Invaders Came from the North: French Attack on Upstate NY

Over 25 years ago I published this piece in Upstate – a regional Sunday news magazine based in Rochester NY. I was a high school American history teacher intrigued with local history.  It was published on the 300th anniversary of the raid and filled with references to local landmarks and towns. My goal was to bring little known “international” incident to a largely local audience. (Looking back, I wonder if the subject matter was a bit grisly for the Sunday brunch table). While I’ve had a pdf copy of the original article on my website, I’m posting a text version here to make it more searchable. Despite my relentless overuse of commas, I have resisted re-writing it.

Invaders Came from the North
Upstate Magazine
July 12, 1987

Map of Denonville raid 1687

Three hundred years ago, on July 10, 1687, Seabreeze was invaded by the largest army North America had ever seen. 

A 350-boat French Armada had left Montréal a month earlier bringing 3000 men and their supplies to the Ontario shore. Their goal: the destruction of the Seneca Indians of the Irondequoit Valley.

Unprepared to meet the invaders, the Senecas sent a small scouting party to the lake bluff at Seabreeze Park. They watched in silence as the French invaders dragged their flat-bottom boats on to the sandbar that today is lined with hotdog stands. On the narrow strip of land that separates Irondequoit Bay from Lake Ontario, the French set about securing their beachhead, and in the next few days built a crude rectangular fort, with a 10 foot high palisade using more than 2000 trees cut from the Webster shore of the bay.

Click Map to enlarge

To protect their boats from the Senecas and the intense heat, the French scuttled them in the shallows of the Bay. Soldiers also build scores of ovens to bake 30,000 loaves of bread to feed the troops.

The expedition leader was Jacques-René de Brisay de Denonville, son-in-law of one of France’s richest nobleman, an experience military commander and governor of new France, the large struggling colony the French had planted in the New World. It stretched from Montréal in a great arc all the way to the Mississippi Valley in New Orleans.

New France survived on the fur trade, an enterprise which was dependent on the Indians to help trap the retreating supply of animals has the white men push westward. The Senecas served as middlemen, their warriors terrorizing the other Indian tribes of the Ohio Valley to maintain a steady supply of pelts which they traded either to the French in Montréal or the English in Albany, depending on who paid better.

Wedged between rivals, Seneca country had become the political fulcrum of the eastern Indian America.

Because upstate New York was strategically located at the headwaters of the major river systems of the American Northeast, Seneca warriors and traders were able to use the rivers to reach colonists and other Indian tribes over an area of almost 1,000,000 square miles reaching as far south as the Carolinas and as far west as the Mississippi River. Wedged between rivals, new friends in the British colonies of the Atlantic Coast, Seneca country had become the political fulcrum of the eastern Indian America. 

Denonville had brought 1500 French colonial troops and 1500 of their Indian allies to the Irondequoit Valley, as he put it, “to enter through the Western chimney of the Iroquois longhouse” to end Seneca interference in French plans for colonizing America.

Jacques-Rene_de_Brisay,_Marquis_de_Denonville
Jacques-Rene de Brisay, Marquis de Denonville

In the pale dawn of July 13, French troops knelt for Christian blessing as their Indian allies looked on. After breakfasting on bread and creek water they began the final leg of their march on the Seneca villages, following Indian trails which can be traced today by existing landmarks.

They worked their way down the west shore of the bay along what today is Interstate 590, passed Indian Landing near Ellison Park, then marched along Landing Road towards East Avenue. Guided by a map of Seneca trails prepared during an earlier, unsuccessful raid, Denonville was able to move swiftly through the rough territory.

News of the invasion spread quickly among the Senecas as their scouts reported the steady advance of the French columns. The Senecas had at most only 1200 warriors with which to face Denonville, but how many had fled or were elsewhere on raids and hunting parties was uncertain. They understood immediately that the Denonville’s aim was the destruction of their two major villages, Ganagaro, at what is now Boughton Hill, near Victor, and Totiakton, at what is now Rochester Junction, just south of Mendon Ponds Park.

The Senecas weren’t sure which village Denonville would strike first, and with their limited forces, defending both would be impossible. The Seneca strategy was to attack the French forces before they could reach the villages but until they were sure which route the French would take, they couldn’t prepare an ambush.

In their uncertainty and confusion, the Senecas had allowed Denonville’s men to pass safely through the terrain where they would have been most vulnerable – Indian Landing, Palmer’s and Corbett’s Glens. But they knew that when Denonville arrived at the fork where East Avenue meets Allen’s Creek his intentions would be plain – if he went left, he was taking the East Avenue trailed to Ganagaro; if he went right, it was the Clover Street trail to Totiakton.

