Sogalikas: Sugar Maker Moon

native maple squirrel tradition

With the most recent new moon on April 5, 2019 in Sokwakik, we are now well into Sogalikas, the Sugar Maker Moon. Climate change has brought an earlier spring in recent years, shifting the time of sap harvest back toward Mozokas, but there is still some overlap, and the further north one travels, the longer the season persists. The Abenaki annual cycle is flexible and can be adjusted to reflect present realities… perhaps Mozokas will have a different face some day.

Agwa – “it is said” – that Native people learned of this delicious source of energy from the red squirrel nation, observing them nip off the end bud of a maple twig and drinking the sap that flowed from the tip. Following this example, a slanting cut was made in the bark of the tree as the days grew warmer from the strengthening return of kizos (the sun), and fitted with a shaped piece of bark or wood to direct the sweet water toward a bark container. The sap was boiled down in a large wooden trencher using red-hot stones.

Written historical accounts state that the first maple sugaring performed by  British settlers – in the person of Alexander Kathan – within what is now Vermont, took place at Sweet Tree Farm on Route 5 in Dummerston, just north of Wantastegok/Brattleboro and adjacent to the Kwenitekw/Connecticut River. The new arrivals would have learned this skill from the indigenous Sokwakiak, and most likely appropriated an existing sugar orchard for the purpose. Sugaring still takes place at the farm today.

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Dummerston: Presenting an Archaeological History of Vermont

From the Brattleboro Reformer, posted 

DUMMERSTON [VT] — Jess Robinson, PhD, state archaeologist for the Vermont State Division for Historic Preservation, will present a follow-up to his 2017 presentation on Vermont’s pre-contact past. This year he will be focusing on the woodland and early contact periods, ca. 3,000 – 300 years ago. The presentation will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23, [2018] at the Dummerston Grange, 1008 East-West Road. Robinson will answer questions following the presentation.

This free event is being sponsored by the Dummerston Conservation Commission and the Dummerston Historical Society. Refreshments will be served. Donations are appreciated. For information and directions contact 802-257-00012, info@dummerstonconservation.com.

Benjamin Gleason and Those Bothersome Canadian Indians

benjamin-gleason-headstone-bennett-cemetery-dummerston-vt

The headstone of Mr. Benjamin Gleason, early settler of Dummerston (then Fulham). In the Bennett Cemetery on Schoolhouse Rd, E. Dummerston, VT.

Benjamin Gleason was an early settler of Fulham/Fullum (now known as Dummerston), Vermont. He was born in 1745 in Framingham, MA – the same year that Nehemiah Howe was captured by Abenaki raiders on Putney Great Meadows just a few miles north of Dummerston. These were the early days of what is often called King George’s War (1744-1748), part of the European War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748), and the third of the four so-called French and Indian Wars. Benjamin was one of the four sons of Sgt. Isaac and Thankful (Wilson) Gleason, later of Petersham, MA. He came to Westmoreland, NH, just across the Connecticut River, with his brothers when he was a young man and lived between both there and Dummerston for the rest of his life.

He married Mary Cole (circa 1775), who was born directly across the Connecticut River, on Canoe Meadow in Westmoreland, NH, eldest daughter of Jonathan and Edith (Davis) Cole. Her birth was sometime before 1764, in the blockhouse her father, Deacon Jonathan built as protection for the family and neighbors because, the record states, “in the early days of the settlement he was often annoyed by the Indians.”  Benjamin and Mary Gleason eventually had nine or ten children, depending on your sources. Benjamin was present in Westmoreland in March of 1776, when the roll call was taken of “all males above twenty-one years of age (lunatics, idiots, and negroes excepted)” and the Association Test of loyalty to the Revolutionary cause was administered. Benjamin ended up serving in the American Rebellion and his gravesite bears a veteran’s marker; his father Sgt. Isaac had served many years in the last French and Indian War, at Crown Point, Ticonderoga, and Fort Duquesne.

In the History of Dummerston is this striking anecdote:

Benjamin Gleason, a pensioner, served in the army 7 years. He was born in 1745, lived in this town many years, and died Oct.23, 1823, aged 78. Nothing can be ascertained about his long experience in war; but we met with one old gentleman, who told us the following story of his killing an Indian:

The Indians had come down the Connecticut valley, from Canada for the purpose of destroying the property of the whites and taking them prisoners. Gleason was an object of their search; but he was vigilant, and managed to escape into the forest, on the approach of the savages. His place of retreat was soon discovered; and with the intention of capturing him alive, an Indian came toward him looking very good-natured, and for the purpose of deception, came toward him pretended that he was going to shake hands, saying, as he walked along, “Sagah?” “Sagah?” in English how are you? how are you? “I’ll Sagah you,” said Ben and instantly shot him dead. The Indians were greatly enraged, on finding their comrade dead; but Gleason was too cunning for the red men, and was never made their prisoner.

