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Agamenticus and Passaconaway

Stories of York MaineHISTORY VS FICTION

This is how legends trump fact. This chapter from a Maine book for children tells an exciting tale of American settlers beseiged by savage Indians. It is not, however, authetnic history. Sophie Swett’s highly readable narrative is easy to confuse with fact, or was, by early 20th century readers. (Read it fully here)

In Search of the Agamenticus Legend

We’ve been looking for the source of the legend of the burial of "Saint Aspenquid" on Mount Agamenticus in York, Maine. Don Awalt of Nova Scotia has suggested it may come from tales of the historic Abinquid while earlier tales conflate the character with the historic Native American Passaconaway.

BE SURE TO READ: Legendary Indian May Be Real

Stories of Maine by Sophie SwettWhile we have yet to get to the bottom of the story, we can unearth ways that the legend was distorted and spread from the 19th into the 20th century. Sophie Swett’s book "Stories of Maine" for children (1899) is a good example of how legends are confused with fact, then enricheed by romantic writing, and presented as educational tales for children. Swett mixes and matches lore from many previous writers including romantic poets, travel guides and Christian texts. While her primary intention is to make local history entertaining and to sell books as a fiction author, her one-sided, pro-white Christian, anti-Indian views are deeply entrenched in these tales.

Perhaps it is a bad idea to reprint this fanciful and racist tale here. We do so in hopes of tracing the development of the legend of a Native American burial on Agamenticus. Here in 1899 Swett is attributing the tourist site on the top of "The Big A" to Passaconway, and possible St. Aspenquid whom modern historians agree are not one-in-the-same. Swett gives hints of her sources, but we would love to know exactly what books she was reading when creating her romantic tales for children. Swett’s work is valuable because, in addition to its literary merit, she was among only a handful of people telling tales of the founding of Maine, a topic largely missing from American textbooks then and now.


Her work, however, is presented more as history, which it is not, then as literature. Sophia Miriam Swett 9(1858–1912) wrote at least 20 books of fiction for children. According to an early Who’s Who directory she was from Brewer, Maine and her sister Susan Hartley Swett published a number of poerms in Harpers and other magazines. So far little else is known.

Swett’s "Stories of Maine" is now available online through Google Books and other digital services. Because it offers tales of early Maine, it is likely that this book, formerly hard to find, will now gain renewed prominence through Internet searches. Although it is heavily fictionalized, it is listed in a number of locations (incuding Google books and WorldCat) as "Maine history". So we offer here a hastily annotated version in order to give readers a little context and a warning not to mistake fantasy for fact. – JDR /


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Thursday, February 22, 2018 
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