Giants of the Miramichi: Indian Hercules in the Time of the Pioneers

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Giants of the Miramichi: Indian Hercules in the Time of the Pioneers
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GIANTS OF THE MIRAMICHI INDIAN HERCULES IN THE TIME OF THE PIONEERS An Indian Fete Day – The Mic-Macs and the British- The Red Man, Entrapped, Surrenders, Tales of Adventure Among Traders and Settlers. The history of the first English settlements in New Brunswick is prosaic and almost without adventure. It is relieved by none of those exciting incidents which make the history of the corresponding period in the United States so picturesque. Indian atrocities and massacres are happily absent from the story of our province. Yet, while this is in fact to be rejoiced over, we cannot forbear the sentimental regret that our history lacks this element of fiery passion bursting forth into deeds the scenes of which might henceforth have been historical. As it is, our historians can point to no town in which massacre ran riot, as in Schenectady on the memorable 8th of February, 1600; they can record no struggle with hostile tribes such as the Puritans of Massachusetts waged in King Philips war in 1675; nor can they even outline an incursion of scalping parties similar to that which threatened the little Maine village of Deerfield in 1704 and carried into captivity at Quebec that uncompromising but amiable heretic,' the Rev. John Williams. Still there are places in our province where tales of pioneer adventure still linger and where tomahawk and scalping knife, which had done their murderous work of extermination, can yet be dug up. Such scenes of early adventure abound on the Miramichi. There in gossip by the fireside can still be heard tales of Indian adventure, and the man who takes sufficient interest in the subject can there find scenes of Indian ambuscade and massacre. The early French missionaries had much to do with the taming of the native savagery of the Indians. They strove at once to win the tribes to Christ and France. Both religion and patriotism made them the most politic representatives of European civilization that could have been sent to a wild and suspicious people. The secular power seconded their labors, for in them it found its best advance agents. The missionary, under the French regime in Canada, particularly in the parts most exposed to British influence, had both a civil and a religious mission. If he was a messenger of Christ to the barbarian, he was also an accredited ambassador of France, carrying his credentials and instructions from the governor in the same pouch with his priestly faculties from the Bishop of Quebec. The result was beneficial to the Indians. They had none of the grievances to resent with tomahawk and scalping knife embittered the spirit of the Massachusetts tribes against the English colonies. The while man stood well with them, thanks to the enlightened policy of France. Our early English settlers were not therefore at the disadvantage of meeting tribes hostile to the European as such. The Indians were not lacking sagacity also, and like the Iroquois, often strove to enhance their claims to consideration by a politic balancing between the rival white nations. Moreover, the belief was gradually taking possession of the acute Indian mind that their Ancient Father, the King of France, was not exactly holding his own against his enemies of the South. The French stronghold of Louisburg had fallen and the noise of its fall had resounded to the Miramichi. Englishmen of war had appeared off the coast and French trading vessels in the river were in fear of capture. Wolfe had destroyed some French stations on the Gaspe coast and the missionaries could not conceal their mortification from their observant flock. Then followed the death-blow to French dominion in America, the fall of Quebec. The story of its capture soon spread among the tribes and so far as the Miramichi Indians were concerned was supplemented by the appearance of a British frigate, which at once provided to destroy the river forts. It was at this time that the Indian church on the bank of the Miramichi was put to the flames by the British commander in revenge for the ambushing and massacre of a boat’s crew of his men. The place has since then been called Burnt Church. These evidences of British power all conspired to intimidate the Mic Macs of the Miramichi. Outwardly they accepted the new order of things, but at heart their sympathies were still with the French. Thus it happened that they were restrained from all overt hostility to the first English settlers. These latter came first more as traders than settlers and as the English trader had the reputation of paying better prices for peltries than his French competitor, it was to the interest of the Indians not to injure his business. A season of comparative quiet and security thus intervened between the arrival of the first English speaking settlers and the outbreak of the Revolutionary war. These first English traders were bluff, honest Scotchmen for the greater part, and their interests lay in cultivating the good will of the aborigines. These latter carried themselves towards the new comers with a due sense of the fact that settlers and trading-stations were all at their mercy. It was no uncommon occurrence, so the oldest inhabitants of the Miramichi used to say, for a party of Indians to enter a farmyard in the heart of winter when provisions were scarce and slaughter an ox or a cow under the eyes of the owner, who dared not protest. Instances were quoted where the chief of such a band magnanimously sent a choice roast from the butchered animal as a consolation to the real owner. But all were not so generous and the timorous protest of the farmer was met with a flower of anger and a significant swing of the tomahawk. The Indian of the Miramichi, if we are to judge of him from the earliest records that come down to us, was a magnificent specimen of physical humanity. Cartier, Lescarbot