This testimony is made all the more reliable by the confirmation of the Watso family name in records of Odanak/St. Francis in the 1870's. The Watsos were residents of the Quebec reserve, and some members of that family are listed on the reserve's 1875 census as absent in the United States (Canada, Indian Affairs 1875).
A further sign that these Indians were visitors comes from Robinson's accounts of the news these visitors brought him of friends who lived at Odanak/St. Francis (Robinson 1921b:135-37). For example, in May 1881, Robinson wrote in his journal that Louis Tahmont, an Abenaki from St. Francis, told him that his brother, Swasin Tahmont, has "gone by the strong water stream' to happier hunting grounds than these. I knew him well, and then, 25 years ago, he would not touch whiskey" (Robinson 1879-81). Obviously, Robinson had not seen his friend for 25 years, since Swasin did not live near Ferrisburgh; he lived in Canada. The connection of these individuals to Odanak/St. Francis is nowhere more evident than in a letter Robinson wrote in 1894 to Joseph Laurent, the Chief of the St. Francis Abenaki, in which he said:
Years ago I knew several of your people—John Wadso and his sons Thomas and Samuel—his father called him [Dodosen?]—also Swasin Tahmont and his family, and [ ] Louis Tahmont and Joseph Tucksoose. Please remember me to such of them as are living. (Robinson 11/1894).
Another mark that signifies these Indians are not living in Vermont is their
connection to New York State. In his journal entry of April 30, 1881, Robinson relates his
Further corroboration that Robinson's Indian friends usually lived elsewhere and only occasionally came through Vermont is apparent in his search for the Indian names for rivers, mountains, and natural places in Vermont. His many inquiries and discoveries of native place names are recorded in his journal entries, his letter to Chief Laurent, and stories like "Sobapsqua" and "On a Glass Roof." He was enamored of the Indian language, as this passage reveals:
"Thompson's Point" is not a good name for a noble headland, but it is better
that it should have borne it for a hundred years than half a dozen that are no more significant.
The Waubanakees called it "Kozoapsqua," the "Long Rocky Point," and the noticeable cleft promontory opposite *'Sobapsqua," the "Pass through the Rock," names which might well have been retained, and perhaps would have been if our pioneer ancestors had not so bitterly hated the Indians and all that pertained to them. There was cause enough for this hatred, but one wishes it had not been carried so far when the poverty of our ancestors' nomenclature is considered and the few surviving names of Indian origin remind us how easily we might have been spared the iteration of commonplace and vulgar names that cling to mountain, river, and lake. (Robinson 1921a:89-90).
Robinson took every opportunity to learn Indian names; he also enlisted the aid of his nephew William Robinson in this word search, as Bill was living in Montreal. ________________
41. Although the cover of the journal states it spans 1879 to 1880, it actually contains entries through 1889.
42. There are two existing letters from William Robinson to Rowland E. Robinson in the Rokeby Museum's collection of Robinson letters housed at the Sheldon Museum in Middlebury, Vermont.
Petitioner explains the absence of a visible Indian community by arguing that the Vermont Abenakis settled down, adopted white man's ways, and joined the white man's economy (Petition:71). The problem with this explanation is that it doesn't square with other information in the petition. There is plenty of evidence that petitioner's ancestors held the same sort of jobs that whites held in Franklin County: grocer, stone cutter, farm laborer (Petition:74, 76). But this does not mean that Abenakis were acting like whites. It is equally
42. (continued) One is dated Sept. 13, 1895, the other Jan. 14, 1880. See Rokeby's collection of Robinson family letters, Box 8, folder 27; Box 6, folder 16. They both appear to be part of ongoing communications regarding the Abenakis. In one Bill told Rowland what he learned in his visit with the Abenaki historian Father Maurault, and promised to help Rowland pronounce words that he learned from some old Abenakis in Montreal.
43. For example, Robinson wrote in "On a Glass Roof," that the Indian he met fishing "and a few of his people were wintering in a neighboring village" (Robinson 1921b:136). Although one might think he is referring to an Indian village, it is not clear. He does not specify it as Indian, and he does not tell its location with any sense of familiarity. If there were a permanent Indian village in the area, one would expect the historian of Ferrisburgh to know about it.
It is significant that Rowland Robinson did not confuse white French Canadians with Abenaki Indians. In his era, he knew them as two separate groups. He made a clear distinction between them, unlike petitioner in its account of its ancestors blending in with the rest of society. In his stories about Danvis he portrayed Antoine Bassette as a garrulous French Canadian. When Sam Lovel, the main character, encountered Indians in Danvis, Antoine was as surprised as any of the others, and made fun of the eggshell canoe the Indians were building (Robinson 1937:232).
