New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Razing of Chignecto, and the Attack on Fort Nashwaak

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The Razing of Chignecto, and the Attack on Fort Nashwaak

Fort Nashwaak, built by Villebon in 1691-92

From Clarence Webster, Acadia at the End of the 17th Century

There was probably not a single English speaking person living between the Penobscot River and the Saint Croix River up until 1759. In fact, that part of Maine as well as Vermont and New Hampshire were either disputed or unclaimed. France had ceded Acadia to Britain in 1713, with some exceptions such as Cape Breton, but the limits of exactly what had been handed over were in dispute.

There were also very few French settlers between the Penobscot and the Saint Croix. The whole territory belonged to the Wabanaki people, and to them alone. There were more substantial Acadian settlements further to the north, in Nova Scotia.

Maine was not a separate colony, and Massachusetts was anxious to expand northward. The small French population could not possibly resist this expansion, but they and the French government in Quebec City were able to use Native allies to terrorize any would-be colonists. The politics were complicated, and many of the most horrible stories of Indian raids mention parenthetically that some French people also participated.

The fall of Quebec in 1759 changed everything, and colonization became inevitable. Conflict with the French and the Native people was also inevitable and this protracted conflict is known as the French and Indian Wars. This blog posting is about one of the campaigns of those wars.

Colonel Benjamin Church was in Boston in 1696, when the Massachusetts General Court determined that military actions were to be taken against the French and the Natives at the Penobscot River and to the north of there due to “late shocking outrages.” Church was 57 years old, a member of the House of Representatives, and an experienced Indian fighter, so it is not surprising that some members of the House asked him to lead the actions.

Church proceeded to travel about Massachusetts and Connecticut gathering English and Indian volunteers for the campaign. Returning to Boston in August, he received his orders from Lieut. Gov. William Stoughton to go to Piscataqua (Portsmouth) with his volunteers and to meet Capt. John Gorham who would be his second in command. He would also be met by additional forces including Indians recently released from prison for this service. He was then to “pursue, take, kill or destroy the enemy by sea or land,” wherever they might be found. He was authorized to accept volunteers from among the enemy, if any would submit, but “only at discretion.” Other orders were of a routine nature, such as to maintain order among his troops, etc.

While these preparations were underway, Fort William Henry at Pemaquid (Bristol, Maine) was captured by the French and Indians. There was also news that a French ship had captured an English vessel at Mount Desert and that a man-of-war was being dispatched to take on the French ship and release the English one. Church and company proceeded to Piscataqua as ordered, intending to meet up with the man-of-war and to proceed to Mount Desert to take on the French while the man-of-war dealt with the French ship. After a week, there was still no sign of the man-of-war or of the additional volunteers that were supposed to be assembled there.

Church then left Piscataqua for York to search for French and Indians, sending his second in command to Winter Harbor on a similar mission. Neither Church nor Gorham found any enemy at these places and it was assumed that they had withdrawn to Penobscot.

The company therefore proceeded to Penobscot Bay, searching there and amongst the islands, but no one was found. The village of Penobscot was abandoned and old fire pits and other evidence of habitation appeared to be about a week old.

The men rowed their whale boats 50 or 60 miles up the Penobscot River, probably above Bangor, in search of a known village, but found it deserted. Two miles further on, two Indians came down the river in a canoe and the soldiers shot at them. One of them escaped while the other crawled off into the woods, wounded. They tracked his blood but lost the trail. In his account, Church said that the soldiers fired without his authorization, but this kind of history-management appears in many such diaries and need not be taken seriously.

Two more men came down the river and they were also shot at, but escaped. A letter was found in their canoe from a Priest to a French commander explaining that the French and Indians had all gone. Some other Indians were discovered. They were attacked, their village was burned, and their corn was cut down.

Church and company returned to Penobscot. The men were very tired, having rowed so far up the river and back down again, both with and against the tide. They had shot a few Indians, but there were no spoils worth having and they were disheartened. Their best guide had also run off and was replaced by another man who was supposed to be knowledgeable about places to the east, but he was untried. They then searched around Penobscot Bay again, and also at Mount Desert with some but little discovery.

Aboard ship, they debated what to do. Church had heard that men were coming down the Saint John River from Quebec to help build a fort at Saint John. They also knew that there was a fort upstream at the Nashwaak River. Fort Nashwaak was Villebon’s headquarters but, by this time, he was planning to move his base to Saint John and that is why he was rebuilding the old fortress there. They then decided to head for Senactaca (Chignecto) to be closer to what appeared to be the center of French activity.

