Exploring & Sharing the Wabanaki History of Interior New England
A Maine Nonprofit Corporation - 501(c)3 Public Charity
Created December 1997
One summer afternoon, almost two hundred years ago - for everybody dated their letters 1690 - a ship entered Maquoit Bay and, shortly afterwards, a party of men armed with pikes and match-locks, went ashore at Bunganoc Landing. I don't know if they called it by this name, but never mind, they landed there all the same. They were stern, handy-looking mean and besides their pikes and match-locks they carried, girt around them with broad belt, a stout sword and a dozen tin cartridge-boxes. They looked rather corpulent, too but this was owing largely to their coats. The day was cool, and they wore coats thickly wadded with cotton-wool. These were much lighter than the iron breast-plates, and had been found equally servicable in turning aside Indian arrows.
The commander of the expedition - for it was an expedition, sent out by Massachusetts to aid the people of Maine, in keeping back the Indians - was Major Benjamin Church. This was not the first time, by any means, the Major Church had been sent out against the Indians; in fact, Indian fighting was old business to him. He had won his Major's commission in King Phillip's war, and only the year before had been fighting red men in and around Casco Bay. I will tell you something about it. The Indians had been ranging victoriously over Maine, using the torch and scalping knife in what they considered quite first-class style, when suddenly, Church appeared among them. They didn't fancy his mode of warfare, and soon, completely routed, they were glad to retreat to their headquarters further east, and back in the interior. Major Church followed their retreat as far east as the Kennebec, then, winter coming on, and everything appearing quiet, he left sixty of the soldiers to garrison Fort Loyalnote - at Falmouth (modern day Portland), and returned to Massachusetts. All winter there had been no disturbance. The settlers were unmolested. The garrison had nothing to do except turn out for daily drill, eat its rations, and toast its shins before the blazing wood-fire. Winter passed. Spring brought back the leaves; the birds began to sing in the woods.
One day two wood-choppers sat down on a tree they had just felled, to listen. Suddenly, a sharp whitting sound broke in upon the notes of the bird. One of the men leaped in the air and fell; the other, pursued by a shower of swift arrows, fled toward the garrison. The Indians had come again. It took some time to send a message from Maine to Massachusetts in those early days; but when at last the Massachusetts people found out what fearful work the redman was making down in Maine, they sent out Major Church and his men again. And this is how they happened to be landing at Bunganoe that summer afternoon of 1690. Everything was calm and still. Off at the right lay Harpswell, thickly wooded, little dreaming of the summer colony awaiting it, away in the future. Indian warriors lurked amid its dark trees, and its water would have proved rather an unsafe bathing place, I fancy. "Let us scour the woods a little," said the Major to one of his officers, Lieutenant Harris, "and if we find no Indians, it were best to push on and camp to-night by Pejepscot Falls. Per chance they may have heard of our coming, and have retired to their forts on the Androscoggin."
Several hours later, unsuccesful in their search for the foe, Major Church and his men arrived at Pejepscot Falls, now Brunswick. The sun was just sinking and the men began to make preparations for passing the night. Camp-fires were lighted, the rations distributed, watches set, an earnest prayer sent up to the God of Battles, and then, lying down upon the ground, tired men were soon asleep. Quite likely they dreamed of painted savages; but no war-whoop disturbed their slumbers. The moon looked calmly down upon them, the stars and the sentinels kept guard, and soon it was morning, and all was astir again. The morning prayers were said for these sturdy men were accustomed to begin and end the day by prayer, the morning rations hastily dispatched, and they were again on their march. "Let every man keep his eyes open and his musket ready," was the command of the leader; "the red man, as you well know, is a wily foe, who will not meet his enemy in open fight; but, lurking behind some tree, watches his opportunity to pick off the incautious." The men moved slowly on their march, impeded by thick underbrush, until after some hours they arrived at a wind in the stream, now known as "South West Bend." Here one of the soldiers, John Winslow, suddenly stopped and said in a whisper to his comrade: "See'st thou not those twigs bent down? Some one has passed this way." "It were best to call the attention of our leader to the fact" replied the soldier addressed. The major stopped and carefully examined the trail. "It is no Indian trail," he said after a few minutes. "Who knows if some of the settlers, driven from their homes, or perchance some soldier from the dismantled fort, be not hiding here? Let us look - the trail goes up the river - we will follow it." Continuing their march, they came by and by, to a little stream, now known as Horse Brook. Here, thrown upon the ground, they found a young man in the last stages of exhaustion, while another young man, himself worn and apparently half starved, was watching beside him.
"It is Christopher White! They are men from the fort," called out the foremost man, and then the whole band rushed towards them with cries of joy. At the sight of help the watcher burst into tears, and moving forward, threw his arms about the neck of the stalwart major, calling out like one wild. His companion raised himself upon his feet and essayed to walk, but fell fainting to the ground again. The soldiers quickly brought him back to consciousness, wine was given him, and soon both the poor fugitives, refreshed and fed, were able to explain how it was they came to be wandering in the woods. They were from Fort Loyal. The first of June the Indians had committed great depredations among the cattle of the settlers of Falmouth. On this account a force of one hundred militia from the western towns and a part of the garrison of the fort were sent out against them. This of course, left the fort with only a weak defense. "It was several days after their departure," said one of the men, "and having seen nothing of Indians, I proposed that a party go out and explore Munjoy Hill, to see if, by chance, any of the foe were lurking in the vicinity. We were weary of remaining inactive in the fort and against the counsel of the older men, thirty of the young men of the garrison set forth for the hills. We had commenced the ascent and about a half mile from the fort, had arrived at the narrow lane leading to the house of Goodman Merry.
