While the history of our community at Kingsclear began officially about 1795, the history of our people, the Maliseet or W∂last∂kwiyik, in the area goes back thousands of years as evidenced by the discovery nearby of a fluted point about 11,000 years old. Prior to establishing ourselves at Kingsclear in 1795, our people lived in a village called Ekwpahak, meaning “Head of the Tide,” which was located a few miles downriver from Kingsclear on the southwest side of the St. John River at what is now called Island View. During the late spring and summer we set up our wigwams on the adjacent island now known as Ekwpahak Island. There we speared salmon, bass and sturgeon, planted corn and gathered medicines and foods including fiddleheads, berries, butternuts, grapes and wild potatoes.
Since the 1730s this village at Ekwpahak had been the seat of our government, and the place where all of our people gathered for annual meetings and celebrations each summer. On both sides of this village were Acadian settlements spread out between St. Anne’s Point (now Fredericton) and French Village (now Kingsclear). Just before the close of the so-called French and Indian War (1755-1760) English soldiers built a fort at the mouth of our river and, according to tradition, attacked and burned our village and church at Ekwpahak in the winter of 1758 about the same time that the Acadian village at St. Anne’s Point was attacked and burned.
In spite of a Royal Proclamation in 1763 which outlawed the surveying and taking of Indian lands without the consent of both the Crown and Indian leaders, English authorities in Halifax granted away over a million acres of our land in 1765 from the mouth of our river to well above Ekwpahak, entirely without our knowledge or consent. Perhaps to avoid revealing how much of our land had been granted away, English authorities in Halifax reserved about 700 acres for us around our village at Ekwpahak (500 on the mainland and over 200 on the island). In fact, they did so three times--in 1765, 1768 and 1779. But shortly after the Loyalists arrived on our river, after the close of the American Revolution in 1783, Judge Isaac Allen, a wealthy member of the Lieutenant Governor’s Executive Council in the newly established New Brunswick government, is said to have convinced our leaders to lease both the mainland and the island at Ekwpahak to him for his home and farm for £25 a year. This arrangement lasted until 1789 when Judge Allen somehow persuaded these leaders again to lease the land for a term of 999 years at the annual rate of £100. According to our tradition this caused such a huge dispute that at least one chief and his family fled to Passamaquoddy.
In the following years it appears that Judge Allen went to work to buy the land at Ekwpahak outright. Though Maliseets do not seem to have requested it, the government of New Brunswick issued a formal title to our chiefs once again in 1792 for this land, then in 1794 Allen arranged to buy the land from the chiefs for £2000. Unfortunately, when the chiefs went to close the deal they discovered that one quarter of the money (£500) was held back to be given to the priest to move all the Maliseets of Ekwpahak to Tobique. Of the remaining amount owing to our people (£1500), half was given to the chiefs in merchandise, and the other half, only £750, in cash. Not only did this deal seriously defraud the Maliseets out of very valuable land, but as a private purchase it was a clear violation of the Royal Proclamation.
Since the new priest, Father Francois Ciquard, was unable to convince the now homeless Maliseets to move to Tobique, he bought about 12 acres of land at Kingsclear for approximately £15. For some strange reason he listed “the French Roman Catholics” as the owners of the land, a fact our people were unaware of for more than a century. Though he claims to have gotten our people to build the first church at Kingsclear, a simple bark-covered structure, there is no record what he did with the remaining £485 that he received from the New Brunswick government for the sale of our land.
Thanks mostly to sporadic church records beginning in 1794 we have at least some idea as to who was living here in the early years. At that time our village was served only by travelling priests who were responsible also for Maliseet communities at Madawaska, Meductic, and later Tobique (after 1800). Beginning in 1811 Catholic priests began visiting our community more regularly for at least a month every summer, so from that time forward there are church records for nearly every year.
As for population, there were 36 Maliseet families comprising 159 people at Kingsclear in October of 1803, with 12 French families comprising 101 people living in the neighboring French Village who were also attached to our church. In the summer eight years later a visitor noted 40 to 50 families living here in wigwams. The higher numbers in the summer attest to the fact that Maliseet families were still largely migratory, moving to the interior every winter to hunt and trap.
