CASTINE; AND THE OLD COINS FOUND THERE.
by Joseph Williamson
First printed for the Maine Historical Society, 1859.
One of the earliest settled localities in Maine, as well as one of the most distinguished in our history, is the peninsula of Matchebiguatus, or Major Biguyduce, called by contraction Bagaduce, on which stands the village of Castine.
The origin and signification of this term have never been satisfactorily explained. Palfrey’s History of New England intimates that “Point Bagaduce” was a name used as early as 1642, but I can find no authority for such a statement. An approximation to it appears in a deed dated August, 1644, from Gov. Winslow to John Winthrop and others, cited in a note to Winthrop’s Journal, vol. 1, page 220, (Savage’s edition), where the eastern possessions of the Plymouth Company are referred to, as located “at Matche-biguatus, in Penobscot.” No such name is contained in any of the English or French documents relating to the Castin family. In 1760, the infant settlement of the present town of Castine was known as “Baggadoose.” During the Revolution, it was called “Maja Bagaduce,” and “MajeBigaduce,” more frequently the latter. Gov. Sullivan, in his History of Maine, repeatedly mentions “Bagaduce Point,” and “Bagaduce Neck.” His manner of spelling the word is now the most common. Williamson’s History, vol. ii., page 572, note, says “the peninsula, now Castine, originally bore the name of a resident Frenchman, called Major Biguyduce.” As authority for this statement, the letter of Col. Jeremiah Wardwell, of Penobscot, dated March 21, 1820, and the certificate of Capt. Joseph Mansell, of Bangor, made June 27, 1831, are cited. Both papers are deposited in the library of the [Maine Historical] Society. They constitute the only support that a person named “Major Biguyduce” ever existed. Such an origin of the term is therefore erroneous. The author of the History of Maine seems subsequently to have been convinced of his mistake, for in one of his manuscript books, I find the following: “Marchebagyduce, an Indian word, meaning no good cove.” Mr. Eaton, in his Annals of Warren, page 20, note, also says Bagaduce is an Indian name, signifying “bad harbor.” A tradition exists that it expresses the idea of great sorrow or trouble, because, at a remote period, the upsetting of a canoe in the swift current of the river, which flows above the peninsula, caused great loss of life, and consequent sorrow or trouble. Whatever may be the correct orthography of the word, no other conclusion than that it is of Indian derivation can be drawn. In support of which I can cite nothing more pertinent that the following extracts from a letter written relative to the matter, by the venerable Jacob M’Gaw, Esq., of Bangor, one of the founders of our Society, addressed to Hon. William Willis, under date of Aug. 5th, 1857.
“In my conversation with old Indians, I have learned from them that the word Majebiguyduce (first syllable pronounced as in our word majesty) is purely Indian, and is descriptive of the river which flows in front of the beautiful town of Castine. All old Indians united in defining Majebigaduce as being ‘a river having many large coves or bays.’ One intelligent Indian says that it expresses or includes the idea of the bar or ledge that crosses the river about two or three miles above the village of Castine, and just below two large bays at the head of the river, called Northern Bay and Southern Bay. This ledge resembles a low dam, over which the tide water falls, after about half tide, so as to render the navigation by large vessels or boats difficult, until the obstruction made by the dam or ledge is overcome. As the orthography of the word Major-biguyduce or Maje-bigaduce is altogether arbitrary, I have only attempted to spell it as nearly in accordance with the sound received as I can.”
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From a map traced and colored, in 1872, by Samuel T. Noyes, of J. F. W. DesBarres map, first published for the British Admiralty by Act of Parliament, April 24, 1776. Wilson Museum Archives.
The beauty and prominence of its situation, added to the security and extent of its harbor, attracted the attention of the first voyagers who sailed along our coast, and under the name of Pentagoet, it was a well known place of resort to the French fishermen, long before any settlement had been effected north of Virginia. Champlain, who in 1604 entered Penobscot Bay, and who may be regarded as the first known white man who looked upon its spacious harbors and verdant islands, gives a conspicuous designation to Pentagoet on the map which accompanies the account of his voyages, and the same place is mention by Captain John Smith, who visited it twelve years afterwards, as the principal habitation he saw to the northward. According to Bancroft, the first intelligible sounds of welcome which greeted the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, were from an Indian who had learned a little English of the fisherman at Penobscot.
