The Port of Cape Vincent lies on the shores of the St. Lawrence River on the east coast of Lake Ontario just 1.6 kilometers (one mile) from the United States' border with Canada. Port of Cape Vincent is about 140 nautical miles across Lake Ontario from the Port of Toronto. Located in Jefferson County, New York, the town of Cape Vincent was home to 2777 people in 2010. The Village of Cape Vincent is located within the town and had a population of 726 people in the 2010 US Census.
The Onondaga Nation lived on the shores of Lake Onondaga in what is now New York, before Europeans arrived. They are one of the five original nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, and their territory was the capital of the Confederacy from its formation in around the time of the solar eclipse of 1142AD. Remains of a prehistoric Iroquois village have been found in the Port of Cape Vincent area, and the area was the Onondaga's hunting grounds.
While they were neutral at the beginning of the American Revolution, the Onondaga allied with the British after the Americans attacked their main village in 1779. After the United States was formed, many of the people moved to Ontario, Canada. Between 1788 and the early 1800s, the Onondaga lost almost all of its land to the State of New York.
Today, the people who stayed in New York are ruled by traditional chiefs selected by clan mothers. The territory of the modern Onondaga Nation contains about 7300 acres south of Syracuse, New York. The Onondaga keep their traditional culture and system of government. The Onondaga oppose casinos, and they do not allow the sale of alcohol. About 115 kilometers (70 miles) south of the Port of Cape Vincent, Onondaga is still the capital for the Grand Council of Chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy.
In 1615, Samuel de Champlain's expedition reached Lake Ontario at a point within the water boundary of what would become Port of Cape Vincent. In early 1655, French missionaries arrived to bring Christianity to the Onondaga people. Both the French and the English soon established forts and built trading posts in the area. The modern Port of Cape Vincent began in 1801 with settlement of Millens Bay.
During the War of 1812, Port of Cape Vincent was converted to an armed camp to resist British forces encamped across the St. Lawrence River in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
In 1815, the State Legislature made the islands of Carleton, Linda, Fox, and Grenadier a part of the Port of Cape Vincent. In 1848, the railroad from Rome, New York, linked the Port of Cape Vincent to the rest of the State and Nation, leading to the construction of a wharf, train shed, freight houses, and a hotel.
After it separated from the Town of Lyme in 1849, the Village of Cape Vincent was incorporated in 1853 with a population of 1218. That year, a canal through Wolfe Island shortened the route between the Port of Cape Vincent and Kingston. For many years, however, the railroad continued to be the mail transportation to/from the Port of Cape Vincent.
In 1895, the Port of Cape Vincent as incorporated as a town at a time when the area was becoming popular with tourists coming to visit the Thousand Islands. The town's water system began operating in 1895, and electric lights were installed in 1903.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, the Port of Cape Vincent was a busy town. With hotels, grocery stores, meat markets, drug stores, and a growing community of professionals. Its major businesses included boat-building, blacksmiths, milliners and tailors, and livery stables. The important industries for the Port of Cape Vincent were ice, lumber, hay, and raising seeds (the JA Scobell Company and Cleveland Seed Company were located in the Port of Cape Vincent).