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Basket Making Encampment about 1855

Added Aug-2009

Drawing of an Indian encampment at Sharon Springs in 1855. From Harper's Magizine, June 1856, page 13.

In the woods on the top of the hill, above the springs, was a small encampment of St. Francis Indians, who have occupied the spot for several consecutive seasons, make and sell baskets, fans, and other splint-work, and give pleasure to visitors by their novelty and the picturesqueness of their little village. The chief among them was a very intelligent man, of pure Indian blood, whose wife was a white woman, the daughter of a respectable Methodist clergyman. She was represented as an exemplary wife and mother, and seems to have acquired all the gravity and stoicism of the people among whom her lot is cast. Day after day she toils there at basket-making, and appeared happy. Among them, too, was a real beauty of sixteen, whose features Portfolio caught between the leaves of his sketch-book. He thinks she would have charmed even the venerable Hi-a-wat-ha; and he has since apostrophized her in sixty lines of trochaic metre.

Harper's New Monthly Magazine
June 1856
Sulphur Springs of New York
Drawing from page 13
pages 16-17

Contributed by: Jane Barber - August 2009
descendant of Francis Lagrave (Braziel) and Ursule Wasamimet (Lucy Emmett)

Ne-Do-Ba Comment - - - This is such a wonderful drawing. It shows at least 2 types of dwellings (framed house at the left in the distance, what appears to be a canvas wall tent in the middle, and another on the right in the foreground. This last structure is a bit mysterious looking. If you look at the front of it, it appears to be decorated and lettered as if it were a sign or perhaps even a curtain backdrop for entertainments.

Although we have two other descriptions of this Abenaki basket making encampment during this time period (see the Sharon Springs page for the other two), the only specific entertainment mentioned is boys shooting at pennies. However, in the Story of John Johnson, we learn his basket making group often gave entertainments to attract customers and he mentions acquiring "curtains" for their performances. Might this possibly be an example of a simple outdoor stage with the tent serving as the dressing room and backstage area?

In the foreground we see a couple of ash logs waiting to be pounding into splints for the basket weavers. The two people in front of the framed house might be preparing basket materials using a specially designed work-horse or bench for that purpose. The people sitting together between the two tents are most likely weaving baskets.

In 1846, Francis Brazill (aka Francois Lagrave of Odanak) purchased 4 acres of land at Sharon Springs, but this camp may not be on his land. The author of the article visited in 1855 and the State of New York did a census that same year. In the census we find 3 St. Francis families grouped together a little way (in the census) from the Brazill household. It is undoubtedly these families that were captured in this article.

The first family is that of Peter Emmett (Jerome Pierre Wasamimet) and his wife, Catherine Lombard. Catherine was the daughter of Rev. Richard Lombard of Wilson's Mills, Maine. This matches up with the statement made by the author of the article concerning the white woman in the group. Peter & Catherine had 3 children at the time of this article. The second family is that of Peter's younger brother, Lazare (Elijah or Eleazer) & his wife, Therese Portneuf and their 4 children. The third family is that of Anthony Marshall, a white man, and his Abenaki wife, Eliza and their 7 children. We have not been able to identify Eliza, but it is very likely she is related in some way to the Wasamimet family. Peter's older sister, Lucy, is married to Francis Brazill and living nearby. The teenage girl who inspired the author may be Anthony Marshall's daughter, Eliza, who is listed as 17 in the census or perhaps Jane (Marie Jeanne), daughter of Francis Brazill. It is also possible other families were here when the writer visited, but not when the census taker visited. Unfortunately, the sketch the writer mentioned of the girl was not included in the article.