NESCAMBIOUIT (Ascumbuit, Assacambuit, Nessegombewit), an Abenaki chief from Pequawket (or Pigwacket; Pégouakki in French; today Fryeburg, Me.), who was received at Versailles; b. c. 1660; d. 1727.
Nescambiouit had a great reputation among the Abenakis, according to J.-A. Maurault, for the word “Naskâmbiouit” means “he who is so important and so highly placed because of his merit that his greatness cannot be attained, even in thought.” Bacqueville de La Potherie [Le Roy], who had doubtless met him, described him in the following terms: “He is a well-built man, 38 to 40 years old. His features have a martial cast. His actions and his manners reveal that he has the sentiments inspired by a noble soul. His sang-froid is so great that he has never been seen to laugh. So far he has taken by himself more than 40 scalps.” Among the New Englanders, too, he was well known. They called him “a bloody devil” and “that insulting monster,” and claimed that he had killed over 150 men, women, and children.
In 1693 Nescambiouit went to Pemaquid for negotiations with the English. However, hostilities reopened the following spring. Nescambiouit accompanied Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville to the siege of Fort William at St John’s, Newfoundland, in November 1696. He wanted to find out whether Iberville “waged war against the English better than he did himself,” and he followed him in everything he did. According to Charlevoix*, he was one of the people who most distinguished themselves in this campaign, in which Captain Jacques Testard de Montigny also served.
The historian Samuel Penhallow reports that in 1703, at the beginning of Queen Anne’s war (War of the Spanish Succession), Nescambiouit and Wenemouet, members of a force led by Alexandre Leneuf de Beaubassin, approached the fort at Casco Bay under a flag of truce, but with hatchets concealed in their clothing. They attacked the commander, John March, when he advanced to meet them, but he escaped and held the fort. Two years later Nescambiouit was again in Newfoundland. The new governor of Placentia (Plaisance), Auger de Subercase, assigned to one of his officers, Testard de Montigny, the task of ravaging the entire coast of the island. On this occasion Nescambiouit distinguished himself, “as usual,” wrote Charlevoix again.
In the autumn of 1705 Montigny went to France and took along with him his faithful Nescambiouit. The latter was received at the court of Versailles, made much of and showered with presents by King Louis XIV. He was given the title of Prince of the Abenakis: “Indeed, he had the appearance and the bravery of a great man.” In 1706 he was back among his people. The account that he gave them of all the wonders he had seen in France had a good effect upon them. Thus the minister, Pontchartrain, wrote to Montigny on 30 June 1707 that he had been pleased to learn of his return to Quebec with the Abenaki chief. The following year Nescambiouit took part in the expedition which, under the leadership of Jean-Baptiste de Saint-Ours* Deschaillons and Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville, went to ravage Haverhill on the Merrimack River. He performed wonders with a sabre that Louis XIV had given him; he was, however, shot in the foot.
Some years later the minister wrote to Rigaud de Vaudreuil in his letter of 23 May 1710: “I should be very glad to be informed as to what has become of the Abenaki Indian chief whom the Sieur de Montigny brought to France five years ago and whether he is still as well disposed and on our side. He was sufficiently well treated when he was here for us to believe that he will not have changed. Please give me news of him.” Vaudreuil informed the minister that he had sent Nescambiouit with Montigny, François-Antoine Pécaudy* de Contrecoeur, and a score of the best soldiers in Canada to help Subercase, who was expecting to be attacked by the English at Port-Royal in Acadia (Annapolis Royal, N.S.). Nescambiouit’s part in that expedition is not known. In 1714, however, a year after Governor Dudley of Massachusetts had concluded a general peace with the Abenaki tribes [see Mog], Nescambiouit offered his own submission. He asked for a trading post at Salmon Falls (Rollinsford, N.H.), but added meaningfully that the fraudulent dealing of the English traders had often prompted the Indians to turn to the French.
In 1716 Nescambiouit went to live among the Fox Indians, west of Lake Michigan, after they were subdued by the French [see Ouachala]. Vaudreuil learned the dangers of such visits in 1719, when a former chief of the Saint-François mission (near Trois-Rivières), Nenangoussikou, brought his tribe an invitation from the Foxes to hunt in the pays d’en haut. The governor had to intervene to prevent the departure of 40 Abenaki warriors, which would have weakened Quebec’s defences against New England, and strengthened the unruly Foxes. In 1721 Montigny was posted to Green Bay where he doubtless renewed his acquaintance with Nescambiouit. Montigny assured Vaudreuil that the Abenaki chief remained completely loyal to the French, and that his descriptions of France had impressed upon the Foxes the power of the French king.
