St. Lawrence Iroquois

The St. Lawrence Iroquois, or more properly, St. Lawrence Iroquoians, were the indigenous peoples of Jefferson County during the period between c. AD 1250-1525. Their origins are still a mystery to archaeologists, and even more intriguing has been their abrupt disappearance before the advance of European exploration. Jefferson County was home to at times as many as four to five distinct village populations or “tribes.” At their peak in the mid- to late- 15th century, their population was probably in the neighborhood of 2500-4000, split into two or three distinct village populations.

The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters



The St. Lawrence Iroquoians were farmers. The bulk of their diet was derived from the cultivation of corn, beans and squash. Grown together in family garden plots, the corn and beans grown together helped stabilize soil fertility while the squash helped keep vermin from eating the crop. The squash was used for food as well as in the fashion of containers. To supplement their diets, St. Lawrence Iroquoians relied on fishing, especially favoring salmon and eel. They also hunted large and small game.

SLI_007.jpgSt. Lawrence Iroquoian material culture consisted mostly of tools fashioned from bone. From bone they made toggle-head spear points for fishing, arrow points for hunting, awls for leather working, shuttles for weaving, beamers for scraping hides, and even trinkets for gaming and divining. From clay they made elaborately-decorated pottery and pipes for tobacco smoking. St. Lawrence Iroquoians made surprisingly little use of local flint. Most of the flint tools we find are what we call “expedient”, much like disposable razor blades. They made woodworking tools from local igneous rocks like granite, geiss and basalt.
longhouse.jpg
They lived in villages containing from as few as 2 to as many as 15 or more family dwellings, called longhouses. Each longhouse was between 50-200 feet long and about 24 feet wide, housing an entire extended family. Each nuclear family occupied a single compartment within the longhouse, sharing a fire between two families. Estimating the population of a longhouse is therefore a simple matter of counting the fires arranged in a line through the center of the longhouse, and multiplying that number by two to arrive at the number of families. In the early 14th century, longhouses and villages were small, probably harboring up to 250-300 people. By the late 15th century, village populations had grown to the size of the massive Morse site on Dry Hill, estimated to have been home to about 2000.

slide1lg.jpgThese large villages likely represented the merger of two or more earlier village populations. Warfare was endemic to the St. Lawrence Iroquoians and raiding was constant. Over time, smaller villages formed alliances with their neighbors and eventually merged to increase their defensive ability, much like modern street gangs. It is believed that this warfare may have led to the abrupt end of the St. Lawrence Iroquoian occupation of Jefferson County in the early 16th century.

Where did they go? Recent research has suggested that one of the two villages merged with the Five Nations, specifically with the Onondaga and Oneida. The other village group appears to have merged with neighboring groups to the northwest who would eventually become part of the Huron Confederacy. Living in the North Country may have become impossible for these village farmers by the early 16th century. That was the peak of a cold spell known as the Little Ice Age. The same episode caused Viking colonies in Labrador and Greenland to fail, and famines throughout Europe. Summers may had become too short to support their farming way of life.

See also Prehistory

  • st_lawrence_iroquois.txt
  • Last modified: 2018/12/06 17:17
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