New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Peace Negotiations with Pierre Tomah on the Saint John River

with one comment

From the blog at

Peace Negotiations with Pierre Tomah on the Saint John River

Big Chief Thunder

Big Chief Thunder—Maliseet—1907

Abenaki/Wabanaki and Maliseet Culture and People website

It was a great loss for the British when George Washington established cannons overlooking Boston in 1776 and, in March of that year, several ships with hundreds of Loyalists headed out of the harbour for the safely of Halifax. One of those ships carried Roger Davis, a lad of seventeen years, with his mother and two sisters, including Caroline. A friend named Duncan Hale was also on board.

These evacuees were a little more fortunate than those who came to Saint John in 1783, but not by much. Halifax was a ‘place’ at least, if only a small one. They were accommodated as best the authorities could manage, but sheds, barns, and warehouses were home for many of them. Roger rented somewhat better lodgings for his mother and sister.

The Davis family’s money dwindled quickly and Caroline decided to take a job as a domestic, for which she would be paid ten shillings per week. “Caroline, you must remember your family, your name, and social standing,” said the mother, but Caroline insisted: “We are poor now, and our money is half spent already. What are we to do when it is gone?” Reality had set in, that the evacuees were, in fact, refugees. Roger was also concerned for his obligations to support his mother and sister.

Duncan Hale had learned that the Governor was not confident that Halifax would remain safe from the revolutionaries. A more present danger were the Indians, who had aligned with George Washington and were likely to go to war against the English. Duncan had accepted to join a delegation to go to the Saint John River to negotiate with them, and Roger joined this delegation as secretary to one of the officers for the sum of six shillings per day.

Following, is the story of Roger’s trip to the Saint John River, as found in Roger Davis, Loyalist, published in Toronto in 1907. It is a simple little story, but fascinating in its rarity. Maliseet chief Pierre Tomah even made an appearance. The Maliseet were aligned with both the revolutionaries and the British from time to time. They did not want to be overrun by either side, and their shifting loyalties were more consistent than they would appear to have been. Self-preservation was their goal. Following is the story:


The details of the expedition to the Indians on the St. John were finally arranged, and we set off. Duncan Hale was to act as secretary to Sir Richard Hughs, the lieutenant-governor, while I was assigned to a similar position under a certain Colonel Francklin, who had been appointed by the Government as superintendent of Indian affairs. There went with us also a Rev. Father Bourg, a former missionary to the Indians, a Romanist, a man of French descent, but, as I was afterwards to learn, a valuable and loyal subject of King George.

Our party, including soldiers and a few gentlemen who went to look over the country north of the bay, with a view to getting some of the many farmers who had come from Boston to settle upon it, numbered, in all, twenty-seven persons.

Somewhat tired from the long journey on horseback over a road that was exceedingly rough, we finally reached Annapolis. The country about here was partly settled, and seemed to be remarkably fertile. There were wide, rich marshes, orchards, and many well-cultivated farms, occupied mainly by settlers who had come in from the American Colonies before the war. These lands, Father Bourg explained to me, had originally been occupied by his ancestors, who had come from France over a hundred years previously.

From Annapolis we took a sailing vessel, and were soon across the Bay of Fundy, and in the harbour at the mouth of the great St. John River. The shores of the harbour seemed to be particularly rocky and forbidding. At a place called Portland Point, where we landed, there were a few buildings, somewhat rudely constructed, and used mainly by a trading company that, for years, had done business with the Indians and others up the river. On a hill to the eastward was a fort, called Fort Howe; everywhere else, down even to the water’s edge, stretched the black unbroken forest.

We found the members of the trading company here, though American born, unlike some others afterwards discovered up the river to be true and loyal subjects of the King. They exerted themselves to house us comfortably, and then proceeded to give us much valuable information.

