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Oyster River Raid - Aftermath and Conclusion
Villieu, the man who complained that he was dying of hunger on the eve of the Oyster River raid, did not accompany the war-party sent inst Groton.
Nor did he return to Fort Nashwaak. Upon questioning the captives taken Oyster River, Villieu learned of a projected attackk on Quebec. Using this as a pretext to report directly to Frontenac, Villieu bypassed Villebon and proceeded straight to Quebec. He arrived there on August 22 to find that Frontenac in Montreal. Without delay, Villieu left Quebec arriving at Montreal four days later.
Villieu told Frontenac his version of the raid, which was later to form the basis of his official report.
The Abenaki were greatly insulted by Villieu's behavior. As was their custom, they dispatchedseveral messengers to Frontenac to "give utterance to the death cries of the enemy."
Although left about the same time, Villieu quickly out distanced the messengers in his drive to reach Frontenac first. This was a major insult to the kaki, particularly the Kennebecs, who rightfully felt that the honor belonged to them.
When Frontenac questioned the Abenaki about Villieu's conduct while with the war-party, replied "that although they had been together in the enemy's country, they had never been united in action."
From the beginning, the
Abenaki had a plan of action, a plan that Villieu did not agree with. Most likely, the numerous councils to which Villieu refers were his attempts at promoting a target of his choosing. Villieu may have favored an attack on Pemaquid, accounting for his scouting mission to that post. When the Indians failed to adopt his plan, Villieu reported that nothing had been decided. Eventually, Villieu gave up and the Indians' plan prevailed.
Despite the attack not being executed to perfection, the raid was considered a great success. In August, Villebon confided in his journal that "the blow struck was important, because it will put an end to the negotiations which have been going on, and leave no chance for their renewal."
The loss of Abenaki allegiance reflected by the Treaty of Pemaquid had placed the French in a very dire military position. The French knew that a successful attack was the best way to maintain their fragile alliance with the Abenaki. The success of the attack on Oyster River accomplished this very important strategic objective. Herman contradicted his own conclusion in this regard, "But looking at the events as the French did from their vantage point, the operation at Oyster River was a success."
For the Abenaki, the events surrounding the Oyster River Massacre brought a political crisis. The signing of the Treaty of Pemaquid had threatened traditional tribal methods of reaching consensus.
In signing the treaty, the thirteen sagamores, whether knowingly or not, appeared to speak for all of the Eastern Indians. This insulted the chiefs who had not signed the treaty, and in some cases provoked considerable ire. A successful raid was necessary in order to protect their sovereignty. Madockawando's self-interest, in his sale of tribal land, seriously undermined the prestige of the older sachems, particularly those among the Penobscot.
This allowed the younger chiefs among the Kennebecs, like Bomazeen, to come to power. Their plan, discussed in April at Pentagoet, was carried out at Oyster River in July.
For the English, the attack on Oyster River was devastating. Several letters written after the attack attest to the turmoil it created. Militia Captain Thomas Packer wrote from Portsmouth on the day of the attack: "Just now arrived a post from Oyster River. The Indians have destroyed the place killed & burned all they could. Nere
[a one]have Escaped and are too badly wounded doe not know but they be all over our frontiers."
New Hampshire Lieutenant Governor John Usher wrote to Governor Phips: "we fear Severall other . . . Towns in the province are besett."
Writing directly of Oyster River, Usher reported, "judge the whole place is cutt off."
In Massachusetts, a delegation on its way to New York for a council with the Iroquois was called back. William Stoughton, of the Massachusetts Council, advised Governor Fletcher of New York: "the present circumstances of this Province by the fresh breaking out of the Indians . . . are such as cannot admit of any souldiers to be sent from home, the Province of New Hampshire lying at this time bleeding."
Nowhere was the turmoil greater than at Oyster River. The pre-dawn attack caught the settlers of the plantation unprepared. Just two days earlier, Captain John Woodman had assembled the people of the settlement, notifying them of the Treaty of Pemaquid.
As a result, the people had returned to their homes and disbanded the night watch. By the time the attackers withdrew, forty-five people lay dead with another forty-nine taken captive.
Half of the dwellings lay in charred ruins. The attackers butchered most of the livestock and burned many crops. Many of the wounded were evacuated to Portsmouth. Several of the survivors removed to Massachusetts.
In 1982, historian Neal Salisbury wrote of Parkman's works: "aside from a romantic style which some readers still - a century later - find entertaining, their chief value is in orienting the beginner chronologically and geographically. As a colonial history and, particularly, as Indian ethnohistory, they are unreliable."
Parkman lived during the time before modern Indian ethnohistory came into being. As a result, he fell prey to the common prejudice of the era and could not see the Indians as equals. Parkman wrote about the Oyster River Massacre as part of a much larger work. Consequently, he consulted a narrow range of sources, relying on the report of the inept Villieu. In doing so, Parkman may have discounted evidence that proved compatible with Villieu's story. The action Villieu following the attack on Oyster River were not those of a man dying of hunger. Nor, were the younger warriors and chiefs dissuaded from following through with their original plan by Villieu's hunger plea.
Indian ethnohistory had yet to become popular when Herman was writing his thesis in 1960s. Although Herman had access to a much larger range of sources, he and Parkman labored under similar limitations. Herman also failed see that the Abenaki operated on their own initiative. He overlooked the connection between Mather's statement concerning the attack be talked of in Quebec two months before it happened and the council held at Pentagoet in April. This attack was clearly not, "initiated on the spur of the moment."
Herman did not recognized Hector's deposition as confirmation of the Abenaki attack plan. Even when consulting writings of Mather, Villebon, Thury, and Hector, Herman continually deferred to Parkman and Villieu. He relied on Villieu's story without taking the record concerning his character into account. Villieu did not lead the war-party, although he wanted Frontenac to think so. Even today historians often point to Parkman as the definitive authority of the colonial time period. Herman may have been reluctant to reach a conclusion that ran contrary to Parkman's opinion.
The people of Oyster River Plantation were not sacrificed on the altar of fate. Their deaths reflected the accomplishment of a very real strategic objective. When the Abenaki are accepted as a sovereign people, a more accurate picture the Oyster River Massacre emerges. The Abenaki went to war in order to protect their land and their way of life. The signing of the Treaty of Pemaquid, by a small group of disaffected chiefs, demanded action from both the French and Native Americans. The attack on Oyster River was the successful culmination of their joint action. By carefully analyzing the primary sources, within the framework established by modern Indian ethnohistory, we gain a fuller understanding of the Oyster River Massacre. The true story is no less compelling than the legend.