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Indian Joe

Created Nov-2007

Indian Joe, Captain Joe, Old Joe: these are all various names attributable to the same person. They sum up the ways folks associated with the man at given times throughout the course of his life. Some researchers give Joe's last name as Susapp (variously spelled), but "Susapp" is merely an Abenaki form of the Christian name "Joseph," and so we should conclude that the man's name was simply, and correctly, Joseph.

Joe was born of Micmac [Mi'kmaq] blood and culture, but that phase of his life ended abruptly when French held Louisburg fell to the British in 1745. Joe, six years of age at the time, found himself orphaned following the battle. Fleeing Abenaki adopted young Joe and took him to refuge at St. Francis. Joe remained at St. Francis until the time of Maj. Robert Rogers's devastating raid on the village in 1759 but escaped the fray himself since he was among the forces of Col. Jacob Bayley serving as a scout. Not long after Bayley captured Montreal in the following year he settled in Newbury. Joe soon retreated to the general vicinity as well. Molly, his wife, and his friend John Vincent also relocated to Cowass country at about the same time, and Joe's primary association thereafter would be with the Cowass region.

An assortment of former St. Francis residents accordingly gathered at Cowass village, complementing a smaller, not to mention somewhat sporadic settlement which the location had formerly hosted. Cowass in Abenaki is "Coo-ash-auke," meaning "place of pine trees," and was a general name these people gave to the upper Connecticut River Valley and Lakes region. In the specific case of the settlement itself, however, the term came to designate an area along the oxbow in the river between Newbury, VT, and Haverhill, NH, comprising the western side of the river (in Newbury) about the Big Cow Meadow and the eastern (Haverhill) side along the Little Cow Meadow, so-called. The population of Cowass varied such that at certain times many would be found there while at other times few, but a steady presence was the norm up to and throughout the American Revolution. Cowass served as a refuge for some and a staging area for hunting parties for others. The first white settlers to reach the area found the land already cleared, and Indian populations grew corn and various other crops on the fertile intervals at various times. Joe and Molly, however, never became intimately associated with Cowass; instead, they chose to camp apart in nearby forest and lake domains. Present day Newbury, Ryegate, Barnet, Peacham, Danville, Cabot, and Marshfield defined a common terrain for them, and they seem to have moved rather randomly and not particularly seasonally about the area.

White settlers to the region often had differences with the local Indians, especially so since the St. Francis regularly conducted raids into the area throughout the Seven Years' War. As one tradition relates, on the occasion of one of these raids young St. Francis warrior "Joe Injun," as he then called himself, was seriously injured and left behind on the Cabot Plains by his raiding partners. Local settlers found him and, laying aside any predispositions and considering him not too dangerous in that state, chose to treat him and provide him with winter refuge. Not only was Joe grateful, but he was also impressed by their kindness and their ways. On departing for a return to St. Francis in the spring Joe promised to warn his newfound friends of future raids. Subsequently, he and Molly developed a system whereby they would detect incoming St. Francis and warn the white settlers of raiding parties approaching. However, when the St. Francis community eventually discovered his design, Joe was forced to quickly flee for his life, with Molly soon following. For his part, Joe had held the British ultimately accountable for the raiding since the St. Francis were, in that era, under their sway. It was this sentiment, reinforced by his longstanding aversion to the British following his Louisburg experience, which served to cement Joe's strong support and patriotism for the American cause.

Soon after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, Joe volunteered himself for scouting duties under Jacob Bayley, by then a general in the colonial forces. Joe served several terms under Bayley, and he served under the command of Col. Moses Hazen as well. Joe had extensive knowledge of the terrain between Cowass and St. Francis and proved himself an extremely valuable and trustworthy guide to colonial forces operating in the region. He may have also been a guide and advisor in the construction of the Bayley-Hazen Military Road. Though this road which was intended to link Newbury to Canada never reached completion, it served to substantiate American presence in the region. Joe and Molly never had a reputation for being heavy drinkers but Joe reportedly did like his rum, and so throughout the war, as was common practice in issues of Native American compensation, he accepted pay for his services in the form of rum and blankets.

Joe may also have been involved with Bayley's forces which engaged British Gen. John Burgoyne and his forces first in Canada and later at Saratoga in 1777. One intriguing tradition relates that, presumably while on this mission, Joe chanced to meet George Washington at the general's headquarters in Newburgh, NY. Later in the war Joe may very likely have been one of two Native Americans identified simply as "Joseph" whose names appear on a muster roll of April 30, 1781, for their service of one year under Capt. John Vincent as part of Vincent's Company of Indian Rangers. This makes sense since Joe and John were longtime friends, yet from another point of view it is questionable whether Joe ever ventured into Canada with either Bayley or the Rangers at all. A tradition standing in opposition maintains that Joe refused to even set foot on what he considered Canadian lands, owing to his loathe of the British presence there - but, if so, also likely relating to the fact that he had drawn St. Francis ire by his and Molly's forewarnings of their raids during the previous war. A supporting account tells of an incident of St. Francis Indians' kidnapping of Molly in an attempt to draw Joe into their lands to retrieve her. Joe instead waited at his camp where he considered himself safe, and, his trust in Molly's wits proving reliable, she eventually escaped and rejoined him. In another colorful tale attributed to Joe and perhaps a handed down one that he once liked telling himself, one time when he was tracking a moose the animal ventured into lands Joe considered Canadian. Joe told the moose to go on his way, he didn't want him that badly. In consideration of fact versus fancy, the truth may be that Joe ventured into Canada within the safety of numbers in time of warfare, especially since that meant avenging the British, but thought best to stay away when alone at other times.

