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STORM CLOUDS OVER WABANAKIAK

CONFEDERACY DIPLOMACY UNTIL DUMMER'S TREATY (1727) 

By

  Dr. Harald E. L. Prins 

Invited Article
Written For 

The Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs
Amherst, Nova Scotia
Canada

 

Department of Sociology & Anthropology
207 Water Hall
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506
USA
785-532-4966
prins@ksu.edu

 

1. Introduction:

A potent force for some two hundred years, the Wabanaki Confederacy played a crucial role in the long struggle for aboriginal rights in Northeast America. But, this confederacy was more than a political alliance--it represented a sacred bond of Algonquian brotherhood. Remarkable in its achievements, this institution has a legacy, which is of relevance for contemporary Wabanaki politics and must therefore not slip from memory.

The Wabanaki Confederacy did not operate in a vacuum and can only fully be appreciated in the context of the colonial scramble for North America. Indeed, its policies were shaped in reaction against, or in accord with strategic movements by other major players in this complex theater of war and peace. All in pursuit of their own self-interested objectives, this cast included not only the French and English, but also other tribal nations such as the Huron, Ottawa, Mohawk, and even Ojibwa of the Great Lakes. Each of these was well-planned, potentially dangerous, and could therefore never be fully trusted.

No information exists on when precisely the Wabanaki Confederacy was formed, but it appears that it probably occurred in the early 1680s. By then, foreign diseases and vicious warfare had already reduced each of the allied tribal nations to a fraction of their original strength. Although the confederacy endured until the mid- I 800s, this review only covers its first fifty years. Its purpose is to explore the historical origins and early guardian role of the Wabanaki Confederacy. After comments on its basic political structure and some notes on its diplomatic procedures and ceremonies, it turns to an inquiry into some of the major challenges it faced in war and peace. After a brief discussion of a series of Anglo-Wabanaki treaties, it ends with a critical examination of the problems surrounding the signing of Dummers Treaty. Hammered out between 1725 and 1727, this controversial document became the political pivot of future Anglo-Wabanaki diplomacy and had far-reaching consequences.

 

2. What was the Wabanaki Confederacy?

The Wabanaki Confederacy consisted of several northeastern Algonquian-speaking tribal nations, although its composition could fluctuate somewhat according to time and circumstances. Its original core consisted of a group of closely related Abenaki tribal communities, and extended to similar clusters of Maliseet and Passamaquoddy. Later, it widened even more and included the more numerous Mi'kmaq. This expanded group, which gradually developed a close cultural relationship, is what is now considered the Wabanaki Confederacy (Speck 1915:498; Ibid. 1919:36).

Complaining that "it is impossible to distinguish the Indians of one Tribe from another," New Englanders generally lumped these northeastern Algonquian tribes as "Eastern Indians" (Baxter, 23:416). Their French allies in Canada also remarked that there were few obvious differences between them (NYCD 10: 65 8). Adopting a Native term, the latter often grouped them together as Abenaki or Wabanaki (Speck 1915:494). The French Jesuit scholar Charlevoix (1:26.4-265), for instance, noted in his 1744 book History and General Description of New France: "We shall see [the Mi’kmaq Indians], with their neighbors, under the name of Abenaqui Nations..." The term Abenaki or Wabanaki is derived from Wabanakiak which is based on waban ("light" or "white," referring to the dawn in the east), and aki ("land"). Hence its meaning as People of the Dawnland (see also Hodge 1969:2; Snow 1978:137).

Of course, the Wabanaki themselves had their own various names for their confederacy. For instance, the Mi’kmaq usually referred to the Wabanaki Confederacy as their "Convention Council," calling it Buduswagan, based on the word putu’s("orator"), a name also used by Maliseet and Passamaquoddy. Another term used by the Passamaquoddy was Tolakutinaya, which literally means to "be related to one another" (Leavitt & Francis 1990: 38-39). Finally, the Penobscot called it Bezegowak, meaning "Those United Into One"), or Gizwzgawak, which signifies "Completely United" (Speck 1915:495).

 

3. Founding the Wabanaki Confederacy -- Oral Traditions

When Europeans first arrived on the shores of Northeast America, they encountered several large alliances, some even crossing cultural or language boundaries. In the early 1600s, French explorers on the Maine coast reported one such confederacy with a paramount chief named (or titled) Bashabes. Residing at Penobscot, he headed Mawooshen, an alliance of more than twenty villages located between Cape Neddick and Schoodic Point (Prins 1994:1 1 0-1 1). About the same time, Mi’kmaq chieftain Membertou could also call upon numerous allies from as far as Cape Breton and the Chaleurs Bay (Lescarbot 3:499-500).

Early on, the French forged ties of friendship with the Algonquian tribes inhabiting the northern Atlantic seaboard. A Penobscot narrative tells about this ancient relationship with their French allies: "The signs of brotherhood has been manifested by Mm so plainly that everyone having the chance of meeting him, greets him with the 'Nitchieh,' - brother. Because all his actions were taken as such" (Nicolar 1893: 129). On the other hand, they felt quickly threatened by the growing numbers of English settlers invading their lands.

Within a few decades following their first encounters with European newcomers, the region's aboriginal inhabitants had been sharply reduced in number by a lethal combination of dreadful diseases and severe inter-tribal conflicts. When increasingly brazen raids by their ancient Iroquois enemies threatened their very survival, the northeastern Algonquian tribes understood that the time had come to make a lasting peace with each other. This is why they founded the Wabanaki Confederacy (Prince 1898; Speck 1915, 1919; Leger 1929- Wallis and Wallis 1955:223).