and the Jesuit missionaries of the seventeenth century and one of the greats of our North American Indians, belonged to that district, and according to the testimony of Father Biard, was head and shoulders above the Mic-macs of Nova Scotia. In our own day the oldest inhabitants of the Miramichi, whose memory goes back to a generation of Indians now dead, unite in praise of their splendid physique, The Gneishes, the Julians, and other aboriginal families produced men of whom any race might well be proud. One of the sights of an Indian fete-day in Chatham or Newcastle fifty years ago was the band of Indian sachems, each of whom was a Hercules in moccasins. On the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775 agents were despatched by the United Colonies to stir up the Indians of Acadia against the English government, and , if possible, secure the defection of the English of the English settlers from the British cause. There is no evidence to show that these agents were able to disturb the loyalty of the English-speaking inhabitants of the Miramchi, but they did succeed in awakening the latent hostility of the Mic-Macs towards the British. The Indians became unduly quarrelsome and vindictive. Whatever pecuniary profits they had been receiving from the fur-trade were more than compensated by the liberal distribution of American largesses among them. They were thus for the time being made independent of the small group of traders who upheld British commerce on the river. Their attitude at length become so threatening that the English settlers were forced to appeal to Halifax for protection. Messengers were despatched by water with this appeal for help, but the journey was long and precarious in canoes, and the danger increased daily. Early in the summer of 1777, when the anxious settlers had about given up hope of relief and were preparing to sell their lives dearly, the Viper, sloop of war, appeared off Oak Point. She had for consort an American privateer, the Lafayette, which Captain Harvey had captured while cruising in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A Mr. Ross of Percé, in the presence of Quebec, had been to the Miramichi in the prosecution of his business, and was on his way home when he fell in with the Viper. He at once acquainted Captain Harvey of the desperate condition of the Miramichi settlers and volunteered to pilot the Viper up the river. Captain Harvey put him on board of Lafayette, which, for the purpose of deceiving the Indians, still floated the American flag. The Viper lay off the coast awaiting the outcome of the expedition. When the privateer came up the river as far as Napan Bay she was boarded by a number of Indians from the Northern bank. The crew openly boasted that they were Americans sent to the aid of their Mic-Mac brothers; the Indians were treated to a liberal ration of rum, and were then sent ashore to carry an invitation to all the chiefs to come on board for a carouse on the morrow. They departed vowing, - it is claimed, that, American or not, they would capture the ship for themselves next day. The fighting force on board the Lafayette were in the meantime further reinforced by the arrival of the English settlers from the Southern reaches of the river. History gives their names as John Murdoch, John .Malcolm, Peter Brown, Alexander Henderson and his sons—James, Peter, John, Alexander, and George. These nine men gave a good account of themselves in the affray of the next day. On the morrow thirty or thirty-five painted chiefs put off from land and were received on board the frigate. They were conveyed to the hold of the vessel, where refreshments were served. The sight of Ross, the pilot, excited their suspicions, however, and before the hatches could be secured a deadly struggle was in progress. Ross was shot through the arm. A gigantic Indian named Martin managed to project his person through the main hatchway as it was closing, and another Indian squeezed through behind him to the upper deck. The remainder were safely locked beneath the closed hatches. Two marines attempted to put the gigantic Martin in irons, but so great was his strength that he strangled the two men to death. He was beset by a score of men with fixed bayonets but he gallantly continued the struggle and succeeded in wrenching a bayonet from one of the muskets. Aiming a blow at the man whom he had thus disarmed he drove the point of the weapon four inches into the main-mast. At length, overpowered, he fell apparently lifeless, bleeding from numberless wounds. A few moments of respite renewed the strong currents of his life, and with a bound he was on his feet and had seized the sole member of his tribe, who stood bound and shivering with terror on deck, and came near strangling him in punishment of the fellow’s cowardice. He desisted only when he received his death-stroke from the hands of an Irishman by the name of Robert Beck. The Indians who had been entrapped into the hold, raging like caged tigers, and blinded by the darkness, sought in vain for a weak spot in the pitiless walls of their prison. Finally collecting together when the ’tween-deck space was lowest, they wildly attempted to lift the quarter-deck bodily front its stanchions. S0 great was their united strength that they actually did lift the deck four inches, and it was found necessary before they would desist to weight it down with an anchor and chain. However incredible this feat may appear it is vouched for by a strong consensus of local tradition. The leading chiefs, being thus secured, were carried away to Halifax and Québec. The remainder of the tribe, without leaders and fearing a repetition of the punishment which they had received in 1759, when their church was burned, were willing enough to retire to their encampments and leave the harassed settlers and traders in peace. In this uprising John Murdoch lost all his cattle, Mr. Cort a large quantity of moose-skins: and Isabella Henderson, daughter of Alexander Henderson, came near being captured.