A Great And Noble Scheme
By John Mack Faragher

Published by W. W. Norton & Company
New York - London

ISBN 0-393-05135-8

A GREAT AND NOBLE SCHEME, by John Mack Faragher, is an eye-opening reading experience. I congratulate Faragher for doing a superb job of penning the horrific experiences of the Acadiens, and to a lesser extent the Mi’kmaq, in Acadia at the hands of Great Britain and it’s North American colonies during colonial times!

If not for Geoffrey Plank’s book, AN UNSETTLED CONQUEST, his book would be almost unique in the way it relates the major role the Mi’kmaq played in the wars that ravished the Northeast during that time. In fact, in a good many tomes written about Nova Scotia’s colonial history, my ancestors are not even mentioned. Perhaps, as was the case with the Acadiens until recent times, the descendants of the British colonials are too ashamed of what their ancestors did to the Mi’kmaq to fully acknowledge it yet.

There were only two things that I believe the author could have done better when penning his history. In the last chapter or two he should have mentioned the dire consequences suffered by the Mi’kmaq because of their alliances with the French and Acadiens. Afterwards, our People were reduced to the extremes of poverty by the English, and, in the 19th century, almost totally neglected by government, they were in various stages of starvation, which brought them to the verge of extinction. The next item is ethnic cleansing. The Acadiens were the first Caucasions to suffer such a fate in the Americas, however, the citizens of many First Nations were suffering such a fate at the hands of European invaders in the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s. Some, such as the Taino of the Caribbean, were almost exterminated by the time the expulsion occurred.

But, all in all, the book is a fine Tome. I believe that most Mi’kmaq and Acadiens, after reading it, will feel a great sense of pride about how civilized their ancestors were.

The title is derived from the following news dispatch from Nova Scotia, printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette, September 4, 1755.

“We are now upon a great and noble Scheme of sending the neutral French out of this Province, who have always been secret Enemies, and have encouraged our Savages to cut our Throats. If we effect their Expulsion, it will be one of the greatest Things that ever the English did in America; for by all Accounts, that Part of the Country they posses, is as good Land as any in the World: In case therefore we could get some good English Farmers in their Room, this Province would abound with all kinds of Provisions.”

The following is an excerpt from A Great and Noble Scheme:

"...It was Membertou, sagamore or leader of the several hundred Mi’kmaq who regularly summered at Port Royal. He greeted Poutrincourt, and using signs and broken French explained that Champlain and Pontgravé had sailed away with most of the men a few days before, leaving only two behind to hold the post. As the Jonas approached, however, those men had been napping, and Membertou came running, shouting orders at them: "Do you not see a great ship which is arriving? And we do not know who they are!" It certainly seemed that Membertou had assumed authority over these men. Champlain later told Poutrincourt that when he and Pontgravé left, Membertou agreed to look after them as if "they were his own children." Finishing his explanation, Membertou signaled to shore, and one of the Frenchmen cautiously emerged from the gate with a lighted matchlock, and the other poked up from the parapet where a small cannon was positioned. Now recognizing the French ensign flying from the Jonas, he let loose a welcoming cannonade and the crew saluted back with three rounds from their own guns and a blast from the vessel's trumpet. "Soon we landed," wrote Lescarbot, "visited the house, and passed the day in returning thanks to God, in inspecting the wigwams of the sauvages, and in wandering through the meadows."

Most histories of the Frenchmen's subsequent year at Port Royal fail to pay much attention to the Míkmaw village, which Lescarbot described as "a town surrounded with high palisades," with dozens of large conical wigwams (from the Míkmawísimk wikuom, dwelling), as well as several impressive lodges, one "as big as a market-hall," where the community held their public gatherings and feasts. The village was a busy place, with women gossiping, children playing, and dogs everywhere under foot. In the standard historical accounts, the Míkmaq appear fleetingly as occasional visitors to what Poutrincourt called his "manor house." In fact, it was the French who were the visitors.

The French built their outpost near the Membertou's village, and they remained at the pleasure of the chief and his people. "I am the sagamore of this country," Membertou declared at a ceremony of welcome held shortly after the Jonas arrived, and in the tradition of chiefs he graciously extended hospitality to the "Normans," the name the Míkmaq used for the French, reflecting the fact that the first Frenchmen in the area hailed from Normandy. Membertou and Poutrincourt exchanged gifts. The French presented an assortment of trade goods — capes and jackets, kettles, hatchets, and knives — and the chief in turn declared that since the French "held metals in high regard, and since sagamores must be honorable and liberal toward the other," he wished to grant the French king the right to mine at a place on the upper bay which Champlain had named Mines or Minas, because of copper deposits discovered there. Membertou declared Poutrincourt "his great friend, brother, companion, and equal," Lescarbot noted, "showing this equality by joining together the fingers of each hand." There was no mistaking the meaning of these words and gestures. "He considers himself the equal of the King and of all his lieutenants," Lescarbot concluded. Impressed by the French custom of saluting visitors with their cannon, Membertou insisted on receiving a similar greeting whenever he came to call, "saying that this was due unto him, since he was a sagamore."

