(c1740-1816) succeeded in living her life according to Wabanaki traditions and, for the most part, on ancestral land because she was savvy enough to learn how to adapt to the encroaching white settlers and their way of life without assimilating into their culture. Her strength and independent nature enabled her to make a life for herself and her children among the white settlers as an herbalist and healer.
Molly Ockett was born into the Pigwacket tribe, along the banks of the Saco River, in approximately 1740. Her parents, like many Wabanaki Indians, practiced a hybrid of traditional tribal spiritualism and Roman Catholicism. Molly was given a Wabanaki name in addition to being christened with a French name – Marie Agathe – or in English to some – Molly Agatha. The pronunciation of her name by her people made her name sound like “Molly Ockett”, which is the name people called her.
Molly’s people frequently found themselves caught between the French and the English wars. In 1744, the Pigwackets decided that they had a greater chance of survival if they placed themselves under English protection. The women and children were moved to Massachusetts and the men employed as scouts for the English. At the end of the war, all but Molly and two other young girls were allowed to return to Maine and their ancestral homeland. The young girls were detained as insurance that the Pigwackets would remain compliant with English demands. Molly spent eight months in the home of a Boston judge. She gained an understanding of how the English lived, which helped her tremendously as an adult.
Molly returned to her family and continued the migratory existence that her people had known for generations, moving inland along the Saco in the winter, and spending summers by the ocean. War erupted again, and this time her family chose to search for safety in Canada at a mission located along the St. Lawrence River named Odanak. During one raid, her entire family was slaughtered by English troops. Molly survived with only a few others. They returned to their ancestral home near what is today the town of Fryeburg.
Molly married Piel Susup (Peter Joseph) and had one daughter, who came to be known as Molly Susup. Piel died shortly after, leaving Molly to care for her young child alone. It was during these years that Molly became a fixture in the small English communities that were developing on Wabanki land. She earned money by making crafts and working as a healer.
Molly formed close relationships with some white settlers, including the family of James Swan. She followed the Swans when they moved from Fryeburg to Bethel. Molly also lived in Rumford. Above all, she was a pragmatist, who realized that her fortune and that of her children was tied to the fortunes of the whites who lived near her. They paid her for healing, traded for food and supplies and bought the crafts she made. During the American Revolution, she learned that a group of Wabanakis had plotted to harm Colonel Clarke, an American officer. She warned him in time and saved his life.
After she nearly starved to death one winter, Clarke brought Molly to live in his home in Boston. Molly was unhappy living in the city and maintained a desire to return to her Native roots. Upon her request, Clarke had a wigwam built for Molly in Rumford, stocked it with supplies and returned her to her home.
During one winter storm, Molly is believed to have received shelter from the Hamlin family in Paris, Maine. To show her gratitude, she is said to have cured their sick infant, Hannibal. He went on to become a governor of Maine and vice president of the United States during Abraham Lincoln’s first term.
There is little known about the lives of the children of Molly Ockett, but Molly appeared to be alone during the last years of her life. When she became too old and too ill to care for herself, the town of East Andover paid Colonel Bragg to care for her. He brought her food and fuel. Molly died in 1816 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Andover at the Woodlawn Cemetery.
In 1867, a tombstone was erected on her gravesite. On it were the words, “Last of the Pigwackets.” Molly’s determination to live according to her beliefs and values in the face of a rapidly changing world earned her respect and recognition. Throughout the Maine woods that Molly once called home, one can find mountains, caves, trails, and even a modern motel that bear her name – a testament to the significance of one Native American woman who courageously and stubbornly lived her life on her own terms.
McBride, Bunny. Women of the Dawn. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999, pp. 7-37.
Newell, Catherine with illustrations by Sue Wright. Molly Ockett. Bethel, Me. Bethel Historical Society, 1981, 1991.
Noyes, Alice Daley. A Walk with Molly Ockett. Manchester, NH. A.D. Noyes. 1997.
Stewart, Pat. Mollyockett. Rockport, MA. Twin Lights Publishers. 2003.
Contributed by Donna Olsen, Portland, Maine, 2008.