HIGGS: The English period during the 18th century at Niagara Falls

Norma Higgs

Peter Kalm, a gentleman of Sweden while traveling in America, wrote to his friend in Philadelphia about a particular visit to the great fall of Niagara during September of 1750.

"After a pretty long journey made in a short time, I am back in town (Albany) You may remember, that when I took my leave of you, I told you, I would this summer, if time permitted, take a view of Niagara Falls, esteemed one of the greatest curiosities of the World. Now since I have been on the spot, it is in my power to give you a more perfect and satisfactory description of it. "

"I came on the 12th day of August in the evening to Niagara Fort. The French there seemed much perplexed at my first coming, imagining I was an English officer, who under pretext of seeing Niagara Falls, came with some other view; but as soon as I showed them my passports, they changed their behavior and received me with great civility."

"Niagara Falls is six French leagues from Niagara Fort. You first go three leagues by water up Niagara river and then three leagues over the carrying place. As it was late when I arrived at the Fort I could not go the same day to the Fall, but I prepared myself to do it the next morning. The commandant of the Fort, Monsr. Beaujon invited all the officers and gentlemen there to have supper with him. I was also invited, and since my last year in Canada had made so many enquiries about this Fall that I thought I had a pretty good idea of it. Now, at supper I requested the gentlemen to tell me all they knew and thought worth notice. I observed that in many things they all agreed and in some things they were of different opinions, all of which I took particular notice. Since in the past in other travels I have observed that very few observe nature's works with accuracy, or report the truth precisely."

The next morning was August 13th and he set out for the Fall. Two of the the Fort officers were ordered to go with him and show him "everything". He also sent an order with them to Jonquerie, who had lived 10 years by the carrying place and knew everything worth notice of the Fall.

"A little before we came to the carrying-place, the water of Niagara River grew so rapid, that four men in a light birch canoe had much difficulty to get up there. Normally canoes can go a league and a half up to the great Fall as there is a series of smaller Falls, one under the other in which the greatest canoe or Battoe would in a moment be turned upside down. We went ashore therefore, and walked over the carrying place, having besides the high and steep side of the river, two great hills to ascend one above the other. Here on the carrying place I saw about 200 Indians, most of them belonging to the Six Nations, busy in carrying packs of furs, chiefly of deer and bear over the carrying place. An Indian get 20 pence for every pack he carries over, the distance being three leagues"

Half an hour past 10 in the morning they came to the great Fall and he noted the rocks of the great fall across it, not in a right line; but forming almost the figure of a semicircle or horse shoe. Above the Fall in the middle of the river is an island, lying parallel with the sides of the river; it's length is about 7 or 8 feet French arpents (one being 180 feet) the lower end of this Island is just at the perpendicular edge of the Fall.

He continues "On both sides of this island runs all the water that comes from the lakes of Canada, viz. Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Erie which some are known as small seas rather than lakes and have besides a great many large rivers that empty their water in them, of which the greatest part comes down this Niagara Fall. Before the water comes to this island, it runs but slowly, compared with its motion when it approaches the island, where it grows the most rapid water in the World, running with a surprising swiftness before it comes to the Fall; it is quite white and in many places is thrown high up in the air!"

"The greatest and strongest battoes would here in a moment be turn'd over and over. The water that goes down the west of the island, is more rapid, in greater abundance, whiter, and seems almost to outdo an arrow in swiftness. When you are at the Fall and look up the river, you may see that the river above the Fall is everywhere exceeding steep, almost as the side of a hill. When all of this water comes to the very Fall , there it throws itself down perpendicular! It is beyond all belief ,the surprise when you see this! I cannot with words express how amazing it is!"

Next time we will see how this experience will create the urge to discover the exact height of this great Fall. I wonder where this urge is developed as he states "you cannot see it without being quite terrified, to behold so vast a quantity of water falling headlong from a surprising height! I doubt not but you have a desire to learn the exact height of this great Fall."

Stay tuned.   

Contact Norma Higgs at niahigg@aol.com.

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