DENIS, PIERRE, Malecite; fl. 1837–41 in New Brunswick.
A Malecite named Pierdeney is mentioned by schoolmaster Frederick Dibblee* as having visited his establishment at Meductic (near present-day Meductic), N.B., some time in 1788 or 1789. On Dibblee’s list of visitors his name is preceded by that of Joseph Pierdeney with a wife and five children, and it is reasonable to assume that he was an unmarried adult still living with his parents. He received three pounds of powder and three of flint from Dibblee, who hoped that presents given to Indians calling at the school would encourage them to let their children attend.
It is possible that this Pierdeney was the Pierre Denis mentioned in the account by New Brunswick’s commissioner of Indian affairs, Moses Henry Perley*, of a visit to the province’s Indian reserves in 1841. Pierre Denis had done what people such as Dibblee had tried to get Indians to do. He had settled down, built himself a frame-house, cleared an area of land, and become a subsistence farmer. Some years later the authorities gave a licence of occupation for this land, on the Saint Basile Indian Reserve, to a white man, Simon Hébert. Denis was not pleased that his farm and the small house in which he had been living comfortably had been leased to another, and he initially refused to give up possession. Finally Hébert was ordered to pay Denis $50, the appraised value of the house, and upon promise of payment Denis left Saint Basile in 1837 and moved to the Tobique Indian Reserve. There Perley met him in 1841, “an old man, childless, and in poor circumstances.” Perley asked that the government insist on payment of the $50 still owing. Denis is not listed in the census return of June 1841 for Saint Basile or Tobique, and nothing more is known about him.
Of conditions at Tobique, Perley wrote: “The Indians . . . subsist in great measure by the chase, by occasional employment in lumbering, and in piloting rafts down the Tobique and the Saint John. They seem by no means inclined to continue labor, or the cultivation of the soil – yet, from the advantages of their situation, and the value of the Salmon Fishery, they have rather comfortable dwellings, and appear in easy circumstances as compared with others of the Tribe.” Pierre Denis’s mistake was in adapting to the expectations of the whites too well, too early, and in the wrong community. Had he originally settled at Tobique, where property was not so avidly sought after by whites and where resources suitable for carrying out traditional subsistence pursuits were more abundant, he likely could have lived his final years in contentment.
N.B. Museum, W. F. Ganong papers, box 38, return of Indian families at the entrance of the little Madawaska River; Antoine Gosselin, return of Indian families at the entrance of the Tobique River, 18 June 1841. N. B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1842, app.: xcii-cxxvi. Source materials relating to N.B. Indian (Hamilton and Spray). Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 16 April 1842. W. O. Raymond, “The old Meductic fort,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 1 (1894–97), no.2: 221–72.