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Queen of the Kennebec




"Merrily, merrily, goes the bark
On a breeze from the northward free,
So shoots through the morning sky the lark
Or the swan through the summer sea."
                                Lord of the Isles.

* * *

ON THE afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 19, 1775, with wind favorable, and the coast reported clear, an expedition in ten schooners and sloops set sail from Newburyport for the Kennebec and Canada; a small force despatched by Washington, under command of Benedict Arnold.

Keeping on the course, at midnight they hove to off Wood Island approaching the Kennebec from the southwest. The first view at dawn was not cheery, it looked dangerous; there were many rocky islands at the mouth of the Kennebec. Although for a time a few missed their way, yet a little after sunrise, one by one, the vessels entered the river mouth.

Men under arms greeted the fleet and a pilot was provided, under whose guidance Arnold worked his way four miles up river to Parkers' Flats, where his vessel anchored for a few hours, then proceeded six miles farther up river. Owing to rocks, islands, headlands and confusing bays, the fleet had more or less separated, so some did better and some did worse than Arnold's topsail schooner, one going 30 miles from the sea, another using sails and oars aided by evening tide, succeeded in anchoring six miles below Fort Western.

An hour before sunrise the next day, Arnold set out. joined opposite the present city of Bath, two missing vessels joined him. Sailing through Merrymeeting Bay they pushed on to Gardinerstown. Choosing the deep channel rather than Swan Alley, half way to the parting of the channels, they reached Little Swan Island, once the seat of a powerful sachem. Through Lovejoy's narrows, then rounding the island, they entered the full Kennebec, a noted point in the journey. On the left above the present village of Richmond, could be seen the remains of Fort Richmond, occupied in winter of 1720-21, dismantled a generation later. On the right lay Pownalborough, Dresden of to-day, a court house, gaol and a settlement.

The surveyor for the Plymouth Company, Major Goodwin, lived there, and there Rev. Jacob Bailey preached to a congregation of loyalists like himself. There could be seen another fort a mile above Swan Island, christened in 1751, Fort Shirley. After many hazardous happenings, the expedition reached the landing at Gardinerstown, Friday night, Sept. 22d.

On the eastern shore of the Kennebec, two miles below the city of Gardiner, lived Major Reuben Colburn, on land granted in 1763. There he owned a good house, and there tradition says Colonel Arnold lodged. Arnold's reason for halting at that point was to see about batteaux. The Major had a shipyard, and the shore was covered with white oak which would make excellent ribs for the batteaux, and pine could be sawed at Gardner's mills, so there they were made.

The following is from Washington's letter of orders: "You are without delay to proceed to the Constructing of Two Hundred Batteaus to row with Four Oars each, Two Paddles and Two Setting Poles to be also provided for each Batteau. You are to engage Twenty men, Artificers, Carpenters and Guides to Assist. You are also to bespeak all of The Pork, and Flour you can from the Inhabitants upon the River Kennebec. You are to receive Forty Shillings Lawful money for each Batteau out of which to pay for all.

Given at Head Quarters at Cambridge this 3d day of Sept. 1775.


By the General's Command.


* * *

The batteaux were quickly made, but Arnold did not feel pleased with them, and some were undersize. The bottoms were of green, thin pine. He calmly ordered 20 more to be made up for lack of capacity. Later, when the batteaux were going to pieces, the soldiers were not mild and Morrison, after four days' use, exclaimed: "Could we then have come within reach of the villains who constructed these crazy things, they would fully have experienced the effects of our vengeance. Did they not know that their doings were crimes, that they were cheating their country and exposing its defenders to additional sufferings and to death?" Yet the boat builders were not really to blame; they were allowed short time in which to build, the batteaux were to be thrown away in a few weeks, need of strong boats was not understood. There was no guilty conscience on Colburn's part, for he marched with the army.

Another reason for stopping at Gardinerstown was that Major Colburn had been told by Washington to send scouts over the route. Dennis Getchell and Samuel Berry of Vassalborough were given the commission. Arnold received report from them, "that an Indian, Natanis, had told them he was employed by Governor Charlton to watch motions of an army or spies that was daily expected from New England, that if we proceeded further, he would give information of our designs. Notwithstanding, we went up the river and had a conference with an Indian Squaw who told us that at Shettican there were a number of Mohawks that would destroy us." On account of shoal water it now seemed necessary to transfer to the batteaux, and this done, with a hundred men drafted to row, they moved on toward Fort Western, and the whole army arrived there before Sunday the 24th.