The Plymouth Company established a trading house at Penobscot in 1630, where they carried on an extensive traffic with the natives, for five years, when D’Aulney, a subordinate commander under Razillai, the governor of Acadie, took possession of the country by virtue of a commission from the king of France. Four years previous, the French had obtained entrance into this trading house, by means of stratagem, and robbed it of goods to the value of five hundred pounds. An attempt was made by the Plymouth men to displant the French, and regain their possession, but it failed through the incapacity of the director of the expedition which was dispatched for that purpose. D’Aulney erected a fort, and made Penobscot his fixed place of residence. After the death of Razillai, he became involved in hostilities with La Tour, who had established himself at the mouth of the river St. John, and who claimed that the government of Acadie had been rightfully delegated to him. The bloody contentions of these rivals continued for many years to disturb the tranquillity of the English settlements, and form one of the most romantic passages in the history of the new world. D’Aulnay retained the control of Acadie until 1654, when it was conquered by the English. Col. Temple, the first English governor, resided at Penobscot after the French had left, and carried on a trade there. By the treaty of Breda, in 1667, it was restored to its former owners, and was by them retained for nearly a century.
BARON DE ST. CASTIN.
Imagery of the Baron de St. Castin by artist Will H. Lowe, 1881. Wilson Museum Archives.
Although Penobscot is associated with the names of many of the most prominent adventurers who appear in our early history, that of Vincent de St. Castin is the most distinguished. He had been an officer in the body guard of the king of France, and was a man of wealth and distinction. Born near the Pyrenees, and accustomed to their wild and rugged scenery, the primeval forests of Acadie accorded well with his eccentric disposition, and soon after arriving at Quebec, in 1665, the regiment of which he was the commander having been disbanded, he selected the pine clad peninsula of Biguatus as his place of residence. On the same spot which had previously been occupied by D’Aunlnay and by Temple, he erected a fortified habitation, and for over a quarter of a century carried on an extensive and profitable trade; receiving supplies of merchandise from France, and exchanging them with the Indians for furs. La Hontan estimated his profits to have been two or three hundred crowns, and Castin himself informed M. Tibierge, in 1695, that eighty thousand livres could be annually realized at Penobscot out of the beaver trade. A census of Acadie, taken in 1673, enumerates thirty-one white persons, including soldiers, who were connected, with Castin’s establishment. He formed a close alliance with the savages, by marrying the daughter of Madockawando, their chief, and his influence over them was so great that they regarded him as their tutelar god. Within his habitation was a chapel, decorated with the emblems of the Catholic church, and attended by several priests, whose solemn rites and unintelligible ceremonies have never failed to impress a barbarous people. To the exertions of Castin may be traced the origin of Catholicism among the Tarratines.
The extent of dominion and the wealth which Castin acquired rendered him to the French a powerful ally, no less than to the English a formidable adversary. A zealous bigot in religion, he was the frequent instigator of hostilities towards the Protestants, and on repeated occasions he took command of the Indians aided by reinforcements of French troops, in expeditions against the New England settlements. In several instances, however, the English were the aggressors. King William’s war, by some writers called Castin’s war, which was carried on between Massachusetts and the eastern tribes from 1688 to 1697, originated in the unprovoked robbery of Castin by the English. In June, 1688, Sir Edmund Andros, Governor of Massachusetts, without a reasonable pretext, and influenced only by a desire of enlarging his power and of increasing his wealth, proceeded to Penobscot in the frigate Rose. Entering the harbor, he anchored before Castin’s door, and sent his lieutenant on shore to request an interview. The Baron, suspecting that it was designed to make him prisoner, immediately retired with his company from the peninsula, and the Governor on landing found the house deserted. All the arms and ammunition which the fort contained, together with a quantity of merchandise and furniture, he placed on board the Rose, and carried to Pemaquid, “in condemnation of trading at Penobscot,” The altar, pictures, and ornaments of the chapel were left undisturbed. Andros afterwards sent word to Castin that every article seized should be restored, if he would render allegiance to the English. But the base act so exasperated him that he refused to reply, and used his exertions to excite the Indians to hostilities, which they commenced the following August. During the war, the English burned all habitations on the peninsula, obliging Castin and his servants “to hide their merchandise far in the woods, so as to have it secure from plunder.”