Membertou was an impressive character. Champlain reported he "had the reputation of being the worst and most treacherous man of his tribe" — adding condescendingly that nevertheless he had been "a good sauvage all the time we were there." Another Frenchman more generously described him as "the greatest, most renowned, and most formidable sauvage within the memory of man." Tall and long-limbed, with a splendid physique, the Míkmaw sachem wore a full beard, instantly distinguishing him from the other native men, none of whom displayed facial hair. His name (Maupeltuk, in proper phonetic Míkmawísimk) translates as "the game cock who commands many." He looked to be a man in his fifties, but Lescarbot understood him to say that he had been among his people when they met and traded with Jacques Cartier at Baie des Chaleurs on the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1534, which would have made him a man in his eighties or nineties. While Membertou may have been considerably older than he appeared, Lescarbot surely misinterpreted this remark. The Mi’kmaq often spoke figuratively rather than precisely. "Nothing enchants those people more than a style of metaphors and allegories in which even their common conversation abounds," wrote Abbé Pierre Maillard, an eighteenth-century missionary with many years of experience among them. Moreover, while Membertou was renowned as a great war leader, he was also a shaman (what the Mi’kmaq called a buoin, which Lescarbot translated as a "soothsayer and medicine man"), who "from time immemorial has practiced this art among his followers." Not only did Membertou know when to fight, but when to compromise, and when to stretch the truth a little. By bringing up Cartier he was probably making the point that he was well-acquainted with the French and their ways.

Despite such linguistic misunderstandings (and there would be many), Lescarbot was a careful observer of the Mi’kmaq, and he offered an astute description of Membertou's authority among his people. "He has under him a number of families whom he rules, not with so much authority as does our King over his subjects, but with sufficient power to harangue, advise, and lead them to war, to render justice to one who has a grievance, and like matters. He does not impose taxes upon the people, but if there are any profits from the chase he has a share of them, without being obliged to take part in it." Except that Lescarbot was unfamiliar with a system of authority derived from reciprocity rather than power, he provided an excellent portrayal of the role of sagamore, one that is especially fascinating since it anticipates the kind of leadership that would develop among the Acadians, who were profoundly influenced by Míkmaw custom.

Membertou's group was one of seven divisions of the Mi’kmaq, who collectively referred to themselves as L'nu'k (the people). The French took to calling them Souriquois, a name of indefinite origin. Gradually the term Mi’kmaq came into use by both groups, derived from the Míkmawísimk word nikmak, meaning "kith and kin." It is a good way to think of them, for they were more ethnic group than tribe, sharing extended kinship connections, common culture and language, but little political unity. Míkmaw family groups spent their winters dispersed in small camps, hunting for moose, caribou, and bear, but each spring and summer came together in large numbers in village communities at favored bays and rivers. The traditional summering site for Membertou's people was Port Royal, with its abundance of marine resources — smelt and herring, sturgeon and salmon, lobster, crab and mussels, whales, seals, and porpoise — as well as geese, partridges, passenger pigeons, small game, supplemented with the abundant wild fruits and roots available in the adjacent meadows and woods. The native population at Port Royal during the summer of 1606 was at least three times greater than the French.

Sieur de Monts had relocated to Port Royal for the more tolerable climate. But the market potential of Membertou's Mi’kmaq proved an additional incentive. And the corresponding Míkmaw desire for European goods was precisely why Membertou welcomed him. The Mi’kmaq were among the first natives in North America to make contact with Europeans, and understanding immediately the value of iron and textiles, they became one of the first groups to develop a system of coastal barter. The imperial stereotype of first contact depicts explorers boldly stepping ashore while natives cower in the background. But in their 1534 encounter with Cartier at Baie des Chaleurs — an event well remembered by the Mí’kmaq, as Membertou made clear to Lescarbot — it was the Míkmaq who shouted and waved furs to encourage his vessel to land, the French who felt threatened. Even at that early date, the Mi’kmaq were experienced traders, having traded furs for goods with numerous European fishermen. "The sauvages showed a marvelously great pleasure in possessing and obtaining these iron wares and other commodities," Cartier wrote, "and so much at ease did [they] feel in our presence that at length we bartered with them, hand to hand, for everything they possessed, so that nothing was left to them but their naked bodies."

In exchange for the pelts of beaver, otter, marten, seal, moose, and deer the Mi’kmaq wanted needles, awls, knives, hatchets, and copper kettles, which they frequently cut up into arrow-points and other implements of their own manufacture. "The things which come from us," wrote the French trader Nicholas Denys, "become to them an indispensable necessity. They have abandoned their own utensils. . . ." These goods made their lives easier and their work more productive. Míkmaw hunters soon were concentrating their attention on animals with commercial potential, trading pelts for cloaks and blankets, for beans, peas, and prunes, and for firearms, not only to hunt game more effectively but to extend their hunting territory at the expense of other native groups."

A Great And Noble Scheme is available at many bookstores and can be purchased on line at either Amazon.Com or Amazon.Ca

John Mack Faragher can be contacted at john.faragher@yale.edu