Sketches of the Restigouche

By Irene Doyle

The Daily Sun, St John, N.B.
Wednesday Morning
January 11, 1883

Rev. J. C. Herdman, B.D., of Campbellton, N.B.

(Written as I have found it, grammatical errors and all)

        Coming to later times, we find that they were inclined, on slight provocation, to be unfriendly to the whites, whom, of course, they considered usurpers. Towards the close of the 17th century, the French settlement at Bathurst is said to have been broken up by Micmacs, apparently from Restigouche.

        In 1775 they broke into stores in Carleton on the shores of the bay and robbed the merchants and committed acts of violence, which might have proceeded to greater length had not the missionary of the village quieted them at the peril of his own life. In 1792 a fatal fever broke out among them; they had recourse to jugglery and divination, and concluded that the malady was due to the presence of the English. Next year general uprising against the settlers, and it is said that soldiers were perhaps two or three years later, they appointed a day to set on fire a big house on Big Point, where two Scotch families lived; also a house on Battery Point, further down the river. A squaw who had been well treated in the latter house, divulged the matter to the family and so had them prepared for attack. Either on this occasion or at another time,, they meditated an onset upon Athol house property, but the inmates having heard of it, got eleven pieces of canon together for defence and as it happened, a thunderstorm came on at the time, which the superstitions of the Indians made them interpret as the intervention of the Great Spirit, and they desisted from their attempt.

        Some of the old inhabitants state, that they were struck on first coming here by certain physical characteristics of the Indians, of such Chinese in a city he thought at first he was in the presence of Restigouche Indians. There may be mentioned in this connection the features and contour of the face - especially the high cheekbones and the almond shaped down-curving eyes; then the familiar and oriental habit of squatting; and lastly,, the long queue or pigtail invariably worn by the men.

        As to their religion, the Indians of Restigouche have long been under the teaching and guardianship of the Roman Catholic Church. The Recollect Fathers undertook at an early date the christianizing of the Indians of the North Shore of New Brunswick; and shortly after their own settlement, 1620 in their convent in Quebec, sent missionaries of their number to Nepisiquit. Of these one died in 1623, of hunger and fatigue travelling from Miscou to the St John River. Miscou seems to have been the centre of their operations on the North Shore, probably an account of its being a station used for trading in fish and so visited often by Acadians. It is spoken of in the "Relations of the Jesuits," as being in 1659 a populous place; but then it is defined as comprehending the Indians or "savages" of Gaspe, Nepisiquit, and Mirimichi, and these are further certified to be well disposed and more fully christianized than in any part of Acadie. The Restigouche Indians were thus included (as belonging to the Gaspe coast) in the above statement. The Miscou mission seems to have prospered well and required more machinery and closer organization, for we find that in 1685, by order of Nicolas Denys, King's Governor and Lieutenant General in all the c...... and confines of the bay of St. Lawrence, "3 leagues of land in front, in Restigouche, to be 3 leagues also in depth, were granted to the ecclesiastics of the "Episcopal Seminary of foreign missions" at Quebec on condition of their maintaining a mission, a chapel and a resident priest; the exact location to be determined within ten years. The mission grounds were fixed upon the south side of the River. the headquarters being on what is locally, known as "Old Church Point" a little above Athol House, about three miles above Campbellton. Their chapel has long since disappeared, but the bell of it was a relic remembered by some of the older settlers. They had quite a village too, it was stockaded, with chapel and graveyard within. Of late years, storms had made encroachments on the graveyard, which is near the riverside. The proprietor of Athol House some years ago caused several bones which had been exposed by the easterly storms to be gathered together, and sent them in a box to the Indians on the other side of the river, who interred them in their present cemetery. The size of body, and there is no doubt that the Indians at their best were very tall men.

        In 1745 the mission included 60 families, under the care of Father L'Estage. At that same date the mission on Cape Breton, including 80 families, was broken up, and the Indians removed, on account of their hostility to the British Government. It is probable that some of Them joined the Restigouche Mission. Shortly after Father Millard, of the late Cape Breton Mission, and under his guidance, they left the south or New Brunswick side of the river and settled on north of Quebec side, on a very fertile flat of level intervale, nearly opposite Campbellton and Known as "the Mission". Two reasons are assigned for this action; one that the settlement on Big point was cramped for want of room; and the other that the Indians deemed themselves safer under the French flag; though truth to tell what belonged to France and what of Britain at this period of the whole coastline from Gaspe downwards to Nova Scotia is not very evident. The commission of 1750-53 having failed to settle it, the final recourse was to arms. However, at that troublous period, in which the Micmacs of Acadie had their share of fears and fighting, the Restigouche Indians by removing to the other side of the river were in a better place for protection: the Mission being situated between a French village above and some French batteries further down the river. It would appear that they took part in the battle of 1760. Why they did not appear that they took part in the battle of 1760. Why they did not present themselves at Fort Cumberland in 1761 with other Micmac tribes to take the oath of allegiance to the British Government is not very evident, unless they were considered to belong to Canada, now gained by conquest. They have been in the country ever since. Their spiritual wants have been consistently attended to by the church that Christianised them. For a long time after 1760, however, they were deprived of the presence of a resident missionary and were placed in charge of the parish priest of Carleton, down the bay. Now it is different, and for many years back they have had priests of their own and have made upon the whole very good parishioners.

