[Notes from Editor: As page numbers in electronic editions do not correspond to those in original printed versions, they are omitted from any Tables of Contents or Illustration Lists in works that we transcribe. Spellings are left as they were in the original work. Sentence & punctuation anomalies are also (mostly) left intact. Footnotes follow the paragraph in which they are referenced, enclosed by square brackets. Richard MacNeil]
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PICTOU IN THE PREHISTORIC PERIOD.
It is now known that these coasts were visited by the Breton and Basque fisherman during the sixteenth century, and that they traded with the aborigines, supplying them with various implements in exchange for their furs. It is probably that Pictou harbour was then well known to these hardy mariners. The only fact, however, known to us which seem to afford evidence of their presence, was the discovery by Henry Poole, Esq., on the 17th March, 1860, of a piece of wood three and a half feet below the surface of the ground, while the men were engaged in cutting a drain, on what is now the Acadian Company's area at Albion Mines. This piece of wood, three feet long, showed marks of having been cut with an axe, while the trees growing above that spot were two feet in diameter, and he counted 230 rings of annual growth in the hemlock tree cut down just over it.
The first recorded notice of Pictou, however, are to be found in the voyages of the early French visitors, in the early part of the 17th century. We may here give a description of its shores from an account published in the year 1672, by Monsieur Denys, appointed Governor of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the year 1654.
" Starting from Cape St. Louis ( now Cape George), ten leagues thence we come to a small river, whose entrance has a bar, which sometimes closes in, when the weather is stormy and the sea piles up the sand at its mouth, but when the river swells it passes over and makes an opening. Only small sloops can enter this river, and it does not run deep into the country, which is tolerably fine and covered with trees." This we take to be the eastern end of the Big Island of Merigomish. "Proceeding westward for about a dozen leagues the coast is nothing but a rugged mass, with the exception of several openings of different dimensions. The land round about is low, it appears fertile, and is covered with fine trees, among which I noticed quantities of oak."
The following is his description of Pictou harbour, or, as he calls it, the river of Pictou:- " Passing these you find a large opening, where there are several cliffs by the side of low headlands or meadows, in which are numerous ponds, where there is so great an abundance of all kinds of game that it is surprising, and if the game there is abundant, the earth is not less beneficent. All the trees are very fine and large. There are oaks, maples, cedars, pines, firs and every kind of wood. The large river is right at the entrance , and the sloops go from seven to eight leagues within, after which you meet with a small island covered with the same wood, farther than which you cannot proceed without canoes. The country on both sides of the river, for the space of a league toward its source, is covered with pines, large and small, and they are fine trees, as they were down below. There are also along its sides, creeks and " cul de sacs," with meadows, where the chase is capital."
" A league and a half up the river there is a large harbour (we suppose at South Pictou) where you may find large quantities of excellent oysters; some, in one place, are nearly all round, and deeper in the harbour they are monstrous. Among them are some larger than a shoe and nearly the same shape, and they are all very fat and of good taste. And at the entrance of this river, toward the right, half a league from its mouth, there is also a large bay, which runs nearly three leagues into the land, and contains a number of islands, and on both sides you find meadows and game in abundance." For some of these details Mr. Denys seems to have drawn on his imagination.
When first visited by Europeans this, like the rest of the Province, was inhabited by the Micmac (properly Miggumac) tribe of Indians, a branch of the great Algonquin race, which included all the tribes along the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Labrador. Of these the Micmac were one of the most powerful, occupying not only Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, but the whole eastern and northern coast of New Brunswick and the south side of the St. Lawrence for some distance from its mouth. This extensive territory, known to the aborigines as Miggumahgee,* Micmacland, or country of the Micmacs, was, and indeed is yet, divided into districts, inhabited by tribes, or subdivisions of the race, each under its separate chief, who acknowledged the chief of Oonamahgee, or Cape Breton as their head, his superiority, however, consisting in little more than his being umpire in case of any dispute between the other chiefs, and presiding at any general council. Of these divisions, Pictou was the centre of the district extending along the north shore of Nova Scotia, those belonging to it being known as Pectougawak, or Pictonians. ** Merigomish, however, seems to have been their head quarters.
This was a favorable position for them. It was near the fishery in the Gulf; the islands abounded in wild fowl, the rivers swarmed with fish, and the woods in the rear were plentifully stocked with game. Their principal place for encampment was at the foot of Barneys River, on the east side, where they had, when the English settlers arrived, some clearings on which they raised a little Indian corn and a few beans. Other places around, such as the Big Island, some of the smaller islands in the harbour, and some of the points on the shore, were also sites of their encampments, as may yet be seen by the quantities of the shells of oysters and other shellfish found on the land, and stone hatchets and arrow heads still occasionally picked up. Their burying ground, when the English settled, and for how long previous we know not, was near the west end of Big Island on the south side,
[* The classical reader may observe in the termination of this and other names the Greek word ge, land or country.]