There is also evidence that beginning as early as the mid 1790s some of our people were enticed by offers of free supplies to send their children to what was one of the earliest residential schools in Canada, the New England Company School at Sussex, N.B. It is probable that at least some of the students were from Kingsclear since they later appeared in the records here. As one of the first efforts to assimilate our people and convert them to Protestantism the school was also one of the first guilty of serious abuses that are now associated with residential schools elsewhere in Canada. As a result of at least two damming reports on the school beginning in 1813 it was finally closed, but only in the early 1830s.
During the second decade of the 1800s Maliseets up and down the river began experiencing severe destitution as a result of the theft of their lands, the influx of settlers, the proliferation of sawmills that decimated the fishing, and the massive lumbering that destroyed forests and drove the game away. Unnamed epidemics, as well, seem to have taken their toll among our people during this period. In response the government of New Brunswick reluctantly provided emergency food, seed and clothing to us on several occasions. While the chiefs vowed neutrality in the War of 1812 it appears that four of our men, most likely from Kingsclear, were employed to lead the march of the 104th Regiment from Saint John to Upper Canada in the winter of 1813. In the same year we chose Toma Francis, son of the recently deceased Grand Chief Francis Xavier, to be our grand chief. In an attempt to turn us into farmers, and perhaps as a reward for our neutrality and the service of some of our men on the march of the 104th Regiment, the government of New Brunswick purchased another 300 acres for us adjoining our land at Kingsclear, and supplied us with seed, tools and assistance in farming.
Throughout this era most of our people did indeed remain migratory moving downriver in the warmer months to trade with the settlers and to harvest food and raw materials for making canoes, baskets and other necessities. At the same time, our village at Kingsclear took on a more permanent appearance as more of us (40-50 families) now lived here year-round in square-framed, but still bark-covered dwellings. This more sedentary way of life came about because many of our families now engaged in farming, and because more women, children and elders remained in the village throughout the winter since the men now had to go much deeper into the woods to hunt. So destitute did our people become, however, that in the mid 1820s large groups of Maliseets began showing up on the steps of Government House each New Year’s Day to seek aid. This practice soon turned into an annual party hosted by the Lieutenant Governor. Meanwhile, the first Commissioners for Indian Affairs (Indian Agents) were appointed to oversee a system of assistance to Indians, but only for those who were considered “sick and infirm.”
At the New Year’s gathering at Government House in 1830 Grand Chief Toma Francis asked if it was true that our lands were about to be taken from us. He was told that this was not true, but that was patently false. In fact, new regulations in 1827 called for public auctions to dispose of and settle so-called “Crown lands” (14 to 16 million acres at the time) which we had never surrendered, and by the early 1830s the land rush was on. Within a few short years a large international company obtained 500,000 acres for a pittance in the heart of what remained of our hunting territory (at the headwaters of the Nackawic, Keswick, Nashwaak and Miramichi Rivers), and large numbers of immigrants were recruited to clear and settle what would become the town of Stanley in the center of the purchase.
At the same time a concerted effort was launched to convince our people to cease our migratory form of life. Those of us who lived mostly seasonally at Grand Lake and elsewhere were urged to settle permanently at Kingsclear where authorities hoped to subdivide the land and encourage private ownership. Predictably, our people rejected both ideas preferring communal ownership and the freedom to travel far and wide, as we had always done. Indeed, for more than a century we continued to camp up and down the river to collect wood and bark to make our canoes, tools and items to sell, which right had been assured to us by the English at a conference in 1778. Two campsites, one on the Brother’s Islands near St. John and another at St. Mary’s across from Fredericton, became particularly important to us as places where we could sell our wares (baskets, brooms, snowshoes, moccasins and beadwork) and find occasional employment as guides and laborers. Of all these sites only the one on the Brother’s Islands was formally reserved for our people prior to Confederation.
By 1841 Indian Commissioner Moses Perley noted nine framed houses at Kingsclear, eleven large wigwams, a hall, a dilapidated church, and a new one under construction. Since the government still hoped to turn more of our people into farmers, he proposed that more land be added to the reserve and that a school be established “to civilize” us. At his urgings the government passed an act in 1844 which called for the subdivision of reserve lands and the sale or lease of uncultivated and/or unallotted lands, presumably to generate funds for the upkeep of our people. Luckily no lands at Kingsclear were leased, sold or subdivided under this act, most likely because authorities still hoped to settle all Maliseets here from various places on the lower St. John River. About the same time Grand Chief Toma Francis seems to have passed away and his son, Francis Toma, was chosen to succeed him in accordance with our tradition of hereditary leadership.
