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Old 11-20-2018
EVERS EVERS is offline
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The characteristics of the Indians of Acadia, whether Micmacs or Maliseets, were in the main identical; usually they were closely allied and not infrequently intermarried Their manners and habits have been described with much fidelity by Champlain, Lescarbot, Denys and other early explorers. Equally accurate and interesting is the graphic description of the savages contained in the narrative of the Jesuit missionary Pierre Biard, who came to America in 1611 and during his sojourn visited the St. John River and places adjacent making Port Royal his headquarters. His narrative, “A Relation of New France, of its Lands, Nature of the Country and of its Inhabitants,” was printed at Lyons in 1616. A few extracts, taken from the splendid edition of the Jesuit Relations recently published at Cleveland, will suffice to show that Pierre Biard was not only an intelligent observer but that he handled the pen of a ready writer. “I have said before,” he observes, “that the whole country is simply an interminable forest; for there are no open spaces except upon the margins of the sea, lakes and rivers. In several places we found the grapes and wild vines which ripened in their season. It was not always the best ground where found them, being full of sand and gravel like that of Bourdeaux. There are a great many of these grapes at St. John River in 46 degrees of latitude, where also are to be seen many walnut (or butternut), and hazel trees.”

This quotation will show how exact and conscientious the old French missionary was in his narration. Beamish Murdoch in Ibis History of Nova Scotia (Vol. 1, p. 21) ventures the observation, “It may perhaps be doubted if the French account about grapes is accurate, as they mention them to have been growing on the banks of the Saint John where, if wild grapes exist, they must be rare.” But Biard is right and Murdoch is wrong. Wild grapes naturally grow in great abundance on the islands and intervals of the River St. John and, in spite of the interference of the farmers, are still to be found as far north at least in Woodstock. Biard visited the St. John River in October, 1611, and stayed a day or two at a small trading post on an island near Oak Point. One of the islands in that vicinity the early English settlers afterwards called “Isle of Vines,” from the circumstance that wild grapes grew there in great profusion.


We quote next Father Biard’s description of the Indian method of encampment: “Arrived at a certain place, the first thing they do is to build a fire and arrange their camp, which they will have finished in an hour or two; often in half an hour. The women go into the woods and bring back some poles which are stuck into the ground in a circle around the fire and at the top are interlaced in the form of a pyramid, so that they come together directly over the fire, for there is the chimney. Upon the poles they throw some skins, matting or bark. At the foot of the poles under the skins they put their baggage. All the space around the fire is strewn with soft boughs of the fire tree, so they will not feel the dampness of the ground; over these boughs are thrown some mats or seal skins as soft as velvet; upon these they stretch themselves around the fire with their heads resting upon their baggage; and, what no one would believe, they are very warm in there around that little fire, even in the greatest rigors of the winter. They do not camp except near some good water, and in an attractive location.”
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