The Gipsy (Gypsy) Ground

grau map 1860 gipsy grounds cedar street

Dr. C.W. Grau area map, circa 1860 from Old Maps

Charles William Grau was a noted physician first at Brattleboro’s Wesselhoeft Water-Cure (1848), followed by the Lawrence Water-Cure (1853), and later in private practice. A key ingredient of his naturopathic treatment regimen was extensive outdoor exposure, in the form of walks, and drives. To encourage and facilitate the practice, he became a skilled cartographer, preparing detailed maps of nearby paths, roads, and scenic features for devotees.

On his large area map, there is a dotted line going north-south, connecting Western Avenue with Asylum Street, and intersecting the latter between the Retreat proper and the Retreat Farm. Just a trail or footpath at the time, this was to become today’s Cedar Street. Upon the area immediately south of the Farm and west of the Retreat is a two-word legend cryptically stating “Gypsy Grounds.” This is the land at the base of Harris Hill Ski Jump, still a cleared field surrounded by forest and relatively undisturbed except for the looming jump ramp.

While there were a number of Romanichal (an Anglo-Romani subgroup from the British Isles) in North America at the time – most of them deported here unwillingly – “gypsy” was a term applied generally to anyone with a perceived migratory lifestyle. Most of the better-known Eastern European Romani emigrated to the US later in the 1800’s, primarily to urban areas. In Vermont, sociologists agree that the term “gypsy” was often a reference to the indigenous Abenaki and their kin, some of whom adopted an intinerant peddler version of their annual subsistence cycles. Returning to their traditional homelands in family groups with horse-drawn wagons, they sold baskets and woodenware, worked as day laborers, offered herbal treatments, and hunted and gathered as had their ancestors in the self-same places.

Dr. Grau’s 1860 “Gypsy Grounds” was and is one of these places. There are a number of historical newspaper accounts of gypsy visitations to Brattleboro in the 19th century, focusing on several specific localities. The area around the Retreat Farm and Meadows is documented as a known pre-European-Contact settlement site. The developing onslaught of war and colonization made sustainable Abenaki continuance untenable, driving the people and their culture out of sight and often far away. But the descendants of those forced off the land remembered their ties to the homelands and would return as they were able, living on the fringes of the growing towns and conducting their own affairs in a radically-changed social landscape. And those descendants are still here in Vermont, reclaiming their stories and reaffirming their connections to the land, at the place called Wantastegok and now known as Brattleboro.

From the Perspective of the First Mainers: Workshop Teaches Wabanaki History

wabanaki map bowdoin REACH

The Wabanaki map literally at the center of a recent Bowdoin workshop was imprinted, like a fabric mosaic, of images integral to the history of the Wabanaki people and their culture: a red eagle, a tri-colored dream catcher, fish, and mammals.

Over the course of the workshop, the Wabanaki map—the colorful storyboard in the middle of the room—was folded up and broken apart several times, representing the fragmented nature of Wabanaki history. By the end, the pieces were rolled out and put back together, as if to symbolize the resilience of the Wabanaki up to the present day.

“We are working toward truth, healing, and change with educational programs that teach how the process of colonization happened and continues to happen here,” said Kates.

Diana Furukawa ’18 helped facilitate the recent afternoon event in the Edwards Center for Art and Dance with Maine-Wabanaki REACH, a nonprofit engaging non-native people in restorative justice for the Wabanaki. The Wabanaki refers to five nations—the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot—who are from the Northeastern part of the country, including Maine.

Furukawa currently works at the public library in Millinocket, Maine, helping with community-led grassroots revitalization efforts in the Katahdin area. To bring the Wabanaki  event to Bowdoin, Furukawa partnered with Barbara Kates, REACH’s community organizer.

“We are working toward truth, healing, and change with educational programs that teach how the process of colonization happened and continues to happen here,” said Kates.

Read the full press release here.

Mapping the Wabanaki Canoe Routes of Yesteryear

wabanaki-mapping

Since people have lived in New Brunswick, there have been highways, though not all were created equal.

n 2015, the provincial government closed the neglected Jemseg Bridge, leaving a large section of the former Trans-Canada Highway still standing — abandoned and inaccessible.  Part of a so-called “modern highway,” the route has decayed past the point of use just a few decades after it was built.  But underneath it runs another highway, thousands of years old, and still in working condition.