Since our poverty still seemed to be worsening in 1849, Maliseet leaders petitioned the government for some form of regular assistance, not just for the sick and infirm. They pointed out that the first Lieutenant Governor of the province had promised to reserve their hunting territories for them, but since that had not happened they could no longer survive on hunting alone. Even farming had been no assurance of survival since crops had failed in many years. Still no regularized system of assistance was instituted. In fact, our poverty slowly deepened with the passage of a series of new laws beginning in the 1850s that increasingly curtailed what was left of our hunting and fishing rights.
In 1851 the first formal census was taken in New Brunswick. In our community 31 families were listed with names such as Atwin, Francis, Tomah, Paul, Polchies, Sappier, and Sabattis, names that are still here. With no line fence between the reserve and neighboring farmers, many long-standing disputes began to occur about this time. When one farmer complained of 30 of his sheep being killed by our dogs it may have been as much about our poverty as about the line fence. Indeed, this dispute was the basis for a story about a powerful medicine man, Xavier Tomah, who left his footprints on a rock (that can still be seen today) to mark our territory and to warn against any further encroachments.
In the summer of 1861 a large group of river-drivers armed with clubs and peaveys invaded our village in the middle of the night provoking a desperate but strong defence. This story has been vividly told and retold by our elders, but there seems to have been no notice of the event in the press of the time. Only because one of the river-drivers died in the incident was there any attention to the matter in the courts by way of an inconclusive inquest into the death.
Over the decades following the first census at Kingsclear the number of families here began to decline from 31 in 1850, to 12 in 1861, 20 in 1871, 19 in 1881, and 17 in 1890. This decrease reflected in part a corresponding growth of the community at St. Mary’s, which was made up primarily of people from Kingsclear. Since the campsite at St. Mary’s had been located on land granted early on to a Loyalist it was finally bought from the owner by the Federal Government and established as an official reserve shortly after Confederation in 1867. Until 1902 it was considered to be part of the community at Kingsclear with one and the same chief for both villages. Another reason for the population decline at Kingsclear was the growth of yet another Maliseet settlement near the mouth of the Oromocto River, settled also by people primarily from Kingsclear in order to access the natural resources of that river and to work at the local mill. It was not until 1895, however, that the Federal Government finally bought that land from the owner and established it as a reserve officially connected at first to Kingsclear and later to St. Mary’s.
Sadly, there is a continuing record throughout this period of petitions from our people describing our poverty and pleading for assistance from the New Brunswick government. Even the transfer of control over Indians and their lands to the Federal Government at the time of Confederation did not alleviate our distress. While this assumption of control terminated the power of the New Brunswick government to unilaterally sell or lease reserve lands, the Federal government now empowered itself and its agents under a series of so-called “Indian Acts” to take increasingly dictatorial control over our lives, from seriously limiting the definition of an Indian, to requiring chiefs and councils to be elected, and mandating education for our children in schools taught only in English. Serious complaints against the first federally appointed Indian agent regarding the inadequacy of federal assistance stand as evidence of the continuing destitution of our people. As well, we were now subjected now to both federal and provincial laws increasingly infringing on our treaty-based hunting and fishing rights.
Other consequences of the new regime were soon evident. Early in the 1880s English-only schools were established at Kingsclear and St. Mary’s, and by 1887 thirty-seven children were attending school here, and twelve at St. Mary’s (though the agent reported that there were about 12 more children of migratory families in that village who did not attend school.). About the same time pressure was mounting for reserves to take on a more municipal style of government with elected chiefs and councillors as a result of the so-called Indian Advancement Act of 1884. Since hereditary chiefs were allowed to continue holding office until their death, Grand Chief Francis Toma remained in office until his death in 1889. At that point the local Indian Agent took the opportunity to press for a new chief to be elected for both St. Mary’s and Kingsclear. Thus, in June of 1890 the first ever election was held and Noel John Sappier became the first elected chief of the two communities.
