CUSTOMS and MANNERS
MICMAKIS and MARICHEETS
Now Dependent on the
Government of CAPE-BRETON.
An Original French Manuscript-Letter,
Written by a French Abbot,
Who resided many Years, in quality of Missionary, amongst them.
To which are annexed,
Several Pieces, relative to the Savages, to Nova
Scotia, and to North-America in general.
* * * * *
Printed for S. Hooper and A. Morley at Gay's-Head, near Beaufort-Buildings in the Strand. MDCCLVIII.
For the better understanding of the letter immediately following, it may not be unnecessary to give the reader some previous idea of the people who are the subject of it, as well of the letter-writer.
The best account of the Mickmakis I could find, and certainly the most authentic, is in a memorial furnished by the French ministry in April, 1751, from which the following paragraph is a translated extract:
"The government of the savages dependent on Cape-Breton exacts a particular attention. All these savages go under the name of Mickmakis. Before the last war they could raise about six hundred fighting-men, according to an account given in to his most Christian majesty, and were distributed in several villages established on Cape-Breton island, island of St. John, on both the coasts of Acadia (Nova-Scotia) and on that of Canada. All, or most of the inhabitants of these villages have been instructed in the Christian religion, by missionaries which the king of France constantly maintains amongst them. It is customary to distribute every year to them presents, in the name of his majesty, which consist in arms, ammunition of war, victuals, cloathing, and utensils of various sorts. And these presents are regulated according to the circumstances of the time, and to the satisfaction that shall have been given to the government by the conduct of these savages. In the last war they behaved so as to deserve our approbation, and indeed have, on all occasions, given marks of their attachment and fidelity. Since the peace too, they have equally distinguished themselves in the disturbances that are on foot on the side of Acadia (Nova-Scotia)."
The last part of this foregoing paragraph needs no comment. Every one knows by what sort of service these savages merit the encouragement of the French government, and by what acts of perfidy and cruelty exercised on the English, they are to earn their reward.
The Maricheets, mentioned in the said letter form a distinct nation, chiefly settled at St. John's, and are often confounded with the Abenaquis, so as to pass for one nation with them, though there is certainly some distinction. They used, till lately, to be in a constant state of hostility with the Mickmakis. But, however, these nations may be at peace or variance with one another, in one point they agree, which is a thorough enmity to the English, cultivated, with great application by the missionaries, who add to the scandal of a conduct so contrary to their profession, the baseness of denying or evading the charge by the most pitiful equivocations. It is with the words peace, charity, and universal benevolence, for ever in their mouths, that these incendiaries, by instigations direct and indirect, inflame and excite the savages to commit the cruellest outrages of war, and the blackest acts of treachery. Poor Captain How! is well known to have paid with his life, infamously taken away by them, at a parley, the influence one of these missionaries (now a prisoner in the island of Jersey,) had over these misguided wretches, whose native innocence and simplicity are not proof against the corruption, and artful suggestions of those holy seducers.
It would not, perhaps, be impossible for the English, if they were to apply proper means, and especially lenient ones, to recover the affections of these people, which, for many reasons, cannot be entirely rooted in the French interest. That great state-engine of theirs, religion, by which they have so strong a hold on the weak and credulous savages, might not, however, be an invincible bar to our success, if it was duly counter-worked by the offer of a much more pure and rational one of our own, joined to such temporal advantages as would shew them their situation capable of being much meliorated, in every respect; and especially that of freedom, which they cannot but be sensible, is daily decreasing under the insidious encroachments and blandishments of the French, who never cares but to enslave, nor hug but to stifle, whose pretences, in short, to superior humanity and politeness, are not amongst their least arts of conquest.
As to the letter-writer, he is an abbot much respected in those parts, who has resided the greatest part of his life amongst the Mickmakis, and is perfectly acquainted with their language, in the composing of a Dictionary of which he has labored eighteen or twenty years; but I cannot learn that it is yet published, and probably for reasons of state, it never may. The letter, of which the translation is now given, exists only in a manuscript, having never been printed, being entirely written for the satisfaction of a friend's curiosity, in relation to the original manners and customs of the people of which it treats, and which, being those of savages in the primitive state of unpolished nature, may perhaps, to a philosophical enquirer, afford more amusement and instruction than those of the most refined societies. What man really is, appears at least plainer in the uncultivated savage, than in the civilized European.
The account of Acadia (Nova-Scotia) will, it is to be hoped, appear not uncurious; allowance being made for its being only in form of a letter.
Micmaki-Country, March 27, 1755.
I should long before now have satisfied you in those points of curiosity you expressed, concerning the savages amongst whom I have so long resided, if I could have found leisure for it. Literally true it is, that I have no spare time here, unless just in the evening, and that not always. This was my case too in Louisbourg; and I do not doubt but you will be surprised at learning, that I enjoy as little rest here as there.
Had you done me, Sir, the honor of passing with me but three days only, you would soon have seen what sort of a nation it is that I have to deal with. I am obliged to hold frequent and long parleys with them, and, at every occasion, to heap upon them the most fair and flattering promises. I must incessantly excite them to the practice of acts of religion, and labor to render them tractable, sociable, and loyal to the king (of France). But especially, I apply myself to make them live in good understanding with the French.
With all this, I affect a grave and serious air, that awes and imposes upon them. I even take care of observing measure and cadence in the delivery of my words, and to make choice of those expressions the properest to strike their attention, and to hinder what I say from falling to the ground. If I cannot boast that my harangues have all the fruit and success that I could wish, they are not however wholly without effect. As nothing inchants those people more than a style of metaphors and allegories, in which even their common conversation abounds, I adapt myself to their taste, and never please them better than when I give what I say this turn, speaking to them in their own language. I borrow the most lively images from those objects of nature, with which they are so well acquainted; and am rather more regular than even themselves, in the arrangement of my phrases. I affect, above all, to rhime as they do, especially at each member of a period. This contributes to give them so great an idea of me, that they imagine this gift of speaking is rather an inspiration, than an acquisition by study and meditation. In truth, I may venture to say, without presumption, that I talk the Micmaki language as fluently, and as elegantly, as the best of their women, who most excel in this point.
Another of my occupations is to engage and spur them on to the making a copious chace, when the hunting-season comes in, that their debts to the dealers with them may be paid, their wives and children cloathed, and their credit supported.
It is neither gaming nor debauchery that disable them from the payment of their debts, but their vanity, which is excessive, in the presents of peltry they make to other savages, who come either in quality of envoys from one country to another, or as friends or relations upon a visit to one another. Then it is, that a village is sure to exhaust itself in presents; it being a standing rule with them, on the arrival of such persons, to bring out every thing that they have acquired, during the winter and spring season, in order to give the best and most advantageous idea of themselves. Then it is chiefly they make feasts, which sometimes last several days; of the manner of which I should perhaps spare you the description, if the ceremony that attends them did not include the strongest attestation of the great stress they lay on hunting; the excelling wherein they commonly take for their text in their panegyrics on these occasions, and consequently enters, for a great deal, into the idea you are to conceive of the life and manners of the savages in these parts.
The first thing I am to observe to you is, that one of the greatest dainties, and with which they crown their entertainments, is the flesh of dogs. For it is not till the envoys, friends, or relations, are on the point of departure, that, on the eve of that day, they make a considerable slaughter of dogs, which they slea, draw, and, with no other dressing, put whole into the kettle; from whence they take them half boiled, and carve out into as many pieces as there are guests to eat of them, in the cabbin of him who gives the treat. But every one, before entering the cabbin, takes care to bring with him his Oorakin, or bowl, made of bark of birch-tree, either polygone shaped, or quite round; and this is practised at all their entertainments. These pieces of dogs flesh are accompanied with a small Oorakin full of the oil or fat of seal, or of elk's grease, if this feast is given at the melting-time of the snow. Every one has his own dish before him, in which he sops his flesh before he eats it. If the fat be hard, he cuts a small piece of it to every bit of flesh he puts into his mouth, which serves as bread with us. At the end of this fine regale, they drink as much of the oil as they can, and wipe their hands on their hair. Then come in the wives of the master and persons invited, who carry off their husbands plates, and retire together to a separate place, where they dispatch the remains.
After grace being said by the oldest of the company, who also never fails of pronouncing it before the meal, the master of the treat appears as if buried in a profound contemplation, without speaking a word, for a full quarter of an hour; after which, waking as it were out of a deep sleep, he orders in the Calumets, or Indian pipes, with tobacco. First he fills his own, lights it, and, after sucking in two or three whiffs, he presents it to the most considerable man in the company: after which, every one fills his pipe and smoaks.
