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Oyster River Raid - Treaty of Pemaquid
The reverses of 1692 and 1693 eroded the Abenaki willingness to continue the war. During the summer of 1693, a group of ten to thirteen chiefs, led by Madockawando, began to explore the possibility of peace. The humiliating failures at Wells and Pemaquid exposed the ineffectiveness of the French military alliance.
The Abenaki "found themselves deceived
[in the]expectation of receiving assistance from the French."
The cost of the war and lack of French support crippled the Abenaki economy. Continual war-parties interrupted traditional patterns of food gathering and fur production.
Late in July, Madockawando and his peace envoy approached the commander at Fort William Henry. Lamenting "the distress they have been reduced unto," they expressed "their desires to be at peace with the English."
The chiefs sought to reopen their trade with the English, Boston being their nearest and best market. The English traded at rates that were much more advantageous than the French would agree to. The chiefs hoped that with improved relations they would be able to recover kinsmen captured by the English since the outbreak of King William's War. The two parties entered into council and by August 11 th, reached an agreement. As proof of their fidelity, the sagamores gave four of their number into Governor Phips' custody to be held as hostages.
The Treaty of Pemaquid was an incredibly one-sided document, reflecting English pretensions of innocence. The English either ignored or failed to see how their own actions contributed to the opening hostilities at Saco in 1687 and 1688. The treaty made the Abenaki the sole aggressors stating, "whereas a bloody war has for some years now past been made and carried on by the Indians."
The English wrongly attributed the war to the "instigation and influences of the French."
The English assumed that the thirteen signers of the treaty represented all the Indians "from the Merrimack River unto the most easterly bounds of said Province
[Maine which was then part of Massachusetts]."
This belief reflected a dangerous lack of understanding of Indian politics and social structure. While each tribe had a principal chief, there were several minor chiefs at the head of each village group. Abenaki politics relied on the "vagaries of social consensus."
Those chiefs who had not signed the treaty would not necessarily feel themselves bound by it. Not understanding this subtlety, the English assumed that the Indian peace envoy's promises to "forbear all acts of hostility" and to "abandon the French interest" applied to all the Indians.
The treaty imposed humiliating conditions on the Indians, who conceded perhaps more than they realized. The very trade they were so desirous of now came under the strict control of the Governor and General Assembly of Massachusetts. They gave up their very freedom, "herby submitting ourselves to be ruled and governed by their Majesties' laws."
In doing so, their only recourse in the event of a dispute lay in the English courts, which allowed the Indians no representation. In all likelihood, the Abenaki resented the treaty's terms. Even the notoriously pro-French historian Charlevoix concluded that "these Indians often beheld themselves abandoned by the French, who counted a little too much on their attachment, and the influence of those who had gained their confidence."
Yet the Abenaki could not bear the cost of the war alone.
For the English, the Treaty of Pemaquid was a master stroke. Many of the frontier settlements lay in ruins. Settlers confined to garrisons could not harvest crops. Food shortages were common. Commerce and trade were at a standstill. But now, with the Eastern Tribes under control, New England was free to muster her forces for a second attempt on Quebec.
Flushed with success, Phips sent runners to the frontier settlements to proclaim the peace. To a war-weary region this was welcome news indeed. As fall gave way to winter, and no new outbreaks occurred, the settlers began to leave the garrisons, returning to their homes. Word of the treaty reached Oyster River a year later on July 16, 1694, a mere two days before the attack on the morning of the 18th.
News of the treaty stunned the French command. From his base of operations at Fort Nashwaak
on the St. John's River, Villebon understood full well the implications of this treaty. Except for a few regulars and Canadian militia, the Abenaki warriors constituted his entire military force. Their neutrality, or worse yet, their allegiance to the English, put all of Acadia in a very vulnerable position. Villebon moved immediately to counter the effects of the treaty. On September 6, 1693, he dispatched Manidoubtik, a St. John's chief, to see the Penobscot chief, Taxous, on his behalf. Madockawando's chief rival, Taxous refused to take part in the peace talks and opposed any accommodation with the English. Manidoubtik was to implore Taxous to raise a faction to end the peace pact.
