New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

John Allan’s Revolutionary Mission to the Saint John River

with 2 comments

From the blog at

John Allan’s Revolutionary Mission to the Saint John River


Aukpaque: Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) Summer Village Above Fredericton

Image from W.O. Raymond’s History of the River St. John

John Allan was born in Scotland, but his family moved to Halifax in 1749 when he was about four years of age. He was quite successful in Halifax, where he became a Justice of the Peace, a clerk of the Supreme Court and an Assemblyman. He was a staunch supporter of the American Revolution, however, and was named by George Washington a Colonel in the Continental Army and Superintendent for Indians, stationed at Machias, Maine.

Jonathan Eddy had raised a party and attacked Fort Cumberland in the fall of 1776, and this had prompted the British to station the ship Vulture at Saint John. This gave them control of the river and of its only significant English population, at Maugerville. Maugerville people had participated in the attack on Cumberland, and, in response, the British had extracted loyalty-oaths from the whole community.

All the while, the Americans had been trying to secure alliances with the Passamaquoddy, Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) people, and it was in Allan’s role as Superintendent for Indians that made him significant in the history of the western part of Nova Scotia, now New Brunswick. The 1776 attack on Cumberland was a significant event, but, in the end, it was a failure. Allan’s job was therefore to ‘pick up the pieces’ and to secure the loyalty of the Indians by setting up a trading establishment at Aukpaque in the Saint John River just above Fredericton. He also coordinated activities with like-minded New Englanders and Acadians on the river and along the eastern shore.

Washington had written to each of these Indian peoples, but the response was mixed. The Mi’kmaq on the eastern shore replied that “some of our Young men had [acted in] the Character of Chiefs and made a Treaty to go to war… Our natural inclination being Peace, only accustomed to hunt for the subsistence of our family, We could not Comply with the Terms—Our numbers being not sufficient, among other objections….” The Wolastoqiyik were more agreeable to an alliance, as reported by the people at Maugerville who said “Gen’l Washington’s Letter set them on fire and they are Plundering all People they think are torys.” In the end, all of the Indians decided in favour of the Americans in the matter of the Revolution.

In general, then, control of the Saint John River had become strategic to both sides in defining the geographic limits of the American Revolution. American tactics had been fairly restrained so far, since the Continental Army needed to be strategic with their resources and the Saint John River was sparsely populated. If a large force of New Brunswickers, including whites and Indians, could be assembled, together with volunteers from New England, then it might have been worthwhile to reinforce them with units of the Continental Army. Otherwise, this could not be done and, in fact, it never happened.

Most of the following is from Eastern Maine and Nova Scotia During the Revolution, … from the Journals and Letters of Colonel John Allan, …, compiled and edited by Frederick Kidder, Albany, N.Y., 1867. The journal mentions Allan in the third person, and it was therefore written by an aide. However, it was compiled day by day and on the spot.

John Allan had been waiting at Machias, Maine, for an opportunity to go to the Saint John River and to work with the Wolastoqiyik and Mi’kmaq. On May 29, 1777 he received word that the Vulture, which had been sent in response to the Cumberland raid, had left the River. The next day he sent off seven boats and canoes full of men for Saint John. They camped the first night and arrived at Campobello on May 30th. They gathered support around the islands and on the mainland including a ‘Lovett’, who was possibly Daniel Lovett of the St. John River who had taken part in the Fort Cumberland raid. They were also joined by Seth Noble who had escaped from Maugerville in advance of the British soldiers on the Vulture.

They were a sizable party of whites and Indians when they arrived at Musquash Cove and travelled overland to Saint John. There were arguments with William Hazen and James White who were taken prisoner. James Simonds was apparently not taken prisoner, but was no more cooperative than the others and exchanged insults with the invaders.

They began their way up the River on June 3rd, leaving a party of fifteen men at the mouth of the River as guards, and proceeded to Lewis Mitchell’s house at Gagetown, taking him prisoner also. Weaponry was unloaded at several points and gifts were exchanged with the Indians, but their main destination was the Wolastoqiyik summer village of Aukpaque, located on islands above present-day Fredericton. They arrived there on the 5th of June, Seth Noble having proceeded in advance as a scout.