The calumets lighted, and the tobacco burning with a clear fire, are scarce half smoked out, before the man of note before mentioned (for the greatest honors being paid him) gets up, places himself in the midst of the cabbin, and pronounces a speech of thanksgiving. He praises the master of the feast, who has so well regaled him and all the company. He compares him to a tree, whose large and strong roots afford nourishment to a number of small shrubs; or to a salutary medicinal herb, found accidentally by such as frequent the lakes in their canoes. Some I have heard, who, in their winter-feasts, compared him to the turpentine-tree, that never fails of yielding its sap and gummy distillation in all seasons: others to those temperate and mild days, which are sometimes seen in the midst of the severest winter. They employ a thousand similies of this sort, which I omit. After this introduction, they proceed to make honorable mention of the lineage from which the matter of the feast is descended.
"How great (will the oldest of them say) art thou, through thy great, great, great grand-father, whose memory is still recent, by tradition, amongst us, for the plentiful huntings he used to make! There was something of miraculous about him, when he assisted at the beating of the woods for elks, or other beasts of the fur. His dexterity at catching this game was not superior to our's; but there was some unaccountable secret he particularly possessed in his manner of seizing those creatures, by springing upon them, laying hold of their heads, and transfixing them at the same time with his hunting-spear, though thrice as strong and as nimble again as he was, and much more capable with their legs only, than we with our rackets [a sort of buskined shoes made purposely for the Indian travels over the snow], to make their way over mountains of snow: he would nevertheless follow them, dart them, without ever missing his aim, tire them out with his chace, bring them down, and mortally wound them. Then he would regale us with their blood, skin them, and deliver up the carcass to us to cut to pieces. But if thy great, great, great grand-father made such a figure in the chace, what has not thy great, great grand-father done with respect to the beavers, those animals almost men? whose industry he surpassed by his frequent watchings round their cabbins, by the repeated alarms he would give them several times in one evening, and oblige them thereby to return home, so that he might be sure of the number of those animals he had seen dispersed during the day, having a particular foresight of the spot to which they would come to load their tails with earth, cut down with their teeth such and such trees for the construction of their huts. He had a particular gift of knowing the favorite places of those animals for building them. But now let us rather speak of your great grand-father, who was so expert at making of snares for moose-deer, martins, and elks. He had particular secrets, absolutely unknown to any but himself, to compel these sort of creatures to run sooner into his snares than those of others; and he was accordingly always so well provided with furs, that he was never at a loss to oblige his friends. Now let us come to your grand-father, who has a thousand and a thousand times regaled the youth of his time with seals. How often in our young days have we greased our hair in his cabbin? How often have we been invited, and even compelled by his friendly violence, to go home with him, whenever we returned with our canoes empty, to be treated with seal, to drink the oil, and anoint ourselves with it? He even pushed his generosity so far, as to give us of the oil to take home with us. But now we are come to your father: there was a man for you! He used to signalize himself in every branch of chace; but especially in the art of shooting the game whether flying or sitting. He never missed his aim. He was particularly admirable for decoying of bustards by his artificial imitations. We are all of us tolerably expert at counterfeiting the cry of those birds; but as to him, he surpassed us in certain inflexions, of his voice, that made it impossible to distinguish his cry from that of the birds themselves. He had, besides, a particular way of motion with his body, that at a distance might be taken for the clapping of their wings, insomuch that he has often deceived ourselves, and put us to confusion, as he started out of his hiding-place.
"As for thyself, I say nothing, I am too full of the good things thou hast feasted me with, to treat on that subject; but I thank thee, and take thee by the hand, leaving to my fellow-guests the care of acquitting themselves of that duty."
After this, he sits down, and some other younger, and in course of less note, for they pay great respect to age, gets up, and makes a summary recapitulation of what the first speaker has said; commending his manner of singing the praises of the master of the feast's ancestors: to which he observes, there is nothing to be added; but that he has, however, left him one part of the task to be accomplished, which is, not to pass over in silence the feast to which he and the rest of his brethren are invited; neither to omit the merit and praises of him who has given the entertainment. Then quitting his place, and advancing in cadence, he takes the master of the treat by the hand, saying, "All the praises my tongue is about to utter, have thee for their object. All the steps I am going to take, as I dance lengthwise and breadthwise in thy cabbin, are to prove to thee the gaiety of my heart, and my gratitude. Courage! my friends, keep time with your motions and voice, to my song and dance."
With this he begins, and proceeds in his Netchkawet, that is, advancing with his body strait erect, in measured steps, with his arms a-kimbo. Then he delivers his words, singing and trembling with his whole body, looking before and on each side of him with a steady countenance, sometimes moving with a slow grave pace, then again with a quick and brisk one.
The syllables he articulates the most distinctly are, Ywhannah, Owanna, Haywanna, yo! ha! yo! ha! and when he makes a pause he looks full at the company, as much as to demand their chorus to the word Heh! which he pronounces with great emphasis. As he is singing and dancing they often repeat the word Heh! fetched up from the depth of their throat; and when he makes his pause, they cry aloud in chorus, Hah!
After this prelude, the person who had sung and danced recovers his breath and spirits a little, and begins his harangue in praise of the maker of the feast. He flatters him greatly, in attributing to him a thousand good qualities he never had, and appeals to all the company for the truth of what he says, who are sure not to contradict him, being in the same circumstance as himself of being treated, and answer him by the word Heh, which is as much as to say, Yes, or Surely. Then he takes them all by the hand, and begins his dance again: and sometimes this first dance is carried to a pitch of madness. At the end of it he kisses his hand, by way of salute to all the company; after which he goes quietly to his place again. Then another gets up to acquit himself of the same duty, and so do successively all the others in the cabbin, to the very last man inclusively.
This ceremony of thanksgiving being over by the men, the girls and women come in, with the oldest at the head of them, who carries in her left hand a great piece of birch-bark of the hardest, upon which she strikes as it were a drum; and to that dull sound which the bark returns, they all dance, spinning round on their heels, quivering, with one hand lifted, the other down: other notes they have none, but a guttural loud aspiration of the word Heh! Heh! Heh! as often as the old female savage strikes her bark-drum. As soon as she ceases striking, they set up a general cry, expressed by Yah! Then, if their dance is approved, they begin it again; and when weariness obliges the old woman to withdraw, she first pronounces her thanksgiving in the name of all the girls and women there. The introduction of which is too curious to omit, as it so strongly characterises the sentiments of the savages of that sex, and confirms the general observation, that where their bosom once harbours cruelty, they carry it greater lengths than even the men, whom frequently they instigate to it.
"You men! who look on me as of an infirm and weak sex, and consequently of all necessity subordinate to you, know that in what I am, the Creator has given to my share, talents and properties at least of as much worth as your's, I have had the faculty of bringing into the world warriors, great hunters, and admirable managers of canoes. This hand, withered as you see it now, whose veins represent the root of a tree, has more than once struck a knife into the hearts of the prisoners, who were given up to me for my sport. Let the river-sides, I say, for I call them to witness for me, as well as the woods of such a country, attest their having seen me more than once tear out the heart, entrails, and tongue, of those delivered up to me, without changing color, roast pieces of their flesh, yet palpitating and warm with life, and cram them down the throats of others, whom the like fate awaited. With how many scalps have not I seen my head adorned, as well as those of my daughters! With what pathetic exhortations have not I, upon occasion, rouzed up the spirit of our young men, to go in quest of the like trophies, that they might atchieve the reward, honor, and renown annexed to the acquisition of them: but it is not in these points alone that I have signalized myself. I have often brought about alliances, which there was no room to think could ever be made; and I have been so fortunate, that all the couples whose marriages I have procured, have been prolific, and furnished our nation with supports, defenders, and subjects, to eternize our race, and to protect us from the insults of our enemies. These old firs, these antient spruce-trees, full of knots from the top to the root, whose bark is falling off with age, and who yet preserve their gum and powers of life, do not amiss resemble me. I am no longer what I was; all my skin is wrinkled and furrowed, my bones are almost every where starting through it. As to my outward form, I may well be reckoned amongst the things, fit for nothing but to be totally neglected and thrown aside; but I have still within me wherewithal to attract the attention of those who know me."
After this introduction follow the thanksgiving and encomiums, much in the same taste as the first haranguer's amongst the guests. This is what is practised in all the more solemn entertainments, both on the men and women's side. Nor can you imagine, how great an influence such praises have over them, derived as they are from the merit of hunting, and how greatly they contribute to inflame their passion for it. Nor is it surprising, considering how much almost the whole of their livelihood depends upon the game of all sorts that is the object of their chace.
