Monday, December 2, 2013

The Wabanaki and the Plymouth (Mass) Tercentenary of 1921

From June to September of 1921, the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts celebrated the three hundredth anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims with their Tercentenary Pageant. Although most of the country celebrated this event in 1920, many believed that beginning with November 1920, the celebration should continue for an entire year. Half a million dollars was appropriated by Congress to put on the event and political figures were on hand to eulogize the Pilgrims and their exploits. The pageant employed over 1000 costumed actors and a trained chorus of 300 voices which presented famous incidents in the life of the pilgrims.
Timothy Messer-Kruse wrote, in Ohio’s Bicentennial, that
History was then a pastiche of myth and misrepresentation. The Pilgrims were depicted as enterprising, law-abiding, selflessly Christian – though perhaps somewhat dour – and overly temperate people. What historians tell us about their intolerant theocratic tendencies, their good fortune at landing at the site of an abandoned Indian village with corn still standing in the fields, their incessant bickering among themselves (they would become the most litigious community in America), or their typical pre-modern habits of life (Increase Mather wrote: “Drink is in itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness...” was, of course, absent. So little attention was given to actual history in this event that pilgrims were depicted nobly on horseback when, in fact, no horses took passage on the Mayflower.
Perhaps a little known aspect of Wabanaki culture was their participation in the Plymouth Tercentenary in 1921. The following announcement in the Old Colony Memorial of July 15, 1921 mentions that the Passamaquoddy from Maine would be in attendance.
One of the most picturesque attractions of the town in connection with the tercentenary is the camp of the Passamaquoddy Indians at Little Pond in Morton Park, and beginning tomorrow, Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock, there will be water sports on the pond followed by war dances in full native costumes. The public is invited without charge… one of the large motor busses is making frequent trips from the town center to the camp at the reasonable charge of thirty-five cents for the round trip.

In writing about this announcement in their book titled Celebrating Ethnicity and Culture – American Festive Culture from the Revolution to the Early 20th Century, the authors point out that it
reads like a commercial for an early variant of a (post)modern theme park, with Native Americans as true-to-life actors and fashionable leisure-time entertainment for the sight-seeing tercentenary celebrants. Coming to Plymouth “under a contract with the Tercentenary Committee,” the members of the Passamaquoddy tribe and their display of Native American culture “turned out to be one of the most popular attractions of the Tercentenary Celebration,” and the “success of the village” was cited to justify the contract price (Old Colony Memorial September 9, 1921). The ethnocentric paternalism of this appropriation of Native American culture shows in the “picturesque” quality of the display and in the stereotypification in the Old Colony Memorial (September 9, 1921) on the occasion of the closing of the site: “The Indians were a fine lot of people. Plymouth people who came in contact with them found them honest and upright. They are a kindly and intelligent lot of folks.”

The Penobscot were also present there as the June 23, 1921 edition of the Hamptons Union newspaper (Hampton, New Hampshire) indicated that large crowds were present at Hampton Beach when Newell Tomah and Johnnie Ranco
who were travelling down the coast in a birch bark canoe to attend the Pilgrim tercentenary at Plymouth, put in from the sea for a rest. J. A. Tucker, newly elected secretary of the Board of Trade, who had been notified that the Indians would pass the beach sometime Sunday, was on the lookout all day and when he sighted the canoe passing Boar's Head, one mile out to sea, a boat was sent out to invite the Indians in.
As the canoe containing the braves came riding in on the waves opposite the Casino a large crowd congregated at the edge of the breakwater to receive them. After drawing their canoe far up on the sands, the Indians were taken to the band stand, where a band concert was in progress and introduced to the large assembly by Secretary Tucker. The braves acknowledged the loud cheering that followed with bows, and Ranco, who acted as spokesman for the two, gave a brief detailed story of the trip as far as they had gone.
Arrayed in the feathers, paint, buckskin, and beads of their forefathers, the braves had left the reservation at Indian Island, Me., 12 miles up the river from Bangor, Me., on Monday, the 13th, on the first lap of their 300 mile voyage to Plymouth. Their departure from Indian Village was made the occasion of a parade, congratulations, music by an Indian band, and an address by several "white chiefs of the town". Thirty Indian families left Indian Island at the same time for the same destination, but Tomah and Ranco were the only two to travel by sea in a canoe.
There is no stormier stretch of American Atlantic coast than that between Penobscot bay and Cape Cod. While passing around Pemaquid point the two Indians encountered waves 30 feet high. Ranco stated that they knew that their ancestors cruised all along the Atlantic shore from Passamaquoddy bay to Boston in birch bark canoes without mishap and they, Ranco and Tomah, felt safe in their birch canoe, although it is only 17 ½ feet long and 30 inches wide.
The Indians carried a complete camping outfit, sleeping ashore, putting in at convenient harbors. Both are noted Penobscot River woodsmen and log drivers and used to rough water on the big lakes. Both speak excellent English. They stated that the reception at Hampton was the best given them at any place they had landed since the start of their trip and because of this they decided to make their stop at Hampton Beach last overnight, renewing their journey early the next morning.
Following the introduction of the braves they were treated to their first aeroplane ride. The three passenger plane, piloted by "Bob" Fogg, bore the bronzed natives over to Salisbury beach and back. On returning the Indians stated that the ride was much too short and that riding in an aeroplane was much less hazardous than manning a canoe over 30 foot waves. Following the aeroplane ride they erected their wigwam and received visits from hundreds.

