WHAT is “Description of Mawooshen”?

In the early 1600s, the Wabanaki Algonquians seem to have been three general groups, which may be termed (from east to west) MICMAC, ETCHEMIN, & ABENAKI-PENNACOOK. Description of Mawooshen gives detailed data about the political geography of one major Wabanaki alliance among some specific communities of both the second and third of the general groups, which lasted until it was destroyed (c 1615) by a rival major Wabanaki alliance among some specific communities of both the first and second of the general groups. The Description’s names of rivers, towns, & chiefs do not always mesh with our current knowledge from later documents and our lack of archaeological evidence. Yet however tentative, the Description is ever-tantalizing because it gives deep data on a wide area at an early time, just before some major changes occurred. Therefore, it offers Wabanaki studies a baseline, although a weak one.

The Mawooshen Description stems from detailed information debriefed from Captain George Waymouth’s five native Wabanaki captives*, after their abduction to England in 1605, from the Pemaquid ME area (where these five men were visiting if not resident). Although English exploration sponsors immediately used informal notes from the data, the document as we now know it was not published until 1625. That was years after some of the eleven rivers, numerous villages thereon, and several sakamos (chiefs) named therein had been (respectively) depopulated, destroyed & regrouped, or killed – by Native warfare (1606-1615) or European disease (1616-1619).

*”Of the Use I Made of the Natives. After I had those people sometimes in my Custody,… And the longer I conversed with them, the better hope they gave me of those parts where they did inhabit, as proper for our uses, especially when I found what goodly Rivers, stately Islands, and safe harbours those parts abounded with, being the speciall marks I levelled at as the onely want our Nation met with in all their Navigations along that Coast [of Maine], and … I made them able to set me downe what great Rivers ran up into the Land, what Men of note were seated on them, what power they were of, how allyed, what enemies they had, and the like of which in his proper place.” — Sir Ferdinando Gorges (a major sponsor of English colonization of Maine) in A BRIEFE NARRATION (1658).

MAWOOSHEN (probably meaning walk-together) apparently was the name for the personal alliance under paramount-sakamo (superchief) BASHABA of several Western Etchemin & Abenaki-Pennacook communities in the territory between today’s Union River (Ellsworth ME) and Saco River (Biddeford ME). Per se, Bashaba was a Western Etchemin sakamo of the Bangor ME area on Penobscot River, near the first falls, and the mouth of Kenduskeag Stream. Bashaba was killed c 1615 by a rival alliance of Eastern Etchemin & Micmac communities, together called TARENTINES, who not only invaded but for a while occupied at least the Penobscot Bay region. The rivalry was over Native attempts to control access to European tradegoods in exchange for furs. The resulting chaos among the Wabanaki peoples is aptly summed up by Sir Ferdinando Gorges (ibid):

“…the Warre growing more and more violent between the Bashaba and the Tarentines, who (as it seemed) presumed upon the hopes they had to be favoured of the French that were seated in Canada their next neighbors, the Tarentines surprised the Bashaba, and slew him and all his People near about him, carrying away his Women, and such other matters as they thought of value; after his death the publique businesse running to confusion for want of an head, the rest of his great Sagamores fell at variance among themselves, spoiled and destroyed each others people and provision, and famine took hould of many, which was seconded by a great and generall plague, which so violently rained for three yeares together, that in a manner the greater part of that Land was left desert without any to disturb or appease our [English] free and peaceable possession thereof…” [Note: “the” Bashaba meant only an honorific (the great Bashaba), although some Englishmen mistakenly thought that it meant that Bashaba was his title instead of his name. Wabanakis bestowed the same honorific upon Maine’s highest mountain, calling it “the Katahdin” – which should end any doubt. (See the Bashaba section of MM-SS-2: Wabanaki Superchiefs of the 1600s for more information.)]

WHERE, in print today, can one find “The Description of the Countrey of Mawooshen”?

