Norridgewock Archeological District
Old Point in 1849
|NRHP Reference #||
|Added to NRHP||April 12, 1993|
|Designated NHLD||April 12, 1993|
Norridgewock was the name of both an Indian village and a band of the Abenaki ("People of the Dawn") Native Americans/First Nations, an Eastern Algonquian tribe of the United States and Canada. The tribe occupied an area in Maine along the border of Acadia, which was located on the western bank of the Kennebec River. Once part of the town of Norridgewock, the Indian village site today is called Old Point in Madison.
Norridgewock is a corruption of the word Nanrantsouak, meaning "people of the still water between the rapids." Their principal encampment, also called Norridgewock, was located near Coordinates: on a plateau within a broad bend of the Kennebec River, opposite its confluence with the Sandy River. A 1716 account by soldier/surveyor Joseph Heath describes the Indian village as a square fort surrounded by a 9-foot (2.7 m) palisade fence, each side 160 feet (49 m) long with a gate at its center. The fort's walls faced the major points of the compass. Two streets connected the gates, forming an open square at the center marked by a large cross. The stockade enclosed 26 cabins "built much after the English manner"—probably of logs. Canoes were beached along the river, although paddles were stored in the cabins. Extensive fields were cleared nearby for cultivation of maize, wheat, beans, pumpkins and squash. Twice a year, summer and winter, the tribe spent a few months at the seashore catching fish, seals, clams, oysters and seafowl.
The French claimed the Kennebec River because it provided a potential route to invade Quebec (as Benedict Arnold would demonstrate in 1775). The English claimed the St. George River because they held deeds, regardless of the fact that the sachems who signed them often believed they were only granting rights to use the land for hunting, fishing or safe passage. Sachems were not empowered to sell, the French argued, because Abenaki territory belonged to the entire tribe. But since France and England had pledged peace, New France could not take overt action against the settlements (and particularly their alarming blockhouses) in the contested regions. Instead, the French government found it expedient to secretly engage the Indians, guided by their French Jesuit missionaries, to hinder expansion of English sovereignty. Missionaries with dual loyalty to church and king were embedded within Abenaki bands on the Penobscot, St. Croix and Saint John rivers, but Norridgewock Village was considered Quebec's predominant advance guard.
Father Sébastien Rale (also spelled Rasle) had arrived in 1694 at Norridgewock to establish a Jesuit mission. His mission school is believed to be the first school in Maine. He built a chapel of bark in 1698, and despite reservations from medicine men, converted most inhabitants to the Roman Catholic religion. Burned in 1705, the chapel was replaced with a church finished in the autumn of 1720. It stood 20 paces outside the east gate, and measured 60 feet (18 m) long by 25 feet (7.6 m) wide, with an 18-foot (5.5 m) ceiling. Forty Abenaki youths in cassocks and surplices served as acolytes. In a 1722 letter written to John Goffe, the church was described by Johnson Harmon and Joseph Heath as:
- "...a large handsome log building adorned with many pictures and toys to please the Indians..."
Able to speak the Abenaki language fluently, Father Rale immersed himself in Indian affairs. His "astonishing influence over their minds" raised suspicions that he was inciting their hostility toward the Protestant British, whom he considered heretics.
King William's War
Raid on Oyster River
During King William's War, on July 18, 1694, French soldier Claude-Sébastien de Villieu with about 250 Abenakis from Norridgewock under command of their sagamore (paramount chief), Bomazeen (or Bomoseen) raided the English settlement of Durham, New Hampshire in the "Oyster River Massacre". In all, the French and native force killed 45 inhabitants and took 49 captive, burning half the dwellings, including five garrisons. They also destroyed Crops and killed livestock, causing famine and destitution for the survivors.
Queen Anne's War
When Queen Anne's War broke out, with New France and New England again fighting over the border between New England and Acadia. Massachusetts Governor Joseph Dudley arranged a conference with tribal representatives in 1703 to propose that they remain neutral. On the contrary, however, the Norridgewock tribe in August joined a larger force of French and Indians, commanded by Alexandre Leneuf de Beaubassin, to attack Wells in the Northeast Coast Campaign. Father Rale was widely suspected of inciting the tribe against the English because their settlements and blockhouses encroached on Abenaki land (and so uncomfortably close to Quebec), but also because they were Protestant and therefore heretics. Governor Dudley put a price on his head. In the winter of 1705, 275 British soldiers under the command of Colonel Winthrop Hilton were dispatched to seize Rale and sack the village. Warned in time, the priest escaped into the woods with his papers, but the militia burned the village and church.
Raid on Wells (1703)
As part of the Northeast Coast Campaign (1703), 500 Indians including those from Norridgewock and a few French, commanded by Alexandre Leneuf de Beaubassin, that raided Wells on August 10 and 11, 1703.
