Up north to Portland

By the time we drove up to Portland, Maine for the meeting there it was apparent that the speaking tour was going to be extended beyond the North East.  In the original blog for this meeting I noted that "It may well be possible to extend it well beyond the North east." In fact months later I would speak in Portland, Oregan on the west coast, i don't think at the time I was even aware two Portland's existed.

Maine is the most thinly populated state east of the Mississipi but because it on the atlantic was settled early, the first French colony being formed in 1604, the first English one in 1607.  The English one was the Popham colony, established by the Plymouth company, one of whose main investors was Sir Walter Raleigh.  The colonists only arrived on August 13, too late for growing crops.  Because previous ship had kidnapped some of the local Algonquian speaking Abenaki they were not inclined to trust the settlers and trade was limited.  The colonists argued amongst themselves and in the end the colony only lasted a year, the colonists built a ship to sail home in and obtained some furs trhough trade and gathered some sarsaparilla.

The Abenaki were mostly driven out of Main over a 100 years later, in particular during Drummers War when British "colonial authorities.. offered £100 per Indian scalp, which adjusted for inflation is about US $20,000 (£10,000)."  One of their main settlement at Norridgewock had already been destroyed in 1705 but by 1716 was rebuilt and described as "a square fort surrounded by a 2.7 m palisade fence, each side 49m long with a gate at its center. The fort's walls faced the major points of the compass. Two streets connected the gates, forming an open square at the center marked by a large cross. The stockade enclosed 26 cabins "built much after the English manner" -- probably of logs. Canoes were beached along the river, although paddles were stored in the cabins. Extensive fields were cleared nearby for cultivation of maize, wheat, beans, pumpkins and squash. Twice a year, summer and winter, the tribe spent a few months at the seashore catching fish, seals, clams, oysters and seafowl."

The Jesuit priest Sébastien Rale had lived in Norridgewock since 1694, by 1710 he had convereted them to Catholicism and recruited them to the New French side of the English-French wars.  He appears however to have had a low opinion of the Abenaki writing to his nephew that "it is needful to control the imagination of the savages, too easily distracted, I pass few working days without making them a short exhortation for the purpose of inspiring a horror of the vices to which their tendency is strongest, and for strengthening them in the practice of some virtue."  The English however were claiming Abenaki land as their own on the basis of treaties that had only given them access to fishing and hunting (the land itself could not be sold as it was held in common).  On August 23, 1724 a large party of English soldiers and Mohawk allies attacked the village killing a couple of dozen Abenaki and Sébastien Rale all of whom they scalped before buring the village to the ground.  After this the surviving Abenaki left for Quebec.

Dominic drove me up from Boston for the meeting, I don't remember much about the drive except that the traffic cops were out in force, apparently it was the end of their accounting period so they were keen to make their quota of speeding motorists.  It was after dark when we arrived and after parking off the main street but near the venue went for a meal in an Indian restaurant.  The meeting was in the Meg Perry center which has a shop front premises right in the main street of Portland.

It was the smallest of the meetings to that point in time , around 20 people attended (the population of the city is 60,000) but the discussion after my presentation was good. The meeting organizers put us up and we had a discussion over some beers (Black Fly stout for me) back at their house about anarchist organization and also the situation in New Orleans (a couple of them had just returned from a solidarity trip to the city). A lot of activists have headed down there to help re-house people as the disaster is to being used to drive out many of the poor, Black population of the city and gentrify areas that were formally used for social housing. As I travelled around I met a few people for whom this had been a formative experience.  At the time I wrote in this blog  that "So far the talk is going down well and I've had some very nice feedback both after the meetings and by email later".

Portland was my first exposure to what people referred to as 'Punk houses', which basically just seemed to meet a house where some punk influenced people lived.   It turns out Pubk Houses have a wikipedia entry so I guess its a real enough if somewhat strange term.  Anyway the only odd thing I remember is being greeted on arrival by someone with a big white rat sitting on their shoulder!  As I noted in my Providence blog some of the 'other side' if the split that had divided the IWW down there turned up at this meeting in Portland.  I only realised this as I was talking to them and recognised one of them from one of the activist stories I heard told by the other side back in Providence a few days before.  As usual with these things both sides seemed entirely reasonable in isolation, it appeared to be one of those rows where the intensity of the row had resulted in people losing sight of the fact that in comparison with everyone else they had far more in common then in what divided them.

WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


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