Many of the people at Chignecto had fled, but enough remained to put up a resistance. Several of Church’s men, including a Lieutenant, had been killed when Jarman Bridgway came running towards Church calling for him to stop, but Church’s forces would not stop and Bridgway began to run away. Church warned him to halt or he would be shot and he then came to a halt. It turned out that Bridgway was concerned for his ancient parents who had not been able to run away and wanted Church to protect them against the Indians that Church had brought along. Bridgway would not give intelligence about the Indians from the Chignecto area lest they take vengeance on him. That was Church’s account, but others add that Bridgway presented papers to show that he had signed an oath of allegiance to the English King which Church did not accept. Church’s Indians were possibly Iroquoian, while the local Indians were Mi’kmaq.

Orders were given to pursue the enemy, to kill the Indians and to take the French prisoner if they asked for mercy. Fighting continued, prisoners were taken and examined, goods were plundered, buildings were burned, and livestock was killed. Any survivors were left with nothing. Church denied these atrocities, the usual diarist’s management of history, but added that “It is nothing to what our poor English, in our frontier towns are forced to look upon.” Couriers were carrying news to Villebon of the English plundering, which continued for nine straight days.

Prisoners were threatened with being turned over to Church’s Indians, who would scalp and cannibalize them. They were terrified and “The French, being sensible of the Major’s kindness…” in not having killed them outright, kissed his hand and begged for mercy. They said that their priests had gone to meet some French ships, but refused to give details.

On September 20, Church sailed for Monogenest  [Manawagonish Cove] at Saint John. They travelled overland to the harbour and found several men at work. He then sailed into the harbour and landed, drawing fire from the French, some of whom were killed or wounded while the others were chased off. One prisoner revealed the location of twelve buried cannons and of other hidden supplies, in return for medical help.

The next morning they discussed whether to ascend the river to confront Villebon, but the river was unusually low and they could not sail their ships that distance. So, they ranged around the woods looking for more French, finding and killing some of them. The Indians were all gone, to help Villebon, or had fled further north for protection against the coming conflict. There was then some discussion of going to Passamaquoddy and Machias and Church encouraged his troops that good bounty might be found there.

They sailed to Musquash, but the wind was not favourable to proceed, so they stayed there for a while when other English ships arrived and Colonel Hathorne boarded Church’s ship to confer. Hathorne’s orders from William Stoughton were to proceed with his men against Villebon at Fort Nashwaak. Church bragged to Hathorne of everything that he had accomplished, and of the impossibility of proceeding up river with such low water. He also argued that Villebon was too well prepared for an attack, but all to no effect. Hathorne’s orders would be carried out. Church was out-ranked and his forces were now under Hathorne’s command.

Villebon had lookouts at the river’s mouth and knew what was coming. He had only about 100 soldiers, against Hathorne’s 500, so defenses at the fort were hastily improved and every available Acadian was called into service. A message was also sent to Father Simon at Meductic, who had the Maliseet go to the fort to fight the English.

It was mid-October when word arrived that Hathorne was only a couple of miles below Jemseg. Villebon addressed his men and cries of ”Vive le Roi” echoed through the fort. The first attack occurred the next morning, and Villebon kept his men within the fort rather than to cross the Nashwaak River under fire from the English. This attack was repulsed by cannon fire.

Cannon and musket fire then came from both sides, but Villebon’s guns were better mounted and more effective. The English made no progress that day and, almost freezing to death, they lit fires at night to keep warm. The fires attracted a further barrage from the fort and the English had to extinguish their fires.

The English were in an extremely bad way. They took cannon fire from the fort again in the morning and, by afternoon, they quit the fight, returned to their ships, and sailed down river. Thus ended the battle of the Nashwaak.


Church, Thomas, The History of King Philip’s War [and of] expeditions against the French and Indians … in 1689, 1690, 1692, 1696 and 1704…, Boston, 1825

Kidder, Frederic, Military Operations in Eastern Maine and Nova Scotia During the Revolution, Albany, N.Y., 1867

Raymond, W.O., History of the River Saint John, 1604-1784, Saint John, N.B. 1905


Written by johnwood1946

July 5, 2017 at 8:04 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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