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WOWURNA (Captain Joseph, Oüaourené, Ouwoorana, Sheepscot Jo, Wiwurna), a leading chief of the Norridgewock division of the Abenakis, and an ally of the French; fl. 1670–1738.

In August 1717 Wowurna represented 20 leading Norridgewock, Penobscot, Pigwacket, and Androscoggin Indians in a meeting with Governor Samuel Shute of Massachusetts, at Georgetown on Arrowsic Island. The chief denied Shute’s right to build forts and new settlements, rejected King George I as the Indians’ sovereign, and ignored Reverend Joseph Baxter, the minister Shute introduced to them. Frequently interrupted by the governor, Wowurna insisted that English claims to lands up the Kennebec River and east of it were unfounded: “We can’t understand how our Lands have been purchased, what has been Alienated was by our gift.” The Indians supported their case with a letter from Father Sébastien Rale, the Jesuit at Norridgewock (now Old Point in south Madison, Me.). Shute threatened to leave, and Wowurna was replaced by a conciliatory speaker. Rale later claimed that the Abenakis accepted only the words of Wowurna, who had spoken “with matchless pride.”

Probably unknown to Rale, the chief visited Baxter at Georgetown a few days after the conference. Wowurna’s aim may have been to gain information about the English. At any rate, he translated Baxter’s preaching for his wife, his brother John (Nagiscoig), and two other Indians, and even promised to teach the minister Abenaki. He visited Baxter again at Georgetown in October and December, but then the visits ceased, and Shute condemned Rale soon after for his “Excommunicating and Unchristian Treatment of the Poor Indians for only Attending on Mr Baxters Instructions. . . .”

As English settlement spread to Merrymeeting Bay, Swan Island, and east of the Kennebec, the Norridgewocks quarrelled with the English and killed their cattle. Both sides prepared to fight. Wowurna was probably one of the two “principal chiefs” of the village whom Rale sent to Quebec in October 1719. They told Governor Rigaud de Vaudreuil that they were determined to resist the English, and he confirmed that France had not ceded their lands to England, and supplied them with “munitions.” In January 1720 Massachusetts commissioners met the Norridgewocks at Falmouth (metropolitan Portland, Me.) to warn them and to listen to their complaints. Settlement continued, however, and Wowurna, Nathaniel, and younger Indians destroyed so many crops and farm animals in the summer of 1720 that the settlers were convinced that the Norridgewocks were planning war. On 12 October, carrying a French flag, Wowurna and another Norridgewock met English representatives at Georgetown and reluctantly agreed to a larger meeting. Wowurna was there six weeks later when the Indians declared that “If all those people were removed from Merry Meeting bay, all other Differences between us would be easyly composed.” But the New Englanders rejected the Abenaki claims and forced them to promise payment of 200 skins, and to give up four hostages, for the damage done.

Alarmed, Rale gathered Indian allies to support the Norridgewocks, and organized a major confrontation at Georgetown on 17 July 1721. Fathers Rale and La Chasse*, Joseph d’Abbadie* de Saint-Castin and Charles Legardeur* de Croisille accompanied 250 Indians, under French colours, into the town. In a letter to Shute, the Indians demanded the release of the hostages and removal of the English from Abenaki lands. Wowurna read the letter in Abenaki in the name of “all the Christian and Catholic Indians of this country and of Canada.” The English refused the demands and prepared for war, but Vaudreuil wrote Rale: “I am quite delighted that [Wowurna] thus distinguished himself in this parley.” Vaudreuil also sent a full report of the chief’s exploits to France. Britain soon made an official protest to the French government about the incident.

In January 1721/22 the English attempted to seize Rale at Norridgewock. An uneasy peace prevailed until, late on the night of 14 June, Wowurna led over 40 Indians, “Arm’d & Painted for warr,” in a raid on Merrymeeting Bay, where they burned some houses and a mill, stripped the inhabitants of their belongings and their clothes, and took five prisoners. They hoped to exchange these men for the Norridgewock hostages held at Boston, but Massachusetts declared war on 25 July. Wowurna apparently took an active part in Dummer’s War, and when he visited Quebec early in 1723. Vaudreuil presented him with a “laced Capp” in recognition of his many services to the French. After the destruction of Norridgewock in 1724 Wowurna resided in Canada, probably at Saint-François (near the mouth of the Saint-François River). He helped lead a party of 20 Norridgewock and Arosaguntacook (Saint-François) Indians on a successful raid on Damaris Cove (probably near Boothbay Harbor, Me.) in the summer of 1725. The Indians apparently claimed later that they were unaware of the English-Abenaki truce east of the Kennebec, made that July.

