Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
April 21, 1892
GLIMPSES OF THE PAST
Contributions to the History of Charlotte County and the Border Towns.
XIII PAST AND PRESENT CONDITION OF THE PASSAMAQUODDIES.
The supposition that the Indians of Acadia were sinking in the scale of humanity and on the verge of extinction before the white men came is not well founded.
Instead of being the broken and scattered remains of nations formerly civilized, remarks Hannay, in his History of Acadia, they appear rather to be a race of men who had attained the highest state of advancement which it was possible for a race of hunters to reach with such implements as they possessed.
Nor is it true that they have greatly deteriorated through their contact with Europeans. A terrible plague, still spoken of by the Passamaquoddies as the yellow sickness, swept over the country in 1694; and by it the number of the native inhabitants was greatly diminished. Since that time, in spite of their hardships, they seem to have been steadily gaining; and certainly are not now deteriorating, either in numbers or in physical strength.1
Parkman is evidently astray in saying that agriculture was unknown among the aborigines of Acadia.2 There is evidence to the contrary in the story of John Gyles, who lived as a captive among the Maliseets from 1689 to 1695, and who speaks of the great field of Indian corn at Meductic, and describes their method of preserving it for winter use. Cadillac, also, writing in 1693, mentions their cultivation of the soil. We may conclude, therefore, that if the Passamaquoddies had no land in cultivation it was not for want of a knowledge of cultivated plants.
The old site of the principal village of the Passamaquoddies is at Quun-os-quam-cook, (that part of the present town of St. Andrews which is still called Indian point.) From there they were removed to the island now called Indian island; and, shortly afterwards, to the site of their present village at Sibaik, (Pleasant Point.) These removals, and other incidents of their intercourse with the whites, will be mentioned later.
The Passamaquoddies at Quun-os-quam-cook, two centuries ago, though, like all nomadic hunters, suffering at times from want, must have been comparatively a contented and happy people. Better clothed and better nourished than the tribes to the north and west, they had leisure, as we have seen, to weave and memorize those marvellous tales in which the superstitions of their race are blended with a close observation and a genuine love of nature. Together with their greater love of song and story, they seem to have had a stricter moral code than the Indians of the St. Lawrence, and a scrupulous etiquette that was almost entirely wanting among the western tribes, whom they still speak of as wild (i. e., savage) Indians.
The almost incredible accounts which the early European visitors give of the abundance of fish and game, would indicate that the Passamaquoddies of old had no need of growing maize, except as an article of luxury. Their several clearings along the banks of the St. Croix, the first of which is said to have been near what is now called Crockers island, are not known to have been used for this purpose, and were, probably, only camping places for hunting and fishing parties.
At Quun-os-quam-cook, probably, they first came under the influence of the French; to whom they owe their conversion to Christianity, and also, perhaps, all that has been of real benefit to them in their knowledge of European civilization.
The French readily adapted themselves to the Indian mode of life; and, whether coming as missionaries or as fur traders, were always welcomed by the Etchemins, and were in some cases adopted as members of the tribe.3 A number of French words were soon incorporated in the Etchemin language, with such modifications as the Passamaquoddy tongue required; amongst which are some of their most frequent Christian names, such as Soc (Jacques,) Sabattis, (Jean Baptiste,) Atwin, (Etienne,) Plansoa, (Francois,) Peol, (Pierre,) and Mollie, (Marie.) Mitchell, though apparently an English surname, is probably but a corruption of the French Michel.
With the coming of the English began the lumber trade and the destruction of the hunting grounds. The woodsmans axe realized the fable of Chee-bal-ok, whose sound in the forest brought death to the hearer, and whom even Glooskap himself might fear. Then began the hardships under which the Indian is suffering to-day. To quote again from Hannay:-
Every tree which is felled in the forest reduces the area of the hunting grounds which he inherited from his fathers. Every day he sees the girdle of fields and meadows narrowing the circle of his hopes. Driven back, mile by mile, whither shall he retire? He is a stranger and an alien in his own land-an outcast, robbed of his birthright by a stronger race. He and his tribe are but a feeble few, and their efforts avail nothing against the ceaseless advance of the pale faced race, who come welded together into a resistless phalanx by the iron hand of civilization.4
The most important event in the history of the Passamaquoddies since their removal to Pleasant Point was the peaceable division of the tribe in 1848, and the establishment by the half tribe of a new village at Peter Danas Point.
As a people, the Passamaquoddies are generally intelligent, industrious and well-behaved; and though denied the right of franchise under the laws of the state of Maine, they are generally regarded as peaceable and law-abiding citizens.
They claim the right to hunt and fish where they please, regardless of Maine state laws, (a right which the Penobscots have undoubtedly surrendered by treaty and deed,) and Hon. Geo. M. Hanson, of Calais, attorney-at-law, who is conducting their case for them before the supreme court, is confident of establishing the claim.
For a further account of the condition and early history of this people, the student should consult the works of Abbe Maurault; Rev. Eugene Vetromile, (Abnakis and their History;) and James Hannay, (History of Acadia, J. & A. McMillan, St. John; and Memoirs of John Gyles.)
Many of their mythological tales and other matters of ethnographic interest are included in Lelands Algonquin legends, and in Mrs. W. W. Browns contributions to the Anthropologist, the American Journal of Folk Lore, and the publications of the Royal Society of Canada. A very interesting account of their games is given by Mrs. Brown. (Trans. Roy. Soc. Canada, 1888, Sec. ii.)
Passamaquoddy vocabularies have been published by Rev. Elijah Kellogg, (Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., 3d series, vol. 3, 1883;) by Joseph Barrett, (The Indians in New England, Middletown, Conn., 1851;) and by Miss Abby Langdon Alger, (Proc. Am. Phil. Soc., xxii., 1885.) There is still great need of a good vocabulary of the language.
1Census returns are not always reliable. The U. S. census of 1890 gives the number of Indians in Maine as 140! There are, in fact, at the present time, over 500 members of the Passamaquoddy tribe, and nearly as many of the Penobscots.-W. W. Brown.
2Jesuits in North America.
3This was the case as late as 1792, when, in a treaty between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Passamaquoddies, a special grant of land was made to John Baptist Lacote, a French gentleman now settled among the said Indians.
4History of Acadia.