“The Indians,” I heard Mr. Simonds, the head of the company, tell Colonel Francklin, the evening of the day of our arrival, “are becoming more and more insolent. Not only have agents from the rebels been among them, but their chiefs have, in answer to a special invitation, visited General Washington at Boston. He there spoke many flattering words to them, told them also that the English were planning to take their country and make them slaves. Besides this he gave them large presents, presented them with a wampum belt, a flag—a new design with stars and stripes—provided them with arms, and finally exacted a promise from them to kill or drive out the English found on the St. John.”

I saw Colonel Francklin’s face take on a look of keen anxiety. “Have these chiefs yet returned?” he asked.

“They have. For some days on the upper waters of the river they have been poisoning the minds of the tribes. Cattle of the loyal settlers have been driven off by them, houses burned, while the boats and nets of some of our fishermen have been destroyed.”

That night there was a long conference at the little trading post. The next morning Colonel Francklin, Father Bourg, Mr. Simonds and myself with some dozen others, went on board a small sailing vessel and proceeded up the river, the plan being to meet with the Indians and bring them to the fort for an interview with the lieutenant-governor.


As our vessel swung away from the wharf and proceeded up the river, I could not help admiring the grandeur of the scenery. On the right there arose great cliffs of bluish white limestone. Far up this a few workmen, in the employ of Mr. Simonds, were chipping and drilling the rock, while down by the water’s edge, where two schooners were being loaded with barrels of lime, great puffs of smoke rose from the kilns. It was my first glimpse of industry in the new country.

After passing the cliffs, the banks of the river fell away back, affording us a full and magnificent view of the great stream and its surroundings. Far up ahead, narrowed by the distance and sparkling in the flood of May sunlight I could see the winding line of the river sliding among other lower hills, which showed blue through the lifting mist. White, circling gulls shrieked out protests as they swooped angrily very near to the Union Jack at our masthead; but apart from this, and the strong swish of waters about our bows, the unbroken silence of the great wilderness was over all.

Standing on the deck and looking about, a feeling of exceeding smallness and loneliness came in upon me. I had seen nothing like this in New England, nor yet in Nova Scotia, for richness, for real magnificent bigness and beauty. The sky above seemed higher and bluer, the water below was clearer, the wind purer, the sweep of scenery finer than any my memory could recall. Was nature to help in compensating us for what we had lost and left behind? Had fate been cruel a year ago in order to be kinder now? At any rate I felt as I looked out over it all, then up at the small flag flaunting its red gaily against the blue, that with these hills about me, with this river in front and with that flag and God above me, I could be happy. I breathed a prayer, then I resolved to make a home for my mother and sisters on the River St. John.

The evening of the second day on the river was approaching when I saw Father Bourg rise from his seat on the deck, and advancing to the vessel’s prow, look eagerly up the stream. When he turned he said simply, “De Indian; dey are coming in great number.”

For some time I could see nothing; but under the direction of the good priest I was finally able to make out a long, thin line far up the river, stretching almost from bank to bank.

“Dese are canoe,” he said, and then leaving me to look and wonder, he was off to seek out Colonel Francklin and Mr. Simonds.

In half an hour our vessel was surrounded by over five hundred warriors in ninety canoes. It was evident from the first that they were hostile. The flag at our masthead became a target for many arrows; now and then there sounded out sharply the crack of an American rifle; there was also much shouting and wild jeering such as I had never heard before. In one of the leading canoes waved a flag that bore stars and stripes upon it. It was the new flag of the rebel colonies, and had been presented to the chiefs by Washington. The sight, of this filled me with much bitterness.

As the canoe bearing the flag came nearer to our vessel, I saw some of the anxiety disappear from the face of Father Bourg. He said something I did not hear to Colonel Francklin, then the next moment advanced to the rail. “Pierre Tomah,” he shouted, “Pierre Tomah”; then still speaking very loudly in a language I had never heard before, he briefly addressed a distinguished looking warrior who sat under the flag.