Vaudreuil’s fears seemed justified nevertheless when Nescambiouit returned in 1723 with a message from Nenangoussikou for the Saint-François Abenakis, inviting them to join the Foxes in a war against the Ottawas. The governor received Nescambiouit coldly, and upbraided him for his part in such dealings, but the Indian pleaded that he was only a messenger, that he did not endorse the Fox request, and that he intended to settle again among his own people. Placated by this plea and by Montigny’s testimony, Vaudreuil persuaded the elders of Saint-François to accept Nescambiouit, who wished to “give up his dissolute ways and to marry before the church the woman he had brought with him.” The message from the Foxes went unanswered. Joseph Aubery*, the missionary at Saint-François, wrote that the mission chief and all the Abenakis, even the young men, rejected with horror this invitation to take part in a fratricidal war. “ ‘We have,’ they said, ‘another war, a just and necessary one, to wage against the English, without wanting to launch into an unjust and pernicious one.’ ” Nevertheless, Nescambiouit’s mission worried the minister in Paris, who instructed Vaudreuil that he must in future allow no Abenaki voyages to the pays d’en haut, for “that is not at all acceptable.”
According to a newspaper of the time, the New-England Weekly Journal, Nescambiouit died in 1727. It has been claimed that he had been made a knight of the order of Saint-Louis. Thomas Hutchinson, in his history published in 1767, recounts that when Nescambiouit appeared at the court of Versailles he stretched forth his arm and boasted of having killed with it 150 of His Majesty’s enemies. The king was so pleased that he knighted him and assigned him a life pension of eight livres per day. Aegidius Fauteux has refuted this claim. “What must be denied,” he wrote, “because it is perfectly ridiculous, is that Louis XIV even thought of placing the cross of the order of Saint-Louis, whose prestige he so jealously guarded, upon the paint-daubed breast of an Indian, whatever interest he might have aroused. . . . The story of a life pension of eight livres per day to a man of the woods, a pension larger than that of most of the commanders of the order of Saint-Louis, is scarcely any more reasonable than that of an Indian knight.” P.-G. Roy, who had first accepted this story, subsequently concurred in Fauteux’ conclusion.
AN, Col., B, 29, f.109; C11A, 29, f.135; 45, ff.146–55, 406–7. Charlevoix, Histoire (1744), II, 193, 300, 326; History (Shea), V, 42–44, 174, 207 (see especially Shea’s note on La Poterie, p.42). Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la N.-F., I, 614. “Correspondance de Vaudreuil,” APQ Rapport, 1946–47, 379, 397. Documentary hist. of Maine, XXIII, 5, 58–60. Documents relating to Hudson Bay (Tyrrell), 164–67 (translation of La Poterie). Hutchinson, Hist. of Mass.-bay (Mayo), II, 122. JR (Thwaites), LXVII, 128. La Poterie, Histoire (1722), I, 27–32. Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, II, 558. New-England Weekly Journal (Boston), no.13, 19 June 1727. Penhallow, Hist. of wars with Eastern Indians (1824), 24, 53. Fauteux, Les chevaliers de Saint-Louis, 57–58. Handbook of American Indians (Hodge), I, 102. T.-M. Charland, Histoire des Abénakis d’Odanak (Montréal, 1964), 50–51, 94. Coleman, New England captives, I, 57, 287, 353. S. G. Drake, Biography and history of the Indians of North America from its first discovery (Boston, 1848), pt.iii, 110, 139–41. J.-A. Maurault, Histoire des Abénakis depuis 1605 jusqu’à nos jours (Sorel, 1866), 330. P.-G. Roy, “Chevalier de Saint-Louis?” dans Toutes petites choses du régime français (2v., Québec, 1944), I, 241; “L’otage Stobo et le seigneur Duchesnay,” in Toutes petites choses de notre histoire (Lévis, 1919), I, 216; “Un sauvage chevalier de Saint-Louis?” BRH, XLVII (1941), 212.