Alas, the three standard sources today, in which to find the Mawooshen Description reprinted, are not easily available except in the largest of scholarly libraries. The Description appears only in quite-expensive compilations of esoteric documents. These three standard sources are:

  1. Pages 400-405 of Chapter 6 of Volume 19 of HAKLUYTUS POSTHUMUS OR PURCHAS HIS PILGRIMES (20 volumes) By Samuel Purchas (Reprint of the 1625 Edition) Published 1905-1907 by J MacLehose & Sons, Glasgow Reprinted 1965 by AMS Press Inc, NewYork [no notes added]
  2. Pages 420-424 of Chapter 66 of Volume 3 of NEW AMERICAN WORLD (5 volumes) Edited by David B Quinn* Published 1979 by Arno Press and Hector Bye Inc, NewYork [notes added]
  3. Pages 469-480 of Chapter 13 of THE ENGLISH NEW ENGLAND VOYAGES 1602-1608 (1 volume) Edited by David B Quinn* and Alison M Quinn* Published 1983 by The Hakluyt Society, London (Second Series, Number 161) [notes added]

*Otherwise-excellent notes by the Quinns (David B and Alison M) were misguided in discussion of all Wabanaki-related documents, by the now-discredited approach of the “Eastern Abenaki” article (pages 137-147 of Volume 15 [Northeast]) in the HANDBOOK OF NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS, published 1978 by Smithsonian Institution, Washington. It collapsed-together the earlier history of the exiting Western Etchemin (including Bashaba’s Mawooshen) with the later history of the entering Eastern Abenaki (including today’s Penobscot Nation). It failed to consider that there were two separate peoples involved in the same region; that after the Western Etchemin exited their central coastal Maine territory to go eastward, the Eastern Abenaki then entered that region from their own former westward territory. Indeed, the HANDBOOK’s 1978 “Eastern Abenaki” article makes Bashaba an Eastern Abenaki chief – which he was not! Unfortunately, the Quinns mistakenly took that HANDBOOK article to be the very latest anthropological thinking on Maine Indian ethnohistory – which it was not even then, and absolutely is not now! So, it should always be remembered (tie a not on your finger!) that when the Quinns said “Eastern Abenaki” in their otherwise-valuable notes on the Mawooshen Description and all related documents, they almost always should have said “Western Etchemin”.

HOW valuable is the Mawooshen Description?

“Valuable” here means its usefulness to Wabanaki studies. Its accuracy is hard to assess, but should be neither totally dismissed nor unquestionably accepted. Misinterpretations & exaggerations are likely the biggest problems, even if good-will is assumed on both sides (questioners and answerers).

In 1605, Waymouth’s five captive Wabanaki men were as new to the English language as their English interrogators were to the however-many dialects the five Wabanakis spoke. All five seem to have been captured more-or-less at once, near Pemaquid ME, but while some probably lived there, others well may have been visiting there and thus have had closer ties elsewhere. One listed as a “servant” may have been either a war-captive or a potential son-in-law, from away.

However long The Five stayed angry after being kidnapped, they all probably understood early-on that only their fullest cooperation would speed their return to Maine, as guides for future English voyages. Basically they would want to be culture-brokers, in hopes of better-gaining personal access to English goods & services, both in England then and back in Maine later. But because the Fur-Trade was desired equally by both Europeans and Indians, many wishful-thinking tall-tales likely were both told and believed. Nonetheless, early-1600s MAWOOSHEN was much more of a reality than the legendary NORUMBEGA of the 1500s in the same region.

Finally publishing in 1625 what had been an informal data-bank for 20 years, Samuel Purchas commented “This description of Mawooshen I had amongst Master Hakluyts papers”. Richard Hakluyt had died in 1616. Clearly, by 1625 the Description was largely outdated and mostly an exotic curiosity* — the years of Native warfare & European disease having been so devastating..

Perhaps on balance it’s wisest to consider the deep-wide-early Description of Mawooshen a baseline statement of what some Englishmen wanted to think they were told, by some Wabanakis who claimed to know, about “MAINE: The Way Life Should Be”, c 1605. If we can hype Maine today, we shouldn’t hold it against them for doing so back then.

*In the early 1600s, there was great interest among the English public in exploration & discovery information of all sorts, new additions to which were being published constantly. Hakluyt and Purchas specialized in compiling whatever relevant data they could find, both to promote English colonization and for the English public to enjoy reading. What has been called “the great prose-epic of the English nation” collectively consists of Richard Hakluyt’s The Principal Navigations Voyages Traffiques & Discoveries of the English Nation (modern reprint of 2nd Edition, 1598-1600, is a 12-volume set), and Samuel Purchas’s Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes (modern reprint of 1625 Edition is a 20-volume set), plus Samuel Purchas’s Purchas his Pilgrimage or Relations of the World & the Religions Observed (2nd Edition, 1614, in 4 parts).