They have also a kind of feasts, which may be termed war-feasts, since they are never held but in time of war, declared, commenced, or resolved. The forms of these are far different from those of pacific and friendly entertainments. There is a mixture of devotion and ferocity in them, which at the same time that it surprises, proves that they consider war in a very solemn light, and as not to be begun without the greatest reason and justice; which motives, once established, or, which is the same thing, appearing to them established, there is nothing they do not think themselves permitted against their enemy, from whom they, on the other hand, expect no better quarter than they themselves give.
To give you an idea of their preparatory ceremony for a declaration of war, I shall here select for you a recent example, in the one that broke out not long ago between the Micmaquis, and Maricheets. These last had put a cruel affront on the former, the nature of which you will see in the course of the following description: but I shall call the Micmaquis the aggressors, because the first acts of hostility in the field began from them. Those who mean to begin the war, detach a certain number of men to make incursions on the territories of their enemies, to ravage the country, to destroy the game on it, and ruin all the beaver-huts they can find on their rivers and lakes, whether entirely, or only half-built. From this expedition they return laden with game and peltry; upon which the whole nation assembles to feast on the meat, in a manner that has more of the carnivorous brute in it than of the human creature. Whilst they are eating, or rather devouring, all of them, young and old, great and little, engage themselves by the sun, the moon, and the name of their ancestors, to do as much by the enemy-nation.
When they have taken care to bring off with them a live beast, from the quarter in which they have committed their ravage, they cut its throat, drink its blood, and even the boys with their teeth tear the heart and entrails to pieces, which they ravenously devour, giving thereby to understand, that those of the enemies who shall fall into their hands, have no better treatment to expect at them.
After this they bring out Oorakins, (bowls of bark) full of that coarse vermillion which is found along the coast of Chibucto, and on the west-side of Acadia (Nova-Scotia) which they moisten with the blood of the animal if any remains, and add water to compleat the dilution. Then the old, as well as the young, smear their faces, belly and back with this curious paint; after which they trim their hair shorter, some of one side of the head, some of the other; some leave only a small tuft on the crown of their head; others cut their hair entirely off on the left or right side of it; some again leave nothing on it but a lock, just on the top of their forehead, and of the breadth of it, that falls back on the nape of the neck. Some of them bore their ears, and pass through the holes thus made in them, the finest fibril-roots of the fir, which they call Toobee, and commonly use for thread; but on this occasion serve to string certain small shells. This military masquerade, which they use at once for terror and disguise, being compleated, all the peltry of the beasts killed in the enemy's country, is piled in a heap; the oldest Sagamo, or chieftain of the assembly gets up, and asks, "What weather it is? Is the sky clear? Does the sun shine?" On being answered in the affirmative, he orders the young men to carry the pile of peltry to a rising-ground, or eminence, at some little distance from the cabbin, or place of assembly. As this is instantly done, he follows them, and as he walks along begins, and continues his address to the sun in the following terms:
"Be witness, thou great and beautiful luminary, of what we are this day going to do in the face of thy orb! If thou didst disapprove us, thou wouldst, this moment, hide thyself, to avoid affording the light of thy rays to all the actions of this assembly. Thou didst exist of old, and still existeth. Thou remainest for ever as beautiful, as radiant, and as beneficent, as when our first fore fathers beheld thee. Thou wilt always be the same. The father of the day can never fail us, he who makes every thing vegetate, and without whom cold, darkness, and horror, would every where prevail. Thou knowest all the iniquitous procedure of our enemies towards us. What perfidy have they not used, what deceit have they not employed, whilst we had no room to distrust them? There are now more than five, six, seven, eight moons revolved since we left the principal amongst our daughters with them, in order thereby to form the most durable alliance with them, (for, in short, we and they are the same thing as to our being, constitution, and blood); and yet we have seen them look on these girls of the most distinguished rank, Kayheepidetchque, as mere playthings for them, an amusement, a pastime put by us into their hands, to afford them a quick and easy consolation, for the fatal blows we had given them in the preceding war. Yet, we had made them sensible, that this supply of our principal maidens was, in order that they should re-people their country more honorably, and to put them under a necessity of conviction, that we were now become sincerely their friends, by delivering to them so sacred a pledge of amity, as our principal blood. Can we then, unmoved, behold them so basely abusing that thorough confidence of ours? Beautiful, all-seeing, all-penetrating luminary! without whose influence the mind of man has neither efficacy nor vigor, thou hast seen to what a pitch that nation (who are however our brothers) has carried its insolence towards our principal maidens. Our resentment would not have been so extreme with respect to girls of more common birth, and the rank of whose fathers had not a right to make such an impression on us. But here we are wounded in a point there is no passing over in silence or unrevenged. Beautiful luminary! who art thyself so regular in thy course, and in the wise distribution thou makest of thy light from morning to evening, wouldst thou have us not imitate thee? And whom can we better imitate? The earth stands in need of thy governing thyself as thou dost towards it. There are certain places, where thy influence does not suffer itself to be felt, because thou dost not judge them worthy of it. But, as for us, it is plain that we are thy children; for we can know no origin but that which thy rays have given us, when first marrying efficaciously, with the earth we inhabit, they impregnated its womb, and caused us to grow out of it like the herbs of the field, and the trees of the forest, of which thou art equally the common father. To imitate thee then, we cannot do better than no longer to countenance or cherish those, who have proved themselves so unworthy thereof. They are no longer, as to us, under a favorable aspect. They shall dearly pay for the wrong they have done us. They have not, it is true, deprived us of the means of hunting for our maintenance and cloathing; they have not cut off the free passage of our canoes, on the lakes and rivers of this country; but they have done worse; they have supposed in us a tameness of sentiments, which does not, nor cannot, exist in us. They have defloured our principal maidens in wantonness, and lightly sent them back to us. This is the just motive which cries out for our vengeance. Sun! be thou favorable to us in this point, as thou art in that of our hunting, when we beseech thee to guide us in quest of our daily support. Be propitious to us, that we may not fail of discovering the ambushes that may be laid for us; that we may not be surprized unawares in our cabbins, or elsewhere; and, finally, that we may not fall into the hands of our enemies. Grant them no chance with us, for they deserve none. Behold the skins of their beasts now a burnt-offering to thee! Accept it, as if the fire-brand I hold in my hands, and now set to the pile, was lighted immediately by thy rays, instead of our domestic fire."
Every one of the assistants, as well men as women, listen attentively to this invocation, with a kind of religious terror, and in a profound silence. But scarce is the pile on a blaze, but the shouts and war-cries begin from all parts. Curses and imprecations are poured forth without mercy or reserve, on the enemy-nation. Every one, that he may succeed in destroying any particular enemy he may have in the nation against which war is declared, vows so many skins or furs to be burnt in the same place in honor of the sun. Then they bring and throw into the fire, the hardest stones they can find of all sizes, which are calcined in it. They take out the properest pieces for their purpose, to be fastened to the end of a stick, made much in the form of a hatchet-handle. They slit it at one end, and fix in the cleft any fragment of those burnt stones, that will best fit it, which they further secure, by binding it tightly round with the strongest Toobee, or fibrils of fir-root above-mentioned; and then make use of it, as of a hatchet, not so much for cutting of wood, as for splitting the skull of the enemy, when they can surprize him. They form also other instruments of war; such as long poles, one of which is armed with bone of elk, made pointed like a small-sword, and edge of both sides, in order to reach the enemy at a distance, when he is obliged to take to the woods. The arrows are made at the same time, pointed at the end with a sharp bone. The wood of which these arrows are made, as well as the bows, must have been dried at the mysterious fire, and even the guts of which the strings are made. But you are here to observe, I am speaking of an incident that happened some years ago; for, generally speaking, they are now better provided with arms, and iron, by the Europeans supplying them, for their chace, in favor of their dealings with them for their peltry. But to return to my narration.
Whilst the fire is still burning, the women come like so many furies, with more than bacchanalian madness, making the most hideous howlings, and dancing without any order, round the fire. Then all their apparent rage turns of a sudden against the men. They threaten them, that if they do not supply them with scalps, they will hold them very cheap, and look on them as greatly inferior to themselves; that they will deny themselves to their most lawful pleasures; that their daughters shall be given to none but such as have signalized themselves by some military feat; that, in short, they will themselves find means to be revenged of them, which cannot but be easy to do on cowards.
