For Massachusetts Lt. Gov. William Dummer, making peace with the Wabanaki Confederacy in 1727 required diplomacy, capable militia officers and letter-writing, letter-writing, letter-writing.
On May 27, 1727, the war was winding down between the English colonists and the Native people, aided by the French, in what is now Maine, New Hampshire, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The conflict was known as Dummer’s War or the Wabanaki-New England War or the 4th Anglo-Abenaki War or Father Rale’s War. Fought primarily in Maine, it followed King Philip’s War (the first Anglo-Abenaki War), King William’s War and Queen Anne’s War.
The incendiary French missionary Father Sébastien Rale led the alliance with the Wabanaki Confederacy during Dummer’s War. The Confederacy included the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Abenaki and was led by Chief Gray Lock and Chief Paugus.
Dummer, then acting governor, negotiated peace with Penobscot Chief Wenanganet in 1725, three years after the conflict began. Wenanganet agreed to take up the cause with the other chiefs by sending wampum, which represented peace, to the other tribes. Dummer kept up an active correspondence with his militia captains on the Maine frontier and with the Indian chiefs, as evidenced by the volume of correspondence in Baxter’s Manuscripts. He sent them presents — guns, blankets, signs of special respect — and responded to their concerns in detail.
Threats of Mischief
On May 27, Capt. John Gyles sent a letter to Dummer from Fort George in Brunswick relaying a message from an Indian tribe. They wanted the governor to answer their letter. Gyles had been captured by Indians as a young boy at Pemaquid and enslaved, sold to a Frenchman and freed when he was 18. Gyles’ fluency in the Indian dialects of Acadia made him extremely useful in negotiations with the tribes. He wrote in his letter:
this day ye 2 Indian Messengers y’t brought ye Messuage or Letter from ye Ercegontegog Malcontent Party, Say that they Expect an answer to their Letter by ye furst & s’d Messengers further say they ar of Opinion if they have no answer sent them, they may be Incurridged to Do US sum Privat Mischief, for they ar not without Councelors to Do it.
The messengers also “heartily salute your honour & ye honorable Council.” They promised to do their utmost for peach and a “good understanding round ye contenant.”
John Gyles Enter’r
William Dummer Writes
Dummer that day sent a letter to two other militia captains, Heath and Smith. He advised them to assuage the Indians’ concern about the fall in prices for beaver (‘bever’). And he suggested they tell them no one would give them a better price for their furs.
I rec’d your Letter by Cpt. Saunders, & observe what you mention of the Uneasiness of ye Indians upon the Fall of the Price of the Bever.
He told Heath and Smith to tell the Indians that the prices for the colonists’ goods had also fallen, especially for rum. And he suggested they remind them of the treaty, which said they would get “the utmost for their Furrs that they would fetch in the market at Boston.” He also wanted them to tell the Natives that the prices of good fluctuated.
And when they Come to Boston They will have Liberty to try the Merchants & Shop Keepers here they will find that we have allowed them the full Price of every thing We have brought & sold our Goods to them at very easy & moderate Rates.
And he wrote to Gyles as well:
The Letter herewith enclosed was design’d to go in a Sloop bound for Falm’o but Cpt. Saunders being come in I have stop’d it till his Return to you: By him I have sent the Goods mention’d in the other letter, Wch you must deliver to the several Indians in my Name in the most proper Manner you can.
I have rec’d your Letter by Saunders; In answer to it You must acquaint Wenungenet That I take it well of him That he has sent a Message to the Canada Indians (with his Belt of Wampam) “That they must make no more Breaches “on the English, & if they do, that he will resent it & consult with me & have satisfaction of them. And that is what I have expected he would do. He being obliged by Treaty.
The war died down after the massacre of more than 100 Native people at Norridgewock along with Father Rale on Aug. 23, 1724.
This story last updated in 2022.