"We're Still Here"
Contemporary Indigenous New England Artists
Oyster River Raid of 1694
by Kenneth Hamilton, Ojibwa historian and blacksmith from Corinth, Maine
Illustrated Map, annotated by Kenneth Hamilton
for map details.
New France needed a victory!
After initial successes in King William's War (1689-98), French and Native aggression waned. Little more that a side show in this global war (called the War of the League of Augsburg in Europe), supplies to Canada, especially to Acadia, were often low. Native groups desiring trade goods in exchange for furs (and needing guns, powder, and lead) were at times forced to deal with the treacherously undependable English. With French supply shortages, a desire for trade goods, and the continued gains by the English military, some Penobscot and Kennebec factions felt compelled to sign a treaty with the Governor of Massachusetts, William Phips, at the newly rebuilt Fort William Henry at Pemaquid, Maine in 1693.
After being tipped off that Madockawando (a Penobscot), Edjeuemit (a Kennebec) and approximately ten others had signed this treaty, Villebon, Governor of Acadia, considered the 1694 spring war declarations of Taxous'(Madockawando's Penobscot rival) all the more urgent and important. As an international war party organized at the usual French and Native staging area of Pentegoet (Castine, Maine) French imperial interests were represented by Marine Captain Villeu, and the "Fighting Priest," Thury. Other parties from Nari Comagou (Canton Point, Maine) Ameseconti (Farmington Falls, Maine), and Norridgewock (Madison, Maine) started forming at Panawamske (the largest Penobscot village now in Old Town, Maine), and deliberated on a military target. Now also joined by Malecites from Meductic (Woodstock, New Brunswick) and Penobscots, the mobilized parties finally convinced the neutral "Madockawando faction" to take up the hatchet against the English. Fearing for the safety of clan relatives taken hostage by the English in Boston, the treaty group resisted until at last convinced by Madockawando's son (recently returned from meeting Louis XIV in France), admonitions from Taxous, and arguments from Thury and Villeu. The French also claimed that past English "lies and betrayals" sealed the fate of the hostages and were said to now be slaves in England. Now on board, the peace faction joined the invasion force; all they needed was a target.
After an almost botched probe at Pemaquid, Villeu, who engaged in illicit fur trading throughout this part of the campaign, embezzled almost half of the French supplies. Therefore, as the army moved west towards the English settlements, through the river and portage routes, shortages started causing distress on the war trail. Picking up more warriors along the way, the group crossed over to the Merrimac River to Penacook (Concord, NH) by canoe, over the Ossippee/ Winnepesauke/ Merrimac River route. Now apparently near starvation, largely because of Villeu's corruption, the war party decided upon Oyster River Plantation (Durham) as a destination. A lucrative and easy enough target, it was also close, with a quick escape.
, in traditional dress.
Nicole is descendant of Penobscot
of Oyster River Raid fame.
Leaving the canoes at Penacook, and walking overland to the sleepy coastal town of Durham, the war party divided into smaller groups and moved down both sides of the river. The plan was to surround all the dwellings and garrisons and attack simultaneously by an agreed signal near dawn. Not completely in position, shooting broke out prematurely. Even in the chaos, the invaders "harvested" 104 dead and 27 prisoners.
Quickly withdrawing for fear of regionally militia and provincial persuit, the group returned to Penacook. Not at all satisfied with their uneven winning, the Penobscots under Taxous and Madockawando, along with some other of the "bravest" Kennebecs under Bomazeen, continued on the war trail down the Merrimac River to Groton, perhaps intending to attack Col. Johnathin Tyng in Dunstable, MA, taking an additional 22 dead and 13 more prisoners.
Miraculously, the Oyster River Raid produced a nearly complete Native/French victory, and managed to polarize a Native/French alliance, albeit for a prolonged, inevitable defeat with the surrender of Canada in 1760, after more (global) French and Indian wars.