Wabanaki oral traditions, later written down, tell us why the Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi’kmaq became allies long ago. For instance, according to the Wapapi Akonutomakonol , or wampum records, of the Passamaquoddy: "Long ago, the Indians were always fighting against each other. They struck one another bloodily. There were many men, women, and children who alike were tormented by these constant battles .... It seemed as if all were tired of how they had lived wrongly. The great chiefs said to the others, 'Looking back from here the way we have come, we see that we have left bloody tracks. We see many wrongs. And as for these bloody hatchets. and bows, arrows, they must be buried forever. Then they all set about deciding to join with one another in a confederacy" (Leavitt & Francis 1990: 38-39).

In the early 1900s, some Mi’kmaq elders in Pictou could also still recall that their ancestors made a pact with the Penobscot: "Dja'djaginwi't, a Micmac chief, fought the Penobscot. Later they made peace, and as a record painted with alder (red or brown) an eel and a turtle on one side of a bearskin. They crossed a tomahawk, spear, bow, and arrows, and buried them thus. Over this spot they erected a small birch-bark wigwam; and at the top of it put bearskin. This was at Peter Denys Point [Princeton], Maine. After this, Micmac and Penobscot intermarried. The Micmacs told the Penobscot: 'If you break this treaty, there is the Sun above you to see you. If you break it, you will be like salt on the ground when water is poured on it..." (in W&W:204).

A small book written by the old Penobscot Chief Joseph Nicolar was published in 1893. He tells us that tribal elders in his community remembered that the confederacy had its origins as -a defense league against the Iroquois: "Meanwhile the works of those terrible May-Quay's [lit. "maneaters," or Iroquois] had become so unbearable that something must be done to quell it, even if they had to be wiped out of the land forever, because many people have already been converted [to Christianity], but were followers of the white man's doctrine [French Catholicism] and it had made such a change in them they knew enough to be cautious and slow in their movements in this direction. Seven years was agreed upon to make a .... a well planned campaign .... Although the people had already been well scattered..., it was found that all were having the same mind ... and all wanted peace. To make a permanent affair of ft, an act of federation was adopted by all the north, embracing the north of 'Ko-chi-koke li. e. Cochico, or Piscataqua River, on the Maine-New Hampshire border] ... extending to the extreme east of Mik-nwk-keag' Mi’kmaq Country], - the youngest land, and as far west as 'Odur-wur-keag’ [Ottawa River, occupied by the Algonquin Nation], - father land" (Nicolar

1893: 129; cf. Leavitt & Francis 1990).

 

4. Origins of the Wabanaki Confederacy -- A Conjecture

Although these oral traditions do not give us the precise year in which the Wabanaki Confederacy was founded, it does provide us with important historic clues. These clues, coupled with an understanding derived from chronicles written by colonial officials, Catholic missionaries, military officers, and others, suggest that this political tide 'mark was probably reached in the early 1680s.

By then, the English had crushed an Algonquian uprising in southern New England, which became known as King Philip's War (1675-1676). This uprising, which primarily involved the Wampanoag, Nipmuck, and Narragansett, had greatly alarmed their northern neighbors, in particular the Abenaki inhabiting the valleys of the Saco, Androscoggin, and Kennebec. Overpowered by the English hundreds of Indian survivors fled southern New England and crossed the Piscataqua River to settle among the Abenaki of Maine, while others retreated to French mission villages in the St. Lawrence Valley. Although fighting had stopped in southern New England during the summer of 1676, English settlers and local Abenakis skirmished on the Maine coast, and a few other incidents occurred further down east. Uneasy peace returned to New England's frontiers with Indian Country when treaties formally ended the fighting in 1678 (Baxter 6: 118-119, 180; 23: 1; Hubbard 1680: 94, 136, 151, 636; Mather 1864: 235; Prins 1994).

The decade following this first Anglo-Wabanaki War (1675-1678) became a political watershed for several reasons. As a quickly rising power, New England showed a growing appetite for the rich fisheries on the northern Atlantic coasts and began to threaten French interests in the region. Meanwhile competing for control over the fur trade in the interior and trying to expand their influence to western tribal nations, the French in Canada continued their bitter feuding with their Iroquois neighbors. Given this volatile situation, the thinly populated, poorly defended, and disorganized French colonies in Canada and Acadia formed easy targets for enemy attacks (PD 3: 369). 

The French Crown feared that it could lose all its possessions in the region and instructed its colonial officials to create a protective buffer of allied tribal villages in the borderlands. Jesuits and other Catholic missionaries familiar with the aboriginal communities, and often knowing the regional languages, were instrumental in carrying out this French Indian policy.

The Abenaki and their neighbors saw the same dark clouds swelling on the horizon. Recalling the slaughter that had killed thousands of their unfortunate neighbors in southern New England, they were well aware that the few survivors had lost nearly all their tribal lands. Urged by fear, they understood that there was no place for remembering old wrongs and that the time had come to forge a lasting friendship. Tribal delegations were sent to each other's villages to discuss war and peace. In the wake of this diplomatic initiative, they created the alliance that has become known as the Wabanaki Confederacy.

   

5. Wabanaki Diplomatic Protocol:

As allies, the Wabanaki gathered periodically to exchange important information, to listen to each other's concerns, and to resolve upon matters affecting their common well-being. Of vital significance, of course, were issues of war, truce, and peace. When any of them was threatened or attacked by outside enemies, they could call upon each other for support. Not only would this help be reciprocated when necessary, but auxiliary warriors would be rewarded with gifts. For instance, when Mi’kmaq came to the aid of their Abenaki allies at Androscoggin River, they were not only feasted, but also received precious furs (Church: 54; Beck: 39). As allied nations depending on each others strength they could even exchange their sons and daughters. For instance, when the Maliseet had suffered great losses, Mi’kmaq sent them their young women "in order that they should repeople their country..." (Maillard: 24-26). In addition to foreign affairs, the allies could also be involved in each other's internal affairs. For instance, they confirmed each other's elected life chiefs (Speck 1915:498).