Feasts and celebrations between the Wolastoqiyik and their guests were necessary, particularly because Allan was seen as representing George Washington whom he, in fact, knew. The celebrations were about treating each other with honour and social bonding. The principal ingredients were speech making, exchanging gifts, feasting, and making promises of friendship. These ceremonies were formal, and important and, so, Allan was invited to the wigwam of Pierre Toma, where he found Chief Ambrose St. Aubien and other principal men gathered. St. Aubien set the tone of the meeting with a speech about his visit to Boston and how well he had been received. Strings of wampum were exchanged and there were promises of continued friendship.

Allan was invited to the wigwam of Pierre Toma again later on the same day, where he was given a seat between two principal men. He was then initiated into the Wolastoqiyik tribe and more speeches were made. Additional strings of wampum were exchanged. Allan then rose to speak, but this was not the expected protocol. He was told that the meeting had been for them to express their friendship to him, and that if he wanted to speak in return, then he should invite them to his house, which was the priest’s house which had been loaned for his use. That meeting took place two days later, on Monday, June 9, 1777.

The meeting began simply, with Allan presenting St. Aubien with a string of wampum. This was an important meeting, for St. Aubien “was dressed in a blue Persian silk coat, embroidered crimson, silk waistcoat four inches deep and scarlet knit breeches, also gold laced Hat with white cockade. N. Goudain, Blue silk trimmed with Vellum, and crimson breeches, Hat Gold laced—The other chiefs were richly dressed in their manner; their blankets were curiously laced with these ribbons—All these dined in the inner room all the young men and other Indians dined in the outer room with me and I. Marsh, and so the day concluded with diversion and jolity.”


The women’s celebration was separate from the main, men’s, celebration, and took place the next day as was the usual custom. There was dancing, fancy dress, and the firing of guns and cannon.

There were other festivities, two weeks after the main celebrations, occasioned by the arrival of several Indians from away. There was speech making, storytelling and feasting with much formal protocol. Clear social rules were observed, and several of the participants greeted one another in sequence, according to their status. Price lists were also formalized for trading, and the resulting agreement was circulated to the Mi’kmaq and Passamaquoddy Indians.

There were many people coming and going at Aukpaque. There were the Wolastoqiyik, of course, but there were also French visitors from further up the River and from as far away as Quebec. There were Mi’kmaq and white visitors from the Cumberland area and the Miramichi, and Passamaquoddy Indians, cousins of the Wolastoqiyik from the Machias and area. Allan’s time on the Saint John River only lasted for about a month and a half, but this period was filled with these visits, by which messages were received and dispatched. News of privateer activities on the Bay of Fundy came from Saint John; news of military confrontations came from the Canadas; and there was a constant flow of information from Cumberland. At one point, there was concern that the British might act against Allan, and an attempt was made to limit the outflow of Cumberlanders returning home, but some reinforcement were received from New England which reduced the manpower concerns.

They were becoming very security conscious and, on June 13, “Mr. Bromfield was walking on the back of the house he observed two people listening as he supposed, and on observing him, they walked directly away towards the bushes.” Scouts were sent down river, sentries were doubled, and instructions were issued that no one was to eat or socialize with the prisoners, Hazen, White and Mitchell. Imminent danger was anticipated, but, so far, nothing of consequence had happened.

Unease continued and a week later, on June 20th, there were rumours of two British ships in the Bay of Fundy with two or three hundred men in arms. In fact, there were three ships, the Mermaid, the Vulture and the Hope. There were some desertions at Saint John as supplies dwindled, and one prisoner escaped. A message was also received from Halifax “full of insipid nonsense,” which I wish we could read today. Hugh Quinton of Conway was a veteran of the attack on Fort Cumberland, and he spoke out against Allan’s activities. He was silenced with a reprimand.

The British had sent reinforcements to both Cumberland and to the mouth of the Saint John River. On June 30th, a party landed at Manawagonish and Allan’s men set up an ambush along the road from there to the harbour at Saint John. The British anticipated this, however, and surrounded Allan’s men, some of whom tried to hide by climbing trees. Eight of them were shot down “like little pigeons.” Some of Allan’s people at Saint John were scalped by the British and others were threatened with the same fate if they didn’t provide intelligence. The situation was critical, and those who could retreat went up river toward Maugerville and Aukpaque. Some of these threatened to desert unless they were allowed to retreat further, to Passamaquoddy.