On September 11, Father Louis-Pierre Thury, Jesuit missionary and the orchestrator of a 1692 raid on York (Maine), arrived at Fort Nashwaak. In this man of God, the English encountered their most dangerous enemy. Thury had established himself at Pentagoet in 1687 at the invitation of St. Castin. Thury regarded the English as heretics and accompanied the Indians on many of their raids. He had lately been at Quebec, but left for the fort at St. John's as soon as news of the treaty became known. Thury reported to Villebon and the two agreed on a plan of action. Two days later, Thury departed for Pentagoet with the intention of fostering disapproval of Madockawando's treaty.
A few days after Thury's departure, Villebon received a welcome guest. Madockawando's son arrived from Quebec on his way back from France where he had been a guest at the court of King Louis XIV Villebon wrote of the meeting, "I made known to him his father's behaviour, and said that, having been made so welcome in France, it was his duty to induce his father to change his mind and that as soon as he arrived at his village, he should gather together a force of his own."
This the son promised to do, but concern for his hostage kinsmen would override his word.
News of the treaty came as a blow to Governor Frontenac. His entire eastern flank had evaporated. He had concentrated his efforts against the Iroquois in the west, relying on the Abenaki to hold Acadia. Without their presence on the frontier, Quebec was vulnerable to invasion from New England. Frontenac knew that it was the Abenaki raids that prevented Massachusetts from organizing a second major assault on Quebec. With no Indians to contend with, Acadia was likely to fall, paving the way for a thrust at Quebec.
Frontenac knew that the only way to regain his lost allies was to strengthen French influence in Acadia. He also knew that the best way to accomplish this was to strike a decisive blow against a good-sized target in the heart of the English frontier settlements. The raid needed to be well planned, well led, and sure of success. Frontenac set his plan in motion in October of 1693. On orders from the King, he removed Rene Robineau de Portneuf, Villebon's brother and leader of the failed attack on Wells in 1692, on charges of illegal fur trading and debauchery. In his place, Frontenac installed the Sieur de Villieu, giving him orders to raise a war-party and attack the English settlements.
Sebastien de Villieu was a career soldier, having entered the French army in 1648 at the age of fifteen. Villieu fought well against the Iroquois in 1666 and was granted a tract of land on the St. Lawrence River. Despite having done little to develop his grant, Villieu sought loftier appoint
ments. In 1690, he had command of a company of volunteers and acquitted himself favorably during Phips' siege of Quebec. However, Villieu possessed little real experience in dealing with the problems of a frontier command. He was used to the harsh discipline and regimentation of the regular army. Except for the 1666 campaign, Villieu had spent little time away from the European settlements. At the age of sixty, he was com pletely unprepared for the undisciplined rigors of frontier life.
Then again, Villieu was something of an opportunist. Once out of Frontenac's sight, Villieu sought to better his position in life. Neglecting his duties to Fort Nashwaak, he began a profitable business at the expense of the soldiers he was supposed to be commanding. He began appropriating supplies intended for his men to use in illegal trade with the Indians.
Frontenac later commended Villieu for his efforts; at the same time, however, he summoned him to answer charges related to this trading.
Desiring nothing less than the governorship of Acadia,
Villieu took advantage of every opportunity to discredit his commanding officer, Villebon. Villieu detested having to answer to a man twenty-two years his junior. He acted with insubordination and disregard for Villebon's authority. It was clear upon Villieu's arrival at Fort Nashwaak in November 1693 that he had no intention of carrying out his orders with regard to the treaty.
Villieu's arrival on the fifteenth coincided with the loss of a shipment of provisions intended for Villebon's winter use.
This contributed to the overall supply shortage, rendering many of the troops at the fort unfit for duty. This shortage of supplies remained a source of contention between the two men.
Villebon, for his part, did little to ease tensions. Angered over his brother's dismissal, he was largely unimpressed with his new captain's credentials. With regard to illegal fur trading, Villebon was as guilty as Villieu. Several complaints filed with the Colonial Minister accused Villebon of using his position as governor in order to monopolize the Acadian fur trade.
Villieu's activities were a threat to this monopoly, contributing to the continual friction between the two men. However, the real threat to Villebon's fur empire came from the treaty itself. In this instance, Villebon's and France's interests were one and the same.
As Villieu settled into his new quarters, two Indians arrived bearing a message from Madockawando's rival, Taxous, who was livid over the signing of the treaty. He accepted Villebon's invitation to a meeting at Nashwaak, adding that he was already making preparations for a war-party of considerable size. However, with winter fast approaching, the Indians had already gone to their favorite hunting grounds. Any war-party would have to wait until spring.
There was nothing left to do except pass an anxious winter.