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Wabanaki Agency in the Proprietor Records

(Page 1 of 5) Print Version 

Essay by Lisa Brooks (Abenaki), Fall 2022

Lisa Brooks (Missisquoi Abenaki) Henry S. Poler '59 Presidential Teaching Professor of English and American Studies at Amherst College. Known for her extensive archival research and place-based scholarship, Professor Brooks is the author of "The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast" (University of Minnesota Press, 2008) and "Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War" (Yale University Press, 2018), which received several awards, including the Bancroft Prize for American History and Diplomacy and the New England Society Book Award for Historical Nonfiction in 2019. Professor Brooks is the Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the American Antiquarian Society for the 2022-23 academic year.

Copy, deed from Blaney to Purchase, page 5 of 5, with copies of six Indian deeds to Wharton, page 1 of 4.
Copy, deed from Blaney to Purchase, page 5 of 5, with copies of six Indian deeds to Wharton, page 1 of 4.
An example of Proprietors' use of "Ancient Indian Deeds"Maine Historical Society

These Proprietors collections exist because of competing colonial claims to land. As historian Alan Taylor observed:

In 1800 the Pejepscot Patent's settlers complained that "each claimant comes producing pompus Parchmints of royal patents or fragments of Antient Indian Deeds. He who purchases of one is considered as the enemy of the other, being the tenant in possession. He is sued and at the end of seven years law suit it is of no consequence to him whether he gains or loses his cause, he is ruind in either case."(1)

“Ancient Indian deeds” in the collections exist largely because English settlers needed evidence to validate their claims to Wabanaki land, against other settlers and speculators. Many of the documents were created and assembled to validate the holdings of the Pejepscot Proprietors, who in 1714 purchased rights originally acquired by Richard Wharton through an agreement with Wabanaki leaders.

Similarly, as historian Emerson Baker observed, “the Kennebec Proprietors desperately sought” to secure their own claims against “the opposing claims of the Pejepscot Proprietors and the Clarke and Lake Company.” (2) Wabanaki people often had a much more nuanced understanding of the places mentioned in the documents than any of the English settlers who claimed those lands as their own.