Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
February 18, 1892


Contributions to the History of Charlotte County and the Border Towns.


[From a paper by G. F. Matthew, M.A., F.R.S.C., read before the Natural History Society of New Brunswick, Feb. 5, 1884.  By permission.]

A number of members of this society combined to form a summer encampment in Charlotte county, in August last, for the purpose of studying, during a short vacation, the botany, zoology and archaeology of a locality in that county.  As the work in the last named branch was entrusted to me, it becomes my duty to tell you of the result.

The spot chosen for investigation was a group of kitchen-middens or shell heaps which mark the site of an abandoned village of the Stone Age, at a place called Phil’s Beach, near the mouth of the Bocabec river.

The site was well chosen, for the advantages of the place to a people who depended for existence who depended for existence on hunting and fishing are manifold.  A clay flat, flanked on the west by a long protecting hill of felsite rock, running parallel to the course of the Bocabec river, and on the east by a similar ridge which separates this river from Digdeguash inlet, was the spot chosen for the principal settlement.  To the north of the clay flat, where there is now an open field, the standing forest broke off the keen winds of winter; and to the south was the sea-beach, where drift wood in abundance was thrown up, and where boats or canoes could be kept, secure from the rising and falling tide.  Sea-fish and marine animals no doubt abounded then, as now, along the whole of this river.  The inhabitants of the village could float up with the tide three miles, to the head of navigation, whence they had a five mile range for hunting beaver and larger game on the branches of the Bocabec river; or by going out of the river and passing around into Digdeguash inlet a still more extensive woodland tract was open to them.  From the mouth of the Bocabec they could also cross Passamaquoddy bay in various directions in search of seals and sea-birds.

On first surveying the ground, it was observed that the north side of the village site was comparatively smooth, having been under cultivation since the arrival of the English, and no inequalities remained that would indicate where the dwellings of the ancient inhabitants had been.  Fully one half of the site of the village, however, including the part on which the shells of the kitchen-midden were heaped together in the greatest quantities, had never been disturbed by the plow.  In the western part of the shell-covered area, where the heaps of shells were most conspicuous, the presence of numerous saucer-shaped depressions indicated the positions of the huts of the aboriginal settlement.

In digging a trench we struck an ancient fire-place, which was made the centre of exploration for several feet around.  It was found that at this point the deposit in the hut bottom was about two feet deep, but its fire-place rested upon an older kitchen-midden, or refuse heap beneath.

The exact form and size of the typical hut was disclosed by a layer of clean beach gravel, which we met with about 15 inches from the surface.  This layer formed a ring around the fire-place, at a distance of from 2 to 3 feet from its centre, and was bordered all around by the shells of a kitchen-midden.  The ring of gravel was about 3 inches thick in its deepest part, and was continuous except on the south side where a break about four feet long marks the position of the door.

There are two peculiarities in the foundation of this hut which would lead to the inference that the hut was conical.  The first is the relation of the kitchen-midden to the gravel of the sleeping-bench.  In making a trench through this hut-bottom, and others adjoining, sections of several layers of gravel marking such sleeping-benches were passed through at various depths in the deposit; and in all, the outer edge of the gravel of the sleeping-bench was found to be overlapped by the shells of the kitchen-midden as though the shells had fallen in upon the gravel after the decay of the poles which had supported the walls of the hut.  A second feature of the appearance [sic] this foundation, which seemed to indicate a conical form to the dwelling, was the width between the ends of the gravelly layer of the sleeping-bench.  If this space corresponds to the width of the doorway it would be quite out of proportion to the size of such a dwelling, unless the doorway was rapidly narrowed above by the convergence of the poles supporting the sides of the hut.

I have said that they underlaid their sleeping banks with gravel. This couch they no doubt made softer by covering it with boughs, and warmer by the added luxury of fur-skins.  Nevertheless, in some respects they were exceedingly slovenly.  The ashes and charcoal of their fire-places gradually accumulated to such an extent, that to level up the sides of their huts they brought in gravel, and threw it on the trampled clam shells and other debris of their feasts that were scattered over the floor.