Ever since the 1794 sale of our land at Ekwpahak, Kingsclear had been the home of the Maliseet Grand Chief and the seat of the traditional Maliseet government. It had also been the home of the sacred wampum belts that connected our people to the Wabanaki Confederacy and the Great Council Fire at Kahnawake. But it had been more than a decade or two since we had sent any delegates to the Great Council Fire, about the same time that the Confederacy itself had ceased functioning. So, in many ways this first Indian Act election filled a void and thrust Kingsclear down a new and often difficult path. Coincidentally, the last person who could read the wampum belts, Louis Paul, died in 1892, and not long afterward the belts vanished. Some it seems, are to be found now only in museums.
While provincial laws had increasingly restricted the hunting season and bag limits for us, suddenly in 1888 a new provincial law completely outlawed the killing of moose and deer. As a huge blow to our way of life, indeed to our survival, our people formally protested the law in 1890. It was not until 1893, however, that the government reconsidered the law and opened the hunting season for both deer and moose between October first and mid-January. About the same time our supplementary means of survival from canoe and moccasin-making began dwindling as the result of factories now mass-producing both canoes and moccasins. This explains the increasing participation of our people in the economy of the settler society, from lumbering, rafting and river-driving, to potato-harvesting and other forms of labor. Only guiding, snowshoe-making and ash basket-making remained as viable sources of income for us. To obtain the best prices some of our people often travelled widely on an expanding network of railroads in the region to sell our wares to tourists at places like Saint Andrews, N.B., and Bar Harbor, Old Orchard Beach and Greenville in Maine. Others continued to travel to familiar summer spots on the lower St. John River, such as Westfield and Saint John, as they had done for generations, only now they often travelled by steamboat instead of canoe.
Ever since the establishment of our reserve at Kingsclear in 1795 we had always had a church in the village attended mostly by priests stationed elsewhere, either Madawaska or Fredericton. Records are scarce but it appears that in 1816 a second, probably bark-covered church was built to replace the first one built in Father Ciquard’s time. There is evidence, too, of another church under construction in the community in 1841, and apparently still in 1850. This is likely the substantial church photographed in 1887, which was destroyed by fire in 1904. The priest in these photos was Father O’Leary who was probably the first to reside permanently in our community from about 1883 to 1900.
Near the end of Father O’Leary’s residency here he became involved in a bitter dispute. In the 1899 election Andrew Paul won over Anthony Sacobie, but according to a petition signed by Sacobie’s supporters it was due to Father O’Leary’s interference in the election. O’Leary’s response was contained in a long letter denying the charge and describing Sacobie as a trouble-maker. In the election of 1902, however, Anthony Sacobie won by one vote over Andrew Paul. With Paul living at Kingsclear and Sacobie at St. Mary’s it was ultimately decided that Paul should serve as the chief at Kingsclear and Sacobie at St. Mary’s since both communities were large enough to have their own chief (106 people in both communities). With this decision St. Mary’s was established as its own reserve, eligible thereafter to elect its own chief.
The next few years would see the longstanding disputes over reserve boundaries and line fences at Kingsclear continue, but overall the early 20th Century would mark the end of an era and the beginning of yet another. The new era began in 1904 with the total destruction of the church by fire and the rebuilding of a new one (that also burned in 2011), the death of Chief Andrew Paul in 1907 while still in office, and the 1909 resignation of James Farrell who had served as Indian agent since 1884.
Beginning in 1910 anthropologists from universities in the United States began scouring Maliseet communities for traditional arts and crafts, and obtained enormous quantities of beadwork and woodwork from our reserve. Acquired for next to nothing these items were later sold to museums in both the United States and Canada. That so many of the items had been treasured family heirlooms speaks loudly to the ongoing destitution of our people.
When the St. John and Quebec Railway proposed the construction of a railroad across the reserve in 1912 it triggered a bitter fight between the people of the community and the priest, Father Cormier. As it turns out it was the first time that the people of the reserve learned that the land where most of their homes were located did not actually belong to them, due to Father Ciquard’s purchase of the original 15 acres in the name of the French Roman Catholics. Since Father Cormier now claimed the land for the church it was he who collected the lion’s share of the payments from the railway company for expropriating the families. So intense was the anger at this turn of events that even Chief Peter Paul resigned as chief and moved with his family to the Penobscot Indian Nation at Old Town, Maine.
