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Dummer's (Abenaki) War - 1722-1726

During the five years previous to 1728 the government of the colony had been administered, with much satisfaction to the inhabitants, by Lieutenant-Governor William Dummer. This gentleman was a native of Boston, a man of broad views, and in hearty sympathy with the people. He had conducted the Indian war with great skill, and was highly respected for energy and public spirit. After the death of Governor Burnet he again served as commanderin-chief; but from 1730 until his death in 1761, he lived in retirement. The first settlement and fort in Vermont were established by Dummer, and bore his name.

Eastward of Lake Champlain and the Hudson, and extending northward to the St. Lawrence and eastward to the ocean, lay the country of the Algonquin Abenakis. Being in close contact with the French, they were early converted to Catholicism by the missionaries of that nation; but their religion did not tame their ferocity. They remained in alliance with the French and fought the English colonists almost continuously, until after Canada became a part of the British dominions. When the Revolution broke out, their old sympathy for the French led them to espouse the cause of the Americans, and they performed some gallant service in the Continental army under their chief Orono. There are still some remnants of these Indians both in Maine and the province of Quebec.

in 1647, the activity of the missionaries in the debatable country between French and English America excited alarm, and a law was passed, specif1cally forbidding priests to enter the colony, 0n penalty of death for a second offence. In June, 1700, the earlier statute was reaffirmed by a colonial decree, commanding ecclesiastics of the ancient faith to depart before September 10th, or suffer imprisonment for life. They were still regarded, doubtless, as emissaries of France, whose frowning fringe of forts continued to menace the province. One devoted priest, Sebastian Rasles, ventured to remain among his Indian converts in Maine. A price was put upon his head and, after several unsuccessful attempts, the simple, venerable man, nearly seventy years of age, was tracked down, slain and mangled. His cross is preserved at Bowdoin College, his Indian dictionary at Harvard, and the descendants of his converts keep the faith of their fathers.

By the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Acadia, “with its ancient boundaries,” was ceded to England. As was too often the case, the indefinite terms of the treaty left a way for future disputes. Foreseeing trouble, within three years the jurisdiction of Massachusetts was extended to the utmost limits, which of course embraced the whole of Maine. It not only rebuilt the villages destroyed during the war, but established. others on the eastern bank of the Kennebec, and laid the foundations for extensive settlements there.

These intrusions alarmed and irritated the Abenakis, and their principal chief hurried off to Canada to consult the French commandant. The talented Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis of Vaudreuil, was then governor-general of the French colonies, and was loved and trusted by the Indians. He shrewdly observed to the red chief that the treaty did not refer to the country claimed by his people. Vaudreuil knew that the treaty was intended to cede this territory to England, and was so understood by the participants; he was glad to embroil the Indians in a war against the English colonists. He declared that while France could not maintain an open alliance, he would assist the red men in every way within his power; and intimated that the advice of the French missionaries would always be at their service.

This was enough. The chief understood the situation perfectly. He knew that if his people were beaten, they would find refuge and comfort beyond the Canadian line. “I have my land,” he exclaimed, “where the Great Spirit placed me and my people; and while there remains one of my tribe alive, we shall fight to preserve it.” This was his declaration of hostilities; and no sooner had he returned to his tribe than the hatchet was unburied, and red war was once more sent flaming through the land. Bands of painted warriors once more crept along the outskirts of the English settlements, and fell with savage fury upon every exposed habitation or unprotected settlement.

The Massachusetts authorities made the mistake of enticing some of the principal chiefs of the Abenakis into their power, and by stratagem gaining possession of their persons. They were then retained as hostages for the good behavior of their people. When the Abenakis sent ambassadors to Boston to demand the release of their chiefs, they were told that they must pay a ransom; and when this requirement had been complied with, the chiefs were not set free.

This was certainly no worse than the Abenakis’ attempt to murder the Massachusetts peace envoys; but it was beneath the Puritans, and they paid dear for it. After many delays and fruitless eiforts on the part of the Indians to secure justice, they at length notified the colonists in 1721 that their territory must be evacuated and the hostages delivered up, or they would appeal to arms. The sole English reply was to send a secret expedition to the Kennebec, which took forcible possession of another distinguished hostage, the young Baron Joseph de Saint-Castin. He was detained in Boston five months, then released and permitted to return to his people, burning with haughty indignation over the insult inflicted upon him.