Never having accepted a paramount chief as head of the Wabanaki Confederacy, the allied tribal nations did not settle on a permanent seat of government. According to the occasion, the chiefs (or their ambassadors) would decide on a certain location for their next confederacy meeting, or council fire. Usually, these council fires were kindled at politically important and centrally located places. Historically, meetings were held in Wabanaki head villages such as Panawamskek in the Penobscot valley (Oldtown), the Abenaki village at Odanak (St. Francis), the Passamaquoddy village at Sipayik (Pleasant Point), the Maliseet villages of Meductic or Aukpaque, or the Mi’kmaq village of Bear River (southern Nova Scotia), and others (Baxter 24:149-152; 28:282-283, 306-307; Kidder 1867; Speck 1915; Webster 1934). Having chosen a particular village for their council fire, the chieftains or their ambassadors would discuss the challenges facing them and try to reach consensus on their decisions. However, given that each of the tribal allies had retained a great deal of independence, these gatherings were not always effective (see also JR 3: 89-95).

Because their collective survival often hinged on their success, solemn proceedings were wrapped in Native diplomatic protocol. Their language was typically stylized, underlined by meaningful gestures, and supported by presenting ritual objects such as wampum belts. According to their particular designs, these ceremonial belts served to record and commemorate important joint decisions such as declarations of war and peace. One of the most important belts represented the Wabanaki Confederacy itself signifying the political union of the four allied tribes, it showed four white triangles on a blue background (Speck 1919:33-38). During peace negotiations with foreign dignitaries, an orator would speak for the Wabanaki Confederacy and offer certain wampum belts, each symbolically representing a major point or message to be conveyed on behalf of the chiefs.

In the political rhetoric of Wabanaki diplomacy, kinship metaphors became important. Having become "related" as allied nations, the chieftains or their ambassadors addressed each other as "brothers." Allowing for some ranking difference between older and younger brothers, this kin term essentially expressed equal status. More complex was the term "father," which they thought a fitting metaphor for someone who exercises protecting care. As such, they did not object to calling the Governor in Canada (and by extension the king in France) their French Father. In contrast, the French (and English) typically attributed real authoritarian power to the idea of a father. Unaware of this particular cross-cultural difference, colonial diplomats employed this kinship metaphor with sometimes unfortunate consequences (PD 1: 105; LeCierq 1691: 305, Jennings 1984: 44-45),

Among the better-known Wabanaki ceremonies was a spectacular war-making ritual known as the "Dog-Feast". In this ritual, allied warchiefs and their followers shared a meal of boiled dogs before setting out on the warpath against a common enemy (Rasle 1723, in Cofl. of the Me fest. Soc., 2nd Series, vol. 4: 276). Typically hosted by a renowned tribal chief or warleader, the ceremony would be attended by chiefs and warriors invited from allied villages. Holding a joint council of war, they would discuss options and, if they agreed to fight, elect their captains and decide on battle strategy (NEHGR 18 (1864): 163; CMEHS II,4: 291). There were also other important pan-tribal ceremonies, including the ritual of "making sacred kinsmp," now better known as "smoking the peace pipe." As a final example of Wabanaki Confederacy ritual, I will only mention the peace ceremony of "burying the hatchet" (Diereville: 172). Often, dice and ball games would be played to mark the end of an important gathering of the Wabanaki Confederacy.

 

6. The First Military Test of the Wabanaki Confederacy

Whereas the Wabanaki had been only marginally involved in the earlier Algonquian war of resistance against New England colonists, they fully participated in the conflict known as King Williams War (1688-1698). In this war, Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Abenaki warriors became active as frontier guerillas. During several major raids, Mi’kmaqs from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Maliseets from the St. John often fought together with Wabanaki warriors from as far south as the Saco River in Maine.

In sharp contrast to the previous war, this Anglo-Wabanaki confrontation took place within a much wider political theater. Just before this war broke out, the French decided to invade Iroquois country. In 1687, having aborted an earlier campaign to finally crush their mortal enemies, they launched a force of 1,700 soldiers and 300 Mission Indians, including Wabanakis and Hurons. Having killed several hundred Seneca warriors and destroyed four of their major villages, the French considered this campaign a military success (PD 3:334-335).

Meanwhile, the French and English had become deeply involved in a power struggle across the Atlantic ocean. In Europe, already at war with a coalition between the Netherlands, the Holy Roman (German) Empire, Sweden, and Spain, the French were surrounded by enemies during what became known as War of the Great Alliance. Given the fact that almost all these warring European nations had mercantile and colonial interests overseas, military confrontation could take place almost anywhere the French were active.

Perhaps based on independent information from Europe, the Iroquois Confederacy, having just suffered a major blow, may have recognized that Anglo-French warfare would be desastrous for the aboriginal peoples inhabiting the colonial borderlands. Accordingly, they initiated some far-reaching diplomatic missions and even tried to establish an alliance with their sworn enemies, the Wabanaki. For instance, in the spring of 1688, Iroquois ambassadors visited the Androscoggin and Kennebec and offered wampum belts to the region's Abenaki chiefs. Hoping "to conclude this peace," the Iroquois planned to return in the summer of 1689. The French took alarm worried that their longstanding allies on the New England frontier could be swayed by this Iroquois diplomatic offensive and remain neutral, or worse, even side with the English. Accordingly, the French resolved "this peace should not be made, or should be broken, if it should be made -- this is not difficult to manage" (in Wheeler 1923: 232).

