Home The Story of Maine is a production of MPBN MPBN

HOME: The Story of Maine Home Page

Read a synopsis of each program

Explore key events in Maine history.

Explore Maine cultural history.

Explore Maine's Native American heritage.

Classroom

Check out other interesting history sites

Site index

Program 10: The Frontier Wars

Transcript of The Frontier Wars | Violence on Maine's Frontier

NARRATOR:

In 1675, French, Anglo and Native populations in Maine began a series of intermittent wars lasting nearly a century. The conflicts would give rise to characters, heroes and villains and their struggles would reverberate from Salem to London; Maine's independent spirit, and lasting wilderness can be traced back to the Frontier Wars. The story of Maine's frontier wars next, on HOME: The Story of Maine.

Emerson Baker - History Department Chair, Salem State College

I really think that the Maine we have today exists because of the frontier wars. If it had not been for King Phillip's War, King William's War I think Maine would look a lot more like Massachusetts. In that sense maybe we owe the beauty, the wilderness, the natural bounty of our land here to those horrible times and maybe that's the best part to take out of this otherwise sad story.

Mary Beth Norton

I think people were just so terrified by what might be happening. Not just the loss of life, the loss of property, the loss of prosperity of Maine - and now it all seemed to be dissipating. So…It was out of the control of the Anglo settlers.

NARRATOR:

In 1674, French and English pioneers seeking economic prosperity have settled on Maine's frontier which is now governed by the Massachusettes Bay Colony. For Native Americans, the fur trade has created prosperity and access to muskets, powder and shot, which they rely on for their survival. But in southern New England, tensions between the English and Indians over land disputes spark violence. An Indian called Metacom, whom the English dub "King Phillip" leads his people in a war against encroaching Anglo settlers. The result is the most bloody war on American soil to date. The leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony are concerned that the conflict will spread to the Maine frontier.

Baker

Even though the war is started in Massachusetts people here are still living in relative peace and harmony. However Massachusetts officials insist that the Indians of Maine be disarmed. They're afraid the Indians may take up arms against the English and want their guns taken away from them and insist that no more powder or shot be traded to them. The English settlers are really kind of distressed by the whole situation because when the initial word comes to disarm the Indians they write back down to the officials and say, you've got to be, you've got to be kidding. These people rely on us and our trade goods and our guns in order to survive.

NARRATOR:

Governor Leverett of Massachusetts receives a letter from Commander Thomas Gardiner, prominent citizen of Pemaquid:

VOICE OVER: Commander Thomas Gardiner

Sir, these Indians amongst us, live amongst us by hunting as your honor well know it. I do not see how we can take away their arms whose livelihood that depends upon it they may be forced to go to the French for relief, or to fight against us.

NARRATOR:

When the Native Americans are forcibly disarmed, a group of native leaders called sachems or sagamores, ask the Governor to reconsider.

VOICE OVER (author unknown):

Sir, this is to let you understand how we, we Indians, have been abused. We love you. But, if the wolves kill any of your cattle you take away our guns. You came here when we were at peace and took away our guns and made prisoners of our Chief Sagamore and that winter, there were several of us who starved. Now we hear that you say you will not leave us in peace as long as one Indian is left in the country. We are the owners of this land and it is wide and full of Indians and we drive you out. But it's our desire to be quiet.

Baker

So when they're cut off from those supplies, the Indians suffer greatly and in the winter of 1676 many, many starve or are force…forced to migrate out of the region in order to survive. As a result, in the summer of 1676, the Indians are essentially forced to go to war against the English to get the goods they need, the clothing, the foodstuffs, the munitions, the supplies to survive. And it's no surprise that the first big attack is on Arrowsic Island on the Clark and Lake Garrison, which essentially is the largest trading post in eastern Maine. So um…they, they're going after the supplies that they need to survive. It would be like attacking a Wal-Mart today.

NARRATOR:

Approximately 100 English settlers take refuge at the Clark and Lake compound on Arrowsic, thinking that they will be able to defend against an Indian attack. But the compound is destroyed and most of the settlers are killed or captured.

