After King Philip’s War
In 1675 and ’76 during King Philip’s War (aka Metacom’s Rebellion) , local Native Americans across New England attempted to rout English colonists. The local Natives of Merrymeeting Bay, weary of ill treatment by the settlers, attacked the immigrants, burned their homes, and drove them from Pejepscot Plantation . (see Foreigners at Pejepscot)
When Englishman Thomas Gyles and his family left their Pejepscot farm, however, it wasn’t because of the war. It was so Gyles could sail to England to settle his late father’s estate.
Aboard ship, the family shared crowded space below decks with the crew and other passengers, as well as cargo that may have included Maine lumber, furs, and dried fish. After a journey that may have lasted as long as three months, tossed about by foul weather, and hungered by spare rations, the crew and passengers arrived in England thinner and worse for the wear.
Gyles spent the ensuing weeks or months navigating England’s vast estate laws. Once all his father’s property and investments were inventoried, assessed, and distributed, Thomas Gyles, Esq. had become a wealthy man.
He and his family set sail from London to Boston, on yet another 3000-mile months-long journey in rough conditions. He hoped to return to his home on the Pejepscot River, but arrived to find the plantation abandoned by his countrymen. Instead, he joined the long-standing Pemaquid settlement some twenty-three miles to the west. The devout Puritan bought multiple tracts of land, hired workers, and started farming once again.
In 1682, he was appointed chief justice of the settlement. To Gyles’ dismay, the Pemaquid colonists had been left on their own for decades and now paid little heed to laws or religious traditions such as keeping the Sabbath. He struggled to bring some order to the area, at times spending his own funds to better the community. Still, Gyles and his family were content and his farms thrived.
Fort Andros to Fort Pentagouet — And Back Again
While Thomas Gyles built up his holdings at Pemaquid, new investors bought the abandoned properties on Merrymeeting Bay. In 1688, the moneymen and their new settlers asked New England’s governor, Edmund Andros, to protect the fledgling community from attacks by the local Native Americans and their French allies. In response, that winter Andros and his soldiers arrived on the banks of the Pejepscot River to build a stone fort. (see Foreigners at Pejepscot)
Just weeks later, in April that same year, Andros and his soldiers sailed the frigate Rose northeast to the Bagaduce River, in response to continued skirmishes between the English settlers and the allied French and Native locals.
The Native territory on the banks of the Bagaduce River and Penobscot Bay was rich in resources and water access, which is why the French, Dutch, and English periodically battled one another over its possession. At the end of King Philip‘s War, French military officer Baron Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de St. Castine had spearheaded the recapture of the peninsula from the Dutch, after they had destroyed Fort Pentagouet there.
The Baron held close familial ties with the local Abenakis, who had adopted him into their fold. He married Pidianske, the daughter of Penobscot Chief Madackawondo. They lived on the shore of the Bagaduce River where they operated a trading post.
When Andros and his soldiers landed, they headed straight for de Castine’s house and trading post. They could have gone there to reconcile with the French and Abenaki leader, but the English and French had been at war in the colonies for most of the 1600s. Instead, the governor led the soldiers in robbing the Baron’s house.
This was the start King William’s War.
The battle spread throughout Maine. The following spring at Pejepscot, the Natives burned every building down to the ground and took possession of the newly built Fort Andros. Over the next decade, the Natives attacked every English settlement in Maine, save Kittery, York, Wells, and the Isle of Shoal–all near the New Hampshire border. One thousand English settlers were killed.
Nine Years a Slave in New France
On August 2nd in 1689, thirty to forty Maliseet Natives Americans  from the St. John Valley to the north of Maine attacked the Gyles homestead. After they shot Thomas several times, he knew he would not recover from his rapid blood loss. The Native warriors allowed Thomas to pray with his sons, ten-year-old John and fourteen-year-old James, then the Natives took Thomas out of his family’s sight and silently killed him.
John, James, their mother Margerite, and their two younger sisters, Mary and Margaret, were taken captive. John’s eldest and youngest brothers, Thomas Jr and Tad, both escaped. The Maliseets torched the village and fort at Pemaquid, then took their prisoners to nearby New Harbor.
Mrs. Gyles and her daughters were eventually released and reunited with her escaped sons, Thomas Jr and Tad. James died after three years in captivity when he, too, attempted to escape. Ten-year-old John, however, would live in slavery for nine years.
For the first six years, John Gyles was slave to the Maliseets in New France. He shared their somewhat nomadic existence, travelling according to the seasons, planting corn, hunting and fishing. John and his masters often subsisted on wild grapes and roots. Occasionally they feasted on moose. John Gyles longed for English clothes instead of the fur-bare moose-skin coat he wore during his enslavement by the Natives, and English food instead of the roots and berries usually available to him.