        In the days of the early British settlers, the Restigouche Indian occupied them selves mostly with fishing and hunting. They were experts in spearing salmon, which they used sometimes, it is said, to pile in stacks. Their old men speak of their father being employed by the whites to bring them salmon, and of their killing in three or four days fish enough to load a vessel of 50 or 60 tons. Without doubt salmon were plentiful in those days.

        There is little enough of pure Indian blood among them now, and the young men do not like to be called "Indians" at all. There have been lawful marriages between them and the whites; I heard of one the other day with a tinge of romance in it; but for the most part the intercourse has been illicit and shameless, and beyond a doubt it is British (sailors chiefly and other connected with the lumber trade) on whom the responsibility rests. They take kindly enough to agriculture and are quite comfortably off. In winter, several go lumbering and command good wages, filling oftentimes very responsible positions. They are brave in work and the best of them are much sought after as river drivers. In summer, employment is freely obtained by them at remunerative rates for taking tourists and fishermen up the rivers and to the salmon pools. In fact, they would do well if only they would keep from liquor and learn to be provident. Too often winter finds them unprepared; then they tear up their fence rails and are very apt to make depredations on their white neighbors' groves. They are not allowed now to indulge in their favourite pastime of spearing salmon. One small stand for nets is granted them, but they refuse to avail themselves of what they consider such an inadequate concession. They are intimately acquainted with the rivers and are most expert canoemen. Many of the Squaws are excellent at coarse work and are often employed for such purposes by the whites.

        Finer land than the Mission flat it would be hard to find anywhere. It is a Government reserve. One hundred acres are apportioned for church lands, including a school house. Lord Dalhousie is said to have offered the Indians 600 and twice as much land elsewhere if they would give up the land, but they are there still. They gave the Government Commissioners some little trouble too on this same question of land ownership. It was supposed to be on this subject that one of their number, Peter Basket, went to Britain about 1850. Having been presented to Her Majesty, and received presents from titled personages, and agricultural implements for his tribe, he returned to Restigouche after some years' absence and appeared quite unexpectedly at the settlement. A different fate from Enoch Arden's awaited him, for the first woman he met as he landed on the Mission beach was his own wife. Another prominent member of the tribe, Joe Barnaby, visited Britain at another date, was received at court, and presented to royalty. Others of them have been to Ottawa on matters connected with their tribal life and privileges. To this day they have their chief and council meetings, held twice a year. On one occasion, not very long since, when they considered themselves unjustly treated on some money question they sent up a deputation to parliament - and what is more, were successful in their contention, They number now about 500 souls, and appear to be decreasing. On account of changed modes of living they are very liable to consumption. There is considerable mortality among children, and families are smaller than with the whites.

        Education receives attention. The younger generation are learning to read and write in English and French. Of course they keep up their own language, and a musical and expressive one it is. Materials for a Grammar exist in connection with the Mission; however, the Chief acts as interpreter for the priest in the public services of the church. Living originally, and within the remembrance of old settlers, in wigwams, they have all comfortable houses now, with tilled land, barns, gardens, and stock. Some of their horses and cattle are very good. By the number of pigs about the doors as one drives through the settlement (Hungry, black, lean porkers they are too for the most part) one would almost rake it for an Irish community. Very companionable some of the Indians are, in their excursions up the river. They will sing and narrate anecdotes and rejoice in being considered "good company". They were favorites with H.R.H. the Princess Louise, who employed some of them in her fishing expeditions on the Restigouche and who subsequently paid a visit to their settlement and called several of them by name. His Excellency the Governor General also took sufficient interest in them on the other side of the river to sell them liquor; to which expression of opinion all lovers of law and morality will say "Amen."

        It may be noted before we leave the Indians, that many relics of old Indian handiwork have been exhumed by settlers at different points in Restigouche, especially arrow-heads, spear-heads, polished whet-stones, and stone axes.

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