Aaron Burr

* * *



The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, all that wealth ere gave
Await alike the inevitable hour,
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
                                    Gray's Elegy

MANY books have been written of Aaron Burr. Partisan pens were dipped in the ink of prejudice. Jenkinson says, "Aaron Burr has the saddest of all histories, the victim of revengeful power and of studied and persistent duplicity. A man whose public life was without a stain, who never betrayed a friend or spoke ill even of an enemy; a man of the highest ambition but who put aside the presidency of the United States rather than do a wrong to his party chief or disappoint the wishes of the people, has been for a whole century denounced as a man without integrity or sound principle; a man who gave four years of his early manhood in fighting for the maintenance of the republic, has, upon mere clamor and prejudice for three generations been stigmatized as a traitor."

Aaron Burr was born in Newark, N. J., in 1756, the only son of the distinguished Aaron Burr, President of Princeton College and grandson of the more distinguished Jonathan Edwards. He graduated from Princeton at 16, at 19 was studying law when the battle of Bunker Hill took place. He volunteered as a private in the expedition just starting against Quebec. Through his cheerfulness he was the sustaining spirit. Arriving at Quebec, he was the messenger sent to Gen. Montgomery at Montreal to tell him of the arrival of the expedition.

He safely reached Montgomery, who was so attracted by his tact that he appointed him aid on his staff with rank of captain. At the head of his 40 men, in face of a storm, he climbed the dangerous heights of Quebec. In the attack by the side of the general with an orderly sergeant and a guide, he led the column. All except Burr and the guide were killed. Slight though he was, he gathered the stalwart form of Montgomery in his arms and carried the remains beyond reach of British guns. He became aid to Washington and Putnam, commanded a brigade at Monmouth, was a leader of the American bar, rose rapidly in politics, was attorney general of New York, United States Senator, Vice-President of the United States.

Two great events in Burr's subsequent career mark his decline in popular esteem and shroud his declining years in gloom. In a duel he killed his great rival, Alexander Hamilton, soldier, statesman, president of the order of Cincinnati. Equal moral blame must attach to Hamilton, who also fought to kill; Hamilton, whose son had earlier been killed in a duel. It was the fault of the age. Duels have been fought by Gates, DeWitt Clinton, Randolph, Benton, Clay, Jackson, Decatur, Pitt, Wellington, Grattan, Fox, Sheridan and many another great man. God works in a mysterious way his wonders to perform, and the death of Hamilton and disgrace of Burr led to the great change in public sentiment that has forever freed America from the horrors of the code.

The final great event in Burr's career, resulting in his trial and acquittal of the crime of treason, was his movement in reference to Mexico. As a large section of Mexico became later a part of this country, forming great and prosperous states in the Union, we may compare them with that distracted land below the Rio Grande and wonder whether Burr, instead of being traitor, was not really a patriot, a man with a vision, who acted in advance of his time. Indeed, if he were a political leader to-day, would he not find himself with many prominent men who believe our southern boundary must be dropped from the Rio Grande to Panama.

During the expedition when the forces lay near the heights of Quebec, Burr, whose stock of provision was a biscuit and an onion, went to a brook to drink. He was preparing to use the top of his cap as a drinking vessel, when a British officer, who had come to the other side of the brook for the same purpose, saluted him politely and offered use of his hunting cup. The officer, pleased with the frank and gallant bearing of the youth, bestowed upon him the magnificent gift of part of a horse's tongue. They inquired each other's name. "When next we meet," said the Briton, "it will be as enemies, but if we should ever come together after the war is over, let us know each other better."

Stepping upon some stones in the middle of the brook, they shook hands and parted. Thirty-six years after, when Colonel Burr Was an exile in Scotland, he met that officer again. Each had a vivid recollection of the scene at the brook and a warm friendship sprang up between them. Col. Burr visited the home of the aged officer and received assistance of the most essential kind.


"For he had read in Jesuit book
Of those children of the wilderness,
And now he looked to see a painted savage stride
Into the room with shoulders bare,
And eagle feathers in her hair,
And around her a robe of panther's hide.
Instead, he beholds with secret shame,
A form of beauty undefined,
A loveliness without a name,
Not of degree but more of kind,
Nor bold, nor shy, nor short nor tall,
But a new mingling of them all.
Yes, beautiful beyond belief,
Transfigured and transfused
The daughter of an Indian Chief."
Tales of a Wayside Inn.

