The Bethel Journals
Bethel Maine History
July 8, 2010
MAINE INDIANS IN THE BETHEL AREA
Few can visit Bethel for more than a week and not hear about Molly Ockett. Molly Ockett was a Pequawket (Fryeburg) Indian “doctress” who spent many years in and around Bethel from 1780 until the last of the century.
The Maine Indian story began when a Maine Indian appeared before the Mayflower settlers at Plymouth in March 1621 to formally welcome the English people to the Indian’s country. This would be a landmark event for both peoples. Although the Maine Indians had made transitory contact with white explorers and fishing crews along the coast before the arrival of the Mayflower, the coming of the English as settlers who would permanently occupy land in what had always been Indian territory produced challenges to both sides as more and more boatloads of English colonists poured into the New England area.
In Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2006 book, Mayflower, he tells how Samoset, a sagamore or under chief, of the Abenaki Indians of Maine appeared very unexpectedly before the Pilgrims at their assembly place on March 16th. Philbrick wrote, he “boldly” walked up to the English men standing to block his further entrance into the camp, saluted them and in English said “Welcome, Englishmen”.
Samoset is important in Maine Indian-English history because through a sale to land to a John Brown, Samoset established that Indians owned land in Maine and not the English Crown. Samoset lived in the area of Pemaquid Point; he learned English from fisherman. Samoset means roughly “Man who walks over much”. The Abenaki were part of the Algonquin nation; Abenaki means people of the eastern dawn.
As early as these first meetings, Samoset is reported to have told how the Abenaki population in Maine had been decimated by plagues and epidemics-small pox, typhus, etc.
What ever happened to the Bethel area Indians of the Androscoggin valley? Who were they? What did they do and where did they go?
Indians had populated the Western Maine area since shortly after the ice age glaciers had retreated. In the Bethel area Abenaki tribes lived along the Androscoggin River. They had invented and depended on birch bark canoes for transportation. In one book on Maine Indians a comment is made that today Native Americans drive cars—non-native Americans paddle canoes.
The livelihood of Abenaki Indians along the Androscoggin consisted of a subsistence economy—hunter/gatherers - using mostly stone age tools. They did not have horses, cows, sheep or goats. They did raise corn (maize) on cleared intervale land along the river. Mostly they lived off the land, hunted and trapped. Hair, animal pelts and skin, horns and hooves were turned into cloth, blankets, tools and eating utensils.
The Androscoggin River formed a defacto boundary that separated French from English influence of Indian tribes. When English settlers (as opposed to hunters, trappers and sap gatherers) first arrived in this area—then a plantation named Sudbury Canada, District of Maine, Province of Massachusetts Bay Colony, Androscoggin Indians lived in small camps of one or two related families but no reservations or village sized communities existed.
In general Indians of the valley had fled the region years before, retreating to a reservation in Canada on the Saint Francois River near the Saint Lawrence—see photo map below.
The remainder of this page contains two photo maps with captions and reference links to online sources of the Bethel Historical Society and others which more fully inform a reader about the larger Maine Indian community at the time the English setters filtered into the valley from 1770 to 1800.
Yellow Pins—18th Century Indian sites:
Nathaniel Swan was the son of early settler James Swan who had come to Bethel from Fryeburg. Mollyockett either lived with or camped near the Nathaniel Swan family for three years circa 1798.
Pow Wow Point was a gathering place for Indians that was well known to the first settlers.
Eli Twitchell came to Sudbury Canada in 1782, the first settler in “Mayville” although at that time the area was called North of the River. Twitchell repaired guns and jewelry for Indians who came to him from the St. Francis reservation. Mollyockett also camped near his home. Twitchell was also Bethel’s first Captain of Militia formed in 1800.
Alder River was the site of a famous 1782 wrestling match between Jonathan Barker of Sunday River, Newry, and a group of friendly Indians who were known to regularly camp near the mouth of Alder River (close to today’s Davis Park). This is also a possible point of departure for the Ezekiel Merrill family who in 1789 traveled from Sudbury Canada by a fleet of Indian canoes to Ellis River and then up Ellis River to their new home in Andover.
