Our Beloved Kin: Remapping A New History of King Philip's War

Warrabitta of Owascoag

The corn fully ripening and the salty marshes drawing cool winds, the saunkskwa Warrabitta and her mother met with the English brothers nearby their field at Owascoag, a "place of good grass," just south of Caskoak, the place of herons. They were there to renew a relationship, negotiate the sharing of space, and receive acknowledgement.
Warrabitta, also known as Joane (Jhone) or Jane, belonged to a web of leadership families on the coast and her family was represented in several deeds across the region. Her brother Skitterygusset appeared on an early deed for land in Casco Bay, in which he appeared to transfer ancestral land to the “fisherman” Francis Small, extending from Capissic, below the Presumpscot river’s mouth, to the fishing falls and planting grounds at Ammoncongan. Small pledged an annual “pay” of “one trading coat,” a symbolic recognition of Skitterygusset’s leadership, and “one gallon of liquor.” Yet this was not a simple purchase. These agreements were solidified through the exchange of wampum and tobacco, as Small later testified, symbolizing a commitment to share space, a negotiated relationship.[1]
In 1666, Warrabitta signed a deed allowing Boston colonist George Munjoy to settle land “on the other side of Amancongan River at the great Falls the upper part of them called Sacarabigg,” where there was another planting ground, “and so down the River Side unto the lowermost planting Ground,” a considerable tract on the Presumpscot River.[2] These falls at Sacarappa (Westbrook) and along the river became the site of considerable protest by Wabanaki people in 1739, when the leader Polin protested the impact of colonial dams on the free passage of salmon and their subsistence.
In 1670, as colonial pressure on coastal lands increased, Warrabitta put her “seal” to an “Indenture,” for land “lately Granted by the Townsmen of Falmouth unto…Anthony Brackett,” covering “four hundred acres of land lying upon the Long Creek in Casco Bay.” She acknowledged receiving “twenty shillings,” from Brackett. The deed also featured “a place for the Mark” of her brother Sagawetton, who dwelled with his wife’s family on the Saco and Kennebunkport rivers, to the south. Warrabitta appeared on deeds regarding land from Owascoag to the Kennebec River, demonstrating her wide influence and connections to “neighboring sachems” on the Wabanaki coast. Multiple Wabanaki leaders often participated in councils and negotiations that led to deeds, which were frequently signed by multiple representatives. [3]
The earliest deed on which Warrabitta appeared was at Owascoag, where she and her mother planted, created during the harvest. The 1659 deed recorded an earlier verbal agreement, made in 1651, in which she and Skitterygusset, alongside their mother, allowed land at Owascoag to Andrew and Arthur Alger. In 1658, when the town was surveyed in conjunction with its submission to the jurisdiction of Massachusetts Colony, there were only 23 white male adult “inhabitants” of Falmouth. The Alger brothers pledged an annual “acknowledgment” of a “bushel of corn” to the saunkskwak, recognizing their jurisdiction, as well, while acquiring proof of their claim to the land through Indigenous title.[4] 

 Women’s leadership in Wabanaki is rooted in agriculture, including the traditional story of the “First Mother,” known as Nigawes, “Our mother” corn. Penobscot author Joseph Nicolar includes the story of the First Mother and her emergence as corn in his 1893 book, The Life and Traditions of the Red Man. The symbolism of the "bushel of corn" was important, an acknowledgement of the role of women leaders and the Algers' place as contributors to a larger community, similar to the contribution Wabanaki families might make to the “common pot” during seasonal harvest festivals. Warrabitta and her family, following the “Queen” of Caskoak, strove to incorporate settlers into Indigenous cultural and economic systems, even as settlers sought their consent on finite political documents.

Warrabitta, her mother, and the women who planted and gathered beside them would have valued many of the plants growing in the marshes of Owascoag, including cattail, used for both food and weaving. The extensive marshlands of Owascoag can be viewed through this map, featured on Maine Memory, in the context of the colonial history of Scarborough. (Note that the page’s authors erroneously name the Native people of the region “Sokokis,” confusing the Connecticut River Valley people with those of the Sakôk, or the mouth of the “Saco” river.) 
[1] York Deeds (Portland: John T. Hull) 1:83. Francis Small’s deposition, May 10, 1683, Pejebscot Papers 6:67, Maine Historical Society. Emerson Baker, “Finding the Almouchiquois: Native American Families, Territories, and Land Sales in Southern Maine,” Ethnohistory 51:1 (2004), 82-5. Alice Nash, “The Abiding Frontier: Family, Gender and Religiohn in Wabanaki History, 1600-1763,” PhD Dissertation, Columbia University, 1997, 148-189. F.S.Reiche, “Past Activities at the Mouth of Presumpscot River” (Falmouth, 1978), Special Collections, Maine Historical Society. Amy McDonald, ed., Guide to the Presumpscot River: Its History, Ecology, and Recreational Uses (Portland: Presumpscot River Watch, 1994), 4-6.
[2] Waldo Papers, Box 1, Coll 34, Folder 1/1, Maine Historical Society. William Willis, History of Portland from 1632 to 1864 (Portland: Bailey & Noyes, 1865), 103, 108-110. Baker, “Finding the Almouchiquois, 84.
[3] Deed from Warrabitta and Nanateonett to George Munjoy, June 4, 1666, Waldo Papers, Folder 1/1, Maine Historical Society. Baker, “Finding the Almouchiquois 85. [more cites re: deeds with neighboring leaders?] Nash, “Abiding Frontier,” 174.
[4] York Deeds, (Portland: John T. Hull,1887), 2:114. Baker, “Finding the Almouchiquois,” 82-6; Nash, “Abiding Frontier,” 148-9, 174, 184-8. W. Southgate, History of Scarborough,” Collections of the Maine Historical Society (1853), 1st series, 3:99-177. Fanny Eckstorm, “Indian Place-Names of the Penobscot Valley and the Maine Coast,” The Maine Bulletin 44:4 (1941), 168. Willis, History of Portland, 95.

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