[** The others were, besides Cape Breton, Memramcook, and Restigouche to the north, and Eskegawaage, from Canso to Halifax, Sigunikt or Cape Negro, and Kespoogwit or Cape Chignecto, seven in all.]
a short distance east of
Savage Point.* This they used till about forty years ago, and here stood a number
of crosses till a recent period. But all the Indians of the county now bury
on Chapel Island or Indian Island, an island in the harbour donated to them
by Governor Wentworth.
In the map accompanying Charlevoix's work, the mouth of the East River is marked as the site of an Indian village. This must have been situated on the east side, nearly opposite the loading ground, on the farm of the late Jas. McKay, now in possession of J. McGregor and McKenzie. There, close by the river, is a beautiful flat, like a piece of intervale, but higher and very slightly rounded, bounded in the rear by a bank, by which the land rises abruptly to a higher level. Here the land was clear when the English settlers arrived, and for some time after, when it was ploughed, various articles were turned up, such as broken pieces of crockery, a gun barrel, and on one occasion a pewter basin, about eight inches in diameter, with a narrow rim, also five or six table spoons, while around have been found quite a number of stone hatchets, and oyster shells are abundant. These facts show that this place was occupied by them, both before and after the arrival of Europeans.**
The opposite side of the river gives evidence of similar occupancy, in particular a field on the farm of William Dunbar, on being ploughed, has been found covered with oyster shells.
On a point a little lower down the river was another
[* This was so called from a Captain Savage, of Truro, who had died while his vessel was lying there, and was buried in the sand on the shore. Either his vessel or another, named Betty, drifted ashore on the point of the island opposite, which has since been called Point Betty Island.]
[** An impression has prevailed that this was a French settlement, and it has even been supposed that some embankments of the Big Gut, a little further up were their work. One hut was found by the English settlers at the latter point, but all the other facts indicate the occupancy of the place by Micmacs, while the slightest examination of the embankments referred to, show that they were not raised by the hand of man, but by the tide assisted probably by ice along the shores of the creek. ]
burying place. Here stood at the arrival of the English settlers, and until recent period, a large iron cross, about ten feet high. Hence the place is still known as Indian Cross Point, though the locality is still known among the Micmacs, as Soogunagade or rotting place.
Here the Indians buried till a few years ago. Many of the graves can still be traced by the rows of flat stones, by which they were originally covered, which have now sunk to the level of the ground or perhaps were always in that position, and are partly overgrown with grass. The water is wasting away the bank, so that human bones may be found exposed on the shore.
Frasers Point, particularly on the farm of Mr. Hugh Fraser, and Middle River Point, especially at McKay's farm, by the shells that the plough turns up, and the stone implements formerly found in abundance, and still occasionally obtained, are shown to have been also places of frequent resort.
The decaying remnants of the Micmac tribe look back on the period referred to as the golden age of their race. Then they held undisputed possessions of all these regions, and were a terror to the surrounding tribes. They could muster by thousands. They were at peace among themselves, drunkenness was unknown, and the various European diseases, by which they have since been swept away, were unheard of. The land abounded with game and the waters teemed with fish. The forest sheltered them from the storm, and skins of animals afforded the warmest covering by night and by day. " My father," said an old Indian, " have coat outside beaver, inside otter." Thus speaks tradition, and in some respects truly, though it would not be difficult from what we know of savage life, to find another side to the picture.
Though divided into small tribes they could combine to prosecute wars, in which they were frequently engaged with the natives of Maine and New Hampshire, and with the Iroquois and the Mohawks of the St. Lawrence. The wars with the latter occupied a prominent place in the traditions of the Micmac of Pictou, and they preserve the memory of fierce battles, fought in the neighborhood of Merigomish.
I have lately had evidence that these traditions are not without foundation. Mr. Donald McGregor of the Big Island, in ploughing a spot in his field, where the vegetation is ranker than usual, turned up a human skull. On examination there was found a mass of human bones much decayed, among them a skull, transfixed by a flint arrow head, which yet remains in its place. Along with these remains were a large number of ancient implements, stone axes, flint arrow heads, etc., but none of them giving evidence of intercourse with Europeans. The transfixed skull, and the whole appearance of the place, plainly showed that here the bodies of those who had fallen in some battle, have been heaped together, " in one red burial blent."
