A Blupete Biography Page


Castin
(1689-1720).

His full name is Bernard-Anselme d'Abbadie de Saint-Castin (the fourth baron). Such a name conjures up in the imagination a be-wigged aristocrat; for a good part of his short life, however, Castin looked like any one of his mother's family, a wild native of the North American woods: his mother was a full blooded Penobscot, a member tribe of the Abenaki Confederacy1; indeed, she was an Indian princess, Matilda, the daughter of Madockawando (or, as the French called him, Matakando), chief of the Penobscots who died in 1698.2 In present day Maine, one will find a bay and river named after the Penobscots, it is there that they lived. Their principal village was at Pentagouet (the picturesque present day village of Castine). It was at Pentagouet that our hero was born and it was to Pentagouet to which Castin retreated when things got hot for him in his life among the white man. His father, a French officer at Acadia, was of the French aristocracy. Castin was raised by his mother amongst his cousins at Pentagouet; he also spent time with his father who "rigorously trained" him.

Castin, was educated at the Seminary at Quebec where he graduated in 1704 and thereafter sent to France; soon, he was enroled in the army and posted to Acadia. His job was to foment and lead the Indians of Acadia against the New Englanders, but this part of Castin's career was not to last long. At some point, he managed to outfit a ship and went into the same business his future brother-in-law, Morpain, the business of being a privateer. Though young, Castin learned quickly the art of a high seas bandit.

Calling on Port Royal, the only safe port for French privateers on the eastern coast, was to be a regular thing for Castin. At the age of 18, during August of 1707, we find our hero was there at Port Royal when Colonel John March made an abortive attempt to take that French outpost (see my work on this); he played an important role in its defence. When mixing it up with the English raiders in 1707, Castin suffered wounds in the field and was therefore laid up for a period of time. He took advantage of this lull in his life and married Marie Charlotte, the daughter of Louis Damour, the niece of Louise Guyon. He continued to use, as did other privateers, Port Royal as a cruising base and was in and out of Port Royal, trading his much needed English booty at that place. When Nicholson and Vetch captured Port Royal in 1710 Castin was at sea and knew nothing of the English capture (it is doubted that his presence during the 1710 attack would have made much difference in the outcome, as the British in 1710 had an overwhelming force). Port Royal capitulated in the early part of October, 1710, and on the 8th (English date) had taken "Casteen's ketch coming from Passimaquady to Port Royal." Castin had thought he had come home to deliver booty and to winter down with his family, however, much to the joy of the English, Castin and his pirate ship fell into English hands.3

The English determined to send a letter to Quebec, to be borne by an officer, John Livingston. In order to assure the English officer's safety enroute -- two month's travel over territory that was hostile both on account of the winter season and on account of the Indians in between -- Castin was released to go with Livingston together "with three Indian Guides, to carry Letters" to the governor at Quebec.4 In December, Castin popped up in Quebec City, there to spend but a month. (His wife was likely sent by the British out of Port Royal; she gave birth to their first born, a girl, at Quebec in 1711.)

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Castin, apparently, never stayed long at Quebec, though it was likely home to his wife and their children. The French authorities thought Castin could best serve in Acadia keeping the pressure up on the English by leading the Indian allies against the New England interlopers. I am not sure, but Castin might have been among the Indians in 1711 when they laid an unsuccessful siege against the English at Annapolis Royal. In 1712 he was appointed as an lieutenant in the French forces. (During 1712-13 he must have spent more time at Quebec, as a second child was born to his wife, Marie Charlotte, there at Quebec.) The Treaty of Utrecht obliged him to retire and he spent the winter of 1713-14 among his Indian family at the falls on the Penobscot River.

In the spring his Indian friends wanted to keep up their raids against the western frontier of New England, but Castin, true to his obligations as a French officer, refused to lead them and "the baron withdrew alone to the Saint John River." He determined to go to France.

Castin's father, one of the nobility, had died in France, in 1707. Castin determined to claim his rights to the family estate. Castin left Acadia for France in 1714. Marie Charlotte, his wife went with him; it is likely, however, that their two young children were left with the Ursulines at Quebec City. (Another child was born to them at Pau, France, 1716.)

Castin never returned to North America. He was caught up in litigation with his uncle which was hardly at an end, when, in 1720, at the age of 31, Castin died. Maybe he suffered from complications arising as a result of old battle wounds, I do not know; but it is likely that Castin much preferred his life, defying death in the wilds of North America as a privateer and an Indian fighter, then his life fighting for his nobility rights in the courts of France. Marie Charlotte and the children eventually did get something out of the Saint-Castin estate; she died at Pau, France, in 1734.

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FOOTNOTES:


[1] Parkman, in Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV, observes, at p. 387, that the name Abenaki is generic and includes the tribes from the Kennebec eastward to the St John. All the tribes in the Abenaki Confederacy spoke dialects of Algonquin, except for the Micmac (known as the Souriquois to the French) who spoke a language, while of Algonquin origin "differs as much from the Abenaki dialects as Italian differs from French ..."

[2] Parkman, op. cit, p. 363; Hannay, p. 215.

[3] NSHS, vol. 1, p. 86. It was Captain Moses who took Castin's vessel; "in taking her we lost one Indian Saylor and two men wounded, his men ran her on shore and fled into the woods." Castin, himself, however, it would appear, was captured.

[4] See NSHS, vol. 1, p. 96. Just as well Castin went, for it is reported (DCB, vol. II, p. 437) that Livingston might have met a barbarous end at the hands of a distraught Indian if it had not been for the intervention of Castin (half Indian himself). The letter is set forth in NSHS (vol. 1, p. 98-9) and it shows that the English were keen on letting the French at Quebec know that they now had French prisoners and were open to trading them for English prisoners being held in Quebec, and, in particular, Rev. Williams and his daughter who had been captured when the French and Indians carried out their murderous raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, in 1704.

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Peter Landry
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