BASQUET, PIERRE (also known as Pierre and Peter Basket), captain of the Restigouche band of Micmacs; fl. 1841–52.
According to Micmac tradition, Pierre Basquet was a Frenchman who lived with the Malecites before joining the Micmacs in the Restigouche area. However, in 1852 Moses Henry Perley*, New Brunwick’s commissioner of Indian affairs, described him as a Malecite by birth. Apparently forced to flee his home at Tobique in the upper Saint John River valley for some prank, he had arrived in Restigouche known only as Pierre. His knowledge of basket making, supposedly learned from the Malecites and subsequently taught to the Micmacs, earned him the surname Basquet. Because of his “dexterity, voluability and readiness for anything,” he was soon adopted into the band and became a leader, exercising considerable influence over the Indians on the Restigouche River, particularly the principal chief, Joseph Malie* (Tkobeitch).
In 1841 Perley, accompanied by two army officers, visited the various Indian reserves in New Brunswick collecting information for the government. One of the officers, Captain Henry Dunn O’Halloran, studied the Micmac language and did some translation into it. He apparently suggested that Malie go to England to present grievances concerning the salmon-netting practices of the whites on the Restigouche, encroachment on Micmac lands, and changes in the method of distributing presents to the Indians of the region, as well as to appeal for aid in the construction of a new chapel for the Restigouche Indians. With letters of introduction to Colonial Secretary Lord Stanley from O’Halloran, Malie sailed on a timber ship accompanied by two of his captains, François Labauve and Pierre Basquet. They arrived in Liverpool in December 1841.
The three had travelled to England without first seeking the approval of Lieutenant Governor Sir William MacBean George Colebrooke*. The British authorities were embarrassed when they arrived in Liverpool and, at the expense of the mayor of that city, they were forwarded to London. There they were met at the railway station by a police inspector who found lodgings for them. Although there was some confusion over what they wanted, they were received cordially and were allowed to make their complaints to Stanley in January. They had wanted to see Queen Victoria, but this was not permitted and instead they were given medals in the name of the queen and sent home as quickly as possible. On the boat between Saint John and Fredericton, Basquet and his friends were accused of an “indulgence of intemperance” which led to a charge by the master of the vessel for damages committed by them. O’Halloran received an official reprimand for his involvement from Colebrooke, who had been cautioned against allowing other Indians to follow suit.
When Malie, Basquet, and Labauve returned to the Restigouche in April 1842, they had acquired considerable prestige from the band for their journey. In 1851 Basquet reappeared in England, where he caused even more confusion than he and his friends had ten years earlier. Officials at the Colonial Office believed he had come to apply for a writ of quo warranto so that a new chief justice could be appointed in New Brunswick. Unable to make sense of his request, they assumed that Basquet either was after the position himself or wanted the power to appoint a chief justice for the Indians.
Basquet was supported by an eccentric army officer, and he appeared in the High Court of Chancery dressed in European garb with several medals on his breast and wearing a red sash around his waist “from which were suspended a long constable’s staff.” He was introduced as a Malecite chief (a position he never attained) and as the constable of the Micmac nation, who was asking for the appointment of a chief justice for New Brunswick and “for a writ of quo warranto, to [be issued] on behalf of the Indians.” The court could not understand his demand and the lord chancellor, who was presiding, asked him to return later. Basquet did not return, however, and the Colonial Office insisted that he travel back to New Brunswick as quickly as possible. Lieutenant Governor Sir Edmund Walker Head* was then asked for some explanation of this most unusual visit. Head consulted Perley, who in his report of 18 Feb. 1852 described Basquet as being “notorious for unscrupulous trickery and mischief.” Perley suggested that instead of a writ of quo warranto Basquet might have been requesting a “writ of worromontagas,” which as far as he could determine was “an ancient missive of extraordinary power” that enabled the holder “to seize goods in a place where they are not – to arrest a man in a place where he never was and in fact, to do things readily which it is impossible he can perform.” In Perley’s opinion, Basquet believed that if such a writ were issued, the Indians could appoint a chief justice for New Brunswick.
Basquet returned to Restigouche and nothing more was heard of him. He had considerable influence over the Indians in the area and was gifted with a smooth tongue and a vivid imagination. His two visits to England without an interpreter may confirm band tradition that he was a white man. Whatever the case, these visits caused both the British authorities and the lieutenant governor of New Brunswick considerable embarrassment.
[I would like to thank Alphonse Metallic of the Restigouche Institute of Cultural Education, Restigouche Indian Band (Restigouche. Que.), for supplying information on Basquet from band tradition. w.a.s.]
PAC, MG 24, L6, 2, no.15. PANB, RG 1, RS345, A1: 119–20, 271–72, 274–76, 283. PRO, CO 188/76: 286–87; 188/80: 295–96, 303, 412–18, 442, 444–47; 188/107: 302–6; 188/116: 55–60; CO189/16: 197–99, 268–69. New-Brunswick Courier, 29 Jan. 1842. St. John Morning News, and General Advertising Newspaper (Saint John, N.B.), 25 April 1842.