INDIANS AT SCRIBNER’S CORNER, SALISBURY NH
by David Stewart-Smith PhD
New England Tribal History
Webster, New Hampshire
Where the Mill Stream comes down off the east side of Mount Kearsarge, it conjoins with the Blackwater River between Scribner’s Corner and Smith’s Corner. There is a small fertile flood plain there that is still used for growing corn. This same patch was probably under cultivation for many centuries before the settlers arrived and might have been the site of a summer village of the Pennacook Indians who lived along the Merrimack River valley.
Theo Silver, an old-time local historian and Indian descendent, used to talk about how the track out of Scribner’s Corner went north along the Blackwater to eventually join up with Rt. 127, headed for Franklin (refer to Wallings Map below). This track and the road up to Franklin were identified as Indian trails by him. As 127 moves north from Webster into Salisbury, it follows a fairly up and down course but manages to traverse several wet areas with short crossings and then gains higher, more dry ground. Even though we in cars may think of the road as a bit of a roller coaster ride, as a trail it stays pretty well on course and doesn’t get bogged down in the wet areas for too long – the ideal track.
Franklin was undoubtedly an important Indian center for agriculture, fishing and travel, being at the junction of the Merrimack and Pemigewasset Rivers. Any trails coming out of Franklin, like the one to Scribner’s Corner would have been important arteries for travel and trade in Indian times. The track also links the Blackwater with Lake Winnepocket which was probably the site of a local winter village. Siting the winter villages on a lake accomplished much for the Indians. They moved away from the wind-driven river valleys during the winter, and set their villages on the northeast corner of the lake where they got maximum sun exposure during the day. The lake provided good fishing throughout the winter once the ice got established and there was a large cleared area over the surface of the lake to drag game and fuel into the camp.
The first settlers in the area were the Maloon family who moved from a remote corner of Boscawen (now Webster) into the uncharted lands of Stevenstown (Salisbury) in about 1742. They lived above the corn fields on the Blackwater next to the Millstream where good clean running water was available year round. The Maloons were of Irish extraction and fall into a category know as the “wild Irish” who, unlike the Londonderry settlers, preferred to remain outside the settlements. There were several Irish families like this scattered through the Merrimack valley that may have been a remnant population of freed Irish slaves whose freedom came after the restoration of the English monarchy in 1661. Just to note briefly, the use of slaves prior to 1660 was mostly taken from other British provincial peoples – the Irish, Scots and Welch. After the Restoration, the English gained control over the African slave trade from the Dutch and used African slaves in their western hemispheric empire building.
The Maloons established their homestead deliberately outside the bounds of a chartered town and as the 1740s progressed the frontier became more and more restless. More than likely, the Maloons enjoyed friendly relations with Indians prior to 1744. Times were more peaceful; as a family beyond the colonial frontier, they must have relied on Indian friendships and trade. But as the French and Indian Wars progressed, their position beyond the frontier became more dangerous. Finally in 1754 most of the family was taken captive by Indians and traded for money or goods to the French near Quebec. Rachel, the daughter, remained with the Indians as a young girl and was raised as an Indian while her parents were later taken on board a French ship to be sold as slaves. Their ship was captured by the British off the coast of Nova Scotia and the Maloons were brought to Nova Scotia to make their way back to New Hampshire three or four years after their capture. It took another five years for them to reclaim Rachel who did come back to Salisbury, essentially an Indian, speaking and singing in the Abenaki language.
The Indians and the French used captivity to gain currency from the New Englanders. On the French side, there was always a way to barter for ransom. However when captives went to the Indians, they were frequently adopted into families to replace lost family members, for whom the family still grieved. Several New England captives elected to stay with their Indian families, having become truly Indian in their language and customs. Rachel was on the verge of becoming married to an Indian when she was redeemed. Ransoms for individuals could be a much as £150, or equivalent to a man’s pay for three years.
The capture of the Maloons was said to have been revenge for the killing of Plausawa and Sabatis by Peter Bowen in 1753. Their bodies were reportedly hidden under the bridge of Stirrup Iron brook in Salisbury. When the Maloon family asked for help from others, it is remarkable to note that in spite of their voluntary isolation from the community, money and manpower were generously given to help the family get reestablished in Salisbury once again.
Notes from Dearborn’s History
Published in 1890, John Dearborn’s History of Salisbury is full of treasures. There are a few references to Indians. First he states that the Indian name for Kearsarge was Coowissewasseck but there is no reference for this. This is curious because the use of the suffix wasseck could imply that this is a village name. In other words, “village of the Cowass Indians” or possibly “village in the pine trees.” It doesn’t seem to be a mountain name. Recent research has documented that the place name “Carasaga” can be traced to the 1638 colonial survey of the Merrimack River but I have no sources for the meaning of Carasaga. Part of the problem is that our Indians from this region spoke a different dialect from Western Abenaki which included the use of a distinct r sound and sometimes double r. The Western Abenaki cannot pronounce r and often replace it with l – therefore Merrimack becomes Mallimaque and Mary becomes Molly.
Dearborn also notes that Bean Hill, just south of Smith’s Corner was the favorite haunt of Indians. They were noted to have camped there during a few raids on old Boscawen, known then as Contoocook. He also notes that an Indian oven was found on Bean Hill a describes it as a stone lined pit with a stone cover. I heard from a hunter once that he had found this site but then couldn’t find it again. The corn fields at Scribner’s Corner were probably used seasonally and could be relied upon as a food source by Indians in later times as they passed through the area.
By the time the Stevenstown or Salisbury got its start in the late 1750s, Indians had pretty vacated the area. You will see a lot of towns that achieved charters in 1761 or 1763; this due to the end of the French and Indian Wars which came to a final treaty in 1763. By that time many of the Indians up north had given up on the French cause while Indians in the Connecticut Valley held out for their autonomy in the region.
I have often pondered the name “Blackwater” and anyone familiar with the river knows that this is an appropriate name for the river as the water appears to be so dark from peat and tannin. I have no doubt that the Indians called it Blackwater. Looking into the possibilities in Abenaki our river may have been named Mkazabaga – black water, Mkazabagak or Mkazabagwik – (from) black water place. Interesting to note that mkazas refers to the raven who is frequently seen along the Blackwater.
“Early Merrimack Toponomy” Papers for the Sixth Algonquian Conference.
William Cowan, ed. Canadian Ethnology Service Mercury Paper No. 23, pp: 372-389.
Ottawa: National Museum of Man, 1974.
— Western Abenaki Dictionary
Hull, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1994
Silver, Walter Theo and Linnea Stadig
Home Town Heritage, Boscawen and Webster, New Hampshire
Portsmouth NH: Peter Randall Publisher, 1997
“The Pennacook Indians and New England Frontier, circa 1604 to 1733.”
Doctoral Dissertation, Union Institute & University.
Ann Arbor: UMI Dissertation Services. 1998. Author No: 9908552.
Available through NH State Library interlibrary loan system.
The History of Salisbury New Hampshire
Manchester NH: William Moore, 1890