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White Men Invented Saint Aspinquid


A memorial can have meaning even if the person it honors never existed. But now is the ideal time to abandon the fictional "praying Indian" of Agamenticus, and replace him with a real hero. If it were not for the pacifist Passaconaway, there might be no New England at all (Detailed story below)





Converted Indian Leader or White Propaganda?

A tiny battle is brewing over whether to disturb a pile of rocks atop Mt Agamenticus in York, Maine. Town officials and land conservators want to move the rocks to enhance the landscaping. A few Native American descendants object. The rocks, they say, are a monument to an ancient Indian leader named St. Aspinquid and mark a sacred place. Aspinquid, some believe, is the Christian name of Passaconaway, the heroic 17th century Pennacook (also "Penacook") Indian leader.

COULD WE BE WRONG? Read "York Legend Could be Real"

I find myself very uncomfortably at the heart of this controversy. Look up "St. Aspinquid" on Google and the first thing you may find is my essay. In it, I state emphatically, that St. Aspinquid is a white Christian fabrication – a pious, docile "Praying Indian" possibly invented as a literary device by Victorian writers. Although he shares characteristics with the heroic and historic "sagamon" Passaconaway, and may even come from the same rich stream of Native legend, St. Aspinquid appears to be imaginary.

I rarely take such a stand. But after years of poking into the local legend of St. Aspinquid, I read a 1924 essay by the esteemed Indian folklorist Fannie Hardy Eckstorm. After an exhaustive search for the "real" St. Aspinquid, she came to the same conclusion in 1924. Although early tourist booklets say St. Aspinquid was living in the York region during the first arrival of white settlers from Europe, Eckstorm was unable to track his story back further than 1833.

Nineteenth century South Berwick writer Sarah Orne Jewett, who dearly loved local history once said of St. Aspinquid: "I never could trace this legend beyond a story in one of the county newspapers, and I have never heard any tradition among the people that bear the least likeness to it."


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Sunday, February 18, 2018 
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