From the present aspect of the surface of the kitchen-middens at this village site, a rough approximation to the population of Bocabec river during this latter part of the Stone Age may be obtained.  Including subsidiary villages, there may, at times, have been a population of 200 souls located near this river.

One of the occupations of the women living at Bocabec was the manufacture of pottery.  The coarseness of the clay used in the manufacture, as well as the defects in the material, and the imperfect baking, compelled these potters to make their ware very thick, in order to obtain the necessary strength.  Their vessels were seldom less than three-eighths of an inch thick in any part, except near the rim, and the bottoms were usually about half an inch thick.

It is only just to give them credit for a considerable amount of rude taste in the ornamentation of their pottery.  Upon the fragments found at the three hut bottoms we examined, there are no less than ten distinct designs or patterns impressed upon the surface of the ware.  Some of them are quite ornamental.  A favorite style of ornamentation consisted in continuous parallel lines made with pointed tools; but a more elegant pattern was a chevron, consisting of rows of short diagonal lines impressed in this manner.  Some of the patterns indicate a different process of manufacture from the last; these show the print of a course [sic] woven fabric on the outside of the vessel, and sometimes also within.  On some fragments this pattern has the appearance of a fine basket work, and may have been used to preserve the form of the vessel, as well as to ornament the surface.  One pattern of the class first referred to, consisting of square, incised dots, is precisely like the marking on some fragments of pottery which I met with about fourteen years ago at Oak Bay.

Though their pottery was coarse, the people of Bocabec showed a great degree of proficiency in another art, namely, the manufacture of implements of stone.  This industry we may suppose was in the hands of the men, and some of the implements obtained show that it was brought to great perfection.  The lance-heads were flat, and of a long oval pattern.  The arrow-points were chiefly of three patterns, viz., lozenge shaped, lanceolate-leaf-form and triangular, with lateral notches for securing the point to the shaft.  Many of these arrow-points were rudely made, others more highly finished.  There was a remarkable scarcity of axes and of the larger stone implements at these hut bottoms.

Among the objects from Bocabec are a number of skinning-knives.  Those which showed the most careful chipping were rectangular in outline, like some agate knives found on the St. John river.  Several, however, were lunate or oval.  The material used in the manufacture of these knives was either quartz or petrosilex, mostly the former.  Scrapers in great numbers were found in the hut bottoms of this village site, but they were as imperfectly made as they were numerous, and none were met with that possessed the artistic finish of the agate scrapers found on the shores and tributaries of the St. John river.  Though thus lacking in elegance, the scrapers found at Phil’s beach, Bocabec, present a variety of forms, and were no doubt intended for various uses.  Beside the ordinary scraper, which in form may be compared to a gun-flint with rounded corners, and which was used for dressing skins, there were several kinds which were probably used as carpenters’ tools.

Bone implements of various kinds were found both in the hut bottoms and in the kitchen-middens, but mostly in a fragmentary condition..  The most abundant were bodkins of a rough type.  These were made in most cases by pointing split pieces of the leg bones of moose, deer and other large animals.  Several fragments of netting needles, or implements which from their size and from appear to have been available for this use, were found, and one perfect needle of this kind, about eight inches long, was met with.  Of ivory implements the only ones found were made of the tooth of the beaver.

Vanity is a foible quite as prevalent among savage as civilized communities, and we are not surprised to find indications of it among the dwellers at Bocabec.  Among the reliquae of their hut bottoms was a fragment of a stone pendant decorated with crossed lines in the form of a lattice, and two kinds of powder, which appear to have been kept in shells of the common clam.  One of these powders is made from galena ore, small veins of which occur on the islands of Digdeguash inlet, near Bocabec.  The powder is bluish and has a glistening appearance.  The other powder, which was formed of the pulverized shells of the horse mussel, could have been used as a pearly white paint.  These powders would appear to have been a part of their toilet requisites.

