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SAINT-AUBIN, JOSEPH-THOMAS (the name usually appears as simply Joseph Tomah, Toma, Tomer, or Tomma), Malecite captain; fl. 1776–1821 in Maine, New Brunswick, and Quebec; d. 16 May 1821.

During the American Revolutionary War, an alliance with the Malecites was solicited by both Americans and British, and Joseph-Thomas Saint-Aubin played a minor role in events. The extent to which his choice of strategy reflected his private interests, a desire to support his brother Ambroise* (the second in command among the Malecites and the strongest adherent to the American cause), or more general concerns cannot be determined. Years younger than his eminent brother, he must have viewed the conflict partly as a means of enhancing his status as a warrior in the eyes of his fellows. He was one of 16 Indians who fought in Jonathan Eddy*’s unsuccessful attack on the British at Fort Cumberland (near Sackville, N.B.) in November 1776. The following summer the main body of Malecites went to the aid of rebel forces at Machias (Maine), and Joseph-Thomas was among them. In the summer of 1778 he was a member of a small, trustworthy party under Nicholas Hawawes (Awanwest) which John Allan*, American superintendent of eastern Indians, sent to destroy Fort Howe (Saint John, N.B.). This venture did not succeed, but the party plundered a British vessel and killed the cattle of several settlers thought to be British supporters.

In September 1778 a conference was held at Menagouèche, near Fort Howe, between the British and the Malecites and Micmacs [see Nicholas Akomápis*]. It culminated in the Indians’ taking an oath of allegiance. Joseph-Thomas Saint-Aubin is not listed as having attended but he may have been there. Later that fall he came to the fort on friendly terms, as did Hawawes and seven families who no longer aligned themselves with Ambroise Saint-Aubin.

Joseph-Thomas’s participation in the war likely contributed to his recognition by the Malecites as a captain. The origin of this title and its significance among the Malecites are not entirely clear. The captain’s authority may have derived initially from the whites, but the concept appears well integrated into Wabanaki culture by the 19th century. According to one study, the role of the geptins among the Passamaquoddies became “to defend and guard their chief and . . . spill their blood for him, in case of need and in defense of the tribe. All the women and children and disabled persons . . . were under the care of the geptins.” Malecite usage was probably similar. In 1817 Saint-Aubin, likely in his capacity as a captain, appeared as one of four sureties in defence of Piol Zusup (Pierre-Joseph?), a Penobscot on trial in Castine (Maine) for having killed a white man the previous year. Two of the other sureties were Penobscots and the third was a Passamaquoddy captain.

A year later Joseph-Thomas Saint-Aubin, “Indian chief,” appears in a document of 4 Aug. 1818, when he complained to Surveyor General George Shore* about trespassing by whites on the Tobique Indian Reserve. Such encroachment was a great problem for Indians, and because of the colonial government’s unwillingness to enforce their rights they lost much of the land that had been set aside for them [see John Julien*].

Little is known of Saint-Aubin’s family. In a list of Indians in the service of the United States, Allan records his presence along with a son Joseph, two women, and six children in Passamaquoddy territory on 28 July 1780. A “Joseph Tomah,” almost certainly the subject of this biography, along with his wife and one child visited the Reverend Frederick Dibblee’s school for Indians at Meductic (near present-day Meductic), N.B., in 1788 or 1789.

The death of “Joseph Tomas St. Aubin (Malecite)” on 16 May 1821 appears in the registers of the church at L’Isle-Verte, Lower Canada, in an entry of 16 June. His wife must have predeceased him since none is listed; nor are any children recorded. His age, said to have been 96, is likely exaggerated, but he could well have been in his eighties. The name Saint-Aubin (or sometimes Bear) appears in the baptismal records for the Malecite communities of Quebec beginning in 1830. Although the name Bear is at present associated with the Tobique Reserve in New Brunswick, in the 19th century the family apparently moved freely between the communities on the Saint John River and those of Quebec.

Vincent O. Erickson

[The identity of Joseph-Thomas Saint-Aubin has been obscured by the fact that his surname does not usually appear in documents and that the name Thomas (variously spelled) was itself evolving as a surname among the Malecites. Michael Francklin*, superintendent of Indian affairs for Nova Scotia, mistakenly claimed that Joseph-Thomas was the son of Pierre Tomah*, supreme sachem of the tribe. F. G. Speck and W. S. Hadlock, “A report on tribal boundaries and hunting areas of the Malecite Indian of New Brunswick,” American Anthropologist (Menasha, Wis.), new ser., 48 (1946): 355–74, mistakenly identifies Captain Jo Tomer with the Captain Tomah of Kingsclear (N.B.) whose traditional hunting territory was around the Chiputneticook Lakes (Maine/N.B.) and who died around 1890. However, the comments of John Allan (printed in Military operations in eastern Maine and Nova Scotia during the revolution, chiefly compiled from the journals and letters of Colonel John Allan . . . , ed. Frederic Kidder (Albany, N.Y., 1867)) and the registers of the Isle-Verte church (AP, Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Isle-Verte), Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 16 juin 1821) lead to the conclusion that the subject of this biography was the brother of Ambroise Saint-Aubin.  v.o.e.]

PANB, RG 2, RS7, 40. Kulóskap the master and other Algonkin poems, trans. C. G. Leland and J. D. Prince (New York and London, 1902). W. O. Raymond, The River StJohn: its physical features, legends and history from 1604 to 1784 ([2nd ed.], ed. J. C. Webster, Sackville, N.B., 1943; repr. 1950). W. D. Williamson, The history of the state of Maine; from its first discovery, A.D. 1602, to the separation, A.D. 1820, inclusive (2v., Hallowell, Maine, 1832; repr. Freeport, Maine, [1966?]). W. H. Mechling, “The Malecite Indians, with notes on the Micmacs,” Anthropologica (Ottawa), 7 (1958). W. O. Raymond, “The Revolutionary War: part played by the St. John River Indians,” “Exodus of the Maliseets, A.D. 1777,” “Franklin versus Allan,” and “The great defection,” in Dispatch (Woodstock, N.B.), 3, 17, 24 April and 1 May 1895; “The old Meductic fort,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 1 (1894–97), no.2: 221–72.

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Cite This Article

Vincent O. Erickson, “SAINT-AUBIN, JOSEPH-THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 19, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/saint_aubin_joseph_thomas_6E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/saint_aubin_joseph_thomas_6E.html
Author of Article:   Vincent O. Erickson
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   April 19, 2024