I bounced this apocryphal story – the only reference I have ever found to the Abenaki language in the local settler’s history record, other than names – over to one of my language coaches and a fluent speaker of Western Abenaki, Jesse Bruchac. Jesse’s insightful reading is as follows: Very cool! Could be two things, saagat means “I’m sorry” and sagiljandi means “shake hands”.

It almost goes without saying that this strange tale, passed down in the community and originally related, no doubt, by the protagonist himself – Benjamin Gleason – may have more than one truth behind it. Dead men tell no tales and history is written by the victor. Without witnesses a story is simply hearsay, or perhaps better described as “I will say what I want you to hear.”

Sources:

  • History of Cheshire and Sullivan Counties, New Hampshire, J.W. Lewis & Co., 1886.
  • Gazetteer of Cheshire County, NH, 1736-1885, Hamilton Child, 1885.
  • History of the Town of Dummerston: the First Town Settled by Anglo-Saxon Descendants, David Lufkin Mansfield, 1884.
  • Western Abenaki Facebook discussion group.

Red Pine I

A mature grove of red pine, pasaakw, thriving atop Black Mountain in Dummerston, Vermont.

Written history tells us that when the British first ventured up the Kwanitekw in the early 1700s, they found a glorious stand of yellow pine covering K’tsi Mskodak, the Great Meadows of Putney, Vermont. George Sheldon’s History of Northfield (MA) recounts “The Indians had not burnt over the country above West River; and the meadows in Putney and vicinity were covered with a magnificent growth of yellow pines.”  This fertile floodplain, encompassing 500 acres of well-drained sandy loam, projects eastward toward New Hampshire nearly a mile, with the Connecticut River sweeping in a broad arc around its fertile expanse. Today, we think of yellow pine as a group of North American species found from the mid-Atlantic states southward. Consequently, this description seems completely incongruous – until we recognize the intricate and evolving bond between a language and a people.

red pine bark pinus resinosa pasaakw

Red pine derives its common name from the more or less reddish cast to its loose, flaky bark, often with more color toward the top or crown.

It turns out that “yellow pine” was the eighteenth-century British settler’s vernacular for the red pine, Pinus resinosa; a web search turns up the fact that Northern Yellow Pine is, in fact, a term still used for salvaged, antique red pine which had been harvested back in those days. Red pine is notably denser and thus harder than its more common cousin white pine, and was used for flooring and shipbuilding extensively; early on, it was eagerly sought out by the white settlers and then, in keeping with colonial attitudes, clearcut. The stand at K’tsi Mskodak certainly caught the attention of the merchants in New London, Connecticut, already a well-established center for shipbuilding. In 1732, a party of seventy men was sent upriver to cut the tall, arrow-straight pines for the use of the King’s Navy – it was British law that all such trees were Royal property. Accounts indicate that the trees were cut and floated down the river continuing into the following year. Save for Massachusetts’ frontier outpost 16 miles downriver at Fort Dummer (at the south edge of what is now Brattleboro, Vermont), this was an exceedingly rare venture into the northern unknown by the English interlopers.

As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?

Alexis de Tocqueville 1831

On the other hand, the native people, the Abenakiak,  knew this place and its grove of trees well. In the Western Abenaki language, this stalwart of the forest was called “pasaakw” – pah-sah-ah-kwah – with two morphemes, pasa + akw combining in prototypical Algonquian polysynthetic style. The suffix -akw is seen often in the naming of trees, meaning a rigid object, or perhaps more specifically in this instance, a “woody stem.” The prefix pasa- is a bit trickier: it seems to translate loosely as “swollen.” To bolster that approximation, the more common descriptive prefix psa- means “to be full of.” This generates a compounded word that means “swollen tree” or “tree full of” and conjures the meaning behind the naming. My thanks – wlioni! – to Jesse Bruchac for his help in extracting the origins of this word; I will be citing his insight often.

In Red Pine II, we will look at the relationship between these two original inhabitants of N’dakinna, the land of the Sokwaki, the southernmost band of Abenakiak. Whence the name pasaakw? How did these two relate to one another? How did the coming of the new people impact this affinity? What was the nature of this divide?