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Agamenticus and Passaconaway

 

 

 

Stories of York Maine (Continued)

As for St. Aspinquid, we may well believe that his assumption of magic powers was not wholly abandoned after he embraced Christianity, for most of the praying Indians clung to some of their savage superstitions, and sometimes would divest themselves of their new religion as suddenly as if it were a blanket, and rush frantically into a powwow or a war dance, or even a frenzy of slaughter. But St. Aspinquid died firm in the faith delivered to him by the devoted Jesuit missionaries, and in his last days he endeavored to promote peace and good will between his people and the whites.

[NOTE: This is from John Greenleaf Whittier’s historically inaccurate ballad "Pride of Penancook" that seems to spring largely from the imagination of the white romantic poet who lived a centruy and a half after the events he fictionalized in his poem.]]

In 1660, when he felt his end to be drawing near, he made a great feast, to which he invited all his widely scattered tribes, calling them his children. --

" Hearken," he said, " to the last words of your father and friend: The white men are sons of the morning. The Great Spirit is their Father. His sun shines bright about them. Never make war with them. Sure as you light the fires, the breath of heaven will turn the flames upon you and destroy you. Listen to my advice. It is the last I shall be allowed to give you. Remember it, and live."

A poem on Passaconaway, written by a bard of the old days , and extremely popular as a fireside tale, is too delightfully quaint to be allowed to pass into oblivion:

" 'Tis said that sachem once to Dover came

From Penacook, when eve was setting in; With plumes his locks were dressed, his eyes shot flame ;

He struck his massy club with dreadful din, That oft had made the ranks of battle thin. Around his copper neck terrific hung

A tied-together bear and catamount skin ; The curious fish bones o'er his bosom swung; And thrice the sachem danced, and thrice the sachem sung.

" Strange man was he ! 'Twas said he oft pursued

The sable bear and slew him in his den, That oft he howled through many a pathless wood

And many a tangled wild and poisonous fen That ne'er was trod by other mortal men. The craggy ledge for rattlesnakes he sought,

And choked them one by one, and then O'ertook the tall gray moose as quick as thought,

And then the mountain cat he chased, and chasing caught.

" A wondrous wight! For o'er Siogee's ice With brindled wolves, all harnessed three and three,

High seated on a sledge, made, in a trice,
On Mount Agiocochook of hickory,
He lashed and reeled and sung right jollily.
And once, upon a car of flaming fire,

The dreadful Indian shook with fear to see The king of Penacook, his chief, his sire, Ride flaming up toward heaven, than any mountain higher! "

[NOTE: These are white Christian tales, not Indian legends. Until recently similar legends claimed that Native Americans did not visit the Isles of Shoals for similar reasons. Archeological evidence from a recent dig on Smuttynose Island came up with considerable evidence that Indians visited and likely hunted at the Shoals.]

The last line suggests the curious reverence of the Indians for mountain peaks, and their dread of the evil spirit whom they supposed to inhabit them. They believed that the devout St. Aspinquid had banished it from Agamenticus, but thought it dangerous to ascend any other high mountain. The summit of Mount Katahdin they thought the home of Pamola, an evil spirit very great and very strong indeed. His head and face were said to be like a man's, his body and feet like an eagle's, and he could take up a moose with one of his claws. Pamola did not like snowtime, so the tradition ran, and at the beginning of winter he rose with a great noise, and took his flight to some unknown warmer region.

The story is told of seven Indians who, a great many moons ago, too boldly went up the mountain, and were certainly killed by the mighty Pamola, for they were never heard of more. The tradition handed down from earliest times was that an Indian never goes up to the summit of Katahdin and lives to return. Passaconaway had banished the evil spirit from Agamenticus, but the Indians themselves were soon driven away by the new settlement.

Gorges's long-thwarted ambition demanded a great and striking success for his colony. He was not willing to build a little hamlet and see it gradually expand into a village and then a town, after the humble fashion that prevailed in Maine. Instead, he inaugurated a city with pomp and ceremony,—an old-world city, whose mayor and all civil officers wore gorgeous uniforms and the insignia of their rank. The mayor was called upon to hold semiannual fairs, on the feasts of St. Peter and St. James, and to make arrangements that they should be held perpetually.

[NOTE: None of this makes sense since the Puritans were anti-Catholic and opposed to the "papist" worship of saints by the Anglican Church that they saw as too similar to practices of Roman Caholics.]

It was evidently intended to form by ceremonial and festival an attractive contrast to the plainness and austerity of the Puritan settlements in other parts of Maine.

The poet of Sir Ferdinando's city has perhaps exaggerated a little. He writes:

[NOTE: Again the author Swett is taking a fictional poem by a white author as if it contained historical fact.]

" For hither came a knightly train

From o'er the sea with gorgeous court;

The mayors, gowned in robes of state,
Held brilliant tourney on the plain,
And massive ships, within the port,
Discharged their load of richest freight.

Then when at night, the sun gone down

Behind the western hill and tree,
The bowls were filled, this toast they crown:

' Long live the city by the sea !'"

But the city was not destined to live long. Massachusetts assumed control of Maine by virtue of her charter from the English king, and after some resistance the inhabitants allowed a large part of the territory to be annexed to Massachusetts. Sir Ferdinando Gorges died, and his nephew, Thomas Gorges, who had been deputy governor of the province of Maine, and was then living in state at Gorgeana, had gone on a visit to England to secure influence to settle the disturbed condition of affairs in Maine.

In his absence the city was sacrificed to the ambition of the Massachusetts Bay Company. It was sold out to a company, and when Gorges returned he found even his residence despoiled, nothing remaining but an old pot, a pair of tongs, and a couple of andirons.

The " civic splendor" had all departed, but it remained a town, and in 1652 it was ordered at a town meeting that " William Hilton have use of ferry for twenty-one years, to carry strangers over for twopence and for swimming over horses or other beasts, fourpence, or for one swum over by strangers therewith, he or his servants being ready to attend."

The overland route from Maine to Massachusetts was close by the ocean, and the ferry in constant demand. The Indians in that region, whether through the influence of Passaconaway or through the friendliness of the settlers, seem to have been less hostile than in the adjoining towns; for, on their journeys, they frequently patronized the ferry, their way of announcing themselves as passengers being by a blood-curdling war whoop at Mr. Hilton's gate.

Even in the darkness of the evening, Mrs. Hilton would answer the signal, and herself ferry the savages across. A squaw who had been indulging in fire water, one day, became enraged at Mrs. Hilton's refusal to ferry her over, and threw a knife so that it cut off the " thumb cap " of the door latch. But she returned the next day, deeply penitent, and with promises of future good behavior.

CONTINUE "STORIES OF MAINE"

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