Baker

In King Phillip's War the English will spend the first year or so of the war complaining about how unfairly the Indians fight. That they hide behind trees and logs and won't come out and fight like men or like what the English consider to be men. Men who stood out in the field and died fighting. It's a very different construct of war that the English are not prepared to fight and…and something different then anything they've ever seen. By the end of King Phillip's War, Maine is pretty much a blackened ruin with numerous refugees who left the region. Many, many Native peoples have moved to the north and east and have sought refuge with the French. Many of the English are down in Massachusetts under similar circumstances. And in some ways I think it may be the turning point in Maine's history because the promise that once was Maine has been destroyed and the hope of a lasting peace and friendship between Native American and English is equally gone.

NARRATOR:

King Phillips War is the first of 6 wars in Maine that last nearly a century. During this time, European powers struggling for world dominance often use Maine as a bargaining chip, dragging Maine's French, English and Native populations into their conflicts. The long wars, fragile alliances and renewed strife give rise to remarkable personalities. These are people who are displaced, whose lives veer off the path marked out for them at birth. One such person is St. Castin, often referred to as Castine. Born the second son of a noble family in France, Castine comes to Acadia in the 1600s to seek his fortune.

Alaric Faulkner - University of Maine Archeologist:

Well St. Castine came over as a very young man he was perhaps an ensign of about ..ah 18 years old, a very young man. Much of his education in a sense was in the New World. St. Castine grew up in the New World and he was a little bit different from the others. And in fact …ah St. Castine was a true backwoodsman. He was able to negotiate quite successfully into the interior of the country. He made several trips over the inland route up the Penobscot to Quebec and back. He was a trader who dealt and worked among and lived among the Native Americans. Eventually he set up trade independently at his ..ah house along the Bagaduce River and when relations turned sour between Native Americans and the English, Castine took on a ever increasing role as the defender of the Native Americans.

NARRATOR:

Castine marries Molly Mathilde, the daughter of an important Sagamore in the region. Her close ties to both the Wabanaki and French cultures helps her to become one of many cultural intermediaries.

Rebecca Cole-Will - Curator, Abbe Museum:

There's information that's been passed down for 300 years about her and one of those pieces is certainly that she was a very attractive woman, she would have had likely beautiful black hair, dark dark eyes and, and just a lovely skin color most likely. She was living in a time of intense change for the Wabanaki people to begin with… but it's very likely that, as a result of her marriage to him, she became one of those ..um cultural intermediaries. She was definitely a Wabanaki woman, an Etchemin but she became the wife of a French Nobleman. Her children were taken to French Acadia and raised as Catholics, as…as French citizens essentially, and eventually her husband went back to France and she never saw him again so she really as the wife of a warrior, she was the ultimate victim of, of that warfare.

NARRATOR:

Molly's father, Madockawando, is one of the more powerful sachems in Maine.

Bruce Bourque - Maine State Museum Chief Archaeologist:

Madockawando should have the status of all the usually important native Chiefs and warriors in North America. But because consciousness of the frontier only rose in the American psyche after American colonists began to spill over the Alleghenies all of the conflicts east of the Alligainies kind of got rolled up into this folklore Indian Wars category. And the remarkable individuals who played roles in that are sort of forgotten to history. Madockawando's clearly one of them.

Baker

Madockawando is the traditional leader of the Penobscot Indians. He is given the authority from time to time to be the leader of all of the Native peoples in the Kennebec and Penobscot regions. So he is the one who is responsible for leading the war parties and also for negotiating peace with English at this time.

NARRATOR:

In 1692, Madockawando leads a raid against the Anglo settlement at York. Many English settlers have already left Maine because of earlier raids. The remaining settlers feel that York is a stronghold, able to withstand an attack. When Madockawando strikes, the settlers are taken completely by surprise.

Baker

The problem is if you have all your settlements strung out along the rivers and along the waterfront that's completely indefensible. The Indians will come by and pick off houses and farmsteads one by one. So what people have to make the decision to do is to abandon their house. In many cases abandon their livestock, most of their possessions and move to a central fortified garrison house or strong point where they can all work together to defend themselves. People will leave by day to tend their crops and look after their livestock. But also too there are times where people stand inside these fortified compounds and literally watch their houses being burnt down by Native Americans and see all their possessions, all their wealth go up in smoke. But know that they're fortunate to be alive.