Raid on Norridgewock (1705)
In retaliation, there was a bounty put on Father Rale. Finding the village deserted in the winter of 1705 because its occupants, including Rale had been warned of an impending attack, Colonel Winthrop Hilton order his 275 British soldiers to burn the village and the church.
With the Treaty of Utrecht and Treaty of Portsmouth (1713), however, peace was restored between France and England. Terms of the treaty required that the French yield Acadia to the English. The boundary of Acadia remained in dispute. The two nations disagreed, and consequently imperial boundaries between Quebec and the Province of Massachusetts Bay remained unclear and disputed until the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
In 1713, the Norridgewocks had sought peace with the English at the Treaty of Portsmouth, and accepted the convenience of English trading posts on their land (although they protested the tendency of traders to cheat them). After all, beaver and other skins could be exchanged for cheap goods following a journey of one or two days, when travel to Quebec up the Kennebec, with its rapids and portages, required over 15 days.
Father Rale's War
But their acceptance of the English faded as Rale instigated the tribe against the encroachment of houses and blockhouses that followed trading posts. He taught the Abenaki that their territory should be held in trust for their children. On July 28, 1721, 250 Abenakis in 90 canoes delivered a letter at Georgetown addressed to Governor Samuel Shute, demanding that English settlers quit Abenaki lands. Otherwise, they would be killed and their settlements destroyed.
Raid on Norridgewock (1722)
In response, Norridgewock was raided in January 1722 by 300 English troops under Colonel Thomas Westbrook. They discovered the village almost deserted, with the gates wide open. The tribe was gone hunting. Troops searched for Rale but found only his papers, including letters from New France Governor-general Vaudreuil promising ammunition for Abenaki incursions against the British. The tribe retaliated for the invasion by attacking settlements below them on the Kennebec, burning Brunswick on June 13, 1722. Some of the raids were accompanied by Rale, who would occasionally allow himself to be seen from houses and blockhouses under siege. On July 25, 1722, Massachusetts Governor Samuel Shute declared war on the eastern Indians.
Battle of Norridgewock (1724)
During Father Rale's War, at about 3:00 pm on August 23, 1724 (N. S.), English troops attacked Norridgewock for the last time. A force of 208 soldiers had left Fort Richmond (now Richmond) and divided, leaving about 80 soldiers including 3 Mohawks under the command of Captain Jeremiah Moulton. His militia quietly approached the village, which at that time no longer had a stockade. A startled Indian emerging from a cabin gave a war whoop, then darted back inside to get his musket. Screaming women and children ran from houses to swim or ford across the river and up into the woods. In the confusion, about 60 braves fired guns wildly but did little harm. At that point the regiment, ordered to withhold fire until after the enemy's first volley, took aim—with deadly effect. The warriors fired again, then fled across the river, leaving 26 dead and 14 wounded. Bomazeen (or Bomaseen), the sachem who with Sebastien de Villieu led 250 Abenakis to Durham, New Hampshire on July 18, 1694 for the Oyster River Massacre, was shot fording the Kennebec at a place thereafter called Bomazeen Rips. From a cabin, old Chief Mogg shot one of the Mohawks, whose brother then shot him. Meanwhile, from another cabin Father Rale was firing at soldiers. Refusing to surrender, he was shot through the head while reloading his gun.
Scalps of the dead were collected for bounties in Boston. The soldiers plundered 3 barrels (0.48 m3) of gunpowder, together with a few guns, blankets and kettles, before returning to their whaleboats at Taconic Falls. One of the Mohawks, a brave named Christian, slipped back to set the village and church on fire, then rejoined the militia. The 150 survivors of Norridgewock returned the next day to bury the dead. Subsequently, most abandoned the area and, "in deplorable condition," relocated to Saint-François and Bécancour in Quebec.
Norridgewock Village is setting for the 1836 poem, Mogg Megone, by John Greenleaf Whittier.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15.
- "Norridgewock Archeological District". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
- H. C. Schuyler. The Apostle of the Abanakis: Father Sebastian Rale, S. J. (1657-1724); The Catholic Historical Review. Vol. 1, No. 2. p. 168
- John Fiske, New England and New France, 1902, Houghton, Mifflin & Company, Boston, MA
- Francis Parkman, A Half-Century of Conflict, 1907, Brown, Little & Company, Boston
- Herbert Milton Sylvester, Indian Wars of New England, Volume III, 1910, W. B. Clarke, Boston, MA
- Matteo Binasco. "Few, Uncooperative, and Endangered: The Troubled Activity of the Roman Catholic missionaries in Acadia (1610-1710)", in Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, Journal, vol.10 (2007), pp. 147–162.
- Biography of Sebastien Rale (or Rasle), Canada Library & Archives
- History of Madison, Maine
- History of Norridgewock, Maine
- Norridgewock Indian Village & Monument
- Saint Francis Mission