Specializing in Encounter Dynamics of Natives & Newcomers on the Wabanaki Frontier.
HINTS OF THE HINTERLAND & THE TRIPLE-WHAMMY-3
Part Three: EUROPEAN USURPATION. SPAP Report No. I-5
This third part of “Hints” considers the ultimate insult–European usurpation of Native independence–which was added to the injuries described in Part One (Native trade-wars) and Part Two (European-disease epidemics). Intertwined, these three calamities set the stage for Wabanaki tragedy. Part Three particularly deals with the effects of Wabanaki wars with the English, in which the Wabanaki usually were allies of the French. And if Agnagebcoc town on Ashamahaga River was not vacated as a result of trade-wars, or epidemics, or both, then surely the push and pull of European usurpation, including warfare, must have played a part in its relocation (at best), or complete demise (at worse).
The first English colony to stay arrived in 1620. Following up on the awesome opening caused by the great epidemic of 1617-18, that killed off some entire Native villages in that region, the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims landed in an abandoned cove formerly named Patuxet, in Cape Cod Bay. There they spent a miserable first winter in “their” new homeland. They had no meaningful interaction with the very few, regrouped, Natives left in that area, some of whom spied on the English from a distance.
Then one day in March 1621, a Wabanaki sakamo from Pemaquid (on the Maine coast) strode boldly into “Plymouth” village, speaking the understandable words “Welcome English!”. His name was Samoset, and he had learned to speak English by visiting fishing vessels working in the Gulf of Maine. He seems to have enjoyed the English presence to the point of encouraging it.
In short order Samoset introduced the Pilgrims to two of their neighbors, then went back to Maine. The first neighbor was Squanto, the last of the Patuxet Massachuset former residents of “Plymouth” before the late epidemic. Earlier, Squanto had been kidnapped and taken to England, and had returned only recently; he spoke English because of that sojourn. The second neighbor was Massasoit, the paramount-chief of the nearby Wampanoag, who made a friendship pact with the English that lasted until 1675–by when too many English had immigrated too fast and had pushed too far too strongly into Indian country for the friendship to continue.
In 1623-24 Samoset and some other Wabanaki sakamos of the southwestern Maine coast adopted as their “cousin” a visiting English colonial-agent/businessman named Christopher Levett, who set up headquarters (briefly) on an island (still identified) in today’s Portland Harbor of Casco Bay. Levett explored the area, including Presumpscot River estuary to (and just above) the first falls. Levett’s written account gives us just a taste of the details we so greatly would like to know more about here.
Just at this fall of water the sagamore or king of that place hath a house, where I was one day when there were two sagamores more, their wives and children, in all about fifty, and we were but seven. They bid me welcome….And the great Sagamore of the east country, whom the rest do acknowledge to be chief amongst them, he gave unto me a beaver’s skin, which I thankfully received, and so in great love we parted. On both sides this river there is goodly ground. (MHS 1988: 43)*
*Any reader interested in Maine in the Age of Discovery should peruse a 100-page book of that title, subtitled Chrisopher Levett’s Voyage 1623-24 and a Guide to Sources, published 1988 by Maine Historical Society (Portland), Roger Howell Jr & Emerson W Baker, Editors.
Usually when Levett states a sagamore’s actual name it is without context, so here are my interpretations of the sakamos’ names most important to us.
Samoset he calls “Somerset”, and describes him clearly enough.
the paramount-sakamo “of the east country” he later identifies as “Sadamoyt”–apparently a successor to Bashaba (who was killed c. 1615 by Micmac Tarrantine invaders).
“Conway” well may be Passaconaway (died c. 1664) who later was paramount-sakamo of the Pennacook.
“Manawormet” indeed may be one of the two sagamores of Agnagebcoc-on-Ashamahaga! (See SPAP Report No. 1).
“Skedraguscett” surely must be the sagamore who “hath a house” at Presumpscot First Falls, both because a small stream in Falmouth flowing into the Presumpscot near its mouth is still called “Scitterygusset Creek”, and because a land-deed of 27 July 1657 is “signed” by “Scitterygussett”, conveying to one Francis Small a huge tract of land including this vicinity–for annual payment of “one Trading Coate & one Gallone of Lyquors”. Under the spelling of “Squidrayset” this sakamo well may have been also a “sachem” of today’s Lynn MA area, through intermarriage between Pennacook bands–specifically through Passaconaway’s kin.