JACATAQUA, princess of the Abnaki tribe, which believed they owned the shores of the Kennebec from the first creation, also believed themselves the only perfect Indians and that all other tribes were much inferior. Be that as it may, Jacataqua, a mixture of French and Indian blood, was the joy and pride of her people brave, intelligent, self-reliant, strong and handsome. Under the training and influence of that then old and highly cultured civilization at Quebec, she combined the culture of old France and the lore of books, with that of her people and of the woods, speaking Indian, French and English.

Jacataqua had been captured by a young officer at Swan Island, and was carefully guarded in the barracks. Burr, an occasional visitor, had taken a great liking to her and offered her captor a large sum for his prize. Hearing much of the proposed journey and being fascinated by Burr, Jacataqua in her love of nature and knowledge of woods and streams, was eager for the journey to Quebec and insisted that she accompany them.

We now pass from history to tradition, which thus brings this sketch to the whispering leaves of the old oak tree in Judge Maher's yard. Judge Howard had spoken of a field of corn in ground lately cleared on the plateau at the foot of Burnt Hill, saying it was much injured by wild animals, supposed to be bears. He wanted to send an armed party to destroy the mischief-makers. Jacataqua asked the Judge what he would give her if she brought him the scalp of the offending animal. A bargain made, Burr laughingly suggested that she should have the company of the handsomest man of the company. At first she was unwilling, finally she said "Bring out your man," whereupon Burr presented himself. "Well," said she, "I cannot say but you are handsome, take your axe, I take my trusty rifle."

So they set out, and after crossing the river in a canoe they entered the forest. In clearing the land, Judge Howard had left standing a few large, white oak trees. On entering the field, they suddenly saw a large bear and two cubs devouring the ripening corn. The cubs, about as large as shepherd dogs, fled to the big oak tree and climbed to the top. The mother reared upon her haunches, preparing for fight. Burr hesitated, but Jacataqua took aim and fired, and the bear fell. Burr rushed up supposing bruin dead, but the bear, not quite dead, tried to hug the handsome man, but could not more than reach him, badly tearing his clothes and leaving him minus one coat tail.

The cubs, who had now resolved to wreck vengeance for the death of their mother, came down from the tree and assaulted Burr. Defending himself with an axe, Burr killed one cub while Jacataqua placed a fatal shot in the heart of the other.

"Now," said Burr, "we spend the rest of this morning in skinning these bears."

"No! No!" says Jacataqua, "They are fat and eatable, a fat bear should be cooked with skin on and Indians scorch the hair off before making butcher's meat." Saying which she took the scalps from mother and cubs, and back to the fort in triumph went Burr and Jacataqua.

* * *


"Sumptuous was the feast,
All the bowls were made of bass-wood,
White and polished very smoothly.
She had sent through all the village,
Messengers with wands of willow,
As a sign of invitation,
As a token of the feasting,
And the guests assembled
Clad in all their richest raiment.
                    Hiawatha's Wedding Feast.

The Jacataqua Oak
scene of Aaron Burr's wooing of an Indian Maid

IN HONOR of Jacataqua a grand entertainment was arranged, and Capt. Morgan's Virginia Company of Riflemen were to barbecue the bears and roast them whole over an outdoor fire. The officers united with the soldiers in planning these festivities. Then volunteer forth to search for and bring in the bear and cubs. By noon they came back with the spoil and prepared them as Jacataqua directed. The next morning, bears were hung over the blazing wood pile and the roasting went eon were placed in front of Fort Western, between the block houses.

Judge Howard felt particularly called on to donate something for this feast; for had not his cornfield been rid of its thieves? So he ordered ten baskets of corn to be picked and roasted for the spread. For dessert, he contributed one hundred pumpkin pies, many watermelons and wild cherries. Officers contributed pork and bread. Some soldiers brought in potatoes, supposed to be stolen.

Among the invited guests were William Gardiner of Cobbosseecontee, Major Colburn and Squire Oakman of Gardinerstown, Judge Bowman, Col. Cushing, Capt. Goodwin and E. Bridge of Pownalborough. They and their ladies arrived in due time.

The feast was spread with the mother bear in the centre and a cub at each end of the table, all the other edibles properly placed between them. By mid-afternoon all was ready. There was a signal of a swivel from one of the transports, a response by volley of small arms and roll of drums. Led by the company officers, the troops marched to the tables, accompanied by field officers and invited guests. Dr. Dearborn and Dr. Senter did the disjointing and the carving. Judge Howard was at the head of the table, Jacataqua on his right, Aaron Burr on his left, Gen. Arnold presided at the farther end of the festive board. Field officers and guests were in opposite seats at the centre.

