TOMAH (Thoma), FRANCIS (the name also appears as Toma Francis), Malecite chief; fl. 1813–50 in New Brunswick.
On 15 Oct. 1813 at Kingsclear, N.B., Francis Tomah was unanimously elected chief in the presence of New Brunswick’s attorney general, Thomas Wetmore*. A commission for that office was issued to him the same day. He played a leading part in the negotiations begun in 1836 by the Penobscot tribe in the state of Maine. Angered by some fraudulent dealings on the part of their chiefs, the Penobscots applied to unite with the Malecite and Passamaquoddy tribes. An agreement was concluded that recognized the Malecites as the senior partners in the union, and the disgraced chiefs were replaced. The action left mischief behind it. Several Malecites were persuaded to petition the Maine House of Representatives in the winter of 1838, at the height of the “Aroostook war,” stating that they had been expelled from New Brunswick and requesting support. Tomah hastened to assure Sir John Harvey*, lieutenant governor of the province, that the Malecites concerned – with the exception of one, a “worthless vagabond” – had been ignorant of what they were doing. Government could count on the Indians’ support at all times.
Although their loyalty was unshaken, their faith in the government was sorely tried by the unchecked intrusions of white squatters on their reserves. When in the early 1840s the administration decided to regularize the squatters’ position by leasing Indian land to them, and spoke in favour of locating the Indians on individual holdings, Tomah presided over a full council at Kingsclear to protest. The Malecites, according to the resulting petition of 10 Jan. 1843, wanted to become farmers, adopt “settled habits,” go to school, and “enjoy social blessings.” They could achieve none of these goals while their lands were being daily plundered. They needed control of those lands, needed to hold them in common to avoid the disruptions that would flow from individual ownership; the council suggested that the whole tribe receive one grant to cover all the lands reserved to them in the Saint John River valley. The plea went unheeded. A petition of 1850, signed by Francis Tomah, complained of white encroachments on Indian lands in Carleton County.
Tomah was a well-known figure in Fredericton. Each New Year’s Day the chief and his people paid their respects at the lieutenant governor’s levee. The Indians would perform their dances and watch the strange quadrilles and waltzes of the whites. At one such reception, in 1841, Harvey presented the “respected old chief’ with a silver medal on a blue ribbon.
PANB, RG 2, RS8, Indians, 1/4, petition of Francis Toma, 10 Jan. 1843. UNBL, MG H54, Thomas Wetmore to Jonathan Odell, 15 Oct. 1813; commission to Toma Francis (copy). N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1850: 171. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 17 July 1839, 6 Jan. 1841. W. O. Raymond, The River St. John: its physical features, legends and history from 1604 to 1784 (Saint John, N.B., 1910), 469–71. L. F. S. Upton, “Indian affairs in colonial New Brunswick,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 3 (1973–74), no.2: 3–26.