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Program 10: The Frontier Wars

Program 10 : Wabanaki Women

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.

Molly Mathilde

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.



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