The Fort Dummer Ford and Ferry Crossing

fort dummer meadow flood 1909

Photo from Brattleboro Historical Society: looking south on April 16, 1909, from a point on the abandoned road that climbs the bank from Chase’s Cascade on Venter’s Brook, below the “Cotton Mill”.

In this vintage photo, the Connecticut River is flooding the Hunt Farm (upper right) and Meadows, due to the construction of the Vernon Hydroelectric Dam, completed in 1909. On the far upper left you can see the ferry road (red arrow) that came down the bank on the Hinsdale (east) side of the river. The path is overgrown, but it is still there; as the leaves begin to fall you can find the trail and walk down to the now-abandoned Boston & Maine Railroad bed. The barn marked with the blue arrow still stands at the intersection of NH Rt. 119 and Old Brattleboro Road. The relocated Vernon Road (now VT Rt. 142)  – moved to accommodate the rising water level – is obvious in the mid ground with its parallel guard rails.

The ferry mentioned here (red arrow again) has, of course, much older stories attached to it. It crossed the Kwenitekw to the site of Fort Dummer on the west bank (later, the Brooks farm) near where the short trees can barely be seen (green arrow) projecting from the floodwaters, just beyond the railroad’s telegraph poles (yellow arrow). Fort Dummer (built in 1724 and pre-dating the ferry by decades) was strategically built here because it was a traditional fording place for Abenaki travellers and later by the soldiers and first settlers – of course, that’s why the trails led to this point. Those foot paths later became the first colonial roads – thus Old Brattleboro Road (blue arrow again). The cemetery used by the Fort Dummer garrison and early settlers lies just east of this intersection on a knoll to the north side of the road. The current NH Rt. 119 from this point south to the NH State Liquor Store is a relatively recent replacement route (this is the point where the Old Brattleboro Road rejoins its new counterpart).

Brattleboro Historical Society in the Reformer: Native American Past in Brattleboro

Indian Rock Wantastegok Larkin Mead

Sketch of “Indian Rock” at the mouth of the West River, by a young Larkin Mead, later a nationally-known sculptor.

The Brattleboro Historical Society has begun submitting a regular feature to the local Brattleboro Reformer daily. This week’s column takes a look at the misrepresentation of established Native presence in the state’s long-mythologized history books, and offers some corrections of perspective into the present. I was able to help contribute to this welcome piece by the Society.

Full article here, excerpt below:

In 1828 the Brattleboro publishing company of Holbrook and Fessenden produced “A History of Vermont: From Its First Settlement to the Present Time.” It was the first known Vermont History book used in Brattleboro schools.

When writing about the “native inhabitants,” author Francis Eastman wrote, “not a vestige of them now remains – gradually the encroachments of the whites have pushed them farther and farther on” to the west and north of the United States and Canada.

In many early histories of Vermont, Native Americans were hardly mentioned. A Vermont school book used from 1890 to 1925 starts this way, “Very few Indians lived in Vermont when white men first came here, though hunting parties and war parties often passed through, and sometimes a party would camp all summer in a good place.” You can see that early history books did not give Native Americans much claim to Vermont…

The Commons: The American Myth of Thanksgiving, from Green Mountain Mornings

dummer thanksgiving proclamation 1723

Brattleboro, VT and Windham County’s independent weekly newspaper “The Commons” (editor Jeff Potter) published a transcript of the previous week’s interview with Olga Peter’s at WKVT’s Green Mountain Mornings show. The interview itself was posted at Sokoki Sojourn here.

Transcript article here.

From the sidebar:
This interview is adapted from the Nov. 15 broadcast of Green Mountain Mornings on WINQ-AM (formerly WKVT) and is published with the station’s permission. Host Olga Peters was for many years the senior reporter at The Commons and now writes for the paper part-time. The show airs daily from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. To hear audio of this show on demand (podcast), visit the show’s Soundcloud page at soundcloud.com/wkvtradio.

Decolonizing Thanksgiving: an American story Connects to Brattleboro, VT

An interview with Olga Peters on her Green Mountain Mornings show at Brattleboro’s WKVT radio. This is the first in what will become a series of Sokoki Sojourn: Live on the air. We will explore Sokoki-inspired topics over a broad range of interests (mostly local, but occasionally further afield) including historical, linguistic, geographic, contemporary, political, cultural… (it’s all cultural…)

November 15, 2018: Rich Holschuh shares his thoughts on Brattleboro’s connections to the story of the Pilgrims and “The First Thanksgiving.” He talks about the complexities of decolonization. Holschuh then shares the Abenaki word to express gratitude. Holschuh operates the blog Sokoki Sojourn.