I visited the place in 1874. The spot is small, not more than eight or ten feet in diameter, and as soon as the ground is turned, it will at once be distinguished from the surrounding soil, being a loose black mould, containing fragments of bones, so decayed that they can be crushed between the fingers, all, no doubt, once the flesh and blood of brave warriors. This pit, if it can be called such, is very shallow, being not more than fifteen to twenty inches deep. At the bottom I found decayed fragments of birch bark, in which, according to the custom of the ancient Micmacs, the dead were laid. Below this was a hard subsoil, which plainly had never been disturbed. The shallowness of the pit also indicates that this burial took place previous to the coming of the Europeans, when sharpened sticks of wood were their only instruments of digging.
The ground had been so thoroughly dug over before my visit, that it was impossible to ascertain anything as to the arrangements of the bodies, and nearly all the implements had been carried away; but I found a stone axe, which bore the evidence of having been ground to a sharp edge, probably immediately before the encounter in which its owner fell, some fragments of very rude pottery, and a broken tobacco pipe, made of a piece of very finely grained granite rock, the shaping and polishing as well as the drilling of the bowl and stem of which, must have involved much labour.
On examination the ground around, we found that it was the site of an ancient cemetery, in which we found, in addition to such implements as already mentioned, bone spearheads and small copper knives. The burying ground used by the Micmacs till forty years ago was about half a mile further to the west, but the place we refer to is evidently much older. Indeed, some of the remains seemed to indicate that they belonged to another race, a people of small size, like the Esquimaux. That the Algonquin race came from the south-west is now the received opinion of American Antiquarians, and there are also strong reasons to believe, that the Esquimaux occupied the shores of North America, to a point much farther south than they now do. Charleevoix describes the Micmac in his day, as maintaining a constant warfare with them, and the probability is that the former on first occupying this region, drove the latter before them, and these remains may be the relics of their conflicts.
One curious fact was manifest in this cemetery, which has not hitherto been noticed in connection with Micmac customs, viz., the use of fire in some way in connection with the dead. Some of the graves give no indication of this, and in one I was able to trace the position in which the body had lain, viz., on its side in a crouching posture. But in other case the remains were mixed with ashes, small pieces of charcoal and burnt earth, showing the use of fire for some unexplained purpose. In another I found just a quantity of ashes with some fragments of bones, none more than an inch long. The whole had been carefully buried, and probably the remains of some captive whom they had burned.
We may add that here, as elsewhere, every prominent object, whether hill or river, streamlet or lake, headland or island, had its appropriate designation in their language, which is still in use among them. A few of these names, with the meanings, so far as we have been furnished, we subjoin:-
English Names. Micmac names. Meaning.Pictou Island..................... Cunsunk...................
meaning the place of running
to the bushes, from the Micmacs taking refuge in the woods. *
As illustrative of these times, we shall give a traditionary account of the conclusion of the last war with the Canibas, as the Micmacs call them, the tribe of Indians inhabiting Maine, and extending up to the St. Lawrence, now usually known as the Abenakis. This was related by Peter Toney and taken down by Mr. Rand, and we have reason to believe that the main facts are correct:-
" There had existed for some time a state of hostility between the Canibas and the Micmacs. Two parties of the former, led by two brothers had come down to Pictou and had fortified themselves in two block houses, at Little Harbour. These block houses were constructed of logs, raised up around a vault first dug in the ground. The buildings were covered over, had each a heavy door, and were quite a safe fortification in Indian warfare. At the mouth of Barneys River, near the site of the burying ground, the Micmac were entrenched in a similar fort. **
[* An old resident in the neighborhood informed us that as near as he could guess, about fifty-six years ago, or in the year 1820, an old squaw, one of the most reliable he had known, told him the story, adding that she was the first to discover what had happened. She was at the time a little girl. In the morning, as soon as she had gone to the shore, and there saw the dead bodies. The wind, she said, had been easterly, which would have helped bring them back to land. She immediately ran back to tell her father, and soon the whole band were at the shore, rejoicing over their fallen foes. Supposing she were seventy years of age when she told the story, and ten when the affair occurred, this would make the date of it 1760, about the time we had supposed. ]
[** The old Indian fortifications were a sort of palisaded enclosures, formed of trees and stakes driven into the ground between them, with branches of trees interlaced. In times of war the women and children were always kept in such fortifications. After obtaining axes from Europeans they may have constructed one like a block house, as here mentioned. There is sort of a dim tradition of a French fort at Merigomish. We are satisfied that this is a mistake, but probably the idea rose from a Micmac fortification of this kind.]
