ANTHONY, GABRIEL, Micmac chief; d. October 1846 at Bear River, N.S.
Gabriel Anthony was confirmed as chief of the Indians of Annapolis, Digby, Yarmouth, Shelburne, and Queens counties by letters patent under the Great Seal of Nova Scotia on 16 Nov. 1843. He estimated the number of people “under his charge” at 500.
Potato blight spread through Nova Scotia in 1845 and the Indians were particularly hard hit. Malnutrition prevented them from hunting effectively, and at the first appearance of fever whites refused to buy their handicrafts for fear of contagion. Local overseers of the poor did not wish to add Indians to their list of responsibilities.
In January 1846 Anthony presented a petition to the House of Assembly requesting aid for his people. He was called to the bar of the house and made a brief, dignified speech in English, carefully emphasizing his words by striking the forefinger of his right hand into the palm of his left. “Sir, I don’t understand English – don’t speak him very well. If I could speak my language to you, I could tell you in one word – in two words, in three words; and you would know what I have to say.” He explained that as chief he was constantly travelling among his people. “I tell them not mind any one but Supreme – (Pointing upward) You understand me. (The Speaker said – Yes, we understand you).” This work, the chief continued, left him no time to look after his own affairs and he was personally destitute. At the request of several members, Anthony then addressed the house in Micmac with an eloquence that impressed members even though they could not understand a word he said. Joseph Howe*, a former commissioner of Indians for the province, explained that the gist of it was that with Indians, as with whites, those who had the most thankless duties to perform were often the worst paid. The appeal yielded 43 blankets for the Indians of the western counties. In May, Anthony tried again, with a petition directed to Lieutenant Governor Lord Falkland [Cary*] asking for £15 for 50 blankets; half of that sum was granted.
At the beginning of October 1846 there were 40 Indians living near the chapel at Bear River; 8 had already died and 29 of those remaining were sick. The fever that afflicted them was diagnosed as the result of “Vitiated Secretions and Torpor of the Liver.” Pains in the chest and neck were followed by headaches, chills, fever, and spasmodic pains in the stomach and bowels. Those who were to die had greatly distended abdomens and showed “an unusual impatience and longing for Death to release them from their Suffering.” Chief Gabriel Anthony was one of those who found that release.