The Jemseg River, along with hundreds of other rivers, creeks, and streams make up the highways used for centuries by First Nations communities for trade and travel using birch-bark canoes. Some of these routes are well-recognized today, their winding routes shared though the oral history of several First Nation communities. Others were thoroughly recorded by famed New Brunswick cartographer and historian William Francis Ganong.

Some are less known, and some may be lost to history, but researchers are working to map those possible routes using a combination of computer software and linguistics study.

Read the full story at CBC. ca.

Sokwakik, the Change Begins: Whitelaw’s Map of Vermont 1796

whitelaw map 1796 vermont

Title – “A correct map of the state of Vermont, from actual survey :  exhibiting the county and town lines, rivers, lakes, ponds, mountains, meetinghouses, mills, public roads, &c   / by James Whitelaw, Esqr., late surveyor general ; engraved by Amos Doolittle, Newhaven, 1796, and by James Wilson, Vermont, 1810.

whitelaw-1796-windham-county

An inset detail of Windham County (click to enlarge).

wantastitquck-or-west-river

The label for the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River tributary (known today as West River) is given as “Wantastitquck or West River” – very close in pronunciation to both Wantastekw and Wantastegok.

whitelaw-1796-brattleboro-town

Let’s look at some details for Wantastegok/Brattleboro, at this relatively early date of British settlement. The east-west Turnpike which became the basis for Vt Route 9 has not been built yet (about 1800). The road existing at the time running westward was known as the Great Military Road, or the Albany Post Road, circa 1746. This was the road used for scouting and patrolling by militia between Fort Dummer (in the southeast corner of Brattleboro, not shown here) and Fort Massachusetts (in what is now Williamstown, MA) and onward to Albany, NY. It was a repurposed Native trail, a single-file footpath, as were all of the earliest roads. In fact, there is a good chance most of the roads shown on this map as dotted lines were of the same provenance. The courses of these roads as marked on the map are general and somewhat imprecise, and some are missing. The Great River Road, a major Abenaki trail running parallel to the west side of the Kwanitekw, which is now VT Route 5, was now enjoying benefits of the first bridge at the mouth of the Wantastekw/West River, opened in 1796, the year of this survey.

More to follow…

Sokoki Sojourn and the Turners Falls Indians Debate

connecticut-river-sokwakik-map-brooks

The mid-Connecticut River valley, showing the traditional homelands of the Sokwakiak Abenaki (the Sokoki), known as Sokwakik (labelled in the center), south below Koasek to Peskeompskut (today’s Turners Falls). Map from Lisa Brooks’ The Common Pot: the Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (2008).

Why would Sokoki Sojourn concern itself with the current discussion around the implications of maintaining or changing the Turners Falls Indians athletic mascot? As the social, cultural, ethical, and historical implications will be examined thoroughly in the ongoing media coverage (archived here), I would simply like to make the connection, geographically and personally, with several simple observations.

To the immediate north of what is now called Turners Falls, named after British colonial Captain William Turner, but known beforehand as Peskeompskut, lies the homeland of the Western Abenaki. Gill, Northfield, Bernardston, Vernon, Hinsdale, Brattleboro, and many other nearby towns, heading northward, lie upon this ancestral landscape and, due to their continuing presence, within the selfhood of the indigenous people.  The people of this land were and are called the Sokwakiak (today’s Sokoki), meaning “the people who were set apart or who separated.” The linguistic and historical connection  can be seen and heard clearly in the early European settler’s name for Northfield: Squakheag. This is an Anglicized derivation from the Abenaki name for the region, Sokwakik.

The people of this land were most certainly present at Capt. Turner’s dawn raid upon the sleeping fishing village on May 19, 1676. They were the de facto hosts at this peacefully neutral encampment, receiving their Algonquian cousins and political allies in Metacom’s Uprising (King Philip’s War): the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, the Nipmuck, the Pocumtuck, and no doubt members of other similarly disenfranchised Tribes. Hundreds died that day – primarily children, women, and elders – and the lives of the communities were never the same again. Which, really, brings us up to today: this is why Sokoki Sojourn has taken up the mantle. The story continues and there can be no peace without justice, no honor without truth.