The men, at this, begin to parley with one another, and order the women to withdraw, telling them, that they shall be satisfied; and that, in a little time, they may expect to have prisoners brought to them, to do what they will with them.
The next thing they agree on is to send a couple of messengers, in the nature of heralds at arms, with their hatchets, quivers, bows, and arrows, to declare war against the nation by whom they conceive themselves aggrieved. These go directly to the village where the bulk of the nation resides, observing a sullen silence by the way, without speaking to any that may meet them. When they draw near the village, they give the earth several strokes with their hatchets, as a signal of commencing hostilities in form; and to confirm it the more, they shoot two of their best arrows at the village, and retire with the utmost expedition. The war is now kindled in good earnest, and it behoves each party to stand well on its guard. The heralds, after this, return to make a report of what they have done; and to prove their having been at the place appointed, they do not fail of bringing away with them some particular marks of that spot of the country. Then it is, that the inhabitants of each nation begin to think seriously, whether they shall maintain their ground by staying in their village, and fortifying it in their manner, or look out for a place of greater safety, or go directly in quest of the enemy. Upon these questions they assemble, deliberate, and hold endless consultations, though withal not uncurious ones: for it is on these occasions, that those of the greatest sagacity and eloquence display all their talents, and make themselves distinguished. One of their most common stratagems, when there were reasons for not attacking one another, or coming to a battle directly, was for one side to make as if they had renounced all thoughts of acting offensively. A party of those who made this feint of renunciation, would disperse itself in a wood, observing to keep near the borders of it; when, if any stragglers of the enemy's appeared, some one would counterfeit to the life the particular cry of that animal, in the imitation of which he most excelled; and this childish decoy would, however, often succeed, in drawing in the young men of the opposite party into their ambushes.
Sometimes the scheme was to examine what particular spot lay so, that the enemies must, in all necessity, pass through it, to hunt, or provide bark for making their canoes. It was commonly in these passes, or defiles, that the bloodiest encounters or engagements happened, when whole nations have been known to destroy one another, with such an exterminating rage on both sides, that few have been left alive on either; and to say the truth, they were, generally speaking, mere cannibals. It was rarely the case that they did not devour some limbs, at least, of the prisoners they made upon one another, after torturing them to death in the most cruel and shocking manner: but they never failed of drinking their blood like water; it is now, some time, that our Micmakis especially are no longer in the taste of exercising such acts of barbarity. I have, yet, lately myself seen amongst them some remains of that spirit of ferocity; some tendencies and approaches to those inhumanities; but they are nothing in comparison to what they used to be, and seem every day wearing out. The religion to which we have brought them over, and our remonstrances have greatly contributed to soften that savage temper, and atrocious vindictiveness that heretofore reigned amongst them. But remember, Sir, that as to this point I am now only speaking, upon my own knowlege, of the Micmakis and Mariquects, who, though different in language, have the same customs and manners, and are of the same way of thinking and acting.
But to arrive at any tolerable degree of conjecture, whence these people derive their origin own myself at a loss: possibly some light might be got into it, by discovering whether there was any affinity or not between their language, and that of the Orientalists, as the Chinese or Tartars. In the mean time, the abundance of words in this language surprized, and continues to surprize me every day the deeper I get into it. Every thing is proper in it; nothing borrowed, as amongst us. Here are no auxiliary verbs. The prepositions are in great number. This it is that gives great ease, fluency, and richness to the expression of whatever you require, when you are once master enough to join them to the verbs. In all their absolute verbs they have a dual number. What we call the imperfect, perfect, and preter-perfect tenses of the indicative mood, admits, as with us, of varied inflexions of the terminations to distinguish the person; but the difference of the three tenses is express, for the preter-perfect by the preposition Keetch; for the preter-pluperfect by Keetch Keeweeh: the imperfect is again distinguished from them by having no preposition at all.
They have no feminine termination, either for the verbs or nouns. This greatly facilitates to me my composition of songs and hymns for them, especially as their prose itself naturally runs into poetry, from the frequency of their tropes and metaphors; and into rhime, from their nouns being susceptible of the same termination, as that of the words in the verbs which express the different persons. In speaking of persons absent, the words change their termination, as well in the nouns as in the verbs.
They have two distinctions of style; the one noble, or elevated, for grave and important subjects, the other ignoble, or trivial, for familiar or vulgar ones. But this distinction is not so much with them, as with us, marked by a difference of words, but of terminations. Thus, when they are treating of solemn, or weighty matters, they terminate the verb and the noun by another inflexion, than what is used for trivial or common conversation.
I do not know, whether I explain clearly enough to you this so material a point of their elocution; but it makes itself clearly distinguished, when once one comes to understand the language, in which it supplies the place of the most pathetic emphasis, though even that they do not want, nor great expression in their gestures and looks. All their conjugations are regular and distinct.
Yet, with all these advantages of language, the nation itself is extreamly ignorant as to what concerns itself, or its origin, and their traditions are very confused and defective. They know nothing of the first peopling of their country, of which they imagine themselves the Aborigines. They often talk of their ancestors, but have nothing to say of them that is not vague or general. According to them, they were all great hunters, great wood-rangers, expert managers of canoes, intrepid warriors, that took to wives as many as they could maintain by hunting. They had too a custom amongst them, that if a woman grew pregnant whilst she was sucking a child, they obliged her to use means for procuring an abortion, in favor of the first-come, who they supposed would otherwise be defrauded of his due nourishment. Most of them also value themselves on being descended from their Jugglers, who are a sort of men that pretend to foretel futurity by a thousand ridiculous contorsions and grimaces, and by frightful and long-winded howlings.
The great secret of these Jugglers consists in having a great Oorakin full of water, from any river in which it was known there were beaver-huts. Then he takes a certain number of circular turns round this Oorakin, as it stands on the ground, pronouncing all the time with a low voice, a kind of gibberish of broken words, unintelligible to the assistants, and most probably so to himself, but which those, on whom he means to impose, believe very efficacious. After this he draws near to the bowl, and bending very low, or rather lying over it, looks at himself in it as in a glass. If he sees the water in the least muddy, or unsettled, he recovers his erect posture, and begins his rounds again, till he finds the water as clear as he could wish it for his purpose, and then he pronounces over it his magic words. If after having repeated them twice or thrice, he does not find the question proposed to him resolved by this inspection of the water, nor the wonders he wants operated by it, he says with a loud voice and a grave tone, that the Manitoo, or Miewndoo, (the great spirit) or genius, which, according to them, has all knowledge of future events, would not declare himself till every one of the assistants should have told him (the Juggler) in the ear what were his actual thoughts, or greatest secret. [A Romish missionary must, with a very bad grace, blame the Jugglers, for what himself makes such a point of religion in his auricular confession. Even the appellation of Juggler is not amiss applicable to those of their craft, considering all their tricks and mummery not a whit superior to those of these poor savages, in the eyes of common-sense. Who does not know, that the low-burlesque word of Hocus-pocus, is an humorous corruption of their Hoc est corpus meum, by virtue of which, they make a God out of a vile wafer, and think it finely solved, by calling it a mystery, which, by the way is but another name for nonsense. Is there any thing amongst the savages half so absurd or so impious?] To this purpose he gets up, laments, and bitterly inveighs against the bad dispositions of those of the assistants, whose fault it was, that the effects of his art were obstructed. Then going round the company, he obliges them to whisper him in the ear, whatever held the first place in their minds; and the simplicity of the greater number is such, as to make them reveal to him what it would be more prudent to conceal. By these means it is, that these artful Jugglers renders themselves formidable to the common people, and by getting into the secrets of most of the families of the nation, acquire a hank over them. Some, indeed, of the most sensible see through this pitiful artifice, and look on the Jugglers in their proper light of cheats, quacks, and tyrants; but out of fear of their established influence over the bulk of the nation, they dare not oppose its swallowing their impostures, or its regarding all their miserable answers as so many oracles. When the Juggler in exercise, has collected all that he can draw from the inmost recesses of the minds of the assistants, he replaces himself, as before, over the mysterious bowl of water, and now knows what he has to say. Then, after twice or thrice laying his face close to the surface of the water, and having as often made his evocations in uncouth, unintelligible words, he turns his face to his audience, sometimes he will say, "I can only give a half-answer upon such an article; there is an obstacle yet unremoved in the way, before I can obtain an entire solution, and that is, there are some present here who are in such and such a case. That I may succeed in what is asked of me, and that interests the whole nation, I appoint that person, without my knowing, as yet, who it is, to meet me at such an hour of the night. I name no place of assignation but will let him know by a signal of lighted fire, where he may come to me, and suffer himself to be conducted wherever I shall carry him. The Manitoo orders me to spare his reputation, and not expose him; for if there is any harm in it to him, there is also harm to me."