During the First World War several issues occupied the community. In 1913 a new school for students up to Grade 8 was built replacing the first one built in the 1880s. In 1918 the Spanish flu hit the community particularly hard affecting many and claiming the lives of three children. Bowing to complaints from non-natives in Devon the government began drawing up plans in 1919 to relocate the people of St. Mary’s to Kingsclear arguing that there were 108 people living at St. Mary’s on 2 acres while only 81 were living on 460 acres here at Kingsclear. In the end however, the people of St. Mary’s refused to be moved. About the same time a dispute developed over rent that the priest was now demanding from the Department of Indian Affairs for the homes of the Indians still located on land claimed by the church. Meanwhile the Department ordered cutbacks in welfare payments to Indians, and school inspector, Father F.C. Ryan, began threatening parents with fines or imprisonment for not sending their children to school regularly, in accordance with new and more stringent regulations under the Indian Act.
The 1920s were unremarkable though many of these issues continued to be of concern. Just prior to the Depression the discovery of a long lost treaty (the Treaty of 1725-26) promising hunting, fishing and planting rights in perpetuity led some of our people to argue that they should not have to pay for hunting licenses which they had been required to pay for some time. But this request was not honored and from there on the matter seems to have died.
With none of our people in regular employment outside of the community before the Depression we were almost totally dependent on seasonal employment and the sale of handicrafts such as snowshoes and baskets for a living. During the Depression, however, the scarcity of money everywhere meant that local farmers tended to pay Indians only with food in return for Indian-made items. The scarcity of money led many men of the community to seek permission of the Department of Indian Affairs to cut wood on the reserve most likely to sell to the new pulp and paper mills. One request in March of 1934 to cut softwood for fuel was accepted, but a terrible fire occurred a month later in which eight houses burned down, no doubt the consequence of chimney fires from the use of softwood in woodstoves.
By 1936-37 there were 16 families living on the reserve, but only about 50 people. Unfortunately the number of children attending school had declined to the point that the Department of Indian Affairs began threatening to close the school. When the chief protested, the Department simply delayed acting on the threat, at least in part due to the support of new Indian Agent who took a personal interest in the community. This agent also got permission to market their handicrafts in an attempt to obtain fair prices. Working closely with Chief William Polchies (who served from 1930 to 1945) he also arranged to have the Governor General of Canada visit the community in 1937. The press which followed these developments billed Kingsclear as a “model reserve.”
When World War II broke out in 1939 seven young men from the community enlisted in the army. One was Wilfred (Wimpie) Solomon who served in the D-Day assault on Normandy, and survived to live into his 93rd year. Miraculously all of the Kingsclear soldiers returned from the war with only one, Gregory Francis, having been injured.
Meanwhile some older issues persisted: the priest was still demanding rent to be paid for the houses on land claimed by the church, and with only 4 pupils in the school between 1944 and 1946 the threat of school closure still weighed heavily on the community. Had it not been for the Centralization project which aimed to relocate Maliseets from other reserves to Kingsclear, the school would have ultimately been closed. It was primarily to keep its school that Kingsclear became the only community to endorse the Centralization plan, while others, including St. Mary’s, Oromocto and Woodstock, vociferously opposed it. In the end, nine families from Oromocto were enticed to move to Kingsclear, with the promise of new houses, gardens and farm animals. The subsequent purchase of nearly half of the reserve at Oromocto by the Government of Canada for Base Gagetown best explains the pressure exerted on these families to relocate to Kingsclear. Ironically, nearly all of the families, mostly Sabattises, Polchieses, Pauls and Atwins, had originally come from Kingsclear several generations earlier.
In anticipation for the move another 500 acres was bought from a neighboring farmer and added to the Kingsclear Reserve in 1947, and the property originally deeded to the French Roman Catholics was bought from the Church. At the same time a shingle mill and a number of unfinished houses that had been used to house German prisoners of war were purchased and moved to the reserve. As for the promise that the relocated families would all have gardens, the only garden in the community was kept by the Indian Agent who employed people of the reserve to maintain the garden, then sold the produce to them. As for farm animals the only ones supplied were goats! It is no wonder that this entire affair on the part of the government is remembered with such bitterness by both old and new families on the reserve.
For now this history will end at 1950. It is somehow symbolic that it should close in June 1950 with the wedding of Veronica Solomon of Kingsclear to Jim Atwin of Oromocto, a wedding that joined a very old family from Kingsclear to a new family from Oromocto.