In 1688, fighting broke out on the New England frontier. A local incident between English settlers and their Indian neighbors triggered a violent chain reaction in the northern and eastern borderlands. After nearly five years of bloodshed, a split emerged within the Wabanaki Confederacy. Exposed to English seaborne raiders, several bands in the Maine coastal region felt they had no choice but accept a peace proposal from the English. Some of the region's chieftains, including the famous Madockawando of Penobscot, agreed to sign a treaty with the Massachusetts government (which claimed jurisdiction. over Maine until 1820). According to the English, who relied on their- own interpreters, this treaty clearly stated that these Wabanaki chiefs acknowledged their "hearty subjection and obedience unto the Crown of England" (Baxter 10: 7-1 1).

Dismayed by this breach within the Wabanaki Confederacy, the French did their best to demean the peacemakers as traitors and persuaded Taksus ("he who crushes"), a renowned warchief from the Kennebec, to prevail upon their wavering companions. Reinforcing their alliance, they rewarded Taksus not only with gifts but, as Villebon, the French military commander of Acadia, noted in his journal: "I adopted him as my brother and gave him the best suit of clothes I had..." (in Webster: 55). Taksus, who soon afterwards was appointed headman of Norridgewock, assured the French commander "on leaving that, although he was going to gather together a large war-party, he would not stop there but would make up another immediately after the first and induce Madokawando to join him, or render him contemptible to all the young Indians" (in Webster:55). Not much later, the Wabanaki Confederacy closed ranks and resumed fighting their common English enemy in June 1694.

The conclusion of the socalled War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697) came when the French, English, and other European powers signed the Treaty of Ryswick in the Netherlands. It took a while, however, before this tiding reached the colonies. By mid-December, the English in Boston had heard the good news. The French in Canada, however, had to wait several months longer. In the summer of 1698, the allies within the Wabanaki Confederacy also knew what had occurred in Europe and began their own negotiations with their English enemies. Finally, in January 1699, chiefs representing the Wabanaki Confederacy came to Casco Bay on the Maine coast to end their own conflict with the New Englanders.

Presented with the earlier text of the aborted treaty of 1693, they were shocked to hear how English translators had misrepresented their words and how their original offer of mutual friendship had turned into a pledge of submission to the English Crown. The Wabanaki chiefs strongly protested and insisted that they wanted to maintain their autonomy as sovereign tribal nations. Clearly articulating their Position, they refused to accept the English King as “our common father" and pointed out that the King of France was their "father. " Now that the French and English Kings had made peace with each other as "brothers, if they would only agree to now call him "Uncle King William." As such, the Wabanaki chiefs were thankful that their "uncle" had accepted them "into the league of friendship" (Baxter 10: 87-95).

 

7. International Reconfigurations:

For more than 150 years, the Iroquois (and especially the Mohawk) had been sworn enemies of the Algonquian nations. Like the French ' they had become overextended in their quest for a fur-trade empire. Usually victorious in war, these Iroquois were finally matched by an Algonquian army from the Ottawa River about 1699. Heavily armed by their French allies, these Ottawas delivered them a stunning blow near Lake Erie. Surrounded by enemies and sharply reduced, the Iroquois could now field only about 1,200 warriors, not much more than the collective Wabanaki force of about 1100 fighters.

In 1700, the Iroquois were beaten but not defeated. Once again, they tried diplomacy to expand their influence. As guardians of the Iroquois Confederacy's "eastern door," the Mohawks sent ambassadors to their Wabanaki enemies, including the Mi’kmaq. Presenting wampum belts, these envoys offered peace and invited the Wabanaki nations to join their alliance with the English. Indeed, they even tried to persuade their Wabanaki hosts to accept the Mohawk as their "Father. " Rejecting their arrogant proposal, the Wabanaki chose to remain faithful to their French Father (Diereville: 172). Because the French had refused to "take the hatchet out of the [Ottawa's] hands till we come and submit to the Governor of Canada and make peace with him," the Iroquois Confederacy felt compelled to send a delegation of chiefs to see the French Governor in Montreal ' It had become evident to them that whatever support they may have had from their English allies, it had not been enough to stave off disaster. Making their appeal to the French Governor, the Iroquois chiefs offered him peace belts. Not. strong enough to destroy them, and not expecting them to become subjects of the French Crown, the Governor accepted the wampum belts. Eager to settle his conflict with the Iroquois Confederacy, he invited them to "accept neutral independence between the colonies of France and Britain" (Jennings 1984: 209-21 1).

In the summer of 1701, the French Governor hosted a large peace council. In addition to the Iroquois, a large gathering of 38 Indian chiefs representing the Abenaki, Huron, Algonquin, Ottawa, Ojibwa, and many other nations and mission towns attended this pan-tribal conference. Entering this powerful alliance as fellow "brothers," the Iroquois addressed the Governor as their "Father," who agreed to embrace them as his "children" (PD 6: 718-725). But, just as the Wabanaki had rejected the English interpretation of the term "father," these Iroquois did not hold that this political metaphor implied that they had become French subjects.

Not all Iroquois entered into this pact of neutrality with the French. Like the Abenaki on the Maine coast, it appears that Mohawks residing near the English in New York could not afford to openly alienate their powerful neighbors. Instead, while maintaining their position within the Iroquois Confederacy, they opted to preserve their ancient alliance with the English. Interestingly, they did not refer to New York’s Governor as their "Father.," but addressed him as "Brother."