When he had finished the warrior rose He was a man of magnificent proportions. His tall plume swayed in the gentle wind, and his brilliant costume glittered in the evening sun. “I baptize him feefteen years ago on de Restigouche,” I heard Father Bourg say in a low voice to Colonel Francklin. “Dis is most fortunate: we may yet succeed.”

The chief lifted his hand commandingly to those behind him. Without a word the five hundred warriors dropped their rifles and removed the arrows from their bowstrings. A great silence fell over the fleet of swaying canoes. On our vessel each man breathed uneasily. Pierre Tomah was the chief of all the Indians in the great country north of the Bay of Fundy. On the Restigouche, on the wide, full Miramichi, on the St. John and all its branches, his word was law.

“Pere Bourg,” I heard the great chief say in opening, and then all was unintelligible to me for a time. At length I caught the word “Washington” and a moment after I saw him point upward to the flag that flew above him.

Father Bourg replied with great spirit, waving his hands as he did so. I heard him use the words “Washington,” “England,” and “King George.”

For a time Pierre Tomah was silent. Then his eyes wandered toward the wide sandy stretch of shore. In a few moments fuller discussion of the questions at issue.

Colonel Francklin and Father Bourn then proceeded to reason with the chiefs most of whom showed themselves openly hostile. Finally Pierre Tomah said he could not decide without having first consulted the Divine Being. He then threw himself upon the sand and remained lying face downward, speechless and motionless for a long time. On rising he informed the other chiefs that he had been advised by the Great Being to keep peace with King George and his people. For a time the decision was very unpopular with many of the warriors, but all finally yielded, and consented to accept the invitation of the lieutenant-governor, asking them to go to the mouth of the river.

The next morning, surrounded by the flotilla of canoes, we started on the return journey, reaching the trading-post and fort at the river’s mouth after having been absent four days. Negotiations were at once entered into, and the terms of a treaty of peace were, after several days, finally agreed upon. When all had been arranged, the lieutenant-governor, representing King George, accompanied by Colonel Francklin the commander of the fort, and several soldiers who formed a bodyguard, marched down from the fort to a meeting-place previously arranged. When the King’s representative was seated, Pierre Tomah the other chiefs, and many of the principal Indians who had gathered from all parts of Nova Scotia, came and solemnly knelt before him.

First they delivered up the flag received from General Washington, also the letter written by him to them, as well as the numerous presents he had sent, together with the treaty made with the Massachusetts government some weeks previously, binding them to send six hundred warriors into the field. They then took a solemn oath, “to bear faith and true allegiance to His Majesty King George the Third; to take no part directly or indirectly against the King in the struggle with his rebellious subjects, and to return to their homes to engage in the usual pursuits of hunting and fishing in a peaceable and quiet manner.”

This declaration made, as a pledge that should be kept, Pierre Tomah then gave into the hand of the lieutenant-governor a belt of wampum, while that gentleman, in turn rising and walking along the line of kneeling chiefs, placed a decoration on the shoulder of each. He also presented the warriors with a large Union Jack. When handsome speeches had been made on both sides the chiefs performed a song and dance in honor of the great conference. The night was spent in feasting and rejoicing under the British flag.

The next day the warriors, accompanied by the loyal and clever Father Bourg embarked for the return up river. In answer to the salute from the cannon on Fort Howe, they gave three huzzahs and an Indian whoop. The last sound we heard as they drew around a bend in the river above was Father Bourg with his French accent, leading in singing, “God Save the King.”

That night, after talking long with Duncan Hale of the clever manner in which we had outwitted Washington and his agents. I fell asleep and dreamed of the new home I was to build on the now peaceful St. John for my mother and sisters. One step at least had been taken: from being an enemy the Indian had been turned into a friend.


Written by johnwood1946

August 3, 2016 at 8:59 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thanks John, I try to read every post! Great stuff!


    August 3, 2016 at 11:07 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: