PEMINUIT (Pominouet) PAUL, LOUIS-BENJAMIN (also called Paussamigh Pemmeenauweet and Samuel Paul), Micmac chief; b. 1755, probably in Nova Scotia, son of Paul Peminuit; m. Madeleine —; d. 1843 in Nova Scotia.
Following the death of his father, Louis-Benjamin Peminuit Paul was chosen as chief at the Shubenacadie Indian Reserve (No.14) in April 1814. He and three of his brothers, Jean-Lucien, Pierre, and François, thereupon petitioned Lieutenant Governor Sir John Coape Sherbrooke* for confirmation of the appointment. In doing so they acted on the advice of Abbé Jean-Mandé Sigogne, who drafted the document and who had them express to King George III “the same loyalty and allegiance which they formerly kept to, and had for, the French Kings.” They took the opportunity to request the help of the newly formed “Indian Society” (Walter Bromley’s North American Indian Institution) to provide them with land and farm tools. The 120 men of Shubenacadie, they concluded, wanted good land for settlement, not a tract “back in the woods.”
Sherbrooke replied with a commission under the sign manual, dated 28 April 1814, confirming Louis-Benjamin, not merely as chief of Shubenacadie, but as chief “of the Micmac Tribe of Indians this Province.” The commission enjoined him to keep his tribe “Loyal, Industrious and Sober, and to render them good Subjects and Christians.” They in turn were required to obey him as their chief. He was given a silver medal emblematic of his authority, and this was duly passed on to his successors. The wording of the commission later led to disputes with the Cape Breton Micmacs, who had been outside the jurisdiction of Nova Scotia in 1814 and had their own chiefs.
On 15 July 1815 Peminuit Paul presented himself at the head of a group of Indians to Joseph-Octave Plessis*, bishop of Quebec, who was visiting Halifax. His tales of suffering were so harrowing that they drew tears from the prelate. Plessis spoke to Sherbrooke about the meeting and was assured that the government would do everything it could to help these poor people.
The community at Shubenacadie survived but did not flourish, and Peminuit Paul eventually decided to seek legislative help to improve conditions. In March 1829 he petitioned the House of Assembly for the passage of a law that would ban the sale of alcohol to Indians. He also requested that “a number of the most active Indian Boys” be taught to read and write. The result of this initiative was a law that left it to the discretion of local magistrates to ban sales of liquor which they never did – and provided free instruction for Indians at publicly supported schools – which some thenceforth attended
The winter of 1830–31 was a starving time. Conscious that his people looked to him for protection and were “in a manner dependent on him for support,” Peminuit Paul petitioned the assembly in January 1831. Through the Reverend William Morris, he described the cold and the hunger; the game that once supported life had been driven off by the white settlers. It was as difficult for the Indians to learn farming as it would be for whites to learn Indian ways and, for want of anything better, his people depended on the sale of their artifacts for survival. But the winter was so harsh, and fuel so scarce around Halifax, that they could not get into town to sell their goods. The only hope lay in immediate aid. The appeal was met out of the £100 budgeted annually for Indian relief.
The last of Peminuit Paul’s petitions was undoubtedly dictated by him, for it has none of the conventional English phrasing of the earlier ones. Speaking to Queen Victoria courteously and as an equal, he explained: “I cannot cross the great Lake to talk to you for my Canoe is too small, and I am old and weak. I cannot look upon you for my eyes not see so far. You cannot hear my voice across the Great Waters. I therefore send this Wampum and Paper talk to tell the Queen I am in trouble. My people are in trouble . . . No Hunting Grounds – No Beaver – no Otter . . . poor for ever . . . All these Woods once ours . . . White Man has taken all that was ours . . . Let us not perish.”
This petition was received at the Colonial Office in London on 25 Jan. 1841. Five days later a dispatch was on its way to Nova Scotia’s new lieutenant governor, Lord Falkland [Cary*]. Her Majesty was deeply interested in the appeal, but the colonial secretary had no advice to offer because there was nothing on file. There was to be a full-scale inquiry and report on the condition of the Indians and Lord Falkland was to give the matter his immediate attention.
The inquiry was held, the report made, legislation enacted, and an Indian commissioner, Joseph Howe*, appointed. The flurry of activity that Peminuit Paul had sparked made little difference to the lives of the Indians. Blind and bedridden, he died in 1843. He was succeeded by his brother François; his son Jacques-Pierre Peminuit* Paul became chief in the mid 1850s on François’s retirement.
[Special thanks are owed to Ruth Holmes Whitehead of the N.S. Museum (Halifax) for her assistance with Micmac names. l.f.s.u.]
Guildhall Library (London), mss 7956 (New England Company papers) (mfm. at PAC). N.S. Museum, Acc. 08.10; Acc. 31.24; mss, Piers papers, X (archaeology & ethnology), “Micmac genealogies and biographical material, uncatalogued notes.” PANS, RG 1, 9, docs. 1815, 1820 (transcripts); 430, doc.176. PRO, CO 217/177: 128–29; 217/179: 406–8. N.S., House of Assembly, Journal and proc., 1829: 424; 1844, app.50: 127; Legislative Council, Journal and proc., 1843, app.7: 23. J.-O. Plessis, Journal des visites pastorales de 1815 et 1816, par Monseigneur Joseph-Octave Plessis, évêque de Québec, Henri Têtu, édit. (Québec, 1903), 76. Ruth Holmes Whitehead, The Micmac ethnology collection of the Nova Scotia Museum (N.S. Museum, Curatorial report, no.25, 1974). Upton, Micmacs and colonists.