Donald Soctomah Interview Excerpts
Q: Did the French
have an impact on the tribes during the American Revolution?
Soctomah: The French did
have an impact on the American Revolution in eastern Maine.
The tribes of Maine and New Brunswick looked towards the
French as friends and the French was siding with the American
colonists. So it was easy for the tribes to go in that
direction to help the colonists.
Q: There is a legend that one of the Passamaquoddy
chiefs fired an incredibly long shot and killed a British
military captain. Is this true?
Soctomah: The Neptune family were the hereditary chiefs of
the Passamaquoddy Tribe. And during the American Revolution
the, the Neptunes were the chiefs of the Passamaquoddy Tribe.
At the time it was Pierre, Jeanne Pierre Neptune, but he was
an elder chief and he died during the American Revolution. And
our next Neptune was Francis Joseph Neptune and his son John
Well they were involved with the Revolutionary War and they
became friends with Col. John Allen during this. And he
counted on the Passamaquoddy Tribe to be his closest allies
because he made his station right in Machias right in the
homeland of the Passamaquoddy.
Well the Neptune clan they were what we call meoudouylinesómedicine
peopleóand Francis Joseph Neptune, he had what we consider
special powers, especially during hunting.
What happened was the Margaretta was sailing up the Machias
Bay and we had scouts at one place called Lookout Park. And
they signaled to the main group in Machias that the British
So Col. Allen and the colonists and the Passamaquoddys,
Maliseets, Micmacs and some Penobscots were there to meet them
head-on. So the tribe and the colonists went side by side on
both edges of the river. As the ship was coming, they really
couldnít stand up to this giant ship that had giant cannons
and was going to level Machias.
The tribe started out
letting out the war cry and the colonists joined in and the
British got confused because it sounded like the hills were
just loaded with opposition. It confused them to the point
that they were, they stopped.
And at that point, Col. John Allen and Francis Joseph
Neptune were talking and Francis Joseph Neptune said, I can
shoot him. And Col. Allen didnít want anybody to shoot, they
didnít want the return coming back. But he decided to let
the shot take place. And they say it was three quarters to a
Youíve got to remember
these are flintlock rifles. So he loaded up the rifle and put
a little bit extra powder in there to go the extra distance.
And he shot and he hit the general who was commanding the
fleet and killed him right there. And that really confused the
British. So at that point they decided to retreat. And thatís
oral history in our tribe since 1777 and people still talk
about that long shot.
Q: One of your ancestors was involved with the
revolution. Can you talk about that?
Soctomah: One of my
ancestors, his name was Soctomah, they called him
"captain" because he was heading one of the native
groups. Col. Allen told him to patrol the coast and if he sees
a British ship to capture it or attack it and bring it back.
And so he with 50 other tribal men were along the coast in the
Passamaquoddy Bay and they saw a British frigate. And all the
canoes came at the frigate and captured it and sailed it to
Machias. And that was probably one of the first ships that was
captured and started the American Navy right there. So that
information was handed down orally, too. Itís written up in
some of Maineís history books. Thereís a lot of things
that are written about the tribe and the American Revolution
and thereís a lot of things that arenít.
Q: What is the tribal
view of (Indian Agent) John Allan?
Soctomah: John Allen was an immigrant from Nova Scotia. I
think his family came from England. He served in the Nova
Scotia Legislature. So he was pretty upset with the way the
government there was running things. And he decided to go on
the American side. So as he was leaving Nova Scotia he made it
perfectly clear to people in Nova Scotia that he didnít
believe this war was right and he didnít believe the
English. He wasnít a Loyalist at the time. He didnít
believe in the war and he didnít believe in continuing the
government activity that he was doing in Nova Scotia.
So as he was leaving Nova Scotia he stopped and visited the
Micmac tribes. And he tried convincing them to come with him
to theóat that time this place was called the Districts of
Massachusetts, the District of Maine and Massachusettsóto
come here and fight against the British. And maybe the Micmac
people will be able to get their land back. So he did convince
some to come and they followed him. And then along the way he
stopped at the St. John River where the Maliseet people were
living. And he spent quite a bit of time there talking with
the Maliseets. They had a pretty good-sized population. The
Micmacs were bigger. And he did convince half of the Maliseets
that they should be on the alert. When itís time he will
He continued on and he
came to Machias and he met with the colonists there and they
told him he has to, he has to be appointed to a position to
lead the people. So he continued on and went with George
Washington and the Continental Congress. And he convinced
George Washington that eastern Maine was worth saving. And it
would be a good place to stop the advancement of the English.
So George Washington appointed him as the eastern commander of
forces with his headquarters in Machias.
After he got the
blessing from George Washington and the Continental Congress,
he went back to the tribes. He met with the Passamaquoddy
first. And the tribe didnít want to be involved. But he
convinced the tribe that treaty rights will be honored and the
lands will be protected and the tribe could forever live in
peace. So this is what the tribe wanted. And then from there
he took a delegation of Passamaquoddy to meet with the
Penobscots. And I think it was Chief Orono at the time. He was
a very strong supporter of the American cause. And he
activated all his warriors. And then from there Col. Allen
traveled back to the St. John. And he had to convince the
Maliseet nation to participate in this because he was so far
into English territory that they had the most to lose.
There were two factions
within the Maliseet nation. One would be considered
pro-American, one was pro-British. And, after a long debate,
the pro-American force of the Maliseets decided to leave. And
Col. Allen with Passamaquoddy guides left the St. John River.
They traveled across the St. John watershed into the Penobscot,
into the St. Croix watershed, which was quite a task when you
consider 120 canoes, at least 120 canoes loaded with men,
women and children.
There was some portage sights that were up to four miles.