Continue reading “Invaders Came from the North: French Attack on Upstate NY”

Free iBook Explores Ancient Egypt

Meet Alex the Archaeologist

The Memorial Art Gallery Rochester NY recently published Ancient Egypt: Exploring Ancient Artifacts with Alex the Archaeologist. It’s available free from the iTunes Store.
Full disclosure: I’ve assisted MAG on a number of projects and was a “mentor” on this iBook

Ancient Egypt is interactive resource for teachers and students featuring video host – “Alex the Archeologist.” (Played by Alexander Smith, a Mediterranean archaeologist and graduate student at Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World.)

Chapters include: Government and Wealth, Power and Protection, Gods and Goddesses, Journey to the Afterlife and a very interactive guide to reading hieroglyphics. “Stop and think” questions throughout the book foster student reflection. An illustrated glossary helps foster defining skills. Students can zoom in to closely examine artifacts and try their hand at interpreting hieroglyphics.

God Osiris

Designed for classroom use by grades 6–12, Ancient Egypt is the first in a series for young people studying the ancient world. Using the Gallery’s collection of artifacts, this thematic object-centered exploration uses works of art, timelines, video clips, photographs, and interactive media to take students into the world of earlier civilizations. It meets Common Core Standards as students learn to read objects as primary source texts.

The Memorial Art Gallery has many other great resources available online. A good place to start is at Passport to the Past. It features collections of image sets sized for use on Smartboards or in PowerPoints

Worksheets and Kodachrome: Lessons in Kodak’s Bankruptcy

This week Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy. Is there a lesson for educators about what happens when you lose touch with your customer?

First some personal background. I’m from Rochester New York – “The Kodak City.”
My dad worked at Building 29 – right at the heart of the business. Rotating through round-the-clock shifts, literally working in the dark, he mixed the chemicals that became film. One of Kodak’s many benefits, was a guaranteed job for your children when they reached college age. So in the late ’60’s, during my college summers, I worked at Kodak. The first two summers I worked on the Kodak railroad. Yes, Kodak ran it’s own track and trains within the 1,200 acre Kodak Park industrial complex. The summer before my senior year, I washed tour buses and drove the Kodak ambulance. If I remember correctly, I was making more than triple the minimum wage.

Of course, Kodak could afford to be generous to its workers (and extremely philanthropic to the Rochester community). It had a monopoly on the film market. George Eastman had transformed the complexities of the 19th century photographic “chemistry set” into something easy that anyone could do. He understood that his customers wanted simplicity. In the early days of the 20th century he pitched his cameras with the slogan “You push the button, and we do the rest.” (Users of the early Brownie cameras shipped their cameras to Rochester, where the film was taken out, processed and printed. Their reloaded camera and finished prints were shipped back to them.) Kodak continued to simplify with innovations, like drop-in film cartridges, but they always maintained control of all phases of the photographic process – dominating the markets for film, film processing, processing chemicals, and photographic paper.

At the same time the George Eastman popularized photography, compulsory public education brought education to the masses. Instruction was based on the notion that you could tell people what they needed to know. State education departments, publishers and teachers decided what was important and then delivered it to students via textbook and lectures. Perhaps the unstated slogan of that instructional model was “you listen and take the notes, and we do the rest.”

Ironically Kodak sowed the seeds of its own demise by pioneering digital photography in the mid 70’s. But the innovators at Kodak’s Apparatus Division Research Lab couldn’t make the case for “Film-less Photography” as it was called. “Why would anyone ever want to view his or her pictures on a TV? How would you store these images? What does an electronic photo album look like?” More on the first digital camera

Kodak leadership couldn’t accept challenges to their traditional photosensitive film model, so they licensed their digital patents to other companies who began creating the first digital cameras. Kodak’s leaders scoffed at the primitive digital images, and continued to milk their cash cow. The only thing to fear was losing market share to film competitors like Fuji Film.

At the core of Kodak’s eventual demise was the failure of the leadership to remain connected to their customers. They convinced themselves that the public would continue to want to buy film, load it into the camera, take a picture, drop the film off at the processor, and return later to pick up their photos. Easy to believe when you’re making money at every stage of that process. Leadership wouldn’t accept that their customers wanted greater control and functionality over the imaging process. Users would be willing to forgo the quality of the Kodachrome for the ability to do new things with images. Manipulate them, mash images up with other content, e-mail them off to someone, and perhaps never actually print a photo.

So do education leaders have something to learn from the bankruptcy of Kodak? Is their obsession with standardized achievement test data as misguided as Kodak tracking Fuji’s market share? Will innovative teachers get tired of explaining “the effectiveness of social media in the classroom” to their school board and leave the profession?

