Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: The Indian Era at Fairport

History has long recorded the conflict between England and France over the control of the Ohio Country.  Agriculture versus fur trapping interests led to a French and Indian War that was not resolved until 1763.  France ceded her claims to Canada and names such as LaBelle Riviere and La Grande Riviere became the Ohio and Grand Rivers.  Fairport's location on the shores of Lake Erie allowed it to share a small chapter in this history of Lake County and early America.

An Indian village was situated on the banks of the Grand River in Fairport.  The village was located on the east side of East Street, south of the current railroad crossing near the edge of the river bluff.  Over a two month span from August to September 1937, this area was partially excavated by a Field Archaeology Team from Ohio State University alongwith Fairport Harding High Principal Elijah H. Brown and seven FHS students.

Indian cultures are classified in three basic eras.  First is prehistoric (no contact with white man).  A second is historic (contact) and the third is designated as a transition period between the two eras.  The Fairport site was deemed a transitional site.  The black soil consisting of animal and vegetable organic material led to a conclusion that the village site was occupied for some years. The 'Jesuit Relations of 1647-48' recorded mention of Erie Indians living along the shores at this time.  The Erie Indians were sometimes referred to as the 'Cat' Indians and spoke the same native language as the Hurons.  This 'Cat' / Indian Village was believed to have been active from 1650-54 at which time the Iroquois were thought to have destroyed all area villages. 

The Historic Era that followed the destruction of the Erie / Cat Indian Villages in Fairport suggested that the area became a neutral hunting ground.  According to historical documents, tribes believed to have passed through included the Chippewa, Seneca and Cayugas from the east.  From the west, the tribes who passed through included the Wyandottes, Ottowas and Shawnees.

Though the site was not fully excavated, artifacts collected numbered 1,950.  Another 11,603 postherds and bones were found in the village.  Besides some private collections, many of these artifacts are on display in the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse Marine Museum.  The Indian Museum located in downtown Willoughby offers a larger collection of area Native American artifacts for viewing and an extensive library documenting the history of this era in Lake County.  Both museums are open to the public and welcome your visit in 2012.

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