Indian burials and camp — Jonathan Clark came to Sudbury Canada from Newton, Mass., about 1774 then returned to his home to serve a war enlistment. He returned to Sudbury Canada about 1778. His farm either included or was next to an Indian camp and burial ground that was still being visited by Indians of the valley. The Indian site was near the mouth of Mill Brook.
Indian settlement and farm— Rev. Eliphaz Chapman bought land at this location in 1789. That fall and the following year he cut trees, cleared land, planted winter wheat and with the help of his son Eliphaz, Jr., built a log house near the river. In clearing the land the Chapmans discovered remains of an Indian settlement and mounds where corn had been stored. N. T. True’s account of this site estimated that the village population could have amounted to 200 people. There was also the grave of a woman, farming tools and old gun barrels.
Chapman homestead—the Chapman homestead marker is placed there because it is linked to the previous notes about the Indian village and farm. The marker shows the location of a much finer home built circa 1800. A letter to the editor of the Citizen in 1937 said that the original Northwest Bethel road was laid closer to the river and nearer the original house than where it is now (2010). However, old maps do not substantiate her report. (In the 1970’s Walter Clark told me that he had searched the area pretty thoroughly and had not turned up any Indian artifacts.)
Red Pins—1781 Indian raid targets:
The Indian raid of August 1781 led by Tommy Hegan with a squad of five other braves in war dress attacked two sites in the local Bethel area.
Benjamin Barker’s home near the Bethel-Newry town line and located near Sunday River was the raiders’ first target. Barker was from Methuen, Mass., and had arrived the previous year. The raiding party presumably had traveled to Sunday River from Lake Umbagog. The Indians left after taking all the food and clothing they could carry. This attack happened on August 2, 1781.
Jonathan Clark— the following day, August 3rd, the raiding party showed up at Jonathan Clark’s house near Mill Brook. Here the Indians took three prisoners—Nathaniel Segar, Jonathan Clark, and Eleazer Twitchell. Twitchell escaped but the Indians caught Benjamin Clark as he unwittingly walked toward Jonathan’s house. Mrs. Clark also escaped; she and Twitchell hid in the woods on the hillside that is now Kimball Park. Later the Indians released Jonathan Clark but took the other two men back to the St. Francis reservation.
From Sudbury the raiders continued on to Gilead (Peabody’s Patent) and to Shelburne, N.H., before trekking back to Canada.
Green Pins—Garrison Houses built for defensive protection:
East garrison house—at the farm of John York
West garrison house—next to Eleazer Twitchell’s house at the foot of Mill Hill.
After the Indian raid two garrison houses (forts/barracks) were built for plantation defense. Massachusetts spent 230 pounds and sent Lieutenant Stephen Farrington with 27 men to garrison the two houses for two months. John York and Eleazer Twitchell supplied 1500 and 1000 feet of lumber respectively for building the houses.
Photo map—Google Earth image.
St. Francis reservation location, distant and direction from Bethel. Settled before French defeat by English in the French and Indian War of 1754-1763. Google Earth image.
Mollyockett—Mary Agatha grave stone in Andover Cemetery
Bethel Historical Society
Maine Indian Tribes with history of the Abenaki
Samoset—Maine Indian Sagamore makes first contact with Pilgrims 1621
King Philips War—1675-1676 Indian uprising against English settlers over loss of their lands.
Benjamin Church— adopted Indian tactics in leading small bands of English men and allied Indians against King Philip and later in Maine led operations against Indians allied with French.
Sudbury, Mass.—attacked by King Philip’s army— inflicted heavy casualties on town’s defenders.
Fight at Lovewell’s Pond 1725—An attack on the Pequawket Indian village near Fryeburg that convinced Androscoggin Indians to withdraw from the area.
THE BETHEL JOURNALS
Donald G Bennett
PO Box 763
Bethel, Maine 04217