Likewise, in "On a Glass Roof," Robinson described meeting three men separately
ice-fishing—the first two French Canadian, the last one an Abenaki. He depicted their speech with two discretely different accents (Robinson 1921b:133, 138). And, while he dismissed the first one saying "these Canucks think all the fish and all the berries belong to them," he went on to speak admiringly of the Abenaki from St. Francis (Robinson 1921b:132, 135). He was attracted to him as he realized here was an "ideal angler," "plying
French-Canadian Migration to Vermont
The lifestyle and migration pattern described by the petition is not evidence that these families are Indian. The movements of these people are the same as the travel patterns of the French Canadians who were migrating into and through Vermont during the same time. There is nothing in the evidence of lifestyles that distinguishes the petitioner's relatives from the French Canadians. Moreover, the genealogical material below [in the subsequent pages] will show most of the petitioner's ancestors can be traced back to French Canada. See analysis in section on Criterion (e).
The Indians in the petition were described as having a seasonal migratory pattern, coming into Vermont after the Revolution, and concentrating their stays in the northwestern part of the state, around Lake Champlain (Petition:71). Similarly, the French Canadians began moving into border areas of Vermont shortly after the American Revolution. According to Ralph Vicero who extensively analyzed French Canadian immigration to Vermont, "The major concentrations, however, coincided with those areas bordering on Lake
immigration never was intended to be a permanent move; rather, an early return to Quebec was anticipated. Some returned after a winter's or summer's work in the mills, others after a stay of one or two years when they had saved enough money to pay off the mortgage on their farm or to purchase additional land. (Vicero 1971:290, see also 1968:194).
They did not only work in the mills. Their work as farm laborers in the Champlain Valley was colorfully described by a local resident this way:
In the Champlain Valley, a hundred years ago, more and less, before mowing machines were in general use, came bands of men from the north each armed with a scythe with which to attack the meadows of that rich farming country. With the aid of their trusty blades, meanwhile being refreshed from the inevitable jug in the shade, they accomplished the haying and returned to their "Canadaw."...The Canadians, with their scythes, were placed in a line across one end of a field and, incited by competition, moved forward in rhythmical motion, leaving the grass flat in broad expanse behind them and throwing jeers over their shoulders at the man who couldn't keep up. (Horsford 1925:11).
This seasonal migration, for farm or mill work, matched the seasonal visits of people described in the petition. And the occupations of these French Canadians were day laborers, wood choppers, quarry workers, and farm laborers—all positions held by the ancestors of the petitioner (Petition:71, 74, 84, Vicero 1971:293).
The timing of French Canadian immigration followed the economic cycles in Quebec and New England. The immigration dates of petitioner's ancestors coincided with the swells of French Canadian migration (see Table 2, below, for immigration dates). This correlation again adds to the implication that the petitioner's ancestors had closer ties to the French Canadian population than to any possible Indian population. The Morits family arrived in
Between 1865 and 1873, the economic boon in New England attracted a surge of migration from Canada (Vicero 1968:212). "The Bishop of Vermont was so impressed by the number of migrants he observed that he claimed that the French-Canadian population of his diocese had doubled between 1866 and 1868" (Vicero 1968:205). While this may have been an exaggeration, there is a report that more than 500 migrants had been added to during Burlington's population during 1868" (Vicero 1968:249, n.72). The French Canadian population of Vermont increased 75% between 1860 and 1870, from 16,580 to 29,000 (Vicero 1968:275). During the late 1860's and 1870's the Hoague, LaFrance, and Ouimette families came to Vermont.