"There was no fighting for some weeks. The parties kept a careful eye upon each other; there was no friendly intercourse between them, but there was no actual conflict.
"One night a party of the Micmacs went out "torching" ( catching fish by torchlight ). They were watched by the Canibas, who ascertained that they did not return to their fort after they returned to the shore, but lay down on the bank, about midway between the fortifications of the hostile parties. This was too powerful a temptation to be resisted. Two canoes came upon them, filled with armed men. They were surprised and butchered, except for two, who effected their escape.
" These had rushed to the water and swam for life, and were hotly pursued. But passing a place were a tree had fallen into the water from the bank, and lay there with a quantity of eelgrass piled and lodged upon it, they took refuge under the eelgrass and under the tree, and their pursuers missed them in the darkness. After the search was abandoned and the canoes had returned, the two men came forth from their hiding place and hastened home to spread the alarm.
" Their dead companions had been scalped and their bodies consumed by fire. This news roused all the warriors, and they resolved immediately to attack the party that had committed the outrage and avenge it. They had a small vessel lying inside the long bar that makes out at Merigomish. This was immediately emptied of its ballast, drawn across the Big Island beach, filled with men, arms and ammunition (for it was since the advent of the French), and immediately moved up to the forts of the Canibas, where it was run ashore. The party was led by a "keenap," a "brave," named Thunder, or Caktoogow,or, as this name first rendered into French and then transferred back into Indian, has come down, Toonale ( Tonnerre). They ran the vessel ashore, and, in his eagerness for the encounter, the chief jumped into the sea, swam ashore and rushed upon the fort without waiting for his men.
"Being a mighty Powwow, as well as a warrior, he could render himself invisible and invulnerable, and they fell before him, as we would say, like the Philistines before Samson and his jaw bone of an ass.
"Having despatched them all he piled their bodies into the building and set fire to it, serving them as they had served his friends. When all was accomplished, his wrath was appeased.
"He then, at the head of his men, walked up towards the other fort without any hostile display, and the Abenaki chief directed his men to open the door for them and admit them in a peaceful manner. This chief had taken no part in this fray. He had disapproved of the attack upon the torching party, and had endeavored to dissuade the other from it. So when Toonale entered his fort there was no display of hostility. After their mutual salutation, Toonale dryly remarked, 'Our boys have been at play over yonder.'* ' Serve them right,' answers the chief, ' I told them not to do as they did. I told them it would be the death of us all.'
"It is now proposed that they shall make peace and live in amity for the future. A feast is made accordingly and they celebrate it together. After the eating comes the games. They toss the alkestakun-the Indian dice. They run, they play ball. A pole is raised at the edge of a void space, some three hundred yards across. The parties arrange themselves four or five on each side. The ball is thrown into the air, and all hands dart toward it to catch it. He who succeeds in catching it before it strikes the ground darts away to the pole, all on the opposite side pursuing him, and if they can catch him before he reaches the pole, his party loses, and the one who seizes him throws up the ball and another plunge is made after it; it is seized and the fortunate party dashes off again for the pole, and the excitement is kept up amid shouts and bursts of laughter, until the game is finished.
[* Compare 2 Sam. 3, 14.]
" This kind of game at ball is called 'tooadijik.' Another kind is called Wolchamaadijik, the ball being knocked along on the ground. 'Did they not wrestle?' I enquired of my friend Peter. ' 'Oh no' was the reply. 'Wrestling is apt to lead to a quarrel, and they would not, under the circumstances, run any risk on that score.'
" In all the games the Micmac get the victory. And, if they are impartial historians, they usually beat in their wars with the other tribes and with the whites. Unfortunately we have not the records of the opposite parties of Mohawks and Abenakis, but if we may judge from what takes place among other nations, their accounts would present a very different view.
"But, to return to the fort at Little Harbour. After the games were ended, the Caniba chief gives the word Novgooelnumook, 'Now pay the stakes.' A large blanket is spread out to receive them, and the Canibas strip themselves of their ornament and cast them in. The following articles were enumerated by the historian: Meehoowale, epaulettes, Pugalak, breastplates, Neskumunul, brooches, Nasaboodakun, noserings, Nasogwadakunul, finger-rings, Nasunegunul, a sort of large collar loaded with ornaments, more like a jacket than a collar; Epelakunul, hair binders, Egatepesoon, garters, sometimes, as in the present case, made of silver; Ahgwesunabel, hat-bands. These articles were piled in and the blanket filled so full that they could scarcely tie it. Then another was put down and filled as full. After this the Canibas returned to their own country. A lasting peace had been concluded, which has never yet been violated, and it is not likely it ever will be."