Norton

I think you have to understand that the Wabanakis and the settlers in Maine had actually lived very peacefully together …um for 50 years at the time all of this started, or at least 40 years from the 1630s on. The Europeans and the Indians really didn't disturb each other particularly. The Indians were largely lived in the interior and along rivers and the Europeans lived along the coast and they had a trading relationship that was very good for both sides. These were people who knew each other very well and one of the reports of one of the raids that I read - I think it was in Saco - said that the Indians who were doing the raiding were well known to the people who were in the community. They recognized them, they knew them, they were people who were common trading partners in the community. And this is one of the things that made the war so traumatic was that people who had gotten along really very well suddenly weren't getting along anymore. The early Indian raids, especially the beginning of the King Phillips was just um..very…very brutal. The first raid in Maine on the outskirts of Falmouth - …um the… A farm was raided and the family was killed very brutally. A pregnant woman was killed. Her children were killed. Other people were dragged off into captivity and it was obviously extremely shocking to the settlers. 01:20:34:00 But the, the Europeans too were very brutal and in their dealings. They seized as hostages 20 Wabanaki, many of whom were women and children. And then they didn't know what to do with them.

Bourque

It was as if both sides tried to build up a supply of bargaining chips before the fighting actually broke out to use as hostages to ratchet down the hostility. And, um…This certainly happened, well this just happened routinely and all the famous stories of captives going to Canada. It's about the Natives grabbing English settlers with whom they could bargain the return of their own. I think it was one of those fruitless strategies that both sides practiced because they didn't have much else in the way of strategies to establish a diplomatic solution to conflict.

NARRATOR:

With only and estimated 10,000 inhabitants in what is now Maine, many of the key players know each other well. People who had traded and been friendly are suddenly using each other as pawns in chaotic conflicts that spread throughout New England. In 1689, a young English settler called Mercy Short is captured by the Indians during a raid on Salmon Falls. She spends many months on a forced march to Quebec. After being ransomed back to the English, Mercy joins hundreds of Maine's war refugees who escape to Essex County, Massachusetts. Like many others, she re-settles in Salem. Then, in July of 1692, five months after the raid on York, accusations of witchcraft explode in the tiny town.

Norton

Salem is a totally different order of magnitude from any previous witchcraft episode in New England and that's what I think needs to be explained and that's what I think the connection to the Maine Indian wars does explain as to why it exploded. When we see in the records of the Salem Witch trails, people talking about having nightmares of being scalped by Indians. Or Mercy Short in her fits describing meetings between witches and Indian sachems, or describing the tortures that the witches inflict on her as being the same kinds of tortures that she saw the Indians inflict on her fellow captives, then I think we can logically infer that their experiences on the Maine frontier had a major psychological impact on them.

NARRATOR:

The trauma suffered during the early raids in Maine gives rise to Salem, an iconic event in American history. Racism and animosity consume the relationship between the English and the Indians. For the people who endured the Frontier Wars, life will never be the same. Many Indians are sold into slavery in the Caribbean. In more than one instance, young English children spend years at a time with their Indian captors learning Indian dialects and culture.

Baker

The problem is John Gyles is one of these young boys whose taken captive by the Indians. He's taken captive when Pemaquid is attacked in 1689 and again witnesses members of his family being killed before his eyes. He will end up in Native American hands for many years going from one village to the next. Essentially becoming a Native American in many ways.

Bourque

But Gyles was eventually ransomed to an Acadian settler and returned to his people. But he lived largely in Maine for the rest of his life and served as an agent for the Massachusetts government. But not an agent provocateur and not as a spy, but as an Indian agent really, someone who was meant to try to convey Massachusetts goodwill toward the Indians. John Gyles was an effective agent at the time when Massachusetts was really getting quite serious about governmental policy toward that Natives of this region. They knew the wars were disastrously expensive and really dysfunctional. All those populations bottled up in Massachusetts who could so readily be resettled in Maine. They really wanted effective relationships with the Natives. And there were members of the Native community who likewise wanted peaceful relationships. They wanted easy access to trade, fair traders, gunsmiths and the French were pretty much not effective in that role in this part of the world. So Gyles was the agent at that time. And when some of the young men would kill cattle it would be someone like Gyles or Gyles himself who would come to them and say you know, you've got to pay for those cattle.

NARRATOR:

Despite the efforts of John Gyles and others to create peace, a new war is begun in 1721 called Lovewell's War. This time in Europe, there is a growing supremacy of England over France which begins to tip the scales in Maine's Frontier Wars. Now, the English accuse a French Jesuit missionary, Father Sebastian Rasle, of instigating young Indian warriors to fight. The Lieutenant Governor of the Massachusettes Bay Colony writes to the Governor of Quebec about Rasle:

VOICE OVER: Lt. Governor Dummer

If he had confined himself to instruct the Indians in the Christian Religion, there might be some ground of complaint but he has been a constant and notrious fomenter & incendiary to the Indians to kill, burn and destroy.

