Friday, September 2, 2011

Forts of the Western New York Model – Part I

Were there Nephite forts in the Great Lakes area? Arlin Nasbaum, regarding his Western New York Model of the Land of Promise, wrote: “Commencing at the southern shores of the northern lakes [Erie & Ontario] and extending southward a hundred miles or more we find a greater number of military works than in any other section of the United States,” which he took from an 1880 book by Frederick Larkin, M.D., “Ancient Man in America.”

However, what Larkin describes as a fort in his preface, was merely “military fortifications composed of a ditch and parapet designed for protection against a hostile enemy.” While most people at the time considered these fortifications made by modern Indians, he believed were made by the Mound Builders in Western New York, since he believes the Indians came into that land long after the Mound Builders.

These forts, according to his drawings, were merely concentric circles with an opening or two and considered by him defensive fortifications to guard against those outside the circle. Nor were the ramparts (earth walls) particularly high, though Mormon writes: “But behold, how great was their disappointment; for behold, the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them that they might take effect, neither could they come upon them save it was by their place of entrance” (Alma 49:4), nor were they made of stone, though Mormon wrote: “Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land” (Alma 48:8).

Also, Larkin writes of the bones of numerous people buried within the circles, however, Mormon tells us the dead were heaped in the trenches round about: “Now when they found that they could not obtain power over the Nephites by the pass, they began to dig down their banks of earth that they might obtain a pass to their armies, that they might have an equal chance to fight; but behold, in these attempts they were swept off by the stones and arrows which were thrown at them; and instead of filling up their ditches by pulling down the banks of earth, they were filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded bodies” (Alma 49:22).

In addition, he writes: “Commencing at the southern shores of the northern lakes [Erie & Ontario] and extending southward a hundred miles or more we find a greater number of military works.” The northern lakes (Lake Ontario) would be Nasbaum’s North Sea (Ripliancum) and running southward toward the narrow neck, yet the Nephite forts were not in the Land Northward—that is where they fought their last battle out in the open in the Land of Cumorah (Mormon 6:2-4). Their forts were in the Land Southward meant to keep the Lamanites from advancing to the north. In fact, Mormon says: “that they should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities, throughout all the land which was possessed by the Nephites” (Alma 50:1). They were not driven into the Land Northward by treaty until 422 years later (Mormon 2:28).

Besides that, many of their forts were along the eastern seashore (Alma 51:25-27), not in the location of the Great Lakes forts. It should also be kept in mind, that the twenty or so forts in the Great Lakes area that are still visible today, were not built anciently, but were built from the early 17th century onward. This area was the center of numerous Indian wars, the French-Indian War, and later the Indian-Colonial wars, and from the time of the first Europeans to settle there, especially in the battles between the French and British, and later the British and the Americans.

James P. Barry, in his extensive book “Old Forts of the Great Lakes: Sentinels in the Wilderness” traces the development of these Great Lakes forts from the 1600s to the American Civil War to establish military forts and fortified trading posts. Barry presents forts from Fort Henry, the strongest on the Lakes, to the forts at key historic places along the Niagara Frontier and at Mackinac, the fur trade outposts at Grand Portage and Fort William, the mission of Sainte Marie, or the naval base at Penetanguishene. Many of these forts grew into cities as did Fort York at Toronto or forts that defended cities, such as Fort Ontario at Oswego and Fort Wayne at Detroit.

Larkin wrote his book in 1880 at a time when knowledge of this area was very meager, especially of the wars and battles that had taken place there in the early days of the colonizing of the Western Hemisphere. What forts that might be attributed to an earlier time do not match the scriptural record, and the forts of a later period do not match the building capability of the Nephites (2 Nephi 5:15).

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