Page images

Having made the arrangements for prosecuting the work, he hastened back to Fort Frontenac, leaving Tonty in command. His affairs required his presence at the fort, for it must be kept in mind that the expedition was to be carried on wholly at his own expense; and the funds were to be raised by his credit, and by such thrift in traffic as his skill and means would allow. Setting off with two men, he performed the journey by land, a distance of nearly three hundred miles, through the country of the Five Nations. A sack of parched corn constituted his stock of provisions. The two men and a dog dragged his baggage over the frozen snow and ice.

It should be mentioned that some weeks previously, he had despatched fifteen men in canoes, with orders to proceed through the lakes to Mackinac and other islands in that vicinity, and thence to the Illinois country at the south end of Lake Michigan. These men were supplied with merchandise, to trade with the natives for furs and skins. It was also expected that they would collect provisions at different posts; and they were to await the arrival of the Sieur de la Salle with his exploring company.

Meantime the shipbuilders applied themselves with diligence to their task, under the direction of Tonty. The savages excited alarm now and then by hovering around and sometimes entering the

encampment with less ceremony than beseemed well disposed visiters. An Indian woman brought them intelligence that a plot was laid to burn the vessel while it was on the stocks. Again, the provisions on board the brigantine having been lost, a scarcity was feared, especially as the Indians would not sell their corn. Two eastern Indians, however, employed as hunters, were so successful in their calling as to furnish seasonable supplies of fresh deer and game. Notwithstanding this resource, the sufferings of the men from cold and privation, and their apprehension of savage tomahawks, betrayed them into occasional symptoms of discontent. Father Hennepin takes credit to himself for allaying their fears, and soothing their anxieties, by the exhortations which he proffered to them as supplements to his sermons.

However this may be, the work went rapidly forward, and in good time the ship was launched, to the great joy of all. The event was commemorated by the firing of three guns. The vessel was named The Griffin, in compliment to the Count de Frontenac, whose armorial bearings were adorned by two griffins as supporters.

The men swung their hammocks under the deck, secure in their floating fortification from the intrusion of the savages.

No wonder that from this time they were cheered with more buoyant spirits and flushed with brighter hopes.

The ship was completely finished, rigged, and equipped within six months from the day on which the keel was laid. The ornamental parts were not forgotten. A griffin, with expanded wings, surmounted by an eagle, sat on the prow. Five small guns, two of brass, and three arquebuses, were the arms of defence. The burden was sixty tons. The success with which this undertaking had been carried through, in the face of so many obstacles and embarrassments, was creditable to the ability of the Chevalier de Tonty, and to his skill in command. Hitherto the current of the river above the falls had been untried, and the navigators of the Griffin did not venture to trust their sails in making this new experiment. The vessel was cautiously towed along the shore, and moored in safety within three miles of Lake Erie.

During this period, the Sieur de la Salle remained at Fort Frontenac, attending to his commercial and other affairs. It required no small degree of vigilance to counteract the maneuvres of his enemies, who were bent on defeating all his plans.

They spread reports that he was about to engage in a most hazardous adventure, the expenses of which were enormous, and from which there could be little hope of his ever returning, and that his visionary schemes and unyielding temper would ruin himself and all


concerned with him. These rumors alarmed his creditors in Montreal and Quebec, who seized upon his effects there, and sold them at a great loss to their owner. There was remedy for these vexations; the delay in rectifying them would effect the very object at which the instigators aimed ; and he submitted to them with patience; although his property of Fort Frontenac and the lands around it, which he must necessarily leave behind him, was in value more than double the amount of all his debts.

Before leaving Fort Frontenac, he performed an act of generosity to the Recollects, who were about to depart with him, by making a perpetual grant to their order. He had already built houses and a chapel for their accommodation, and he now, by a legal instrument, drawn up and attested by his notary, La Metairie, gave to the order of Recollects eighteen acres of land on the margin of the lake near the fort, and a hundred acres more of forest land.

Hearing that his ship was ready, he hastened to Niagara, skirting along the southern shore of Lake Ontario in a canoe, and stopping by the way to cement his friendship with the Iroquois by new presents and promises. Arriving at the ship, he was rejoiced to find all preparations in forwardness, and the men in good spirits. The wind not being strong enough for a few days to encourage the attempt to surmount the rapids at the head of the Niagara River, the time was employed in grubbing up the soil and planting seeds. At length, advantage being taken of a favorable wind, with the aid of twelve men pulling by a rope on the shore, the ship escaped all danger, and floated triumphantly on the waters of Lake Erie. The brass cannon, the arquebuses, and a volley of firearms, attested the joy which this occasion inspired; the forests resounded with the acclamations of the men ; and the Indians gazed with mute astonishment at so novel a scene.

The company now assembled on the deck of the Griffin amounted in all to thirty-four. The three missionaries, the venerable Father Ribourde, the erratic Hennepin, and the amiable Zenobe, were at their posts. A small party was left at Niagara under the spiritual charge of Father Melithon Watteau. The Chevalier de Tonty had been sent forward some time before, with five men in canoes, instructed to proceed to Mackinac, and look after the fifteen men, whom La Salle had despatched thither in the autumn preceding for purposes of trade.

On the 7th of August, 1679, the sails of the Griffin were spread to the winds of Lake Erie, and our adventurers committed their destiny to the great waters. Confiding in the strength of

« PreviousContinue »