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Agamenticus and Passaconaway

 

 

Festival in legendary Georgiana, later York, Maine

The story of York has seemed worth the telling, not only because it was the first city of Maine, but because it was one of the towns which through all the wars bore the brunt of the Indians' fury, and its survival shows the noble courage and persistence of its settlers. Wells, the adjoining town, was another settlement upon which the Indians' vengeance was especially fierce. The story of a little captive from that town forms one of the most romantic chapters in Miss C. A. Baker's "True Stories of New England Captivities."

[NOTE: Here we get a hint of where the author has gotten her information, and likely also the writing of Samuel Adams Drake, a very popular romantic author of local legends and supernatural tales, that were extremely popular in the late 19th century in New England as middle class tourists began visiting historic sites.]

Little Esther Wheelwright was the granddaughter of the Rev. John Wheelwright, the first minister of Wells. He was a man of high character and great spirituality, but of doctrinal peculiarities which had not found favor with his Puritan brethren in Massachusetts. So in 1643 he removed to Wells, and although he afterwards returned to England, his son, who was also John Wheelwright, remained, shared the fearful struggles with the Indians, and was known until his death as a highly respected citizen.

His daughter, little Esther, was doubtless a typical Puritan girl, dutifully sharing in the household tasks of the bare and primitive living, learning her catechism, and walking to "meeting" in the blockhouse under the protection of her father's gun; and also imbibing a wholesome horror of Indians, and of the papistical French, their allies.

In the blockhouse her sister Hannah had been married, on the 16th of September, 1712, to Elisha Plaisted, a young man of Portsmouth. The Wheelwrights were one of the first families of Wells, and young Plaisted also had good social connections and an extensive acquaintance. There were guests from Portsmouth and Kittery, from York, and even from Falmouth. Some came by water, some in companies on horseback, and all were well armed. For once, privations should be forgotten, terrors thrown to the winds, and the garrison house, stained with blood and hacked by tomahawks though it might be, should be decked for a bridal. But alas! there were unexpected, unwelcome guests.

The Indians had heard of the proposed festivities, had even made themselves acquainted with the ways by which the wedding guests were to come and go.

The ceremony was performed, and there was frolic and feasting. It is quite likely that it lasted well into the small hours; when good times are rare, people are apt to make the most of them. The first of the guests to leave found that two of the horses were missing. Sergeant Tucker, Isaac Cole, and Joshua Downing went out in search of them. While they were, still very near the blockhouse, from behind the trees came the fierce volleys of two hundred savages ambushed in the forest. Joshua Downing and Isaac Cole fell dead, and Sergeant Tucker, seriously wounded, was taken captive.

Out of the blockhouse rushed every man of the company at the sound of the guns. Many of them were military men, and accustomed to Indian warfare, but they did not realize how great was the number of their foes. They sprang upon their horses, and, in small companies, rode off, in different directions, to waylay the Indians and cut off their retreat. But on each path that they took were Indians lying in ambush. Elisha Plaisted, the bridegroom, who was very brave, led seven or eight men, and they rode directly into an ambush.

With" one volley the Indians killed every horse. One man was killed, and young Plaisted was captured and carried away in his wedding garments. In their anxiety to secure Plaisted the Indians allowed the others to escape. His father was a comparatively rich man, and they expected to extort from him a large ransom for his son.

He was finally ransomed by the payment of £300. But when, in a fiercer raid and slaughter, little Esther Wheelwright was taken captive, the Indians disappeared with their prey into the heart of the forest, and there was no possibility of a ransom.

She suffered hardship in the long journey through the winter woods to Canada, but the Indians do not seem to have treated her cruelly. We hear of her next in the Ursuline Convent at Montreal, where the sisters have speedily transformed the granddaughter of the Puritan divine into a novice with white veil and crucifix. She became a devout nun, and although she was at liberty to visit her home, she never cared to do so. She died full of years and sainthood, the mother superior of the Ursuline Convent.

[NOTE: Here again the author has confused Puritan imagery with Catholics, this time French sisters in a nunnery. To Swett, all Christians are heroic and brave while Native Americans are savage and primitive. This chauvinism, one that shows a total misunderstanding of the religious battles between Christian sects during the founding years of America is typical of romantic 19th century attitudes taught to children of the era. White is good, and all other races fearsome, and those intolerant views were embedded in tales disguised as "true" local history, thus perpetuating these myths into the 20th century.]

Little Mary Sereven, who was the daughter of a Baptist minister, was carried away by the Indians at the same time with Esther Wheelwright. She also became a member of a Roman Catholic sisterhood, but of her story little is known.

In spite of the continued Indian depredations, these coast towns gradually increased and prospered. In 1725 York was, next to Falmouth, the most important town in Maine. It was of political consequence, the shire town, and its inhabitants were men whose opinions had weight in the councils of the colony. Perhaps this was, after all, better than the "civic splendor" of Sir Ferdinando's ambition.

There was, indeed, before long, not a little wealth and refinement of living. The last negro slaves held in New England were owned there, and the oldest inhabitant remembers going to the funerals of two of them and seeing them buried at the feet of the master and mistress who had died before them.

[NOTE" Here the author takes the last enslavedment of Africans as a positive – although not accurate – evidence that York was an important and wealthy town. She notes with complete acceptance the practice of burying enslaved servants "at the feet of the master" as if this were further evidence of the status of the white citizens.]

Now the beautiful York coast and harbor and the pretty winding river have attracted swarms of summer visitors. Hotels line the wide beaches, and sounds of revelry by night awaken even the echoes on Passaconaway's lonely mountain. No trace remains of the famous old sagamore and saint, except the grave that is to be seen on Agamenticus, and his name, bestowed upon a fine hotel.

Reprinted courtesy of SeacoastNH.com

 

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