In 1703, while Castine was in France, the English again visited his fort, which he had rebuilt, and plundered it of all its most valuable articles. The next year, Major Church, in his fifth eastern expedition, killed or took captive, all the inhabitants at Penobscot, both French and Indians. “not knowing,” as he says, “that any one did escape.” Among the prisoners was Castin’s daughter, who said her father had gone to reside on his estate in France. Church also carried away all the valuables which could be found.
Castin went to France in 1701, and probably never returned to this country. His son by his Indian wife continued to reside at Penobscot, and for many years occupied an influential position among the savages. In the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are letters relative to Indian affairs, written as late as 1754, by Joseph Dabadis de St. Castin, who was probably a grandson of the Baron. Nothing is known of any of the family after that time. Some of them undoubtedly remained at Penobscot until the commencement of the French war. Gov. Pownall of Massachusetts, in 1759, took formal possession of the peninsula in the name of the King, and hoisted the English flag on Castin’s fort. He found the settlement deserted and in ruins.
It would be foreign to the object of the present article, to give any extended account of the history of Penobscot. It is sufficient to have traced the outlines of the principal events which occurred while it was under the control, and in the possession of the French, and especially during the residence of the Castins.
The mention of the discovery of a large and valuable collection of ancient coins in the immediate vicinity of Biguatus, is calculated to awaken all the interesting historical associations which for a period of nearly two centuries are connected with that locality, while the absence of even any traditionary evidence of such a deposit or concealment affords an opportunity for varied conjecture. It is proposed to give an account of this treasure trove, and of the means by which it was brought to light, and to make some suggestions as to the cause of its long inhumation.
It was not on the peninsula that these coins were found, nor within the limits of the town of Castine, but on the banks or shore of the Bagaduce river, about six miles from the site of Castin’s fort, in the town of Penobscot. This river, at its mouth, forms the harbor of Castine, and is navigable for small vessels for several miles above the village. At about six miles above, is a point called “Johnson’s Narrows,” or “Second Narrows,” where the water is of great depth, and at certain periods of the tide forms a rapid current. A path leads across the point, and from the adaptation of the shore as a landing place, it is probable that the usual passage from Biguatus to Mt. Desert, was up this river as far as the narrows. Near the narrows the coins were discovered.
Earthworks of the Chateau, St. Castin, France, taken of Dr. J. Howard Wilson, 1902. Wilson Museum Archives.
The first indication of the hidden coins was perceived at the close of one of the last days in November, 1840, by Captain Stephen Grindle, on the farm he owned and occupied at the Second Narrows, before described. While engaged with his son, Samuel Grindle, in hauling wood down the bank to the shore, the latter picked up a piece of money near a rock which was partially buried in the ground. The rock was on a side hill, and when uncovered, presented an irregular surface of about four square feet. Its situation was some twenty-five yards from the shore, and in the direct line of a beaten track through the bushes which has been used as a path across the point for a time beyond the remembrance of the oldest inhabitants. At termination of this path on the shore, is an indentation or landing place, well adapted for canoes, and the natural features and facilities of the spot are confirmatory of a tradition that one of the Indian routes from the peninsula to Mount Desert and Frenchman’s Bay was up the Bagaduce river, and from thence across to Bluehill Bay. The land was very rocky, and covered with a second growth of trees; the original growth having been cut about seventy-five years. At the time the coins were found, Capt. Grindle, together with his father-in-law, Mr. Johnson, had resided on the farm for over sixty years. Portions of the top of the rock were embedded in the soil to the depth of a foot, and a clump of alders grew around. The appearance of the place is not now the same as when the discovery was made. Repeated digging has laid the rock bare to the depth of several feet, and the side hill has washed away.