Thus it is the Juggler has the art of imposing on these simple credulous creatures, and even often succeeds by it in his divinations. Sometimes he does not need all this ceremonial. He pretends to foretell off-hand, and actually does so, when he is already prepared by his knowledge, cunning, or natural penetration. His divinations chiefly turn on the expedience of peace with one nation, or of war with another; upon matches between families, upon the long life of some, or the short life of others; how such and such persons came by their deaths, violently or naturally; whether the wife of some great Sagamo has been true to his bed or not; who it could be that killed any particular persons found dead of their wounds in the woods, or on the coast. Sometimes they pretend it's the deed of the Manitoo, for reasons to them unknown: this last incident strikes the people with a religious awe. But what the Jugglers are chiefly consulted upon, and what gives them the greatest credit, is to know whether the chace of such a particular species of beasts should be undertaken; at what season, or on which side of the country; how best may be discovered the designs of any nation with which they are at war; or at what time such or such persons shall return from their journey. The Juggler pretends to see all this, and more, in his bowl of water: divination by coffee-grounds is a trifle to it. He is also applied to, to know whether a sick person shall recover or die of his illness. But what I have here told you of the procedure of these Jugglers, you are to understand only of the times that preceded the introduction of Christianity amongst these people, or of those parts where it is not yet received: for these practices are no longer suffered where we have any influence.
Amongst the old savages lately baptized, I could never, from the accounts they gave me of the belief of their ancestors, find any true knowledge of the supreme Being; no idea, I mean, approaching to that we have, or rather nothing but a vague imagination. They have, it is true, a confused notion of a Being, acting they know not how [Who does?], in the universe, but they do not make of him a great soul diffused through all its parts. They have no conception or knowledge of all the attributes we bestow on the Deity. Whenever they happen to philosophize upon this Manitoo, or great spirit, they utter nothing but reveries and absurdities. [Are not there innumerable volumes on this subject, to which the same objection might as justly be made? Possibly the savages, and the deepest divines, with respect to the manner of the Deity's existence, may have, in point of ignorance, nothing to reproach one another. It matters very little, whether one sees the sun from the lowest valley, or the highest mountain, when the immensity of its distance contracts the highest advantage of the eminence to little less than nothing. Surely the infinite superiority of the Deity, must still more effectually mock the distinction of the mental eye, at the same time that his existence itself is as plain as that of the sun, and like that too, dazzling those most, who contemplate it most fixedly; reduces them to close the eye, not to exclude the light, but as overpowered by it.]
Amongst other superstitious notions, not the least prevalent is that of the Manitoo's exercise of his power over the dead, whom he orders to appear to them, and acquaint them with what passes at a distance, in respect to their most important concerns; to advise them what they had best do, or not do; to forewarn them of dangers, or to inspire them with revenge against any nation that may have insulted them, and so forth.
They have no idea of his spirituality, or even of the spirituality of that principle, which constitutes their own vital principle. They have even no word in their language that answers to that of soul in ours. The term approaching nearest thereto that we can find, is M'cheejacmih, which signifies Shade, and may be construed something in the nature of the Manes of the Romans.
The general belief amongst them is, that, after death, they go to a place of joy and plenty, in which sensuality is no more omitted than in Mahomet's paradise. There they are to find women in abundance, a country thick of all manner of game to humor their passion for hunting, and bows and arrows of the best sort, ready made. But these regions are supposed at a great distance from their's, to which they will have to travel; and therefore it's requisite to be well-provided, before they quit their own country, with arrows, long poles fit for hunting, or for covering cabbins, with bear-skins, or elk-hides, with women, and with some of their children, to make their journey to that place more commodious, more pleasant, and appear more expeditious. It was especially in character for a warrior, not to leave this world without taking with him some marks of his bravery, as particularly scalps. Therefore it was, that when any of them died, he was always followed by, at least, one of his children, some women, and above all, by her whom in his life he had most loved, who threw themselves into the grave, and were interred with him. They also put into it great strips, or rolls of the bark of birch, arrows, and scalps. Nor do they unfrequently, at this day, light upon some of these old burying-places in the woods, with all these funeral accompanyments; but of late, the interment of live persons has been almost entirely disused.
I never could learn whether they had any set formulary of prayer, or invocation to the great Manitoo; or whether they made any sacrifices of beasts or peltry, to any other Manitoo, in contradiction to him, or to any being whom they dreaded as an evil genius. I could discover no more than what I have above related of the ceremonies in honor of the sun. I know, indeed, they have a great veneration for the moon, which they invoke, whenever, under favor of its light, they undertake any journeys, either by land or water, or tend the snares they have set for their game. This is the prayer they occasionally address to it:
"How great, O moon! is thy goodness, in actually, for our benefit, supplying the place of the father of the day, as, next to him, thou hast concurred to make us spring out of that earth we have inhabited from the first ages of the world, and takest particular care of us, that the malignant air of the night, should not kill the principle and bud of life within us. Thou regardest us, in truth, as thy children. Thou hast not, from the first time, discontinued to treat us like a true mother. Thou guidest us in our nocturnal journies. By the favor of thy light it is, that we have often struck great strokes in war; and more than once have our enemies had cause to repent their being off their guard in thy clear winter-nights. Thy pale rays have often sufficiently lighted us, for our marching in a body without mistaking our way; and have enabled us not only to discover the ambushes of the enemy, but often to surprize him asleep. However we might be wanting to ourselves, thy regular course was never wanting to us. Beautiful spouse of the sun! give us to discover the tracks of elks, moose-deer, martins, lynxes, and bears, when urged by our wants, we pursue by night the hunt after these beasts. Give to our women the strength to support the pains of child-birth [Lucina fer opem, was also the cry amongst the ancient heathens], render their wombs prolific, and their breasts inexhaustible fountains."
I have often tried to find out, whether there was any tradition or knowledge amongst them of the deluge, but always met with such unsatisfactory answers, as entirely discouraged my curiosity on that head.
This nation counts its years by the winters. When they ask a man how old he is, they say, "How many winters have gone over thy head?"
Their months are lunar, and they calculate their time by them. When we would say, "I shall be six weeks on my journey;" they express it by, "I shall be a moon and a half on it."
Before we knew them, it was common to see amongst them, persons of both sexes of a hundred and forty, or a hundred and fifty years of age. But these examples of longevity are grown much more rare.
By all accounts too, their populousness is greatly decreased. Some imagine this is owing to that inveterate animosity, with which these so many petty nations were continually laboring one another's destruction and extirpation. Others impute it to the introduction by the Europeans, of the vice of drunkenness, and to the known effect of spirituous liquors in the excesses of their use, to which they are but too prone, in striking at the powers of generation, as well as at the principles of health and life. Not improbably too, numbers impatient of the encroachments of the Europeans on their country, and dreading the consequences of them to their liberty, for which they have a passionate attachment, and incapable of reconciling or assimilating their customs and manners to ours, have chosen to withdraw further into the western recesses of the continent, at a distance impenetrable to our approach.
But which ever of these conjectures is the truest, or whether or not all of these causes have respectively concurred, in a lesser or greater degree, the fact is certain, that all these northern countries are considerably thinned of their natives, since the first discovery of them by the Europeans. Nor have I reason to think, but that this is true of America in general, wherever they have carried their power, or extended their influence.
It is also true, that the women of this country are naturally not so prolific as those of some other parts of the world in the same latitude. One reason for this may be, their not having their menstrual flux so copiously, or for so long a time as those of Europe. Yet one would think, the plurality of wives permitted amongst them, might in some measure compensate for this defect, which, however, it evidently does not.
Their women have always observed, not to present themselves at any public ceremony, or solemnity, whilst under their monthly terms, nor to admit the embraces of their husbands.