Jacataqua's hair was beautifully dressed in shape of a royal crown, a handsome peacock's tail hung gracefully behind her neck. Burr wore a blue swallow-tail coat, with gilt buttons, buff-colored vest, black breeches, silk stockings, silver buckles on shoes and at knees.

Rev. Samuel Spring asked a blessing and commended the army to God's care, prayed for the people of the valley and for the huntress, that she might so influence her people of the wilderness as to give them safe conduct all along the march. The great gathering partook with gratitude and pleasure.

After removing the cloth, came "toasts." Jacataqua was first called upon. She arose, glanced across Judge Howard to the handsome man on the left of him and gave: "A. Burr, full of chestnuts." The cannon as well as the company roared. Then as Howard called upon Burr. all listened for the response. Burr arose and very graciously gave: "The Queen of the Kennebec."

Nothing like this feast had been served before, or was to be served afterwards. From now on provisions were coarse and scanty, diminishing to the point of starvation. Never was an army involved in so severe an expedition. Nothing equals it in American history. The journey up the Kennebec to the Carrying Place, through the wilderness to the Chaudiere, thence following that stream to Quebec, occupied forty-five days, during which they endured severe hardships.

* * *

Downward through the evening twilight

In the days that are forgotten,
In the unremembered ages,
From the full moon fell Nokomis,
Fell the beautiful Nokomis
And the daughter of Nokomis
Grew up like the prairie lilies,
Grew a tall and slender maiden.
                      Hiawatha's Childhood.

ALTHOUGH Jacataqua was an educated young woman, she was a true Indian, preferring their customs, believing their ways best of all. Being a skilled Indian doctress and understanding the use of herbs and roots, she nursed the sick during all the journey through the wilderness to Quebec. Being also a mighty huntress she and her dog scoured the forest for food for the starving soldiers. Although all the other dogs were killed and used for food, none asked for Jacataqua's dog. Hers was sacred. Indeed, she told them that her dog's security was the condition of her serving the hungry and sick white men.

When Burr was obliged to leave the army, under the Heights of Quebec, he arranged with the English officer who had shaken his hand at the stream, for quarters to be provided for Jacataqua in one of the nunneries of Quebec. She hoped in time to rejoin him. There in Quebec, at the grey nunnery, on a bright June morning, was born the little Chestnutiana, possibly so named in memory of the mother's toast "A Burr full of Chestnuts" given at the Fort Western banquet.

Burr was off Long Island and there abounded choice hunting grounds. Knowing these would please the Indian huntress, he directed his British friend in Quebec to send her to him. The journey was made by way of Montreal, Lake Champlain and North river to Col. Burr on Long Island. In the depths of the island he built for her a cabin where she lived for several years.

* * *

Later little Chestnutiana was adopted by the British officer, the old friend of Burr, and taken by him to his home in Scotland. He loved her tenderly and educated her for the first circles in his native land. She became quite a poetess, some of her verses are yet extant. She married young and became Mrs. Webb. Her husband lost his fortune and they had to live on an annuity settled on her either by her natural or foster father. Ruined in fortune by the husband's extravagance, they came to New York to live, where Burr gave them the kindest attention.

This lady was of the kindest and of high breeding, with too little of the provincial in her character to have more than a very slight respect for that terror of provincial souls Mrs. Grundy.

In the year 1834, one day Burr was alone and sick in his office. A coach drove up and this active, middle-aged lady entered the room. She said she had come to take him to her home. She was at the head of a large, genteel boarding house near the Bowling Green, the house known as the old Gov. Jay house.

Burr remained with Mrs. Webb until the summer of 1836, a helpless paralytic. Later he was removed to Richmond on Staten Island where apartments were secured for him in a small hotel. One morning, coming to his room, Mrs. Webb said "What do you think I heard this morning, Colonel? They say I am your daughter." "Well," said he, "we don't care for that, do we?"

In the years she took care of him no child ever was more devoted to a father. When dying, he took her hand between his own in supplication, and said in tone of mingled tenderness and fervency, "May God forever and forever and forever bless you, my last, best friend. When the hour comes, I will look out in the better country for one bright spot for you be sure."

Thus ends the tale of the Kennebec.

* * *

AUTHORITIES. I am indebted to the State Library for the following books: Aaron Burr by Isaac Jenkinson; Life and Times of Aaron Burr, J. Parton; Journal of Aaron Burr, by M. L. Davis; Arnold's March from Cambridge to Quebec, Justin H. Smith; Arnold 's Expedition to Quebec, John Codman, 2d.

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