St Aspinquid, meet St Tammany

Paul Revere "Obelisk" panel

Paul Revere “Obelisk” panel, 1766; click to enlarge

In the recent Hallowe’en posting (link), the Uncertaintist introduced you to a regional legend of Nova Scotia and Maine, Saint Aspinquid, the “Native American Saint.” He has some attributes of the real Seventeenth Century New England chief Passaconaway. His name might be a variant of another real Seventeenth Century chief’s, Abenquid, about whose life little is known. A lingering question is whether Saint Aspinquid refers to any specific real-life hero or only to an imaginary character.

The prospects for a powerful, pious and real Aspinquid are dim. The earliest extant published mentions of him, in the 1770’s, emerge among English colonists in northern British America just when other English colonists farther south also adopt Native themes in their own public festivities. Conspicuously similar to the peace-preaching religious-minded Aspinquid is the character built upon the Seventeenth Century Lenape (Delaware) chief Tamina, Tamanend or Tammany, who dealt with William Penn.

“Tammany” is a household name today because of the spectacularly corrupt political machine that once ran New York City. How Chief Tammany’s renown took that turn is a good story (told in detail by Edwin Patrick Kilroe’s 1913 Columbia University dissertation, link), but our present concern is to examine how Chief or “King” Tammany became a frankly imaginary “Saint.” The conjecture is that something similar happened to Chief Abenquid-Saint Aspinquid, at about the same time, farther north.

Throughout this post, statements of material historical fact that are neither built up from accessible search terms nor specifically linked to a source are based either on the earlier post, or on the revised and enhanced source material about Aspinquid and Tammany. This pdf document is freely downloadable from the blog’s Unlinks page (link).

The real Tamanend and the imagined Tammany

The historical Tamanend was roughly contemporary with the real Penobscot chief Abenquid who signed a treaty with New England colonial officials in 1693 and died in 1696. In 1694, Tamanend spoke before the Pennsylvania Provincial Council (Pennsylvania Colonial Records, volume 1, page 447, link), along with other Native Americans. He praised peace with the English, despite provocations. The latest securely datable recorded act of the real Tamanend, according to Kilroe’s dissertation mentioned earlier, is a deed from 1697 (Pennsylvania Archives, First series, volume 1, page 124, link), where he is referred to as “King Taminy.”

His title would remain “King” during the Eighteenth Century May Day festivals in Pennsylvania, according to 1784 letters from Philadeplphia’s Ebenezer Hazard, until Tammany was “canonized” there sometime after the Revolution. Marylanders had by then already granted him the “Saint” title, no later than the 1771 letters of William Eddis.

Eddis reported that Annapolis folk would party hearty each year on the feasts of all four national patron saints of the United Kingdom: George of England, Andrew of Scotland, Patrick of Ireland and David of Wales. In this company, Tammany (also known as Tamina) was the popularly acclaimed patron of “the Americans of this part of the continent.” On May First, Eddis tells his reader, Annapolis folk celebrated Tamina’s memory. That “memory” is evidently not the recollection of actual specific deeds. Eddis says that Tamina’s history, like those of Saints George, Andrew, etc., “is lost in fable and uncertainty.”

Within a generation or two, legendary material filled the voids in real history. It may not have been that Tamanend’s real story was “lost” so much as that it was routine, the plight of a leader of ordinary gifts making the best of an unwinnable situation.

No matter. The point of a tabula rasa is that it be written upon. Soon enough, rousing speeches would be composed for Tammany, mighty deeds attributed, and enlightened virtues imputed. Religion mattered to him, but instead of Aspinquid’s missionary Protestantism, Tammany’s religiously diverse region favored devout respect for freedom of conscience There would be shrines, too, as this or that rock pile was promoted as Tammany’s grave or memorial, whichever suited the land owner’s convenience. A rock pile in Maine is where New Englanders most readily encounter the Aspinquid legend today; for Nova Scotians, the principal shrine is a natural rock formation in a public park.

Let us raise a glass, or twelve, to Tammany and Aspinquid

Although the real chiefs Tamanend and Abenquid were Seventeenth Century figures, it is not until the latter part of the Eighteenth that we first read about their legendary counterparts, Tammany and Aspinquid. These characters are literally the toast of British-American colonial society.

