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Program 11: The Penobscot Expedition and The Revolution

The Castine Loyalists :  Donald Soctomah Interview Excerpts

Donald Soctomah Interview Excerpts

Q: Did the French have an impact on the tribes during the American Revolution?Donald Soctomah

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 Francis Neptune.

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 were coming.

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 mile distance.

Picture of a group of Passamaquoddy indians.  In the group is the individual credited with firing the shot from a rifle that struck General Cox in Passamaquoddy Bay.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 call them.

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 about this.

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 they made.

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.



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