After 1870, there was very little growth in that group's population in Vermont, as work in other New England states became more attractive (Vicero 1968:275-77). Correspondingly, among the peititioner's families, the ones that arrived in Vermont after 1870
Caughnawagha Claims Presented to Vermont Legislature
The petitioner mentions "one other event that coincided with the abandonment of the village at Missisquoi"—the 1798 petition by the Mohawks from Caughnawagha for compensation for the loss of fishing and hunting territories in Vermont. As the petitioner allows, this claim "undoubtedly helped at the time to reinforce the notion that the Indians had quit the area altogether" (Petition:51). Vermont Governor Tichnor investigated the claim and advised the Legislature that the Caughnawagha claims had no merit as they had been extinguished, and furthermore, that Vermont could not grant such a claim without the consent of the U.S. Congress (Calloway 1990b:235, State of Vermont 1880:319-20, (reprinted in Petition: 1 84-85)). Calloway said the Caughnawagha made this claim on behalf of the entire Seven Nations of Canada—that is, the six Iroquois nations of Canada and the Abenakis of Odanak/St. Francis (Calloway 1990b:235). He said the Abenakis had to sit by and watch the Mohawks make this claim. There are two problems with this interpretation. First, it is not clear that the Caughnawagha made the claim on behalf of the entire group of nations. In answer to a question posed by the Vermont Governor, they said that their neighbors "on the east" were the "Abenakees of St. Francois" (State of Vermont 1880:314 (reprinted in
In 1800 the claim was renewed. This time it was brought by a new set of chiefs, including two representatives of the Abenaki nation 44. (State of Vermont 1880:321 (reprinted in Petition: 185)). The addition of the Abenaki suggests that they knew about the claim and wanted to participate in it this time. There is no indication in the sparse record that remains as to where these Abenaki representatives came from. If they were from within Vermont, they should have joined in the subsequent requests. However, the Abenaki never participated
44. The exact identity of these representatives cannot be ascertained; apparently the original papers have been lost (State of Vermont 1880: 322 (reprinted in Petition, 186)).
Chiefs and Councillors of the Seven Nations of Lower Canada Indians," this one was put forth by the "chiefs of the Iroquois or Congnahwagha nation" (Compare (State of Vermont 1880:313 with 322 (reprinted in Petition: 181, 186)). The subsequent 1826 claim was also made only on behalf of the "Iroquois tribe, residing in Cognawagah village" (State of Vermont 1880:325 (reprinted in Petition: 187)). The next two claims, in 1853 and 1874, were made by the Caughnawagha and the Iroquois at St. Regis and Lake of Two Mountains (State of Vermont 1880:328, 343 (reprinted in Petition: 189, 196)).
If there was any doubt in the first claim as to whether the Caughnawaghas spoke for the entire Seven Nations of Canada, including the Abenakis, it is dispelled in the later claims.
The language of the claims indicates that the Abenakis were not represented in those proceedings by the Caughnawaghas after 1800. While the St. Regis and Lake of Two Mountains Indians joined some of the later claims, the Abenakis never did. This reinforces the point that there was no group of Abenakis in Vermont in the nineteenth century with enough tribal identity and political cohesion to speak up and ask to be included in any of these Indian claims. The evidence surrounding the Caughnawaghas' 1951 claim reiterates that position with respect to the mid-twentieth century, as described in the section on Criterion (c) below.
Expropriated Iroquois appeal for part of a state
In the days when Gitche Manito, the Great Good Spirit, ran things on the American continent, the land between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River was the hunting preserve of the warlike Iroquois. The white man grabbed it to make five rich counties in Vermont. Three of the ousted Iroquois tribes, reduced to living in wretched reservations in Canada, insisted that somebody pay them for all that land. For 154 years they sent delegations to the Vermont legislature, which generally turned them back with sympathetic words, a pittance of $100 and a free meal.
But things are looking up for the Iroquois. The Vermont legislature appointed a commissioner to look into the claim, the first since 1855. A Vermont lawyer has taken on the case -- the first to represent the Iroquois -- and is sure he can prove the Iroquois never legally ceded their land to the white men. A recent award of $8 million to the Ute Indians for a similar claim encouraged the Iroquois to raise their demand from $89,000 to $1.2 million. Some tribesmen, however scorn the money and want to take physical possession of their Vermont claim, a solution which has found great favor in New Hampshire. Students at Dartmouth College are selling Give-Vermont-back-to-the-Indians buttons to finance the lawsuit. Said an unperturbed Vermont, "All of the U.S. once belonged to the Indians, but it's only Vermont they want back."
Illustration: Redman's Friend, Lawyer Roland Stevens, 80, looks through yellowed 18th Century documents in a bank vault to bolster the case of clients.
Illustration: Chief Poking-Fire (John McComber) of the Bear Clan of the Caughnawage rips tribal claims out of Vermont map. Indians claim whole northern fourth of State.
Illustration: Iroquois Allies meet at Dartmouth campus to launch fund-raising campaign for lawsuit.
Illustration: Poverty of the muddy villages wherethe Iroquois now live in Quebec forms a painful contrast with the neat prosperity of the Vermont shown on pp. 74-76.