When John was sixteen, he was sold to a Catholic Frenchman, Seigneur Louis d’Amours de Chaufours. John’s Protestant mother had instilled in him an abiding fear of Catholics, having told him it would be better to die than be tortured by the Papists. John Gyles thought now he was in the hands of the devil and would surely be killed.
To his great surprise, the nobleman and his wife Marguerite treated their handsome, light-haired slave as a son. Madame sewed him clothes and taught him French. John, in turn, taught her English. He had his own quarters, hunted and trapped alone, and was free to wander as he chose on Chaufours’ estate, Jemseg .
When the Siegneur of Jemseg sailed to France for several months on business, he left his family and estate in the care of his slave John. It was a wise move. Just days after Chaufours left, the English attacked the area. John had the other slaves hide the family’s valuables in the woods in case the buildings were set afire. He also nailed a letter to the front door of the main house, saying in English that the household had treated their English captives with kindness, had released some, and would release the captive John when he so desired. John and Marguerite both signed the notice.
In the end, the letter saved Jemseg, for the English spared the entire estate.
When de Chaufours returned from France, he offered John the choice between two freedoms. One was to leave immediately for Boston to reunite with his Gyles family; the other was to remain at Jemseg as de Chafours’ son and heir. It was an easy choice for John Gyles. On June 13, 1698, he boarded an English sloop, arriving in Boston just five days later. There John reunited with his brothers, Thomas and Tad, and his sisters, Mary and Margaret. Sadly, their mother had died some years before.
Return to Pejepscot
The following January, the English and the Abenakis met at Mair Point at the southern tip of Pejepscot near a place traditionally thought to be a Native American burial ground. There they exchanged prisoners and formally confirmed a peace treaty made earlier at Pemaquid. King William’s War was over.
For the next several years John Gyles used his extensive knowledge of Native languages and customs as an interpreter for civilian and English military employers, traveling throughout New England and New France. One assignment brought him back to the place his father Thomas had settled forty-six years earlier.
In August 1715, Capt. John Gyles received grand promises of land and money from the Pejepscot Proprietors, and military orders from Governor Dudley to build a new stone fort at Pejepscot.
Next Blog: The Fort that John Built
- King Philip’s War and Metacom’s Rebellion (1675-1676) are alternate names for the Native American’s effort to oust English settlers from southern New England. Metacom was the Pokunoket chief who led the uprising. He was called King Philip by the English.
- Plantation here means new settlement or colony. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/plantation, accessed Sept. 3, 2016.
- For simplicity’s sake the author has used Native American to describe the indigenous people of both the United States and Canada, though the current Canadian term is First Nations.
- Jemseg, New Brunswick, Canada.
- eTravelMaine.com. Map of Maine. 1999 – 2013. Accessed August 27, 2016. http://www.etravelmaine.com/map-of-maine/.
- Gyles, John. Introduction by Hannay, James. Nine years a captive, or, John Gyles’ experience among the Malicite Indians, from 1689 to 1698. Saint John, N.B.? : s.n. 1875. Internet Archive. Accessed Sept. 3, 2016. https://archive.org/stream/cihm_24033
- History.com Staff. King Philip’s War. A+E Networks. History.com Accessed Sept. 8, 2016. http://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/king-philips-war.
- Library of Congress. Native American burial or memorial ceremony with man standing by shelter with bundle of bones, friends and relatives of the dead, and lodge in background, New France (Canada). 1619. Illus. in Call No. F1030.1.C448 [Rare Book RR]. Accessed August 20, 2016. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/items/90705835.
- Low, Will H. Imagined likeness of Baron St. Castin. December 31, 1880. Wilson Museum Archives. Accessed August 27,2016. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BaronDeStCastin1881byWill_H_Lowe_Wilson_Museum_Archives.jpg.
- McKeen, John. Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. Brunswick, Curtis Memorial Library, 1985. Call No. 974-191.
- Poole, Reginald Lane. Historical atlas of modern Europe from the decline of the Roman empire author: 1763 map European Colonies & Dependencies. Clarendon Press; London; New York: H. Frouwde, 1896-1902. Babbidge Map Library Double Oversize-NonCirculating-Level 4. Call Number: G1796.S1 H5 1896. Accessed Sept. 3, 2016. https://www.flickr.com/photos/uconnlibrariesmagic/6813108397.
- Vinton, John Adams. Thomas Gyles and his neighbors, 1669-1689. Boston, D. Clapp & son, printers. 1867. Internet Archive. Accessed Sept. 3, 2016. https://archive.org/stream/thomasgyleshisne00vint.
- Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878. Accessed July 30, 2016. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/index.html.
© Barbara A. Desmarais 2016