HIGGS: Time for a woman's view with Miss Ann Powell

Norma Higgs

Moving along to 1789 and a trip involving a Miss Ann Powell. Her journal is a graphic description of the difficulties and inconvenience of travel in her day. I found it interesting enough to select some her writings, as they were found to be of great value historically, not only for the light which it throws upon the general state of the country, about Niagara and for the description of the Falls, but for the information which it contains relative to the Indians whom Miss Powell was so fortunate as to see in council assembled on the present site of Buffalo and for evidence as to conditions on the Niagara frontier just after the Revolution.

She states: "The Fort Niagara is by no means pleasantly situated. It is built close upon the Lake, which gains upon its foundations so fast, that in a few years they may be overflowed ... Several gentlemen offered to escort us to the landing, which is eight miles from Fort Erie. There the Niagara River becomes impassable, and all the luggage was drawn up a steep hill in a cradle, a machine I never saw before. We walked up the hill, and were conducted to a good garden with an arbor in it, where we found a cloth laid for dinner, which was provided for us by the officers of the post. "

"After dinner we went on for seven miles to Fort Schlosher. (Her spelling) .The road was good, the weather charming, and this was the only opportunity we should have of seeing the fall. All of our party collected half a mile above the Falls and walked down to them. I was in raptures all the way. The Falls I had heard of forever, but no one had mentioned the Rapids! For half a mile the river comes foaming down immense rocks, some of them forming cascades 30 or 40 feet high! The banks are covered with woods, as are a number of islands, some of them very high out of the water. One in the centre of the river, runs into a point and seems to divide the Falls, which would otherwise be quite across the river , into the form of a crescent.

"I believe no mind can form an idea of the immensity of the body of water, or the rapidity with which it hurries down. The height is 180 feet, and long before it reaches the bottom, it loses all appearance of a liquid. The spray rises like light summer clouds, and when the rays of the sun are reflected through it , they form innumerable rainbows, but the sun was not in a situation to show this effect when we were there.

"One thing I could find nobody to explain to me, which is, the stillness of the water at the bottom of the Falls; it is as smooth as a lake, for half a mile, deep and narrow, the banks very high and steep, with trees hanging over them. I was never before sensible of the power of scenery, nor did I suppose the eye could carry to the mind such strange emotions of pleasure, wonder and solemnity." For a time every other impression was erased from my memory! Had I been left to myself, I am convinced I should not have thought of moving whilst there was light to distinguish objects.

"Benjamin Lincoln’s journal of a treaty held in 1793, with the Indian tribes north-west of the Ohio, by Commissioners of the United States brought comments about Niagara Falls as well. The author was one of the three commissioners nominated by President Washington to trade with the Indians of the Northwest. It appears that Lincoln was in Niagara in May and June of 1793. He is one of the first of the great host who at one time or another have put on record their disappointment of the Falls."

“June 10. In the morning I went to view the Falls of Niagara of which so much has been said. The appearance was far short of the ideas I had formed of them. It is said that the water falls one hundred and thirty-seven feet perpendicular. Had I been called upon to give an opinion respecting the fall, I should not have judged that the water fell more than forty or fifty feet. From whence arises the deception; I know not; the fact as to the magnitude of the fall, I cannot doubt, as that has been accurately taken mathematically.

June 15 . Col.Pickering, Mr. Dean and myself crossed the river and went to Fort Slauser, eight miles above Queenston on the opposite side of the river and just above the Falls. At this place the goods, after having been taken across land from what is called the Landing, we re-shipped and carried into Lake Erie and thence on to Detroit. Since this side is in the limits of the United States, the British have made a way on the west side of the communication between the lakes. All goods must be carried by the Falls ten miles on one side, or eight on the other (U.S.). At the Fort we found Mr. Stedman, whose attention and friendship were such as could not fail to make our stay with him very agreeable.”

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Contact Norma Higgs at niahigg@aol.com.

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