Following the end of the war Joe and Molly resumed their wanderings throughout the lands of northeastern Vermont, camping and hunting in their familiar haunts. Both by now were well known to local settlers. With the white folk, Joe shared hunting skills readily and game occasionally, especially in hard times. Molly won respect for her knowledge of herbal remedies as well as her cooking. She shared recipes, provided child caring duties, and showed settlers how to make clothes and shoes from hides. Although they never themselves settled at Cowass, they did send their children to live there because they felt a need to have them in closer association with a native community for their upbringing.

By 1792 Joe and Molly had been living in Hyde Park for several years in proximity to others of native blood who had gathered there and lived among white settlers of the area. Curiously, Joe never received a government pension for his services during the war. His time spent in scouting would not have counted for pension purposes since that did not comprise enlistment, but seemingly the year spent in John Vincent's Rangers would have qualified him for one. Nonetheless, in 1792, the State of Vermont passed an act which served to provide Joe and Molly support in the form of a grant of 3£ a year under the auspices of a local patron. In 1798 Joe and Molly were living in Derby and continued to receive grants under another local patron totaling as much as $86 in one year, but in 1801 the 1792 act was repealed and a new one passed this time awarding Joe alone an annual grant of $30. Since Molly was not named in the grant, she may have died at Derby prior to November 1801. Joe thus continued to live on alone, eventually returning to the Newbury area where in 1809 under a new, local patron and being described as "aged and infirm" he was awarded a maximum annual grant of $70. If Joe had ventured back to Newbury in hope of finding old and familiar fiends or colleagues about Cowass, his hope was unfulfilled. Few of native blood lingered there, although the Bayley family and others of the earlier era still resided there.

In this era Indian Joe was known among the white folks affectionately as "Old Joe," although during the time of the Revolution and some time thereafter he had been to many "Captain Joe" - not a true military title but an honorary designation and one commonly either given to or assumed by Native Americans who led parties as guides or performed as scouts in the colonial forces. In the later years of his life Joe wandered about mainly in solitary and lived nearby the white folks of Newbury and surrounding towns. As he had once done earlier in his life with Molly, he may also have occasionally occupied caves which can be found in upland areas of the region. One in Ryegate and another in Newbury are remembered for him to this day.

By 1819 Joe had grown quite feeble, yet he insisted on carrying on his hunting and his independent lifestyle. One such venture in February proved too severe for him. In the bitter cold of the night Joe's hands and feet froze and despite the efforts of local folk who sought him out and attempted to revive him, Joe died a few days later on the nineteenth. Since it was the middle of the winter, Joe may have been buried temporarily on the grounds of a local farm but in the spring moved to the grounds of the Oxbow Cemetery in Newbury. Frye Bayley paid for the expenses of his coffin, the plot, the digging of the grave, and other funeral expenses. The burial took place in what was at the time the southeast corner of the cemetery. In attendance were a large number of local citizens, including some of prominence, from Newbury and Haverhill and the surrounding Cowass region. Joe was given a military style funeral, punctuated by the firing of his rifle.

Joe's Gravesite - Photo by Carlea Johnson ©2007
Photo by Carlea Johnson ©2007

By 1886, however, Joe's gravesite had become indistinct, and local citizens pledged funds for the erection of a stone to mark Joe's grave. This deed nonetheless never came to pass since a request for matching funds from the state was defeated in legislature. In 1935, just before the observance of Memorial Day services, a stone to commemorate Indian Joe was finally erected. Visitors to the cemetery can today honor, affirm, and consecrate Joe and his memory. He lies not far from the grave of his old friend and supporter Jacob Bayley as well as nearby many others with whom he once shared the patriotic cause.

Joe and Molly are remembered in other locales of the region too. Joe's Pond which straddles present day Danville and Cabot is named for him, and Joe's Brook runs out of the pond first through Danville and Peacham and then into Barnet where it enters the Passumpsic River, with whose waters it eventually reaches the Connecticut; Molly's Pond is nearby in Cabot. And so it is that the legacy of Indian Joe, and his wife Molly, lives on today in the region in a former time collectively known as the Cowass, one where they once lived respectably and in peace with their neighbors.

Written and Contributed by: Arthur Johnson © November 2007

Sources:
1. Johnson Family of Newbury [VT] Papers, 1775-1886, Docs. 574.76.1 & 575.33, MSA 426.28, Vermont Historical Society.
2. Local oral traditions, collected 2007.
William Parker Neal, Indian Joe Trilogy: Indian Joe The Friendly Indian Guide, Indian Joe The Famous Abenaki, Molly - Squaw of Indian Joe. [Danville, VT: United Methodist Church & the author, 1976-?].
4. Frederic P. Wells, History of Newbury, Vermont ... St. Johnsbury, VT: Caledonian, 1902.