I was excited to hear Lisa Brooks speak at the Maine Historical Society last night. Lisa is the author of Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War, which is an amazing narrative. She goes back to original documents and source material, combined with local Indigenous knowledge to reexamine the stories of the New England colonies and the Indigenous peoples during the later 1600s, particularly the unfolding of hostilities that came to be known as King Philip’s War. I wrote about some of my first impressions in an earlier post.
In her talk, she focused on the parts of the book that were about Wabanaki territory, what we now know as Maine. One of the things I especially noticed was the name of this place–greater Portland–before it was occupied by settlers–Cascoak. The Fore River used to be called the Casco River.
I learned more about Skitterygusset, the sachem who first made an agreement for a settler to live near Capisic Brook and its uplands (where Margy and I now live). Lisa talked about how after the deaths from disease that happened during first contact, many native people were building new alliances between regions, through marriage and family relationships. Thus, Skitterygusset cannot be understood apart from his relationship to his sister, Warrabitta, who was the leader of Owaskoag (now Scarborough). Women were often rulers, especially in places where planting fields were located, since women were responsible for the planting fields. Owashkoag was a sweetgrass gathering place. Their brother, Sagawetton, lived with his wife on the Saco River.
In settler narratives, when they talk about Indian raids, they write as if the hostilities were random acts of violence. But Lisa talked about how the raids were focused on settlers who were upsetting the balance of communal subsistence living. One example was the settlers who had built their houses at Amancongon, which was an important planting field on the Presumpscot River (now part of Westbrook). Another target was to burn the mills, set up at falls on multiple rivers. By the time of the “Indian wars” there were 50 saw mills that had been built: they cut and harvested the huge white pines of the forest, processing 1000 feet a day of pine board. Destruction of the forests meant destruction of the game that was hunted. The mills also prevented fish from migrating upriver, thus cutting off another important source of food.
I have to stop for now, but I was newly inspired in my quest to understand the history of this place. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!