A Wolfeboro, New Hampshire photography magazine reported that thirty Passamaquoddy Indians, including William Neptune, their former governor, would also be travelling to Plymouth.
They will take along their wigwams, birch-bark canoes, costumes and war-implements, and will manufacture baskets, give war and peace dances, and take part in pageants. This will be interesting news to camera visitors who may have but a slight personal acquaintance with the descendents of the original Americans. Photo Era Magazine – The American Journal of Photography - May 1921, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, page 266.


There were numerous real photo postcards taken of this event and below is a small sampling of them, mostly from my personal collection, that gives us a glimpse into this seldom explored aspect of Wabanaki history.

Figure 1 – Taken at the boat landing on Indian Island in Old Town, Maine. Preparing to leave for the Tercentennial Celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Seated in the canoe are Newell Tomah and Johnnie Ranco. An old inscription on the back reads: Old Town, Maine to Plymouth, Mass. Stopped at Hampton Beach, NH.

Figure 2 – Pictured are Newell Tomah and Johnnie Ranco. An old ink inscription on the back reads: “This picture was taken in Old Town, Me. Talked with the prince as he called himself. Sits in the rear. Canoe made of birch bark and they paddled it to Plymouth last summer from Old Town. A distance I think of 300 miles – his skin was very dark. A real red Indian. The princess was very pretty and shy.”

Figure 3 – Another postcard of Newell Tomah and Johnnie Ranco.

Figure 4 – Passamaquoddy Canoe built by Sylvester Gabriel (Passamaquoddy), en route from Pleasant Point to Plymouth, Massachussetts, for the Plymouth tercentennial. Paddlers are William Neptune (on left) and Horace Nicholas (on right).

Figure 5 – Another postcard of Newell Tomah and Johnnie Ranco. Note on back says: Taken in Plymouth.

Figure 6 – Titled “The Departure.” The individual on the right is Chief Lewey. I’m not certain how many canoes the Passamaquoddy sent to the Plymouth Tercentenary. From what I could gather, the Penobscot sent only one. This card is from the same period and the individuals depicted are different from those in figure 4. One account indicated that many of the Indians who participated traveled to Boston by train although I’m not sure how they got to Plymouth from there.

Figure 7 – Newell Tomah and Johnnie Ranco, the two Penobscots who canoed from Old Town, Maine to Plymouth. It’s uncertain if this was taken before their departure or after they arrived.

Figure 8 – Group of Passamaquoddy who traveled to the Plymouth Tercentenary. Chief Neptune is seated in the center with the large bandoleer across his chest.

Figure 9 – Another real photo postcard of them standing.

Figure 10 – John Dana, Passamaquoddy, at the Indian village in Plymouth.


Figure 11 – Another postcard of John Dana. A few baskets can be seen inside the bark dwelling in the background.

Figure 12 – A family of Passamaquoddy standing before their tent at the Tercentenary. Inked date on the back is Sunday, July 17, 1921.

Figure 13 – A group of Passamaquoddy standing by the canoe they used to get to Plymouth. Standing on the far left is Chief Neptune. He was a skillful basketmaker, trapper, fisherman, musician, and orator.

Figure 14 – Pictured in this real photo postcard is Horace Nicholas and his family, Passamaquoddy. This is Joseph Nicholas’s parents and older siblings. Joseph was a Passamaquoddy representative to the Maine legislature. In his retirement he ran a basket shop at Pleasant Point and said his family sold “novelty” goods at Massachusetts fairs. A beautiful selection of their baskets can be seen in this image. 

Figure 15 – This is another real photo postcard of Horace Nicholas and his family. In addition to the baskets pictured is a selection of root clubs. This postcard was mailed to someone in Canaan, New Hampshire on August 16, 1921 and it contained the following hand written note: “V. & I motored here today – Indian village is about a mile from the town. Afterwards parked on Pageant ground at the water’s edge, lunched, & saw boat leave for Boston.”

Figure 16 – Two young Passamaquoddy girls - Liza Dana (on left) and Mariah Lewey (on right) daughter of Chief Lewey.

Figure 17 – Real Photo postcard of the Chief Lewey and family at the Pilgrim Tercentenary in 1921. A few baskets can be seen on the table inside the tent. The young Mariah Lewey is also wearing a beautiful beaded cap.

Figure 18 – Real photo postcard of Joseph Nicholas and his wife, Penobscots, selling baskets at the Tercentenary.

Figure 19 – John Dana (on the right) and Tom Saccobi (on left) demonstrating their archery skills.

Figure 20 – Another image of Tom Saccubie. There must have been a question as to his age and the spelling of his name as it is different on this card from the previous one.

Figure 21 – Real photo postcard of a group of Passamaquoddy at the Plymouth Tercentenary Indian encampment. Both women are holding baskets and additionally, the woman seated is smoking a pipe.

Figure 22 – Scene near the Indian encampment at the Tercentenary. 

Figure 23 – Joseph Neptune and his wife, Passamaquoddy. 

Figure 24 – Passamaquoddy chief Lewey. 

Figure 25 – Joseph Nicholas and family, Penobscots from Old Town, Maine.

Figure 26 – Horace Nicholas (on left); Joseph Nicholas (center); Joseph Neptune (on right), Penobscots from Old Town, Maine.

Figure 27 – Chief Neptune and some of his family members, Passamaquoddy at the Tercentenarys’ Indian village.

Figure 28 – An unidentified Native family at the Tercentenary. 

Figure 29 – The Grand Finale of the Tercentenary on the waterfront in Plymouth, Massachusetts.































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