At stated times they repair to particular places in the woods, where they recite certain formularies of invocation to the Manitoo dictated to them by some of their oldest Sagamees, or principal women, and more frequently by some celebrated Juggler of the village, that they may obtain the blessing of fruitfulness. For it is with them, as amongst the Jews, that barrenness is accounted opprobrious. A woman is not looked upon as a woman, till she has proved it, by her fulfilling what they consider as one of the great ends of her creation. Failing in that, she is divorced from her husband, and may then prostitute herself without any scandal. If she has no inclination or relish for this way of life, they compel her to it, in regard to their young men, who do not care to marry, till they are arrived at full-ripe years, and for whom, on their return from their warlike or hunting expeditions, they think it necessary to provide such objects of amusement. They pretend withal, that they are subject to insupportable pains in their loins, if such a remedy is not at hand to relieve them. But once more you are to remember, that I am only speaking of those people not yet converted to Christianity, by which this licentiousness is not allowed. And yet, notwithstanding the maxims we inculcate to them, the natives continue no other than what they were before, that is to say, as much addicted to venery as ever, and rarely miss an occasion of gratifying their appetite to it. The only way we can think of to prevent their offending religion, is to have them married as soon as they begin to feel themselves men. The restraint however in this point is, what they can least endure.
In their unconverted state, their manner of courtship and marriage is as follows: When a youth has an inclination to enter into the connubial state, his father, or next relation, looks out for a girl, to whose father the proposal is made: this being always transacted between the parents of the parties to be married. The young man, who is commonly about thirty years of age, or twenty at the least, rarely consults his own fancy in this point. The girl, who is always extreamly young, is never supposed to trouble her head about the measures that are taking to marry her. When the parents on each side have settled the matter, the youth is applied to, that he may prepare his calumet as soon as he pleases.
The calumet used on these occasions, is a sort of spungeous reed, which may furnish, according to its length, a number of calumets, each of which is about a foot long, to be lighted at one end, the other serving to suck in the smoak at the mouth, and is suffered to burn within an inch of the lips.
The speech made to the youth on this occasion is as follows: "Thou may'st go when thou wilt, by day or by night, to light thy calumet in such a cabbin. Thou must observe to direct the smoak of it towards the person who is designed for thee, and carry it so, that she may take such a taste to this vapor, as to desire of thee that she may smoak of thy calumet. Show thyself worthy of thy nation, and do honor to thy sex and youth. Suffer none in the cabbin to which thou art admitted, to want any thing thy industry, thy art, or thy arrows can procure them, as well for food, as for peltry, or oil, for the good of their bodies, inside and outside. Thou hast four winters given thee, for a trial of thy patience and constancy."
At this the youth never fails of going to the place appointed. If the girl, (who knows the meaning of this) has no particular aversion to him, she is soon disposed to ask his calumet of him. In some parts, but not in this where I am, she signifies her acceptance by blowing it out. Here she takes it from him, and sucking it, blows the smoak towards his nostrils, even sometimes so violently, as to make him qualm-sick, at which she is highly delighted. Nothing, however, passes farther against the laws of modesty, though she will tress his hair, paint his face, and imprint on various parts of his body curious devices and flourishes, all relative to their love; which she pricks in, and rubs over with a composition that renders the impression uncancellable.
If the parents of the girl are pleased with the procedure of the suitor, they commonly, at the end of the second year, dispense, in his favor, with the rest of the probation-time; and, indeed, they could not well before, the girl almost always wanting, from the time she is first courted, at least two years to bring on the age of consummation. They tell him, "Thou may'st now take a small part of the covering of thy beloved whilst she sleeps." No sooner is this compliment made him, than, without saying any thing, he goes out of the cabbin, armed with his bow and arrows, and hurrying home acquaints his friends, that he is going to the woods, whence he shall not return till it pleases his beloved to recall him.
Accordingly he repairs forthwith to the woods, and stays there for two or three days, diverting himself with hunting; at the end of which it has been agreed on, to send all the youths of the village to fetch him: and they come back loaded with game of all sorts, though the bridegroom is not suffered to carry any thing. There is also great provision made of seal and sea-cows for the wedding-feast.
The head Juggler of the village, meets the bridegroom who is at the head of the procession, takes him by the hand, and conducts him to the cabbin of the bride, where he is to take part of her bed; upon which he lies down by her side, and both continue unmoveable and silent like two statues, whilst they are obliged to hear the long tedious harangues of the Juggler, of the parents of both, and of their oldest relations. After that, they both get up, and are led, the one by the young men, the other by the girls, to the place of entertainment, all singing, shooting, and dancing.
The bridegroom is seated amongst the young men on one side, and the bride amongst the girls on another. One of his friends takes an Oorakin, loads it with roast-meat, and sets it down by him, whilst one of her's does the same thing, with an Oorakin of the same size, and nearly alike, which is placed by the bride's side. After this ceremony of placing the Oorakin, the Juggler pronounces certain magical words over the meat: he foretels, especially to the bride, the dreadful consequences she must expect from the victuals she is about to eat, if she has in her heart any perfidiousness towards her husband: that she may be assured of finding in the Oorakin that contains them, a certain prognostic of her future happiness, or unhappiness: of happiness, if she is disposed never in her life to betray her nation, nor especially her husband, upon any occasion, or whatever may befal her: of unhappiness, if through the caresses of strangers, or by any means whatever she should be induced to break her faith to him, or to reveal to the enemy the secrets of the country.
At the end of every period, all the assistants signify their assent to the Juggler's words, by a loud exclamation of Hah! Whilst he is talking, the particular friend of the bridegroom, and that of the bride, keep their eyes fixed on the two Oorakins; and as soon as he has done, the bride's friend making as if she did not think of what she was about, takes the Oorakin allotted for the bridegroom, and carries it to the bride, whilst the bridegroom's friend, (the thing being pre-concerted) acts the like mummery of inadvertence, and sets before the bridegroom the Oorakin belonging to the bride; after which the dishes are served in to the rest of the company. When they are all served, the two friends of the parties musing a little, pretend to have just then discovered their exchange of the bride and bridegroom's Oorakins. They declare it openly to each other, at which the Juggler takes up his cue, and with a solemn face says, "The Manitoo has had his designs in this mistake: he has vouchsafed to give an indubitable sign of his approbation of the strait alliance this day contracted. What is the one's, is the same as the other's. They are henceforward united, and are as one and the same person. It is done. May they multiply without end!" At this the assistants all start up, and with cries of joy, and congratulation, rush to embrace the bride and bridegroom, and overwhelm them with caresses. After which they sit very gravely down again to the entertainment before them, and dispatch it in great silence. This is followed by dances of all kinds, with which the feast for the day concludes, as must this letter, in which I have certainly had less attention to the observing the limits of one, than to the gratifying your curiosity, with respect to these people, amongst whom my lot has so long been cast.
I am, Sir, Your most obedient Humble servant,
To understand the following piece, it is necessary to know, that after the insidious peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, the savage nations, especially the Mickmakis and Maricheets continued hostilities against the English, at the underhand instigation of the French, who meant thereby to prevent, or at least distress, as much as obstruct, our new settlements in Nova-Scotia. For this purpose, the French missionaries had their cue from their government to act the incendiaries, and, to inflame matters to the highest pitch. These being, however, sensible, that the part assigned them was a very odious one, and inconsistent with the spirit of that religion for which they profess such zeal, one of them, by way of palliation, and in order to throw the blame on the English themselves, drew up the following state of the case, between our nation and the savages, viz.
Motives of the Savages, called Mickmakis and Maricheets, for continuing the War with England since the last Peace.
Dated Isle-Royal, 175-.
These nations have never been able to forget all that the English settled in North-America have done since the very first of their establishment, towards destroying them root and branch. They have especially, at every moment, before their eyes the following transactions:
In 1744, towards the end of October, Mr. Gorrhon, (perhaps Goreham) deceased, commanding a detachment of the English troops, sent to observe the retreat the French and savages were making from before Port-Royal (Annapolis) in Acadia, (Nova-Scotia): this detachment having found two huts of the Mickmaki-savages, in a remote corner, in which there were five women and three children, (two of the women were big with child) ransacked, pillaged, and burnt the two huts, and massacred the five women and three children. It is to be observed, that the two pregnant women were found with their bellies ripped open. An action which these savages cannot forget, especially as at that time they made fair war with the English. They have always looked on this deed as a singular mark of the most unheard-of cruelty. [Who would not look on it in the same light? But as no nation on earth is known to have more than ours constitutionally, a horror for such barbarities, especially in cold blood; it may be very easily presumed, that this fact was, if true, committed by some of the savages themselves, without the knowledge of the commander, or of any of the English troops.]