Eventually (in 1624) Christopher Levett told his Wabanaki sakamo “cousins” that he had to return to England briefly, and promised to come back soon. They said they would watch the sea for his return. Alas, Levett’s business problems back in England kept him there unavoidably, and so ended by default Samoset’s golden moments in Anglo-Wabanaki relationships.
A half-century later many refugee English settlers would have to flee to Casco Bay’s furthest-out islands for any hope of survival. But they were pursued even out there by Wabanaki war-parties intent on driving the English into the sea they had come from. Samoset and Levett were no longer kindred-spirits to be remembered.
Maine’s Native Uprising started in 1675 as a conflict separate unto itself,
yet simultaneous with King Philip’s War of rebellion against insufferable English encroachments in southern New England. By 1675 New England’s 50,000 White settlers greatly outnumbered the resident Native Americans, and more English kept arriving constantly. Even the best-intentioned intruders gradually spoiled the Native lifeways just as surely as their loose-ranging hogs instantly ravaged Native gardens. “The Encounter” that had started somewhat like a dream had by now become a repetitive nightmare for the Native Americans. The English, in turn, already were tired of their “savage” neighbors’ “backwardness”. Both sides wanted closure, but on completely opposite terms.
Metacomet (a.k.a. King Philip of Pokanoket) was the second successor to his father, the Wampanoag paramount-chief Massasoit, who had been introduced to the Plymouth Pilgrims by Samoset in 1621. For several years as chief, Metacomet/Philip had been preparing for the inevitable breaking of his father’s peace-pact, as his only conceivable way to try to cast off the English yoke. The unexpected trigger was English court usurpation of the Native justice system. So, starting in June 1675, Philip’s war-parties struck dozens of southern New England settlements, in the first (and deadliest, per capita) of what would be eight “Indian Wars” that New Englanders would fight and “win” against Native independence.
Wars with Actual (1-7) or Potential (8) Conflict
Between New-Englanders and Wabanaki
the Wabanaki (Dawnlanders)
Micmac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Abenaki & Pennacook
# and Names
known in North America by these names
known in Europe by these names
King Philip’s War Northern Front
1st Maine Indian
(no European Counterpart)
King William’s War
1st French & Indian War
St Castin’s War
War of the League of Augsburg
War of the Grand Alliance
Queen Anne’s War
2nd French & Indian War
War of the Spanish Succession
Gov Dummer’s War
Grey Lock’s War
(no European counterpart)
King George’s War
3rd French & Indian
Gov Shirley’s War
War of the Austrian Succession
The French & Indian War
4th French & Indian
Seven Years’ War
War for American Independence
(French fought British, too)
War of 1812
2nd War for American Independence
(during Napoleonic Wars)
As Philip’s coalition started to weaken, the tide turned against him. Southern New England militias perpetrated a decisive massacre of Philip’s Narragansett allies in December 1675, at Kingston RI–called the “Great Swamp Fight”. Philip eventually was put on the run, but in August 1676 he was found and killed by Captain Benjamin Church’s militia and auxiliary Indian scouts–one of whom (called Alderman) actually fired the fatal shot. Typical of English “justice” at that time, “traitor” Philip’s body was cut up, and pieces sent in all directions for public exhibition; his head went to Plymouth, where it remained on display for years. His wife and young son were sold as slaves.
Both as groups and as individuals, Philip’s allies were sought out, and fled both north and west to hide with other Native peoples, causing English enmity for the host peoples also. This was the only link between the real King Philip’s War in southern New England and the Wabanaki Uprising, which had its own specific causes as well as sharing the same general complaints of English usurpation of Native lifeways. The basic specific cause was an English demand for immediate Wabanaki disarmament.
