Program 10 : Wabanaki Women
The collected information (though much of it is presumed or fictitious) we have on the "Four
Mollys" -- four influential
Wabanaki women -- is the fruit of the labor of one individual. Bunny McBride, a lecturer in Anthropology at Kansas State
University, wrote the imaginative narrative "Women of the Dawn" in 1999, and acted as guest-curator for the exhibit at
the Abbe Museum in Portland, Maine that her book inspired in 2002.
What follows is an abridged version of her take on Molly Mathilde who lived during the Frontier Wars in Maine.
We begin the story of the first Molly by noting that her name was not, in fact, Molly. Estimations on her date of
birth vary (from 1652 to 1665), but it is certain that she was born Pidianiske, daughter to Madockawando, the Grand
Chief of the Abenakis and Maliseets of coastal Maine. In 1670, her father's people had already come into contact with
French soldiers who were sent to try to enforce the establishment of a French presence in North America, so that the
French might not feel like they were falling behind the English in terms of imperial conquest.
Among these soldiers was a man named Jean Vincent d'Abbadie de Castine (b. 1652). He spent his youth fighting the
Iroquois and the English at the border of Acadia. At the disbanding of his regiment, he took land near that of Madockawando
(the Grand Chief), whom he had befriended in Quebec, and became a successful fur-trader, as well as a notorious womanizer.
As the respective cultures of the Europeans and Indians "blended" further, Pidianiske came to be baptized, and her given
Christian name was Marie Mathilde. Meanwhile, some deaths in the family back in France transformed young Jean Vincent
into the third baron of St. Castin. By 1680, in the aftermath of King Philip's War, England again recognized French
control over Acadia, but the French still felt their position threatened.
Trapped geographically between two conflicting powers, and constantly threatened by their Iroquois enemy, Madockawando
and his people sought some sort of security. So it came as a blessing to both parties when Baron St. Castin made known
his intention to wed Marie Mathilde, thus forming a bond between the French and the Wabanaki. "Molly" Mathilde wed for
her people, certainly not for love, and it is for this utilitarian sacrifice that we remember her. Though St. Castin adapted
well to the Wabanaki ways, he also led much of his life in European circles, and Marie had to, in turn, adapt to these.
She bore five children by the Baron, all of whom were sent to Catholic school in Quebec. Through the endless wars she
raised her children, only to see one die at nine and another be taken captive and held for ransom by the English.
In 1701, Jean Vincent returned to France for the first time since his departure as a teenage soldier (to clear up
a military misunderstanding with the crown), only to discover his estate and holdings had been appropriated by his
sister and brother-in-law. The Baron spent the last six years of his life engaged in legal conflicts over his
inheritance, and died in France in 1707. Marie Mathilde was left a widow, with only her children remaining to support and
protect her (her parents having passed away several years earlier). Three of those children "married into elite
French-colonial families." (McBride, p. 35) Most importantly, her eldest son, Bernard Anselm, carried on his father's
role of connector between the French and Wabanakis, taking over his father's fur-trading business and leading soldiers
against the English. In 1717, he sailed to France with his wife and claimed the inheritance that was rightfully
his; he became
the new Baron St. Castin and took a seat in the Parliament of Navarre. Marie Mathilde is believed to have passed away
the same year.
All things told, Marie "Molly" Mathilde served as a vital link between the French and Wabanaki in New England for four
decades -- first through her marriage to the French Baron, and later, through her son who followed in his father's footsteps.
In this way we may see this first "Molly" as a heroine of sorts for the Wabanaki people.
ALSO WITH PROGRAM 10:
SALEM WITCH TRIALS - 1692 | FRONTIER WARS 1675 TO 1759 |
WABANAKI WOMEN | BIOS OF INTERVIEWEES | TRANSCRIPT