 

8. Wabanaki Betrayal at the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht:

Always dependent on a friendly Wabanaki buffer against New England, the French tried hard to maintain their traditional influence with the Wabanaki Confederacy. In 1703, after the French and English had once again declared war against each other in Europe, they also dragged the Wabanaki into yet another cycle of conflict. During the next ten years, violence, hunger, and diseases took the lives of about one third of the Wabanaki. Finally, the Europeans agreed to a negotiated peace. In 1713, they signed the Treaty of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

In exchange for lands he had lost in Europe, the French King gave up his territorial claims to the Hudson Bay area, Newfoundland, and Acadia. As an absolute monarch, he firmly believed in his God-given right to rule over all the lands recognized as French colonies. And because the French had always viewed their sovereign claims over Wabanaki territories pre-eminent to that of the tribal nations themselves, and since Acadia had long been recognized as a French possession, the English believed that this treaty gave them clear title to the area ceded to them (Dickason 1986: 33-34; Murdoch 1: 352).

Having received news about peace having been made across the ocean, the Wabanaki Confederacy was also eager to end the fighting. About 360 Wabanakis, including Mi’kmaqs, assembled at Casco Bay on the Maine coast where they met with English officials from Boston and negotiated their own terms of peace. Speaking in the name of the Wabanaki Confederacy, an orator addressed the English delegates from Boston: "It is well that the kings should be in peace... It is not I that am striking you these past twelve (sic) years past, it is the Frenchman who has availed himself of my arm to strike you .... Now the Frenchman tells me to lay [my tomahawk] down; I throw it very far, that no one may see any more the blood with which it is reddened. So, let us live in peace, I agree to it" (in Rasle 1723, in CMEHS R, 4: 293).

Then the Wabanaki were told that the French King had given up his sovereign title over Acadia, from Penobscot to Gaspe, "with the exception of Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. Although this news was utterly unbelievable to the Wabanaki their French Father had indeed asserted his royal prerogative to dispose of Indian territories within the boundaries of his colonial domains as he pleased. Accordingly, the English delegates from Boston instructed them to peacefully submit themselves as loyal subjects to their mighty lord, King George.

Not having been conquered, and listening to ideas so utterly alien to their worldview, the Wabanaki were completely bewildered by this logic. To begin with, they did not consider themselves "subjects" of the French Crown. It is true that they referred to the French Governor in Canada (and by extension the French King) as "Father," but this did not entitle him to their territories. Indeed, the Wabanaki believed that they held their ancestral lands "only of heaven" (NYCD lo: 187). For them, the issue was quite simple: living on their own lands, they were still free.

Denying that the French King had the right to give away their land, the Wabanaki spokesman explained: "But you say that the Frenchman has given you Plaisance [Newfoundland] and Portrail [Nova Scotia] which are in my neighborhood, with all the lands adjacent: he shall give you all that he will; for me I have my land which the Great Spirit has given me for living, as long as there shag be a child of my people, he will fight for its preservation" (in Rasle 1723, in CMEHS H, 4: 293). While allowing the English to "forever enjoy all and Singular the Rights of Land and former Settlements, Properties and Possessions", the Wabanakis stipulated that "their own ground" would be saved, as well as "free liberty of hunting, fishing, fowling, and all other lawful liberties and privileges" (in Penhallow: 76-77).

Not certain if they had been deceived by the English or that they had actually misunderstood what had been agreed to in the Treaty of Utrecht, the Wabanaki later asked their resident missionaries: "By what right did the King of France dispose of their country?" (Charlevoix, in NYCD 9:79-980). Embarrassed, the priests tried to allay their suspicions, saying "that they had been deceived by an ambiguous expression, and that their country was not included in that which had been ceded to the English..." (PD 7: 878-879).

Although not precisely true, it was a convenient response. After all, what was Acadia and where were its exact boundaries? In 1698, the French had still identified the colony as the territory from Penobscot to Cape Breton and Gaspe Peninsula. However, afraid that the loss of so much territory endangered their colony in Canada, the French now quickly adopted a more narrow definition of the territory and argued that Acadia really only comprised Nova Scotia peninsula. Until then never having considered the idea of aboriginal title, but seriously concerned with its own geopolitical self-interest, the French Crown began only then to play with this novel idea. In other words, as far as the French were concerned, the Wabanaki could now claim aboriginal title to the region from the Saco River in southern Maine to Annapolis on the Nova Scotia coast. But whichever definition was accepted, the fact remained that Wabanaki lands had become a contested and divided territory (Casgrain: 214-215; Dickason 1986:33-, PD 7:895, 904-905).

 

9.The Fourth Anglo-Wabanaki War (1722-1727):

After several years of relative quiet, English settlers and fishermen again began encroaching on Wabanaki domains. Unwilling to turn a blind eye to these inroads, but eager to avoid bloodshed, the Wabanaki Confederacy again tried diplomacy. In 1721., Mi’kmaq and Maliseet ambassadors traveled to the Maine coast where they joined hundreds of Abenakis for a conference with English officials from Boston. Once more insisting on their aboriginal title, the Wabanaki presented the English with a formal letter addressed to the Governor of Massachusetts:

"Thou seest from the peace treaty of which I am sending the copy that thou must live peacefully with me. Is it living peacefully with me to take my land away from me against my will? My land which I received from God alone, my land of which no king nor foreign power has been allowed, or is allowed to dispose against my will, which thou hast been doing none the less for several years, by establishing and fortifying thyself here against my wishes.... Consider, great captain that I have often told thee to withdraw from my land and that I am telling thee so again for the last time. My land is not thine either by right or conquest, or by grant or by purchase" (PD 7:904-05).

