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York Indian Legend Might be Real

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HISTORY MATTERS

Sometimes you have to turn a legend upside down to find the truth. A Noca Scotia historian traces the legend of a York Maine Indian back to its roots and offers a refreshing new theory on a dramatic series of events. Is the mysterious St Aspinquid actually "Abinquid"? 

 

 

Is it Really Abinquid of Agamenticus?

READ: Imaginary Legend of St. Aspinquid  

Don Awalt of Nova Scotia says I am dead wrong about Saint Aspinquid of York, Maine. I suggested that the legendary Indian of Mount Agamenticus may be a fictional character patched together by white historians in the 1800s. Awalt is convinced Aspinquid was real. New England historians like me, he says, have been looking in the wrong place for the wrong man for a long time.

St. Aspinquid, Awalt says, came from what is now Halifax. His name is an English phonetic translation of "Abinquid", a healer and holy man from the region that became Nova Scotia. Today Abinquid is remembered as a MicMac (also Mi’kmaq), although other reports claim he was a Penobscot leader. MicMac legend says he brought many women and children safely from Maine to Canada during the bloody frontier wars here in the late 1600s.

Abinquid was also a converted Catholic, which explains a lot. Local historians have been struggling for two centuries to understand why a Native American saint (no longer recognized by the Roman Catholic Church) is buried atop the highest point in a region settled by Protestants and governed by Massachusetts puritans.

The Warrior Priest

The controversy was moot until York Parks and Recreation officials recently attempted to move a pile of rocks on Mt. Agamenticus that, legend says, marks the burial of St. Aspinquid. The location of the rock pile is very likely not historic. It appears to have been moved in the 20th century. But Awalt’s theory may go a long way toward explaining how it got there.

The story really starts with the arrival of Father Louis Peter Thury (1644-1699) in Canada. Thury was a Catholic zealot from France who believed, according to Don Awalt, that the English were the enemies of God. Thury aligned with the MicMac, Maliseet and Abenaki who had their own reasons for keeping aggressive English settlers out of their ancestral territory.

In 1688 the Jesuit Father Thury, nicknamed "The Warrior Priest", was transferred from Nova Scotia to the Penobscot region, now Maine. Thury was a force behind the well known Indian raids in this region, at York and Pemaquid in Maine and Oyster River and Portsmouth in New Hampshire during the late 1600s. According to Awalt’s theory, Thury knew the holy man named Abihquid who was reportedly in this region during the raids.

According to MicMac oral history, Thury was buried in 1699 at what is now Point Pleasant Park in Halifax. Awalt is convinced that Father Thury’s seaside grave (as-yet-undiscovered) is located near a rock formation known as "The Cathedral of St. Aspinquid." Here Native Americans celebrated an annual festival known as the Feast of Saint Aspinquid. The Halifax festival is clearly of ancient origin. But exactly when it was renamed for "St. Aspinquid of Agamenticus" is not clear. Records, so far, only go back to 1770.

Here Don Awalt, an artist and environmental planner, takes a giant leap of faith. While researching the history of Point Pleasant Park, he interviewed Native American elders, tapping into unpublished oral traditions. These stories come from a time before the borders and place names we know today and may shed light on the Aspinquid mystery.

CONTINUED

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