Has our educational leadership lost touch with their customers – the students? Given the growing array of cheap digital tools available to our students, will they passively wait to be told what, how, when and with whom to learn? Is the information flow of the traditional classroom (lecture, note-taking, test) as outmoded as taking your film to the drugstore for processing?

Given all the technologies available for students to direct their own learning, how much longer can the traditional school survive? When will worksheets go the way of Kodachrome?

Image credits: Emergence of Advertising in America On-Line Project

Kodak Simplicity
Kodak advertisement, 1905
Ad#K0431

Let the Children Kodak
Kodak advertisement, 1909
Ad #K0082

John W. Hartman Center for Sales
Advertising & Marketing History
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Duke University

The Battered Woman Defense: A Classroom Mock Trial

a little justice
a little justice

The highly-publicized trial and acquittal of Barbara Sheehan, brings the subject of spousal abuse and the battered-woman defense to the front page. Wife Who Fired 11 Shots is Acquitted of Murder (NY TImes October 7, 2011).

This case brings to mind a battered-woman defense mock trial that I developed and used for many years with my seniors at Pittsford Sutherland High School (Pittsford NY). I found that participation in mock trials enabled students to hone their critical thinking skills, collaboration, and explore significant legal and social issues in a real-world setting. Here is a copy of the fact pattern for this mock trial in pdf format – The Donna Osborn Case.

I found that many students who had previously been labeled “academically at-risk,” excelled in the fluid environment of a trial. “Honors students” sometimes struggled with material that cannot simply be memorized for a traditional test.

Mock trials are not “scripted” events. Well-written, they should offer a reasonable chance for either side to prevail. While I provided students with the witness statements, it was up to their legal teams to develop prosecution / defense theories and prepare to serve as witness or attorney in a trial held before an actual judge (or attorney) and a jury of adults from the community. 

Each class was a separate trial held over a series of 5-7 days. (My classroom trials became so popular, that adults routinely stopped me in the grocery store to ask if there was another jury they could serve on. … Yes, but it has to be a case you haven’t heard before.)

The course was a one-semester politics and law class that included students from across the academic spectrum. Over the years, I found that many students who had previously been labeled “academically at-risk,” excelled in the fluid environment of a trial. “Honors students” sometimes struggled with material that cannot simply be memorized for a traditional test. This was a lesson that shaped my belief in fostering engagement with a more a student-centered and project-based approach.

To prepare students for this “authentic” assessment, they were introduced to rules of evidence and were given chances to develop their legal skills in preliminary classroom-based trial activities. The community-based trial was the “final exam” for the course. While the students were evaluated by me with a teacher-based rubric – the real mark of success was winning the case. That required developing a logical theory of the case, successfully communicating it to the jury, and skillfully restraining the opposition’s case.

After the adult jury rendered their verdict, they spent time with the class to explain the basis of their decision – highlighting both the successes and shortcomings of the prosecution and defense case. That was a real-world assessment that gave students valuable feedback on the difference between what they had intended to do and what actually “got through” to the jurors.

All trial testimony was video taped and catalogued in the school library for use by subsequent classes. Students carefully studied video tapes of prior trials to look for strategies that they might utilize. Having your trial video on a library “waiting list” was a peer assessment far more coveted than my evaluation. (Off loading content transfer to homework, so that classroom could be performance-based? Today we call that “flipping the class.”)

I developed the “Donna Osborn Case” after extensive interviews with police, district attorney’s office, medical professionals and advocates for abused women. The fact pattern was realistic and designed with many conflicting accounts that provided good material for cross-examination. While it had a solid evidentiary foundation, verdicts were often driven by belief systems that transcended the evidence and put jurors’ social values to the test. The fact pattern was carefully crafted to give both prosecution and defense a good chance at prevailing, and over the years I saw a fairly even split in verdicts.

In closing this post, I must give a big hat tip to good friend and attorney Jay Postel. The expert witness statements he crafted are a skillful distillation of both merits and shortcomings of the “battered woman defense” and the legal arguments against it.

Over the years I’ve received many interesting email from teachers across the world who have used the Donna Osborn Case. (A steady stream of emails suggests that mock trials may be especially popular with English language classes in China). I also have been amused by reoccurring theme – the student who needs help crafting their closing argument on the eve of summation.

Note: There are additional legal resources of interest to educators available for download at this link. They include simplified rules of evidence, as well as other criminal and constitutional appeals cases that I used in my class. Here’s a timeline of the facts of the Osborn case that someone posted on Dipity.

Image credit: flickr/orangesparrow

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