'I be minded to enter the lane,' said Miles Flynt.
'Perhaps out of love for Mistress Patience,' I rejoined, for well I knew he had climbed the hill leading to the house on the edge of the wood, full oft, before the troublesome Indian times had forced Goodman Merry to send his pretty daughter to Boston.
'What say you, shall we give our brother a peep at the deserted nest of the bird he hopes to call his own, if the red man spares his scalp?
'The path will take us to the summit nearly as soon as if we keep straight on,' said one of the men. It was hard hearted to refuse, and I also be minded to see the brown house, and the barn where we had the great husking last autumn.'
'With this we turned into the lane. Scarcely had we proceded a dozen paces, when we observed the cattle who were grazing on the hill, to be regarding the fence in a strange manner. Suspecting that Indians might be concealed behind it, we drew our muskets and rushed forward with a loud 'Huzza!' Instantly a terrific fire was poured upon us, and fourteen of our number fell to the ground, and the lover of fair Patience was one of them. The rest fled, and how many escaped I know not, for when, several days after, my companion and myself reached the fort, we found it abandoned. That the Indians had barborously treated their prisoners, everything bore witness. They had scalped their victims, leaving them unburied, and among the dead we found women and children. In the darkness of night we hastily dug a trench, in which we covered the bodies of our friends, and then we fled to the woods. Here we have lived for five weeks. Thanks be to God who hath sent you to our succor."
"Truely, our brother discourses of wonderful things," said Major Church, "and it is indeed meet that we return thanks to Him who sent the ravens of Elijah in the wilderness."
The prayers were soon said, for not a few of the men had relatives or friends among the victims of the fort, and were anxious to avenge their deaths. A small detachment was left to guard the two men, who, weak with fatigue and fever, would have greatly hindered the march, and the rest pushed on. In the afternoon, they came to a high place from whence they could see the falls of Amitgonpontook - now Lewiston Falls - at their right. At their left, and some distance from them, for they were marching the bank of the Androscoggin, were the waters of the Little Androscoggin, beyond which, they believed the Indians to be - for they knew they had a fort in this vicinity.
"Proceed carefully, my men," commanded Major Church, "the savages may be lurking near and I would surprise them." Hardly had he uttered the words, than, from the thicket before him, a dusky form emerged and fled, swiftly as a deer, toward the fort.
"We must act with all possible speed" shouted the Major. "Lientenant Harris, remain here with the baggage, and the rest of us will run to the fort."
They waded the Little Androscoggin and ran with all their might, but the Indian knew the ground better than they, and arrived at the fort before them. As they burst in the south gate, the Indians rushed out by the north.
"After them, my brave men," shouted the Major, and down the hill, over what is now Main, High, and Pleasant streets, fled the dusky savages with the Englishmen in hot pursuit.
They held their course toward the Great Androscoggin, but Church's men had cut them off from their canoes, and many of the Indians were shot in the water while endeavoring to swim across. Only one reached the opposite bank. The spot where they had attempted to cross was just below the falls where, of course, the current would be very swift. After waiting for some time, Major Church supposed the indians either all shot or drowned, and returned to the fort. But no sooner were the Englishmen departed than lo! from rocky caverns behind the seething waters, emerged Indian after Indian, and gaining the bank, concealed themselves in the thick woods until they believed the enemy departed. Then they joined their brethren farther back in the interior, and started forth on their war-path again. Ignorant of all this, Church went back to the fort, where he took some prisoners, among whom were the wives and children of the Sachem of the region, and of Kancamagusnote - Kancamagus aka John Hawkins, was a Pennecook sachem (leader) from the Merrimack River, grandson of Passaconaway. He moved his family to the Androscoggin about 1685, to be better protected from Mohawk raiding parties., a Penacook chieftain.
"Say to your chiefs," said Major Church, as he departed, "that they may find their wives and children at Wells."
The next fall, when these chiefs came to Wells to make a treaty of peace, their wives and children were restored to them. And now the dusts of over a century and a half, sleep above the dead chieftians, and, although our pride is none the less in the brave men who fought to defend their homes from the torch and the scalping knife, still we have learned to judge the Indian lass harshly.
We can see some truth in his words when he says: "You returned us evil for good. You put the burning cup to our lips: it filled our veins with poison. Why should we flee before our destroyers? It is our country, where we and our fathers were born, we cannot leave it."
When we go to West Pitch some pleasant afternoon, and look down on the boiling waters, quite likely some of us may be foolish enough to not feel so very sorry after all, as we think of the Indians hiding between the white, mad waters and the steep rocks, and getting out safe at last. Or, if we should pick up our Harper some day and read of the schools at Hampton, VA., and Carlisle, Penn., where indian boys and girls are being educated, and becoming quite like other people, possibly we'll be just a bit glad they are not all killed, and begin to think there's something good in the Indian after all.
Ne-Do-Ba Comment - - - See Portland for more information about the May 1690 attack on Falmouth, where the two soldiers were stationed.