NARRATOR:

Maine's Indians embrace Rasle and see him as a holy man. He establishes the first school in Maine to educate Indian children and creates a dictionary of the Wabanaki language. Rasle allies himself with the cause of the Native peoples.

VOICE OVER: Father Sebastian Rasle

I can't by my character carry them forth to war, but I shan't hinder them, as for example, to preserve their land whereon depends their prayers, or any considerable wrong that's done to them, in these cases I'll tell them they may make war.

Bourque

Father Sebastian Rasle fascinating guy. The Jesuits were fascinating. I mean, they're the intellectual shock troops of the Catholic Church. They got too hot to handle even for the Catholic Church from time to time. They, They usually started as university faculty. So they were well educated. They were loyal to France. They were loyal to the church. They probably saw no distinction actually. His mission in particular, was a strategic location for the Kennebec-Chaudiere corridor. If New England were going to attack Quebec they would come up the Kennebec, down the Chaudiere and he knew Norridgewock was a critical defense point. And so that was his philosophy to have a well organized mission village fortified, but also with a church, a schoolhouse. The houses in the village were constructed after the English manner, the English accounts tell us these were not wigwams. So it's a permanent settlement. The archeological remains we have from there indicate high quality altar goods. Blacksmith's tools, you know an agriculture community to be sure. Not a village of hunter-gatherers anymore. These are permanently settled people. Many of the men living in the village had commissions in the French Army. We have high quality firearms remains have been dug up at Norridgewock and these certainly were not Father Rasle's arms. They were the Natives. The English saw him as a major threat. And they tried 3 times to raid Norridgewock. Finally they succeeded and they were meant to capture Rasle and bring him to Boston. But instead things got enough out of control that he was killed and scalped and the scalp was brought to Boston. He was buried at the site. We presume near the monument that stands there today.

Baker

The story in some ways comes full circle in Norridgewock however because it had been many of the Kennebec Indians who had been involved in the raid on York in 1692. And it was the men from York, particularly Jeremiah Molton who is one of the captains of that expedition and in 1692 at Candlemas this Molton had watched as his parents were killed by the Indians when he was just a very, very young boy. So to him it was - and the other members from York - it was the ultimate revenge that they had been waiting for, for over 30 years to destroy Norridgewock.

NARRATOR:

Once Rasle is killed and Norridgewock no longer poses a strategic threat. The alliance between the French and the Natives is diminished. The later Frontier Wars consist in sporadic and mostly ineffective raids by both the Indians and the English.

Ed Churchill - Maine State Museum Chief Curator:

You never again saw the Indians put together a major attack. And the other thing that slowed them down were the French had shifted their focus into the west, into the, the west of the Appalachians. So they lost that crucial support as well. And so from then on it's just a series of raids, little raids and the English basically got up to as high as Augusta, Winslow area on the Kennebec. They got downeast to the…the Fort St. George, which was the Thomaston area and that's kind of where things rested for the next 20, 30 years until Quebec fell. And then the English moved into the whole territory.

NARRATOR: In 1759, English forces defeat the French at Quebec, finally ending the long rivalry for control of the North American territories.

Baker

Even though it doesn't happen in Maine, it has huge ramifications here because it means that the Native peoples here can no longer count on the French for, for trade, for munitions and for military support. And once that alliance is broken the Native peoples will no longer be able to be a significant military threat. There will be several raids in the 1760's and 1770's. But essentially Maine will become a safe place to settle. What's amazing about that is people realize that right off the bat and within a year of the fall of Quebec settlers are moving way into the interior. People were living all the way up in Fryeburg, way up near the headwaters of the river. It's like pulling a cork out of a bottle. Settlers flood into the interior going up the river valleys, up the Saco, up to the Kennebec. Moving downeast to places like Machias …um because it's finally safe to do so. And so it's only with the end of the, of the last frontier war really in 1759 that Maine will finally have a chance to grow and thrive in the way that southern New England has had long before.

Go to the top


SALEM WITCH TRIALS - 1692 | FRONTIER WARS 1675 TO 1759 | WABANAKI WOMEN | BIOS OF INTERVIEWEES | TRANSCRIPT


Institute of Museum and Library Services