Five months before this action, one named Danas, or David, an English privateer, having treacherously hoisted French colors in the Streights of Fronsac, by means of a French deserter he had with him, decoyed on board his vessel the chief of the savages of Cape-Breton, called James Padanuque, with his whole family, whom he carried to Boston, where he was clapped into a dungeon the instant he was landed; from which he was only taken out to stifle him on board of a vessel, in which they pretended to return him safe to Cape-Breton. His son, at that time a boy of eight years of age, they will absolutely not release; though, since their detention of that young savage, they have frequently had prisoners sent back to them, without ransom, on condition of restoring the young man to his country: but though they accepted the condition, they never complied with it.
In the month of July, 1745, the same Danas, with the same success, employed the same decoy on a savage-family, which could not get out of their hands, but by escaping one night from their prisons.
About the same time one named Bartholomew Petitpas, an appointed savage-linguist, was carried away prisoner to Boston. The savages have several times demanded him in exchange for English prisoners they then had in their hands, of whom two were officers, to whom they gave their liberty, on condition of the Bostoners returning of Petitpas; whom, however, they not only kept prisoner, but afterwards put to death.
In the same year, 1745, a missionary of the savages of Cape Breton, Natkikouesch, Picktook, and of the island of St. John, having been invited by several letters, on the part of the commodore of the English squadron, and of the general of the land-forces, to a parley, those gentlemen desired with him, concerning the savages, repaired to Louisbourg, at that time in possession of the English, on the assurances they had given him in writing, and on the formal promises they had bound with an oath, of full liberty to return from whence he came, after having satisfied them in all they wanted of him. They detained him at Louisbourg, where they gave him a great deal of ill usage, and obliged him to embark, all sick as he was, and destitute of necessaries, on board of one of the ships of the squadron, in which he was conveyed to England, from whence he at length got to France. [Most probably he had not given the satisfaction required by those gentlemen, which had been confessedly by himself made the condition of his return.]
The same year, 1745, several bodies of the savages, deceased, and buried at Port Tholouze, were dug up again by the Bostoners, and thrown into the fire. The burying-place of the savages was demolished, and all the crosses, planted on the graves, broke into a thousand pieces.
In 1746, some stuffs that the savages had bought of the English, who then traded in the bay of Megagouetch at Beau-bassin, there being at that time a great scarcity of goods over all the country, were found to be poisoned, [Is it possible a missionary of the truths of the Gospel could gravely commit to paper such an infernal lie? If even the savages had been stupid enough of themselves to imbibe such a notion, was it not the duty of a Christian to have shewn them the folly of it, or even but in justice to the Europeans? But what must be their guilt, if they suggested it? Surely, scarce less than that of the action itself.] so that more than two hundred savages of both sexes perished thereby.
In 1749, towards the end of the month of May, at a time that the suspension of arms between the two crowns was not yet known in New France, the savages, having made prisoners two Englishmen of Newfoundland, had from these same prisoners the first news of the cessation of hostilities. They believed them on their bare words, expressed their satisfaction to them, treated them like brothers, unbound them, and carried them to their huts. The said prisoners rose in the night, and massacred twenty-five of these savages, men, women, and children. There were but two of the savages escaped this carnage, by being accidentally not present. [How improbable is the whole of this story?]
Towards the end of the same year, the English being come to Chibuckto, made the report be every where spread [The missionaries in those parts might indeed raise such reports; the which giving the savages an aversion to the English, forced them to take hostile measures against them in their own defence: but who would suspect the English themselves of raising them, in direct opposition to their own interest?], that they were going to destroy all the savages. They seemed to act in consequence thereto, since they sent detachments of their troops, on all sides, in pursuit of the savages.
These people were so alarmed with this procedure of the English, that from that time they determined, as weak as they were, to declare open war against them. Knowing that France had concluded a peace with England, they nevertheless resolved not to cease from falling on the English, wherever they could find them; saying, they were indispensably obliged to it, since, against all justice, they wanted to expel them out of their country. They then sent a declaration of war in form to the English, in the name of their nation, and of the savages in alliance with it.
As to what concerns the missionaries to the savages, they cannot be suspected of using any connivence in all this, if justice is done to the conduct they have always observed amongst them, and especially in the time of the last war. How many acts of inhumanity would have been committed by this nation, naturally vindictive, if the missionaries had not taken pains, in good earnest, to put such ideas out of their heads? It is notorious, that the savages believe that there are no extremities of barbarity, but what are within the rules of war against those whom they consider as their enemies. Inexpressible are the efforts which these same missionaries have employed to restrain, on such occasions, this criminal ferocity, especially as the savages deemed themselves authorized by right of reprisals. How many unfortunate persons of the English nation would have been detained for ever captives, or undergone the most cruel deaths, if, by the intervention of the missionaries, the savages had not been prevailed on to release them?
They are even ready to prove, by their written instructions, the lessons they inculcate to the savages, of the humanity and gentleness they ought to practise, even in time of war. It is especially ever since about seventeen years ago, that they do not cease declaiming against those barbarous and sanguinary methods of proceeding that seem innate to them. On this principle it is, that in the written maxims of conduct for them, care has been taken to insert a chapter, which, from the beginning to the end, places before their eyes the extreme horror they ought to have of such enormities. Their children particularly are sedulously taught this whole chapter, whence it comes, that one may daily perceive them growing more humane, and more disposed to listen, on this head, to the remonstrances of the missionaries.
[To this plea of innocence in the French missionaries, as to any instigation of the savages to hostilities against the English, we shall oppose the testimony of their own court, in the following words of the French ministry, in the very same year, 1751.
"His Majesty (the French king) has already observed, that the savages have hitherto been in the most favorable dispositions; and it even appears, that the conduct of the general C—n—ll—s, with respect to them, has only served to exasperate them more and more. It is of the greatest importance, both for the present and future, to keep them up to that spirit. The missionaries amongst them, are more than any one at hand to contribute thereto, and his majesty has reason to be satisfied with the pains they take in it. Our governor must excite these missionaries not to slacken their endeavours on this head. But he should advise them to contain their zeal within due bounds, so as not to render themselves obnoxious to the English, unless for very good purpose, and so as to avoid giving handle for just complaints."
In this his most Christian Majesty has been faithfully served by these missionaries, in all points, except that political injunction of not giving a handle for just complaints, which they overshot in the ardor of their zeal; since it is undoubted matter of fact, that the missionaries openly employed all their arts, and all the influence of religion, to invenom the savages against us. Thence, besides a number of horrid cruelties, the most treacherous and base murder of captain How, at a conference, by some savages they set on, who perpetrated it within sight of the French forces. The publishing, however, of the foregoing memorial may have this good effect, that it will apprise the English of the matter of accusation against them, and enable them to counter-work those holy engines of state, and emissaries of ambition. It is also certain, that this very memorial was drawn up by a French priest, purely to furnish the French ministry a specious document to oppose to the most just representations of the British government. Besides the fictions with which it abounds, he has taken care to suppress the acts of cruelty committed, and the atrocious provocations given by the savages, at the instigation of his fellow-laborers sedition and calumny.]
Mons. DE LA VARENNE,
FRIEND at ROCHELLE.
Louisbourg, the 8th of May, 1756.
Though I had, in my last, exhausted all that was needful to say on our private business, I could not see this ship preparing for France, especially with our friend Moreau on board, without giving you this further mark of how ardently I wish the continuance of our correspondence. It will also serve to supplement any former deficiencies of satisfaction to certain points of curiosity you have stated to me; this will give to my letter a length beyond the ordinary limits of one: and I have before-hand to excuse to you, the loose desultory way in which you will find I write, as things present themselves to my mind, without such method or arrangement, as a formal design of treating the subject would exact. But who looks for that in a letter?
I need not tell you how severely our government has felt the dismemberment of that important tract of country already in the possession of the English, under the name of Acadia; to say nothing of their further pretentions, which would form such terrible encroachments on Canada. And no wonder it should feel it, considering the extent of so fruitful, and valuable a country as constitutes that peninsula. It might of itself form a very considerable and compact body of dominion, being, as you know, almost everywhere surrounded by the sea, and abounding with admirable and well-situated ports. It is near one hundred leagues in length, and about sixty in breadth. Judge what advantages such an area of country, well-peopled, and well-cultivated, and abounding in mines, might produce. It is full of hills, though I could not observe any of an extraordinary heighth, except that of Cape Doree, at the mouth of the river des Mines, the most fertile part of it in corn and grain, and once the best peopled. There are a number of rivers very rapid, but not large, except that of St. John's, which is the finest river of all Acadia, where good water is rather scarce.
