My Two Beads Worth

My Two Beads Worth is an online, American Indian/Indigenous news ezine that has been online since 2000. Due to illness, I have found it a little easier to use a blog than to create a webpage due to my inability to keep long hours. So, for the time being, I will be using the blog and later on, all the information will be transferred to the website. Thank you for your understanding.

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Location: Hiram, Maine, United States

I am 55 years old and have been married for 31 years. We have one son, Michael who is 24 - 3 dogs, our two little Pomeranians, Frankie and Tommy and our old lovable Beagle, Buddy. We live in a very rural area on a small mountain in the foothills of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I am physically disabled due to several health issues and so I created My Two Beads Worth so I can remain active and involved in native issues. It is strictly non-profit, I do all the work myself and cover all expenses involved in getting the publication out online. I also have my own personal website which I enjoy working on too - when I have time, which there isn't much of that left over. I love life and want to live it as fully as I possibly can.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Chief Polin's death, 250 years of legend

Chief Polin's death, 250 years of legend

By Douglas Wright Staff Writer

WINDHAM (May 19): It’s been 250 years since the day Stephen Manchester fired the famous shot that felled Chief Polin, an American Indian chief and adversary of the original Windham settlement known as New Marblehead.

The musket shot made Manchester a hero to be later immortalized in history books as the man who brought to an end the conflict between native tribes and Windham settlers back in 1756.

And as this historic milestone passes, details of Polin’s life remain scarce, though many locals have theories about where the old chief is buried.
Competing histories and legends paint different pictures of what life was like in the frontier wilderness of Windham and what led to the final battle between Polin's tribe and the white Windham settlers.

In the book “Windham in the Past,” author Samuel Dole describes in dramatic detail what transpired that fateful day on May 14, 1756.
After years of war between frontier settlers and native tribes, Chief Polin led a secret raid on the Windham settlement.

This raid was believed to be an act of vengeance by Chief Polin who had protested years before that the settlers were damming the Presumpcot River and preventing salmon from migrating the river.

Polin led a band of warriors down the Presumpscot, hid their canoes in the trees and snuck in on the settlement near present-day Anderson Road.

Years of war with native tribes had forced the settlers to form a stockade around houses there and kept the settlers on constant alert against these raids.

On May 14, 1756, a group of eight men escorted Mr. Ezra Brown as he ventured into his field to plant crops. Among them were settlers Steven Manchester, Abraham Anderson, Joseph Starling, John Farrow and four young boys, Dole describes.

The settlers were surprised by gunfire from Polin's raiding party concealed in the trees.

According to Dole's history, Polin shot at Anderson, but missed which revealed his position in the woods and led to his undoing.

“While attempting to reload in haste, Polin exposed his person to Stephen Manchester, who stood about 30 feet on Anderson’s right, waiting to fulfill the threat he made several months before, to kill Polin on sight," Dole wrote. "He instantly leveled his musket, took quick aim, pulled the trigger, and Polin, the most deadly and uncompromising enemy the white settlers in this vicinity ever had, fell to the ground, a mangled corpse.”
Polin’s men retreated and carried their chief’s body to the Presumpscot River in haste.

Legend has it that the men buried him on a riverbank near where the Presumpscot River flows out of Sebago Lake.

A century later, the chief's death was eulogized in a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, who wrote in "Funeral Tree of the Sokokis" that the chief in "tasseled garb of skins" with a "silver cross" on his chest was buried beneath a beech tree there.

Eugene Stuart, 75, of Standish, lives in his family’s ancestral homestead next to the Eel Weir Dam at the headwaters of the Presumpscot River.
The legend passed down by his family is that his great, great grandfather Capt. William Wescott discovered the bones of Chief Polin while working on the Cumberland Oxford Canal during the early 1800s. And Wescott brought them back home and kept them in the knee-high attic of the house.

“Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve heard people speak of the skeletal remains of Chief Polin being in this house,” Stuart said. “So the story goes, the wife of William Wescott thought it was bad luck to have the bones in the house."

A short walk along a stonewall at the edge of his family's farm, Stuart points to a cluster of pine trees where his ancestor is rumored to have buried Chief Polin's bones.

But before Wescott buried the bones, he had them inspected by a medical examiner from Boston. This medical examiner, as legend has it, determined by the large skull and shin bone that the skeleton belong to an unusually large man, more than six feet tall.

This description matches what historians have since written about Chief Polin.

Al Morrison, of Raymond, a retired anthropology professor who’s extensively researched the American Indian tribes of the region, said Polin's great physical characteristics might have led to his stature as tribal chief.

“Any great physical attribute was considered as a supernatural endowment,” Morrison said. “If indeed he had a huge jaw, he may have been looked at as having somewhat shaman powers."

Chief Polin was most likely the leader of a tribe of Wabanaki American Indians who roamed the Lakes Region from the Presumpscot River all the way up to Fryeburg, Morrison said.

Through the seasons, the tribe lived off the lakes or moved downstream on the Presumpscot River where, in the 1700s, several settlements began to be established before becoming the townships of Windham, Westbrook and Gorham.

Conflicts with Polin’s tribe arose from the damming of the Presumpscot River by Col. Thomas Westbrook, namesake of the city of Westbrook, Morrison said.

Polin had previously traded with the settlers there, but the damming of the river, and broken promises Col. Westbrook who said he would provide passage for the fish over the dams, infuriated the chief.

In 1739, Polin marched to Boston to ask the Governor of Massachusetts to make the settlers put fish passageways on the Presumpscot dam so his tribe could continue to fish for salmon on the river. But despite the governor's written decree to install fish passage on the dam, there was no way to enforce the rule on the frontier, Morrison said.

With no success, Polin and his tribe eventually abandoned the Presumpscot River and moved north of Sebago Lake.

While Dole paints a dramatic picture that the native tribes were a “savage and merciless foe,” tensions on the Maine frontier were more complicated than a simple dispute over dams on the Presumpscot.

Since the English discovery of Maine, native tribes had been pushed back from the coast by English settlers, and their populations had been thinned by disease and warfare, Morrison said.

The tribes were drawn into the conflict between the French and English on numerous occasions.

The settlers, despite times of peace and trading with American Indian tribes, had witnessed raids, burned villages and bloodshed.
By the time of Polin’s return and final raid on the Windham settlement, the settlers had set-up stockades and garrisons of men to protect themselves outside Province Fort, the main protection of the settlement.
Phil Kennard, 87 of Windham, is a descendant of the late Stephen Manchester and has written a book that includes popular legends from Windham’s history.

“Manchester hated Polin with a passion,” Kennard said. “Manchester was a scout and he patrolled up to Sebago Lake and further on. The settlers sent out parties to find out if the Indians were moving back their way.”
Kennard said Manchester was buried in a secret field on Dutton Hill in Windham where he lived the last years of his life after serving in the Revolutionary War.

And before the town of Windham moved his remains in the early 1900s to Smith Cemetery, Manchester’s grave was only demarcated by two iron posts, one at the head and one at the feet, because reportedly the townspeople were worried that Polin's tribesmen would someday return and steal his bones in revenge for the chief's death.

Manchester’s grave today bears the inscription telling the legend of the famous shot that killed Chief Polin that simply reads: "He killed in battle Chief Polin, May 14, 1756, ending the Indian War in this section."

And school children studying Windham history still visit the site of the final battle off Anderson Road and hear the legend of old Chief Polin's death.


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