The Old Well, St. Castin, France, taken in 1902. Wilson Museum Archives.
Upon finding the first coin, which proved to be a French crown, Capt. Grindle and his son commenced digging away the earth around the rock, and by the time it was dark, had possessed themselves of eighteen or twenty additional pieces. They then abandoned the search, intending to renew it on the following day. That night a severe snow storm occurred, which covered the ground, and rendered further investigations during the winter impracticable. Early in the spring they resumed the examination. On the top of the rock, embedded in the mass, one or two coins were found, and upon striking a crowbar into the declivity, and grubbing up the alders, they came upon a large deposit, numbering some four or five hundred pieces of the currency of France, Spain, Spanish America, Portugal, Holland, England, and Massachusetts. Mr. Grindle’s wife held her apron, which her husband and son soon loaded with, as she afterwards remarked, “the best lapful she had ever carried.” The greater part of the money was found contiguous to the rock, but many pieces were afterwards exhumed ten or twelve feet distant. As several of the smaller coins appeared to be scattered down the declivity, it was probable that they were washed away by the action of the elements. No vessel or covering, or remains of any, were found in connection with the coins. Appearances indicated that the deposit was originally made at the side of, or perhaps on the rock, without any protection except a perishable one. Many of the coins retained their original brilliancy, but some were blackened and discolored by exposure to the weather. Dr. Joseph L. Stevens, of Castine, visited the spot early in April, 1841, while Capt. Grindle was still engaged in searching the ground, and several coins were dug up in his presence. An opportunity was afforded him to examine at his leisure the entire collection, before the owner had disposed of any portion, and to select the most perfect specimens of each variety which could be found. These seventeen in number, he paid for at the rate of old silver. Other gentlemen secured similar samples; but Dr. Stevens’ collection is the most complete that has been preserved. Most of the coins were paid to a creditor of Capt. Grindle, and ultimately found their way into the crucible of a silversmith. The exact amount which their fortunate discoverer realized probably exceeded five hundred dollars. No other money has ever since been discovered at Johnson’s Point, but the extent of numerous excavations in its vicinity indicate that the neighboring inhabitants believe that additional treasures are yet concealed.
. . . to be continued in the next issue.
- I think the proper spelling of the word is Matche-Biguatus. Matche means bad, — as Matchegon, the Indian name of the north-eastern end of Portland, means bad clay, and includes Clay Cove. Matche, in all the New England dialects, expresses something bad; it is from Mat, no, not. In the Narragansett, Matchit means naught, evil; and in all its combinations implies negation. What Biguatus means, I do not know.
- Champlain’s Map, Berjon’s edition.
- Coll. Mass. Hist. Soc. iii. 21, 3d series.
- Bancroft’s Hist. United States, i. 316.
- Bradford’s Hist. Plymouth Plan., Coll. Mass. Hist. Soc. iii., 4th series.
- Sullivan’s Hist. Maine, 158
- Holmes’ Am. Ann. I. 346
- La Hontan, New Voyages, i. 471
- Memoir on Acadie by M. Tibierge, Oct. 1, 1695.
- Coll. French MSS. Sec’y’s Office, Boston, ii. 253.
- Belk. Hist. N.H. 135.
- Hutch. Hist. i. 330.
- Memoir on Acadie, by M. Tibierge.
- Hist. Maine, ii. 42.
- Church’s Fifth Exp. 261.
- Copies of French MSS, in Sec’y’s office, Boston, 5. 103.
- Gov. Pownall’s Journal.
- I am indebted to Dr. Stevens for very valuable information in relation to the coins. Without his kind assistance, it would have been impossible to have prepared this article.
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