Father Rale.

By the middle of the 17th Century the fires of the Counter-Reformation had begun to cool.  New ways of thinking emphasized skepticism and tolerance and not fighting over religious issues.  Father Sebastien Rale (1657-1724) belonged to another era than the one in which he lived.  He grew up on the eastern fringe of France, then joined the Jesuits when young.  He taught for a stretch in southern France, but reciting “amo, amas, amat” to blubbering school-boys didn’t hold his attention.  So he volunteered for the New World and the Jesuits shipped him off to a place better suited to his commitments.  In 1689 he went to Canada.  The Jesuit Superior in New France sent him to an Abenaki village near Quebec to learn the language, then to a mission in Kaskaskia in the Illinois country for two years, and then (1694) to Norridgewock on the Kennebec River.  Today, that’s in central Maine; then it was the frontier between Catholic New France and Protestant New England.

In Norridgewock, Father Rale both served the spiritual needs of his parishioners and wound-up the local Indians against the English-speaking Protestants moving up relentlessly from the southwest.  When Queen Anne’s War (1703-1713) broke out Father Rale’s parishioners joined in a Fall 1703 raid that killed 150 English settlers.  This raid fell within a larger pattern.  For example a raid on York, Maine in 1692 had left 100 people—men, women, and children—dead and many others taken captive.  Among the captives carried off to Canada and later ransomed, was Jeremiah Moulton (1688-1765).  English settlers—understandably—became obsessed about the danger.[1]  The governor of Massachusetts put a price on Rale’s head and New England militia were inclined to a literal interpretation.  Ten years of unsuccessful man-hunting and border war followed.  In 1713 “peace” broke out.

It wasn’t much of a peace in Maine, whatever it was in Europe.  The exact border between New England and “Acadia” hadn’t been defined in the peace treaty.  The French said it ran along the Kennebec.  The Indians—the Wabanaki Confederation—didn’t agree that they were under British authority.  The government of Massachusetts (which then owned Maine) built some forts on Wabanaki land and settlers moved north and east.  Father Rale urged the Indians to attack the English settlers, although they didn’t need any encouragement to defend their lands from outsiders.  Small raids went on until, in January 1722, the governor of Massachusetts launched an Indian war on the frontier of the province.

Massachusetts militia troops just missed capturing Father Rale, but did get a strong-box full of papers that seemed to show that he acted on behalf of France.  “Father Rale’s War” then began in earnest.  The Wabanaki retaliated with attacks on the frontier forts and settlements.

During 1723, Indian attacks had a devastating effect.  Spring 1724 began as 1723 had ended.  Wabanaki raiders killed farmers and loggers, fishermen (they captured a bunch of fishing boats), and soldiers sent to fight them.  The governor of Massachusetts ordered all settlers to move to the forts or to fortified houses.[2]

In August 1724, a group of militia—now much experienced at Indian fighting–surprised the Indians at Norridgewock.  Afterwards, a scalped Father Rale lay among the dead.  The English burned the village and the crops in the field.  The Indians then moved north out of reach of the English.[3]  The commander of the English attack was Jeremiah Moulton, who had been kidnapped in York many years before.  There is something Biblical in that.

[1] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Wgkpfa5HMw  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV2JPv1EFww

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garrison_(architecture) for the architectural style.

[3] British colonists settled the now-empty site of the village only in 1773.

The Devil’s Backbone.

Who made the first roads in America?  Animals did, mostly bison and deer.  They migrated from place to place and then returned.  Often, they preferred to travel on ridge-lines.  Vegetation was less dense there and height gave them what soldiers today call “observation”: they could see danger coming.  Native Americans then followed these paths for many centuries, either migrating or hunting or bound for war.  The trails became more distinct.  Then came the European-Americans.  These travelers had horses and cattle, vehicles and tools.  The pathways became rough-and-ready roads.  European-Americans called any such path-to-road a “trace.”

The “Natchez Trace” was a somewhat improved dirt road connecting Nashville, on the Tennessee River, with Natchez, on the Mississippi River.  The lands between Nashville and Natchez remained thinly-settled for a long time.  Weary travelers looked forward to sight of isolated inns, called “stands,” where they could eat and sleep.[1]  It being only “somewhat improved,” 450 miles long, and lawless, most travelers referred to it as “the Devil’s Backbone.”

All sorts of people of people flowed along the Natchez Trace in the early 1800s.  Presbyterian and Methodist preachers of the “Second Great Awakening,” an emotionally powerful revival movement, were all over the place like a duck on a June-bug.[2]  Westward migrants hoped for better cotton lands in the Mississippi valley.  With the white planters went their African-American slaves.  Merchants from Nashville and elsewhere used the Trace as a river of commerce.  The Mississippi Valley blossomed from the combination of cotton, and the north-south trade between New Orleans and the “Old Northwest.”  “Kaintucks” manned the flatboats that carried the river’s trade.  They walked home along the Trace.

