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The Queen of Caskoak
In A Voyage to New England, Christopher Levett described witnessing, and participating in, a Council among Indigenous leaders at the traditional meeting place of Caskoak, the place of herons, which he called “Quack.” He remarked that a woman, whom he only called “the Queen of Quack,” was the saunkskwa of this place. She formally welcomed Levett and the other visitors to her territory. There, he observed many places for fishing, including cod in Casco Bay, salmon on the Presumpscot River (pictured above), wild “fowl,” and “as much good ground as any can desire,” referring to the fertile planting grounds along the river. Caskoak was an ideal place for planting, fresh and saltwater fishing, and hunting, but it was also at the center of trade, facilitating distribution between communities to the south and northeast, as well as into the interior mountains. Even from the coast, Levett could see the “Christall hill,” or Wawôbadenik (White Mountains) to which the Queen’s territory was connected by waterways and paths.
This place, which the English later called “Falmouth” then Portland (Maine), has multiple names. Caskoak evokes its identity as a meeting place, a confluence, a site of exchange and diplomacy. Recalling its other name, Machigonne ("it is bad" or "it does bad") Maliseet author Mihku Paul evokes its history of colonization and war, including the violence against its other-than-human inhabitants in her poem, “A Song for Machigonne.”
A Song for Machigonne
Machigonne your truest name
before the French and English came to raid
the land of her tallest trees and pull the fish from
her blue knee.
The fur they took in trade for pots and drink and
rusty blades, could not sate their endless hunger or abate
their supernatural greed.
Oh, Machigonne, your name is dust.
You have begun to bleed.
Casco, now, is how they call the great neck as the mighty trees fall.
Land divided among men is stolen once again.
Waymouth kidnaps five of us before Gorges and John Mason arrive
to claim the eastern lands, and now we die and die.
The treaties cannot last when traders block the fish from
moving past, cows trample our corn, yet you say
we are a thorn in your side.
You are the ones who cannot abide by your own laws.
When we fight, we have just cause to grieve for Machigonne
and those who now walk beyond this world.
French or English, we must choose or so you say, if not
to lose the land we hold most dear.
We come away only to starve anew and now
our hearts are hard.
In spring of 1690, we gathered with Castine, our anger risen like the
streams you choked with nets to starve our kin, we followed one
trusted chief whose child the Baron sought to keep.
Madockawando leads the men and killing will begin.
Just for today we are many and will break our anger on your flesh,
burn your walls to nothingness.
Four hundred fighting men and more, with French to batter down
the door, we come to Machigonne to prove
Fort Loyal cannot stand
against our warring hand.
An English is a worse brigand than any Frenchman, so they tell us
when we fight and burn your forts down in the night.
We aren’t the ones you trusted to survive with white flag
waving before your eyes.
That was Burneiffe, who was in charge of
keeping order and giving quarter.
To trust is almost always wise but not to trust your English lies.
Thus you learn the bitter price you pay for our forgiveness.
Six wars were fought here, laying claim to land that
many tried to tame until we finally surrendered,
Penobscots, Micmacs, Malecite, Abenaki with little left
you had not plundered from our dawnland home.
The “Beaver Wars” were fought for pelts,
King Philip’s War, abuse of trade, and Squando’s child,
drowned just to see if he could swim, like some wild river otter.
Then scalp hunters seeking bounty came to Machigonne again.
King William’s War was fought for land, Fort William Henry could not stand against
Abenaki and French, who drove the English from the lower Kennebec.
In 1701 Queen Anne’s War came to our shores, when,
once again French and English wanted more and more and more.
Greedy bullets, dripping blades, smoking battlements laid waste and always
we must take a side, knowing we can no longer hide from settlers
thick as leaves on trees, coveting everything they see.
Dummer’s War for William Dummer, who sent Colonel Westbrook to
burn our homes and fields and starve us out.
Norridgewock fell, one hundred dead.
Pigwacket too, and if you wore the other shoe it would be dipped in red.
At last your war with France burned high, for seven years, and we had
nothing left to lose when forced to choose between
the evils that befell our people.
One in four of us was dead, gone to the wind and finally you said the line was
drawn in seventeen and fifty-nine, the words you give to white man’s time.
You name our demise victorious, so-called history and glory
fought for land paid in blood and bone.
Machigonne was just one, first become Casco, then Old Falmouth,
finally as the years wore on, Portland, Maine was born.
The massacre you blame us for is but the story of your shame,
and those sins for which you must atone.
Machigonne was not your own.