In March 1727 John Gyles* heard from Canada that after Wenemouets messengers arrived, proposing that the Canadian Indians ratify the Penobscot peace with Massachusetts, Wowurna was to set up a trail marker above Taconick (now Winslow, Me.) on the Kennebec River, to tell Norridgewocks who planned to move back to their native village whether peace was definite. Wowurna and over 50 other Abenakis returned and camped at Taconick. In June, after waiting almost two months, they had run out of supplies and were anxious to know when the governor would meet them, for they would not come to Boston. The House of Representatives voted £300 to provision them, and Wowurna and the others ratified the peace at Falmouth on 21 July. Two years later in November 1729, Wowurna was probably among the Penobscot and Norridgewock chiefs who met the surveyor David Dunbar at Pemaquid, which he was rebuilding. Dunbar reassured them about their lands, but Wowurna and others, rightly suspicious, came to Richmond in January to ask what Dunbar planned and whether the government was involved. Wowurna’s concern for the Abenakis’ future showed again at Falmouth in 1732, when he intervened in discussions between Loron (Sauguaaram*), the official spokesman, and Governor Belcher of Massachusetts, to the latter’s chagrin. The old chief resisted the governor’s proposal for an English settlement at Cushnok (Augusta, Me.), and warned that quarrels between English and Indian youths threatened the peace.

Although he knew Quebec well, Wowurna’s visit to Boston in July 1738 was his first, and probably his last. As “principal of the Norridgewock tribe” he declared in the council chamber that he had reassured the people at Sheepscot (near Wiscasset, Me.) of the Indians’ peaceful intentions, and complained of the high cost of trade goods. He then drank the king’s health and thanked the governor for his kindness. At 67, he was a very old Indian, and perhaps resigned at last to the English presence on his ancestral lands. If he had hopes for future resistance, Wowurna, a man whom historians have described as “mannerly” (Parkman), “wily” (Baxter), and “shrewd and sagacious” (Thwaites), would not have revealed them to his old enemies.

Douglas Hay

AE, Corr. pol., Angleterre, 341, f.186. AN, Col., B, 44, ff.121–24; C11A, 39, ff.157–62; 40, ff.45–46v; 44, ff.131–42, 303–8; 46, ff.307–10; F3, 2, ff.413–16. Joseph Baxter, “Journal of several visits to the Indians of the Kennebec River, 1717,” ed. Elias Nason, New Eng. Hist. and Geneal. Register, XXI (1867), 48–51, 58. A conference of his excellency Jonathan Belcher, . . . at Falmouth in Casco-Bay, July 1732 (Boston, 1732). Documentary hist. of Maine, IX, 379, 443–49, 454, 457–59; X, 356, 363, 371, 375, 380, 383, 400–7, 449, 455, 460, 468–69; XI; XXIII, 83–87, 94–108, 190–91, 212–13, 217–31, 234, 241–57. JR (Thwaites), LXVII, 56–57, 62–63, 334. Maine Hist. Soc. Coll., 1st ser., III (1853), 361–75, 407–47; VI (1859), 260–62. “Penhallow papers-Indian affairs,” New. Eng. Hist. and Geneal. Register, XXXII (1878), 21–22, 24. PRO, CSP, Col., 1722–23, 27–28, 89–91, 405, 407, 409–10, 415–16, 418–20. J. P. Baxter, The pioneers of New France in New England, with contemporary letters and documents (Albany, 1894), 68–84, 96–104, 111–18, 309–15. F. H. Eckstorm, Indian place names of the Penobscot valley and the Maine coast (University of Maine studies, 2d, ser., Orono, Me., 1940), 113, 145. Parkman, A half-century of conflict (1909), I, 224–28.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Douglas Hay, “WOWURNA,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wowurna_2E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wowurna_2E.html
Author of Article: Douglas Hay
Title of Article: WOWURNA
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1969
Year of revision: 1969
Access Date: July 22, 2014