Prior to Philip’s opening of hostilities, English government centered in Boston had been suspicious of general Native unrest. Suspicion spawned stupidity on the Maine frontier: English officials ordered that Maine Wabanaki turn in all their firearms to prove their peaceful intentions, or else be considered rebels. Inasmuch as Native Americans throughout the Northeast had become totally dependent on firearms for hunting, by 1675, and inasmuch as hunting was still a Wabanaki economic mainstay, this English demand produced a dilemma: a choice of starvation or war.
Specific triggers differed throughout Maine, but in the area of most concern to us, it was an absurd tragedy on the Saco River. Exactly where fact gives over to folklore may be debated, but supposedly the wife and infant son of sakamo Squando (not the same person as Squanto of Patuxet/Plymouth) were deliberately tipped out of a canoe by English ruffians, to test whether or not an Indian child could swim instinctively. After his son died of the exposure, Squando both put a curse on future White use of the Saco River (still in effect today) and started to raid English settlements throughout southwestern Maine.
Repeatedly hard-hit were the early neighborhoods in today’s Scarborough. It was here at Black Point settlement in September 1676 that an English refugee-in-hiding saw and heard “two or three Frenchmen” with the Wabanaki war-party–one of them most likely to have been the Baron de St.-Castin, who had married Pidianske, the daughter of paramount-sakamo Madockawando, and who lived on eastern Penobscot Bay near today’s town of Castine. St.-Castin was known to have been a Wabanaki war-chief in the second Indian War, but some historians have claimed “no French involvement” in this first war.
Let’s put it this way: only in Wars #1 and #4 (see wars list) were there no simultaneous European counterparts pitting France against England to definitively influence events in North America. This First Maine Indian War was obsessively monofocal. Neither Massachusetts militia nor Bay Colony peace agents were able to stop it. So it did not end until 1678, when English agents for the Duke of York (who then “owned” both New York Colony and Pemaquid Colony in Maine) made the Wabanaki warriors an offer that they just could not refuse: a choice of peace or a hired Mohawk invasion! A reluctant peace resulted, as the Wabanaki choice of the lesser of the two evils.
From our wisdom of hindsight it is now easy to see that this Northern Front of King Philip’s War, or First Maine Indian War, or Wabanaki Rebellion of 1675, was just as much a valid reaction to the stifling of a proudly independent people as was the American Revolution/War for Independence of 1775. The general similarities should not be obscured by the specific differences. The Wabanaki in 1675 fought against tyrannical New England, while the American Colonies in 1775 took on tyrannical Old England. New England tyrannized its Natives but could not stand being tyrannized by its Mother Country. (New England has never lacked self-righteousness!)
There were three major legacies of the First Maine Indian War of 1675-78.
First, from the Wabanaki perspective, this war had not accomplished their goal of preventing the English from returning to Maine. More war must be tried; with French help future success seemed possible. The Dawnland belonged to the Wabanaki, not the English, and the Wabanaki would do anything necessary to keep it–or so they hoped, anyway. Second, this war had cost the Pennacook their very existence, despite their faithfully staying peaceful. Without the Pennacook between the expanding English colonies and the Abenaki, the realities of who’s next were obvious to both Natives and English. Third, this War (both the Maine War and the real King Philip’s War of southern New England) guaranteed major influxes of new English settlers into New England in general and especially into Maine, where the future land reserves were located. While we need not continue the details of the remaining seven wars on the list, in this report, both the sad case of the Pennacook and the guaranteed influx of English settlers will be discussed here now.
As Massachusetts Bay Colony swelled with immigrants, the fertile Merrimack River valley–the Pennacook homeland–lured settlers northward. After another severe epidemic in 1633 had thinned its ranks, the Pennacook people could not and did not try to resist the English onslaught. Paramount-sakamo Passaconaway insisted upon peace as the only hope for Pennacook survival. In 1660 he had to petition the White government to give him back enough land to live on. Although he had not accepted missionary John Eliot’s offer of Christian baptism, Passaconaway had listened to some of Eliot’s sermons, perhaps hoping to understand the English better.
Passaconaway died c. 1664 and was succeeded by his son Wanalancet, who not only continued the peace-at-any-price policy but even “changed canoes”–i.e., became Christianized–to try to better his position with the English. However, some Pennacook band-sakamos broke with Wanalancet, either because of his conversion, or because the peace policy just was not useful, or both. Their last paramount-sakamo and his people drifted apart. Understandably, the Pennacook people became increasingly disgusted with the pushy English, especially after King Philip’s War refugees repeatedly were hunted among them, and their own seasonal migrations were misunderstood as military maneuvers–both causing English raids against them despite their pacifism.
