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Philip, Abenaki Indian Chief, and Philip’s Grant
(Orleans and Essex Counties)

By Bea Nelson

The Wabanaki (Abenaki) portions of the history of the Northeast Kingdom has been sadly neglected or overlooked by historians, ethno historians, archaeologists, and local historical societies. One of these is the background of Philip, Indian Chief and Philip’s Grant. It seems ironic that Metallak, Philip’s son, and Mali Agate (Molly Orcutt) members of his band, have more notoriety.


Philip, called by the English, was baptized Piel (Abenaki for Peter) or Pierre (French). He was born around 1730 near the Saco River in the vicinity of North Conway NH or Fryeburg ME and was considered a Pigwacket Abenaki whose family moved north into the Arosaguntacook, Nulheganook and Amarascoggin Abenaki Band areas when he was young.

At some point he married Molly Missile (Marie Michelle) a New Hampshire Indian who was famous for her moccasin making. They had several children the youngest being Metallak born about 1750, on the upper Adroscoggin River. Between war interruptions (French and Indian Wars, 1755-1760) the extended family operated a trapping and hunting circuit through most of what is now northeastern VT, northern NH, northwestern ME, and the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada; including stays at Odanak where some of the family eventually settled. After the fall of French Canada in 1760, Philip returned to live a traditional lifestyle until at least 1788. Henry Tuft’s description of life among the Indians from 1772-1775 tells of two large family bands living between Lake Memphremagog and Lake Umbagog. Old Philip, Mali, Swasson, Susap, Tomhegan, are all names mentioned in his writings.

The Times

During the American Revolution (1775-1783) Philip was the leader of an Indian Band in northern NH that is usually identified as Cowasuck but in reality was Arosaguntacook, or St. Francis Indians. This band joined the rebel cause, which was unusual for Abenaki who tried to stay neutral. The English called Philip the Chief of the Cowasucks, a typical Euro American blunder that still confuses the historic record!

After the Revolution, when the peace accord was signed in 1783, the border was drawn along the 45th parallel. This boundary line between British Canada and Colonial United States cut right through the Abenaki homeland and territories. The Abenaki weren’t considered in any of the agreements even though Abenaki men fought on both sides during the Revolution.

Vermont became the 14th state in 1791 and settlement pushed up the Connecticut River valley and on into the Memphremagog and Nulhegan watersheds. The Land companies claimed that no Indians lived in this area, and that they were just passing through on hunting trips. Vermont Abenaki descendants are still paying for this one!

On the British Canada side of the border, in 1792, Abenaki lands (taken over as Crown Wastelands) were opened to settlement by English speaking Protestants and loyalists, mostly New Englanders. All that the St Francis Indians retained were their age-old hunting grounds and family band village sites. Only 8,150 acres were granted to 17 families in Dunham Township. In contrast, Asa Porter, a colonel in the British army was granted over 60,000 acres in Brome Township for his services.

Philip’s Grant

In 1796 Philip, older and tired, was living in the Indian Stream Republic area and traveling to Memphremagog and the central Connecticut River valley. It was on one of these latter trips that he met up with some Anglo-American land speculators. We do not know the circumstances of the land sale, but we do know that Philip, Indian Chief, Abenaki from the St Francis tribe, (the same that inhabited the Memphremagog region) sold some 3,000 square miles straddling the border to four men; Thomas Eames and 3 associates that called themselves the Eastern Company. The price was a simple promise to keep Philip and his two wives well fed and clothed for the rest of their lives and allow all other band members fishing and hunting rights on the land in perpetuity.

The 3,000 square miles included: from Umbagog and Mooselookmeguntic Lakes in the East (the headwaters of the Megalloway and Androscoggin Rivers; South to the junction of the Ammonoosuc with the Connecticut; West to the western shore of Lake Memphremagog up the Clyde and along the Nulhegan; and North to the junction of the Salmon and St Francis Rivers. Some of the land had already been colonized by English and Anglo-American settlers. Sherbrook was begun in 1744 and the first US census of 1790 lists 700 white colonists in the upper Connecticut-Memphremagog region.

This land sale was actually illegal: since the Federal Non-Intercourse Act of 1791 prohibited any agency other than the US government from buying Indian lands within the territory claimed by the United States (as about half of this parcel did.) Also in 1793 the Continental Congress wrote up a law forbidding private citizens to buy land from the Indians. The state of NH had a similar law on the books as early as 1719. The land was of little agricultural use to the purchasers who turned around and resold it to naïve English settlers at considerable profit.

In 1798, Abenaki chiefs at Odanak sold virtually the same land to the Bedel Company for $3,100.00. It was this sale that was the basis for New Hampshire’s claim to the Indian Stream Territory. Canada at the same time was claiming it. But, the inhabitants were claiming independence from both and had formed the Indian Stream Republic with their own government: a constitution, bill of rights, courts and judges, and a code of laws. In 1835 the situation became volatile and the “Indian Stream War” came to a head when NH decided to send in its militia. It was not until 1840 that the town of Pittsburg was organized by the State of NH, which included the Indian Stream Republic and that portion of Philip’s Grant.

Again a large section of Philip’s Grant (Abenaki homelands) has become controversial due to its value for its wilderness, game, and beauty. Could this also be an illegal purchase? …. Or .... is it cultural preservation? Question is, … whose culture and whose history?

Bea Nelson, Abenaki descendant, is an artist, writer, and retired educator. She is the Cultural Resource Manager for the Alnobak Heritage Preservation Center, editor and publisher of Nebesak News, and works with Historical Societies, and Statewide Agencies as a consultant, collaborator, and advisor.

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