(c1665-1717) was named Pidianiske at birth by her parents who were Wabanaki Indians, which translates to “People Of The Dawn,” because they believed that the sun’s early light reaches the banks of the Penobscot River first, before it touches anywhere else. The Wabanaki lived there for hundreds of years. The life of Molly Mathilde is an amazing story.
From the days of Pidianiske’s grandmother, European merchants were trading furs with the Wabanaki. In 1629 English traders built a trading post, Fort Pentagoet, on the peninsula of Penobscot Bay, which flowed into the Gulf of Maine. The peninsula was an important piece of land, because it allowed the portage needed to conduct trade with the Indians. The French and the English fought each other over it, each hoping to claim the fort, and all the benefits that went with it. The continuing battles for the fort, coupled with the long hard winters, prevented white settlers from colonizing there. In 1670, the English lost to the French, who took possession of the fort. The English would return to challenge them another day.
In 1665, thirteen-year-old Jean Vincent, second son to the French Baron of St. Castin, was given orders by his King Louis XIV, to accompany his regiment to Canada. The Iroquois Indians were wreaking havoc on the French Crown’s holdings. Therefore, Jean Vincent and his regiment were sent to Quebec to protect the French colonists from being raided by the Iroquois Indians. The King had sent his people to settle in the New World so that France would gain lands through occupancy, and the Iroquois were a direct threat to his plan.
Jean Vincent was the perfect choice for this assignment. Being of noble birth, Jean had been given the luxury of proper schooling, including officer’s school. He became an excellent marksman. In the next twenty-four months, Jean and his regiment conquered the Iroquois. After the battles Jean met Pidianiske’s father, Madockawando, chief of the Wabanaki. The chief valued and appreciated the eradication of his enemy, the Iroquois. Jean was equally intrigued by the chief and together they traveled to Penobscot Bay.
Jean was content and satisfied with protecting the fort for his King, especially if it meant putting distance between himself and the Crown’s politics. The Wabanaki people admired Jean’s hunting and battle skills, and the bond between them deepened. Jean also became friends with five-year-old Pidianske. She converted to Catholicism and was eventually baptized and given the name, Molly Mathilde. The Christian ceremony pleased her father Madockawando, because he believed it to be a solid connection with the white man.
As time went by, the English raids on Indian camps drove Madockawando to offer his daughter, Pidianske, to wed Jean. At first Molly objected to the marriage; however she eventually conceded. Together they had five children between 1684 and 1692. Jean sent their children to the French schools in Quebec. Although formal education from the French would ensure a more secure future for them, it broke Molly’s heart to see them go. Meanwhile, the battles between the French and English increased and threatened the very existence of Indian life.
In 1701 she received word that their nine-year-old son had died at school. Molly grieved greatly for her son. She struggled between two worlds, the native Indian and the white. She had married for the security of her people and had accepted the ways of the white man. Now, she wondered if her dead son was in the Hunting Ground or in the Christian heaven.
In 1701, the French government accused Jean of treason because he had not prevented the Indians from trading with the English. Jean said goodbye to Molly and sailed for France. The three youngest children remained at home, while Bernard Anslem, the eldest, remained at school in Quebec.
Six years later Molly received word from her son Bernard that her husband Jean had died of sickness at the age of fifty-five. He had been acquitted of treason but stayed in France to regain his inheritance. Upon the death of his older brother, he had claim to the St. Castin title and property, but his sister and brother-in-law, however, intended to keep St. Castin for themselves. Jean won his legal battle and became the Baron of St. Castin just before his death.
In 1713 the French Crown surrendered Fort Penobscot to the English. Bernard sailed to France and was successful in securing the St. Castin castle for his family. All that his father died fighting so hard for was not lost. Molly lived out the remainder of her days probably with her daughter’s family, in the north woods of Maine. Eventually, over time, the lineage of Molly Mathilde’s family was lost in history. It is known that after Bernard Anslem died in France in 1721, his daughter, who carried Molly Mathilde’s Wabanaki inheritance, was awarded the family title and the St. Castin estate. In Maine, the town of Castine on the tip of the peninsula at the mouth of the Penobscot River bears his name.
McBride, Bunny. Women of the Dawn. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999, pp. 7-37.
See also, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Baron of St. Castine” in Tales of a Wayside Inn.
Contributed by Elizabeth Ann Donnell, Greene, Maine, 2008.