveyed the Narrows, making a correct map of that portion of the lake, with all its islands carefully located. Mr. Hill afterwards made an etching of this map, surrounding it with an artistic border representing objects of interest in the locality.
Late in the afternoon the steamer landed me at Crosbyside, on the east shore, about a mile from the head of the lake, resting beneath the shady groves of which I beheld one of the most charming views of Lake George. Early the following morning I took up my abode with a farmer, one William Lockhart, a genial and eccentric gentleman, and a descendant of Sir Walter Scott's son-in-law. Mr. Lockhart's little cottage is half a mile north of Crosbyside, and near the high bluff which Mr. Charles O'Conor, the distinguished lawyer of New York city, presented to the Paulist Fathers, whose establishment is on Fifty-ninth Street in that metropolis. Here the members of the new Order come to pass their summer vacations, bringing with them their theological students. The Paulists are hard workers, visiting and holding "missions" in Minnesota, California, and other parts of the United States. They seem to feel forcibly the truth expressed in these lines, which are to be found in "Aspirations of Nature," a work written by the founder of their order, Father Hecker: "Existence is not a dream, but a solemn reality. Life was not given to be thrown away on miserable sophisms but to be employed in earnest search after truth."
Mr. Lockhart kindly offered to escort me to the convent of St. Mary's on the Lake; and after following the mountain road for a quarter of a mile to the north of the cottage of my companion, we entered the shady grounds of the convent and were kindly received on the long piazza by the Father Superior, Rev. A. F. Hewit, who introduced me to several of his co-laborers, a party of them having just returned from an excursion to the Harbor Islands at the northern end of the Narrows, which property is owned by the Order. I was told that the members of this new religious establishment numbered about thirty, and that all but four were converts from our Protestant faith. Their property in New York city is probably worth half a million of dollars, and the Sunday schools under their charge contain about fifteen hundred scholars. Here, among others, I saw Father D____, who gave up his distinguished position as instructor of the art of war at the Military Academy of West Point, to become a soldier of the Cross, preferring to serve his Master by preaching the gospel of peace to mankind. Under an overhanging rock at a little distance were conversing, most happily, two young priests, who a few years before had fought on opposite sides during the civil strife which resulted in the preservation of the Great Republic.
A mathematician and astronomer from the Cambridge and also from a government observatory, who had donned the cassock, gave me much valuable information in regard to the mountain peaks of Lake George,* which he had carefully studied and accurately measured. Through his courtesy and generosity I am enabled to give on the preceding page the results of his labors.
* Heights of mountains of Lake George, New York state,
obtained by Rev. George M. Searle, C. S. P.
The interesting conversation was here interrupted by the tolling of the convent bell. A deep silence prevailed, as, with uncovered heads and upon bended knees, the whole company most devoutly crossed themselves while repeating a prayer. I felt much drawn towards a young priest with delicate and refined features, who now engaged me in conversation. He was an adept in all that related to boats. He loved the beautiful lake, and was never happier than when upon its mirrored surface, except when laboring at his duties among the poor of the ninth district of New York. The son of a distinguished general, he inherited rare talents, which were placed at his Saviour's service. His Christianity was so liberal, his aspirations so noble, his sympathies so strong, that I became much interested in him; and when I left the lake, shortly after, he quietly said, "When you return next summer to build your cottage, let me help you plan the boat-house." But when I returned to the shores of Lake George, after the completion of my voyage to the Gulf of Mexico, no helping hand was there, and I built my boat-house unassisted; for the gentle spirit of the missionary Paulist had gone to God who gave it, and Father Rosencranz was receiving his reward.
When I joined my travelling companion, David Bodfish, he grievously inveighed against the community of Whitehall because some dishonest boatmen from the canal had appropriated the stock of pipes and tobacco he had laid in for his three or four days' voyage to Albany. "Sixty cents' worth of new pipes and tobacco," said David, in injured tones, "is a great loss, and a Bodfish never was worth anything at work without his tobacco. I used to pour speerits down to keep my speerits up, but of late years I have depended on tobacco, as the speerits one gets nowadays isn't the same kind we got when I was a boy and worked in old Hawkin Swamp."
Canal voyaging, after one has experienced the sweet influences of lakes George and Champlain, is indeed monotonous. But to follow connecting watercourses it was necessary for the Mayeta to traverse the Champlain Canal (sixty-four) and the Erie Canal (six miles) from Whitehall to Albany on the Hudson River, a total distance of seventy miles.
There was nothing of sufficient interest in the passage of the canal to be worthy of record save the giving way of a lock-gate, near Troy, and the precipitating of a canal-boat into the vortex of waters that followed. By this accident my boat was detained one day on the banks of the canal. On the fourth day the Mayeta ended her services by arriving at Albany, where, after a journey of four hundred miles, experience had taught me that I could travel more quickly in a lighter boat, and more conveniently and economically without a companion. It was now about the first week in August, and the delay which would attend the building of a new boat especially adapted for the journey of two thousand miles yet to be travelled would not be lost, as by waiting a few weeks, time would be given for the malaria on the rivers of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, and even farther south, to be eradicated by the fall frosts. David returned to his New Jersey home a happy man, invested with the importance which attaches itself to a great traveller. I had unfortunately contributed to Mr. Bodfish's thirst for the marvellous by reading to him at night, in our lonely camp, Jules Verne's imaginative "Journey to the Centre of the Earth." David was in ecstasies over this wonderful contribution to fiction. He preferred fiction to truth at any time. Once, while reading to him a chapter of the above work, his credulity was so challenged that he became excited, and broke forth with, "Say, boss, how do these big book-men larn to lie so well? does it come nat'ral to them, or is it got by edication?" I have since heard that when Mr. Bodfish arrived in the pine-wood regions of New Jersey he related to his friends his adventures "in furrin parts," as he styled the Dominion of Canada, and so interlaced the facts of the cruise of the Mayeta with the fancies of the "Journey to the Centre of the Earth," that to his neighbors the region of the St. Lawrence has become a country of awful and mysterious associations, while the more knowing members of the community which David honors with his presence are firmly convinced that there never existed such a boat as the Mayeta save in the wild imagination of David Bodfish.
Mr. Bodfish's fictitious adventures, as related by him, covered many thousand miles of canoe voyaging. He had penetrated the region of ice beyond Labrador, and had viewed with complacency the north pole, which he found to be a pitch-pine spar that had been erected by the Coast Survey "to measure pints from." He roundly censured the crews of whale-ships which had mutilated this noble government work by splitting much of it into kindling-wood. Fortunately about two-thirds of Mr. Bodfish's audience had no very clear conceptions of the character of the north pole, some of them having ignored its very existence. So they accepted this portion of his narrative, while they rejected the most reasonable part of his story.
The Mayeta was sent to Lake George, and afterwards became a permanent resident. Two years later her successor, the Paper Canoe, one of the most happy efforts of the Messrs. Waters, of Troy, was quietly moored beside her; and soon after there was added to the little fleet a cedar duck-boat, which had carried me on a second voyage to the great southern sea. Here, anchored safely under the high cliffs, rocked gently by the loving waters of Lake George, rest these faithful friends. They carried me over five thousand miles, through peaceful rivers and surging seas. They have shared my dangers; they now share my peace.