Visit of Major Joseph Treat to the upper St.John River valley, Fall 1820

By Gary Campbell

In the fall of 1820, Governor William King of the newly created state of Maine, commissioned Major Joseph Treat to conduct a survey of the northeast boundary of the state. He was to report on the state of the public lands. This included the type and quantity of timber along the way. If there was evidence of “trespass”, the illegal cutting of timber, occurring, he was to see if any local residents could be appointed as land agents to prevent this.

Treat received his instructions from the Governor on 11 September 1820. Accompanied by Captain Jacob Holyoke and Lieutenant Governor John Neptune (the Penobscot guide), set out on his mission from Old Town, Maine on 26 September.

His route took him up the Penobscot and Allagash Rivers to the St. John River, which he descended to the Eel River at Meductic. He followed the portage route back to the Penobscot River and Old Town where he arrived on 20 November 1820. En route, he went up a portion of the Aroostook River and visited Houlton, Maine.

At 11 A.M. on Sunday, 21 October, he arrived at the junction of the Allagash and the St. John Rivers. They began their descent of the St. John River until they reached the first settlement where this extract from transcription of the journal begins (pages 167 - 195, from Micah A. Pawling, ed. Wabanaki Homeland and the New State of Maine: The 1820 Journal and Plans of Survey of Joseph Treat. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.)

“…From this Stream [St. Francis] down there is fine deep hard wood intervale wide pleasant river Banks rising gently – high ridges back – we went 5 miles below the stream and landed at 7 o’clock P.M. at Mr. John Hartford’s the second house on the North side of the river – having come this day 28 miles – and the last 5 from Picheeneegon or St. Francis River after sun set – We remain at Mr. Harford’s this night and are treated very politely by Mr. Hartford and his wife – We here met with a Capt. Churchill and his son [Nathaniel Churchill d. 18 December 1820 age 72 and son, Nathaniel Jr.?] who follow getting timber &c. on the River in this vicinity – we also meet with Mr. Hartford’s son who lives next above him.

Mr. Hartford informs me that he raised from 1½ bushels spring wheat 34 Bushels of excellent sound wheat and that from 11 bushels of Potatoes he raised 200 of excellent quality – this land produces Barley, Oats and Peas a good yield – very large Turnips – good Pumpkins – and corn ripened here this season which was planted as late as the 12th June.

Mr. Hartford informs me that vegetation did not suffer this season on account of drought – there was however frequent showers – that both the upland and intervale is of a moist and also a light quality which stands a dry season – he sowed three pecks Barley – over which a fire run late in June which destroyed half of it he having cleared it in May and June – he raised 15 Bushels – he sowed flax seed on 25 May, it produced 37½ feet high.

Mr. Hartford went first to Madawaska in 1818 – came to this place last November and in July he received a summons on a writ of ejectment issued at Frederiction by Mr. Whitmore the King’s Agent – which suit he attended – and sent a petition to the Governor to quiet him in his possession – and the affair rests here.

The British Government give permits to their subjects to cut pine timber any where up the St. Johns, Aroostick and Madawaska. These men take American’s for partners and cut timber all over the Country, as high up the St. John as Mr. Hartford’s – and some above.

Monday morning 22d. very cold and foggy.
I went this morning about ½ mile back from the River on fine high intervale which Mr. H. tells me here extends back ¾ mile – the soil is light brown and very deep 3 to 4 feet on the banks – the growth rock maple, yellow birch, el, &c. mixed with pine and fir.

Monday morning 22d October - fine fair weather at 8 a.m. We embark and proceed down River, which is wide and a gentle current – good hard wood intervale – Hard wood and mixed ridges back from the River – Beautiful Island – good soil excellent pine of both sides between the intervals and high lands – On the South side River opposite a large Round Island is great plenty of Iron ore to be seen on the shore.

Two miles below the Island, Fish River, a long and large stream come in from the South East – has a number of large Lakes.

From Fish River down there is some good intervale on each side but narrow and the hills are near the River.

Five miles below fish River is a large Stream – on a point near it lives Mr. Nathan Baker – her has been here two years – made a clearing 5 acres – raised 400 bushels of potatoes on 1¼ acre ground new cleared. [the accompanying maps do not show any houses between Hartford’s and Baker’s]

From Mr. Baker’s there are many settlers on each side [of] the River – here the River is wide and some very fine Islands one of which is ¾ mile long and is improved as a farm by a Frenchman – Deep intervale on each side – fine mixed and hard wood ridges on each side of the River – the soil at every place we have landed below the forks is excellent.

