Mohawk or Iroquois Trail

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United States Gotoarrow.png Migration Gotoarrow.png Trails and Roads Gotoarrow.png New York Gotoarrow.png Mohawk Trail

The Mohawk Trail, also known as the Iroquois Trail, or Great Indian Trail, started as an Indian footpath from Albany, a major early New York trade center, to Fort Oswego, the first British fur trading post on Lake Ontario established in 1722. An important fork of this trail from Fort Schuyler (Utica) to Fort Niagara (Youngstown) is also described in Great Genesee Road. Each end of the Mohawk Trail connected
Mohawk Trail map.png
to other important migration pathways. The length of the Mohawk Trail from Albany to Fort Oswego was about 190 miles (306 km).[1][2]

Background History

Albany, New York was founded by the Dutch colony of New Netherland in 1614 and quickly became their premier fur trading center and second largest town. In 1664 England conquered the former Dutch colony and renamed it New York.[3]

In 1722 the British built a fur trading post near the mouth of the Oswego River on the southeast side of Lake Ontario. In 1727 they constructed log palisades, the first of a series of fortifications in the area. This was the first British military outpost on Lake Ontario. More nearby forts were also added in 1741 and 1755. These forts around the trading post helped establish the British as a power on the Great Lakes, and were sometimes collectively were called Fort Oswego.[2]

Indian trails through the forests existed for hunting, for trading, and for making war. To reach what became Fort Oswego and build it up, the British most likely improved an already existing Indian path between Albany and Fort Oswego. The route for carrying furs and skins to Albany, for communication, and for military troop and supply movements became known as the Mohawk or Iroquois Trail.[1]

In 1726, after a period of absence, the French re-settled and fortified the Fort Niagara area on the southwest side of Lake Ontario guarding the Niagara River.[4]

The French and Indian War (1754-1763) led to improvement of Indian pathways into roads for the military and for settlers. In 1758 the British built Fort Schuyler (now Utica, New York) to guard the central Mohawk Trail to Fort Oswego and the junction with the Mohawk Trail to Fort Niagara at a Mohawk River ford.[5]

In 1759 British troops from Fort Oswego were shipped along Lake Ontario to Fort Niagara. The British besieged Fort Niagara for 19 days and captured it.[6] This made the Mohawk Trail an important supply route from Albany to Fort Schuyler to Fort Niagara. The west fork of the Mohawk Trail from Utica to Fort Niagara was about 212 miles (341 km) long. From Albany to Fort Niagara it was about 306 miles (492 km).

As settlers moved west these two branches of the Mohawk Trail were used heavily. New York invested in road improvements to from Albany to Utica in 1793.[7] Further, in 1794 New York authorized work on the Great Genesee Road from Utica to Caledonia and after 1798 to Buffalo.[8] The Genesee Road partially overlapped the west Fork of the Mohawk Trail as far as Oneida and Madison counties on its way to Fort Niagara. However, near Syracuse the original Mohawk Trail took a more northerly route. In 1797 a weekly stagecoach began service between Utica and Geneva on the Seneca/Ontario county line. Each leg of the round trip took three days.[9] In 1798 the Great Genesee Road became a turnpike, a high quality toll road under private control.[8]

But New York toll roads had competition. Water travel on canals was less expensive than road tolls. The Erie Canal was completed in sections: Rome to Utica 1819, Utica to Syracuse 1820, Brockport (west of Rochester) to Albany 1823, and the entire canal Albany to Buffalo opened 1825.[10] Moreover, several railroads charging about the same as the canal began offering passenger service farther and farther west. Railroad service from Albany to Schenectady began 1831, to Utica 1836, to Auburn 1839, to Rochester in 1841, and to Buffalo in 1842. In 1853 the several railroads were merged into a New York Central Railroad mainline from Albany to Buffalo.[11] The decrease in toll revenues made the old turnpike company unprofitable. By 1852 it was dissolved and the former toll roads from Utica to Buffalo became public roads again.[8]


The counties along the Mohawk Trail route (southeast to northwest) were as follows:[1]

The Mohawk trail had a west fork from Fort Schuyler (Utica) to Fort Niagara that partially overlapped the Great Genesee Road. Counties along the west fork of the Mohawk Trail route (east to west) were:[12]

Connecting trails. The Mohawk or Iroquois Trail linked to other trails at each end.[13]

The migration pathways connected at the east end in Utica included:

The migration pathways connected at the west end in Buffalo included:

Modern parallels. The modern road that roughly matches the Mohawk or Iroquois Trail and its extension to Buffalo is New York State Route 5 from Utica to Buffalo.

Settlers and Records

Early settlers in central New York most likely traveled there via Albany. Albany was a hub of pathways from New York City, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Quebec. Probably the largest group to settle were New Englanders, many from Vermont. But people from almost every part of the eastern seaboard and Europe also were common in the area.

No complete list of settlers who used the Mohawk or Iroquois Trail is known to exist. Nevertheless, local and county histories along that trail may reveal pioneer settlers who arrived 1722 to 1850, and therefore who were the most likely candidates to have traveled the Great Genesee Road or Seneca Turnpike.

For partial lists of early settlers who may have used the Mohawk or Iroquois Trail, see histories like:

Cayuga County

  • Elliot G. Storke, and James. H. Smith, History of Cayuga County, New York, 1789-1879 : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers (Syracuse, New York : D. Mason, 1879). WorldCat entry. FHL Book 974.768 H2s.

Cortland County

Onondaga County

  • W. Woodford Clayton, History of Onondaga County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of the prominent men and pioneers (Syracuse, N. Y. : D Mason, 1878). Digital version.
Wikipedia has more about this subject: Mohawk Turnpike

External Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), 851. WorldCat entry. FHL Book 973 D27e 2002.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Wikipedia contributors, "Fort Oswego" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 2 July 2011).
  3. Wikipedia contributors, "Albany, New York" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at,_New_York (accessed 2 July 2011).
  4. Wikipedia contributors, "Fort Niagara" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 2 July 2011).
  5. "History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925fckLRChapter 130: The City of Utica" in Schenectady Digital History Archive at (accessed 2 July 2011).
  6. Wikipedia contributors, "Battle of Fort Niagara" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 2 July 2011).
  7. "The Mohawk Turnpike" in RootsWeb at (accessed 2 July 2011).
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Wikipedia contributors, "New York State Route 5" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 2 July 2011).
  9. "The Way West Through Northern Seneca County," (accessed 2 July 2011).
  10. Wikipedia contributors, "Erie Canal" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 2 July 2011).
  11. Wikipedia contributors, "New York Central Railroad" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 2 July 2011).
  12. "Great Genesee Road" in Handybook, 849.
  13. Handybook, 847-54.