Simply ignoring Wabanaki appeals, the English repeated earlier arguments and told the Wabanaki that the French had ceded to them all territories east of the Kennebec as far as the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Unable to convince the English aggressors to back off, the Wabanaki Confederacy was left no choice but to fight for their lands. Soon after this diplomatic setback, messengers traveled between the major Abenaki villages on the Upper Saco, Androscoggin, Kennebec, and Penobscot rivers, and special envoys journeyed to more distant confederacy villages among the Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Mi'kmaq. Yet others went to inform the mission Abenakis at St. Francis and Becancour, as well as the French Governor. When fighting erupted on the Maine coast in 1722, the news also alarmed more distant tribal nations, including the mission Iroquois at Kahnawake near Montreal, who also recognized the French Governor as their Father. By way of Canada, the news even reached the Mohawk and Oneida in New York. By then, these Iroquois had already heard the same news from their English neighbors in Albany who themselves stood in regular contact with friends in Boston.

To crush the Wabanaki or press them into a permanent submission, Massachusetts Governor William Dummer recruited Indian warriors from the Cape Cod area. However, he was especially keen on getting Mohawks and contacted them by way of New York's Governor. Invited to come to Boston, Mohawk ambassadors carefully evaluated the situation.' Not willing to commit their confederacy to this war, they diplomatically offered only a token of military support.

Meanwhile, Wabanaki raiders inflicted serious damage on New England's eastern frontier communities, but suffered very heavy losses themselves. A stunning blow came when English troops launched a surprise attack against Norridgewock in the summer of 1724. They massacred most of its inhabitants, including women and children, as well as its elderly Jesuit priest. Having burned this Abenaki head village on the Kennebec, they attacked the head village in the Penobscot valley in early 1725, which was then also burned to the ground. After such devastation, some factions within the Wabanaki Confederacy moved to end the war. After a flurry of diplomatic action, even involving Iroquois ambassadors, Abenaki chieftains from the Kennebec and Penobscot traveled to Portsmouth in April 1725, where they "urged peace, provided the English would come into just methods with them...... (Baxter 10: 250-54; 23: 168-186).

 

10. Sagouarrab's Predicament:

In the summer of 1725, the English agreed to a cease-fire and made a peace proposal, inviting Wabanaki tribal leaders to meet with them on the Maine coast. Anxious to resolve the conflict, the Penobscots sent their great orator Loron Sagouarrab and another tribal envoy to Boston where the Governor of Massachusetts William Dummer informed them of his conditions for peace. Through an English interpreter, they were once again told that the Wabanaki had to "make their Submission to His Majesty & agree upon Articles of Pacification" (Baxter 10:322). Not only did the Penobscots have to "acknowledge themselves subjects of the Crown of England," but Governor Dummer also insisted they would "be bound to make all the other Indians, even those domiciliated in Canada, parties to this peace" (in PD 7:955).

After returning to Penobscot, where he reported on Ms diplomatic mission to Boston, Sagouarrab left for Canada. Accompanied by ten tribesmen, the Penobscot ambassador took several important wampum belts for their allies. Offering one of these peace belts to the French Governor in Quebec, he asked for his approval of the peace initiative. But, the Governor responded that "this war did not concern the French [and] that he was surprised at the proceedings of these at Panaomske [Penobscot], who, like the other Abenaquis, had promised not to listen to any proposal for peace, except in the Colony [of Canada] and in his presence" (PD 7:955).

The Penobscot delegation then traveled far up the St. Lawrence River and arrived in the Abenaki mission village of St. Francis for a great council fire. Sagouarrab himself later reported that there were not only Arresaguntacooks (St. Francis Abenaki), but also envoys from other allied tribal villages, including "Ahwenoh, Pasanawack, Pamaniack, Norridgewock & Wessungawock with several other small villages: And not only those Tribes but the Eastern Tribes so far as Cape Sables [Nova Scotia] have joined with us in this affair" (Baxter 23:188). At this pan-tribal conference, Sagouarrab gave "a full Relation of every Thing that pass'd between the Penobscot Tribe & [the Massachusetts] Government from the first discourse We had in the Spring, And informed those Indians That [Governor Dummer] would give no Answer to the Penobscot Indians as to what they offered till he knew the mind of the other Tribes" (Baxter 23:188).

After their return to Penobscot, Sagouarrab related what had been accomplished. But what had he achieved? We do not know for sure, because French and English records appear to contradict each other. According to the French Governor, the Penobscot ambassador had offered wampum peace belts to the allied tribal nations "to induce them to accept those proposition" for peace with the English. However, he wrote, they had "refused the belts and said they wished to continue the war" (in PD 7:955). But according to an English transcript, Sagouarrab himself (supposedly) later told Governor Dummer that his journey to the great council fire at St. Francis had been successful: "And all these Tribes have left it to us [Penobscots] to act for them in a Treaty of Peace, And they said We desire you as being next Neighbours to the English would go on heartily & with good Courage in making Peace And what ever you shall conclude' upon We will agree to, For there is Nothing impossible for God to perform, And we wish there may be a good Conclusion of the Matter to all Parties concerned .... & they sent their Belts to the Penobscot Tri be for a Confirmation of their Agreeing to what shall be Concluded, which Belts are lodged with our Chiefs which is equivalent to a Writing or Articles under their Hands" (Baxter 23:188).

