Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Reuben Colburn's Dilemma

Review of Through a Howling Wilderness :

Thomas A. Desjardin writes a familiar overview narrative of the March to Quebec, my Colburn family, story with little analysis until the speculative epilogue concerning what would have happen if they had succeeded in capturing Quebec City. En route folks are left out if their name is Colburn. After Skowhegan and Norridgewock Colburn’s Company simply disappears when evidence says they were still marching and involved all the way to the Canadian border; their scouts beyond that. The Getchells fare much better getting a whole chapter based on their family history and myths including a fascinating buried treasure tale. None of the journals mentions seeing, let alone carrying and lamenting its loss as depicted here, a barrel of coins all the way to the upper Dead River.

It is widely known that the journal of John Joseph Henry later a judge written with his daughter on his deathbed was wildly inaccurate, the worst of all the journals according to Kenneth Roberts. Roberts skewered both Colburn and scout Dennis Getchell in Arundel but to his credit Desjardin corrects most of that. Colburn is defended early on for his bateaux and the lack of dried lumber, shortness of time, and even more importantly, he adds the lack of forged nails to the defense and should be applauded for that new addition. The story skims past Colburn’s shipyard and home, and doesn’t mention the three days Arnold spent as guests of Reuben and Elizabeth, not to mention the army encamped in the yard. Moreover, he doesn’t include any Colburn family history as a pertinent back-story at all. How strange for the Historic Site Specialist for the Colburn House State Historic Site. Too close to home?

Colburn gathered the tribes of the St. Francis and took them to Cambridge not the other way around as portrayed here. That was how “he just happened to be in Cambridge in Aug. 14, 1775.” There are other misfires like Mathias Ogden, the cousin of Aaron Burr portrayed as a “friend” and “chum”; the overuse of “Natives” and “Native Americans” instead of what they were: Abenakis. This may be credited to editors? The botching of the Natanis narrative is troubling as a scholar on this particular subject. It’s a twisted tale for sure and I can’t reveal the evidence I have except that I have it from primary sources, but it’s common knowledge from the journals that Natanis rescued the lost companies in the Spider lake swamp. His constant infusing of what Arnold “must have felt” are intrusive in my view, and smack of “tell-don’t-show, instead of the other way around. At any rate, it’s an extensively researched albeit short work and I recommend it even if it is the one that preempted my own, Patriot on the Kennebec, from publication, possibly forever. Any publicity is better than none. And like the haggard soldiers, the future is unknowable from where we sit.

Update: Concerning Aaron Burr and the Jacataqua legend and the banquet at Fort Western, as I point out in my book concerning the thesis of Kenneth Roberts on this matter, the evidence is clear of a banquet at the Howard's in Augusta mentioned by Henry Dearborn, others, and Burr himself writing of "falling on roast chickens" and the like while there.

Just because someone commented on shoe buckles is beside the point. There was a banquet; they speak of it firsthand; Burr was there and Indians guided the travelers. Did he travel with the princess of Swan Island? Could have. He had a personal guide for the last leg into Quebec, and to Montgomery. The child (Chestnutina)is the most doubtful part of the legend. She would have been welcome at Colburn House where he stayed before moving on to Fort Western by wagon, as Indians came and went all the time from the Colburn parlor. It's as likely as the Getchell tall tale of a barrel of gold coins going down in the flood and later recovered by canoe, hence paying for their land in Vassalboro as if that was the only source of coinage in Maine.

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