Eventually, by 1680, entire Pennacook bands, including Wanalancet’s own, simply disappeared from the Merrimack valley and English oppression. They either migrated to stay in French Canada, or dispersed eastward among Abenaki relatives, or westward among Mahican relatives, or even fled the region entirely to go to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Wanalancet is thought to have died c. 1696. His nephew (Passaconaway’s grandson) Kancamagus (a.k.a. John Hawkins) joined with Androscoggin River Abenaki and prepared for War #2.
The New England Colonies had “won” only the real King Philip’s War of southern New England–but at tremendous costs in casualties and finances. Certainly the Northern Front/Maine War was no victory at all, with most Maine settlements destroyed and deserted. There was total inability to “pay off” the thousands of New England militiamen for their services, except in paper-shares of land in theoretical future towns in the wilderness. To the northward, the District of Maine was Mass. Bay Colony’s land-bank throughout the War(s) Period, but until the “Indian Menace” was over, not even surveyors were safe, let alone settlers. Paper land-shares could be sold by the grantees for their immediate needs, and bought by long-term investors who would have to hold them for the duration of the War(s) Period–which no one then knew would last until at least 1763 (really until 1815). But eventually land-shares would assure that English settlers would overrun the Maine woods.
Some of the names of these future towns clearly proclaim their Indian Wars origins. Two examples will suffice. The “Narragansett Towns” were intended as payments to English militiamen at the Great Swamp Fight massacre of King Philip’s Narragansett allies in War #1. In our Lakes Region of Maine, today’s town of Gorham started out as “Narragansett No. 7”–and eventually was renamed for a War #1 officer, whose family later included John Gorham the founder of Ranger Companies in War #5. “Raymondtown” (now Raymond and Casco) was originally “Beverly Canada”, meaning a “Canada Town” reserved for militiamen from Beverly MA who were in Governor Phips’ expeditions to Canada in War #2–and eventually was renamed for Captain William Raymond who not only soldiered in Canada in War #2 but also was in the Great Swamp Fight in War #1.
So, in these town names and many others like them we still commemorate the heroes who “defended” New England against Indian “outrages”–conveniently hiding the possibility that these individuals just might really have been invading conquerors, on the offensive, who outraged the resident Native Americans by stealing their lands and spoiling their lifeways. Whether by English push or by French pull, the result was European usurpation of Native independence. Yet however one looks at it, the message is clear: “History” is a Winner’s Tale.
If there had been greater unity among the Native peoples (instead of trade-war conflicts), and normal-size populations (instead of major depopulation by epidemics), Native passion to keep their lands from Europeans would have been invincible. However, besides wars and diseases, there also was European ideational interference. Wabanaki fascination with European technology and Native curiosity about accessing spiritual power (manitou) from European religion combined to dilute their resolve and delude their vision.
The English lured the Wabanaki to continue to trade (despite all else) by offering more and better trade-goods than the French. The French colonists were far fewer than the English, yet had much stronger missionary activity among the Wabanaki, and King Louis sent them annual gifts, presented with great ceremony. So the Wabanaki played both sets of intruders off against each other-and against themselves.
The long-term outcome for the Wabanaki was that the English usurped their lands while the French usurped their souls. And only since the 1970s have today’s Wabanaki peoples begun to reverse those losses, through successful land-claims cases and Native-spirituality revivals, which combined to start a Wabanaki cultural renaissance. “It isn’t that the Old Ways were lost, it’s just that (for a while) we lost touch with those Ways”, as one Elder so aptly stated.
This completes the third part of the “Hints of the Hinterland” trilogy about the “Triple-Whammy”: Native Trade-Wars; European-Disease Epidemics; and European Usurpation (SPAP Reports Nos. 3, 4, & 5). Several specific issues that were involved herein will be considered further (if already introduced) or initially (if not yet mentioned) in later reports. This Report No. 5 could provide only an outline of some of the most basic points.