Eddis testifies to the frequency of patron-saint parties, but leaves us wondering whether the nearly athletic toasting punctuated by cannon and musket fire, as described in the Halifax newspapers’ coverage of Aspinquid’s feasts, was only part of the satire. Judging from the sober reports of the May 1766 Philadelphia celebrations of the Stamp Act repeal, the exuberance of the Aspinquid reports is realistic, if not necessarily literally true in every detail. More than twenty-one toasts really were drunk seriatim in Philadelphia, each of them accompanied by cannon or musket fire.

The Stamp Act repeal celebrations up the coast in Boston give us the illustration that appears at the head of this article. News of the repeal reached Boston on St Aspinquid’s day, Friday May 16. The city spent the weekend preparing for a grand celebration on Monday. Paul Revere crafted a decorated obelisk to display at the Liberty Tree. Three illustrations on Revere’s obelisk featured a Native American woman who represented British America (link). In the panel reproduced here, she thanks King George III and his pro-American ministers for siding with her against the bad ministers who had concocted the despised tax.

Paul Revere was not the first to use an anonymous Native to represent the colonies. For whatever reasons, and despite the sore racial tensions that existed between real Natives and real colonists, Georgian iconography gravitated toward Native American personifications of a still-unified British America. Women were common in visual representations, but the British patron saints of the dinner parties were men, and the Native American patron saints followed suit.

Self-consciously manly, too, were the American activists in the struggles with Britain, within which the joyous repeal of 1766 was a brief respite. Sons of Liberty, many of them already organized as Freemasons and many soon to form the original Tammany Societies, had not hesitated to back up refined constitutional theorizing with crude muscular intimidation during the Stamp Act crisis. By 1773, new troubles over tea elicited civil disobedience against British tax and trade policies.

In modern telling, the Boston Tea Party of December 1773 was carried out by white men in Indian costumes. The reality of that picture is doubtful, lacking much support from contemporary accounts. Regardless, the December protest was not the end of the matter. In March 1774 another tea ship docked in Boston, and it, too, saw its cargo dumped into the harbor. We don’t know what the demonstrators wore to that second tea party, but we do know how the Boston Gazette reported the affair: in satire with a Native theme, the same genre as the Halifax Gazette reports of the Aspiquid celebrations.

His Majesty Oknookortunkogog King of the Narraganset Tribe of Indians, on receiving information of the arrival of another cargo of that cursed weed tea, immediately summoned his Council at the Great Swamp by the River Jordan, … [who acted to protect] all his subjects throughout America.

The Boston and Halifax writers used the same tropes: the high-blown title (king), the silly name (Oknookortunkogog), the exaggerated geographic scope (subjects throughout America), the seasoning with real features of Native American life (the Narraganset Tribe, decision making by council). The purposes of the satires are different, but the methods and materials are similar.

Ultimately, the widespread annual public celebrations of Tammany and Aspinquid fell out of favor. Even today, however, there are private remembrances, in Tammany societies and Masonic groups (for example, St Aspinquid Lodge in York, Maine). The Sons of Liberty, whose membership overlapped the Masons and the Tammanies, are now recalled in the Native-minded remnants of the Improved Order of Red Men, who claim descent from the Sons.

Lessons learned from Tammany that apply to Aspinquid

In the Georgian milieu, the title “Saint” was as easily associated with annual toast-drinking binges as with exemplary piety. No particular reason was needed for Marylanders to confer sainthood on Tammany, anymore than a particular reason had been needed for Pennsylvanians to ascribe royalty to him. Either way, once entitled, he could ably serve as the focus of an annual revel.

It is unsurprising that the choice of an American “Patron Saint” to parallel the four patrons of Great Britain would settle on a Native figure. The icon of a Native American to represent British America was an established usage of the time. There is little practical difference between an anonymous cartoon figure and a mock-identified individual whose history was “lost in fable and uncertainty.”

The real stories of Tamanend and Abenquid are similar. They are contemporaries known mainly from recorded formal dealings with Englishmen. The trajectories of the legendary Tammany and the legendary Aspinquid are also parallel, unfold at nearly the same time in nearby places, and occupy the same niches within the European-American culture’s dinner-and-drinking party and the secret men’s lodge, whether Sons of Liberty, Freemasons, or Columbian Order.

Native traditions of Abenquid or Tamanend could easily have complemented European-American inventions. Those traditions and inventions might well have enriched one another, back and forth over the centuries. However, Tammany and Aspinquid both seem at the outset to have been inventions by North American subjects of the British Crown, people of European heritage. Tammany surely is; we have the designers’ notes. To all appearances, Aspinquid is the same order of being as Tammany.


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