The soil in the vallies is rich, and even in the uplands, commonly speaking, good. The grains it yields are wheat, pease, barley, oats, rye, and Indian corn, and especially that of the vallies, for the higher ground is not yet cultivated. The pastures are excellent and very common, and more than sufficient to supply Cape-Breton, with the cattle that may be raised. There is fine hunting, and a plentiful fishing for cod, salmon, and other fish, particularly on the east-side, which is full of fine harbours at the distance of one, two, three, four, or of six or seven leagues at farthest from one another, within the extent of ninety leagues of coast. It is thought, in short, this fishery is better than any on the coasts belonging to France.
The air is extreamly wholesome, which is proved by the longevity of its inhabitants. I myself know some of above an hundred years of age, descendants from the French established in Acadia. Distempers are very rare. I fancy the climate is pretty near the same as in the north of China, or Chinese-Tartary. This country too, being rather to the southward of Canada, is not so cold as that; the snow not falling till towards St. Andrew's day: nor does it lie on the ground above two or three days at most, after which it begins to soften; and though the thaw does not take place, the weather turns mild enough to allow of working, and undertaking journeys. In short, what may be absolutely called cold weather, may be reduced to about twenty-five or thirty days in a winter, and ceases entirely towards the end of March, or at latest, the middle of April. Then comes the seed-time. Then are made the sugar and syrups of maple, procured from the juice or sap of that tree, by means of incisions in the bark; which sap is carefully received in proper vessels.
I could never find any ginseng-root; yet I have reason to believe there may be some in or near the hills, as the climate and situation have so much affinity to the northern provinces of China, or Northwest Tartary, as described to us by our missionaries.
We have very little knowledge of the medicinal herbs in this country, though some of them have certainly great virtue. There are the maiden-hair, the saxi-frage, and the sarsaparilla. There is also a particular root in this country of an herb called Jean Hebert, about the ordinary size of the Salsifix, or Goatsbread, with knots at about an inch, or an inch and an half distance from one another, of a yellowish colour, white in the inside, with a sugarish juice, which is excellent for the stomach.
There has been lately discovered in these parts a poisonous root, much resembling, in color and substance, a common carrot. When broke it has a pleasing smell; but between the flakes may be observed a yellowish juice, which is supposed to be the poison. Of four soldiers that had eaten of it in their soup lately, two were difficultly preserved by dint of antidotes; the other two died in the utmost agonies of pain, and convulsions of frenzy. One of them was found in the woods sticking by the head in a softish ground, into which he had driven it, probably in the excess of his torture. Such a vegetable must afford matter of curious examination to a naturalist; for as it does so much harm, it may also be capable of great good, if sought into by proper experiments.
The spirit of turpentine is much used by the inhabitants. The gum itself is esteemed a great vulnerary; and purges moderately those who are full of bilious, or gross humors.
For the rest there is, I believe, hardly any sort of grain, tree, or vegetable, especially in the north of France that might not be successfully raised in Acadia. The rains are frequent in every season of the year. There are indeed often violent squalls of wind, especially from the South, and seem the West, but nothing like the hurricanes in the West-Indies. It is a great rarity if thunder does any mischief. Some years ago there was a man killed in his hut by it; but the oldest men of the country never remembered to have known or heard of any thing like it before. There have been earthquakes felt but rarely, and not very violent. This country produces no venomous beasts, at least, that I could hear of. In the warmer season there are sometimes found snakes, not, however, thicker than one's finger, but their bite is not known to be attended with any fatal consequences, There are no tygers, nor lions, nor other beasts of prey to be afraid of unless bears, and that only in their rutting-time, and even then it is very rare that they attack. As there are then no carnivorous animals except the lynxes, who have a beautiful skin, and these rarely fall upon any living creatures; the sheep, oxen, and cows, are turned out into the woods or commons, without any fear for them. Partridges are very common, and are large-sized, with flesh very white. The hares are scarce, and have a white fur. There are a great many beavers, elks, cariboux, (moose-deer) and other beasts of the cold northern countries.
The original inhabitants of this country are the savages, who may be divided into three nations, the Mickmakis, the Maricheets, or Abenaquis, (being scarcely different nations) and the Canibats.
The Mickmakis are the most numerous, but not accounted so good warriors as the others: but they are all much addicted to hunting, and to venery; in which last, however, they observe great privacy. They are fond of strong liquors, and especially of brandy: that is their greatest vice. They are also very uncurious of paying the debts they contract, not from natural dishonesty, but from their having no notion of property, or of meum or tuum. They will sooner part with all they have, in the shape of a gift, than with any thing in that of payment. Honors and goods being all in common amongst them, all the numerous vices, which are founded upon those two motives, are not to be found in them. Yet it is true, that they have chiefs to whom they give the title of Sagamo; but all of them almost, at some time or other, assume to themselves this quality, which is never granted by universal consent, but to the personal consideration of distinguished merit in councils, or in arms. Their troops have this particularity, that they are, for the most part, composed of nothing but officers; insomuch that it is rare to find a savage in the service that will own himself a private man. This want of subordination does not, however, hinder them from concurring together in action, when their native ferocity and emulation stand them, in some sort, instead of discipline.
They are extreamly vindictive, of which I shall give you one example. Mons. Daunay, a French captain, with a servant, being overset in a canoe, within sight of some savages, they threw themselves into the water to save them, and the servant was actually saved. But the savage, who had pitched upon Mons. Daunay, seeing who it was, and remembering some blows with a cane he had a few days before received from him, took care to souse him so often in the water, that he drowned him before he got ashore.
It is remarked, that in proportion as the Europeans have settled in this country, the number of the savages considerably diminishes. As they live chiefly upon their hunting, the woods that are destroyed to cultivate the country, must in course contract the district of their chace, and cause a famine amongst them, that must be fatal to them, or compel them to retire to other countries. The English, sensible of this effect, and who seemed to place their policy in exterminating these savage nations, have set fire to the woods, and burnt a considerable extent of them. I have myself crossed above thirty leagues together, in which space the forests were so totally consumed by fire, that one could hardly at night find a spot wooded enough to afford wherewithal to make an extempore cabbin, which, in this country, is commonly made in the following manner: Towards night the travellers commonly pitch upon a spot as near a rivulet or river as they can; and as no one forgets to carry his hatchet with him, any more than a Spanish don his toledo, some cut down wood for firing for the night; others branches of trees, which are stuck in the ground with the crotch uppermost, over which a thatching is laid of fir-boughs, with a fence of the same on the weather-side only. The rest is all open, and serves for door and window. A great fire is then lighted, and then every body's lodged. They sup on the ground, or upon some leaved branches, when the season admits of it; and afterwards the table serves for a bed. The savages themselves rarely have any fixed hut, or village, that maybe called a permanent residence. If there are any parts they most frequently inhabit, it is only those which abound most in game, or near some fishing-place. Such were formerly for them, before the English had driven them away, Artigoneesch, Beaubassin, Chipoody, Chipnakady, Yoodayck, Mirtigueesh, La Heve Cape Sable, Mirameeky, Fistigoisch, La Baye des Chaleurs Pentagony, Medochtek, Hokepack, and Kihibeki.
At present these savage nations bear an inveterate antipathy to the English, who might have easily prevented or cured it, if instead of rigorous measures, they had at first used conciliative ones: but this it seems they thought beneath them. This it is, that has given our missionaries such a fair field for keeping them fixed to the French party, by the assistance of the difference of religion, of which they do not fail to make the most. But lest you may imagine I am giving you only my own conjectures, take the following extract from, a letter of father Noel de Joinville, of a pretty antient date.
"I have remarked in this country so great an aversion in the convert-savages to the English, caused by difference of religion, that these scarce dare inhabit any part of Acadia but what is under their own guns. These savages are so zealous for the Roman Catholick church, that they always look with horror upon, and consider as enemies those who are not within the pale of it. This may serve to prove, that if there had been priests provided in time, to work at the conversion of the savages of New-England, before the English had penetrated into the interior of the county as far as they have done, it would not have been possible for them to appropriate to themselves such an extent of country as, at this day, makes of New-England alone the most magnificent colony on the face of the earth." [This pompous epithet might have yet been more just, if the improvement of that colony had been enough the care of the state, to have been pushed all the lengths of which it was so susceptible. Few Englishmen will, probably, on reflexion deny, that if but a third of those sums ingulphed by the ungrateful or slippery powers on the continent, upon interests certainly more foreign to England than those of her own colonies, or lavished in a yet more destructive way, that of corrupting its subjects in elections: if the third, I say, of those immense sums, had been applied to the benefit of the plantations, to the fortifying, encouraging, and extending them, there would, by this time, have hardly been a Frenchman's name to be heard of in North-America especially.]