Saint Aspenquid
  • Print
Written by John Albee

Pipe

SEACOAST POETRY

A rare poem dedicated to a Seacoast Native American, who unfortunately, never existed. But the legend is worth attention since it’s origins are unknown. The origins of the fictional "Aspinquid" legend on Mount Agamenticus remains a local mystery.

 

 

 

READ: The imaginary Saint
UPDATE: Legend of Agamenticus by Sophie Swett
IMPORTANT: York Legend May be Real 


John Albee's poem about the death of Passaconaway appears here for the first time on the Internet. It is not a great poem, but it is among the few poems devoted the 17th century Indian leader who refused to go to war with the first New England settlers. Albee, who summered in New Castle, NH, was fascinated by Seacoast folk lore. His Indian "saint" however, was not real, but a literary fantasy based loosely on the historic Passaconaway, who has been transplanted here to Mount Agamenticus in York, Maine for his final address to his native followers.

UPDATE: Could York Indian Legend be Real After All?

John AlbeeHistorians have yet to find a scrap of evidence that Aspenquid (also Aspinquid) ever lived, although a sign marks the imagined site of his grave at the top of the mountain. Albee's poem, not wholly bad, turns on the dramatic notion that Passaconaway, who urged his Penacook followers not to resist the European settlers, saw his tribe largely destroyed all the same. Devastated by diseases brought by early traders, the few thousand Seacoast Indians who survived reduced to a few hundred who were then exiled to Canada at the end of the 17th century. Albee imagines the supernatural "saint" offering advice that he knows through his vision will not solve the hopeless situation for his race of Native Americans. They are damned if they fight and damned if they don't.

As the poem opens, the eighty-something chief is bidding farewell to his people gathered on Agamenticus, the highest point in the Seacoast region. Albee also wrote the only "history" of New Castle, NH, published in 1884, the same year this poem appeared in the collection of New England folk stories by Samuel Adams Drake. Albee is best known here as the man who "named" the Wentworth Hotel, now Wentworth by the Sea. It is likely that Albee was an investor in the original hotel and was hired by the hotel to write his history of the town as a guide to tourists. --- JDR

READ MORE poems by John Albee

Saint Aspenquid
By John Albee

 

The Indian hero, sorcerer and saint,
Known in the land as Passaconaway,
And after called the good Saint Aspenquid,
Returning, travel worn and spent with age
From vain attempt to reconcile his race
With ours, sent messengers throughout the East
To summon all the blood-bound tribes to him;
For that upon the ancient meeting-place,
The sacred mountain Agamenticus,
When next the moon should show a new-bent bow,
He there would celebrate his funeral feast
With sacrifices due and farewell talk.
The dusky peple heard and they obeyed;
For known was Aspenquid in all the camps, --
Known was his name where unknown was his face;
His conjuries, his valor, and his wit
The trackless forests traversed many a year,
And made his name a word of omen there,
Then gathered they from all the hither land
Of wide St. Lawrence and the northern lakes,
The warriors of the great Algonkin race.

 

The feast was ended: bird and beast were slain
(Three thousand, so the ancient annals say);
The dance was danced; and every rite performed;
And gathered round the summit of the mouth
The stately, silent sachems stood intent
On Aspenquid. He over all was tall
And straight as ash, though ripe with ninety years.
He rose majestic on the sovereign top
Of his own land, and in that solemn hour
He seemed to tower above has wonted height
As towers in midmost air te stricken bird.
His locks were thin, but raven black and long;
Nor yet, his eyes had lost their splendid dark,
But glowed deep set beneath a low, broad brow.
Unpinched by age, his face was firm, and bronzed
Like leaves that hang all winter on the oak.

"Warriors and braves, come nearer to your!
My eyes, that once could brook the midday sun,
And see the eagle ere myself was seen,
Are dimmed with age; and but a pace beyond
A misty light seems settled over all.
Come nearer, braves, that I may feast my eyes
On your young limbs, what myself once was!

My race decays, and I have lived too long;
My limbs with ninety weary winter's strife
Are spent; my fathers call me unto them.
I go to comfort their impatient shades,
And respite find for all my own mischance.
And here once more on Agamenticus,
My old ancestral powow's sacred seat,
That saw the waters burn and trees to dance,
And winter's withered leaves grow green again,
And in dead serpent's skin the living coil,
While they themselves would change themselves to flame;
And where not less did I myself did I conjure
The mighty magic of my fathers' rites
Against my foe, -- yet all without effect;
The spirits also flee where white men come.
I turn to join my kindred sagamores,
And fly before the doom I could not change.

Light not the fires of vengeance in your hearts,
For sure the flame will turn against yourselves.
And you will perish utterly from earth.
Nor yet submit too meekly, but maintain
The valorous name once ours in happy days.
Be prudent, wise and always slow to strike.
Fall back; seek other shores and hunting grounds, --
I cannot bear you perish utterly!
Though, looking through the melancholy years,
I see the end, but turn my face away,
So heavy are my eyes with unshed tears;
And yours too I would turn, warriors and braves!
And mind not my prophetic vision much, --
Th' unhappy gift of him who lives too long;
But mind the counsel many years have taught,
The last I give: remember it, and live!"

Source: Samuel Adams Drake, A Book of New England Legends and Folklore, Boston, 1884. Illustration of prehistoric platform pipe by William Fowler courtesy of the Massachusetts Archeological Society, Inc. John Albee from his history of New Caslte, 1884.

 

Click for Bonus 1877 Newspaper Article
MT. A and ST. A



Vintage News
Mount Agamenticus and Saint Aspinquid
From the Portsmouth Journal
October 13, 1877

This mountain, situated in the northeasterly part of York, Me., is a noted landmark for mariners, and is the first height seen by them from the sea on the coast northward and eastward of Portsmouth. Here the United States coast survey have erected a cairn or pile of rocks on which to place a temporary observatory from which to make astronomical observations. St. Aspinquid is the name of a Jesuit saint or hero who was held in profound veneration by the aboriginal inhabitants throughout Maine, who are known to have been Indians, both in the religious and warlike distinction. His sanctity was well established among them; yet, who he was, or why he deserveg these honors is not known. Indian tradition, transmitted from age to age, and from tribe to tribe, informs us this patron saint of theirs lived and died on Mount Agamenticus in 1682, and that his funeral was celebrated by the Indians with a sacrifice of six thousand five hundred and eleven wild animals.

Thanks to Richard Winslow for discovering this article