Some narrows and rapids in the River by not falls to make any portage – At 2 P.M. one mile below Baker’s it commenced raining and continued the afternoon – I now make my Journal on Birch Bark.

The River from Baker’s down to the last house in the upper settlement is wide pleasant gravely shores – wide intervale, fine ridges back and resembles Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Marrietta.

The Settlement of French Madawaskians from Baker’s down River extends about 5 miles – very excellent intervale on each side – fine ridges back – River wide and pleasant – some excellent Island – on some of which there are good farms well cultivated – from the upper settlement we pass down 5 miles unsettled – River narrows to 40 or 50 rods, the highland near the river not much intervale – growth on shores pine, spruce and fir.

The rain continues – at 5 P.M. at the confluence of Ma,da,wes,ka [phonetic spelling of the Maliseet name for the river] and St. John, being dark cannot plan any farther – go down 2 miles to Monsieur Simobear’s [Simon Hebert] where we arrive at ½ past 5 P.M. where we stay this night – and after getting supper, I make up my survey and journal from the upper Madaweska settlement down to Madaweska River – at 12 at night having finished I retire very sick with a cold, head ache and fever. [the accompanying map indicates Simon Hebert has a mill(s) where the stream by his house enters the St. John River. The type of mill(s) cannot be made out from the writing]

Tuesday 23d. October 1820 – Cloudy, foggy and cold wind N.W.
At 8 P.M. [actually A.M.] we go up River to the mouth at Madawaska, where we arrive at half past nine – go up the stream to the falls which are 40 rods from the mouth – there the stream is not more than 8 rods wide – a ledge across the river – high banks on each side – and excellent fall for mills – no falls from this up to the Lake – plenty of timber near the River.

Made a survey of the River to Mons. Simobear’s where we arrive at noon – rained from 9 to 12 – We dine at Mons. Simobear’s – at 1 P.M. rains fast.

Having got short of bread we this morning agree with Mons. Simobeat to furnish some which is to be ready at 2 P.M. We wait for it.

The rain continues all the afternoon and we are compelled to remain here – and in the mean time I get the following information from Mon. Simobear, viz:

The most present inhabitants of Madawaska, at the commencement of the Revolution, had settled at S. Ann’s on what is now called Frederick Town and below on the St. John, and after peace took place some British Agent represented to the Governor of the Province that the French settlers had taken up a fine tract of land at an important place for the British Government to establish a Port The Governor issued orders to give those settlers each two hundred feet of land in front running back 1 mile – if they would relinguish the remainder – The Frenchmen all removed from St. Ann’s – some went to Canada some to Madawaska in 1783 or 84 those Emigrants spring the race of Madawaskans – since which time many have moved her from Canada.

There are now from 30 to 40 families on the St. John above Madawesak – At Madaweska and below to the church 50 to 60 families – from thence down to Grand Falls there are as many as 50 to sixty – making in the whole one hundred and fifty families and each family may be reckoned at 6 to 8 persons.

From Madaweska to Mons. Simobear’s is 2 miles the River ¼ to ½ mile wide 2 large Island – the intervale on each side is wide – and on Simobear’s land is from 160 to 200 rods excellent soil – the lower part overflows in freshes – the river here runs about South East – the first bank from the River rises about 15 feet – the second about 10 feet and in many places as in Ohio there are three slopes or banks from the River to the highland – the soil on all these is of an excellent quality as is the highlands in the rear – the soil on the hills or ridges is of a light sandy loam very few rocks on the hills and one on the low lands.

The Madaweskians raise good wheat, rye, oats, barley and peas and excellent potatoes – the land produces excellent grass – they keep may cows and oxen of a small hardy breed – very fat also and small Canadian or Pony horses – which are very serviceable – a small proportion of their cleared land is tilled compared with the quantity of grass or meadow land.

The Madaweskian Houses are built generally with small hewn timber, one or 1½ stories high covered with long shingles on the roof – contain one room and two small apartments – and some two rooms on the floor – some of their houses are built with round logs – and covered with straw or thatched – their Barns are 20-25 feet wide and 30 to 40 long made of round logs, the roof covered with straw – they have no bricks – their chimneys made of stone laid in clay mortar – topped with (sticks or) cat and clay.