So youíd have to unload your canoe and travel by foot. Put
it back in, load it back up. After about a week of traveling,
they entered into the Passamaquoddy territory on the St. Croix
River and continued on into Machias. That was the whole
movement of probably three-fourths of the Maliseet nation.
Itís hard to imagine
seeing 120 canoes all in a single file coming down the river
just to be involved with this cause while they had the most to
lose. And it turned out that the end result was the Maliseet
territory was separated. Most of it ended up in English
territory because it was on the east side of the St. Croix. A
little bit of the territory up in Aroostook County did come
back to the Maliseet people in which they have a village there
now. But they had the most to lose. They were heavily involved
with the Revolutionary War. And John Allen could really count
on the Maliseets just as he counted on the Passamaquoddys and
the Penobscots. The Micmac were involved a little bit. Not as
heavily involved as the other tribes because they were further
east, deeper into so-called English territory. But a lot of
them wanted their territory back and wanted their treaty
rights recognized. So some of them were involved.
Q: Did the tribes
trust John Allan?
Soctomah: It was hard for the tribes to trust John Allen.
If you can look at the treaties and you know every time you
trusted somebody the treaties were broken. It was taking a big
risk. There was some agreements made where the tribes would
receive so much rations and just daily living rations. He knew
he could count on them because they had the most to lose
because the tribe wanted to hold onto what they had and the
Americans were the only ones who said you can have, you can
hold onto what youíve got and if the British come here you
can lose it all. Thatís why you could count on them.
George Washington wrote
a letter to all the tribes and he had one especially addressed
to the Passamaquoddy Tribe. And we still retain that letter.
Itís being held at the university right now for us. But we
retain ownership of this letter. In the letter he says that he
wants the tribe to help the American cause and then any help
that the tribes will give will be recognized for that help and
they can live in peace after this. Well I donít know if you
can call that a treaty but it was enough for the tribes
because they heard of George Washington. That they could trust
that letter and he also followed the tribal protocol of
sending the letter and sending wampum, a wampum belt with it
that shows youíre speaking the truth. And the tribe
responded by sending a wampum belt back with another letter to
him saying yes we will help you and we will follow John Allen.
The tribe did try to be
neutral in this big event because we didnít see any gain in
it. But we were convinced by the American colonists and John
Allen to side with the Americans and our rights will be
protected. Iím sure the chiefs of all the tribes got
together and talked about this and saw that the Americans were
gonna follow up and protect our rights and our land.
One of the things that
the tribe expressed strongly to John Allen was you made an
agreement with us. You were going to give us rations, guns,
ammunition and youíre not doing that. And he said, well we
donít have it. So what he decided to do was to go and talk
to George Washington and the Continental Congress to live up
to their agreement. And the tribe didnít feel secure in
that. So what John Allen didóCol. John Allenóhe left his
two sons to live with the Passamaquoddy to show that he is
being honest. They werenít hostages. They were left there
for their protection and to show that he was being honest
So his two sons lived with the tribe, with the
Passamaquoddy tribe and they learned our language and our
ways. Col. John Allen wrote to his children quite a bit and he
told them to follow the chief and listen to the Chief and youíll
be okay. So the rations came. The children stayed with the
tribe for a while. But they returned back to their father. It
was events like that that the tribe could count on John Allenóheís
speaking the truth. I think his love for the land and the
people in this area proved later on in life his devotion to
the area because he ended up living in the area. And he formed
his own trading business, trading goods with the tribes after
the American Revolution.
Even after when the war
was over the tribe still went to talk to John Allen about the
country; the American colonists upholding their
responsibility. And he sent quite a few letters to George
Washington reminding him of the agreement. This was even after
he was retired from being the commander of the eastern forces.
There, there is some
oral tradition about John Allen. That he was a kind man. And a
man that would live by his word because he also had a lot to
lose if he wouldnít stand up to the truth. The tribes in the
area were the majority of the population. There was very few
American colonists or English colonists in this area, but he
decided to live here. So he had to live by his word. And the
tribe could count on him. One thing that John Allen didnít
maintain, he kept all the letters, all the correspondence with
people on the outside, George Washington, Continental
Congress. And on his dying bed just a week before he asked to
see the Passamaquoddy chief.
And the Passamaquoddy chief at the time was Francis Joseph
Neptune, his friend in war. And he handed him the box of
letters, documents and he said, now this is for you to carry
on. To pass them on from chief to chief so your rights will be
protected. And we did have that box in our possession up to
1960. And that box was historic (especially during the) Maine
Indian Land Claims Settlement because it reminded the
government of their duty and their obligation and the promises
Q: What is a meoudouyline?
Soctomah: Thatís a man with special powers. Like a
shaman. One of the things of our tribe, a meoudouyline
or a shaman can send his voice. One of the things of the
rallying along the backs of Machias was they thought there
were thousands of people there. Well the meoudouyline
can send his voice and make it sound like a thousand. So some
of our stories that are handed down say it was (Chief Neptuneís)
voice, that he sent magic with his voice to make it sound like
thousands. And he had other powers or legends that are
associated with him. So they were a very powerful family.
One story I heard of the Neptunes was they were, they had
powers that were associated with the waters. And people
noticed this and they considered him like a god of the water
because he knew how to maneuver in the ocean because the
waters here, the tides are the highest and the lowest tides in
the world. And you have to know how to negotiate the ocean and
that took a special skill. So he maneuvered the boats and the
canoes around the water like it was magic. So that could have
been how he got it.
He could shoot anything.
He could call the animals. Thereís a special power that meoudouylines
had with the, be able to sink into the earth. And he could
stamp his feet and then sink down up to his waist into the
earth. And that was seen by a number of people.