Saint-Castin was a half-breed, in whose veins the hot blood of the old French aristocracy mingled with that of the noblest savage royalty. His father, Baron Jean Vincent de l’Abadie SaintCastin, had first come to America as an ensign in the expedition of De Courcelles in 1666; and when his regiment was disbanded, he chose to remain in the wilds of the New World. He learned the language and assumed the costume of the Indians, and for many years roamed the forests of Maine and Acadia with his adopted countrymen. He acquired a fortune of nearly half a million dollars trading in beaver skins, and at length married a daughter of Madockawando, chief of the Penobscots, who became the mother of the young Baron Joseph.

The elder Saint-Castin was an inveterate enemy of the English, and waged incessant war on their trading-posts and border settlements. It was by means of his activity that the French succeeded in extending their influence over nearly the whole of Maine. He was finally killed in battle in Acadia, in 1712; and his son inherited his title, his fortune, and his hatred of the English, intensified by the savage animosity of his mother’s race. Joseph Saint-Castin now trod the footsteps of his father, and once more set the border aflame with Indian warfare.

The Indians now resolved on a vigorous war. In midsummer of 1722 the Massachusetts Assembly, by resolution, declared the Abenakis to be robbers and traitors, and offered a bounty of £15 paper money for each Indian scalp. The war went on in the usual course of such contests, until August 1724, when another expedition of more than two hundred men was sent against Norridgewock. Reliable information had been received that but few of the warriors were at home, and it was believed that this would be a favorable time for the master-stroke of the campaign. The progress of the English was so rapid and quiet that they took the Indians wholly by surprise. The first intimation these had of the presence of their enemies was the discharge of musketry into the open doors and windows of their cabins. There were not more than fifty warriors in the place at the time. Some of these were killed by the first volley. The survivors, hastily seizing their arms, placed themselves between the assailants and their women and children, and hurried them off to the security of the forest.

The war-cloud thickened over Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The crack of the musket was heard in many places, and the flames of burning homes illumined the darkness of the night. The offer of bounty for Indian scalps stimulated the energy of the white soldier, while the thirst for vengeance on the part of the savages nerved their arms in wielding the tomahawk and the scalping-knife.

One of the most daring and successful Indian fighters of this period was Captain John Lovewell, of Dunstable, Massachusetts. Reared in the midst of danger and excitement, he became a noted Indian fighter in his early youth, and a leader of men before he was fairly grown. It was his chief delight to explore the wilderness alone, seeking out the lurking-places of savage foes, and either inflicting punishment upon them with his own hand, or guiding parties of adventurous spirits like himself to places of danger. In December 1724 he led a party of thirty men away to the northward of Winnipesaukee Lake, which was then the utmost limit of the border and infested with roving bands of vengeance-seeking savages.

Lovewell’s last and fatal exploit was undertaken in April 1725. On this occasion he led a party of forty-six men on an expedition against the Pickwacket Indians, whose town was located on a beautiful sheet of water, a mile wide by two and a half in length, in the present township of Fryeburg, Maine. Chief Paugus never slept while an enemy was in his country.

While pursuing an Indian hunter by whom they had been discovered, they fell into an ambush, and an assault followed in which eight of the thirty-four were killed and three wounded. Lovewell fell mortally wounded at the first shot. The surviving whites made a final stand on a little peninsula jutting out into the lake, and from this point of vantage beat ofi the savages, killing Paugus with others. A stirring legend, once familiar to American schoolboys, related how Paugus and one of the white men faced each other at a brookside with guns just discharged; the one who should load first would have the other’s life: the white man rammed home his charge, struck the gun-butt sharply on a stone, making the musket prime itself instead of waiting to put priming-powder on the pan, and sent his ball through Paugus’ heart as the savage chieftain’s bullet whistled over his head.

With a loss of all save nine of their number, they made their way back to the settlements, where their heroism was rewarded. The death of the Jesuit Father Rasle and the expeditions of Lovewell were the closing events in the war with the Abenakis. The loss of their priestly leader and their war-chief broke their spirit and dissipated their strength. Both sides were anxious for peace. A treaty was finally concluded near the close of 1725.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 18:29:40 ZULU