Mons. Simobear has one framed house the sides covered with sawed wide clapboards, the roof shingled with those of the common kind – has two front rooms and 3 small bed rooms in the rear – the outside painted yellow – the inside circles with boards and painted – with 3 good glass windows in each front room with a large stove in each room.

He has another house near it, in which his son lives – made of small hewn and square timber – very neat and comfortable – this is 1½ stories high – 2 large rooms below, and chambers over these rooms well glazed and finished – the roof covered with ordinary shingles.

Mons. Simobear owns 1,000 acres of land fronting on the West side of the River – on which is much fine intervale – He keeps a store and trades with the Inhabitants and the Indians – Goods here are very high owing to the great distance to transport them from St. John or Frederick town or Quebeck.

Mons. Simobear is rich and a man of some consequence among the Madaweskians – he speaks very good english – keeps a house of entertainment – is very communicative and civil to his guests.

This Mons. Simon Obear and Mons. Bellflour are merchants and keep tavern – there is a Mons. Capt. Du Parry formerly a merchant, now officiates as a Justice of the Peace under the King – these are the principal men at Madaweska – Mons. Fearmies Tibbeds is also a merchant.

Note: The St. John Indians hold under a grant from the King of England a tract of land beginning 1 mile below Madaweska River running 4 miles up St. John, making 6 miles on that River, thence northerly up the Madawaska about 2 miles making about ½ township. Their town and head quarters for hunting is at and a little below Madawaska – This tribe consists of a out one thousand to 1500 souls – and perhaps 300 fighting men – there are a very few of them here now – some hunting up the rivers – some below, and at Fredericton – some of these cultivate their land keep cows and horses – they appear to be very civil and good Indians and are more industrious than the Penobscot Indians – Many of them speak very good English and are very intelligent – their principal town is 20 miles below Maductuk where they have a church – good houses and farms – some keep horses.

Wednesday 24 October 1820 – fine morning.
We pay Mons. Simobear for expenses and stores - $8.45
pay for 3 loaves of bread - .90
At 8 we embark and proceed down river.

Upon this page appears to have been a drawing with a pencil, but is so far obliterated as not to admit of being copied.

View of Madawaska, from Mons. Oberts [Hebert]

The English are making a road from Madawaska point to the head of the Lake 40 miles on American territory.

From Simon Herbert’s or Obear’s 2 miles to the church, which is on the N. side the River, it is 40 by 50 with a large apartment at the E. end for a vestry – has 4 large long windows on each side well glazed – painted yellow and is good looking building – near this is a large one story house painted white for the priest – a very neat building. – From Madawaska River down to the church and 1 mile below the intervale on the first bank is very wide – then below there is a little low intervale for one mile, but the second bank or high intervale extends back some way on each side – 1 ½ mile below the church on S. side in a steep bank is plenty of Iron ore which appears of good quality – The intervale and highland looks well – many good farms – and good houses made of hewn timber – some very bood Barns made of hewn timber. – One mile below the ore banks on S. side there is plenty on the N. side in a high bank – or 2d Bank 20 to 30 feet high – the first bank or low intervale is from 10 to 15 feet above the water now, but is mostly covered in high freshes as Mons. Obear informs me.

From the Church down to the lower settlements next above Grand River the Intervale is wide – good farms – thence to about two miles no intervale – the growth on banks, spruce, fir and mixed.

Green River is a considerable stream – fine land – good pine and mill seats [sites].

Siaugass is a small stream – 2 miles below comes in from the East – Grand river – is a still water River of great length no falls for mills – but excellent land – and much pine timber – the old line passes this stream 30 or 40 miles up – there is a ridge of mountains or high land which commences below this River and extend up North Easterly a long way – Land to be fine land between this ridge and the stream – We landed at Mons. Francis Valettes who lives ½ mile above Grand River – he keeps a Tavern – owns a number of Islands above his farm, which lies on the N. side River. – We left his house at 4 P.M. intending to go 3 miles further down and stop at a house on the N. side – called there found nobody at home – went down river about 3 miles further, making 6 miles from Grand River, and at 6 P.M seeing a house on the N. side, which is the last house above the Grand Falls, and the weather extremely cold and a storm coming on we land at this House – Where we stay this night with Messrs John Willet and Carrie Willett, brothers who began their farm 2 years ago – they have 8 of 10 acres cleared – have a comfortable house – keep some cattle – are not married – they informed me they raised this year 15 bushels good wheat from 1 bushel sowing – their usual crop is 20 bushels from one – potatoes produce 40 bushels from one. They say from three miles below Grand River to their place is not good back from the River – growth generally spruce and mixed – the intervale narrow.