Podcast here (thank you Olga!).

Words and Abenaki Heritage in Wantastegok

abenaki words project roundtable poster

Read: Press Release_ The Roundtable Discussion Series, Words & Abenaki History

See the Facebook Event page here.

The Burning Evidence

Again from Sokoki Abenaki country, a line of observations drawing from the statement in the previous post, quoting Hon. Charles K. Field (who married Julia Ann Kellogg, a descended cousin of Capt. Joseph Kellogg, second commander at Fort Dummer) in The Vermont Phoenix of July 7, 1876:

The intervales and meadows at Fort Dummer, upon West River, and at the Asylum farm, were found entirely bare of forest trees. Such was the fact with all the meadows on the Connecticut River at the time of the first settlement of New England. The Indians burned them over every year, and used them for planting grounds.

Much has been stated about this practice, in general, and I need not belabor it. One quote via William Cronon’s “Changes in the Land” (1983) is probably enough to stage the subject, and is appropriate here: “Selective Indian burning thus promoted the mosaic quality of New England ecosystems, creating forests in many different stages of ecological succession. In particular, regular fires promoted what ecologists call the ‘edge effect.’ By encouraging the growth of extensive regions which resembled the boundary areas between forests and grasslands, Indians created ideal habitats for a host of wildlife species.”

More specific and with a connection to Wantastegok is another quote, from the letters of Timothy Dwight IV (1822), eighth President of Yale, and grandson of his namesake, the first commander at Fort Dummer (1724) established in what would later become Brattleboro:

timothy dwight letters 1822 burning

A good overview of the Eastern Algonquian practice in general can be found here, in a USDA publication entitled “Wildland Burning by American Indians in Virginia” by Hutch Brown (2000).

Grounding this locally, we can now take a look at Walter Needham’s “A Book of Country Things” (1965). Walter was a lifelong Guilford, VT resident, who wrote (with co-author Barrows Mussey) a rather popular little book recounting the things he learned from his grandfather Leroy L. Bond, born in 1833. Among them was a familiarity with locating the signs of indigenous presence in the local landscape, a skill that Walter modestly claimed was the only thing at which he had become more adept than “Gramp”. In fact, he is known as one of the more active “relic hunters” in the immediate area (present-day Dummerston south to Vernon, Vermont); regrettably, his collections, for the most part, seem to have disappeared leaving only loose, vague accounts. The memories that remain, however, bear out a story of widespread, active settlement and extensive usage of the Kwenitekw and its landscape, counter to the prevailing Euro-American narrative that held (and often still holds) otherwise.

Speaking of the land management practices of the area’s original inhabitants, Needham relates: “Instead of plowing the cornfields like we do, the Indians burned them over every year. In most of the flat places where I find Indian relics, there’s a black line at one level of the soil, and under a [magnifying] glass you see it’s tiny pieces of charcoal.” Needham refers several times to this thin black line in the riverside stratigraphy.

Finally, we can pull another quote from a legacy account in the immediate area, the voluminous “A History of the Town of Northfield, MassachusettsFor 150 Years, with an Account of the Prior Occupation of the Territory by the Squakheags” by Josiah Howard Temple and George Sheldon (1875). This compilation (which must be read critically, as is the case with many period accounts) is the single best historical source for an admittedly colonized perspective on the Sokwakiak, the indigenous people who preceded the European incursion. Temple and Sheldon implicitly acknowledge the provenance of the land the settlers eagerly apportioned to themselves:

temple sheldon northfield history burning

And yet, “There Are No Evidences of Indian Settlements in This Town.”

 

 

 

“There Are No Evidences of Indian Settlements in This Town”

VT Phoenix July 7, 1876

From The Vermont Phoenix (Brattleboro, VT) July 7, 1876, an excerpt of the Centennial Address given by the Hon. Charles K. Field.

The final sentence of the paragraph above, following the previous observations, demonstrates the willful, almost ludicrous, elision of Native presence by descendants of the colonizers. The very same paragraph affirms the evidence of long-term indigenous occupation and specific resource-management practices.