Resuming his shuttle diplomacy to Boston in early November, Sagouarrab informed the English on the progress. Accompanying him on this important diplomatic mission were three Wabanaki delegates, Meganumba for the M'kmaq, Francois Xavier for the Maliseet, and Alexus representing the Abenaki of Kennebec. Using English interpreters (more or less) familiar with the Abenaki language, Governor Dummer dictated once again what his conditions for peace were. As formally worded in the treaty to be confirmed by the Wabanaki, the Indians "have concluded to make... our submission unto his most Excellent Majesty George .... in as full and ample manner, as any of our predecessors have heretofore done. " They were also told that the Penobscots would be held responsible for their allies "inhabiting within the French territories," obliging them to join the English forces "in reducing them to reason" in case of future hostilities.

The treaty also addressed the crucial problem of land ownership in the disputed territories, stipulating that "the English shall and may peaceably and quietly enter upon, improve and for ever enjoy all and singular their rights of land and former settlements ... and be in no ways molested, interrupted or disturbed therein. Saving unto [the Wabanaki), and their natural descendants respectively, all their lands, liberties and properties not disposed of, possessed, or improved by any of the British subjects as aforesaid...... (Baxter 23: 195).

This particular demand made the Wabanaki envoys wonder what the English meant with "former settlements. ".Moreover, precisely which lands were they talking about? Government officials showed them several old records stating which large tracts had been sold or given away by various Wabanaki individuals in the past (Baxter 23:195, 198). They assured them that these "Indian deeds" were authentic. The Wabanaki envoys, however, were not convinced and suspected that these documents were forgeries (PD 7:942). Reluctant to negotiate on the basis of such dubious evidence, they proposed: "We think it would be better to come wholly upon a new footing, for all those former treaties have been broke because they were not upon a good footing..."' (Baxter 23: 197). Dismissing this option, but eager to settle the dispute, the English noted that notwithstanding those deeds, the Wabanaki "are not to be debarred [from those tracts], but shall have free liberty to hunt and fish [and fowl] anywhere but where the lands are [fenced in]" (Baxter 23:199, 202; see also Calloway 199 1: 111-113).

After more than two weeks of diplomatic tangling, the four Wabanaki ambassadors agreed to a provisional treaty document and would try to get the document "solemnly ratifyed" by the entire Confederacy. Resolving to have a conference after spring planting, they returned home with a copy of Dummer's treaty proposal.

 

11. Dummer's Treaty: A Dubious Deal:

Back at Penobscot, Sagouarrab showed a copy of the document to Father Lauverjat, a Jesuit missionary who had long lived among the Wabanaki. Well-educated, he "interpreted to the Indians the acts" of Dummer's treaty (Baxter 23:210). Hearing the Frenchman's translation, Sagouarrab became offended. Feeling misled by the English, he dictated an angry response to Governor Dumrner: "The disagreement I End between your writings & what I spoke to you viva voce [in actual speech] stops me & makes me suspend my negotiation till I have receiv'd your answer. I thought to have spoken justly and according to the interests of my nation, butt I have had the confusion to see that my words have been taken in a quite contrary sense" (Baxter 23: 209). Sagouarrab was particularly embarrassed to discover that he had agreed to submit himself "in the name of my nation to you & to King George your king [and] that I have acknowledged your king for my king & that I have own'd that my ancestors have acknowledged him for such & have declard themselves subjects to the Crown of England." Reminding Governor Dummer of what was actually said when they met in Boston, Sagouarrab noted in his letter (translated and written by the Jesuit): "As for what relates to your King, when you have ask'd me if I acknowledged him for king I answer'd yes butt at the same time have made you take notice that I did not understand to acknowledge him for my king butt only that I own'd that he was king in his kingdom as the king of France is king in his" (Baxter 23: 208-209).

Although it was obvious that the Wabanaki had been misled (whether by mistake or on purpose), the Penobscots were in a terrible bind. With the English enemy nearby and in control over their seacoast, they could hardly afford to turn their backs on the powerful Massachusetts Governor. Sticking to their scheduled rendezvous, the Penobscots went ahead and met with Dummer and his staff at Casco Bay. Conspicuously absent, however, were their Abenaki brothers from Norridgewock, St. Francis, and Becancour. Still, the Penobscot chiefs and leading men formally signed the controversial treaty. That same summer, a group of Mi’kmaq and Maliseet chiefs ratified the same document at Annapolis on the Nova Scotia coast.

In the early months of 1727, the Wabanaki Confederacy gathered again at a council fire to discuss "whether their should be a treaty with the English or not." As before, they assembled at the Abenaki mission village of St. Francis (Odanak) near Montreal. Also attending this important pan-tribal conference were the French and several other allied tribal nations, including Iroquois from French Catholic mission villages (Baxter 10: 408). Not long after-wards, the Penobscot chiefs decided "to send Messangers to [Kennebec], St. Johns, [Nova Scotia], To Invite two of each Tribe to be at their Great Annual Meeting at Panobcut" (Baxter 10: 379-380; 385-387). By mid-June, Mi’kmaq delegates had informed their Maliseet neighbors on the St. John that they approved of the Dummer’s Treaty, and "the Canebacks & St. John Indians" now joined with the Penobscots in a Wabanaki Council conference, discussing their territorial boundaries with the English, problems in the fur trade, and other import matters (13axter 10: 404). At last, the Wabanaki Confederacy had reached a consensus.