Because money flowed in both directions along the “Trace,” so did crime.[3]  The little U.S. Army was stretched thin, so there weren’t many soldiers to provide protection.  Sheriffs were few and far between.  On the Western end of the Trace, merchants, “Kaintucks,” and slaves all congregated in the wide-open town of Natchez-under-the-Hill, where gambling, girls, and drink abounded.  So did fights.  When crime got bad enough, a posse of “Regulators” would go hunting outlaws.  Court trials did not always follow captures.

For example, Samuel Mason (1739-1803) served on the frontier in the American Revolution, then he turned to river piracy in Ohio, Illinois, and Arkansas (which then belonged to Spanish America).  (This isn’t the sort of thing that the Daughters of the American Revolution like to play up.)  He fell in with a family of serial killers named Harpe until the Spanish arrested him in 1803 in what would later become Missouri.[4]  He didn’t have any good explanation for the twenty scalps found in his luggage (but really, who could?), so the Spanish turned him over to the Americans.  They would have hanged him, but he escaped for just long enough for two of his confederates to kill him in hopes of collecting a reward.  Instead the confederates met their own grim fates on a tree limb.

In the 1820s, the steamboat (which could carry goods and people upstream against the river currents) and other roads made the Trace irrelevant.

[1] In one of these inns, Meriwether Lewis— burdened by debts, drinking hard, and depressed–shot himself in 1809.

[2] Revivalist preachers stressed that individuals had to repent their sins to be saved.  Thousands of enthusiasts attended camp meetings like the one at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801.  The emotional, salvation-is-at-hand message of the revivalist movement had a profound effect on slaves, perhaps helping to inspire Nat Turner’s rebellion in Virginia in 1831.

[3] There’s a B-movie called “The Natchez Trace” (dir. Alan Crosland, 1960).

[4] The Louisiana Purchase was at hand, but had not yet taken place.  So, Missouri remained part of the Spanish empire.

Squanto.

The Native Americans of New England had been in contact with Europeans—French, Dutch, and English—since the early 1500s.  This contact began to transform Native American society.  On the one hand, the Europeans unintentionally introduced Old World diseases to which the Native Americans had no resistance.  Native American tribes did not live in isolation from other tribes.  The diseases spread like wild-fire from people near the coast to places much farther inland.  The toll could be horrific: 90 percent mortality in some cases, often as much as two-thirds.  On the other hand, the Native Americans were a Stone Age people.  The Iron Age Europeans had things—knives, axes, cooking pots, muskets—that would make the lives of the Native Americans much easier.  The Europeans would trade these things, and alcohol, for furs.

Beginning in 1605, English explorers—at the least—began occasional kidnappings of Native Americans.  Sometimes they sold them as slaves.  Sometimes they took them home to England and later returned them.  The catch-and-release effort may have been a crude attempt to create future intermediaries between the English and the Native Americans.  The English aimed at eventual settlement of colonies.  In 1614, an English explorer named Thomas Hunt grabbed 27 Native Americans from the shores of Cape Cod Bay.  He then sailed for the Spanish port of Malaga, where he sold them as slaves.

One captive called himself Tisquantum.  The Pilgrims later came to call him “Squanto.”  At a reasonable guess, “Squanto” was born about 1585 on the western shore of Cape Cod Bay.   His tribe, the Patuxet, were farmers, not hunters-and-gatherers.  Most of his life story is lost, with only occasional known facts.  He spent some time (probably years) in Spain (and probably at Malaga).  Somehow, he reached England.  He may have escaped to an English ship in the harbor.  He may have been bought or stolen by an English ship captain who knew of his employer’s interest in American colonization.  In any event, he spent enough time in London to learn English and see something of English society.

In 1618, the English merchant and colonizer Richard Slaney sent Squanto with an expedition to Newfoundland.  In 1619, Squanto talked an English captain into making an exploring voyage to Cape Cod Bay.  Home again, Squanto found himself virtually the “last of the Patuxets”: disease had destroyed his tribe.  Homeless and rootless, he declined to return with the captain.  However, he served as a translator and honest intermediary between his own people and the English.[1]

Then, in December 1620, the “Mayflower,” with the Pilgrims aboard, hove into sight on the western shore of Cape Cod Bay.  Having lost tribe and family, having learned English and met many Englishmen, Squanto soon moved into the Plymouth colony itself for almost two years.  He taught the colonists the rudiments of the fur trade.  This helped repay the debt to the company that had paid their passage—Plymouth was an “indentured colony.”  He taught them about Native American farming and crops.  Many of the seeds brought from England didn’t thrive in American soil.  He helped negotiate peace with surrounding tribes.  This minimized—for a time—“unfortunate incidents.”

Squanto died of what William Bradford described as an “Indian fever” in 1622.

[1] Some days later, a different group of Native Americans captured the English captain.  Eventually, he managed to escape and return home.  HA!