At 8 P.M it commenced snowing wind N.E. and continued during the night. – And at 6 A.M.

Thursday morning 25 October, Snow had fallen 6 inches deep, and continued snowing – at 8 A.M. embarked and proceeded down River – it continues snowing, cold, squally. –

River banks high, low intervale, narrow, - mixed and spruce land. –

The intervale continues narrow – the high land approaches the River – growth mixed and spruce.

Five miles below Messr. Willets we saw a line running N & South on the S. West side the River – we landed and went up a steep spruce hill and find much spotting 2 or 3 yr. Old – We also see the spotting on the N.E. side bearing North 15 degrees East from us – running N.15. E. up a Birch Hill – suppose this to be the Boundary Line between the U.S. and New-Brunswick. [spotting refers to survey marks made on the trees]

From this down to the Grand Falls is 3 to 4 miles. Banks high – River 40 to 50 rod wide and very deep – growth on each side pine, spruce and fir – no intervale – the high hard hills appear at a distance very high –

11 O’clock a,m. Snow and squally.

[pages 197-199]
We arrived at the Grand Portage at 11 A.M. and while the men are carrying the Canoes across the Portage, I take a survey of the upper part of the Grand Falls.

From the Portage Landing which is on the S.W. side, the River narrows and turns to the north – and 80 rods below the Portage on the N.E. side comes in a considerable stream from the N.E. called Po,gop,skee,hock. – about 8 to 16 rods below this is the first pitch of the Grand Falls – which fall 30 feet nearly perpendicular over a Slate Stone Ledge running across the River in a half circle in shape of a horse shoe – the water through this fall is compressed below into the narrow space of 4 rods, which width it continues down ½ mile passing a crooked channel from the projecting cliffs on eac side foaming and falling rapidly all the way. – here the trees and timber are ground into small pieces by the fall and sharp crags of the rocks – there is much timber and flood wood in pieces floating in the eddies of the fall where they have remained until worn out and carved into all shapes.

On the hill over which the Portage Road passes 80 rods from the River opposite the falls the English keep a military Post – They have four or five Barracks and a store house – No troop here now – Only occupied by a Sergeant – who takes care of the public property and keeps a house of entertainment – he was not at home – saw 3 women only – one a Scotch – one English – one Irish all soldiers wives or 2idows – treaty [meant treated] us politely = we left this house a 1 P.M to cross the Portage with the remainder of our baggage – still snowing and cold squally weather – at 2 P.M embarked at the Portage and proceeded down river.

On viewing the fall below as well as above the rapids, I calculate this distance round the River to be 1½ miles the fall 75 to 80 feet or near that – it is ¾ mile across the Portage, which is over a very steep hill particularly in descending to the Portage Landing on the south side – This fall is called by the Indians Chee,ka,chee,nee,ga,bick.

The banks on each side from 40 to 50 feet perpendicular rocks – then a high ridge of spruce land on each side – back of which is a ridge or ridges of hard or mixed wood from head to foot of falls – thence high gravely spruce banks from 40 to 50 feet very steep high ridges not far back are frequently seen from the river generally running parallel with the river – these remarks apply to the distance of two miles below the falls.

In case with a war with England it would be an advantage to the United States to have some knowledge of the extent of the settlement and number of inhabitants on the St. John in the vicinity of the Boundary Line – I therefore, continue my plan of the River and mark the houses on its banks as I pass down.”

The journal continues to describe their trip down the St. John River, with side visits up the Aroostook River and to Houlton, Maine, before returning to Old Town, Maine by way of the Eel River portage route.

Historical background and transcription by Gary Campbell, from Micah A. Pawling, ed. Wabanaki Homeland and the New State of Maine: The 1820 Journal and Plans of Survey of Joseph Treat. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.

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Last revised 13 Jun 2011
© 2011 Gary Campbell