In July 1727, large tribal delegations representing the Abenaki villages of Norridgewock, Penobscot, Becancour and St. Francis canoed to Casco Bay on the Maine coast. Meeting with an English delegation headed by Governor Dummer of Massachusetts, they had finally come to confirm the treaty already signed by their Penobscot, Maliseet, and Mi’kmaq brothers (PD 8: 99 1). As speaker for the Wabanaki Confederacy, Sagouarrab addressed the large gathering:

"I Panaouamskeyen [Penobscot], do inform ye - ye who are scattered all over the earth notice -- of what has passed between me and the English in negotiating the peace that I have just concluded with them. It is from the bottom of my heart that inform you; and as proof that I tell you nothing but the truth, I wish to speak to you in my own tongue. My reason for informing you, myself, is the diversity and contrariety of the interpretations I receive of the English writing in which the articles of peace are drawn up that we have just mutually agreed to. These writings appear to contain things that are not, so that the Englishmen himself disavows them in my presence, when he reads and interprets them to me himself I begin then by informing you; and shall speak to you only of the principal and most important matter."

After this powerful reminder of the treacherous waters of frontier diplomacy, Sagouarrab recited what had happened during the two years of peace negotiations with Governor Dummer: "We were two that went to Boston: I, Laurance Sagourrab, and John Ehennekouit. On arriving there I did indeed salute him .... He [Governor Dummer] began by asking me, what brought me hither? I did not give him for answer--I am come to ask your pardon; nor, I come to acknowledge you as my conqueror; nor, I come to make my submission to you; nor, I come to receive your commands .... Much less, I repeat, did t become Ms subject, or give Mm my land, or acknowledge his King as my King. This I never did, and he never proposed it to me. I say, he never said to me - Give thyself and thy land to me, nor acknowledge my King for thy King, as thy ancestors for-merly did. He again said to me - But do you not recognize the King of England as King over all his states? To which I answered - Yes, I. recognize him King over all his lands; but I rejoined, do not hence infer that I acknowledge thy King as my Ying, and King of my lands. Here hes my distinction - my Indian distinction. God hath willed that I have no King, and that I be master of my lands in common. He again asked me - Do you not admit that I am at least master of the lands I have purchased? I answered him thereupon, that I admit nothing, and that I knew not what he had reference to."

Concluding his address, the great Sagouarrab warned: "What I tell you now is the truth. If, then, any one should produce any writing that makes me speak otherwise, pay no attention to it, for I know not what I am made to say in another language, but I know well what I say in my own. And in testimony that I say things as they are, I have signed the present minute which I wish to be authentic and to remain for ever" (cited in Calloway: 116-118).

News that the treaty had been finally confirmed at Casco Bay spread quickly. Returning home, Wabanaki delegates told their own communities, while their missionaries informed French authorities in Quebec, Montreal, and Cape Breton (PD 8: 991). Soon, Wabanaki ambassadors were on their way to formally present the news to more distant allies. In August 1727, a delegation of Wabanaki chiefs arrived in Albany in order to establish "Peace & Friendship" with New York's colonial government (Wraxall 1968: 171).

 

12. Conclusion: Dark Clouds on the Wabanaki Horizon:

Although this historical review did not go beyond the notorious Dummer's Treaty forced upon the Wabanaki between 1725 and 1727, it does provide a baseline for understanding future diplomatic challenges. Recounting how the Mi’Kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki each learned early on that their only hope for survival was in forming a pan-tribal alliance, it shows how the Wabanaki Confederacy first emerged in the complex political arena of early colonial history. The evidence presented here indicates that it was not just a casual arrangement created by the French colonial regime for its own political convenience. And although the Wabanaki Confederacy did link up with the French, as well as with other pan-tribal alliances (including the Iroquois Confederacy), it clearly operated as a distinctive group. Indeed, it continued operating long after the 1763 surrender of French Canada to the English.

From the beginning, the Wabanaki have fought hard for international recognition of their aboriginal rights. Innumerous conferences, even the most experienced Native diplomats seemed doomed in their quest for fair and peaceful settlements. Not only were the Wabanaki outnumbered and out need, the also faced serious communication problems.' As told in this review, these conferences and council fires on the colonial frontier often involved so many parties, not only speaking very different languages but also coming from very different cultures. Often, Wabanaki diplomats depended on outside interpreters seldom skilled in the precise language of international diplomacy and rarely familiar with the complexities of political concepts. Compounding these translation problems, they also faced risks of deliberate distortion of what was actually said or written down. There were also other cross-cultural obstacles. Especially in their negotiations with European colonial officials, Wabanaki diplomats stumbled on sometimes radically different ideas about power and property. This became especially obvious when they discussed what is now known as "aboriginal title." This concept, as we have seen did not resonate with the French. Although they supported each other, the French never seriously considered Wabanaki sovereignty a problem. Not until after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 did they begin to play with the notion of aboriginal title, primarily to harass their English enemies. The Dummer’s Treaty of 1725/1727, however dubious, was destined to become an historical landmark for Anglo-Wabanaki political relations. But, as Sagouarrab repeatedly insisted, the Wabanaki continued to reject demands of becoming subjects of a foreign Crown and never gave up their effort to hold on to ancestral lands.

Having signed about a dozen treaties with the English colony of Massachusetts, many of which were negotiated on the coast of Maine, the Wabanaki Confederacy remained a force to reckon with until the end of the American Revolutionary War. From then on, politically crippled by an international boundary slicing through their ancestral homelands, the ancient confederancy gradually waned in importance. Demoralized and weakened by outside pressures from powerful agencies such as the State of Maine, the cross-border alliance finally collapsed about 1870. Today, few people seem to recall that the Wabanaki Confederacy ever existed, let alone what it stood for. Some even believe that it is . just a figment of historical imagination. Such are the unfortunate consequences of selective memory in modem society.

 

(March 1999)

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Last modified:  04/24/2014 09:19:52 AM