News of the British attack caused great alarm at Aukpaque. Some of the Indians wavered. Pierre Toma proposed that he and others go on board a British ship, for example, but most of the Indians remained loyal and Toma was shunned.

The next ten days were spent in disarray and retreat. Some of the Indians, including Pierre Toma, again resolved to meet with the British and, in preparation for abandoning the place took down the bell from the chapel at Aukpaque. The Cumberlanders would have been left alone and so they also began to hide valuables and to prepare for departure also. A party was sent up the Oromocto River to remove families from there, but those families could not be found.

News was received that 100 soldiers had been dispatched to take Allan. This party turned out to be probably about fifty soldiers, but Allan had moved up the river to a French house.

Toma then argued with the other Indians who wanted to fight, first by proceeding up the Oromocto River to attack a British force from behind. They agreed that the attack should proceed, but without Toma or other men from his family. Pierre Toma and some of his family members then went on board one of the British ships, without any of the others.

On the fourth day of the rout, a party was sent down to reconnoitre at Aukpaque, but that was under occupation by the British. The party then withdrew to a French house and were nearly captured there as well. Later that night they heard cries of much distress, as one of their number had been confronted and bayonetted.

The French families did what they could to supply Allan and the Indians who were on the run, but the British commander forbade this on penalty of destroying them. Later, some of their homes were burnt and plundered, and some of them were made prisoners. The British were “determined to follow Mr. Allan to the gates of hell.”

On Sunday, July 13, 1777, they all left the Saint John River at Meductic and headed toward the Passamaquoddy River. It was “incredible what difficulties the Indians undergo in this troublesome time, where so many families are obliged to fly with precipitation rather than become friends to the Tyrant of Britain, some backing their aged parents, others their maimed and decrepid brethren, the old women leading the young children, mothers carrying their infants, together with great loads of baggage” Allan and his party were new gone, and headed for safety at Machias.

Some Thoughts About These Events:

I am left wondering what this campaign was all about. They knew that overwhelming force was the standard British response to mischief on the Saint John River and, in fact, it took only 45 days after leaving Machias before they ran for their lives. There were not enough people in New Brunswick to resist the British and it was never very likely that they would be substantially reinforced from New England. On the face of it, the mission was to monopolize trade with the Indians, but this was in aid of spreading the Revolution northward, and this was unlikely to succeed. It therefore seems that this was a minor event, doomed to failure from the start.

Allan’s accounts of the Indians were respectful. From another source, however, we find him saying that “The Indians are generally actuated according to the importance or influence anyone has who lives among them. They … will listen to every report, and generally believe it and think everything true that is told them.” (G.O. Bent, Parson Noble, Acadiensis, 1907)

Consider it from the Native perspective, however. The Revolution was a white man’s war, but the Indians had to make decisions or face the prospect of having no allies at all. They must have known that the Americans and the British both wanted their loyalty only to further their own objectives and that friendship would last only so long as it was to their advantage. Looking around, then, there were the settlers from New England, especially at Maugerville, who were mostly republican. There were also the Acadians who had no reason to support the British. The Americans had raised military forces in the area before, and had solicited the help of the Indians, while British entreaties had been less convincing. The British were away in Halifax and paid little attention to western Nova Scotia except to put down occasional rebellions. The decision to support the American side in the revolution was therefore logical only for so long as it served their own interests in the conflict.


Written by johnwood1946

October 29, 2014 at 9:36 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I am looking for information about an ancestor Thomas Jones who lived along the Saint John River. He is described in a 1785 land Sunbury Co. record as “Thomas Jones, who was taken prisoner during the Rebellion, carried into Boston, from whence he escaped taking refuge in this country, asks for 200 acres on the Oromocto River.” and in the 1783 Studholme report as “The said Jones has been loyal, wounded and taken prisoner by the rebels.” He is also mentioned in historical accounts as refusing to back patriot sympathies being encouraged by Rev. Noble in Maugherville in 1776. I wonder where he was taken captive, and whether he was in the local militia, a British soldier or an ordinary citizen. I thought he may have been taken in the Eddy attack at Ft Cumberland. Any ideas?

    Linda Welsh

    July 22, 2016 at 8:51 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: