Tales from the Wabanaki

Although most of the history of the Popham Colony is told from the English perspective, we have just a few sentences reflecting the perspective of the Wabanaki.  These are mainly from the French Missionary Pierre Biard who traveled to the area in 1611 looking for corn.  At this time he did not speak Algonquin, and even his guide could mostly speak to the natives about trade.

From first contact in about 1540 to the French defeat in 1756, the Wabanaki mostly sided with the French in the ongoing conflict between England (later Britain) and France.  The Wabanaki were frequently used as surrogate fighters by both sides.  Between European diseases, participation in the European wars, and loss of territory, the population of Wabinaki radically decreased during the 17th century, as was true for all of the native peoples on the east coast of North America.

We use the name Wabanaki as it is the preferred collective name for the group of tribal nations in what is now Maine and the Maritimes.   The people during the 17th century identified with tribe and village and not with such a collective.  There have been significant relocations, tribal changes, and extinctions in 400 years.

Letter from Jesuit missionary Pierre Biard (January 1612)

We arrived at Kinibéqui [Kennebec], eighty leagues from Port Royal [in what is now Nova Scotia], the 28th of October, 1611. Our people at once disembarked, wishing to see the English fort, for we had learned, on the way, that there was no one there. Now as everything is beautiful at first, this undertaking of the English had to be praised and extolled, and the conveniences of the place enumerated, each one pointing out what he valued the most. But a few days afterward they changed their views; for they saw that there was a fine opportunity for making a counter-fort there, which might have imprisoned them and cut them off from the sea and river; moreover, even if they had been left unmolested they should not have enjoyed the advantages of the river, since it has several other mouths, and good ones, Some distance from there. furthermore, what is worse, we do not believe that, in six leagues of the surrounding country, there is a single acre of good tillable land, the soil being nothing but stones and rocks. Now, inasmuch as the wind forced us to go on, when the third day came, Monsieur de Biancourt considered the subject in council and decided to take advantage of the wind and go on up the rivers in order to thoroughly explore it.

[The mention of multiple mouths to the Kennebec refers to the Sasanoa River which connects to the Kennebec at Bath, but this is a tidal channel and does not take any of the Kennebec flow.  It was certainly used by the Wabanaki in canoes, and when Biard took that route two days later, found out why is is now called Hell Gate.  He then met with some Wabanaki, probably at what is now Robinhood Cove.  Biard traveled from Nova Scotia looking for corn as the Wabanaki in the Sagadahoc area were known to be farmers.  He went away without getting any, despite it being soon after the corn harvest.]  

But as I have spoken here of the English, some one perhaps will wish to hear about their adventure, which was related to us in this place. So here it is: In 1608 [actually 1607] the English began to settle at one of the mouths of this Kinibéqui [Kennebec] river, as we have said before. They had then as leader a very honest man, who got along remarkably well with the natives of the country. They say, however, that the Armouchiquois were afraid of such neighbors, and so put the captain to death, as I have said, these people make a practice of killing by magic. [There is no known belief in dark magic by the Wabanaki].

But the second year, 1609 [actually 1608], the English, under another Captain, changed their tactics. They drove the Savages away without ceremony; they beat, maltreated and misused them outrageously and without restraint; consequently these poor, abused people, anxious about the present, and dreading still greater evils in the future, determined, as the saying is, to kill the whelp ere its teeth and claws became stronger. The opportunity came one day when three boatloads of them went away off to the fisheries. My conspirators followed in their boat, and approaching with a great show of friendliness (for they always make the greatest show of affection when they are the most treacherous), they go among them, and at a given signal each one seizes his man and stabs him to death. Thus were eleven Englishmen dispatched. others were intimidated and abandoned theirs enterprise the same year; they have not resumed it since, being satisfied to come in the summer to fish, at this island of Emetenic [most likely Allen Island in St George], which we have said was eight leagues from the fort they had begun building.

The Jesuit Relations – Volume 3 [1616]

These people do not seem to be bad, although they drove away the English who wished to settle among them in 1608 and 1609 [actually 1607 and 1608].  They made excuses to us for this act, and recounted the outrages that they had experienced from these English, and they flattered us, saying that they loved us very much, because they knew we would not close our doors to the Savages as the English did, and that we would not drive them from our table with blows from a club, not set our dogs upon them.

William Hubbard wrote about 1680, thus the story was from about 1660.

It is reported by an Ancient Marriner yet living in these parts, a person of good credit, that above twenty years since being in the Eastern Parts about Kennebec, he heard an old Indian tell this story; that when he was a youth, there was a fort built about Sagadahoc (the ruins of which were then shown this relater, supposed to be that called St. Georges Fort in honor of Capt. George Popham, the President of the company sent over Anno 1607) and possessed for one time by the English.  But afterward upon some quarrel that fell out betwixt the Indians and them and the English were some of them killed by the said Indians and the rest all driven out of the fort, where there was left much of their provisions and ammunition; amongst which there was some barrels of powder ; but after they had opened them not knowing what to do therewith , they left the barrels carelessly open, and scattered the powder about, so as accidentally it took fire; and blew up all that was within the fort, burnt and destroyed many of the Indians, upon which they conceived their God was angry with them for doing hurt to the English.