Among all the weapons, implements, and other objects found at Bocabec, not one article has been met with which in any way would lead to the supposition that these people were acquainted with the products of European industry.  An inference regarding the antiquity of this village site may also be drawn from the covering of vegetable mould which has gathered on the surface of the shell-heaps to a greater or less depth in different parts.  In the hollows, and especially over the hut bottoms, this mould has attained a considerable depth, in some places as much as a foot or eighteen inches.  But while on the one hand these conditions point to a period anterior to the discovery of America, or at least of the region of Acadia, by the ‘White Race,’ as the time when the shores of the Bocabec ceased to be occupied by the people whose remains we have examined; on the other hand, their sojourn on its banks, when compared with the whole period of the Stone Age, was both recent and short.

Finally, as regards the origin of the people who made these kitchen-middens at Bocabec, a few words may be said.  The indication of a conical form to the huts, which I think is sufficiently shown, points strongly to a resemblance between these huts and the well-known wigwam of the Indians.  The choosing of a smooth beach for the village site; the fact that they appear to have had canoes or boats of some sort to transport the vast quantities of clams which formed an important article of their diet, and which could not have been dug with ease or found in sufficient quantities in front of their village; the capture of fish which would not take the hook, but must have been taken by spear, harpoon, wier or net; the dependence of the people on hunting for the more acceptable variety in their food; the character of the rude pottery; the use of coarse woven fabrics, and a variety of other features of their culture and mode of life, are such as we know to have been common to them and the Indian tribes of Acadia.

1The full paper, of which this is an abridgment, was published in bulletin No. III. of the Nat. Hist. Soc. of N. B., 1884.

Referring to Micmac writings mentioned in the last article, Mr. Edward Jack sends us the following interesting notes:-

Abbe Cigone, a native of Lyons, in France, who dedicated his life to the service and instruction of the Micmacs in Nova Scotia, invented an alphabet for them.  He must have come to Nova Scotia about the end of the last century, or early in this.  His memory was long revered among these people, who looked up to him as their guide and best friend.

Many years since I was storm stayed at Digby.  There was storm stayed there at the same time a remarkably intelligent gentleman, who claimed Massachusetts as his home.  To my astonishment I overheard him speaking in Acadian French to one of the servants.  He laughingly remarked, as I entered the room, ‘I am an Acadian myself.’  ‘Where did you get your education?’ I said to him.  ‘From Abbe Cigone’ was his reply, ‘and I can well remember his teaching me to translate Quintius Curtius, as we sat by the fire on which a piece of pitch pine was occasionally thrown, so as to furnish us with light enough to enable me to read.  We had not even candles in those days.  The Abbe wanted to make me a priest; but I left him and went off to the United States.’

I do not know whether I have spelled the Abbe’s name correctly, as I have not seen it written, that I can remember.  I have heard that his father was mayor of Lyons at the time of the French revolution.

Some years since, when at Little Bay, Notre Dame Bay, Newfoundland, I made the acquaintance of the Rev. Father Flynn, a young priest who resided there.  One of his charges was at the mouth of Indian River, where there was a settlement of Micmacs, of whom he told me that there were 150 families on the Island.  These Indian River Indians made a better living by hunting than the whites did by fishing.  The father told me that in their correspondence with Cape Breton these Micmacs used hieroglyphics; and that they had prayer books printed in these hieroglyphics.  He did not know where these prayer books were printed; but he thought at Berlin.

One day, as the father and I were talking at his house, a tall, powerful looking Micmac came in carrying a stone pot in his hand, which he presented to the priest.  This was one of the pots, said Father Flynn, used by the Red Indians of Newfoundland, who have been exterminated.  ‘I have seen,’ he added, ‘a place in a ledge of soap stone, on this island, which is full of holes caused by the Red Indians cutting out pots.’

We had been talking about the Micmacs of the island and their hieroglyphics a short time before this; and Father Flynn, after thanking the Indian for the curiosity he had given him, said: ‘Joe! sit down at the table and write the Lord’s prayer for this gentleman!’  Joe accordingly took a piece of paper and by means of his pencil soon covered it with his hieroglyphics.  All that I could distinguish among them was the cross.

The Micmacs came to Newfoundland, I think, about the time when the Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia.  Father Flynn told me that in Cape Breton the Micmacs have a king, who is crowned by the bishop; and I see in Hakluyt’s voyages that their king is spoken of, in the account of a voyage made during the reign of Henry VIII., to what is now known as Sainte Anne’s harbor, in that island.