Aspenquid. An Abnaki of Agamenticus, Maine, forming a curious figure in New England tradition. He is said to have been born toward the end of the 16th century and converted to Christianity, to have preached it to the Indians, traveled much, and died among his own people at the age of about 100 years. Up to 1775-76 Aspenquid’s day was celebrated in Halifax, Nova Scotia, by a clam dinner. He is said to be buried on the slope of Mt. Agamenticus, where he is reported to have appeared in 1682. He is thought by some to be identical with Passaconaway. In Drake’s New England Legends there is a poem, “St. Aspenquid,” by John Albee. 1 2
Mount Agamenticus, the locality of the following legend, is the commanding landmark for sixty miles up and down the neighboring coast. The name has the true martial ring in it. This mountain rears its giant back on the border of Maine, almost at the edge of the sea, into which, indeed, it seems advancing. Its form is at once graceful, robust, and imposing. Nature posted it here. It gives a character to the whole region that surrounds it, over which it stands guard. Nature endowed it with a purpose. It meets the mariner’s eye far out to sea, and tells him how to steer safely into his destined port.
In his Pictures from Appledore, the poet Lowell makes this reference to the sailor’s mountain :—
He glowers there to the north of us
Wrapt in his mantle of blue haze,
Unconvertibly savage, and scorns to take
The white man’s baptism on his ways.
Him first on shore the coaster divines
Through the early gray, and sees him shake
The morning mist from his scalp-lock of pines:
Him first the skipper makes out in the west,
Ere the earliest sunstreak shoots tremulous,
Plashing with orange the palpitant lines
Of mutable billow, crest after crest,
And murmurs Agamaticus!
As if it were the name of a saint.
The name is in fact a legacy of the Indians who dwelt at its foot, and who always invested the mountain with a sacred character. From this circumstance comes the Indian legend of Saint Aspeuquid, whom some writers have identified with the patriarch Passaconaway, the hero of so many wonderful exploits in healing and in necromancy.
According to the little we are able to recover concerning him, Saint Aspenquid was born in 1588, and was nearly one hundred years old when he died. He was converted to Christianity — possibly by the French Jesuits — and baptized by this name when he was about forty years old ; and he at once set about his long and active ministration among the people of his own race, to whom he became a tutelary saint and prophet. For forty years he is said to have wandered from east to west and from north to south, preaching the gospel to sixty-six different nations, healing the sick, and performing those miracles which raised him in the estimation of his own people to the character of a prophet appointed by Heaven, and in that of the whites to a being endowed with supernatural powers. These wanderings had carried him from the shores of the Atlantic to the Californian Sea. Grown venerable in his good work, warned that he must soon be gathered to his fathers, the saint at last came home to die among his own people. Having called all the sachems of the different tribes together to attend his solemn funeral obsequies, they carried the body of their patriarch to the summit of Mount Agamenticus. Previous to performing the rite of sepulture, and agreeable to the custom held sacred by these people, the hunters of each tribe spread themselves throughout the forests. A great number of wild beasts were slaughtered as a sacrifice to the manes of the departed saint. Tradition affirms that on that day were slain and offered up between six and seven thousand wild animals, — from the bear, the buffalo, and the moose, down to the porcupine, the woodchuck, and the weasel. 3
Aspenquid (Vol. ii, pp. 249, etc.)
I have a recollection of reading in the Springfield Republican, many years ago, an account of the burial of St. Aspenquid. If my memory serves me, that account stated that though Aspenquid was never canonized, he was recognized as a saint by the Franciscans. 4
St. Aspenquid. There is a legend which would identify an Indian apostle of Christianity, called St. Aspenquid, with Passaconaway, grand sachem of the Penacooks. That Indian, in May, 1688, died, and was buried on Mt. Agamenticus, in Maine. His funeral was held there with much grotesque observance, and with the attendance of many sachems and warriors of various tribes. The legendary confusion of Paasaconaway with St. Aspenquid has historical significance, as tending to show what the Penacook confederacy included in its eastward extension, and how widely prevalent was the authority and reverent estimation in which the great Penacook sachem was held. 5 [See: New Hampshire Historical Society Collections, Vol. III; also Thatcher’s Indian Biography, Vol. I, 322-3; also Albee’s New Castle, 62.]
The most ancient city in New England is Agamenticus. or, as it was afterward called, Old York. It was founded or built in or about 1640 under patent from King Charles II to Ferdinando Gorges, and was named after Mount Agamenticus.
According to Indian legend the basis of this mount was formed by a hecatomb of wild-beast skins, weapons, and implements raised over the remains of a good Indian called Saint Aspenquid, who taught his fellow-men how to make baskets and pottery, bread and clothing, and how to cultivate corn. Another legend handed down from the red men asserts that the Isles of Shoals were connected with the mainland at Boar’s Head. One day long ago there was a great noise and the bottom of the land fell out, the sea came in and covered the earth between the islands and the Head. It may be that at this time Mt. Agamenticus was formed.
It is suggested that the saint whom the natives honored might have been Bjorn Asbrandson, of Icelandic fame, who is reported to have left Iceland on a voyage of discovery about 998. and was seen in Vinland about 1028, by Gudleif, who was driven on these shores by an east wind, and returned to Iceland the same year. He was not much of a saint in his native land, but may have repented, as Gudleif represents him in 1028 to be “old and gray headed,” adding “that the natives treated him with the greatest deference and honor.” (Andrew K. Ober, in Portland Transcript.) 6
- Hodge, Handbook of American Indians, 101, 1905.
- See: American Notes and Queries, II, 1889.
- Drake, New England Legends and Folk-Lore, 359-360, 1901.
- Walsh, American Notes and Queries, Vol. 5, 47, 1890.
- Concord NH, History of Concord, New Hampshire, 91, 1896.
- Walsh, A Handy Book of Curious Information, 232, 1913.