Oakes Smith's lost (fourth) "Indian" Novel

At a union service during “Old Home Week,” in an address entitled “Castine, Sixty Years Ago,” George Adams predicted a growing interest in the history of this tiny town on the Maine coast:

As time rolls on, more and more poetic interest will gather around the names of D’Aulnay, and La Tour, and Friar Leo, and Baron Castin; other pens will be enlisted to add to what has already been so well done, in rescuing from oblivion the incidents and legends of the past, and in immortalizing in fiction and romance the events of our early history.  The steady growth of antiquarian interest and research in this country is sure to reach after, and draw out to the light, and embellish in ever richer illustration and detail, the ample materials for study which belong to the events that have transpired here.

Which of us (outside of Maine) has heard of Castine, or the Bagaduce Peninsula?  One doesn’t have to be a Cape Codder or even a New Englander to have read about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony of the 1620s, but here is a town founded (at least in its colonial guise) some years earlier than Plymouth, in the first decade of the 17th century, with a diverse history involving Dutch, British, French and Native American conflict, dispossession, repossession, and at times even cohabitation whose “rich history” has hardly enjoyed the attention predicted so confidently by its historians in 1900.  In fact, the place seems to have fallen out of our records completely, its cultural life flickering feebly on by the light of locals in the Castine Historical Society newsletter.

I don’t know how I would have heard of it without finally running across a 300 page MS some years ago in the Oakes Smith papers at the University of Virginia—a document I’d overlooked on several trips there over the past two decades.   Though Elizabeth Oakes Smith lived some hours west of Castine and Mount Desert during her early life, in her later career she drafted a novel (untitled in the MS we have) featuring the Baron de Castine set in the 1680s, at a time when French, British, and Native American cultures lived together in the place.  I’m only 125 MSS pages into a transcription of the novel, but several features of the work will be of interest to EOS scholars:

1)   Along with the unpublished novel MS entitled “The Queen of Tramps,” this untitled work is Oakes Smith’s latest novel-length work, adding a fourth “Indian novel” to her canon treating Native American/European conflict (The Western Captive, 1842; The Sagamore of Saco, 1868; The Bald Eagle, 1849/1868).  Internal references to “fashionable” people summering in the area “today” date the manuscript (so far) to the last quarter of the 19th century (the first large hotel on Mount Desert was built only in 1883). 

2)   While all three of Oakes Smith’s published Indian novels work through difficult political issues for women and Native Americans, they do so in ways marketable for the popular press; as we now know, The Western Captive was advertised for sale in the “Books for the People” series as a cheap celebration of the exploits of the future or recently deceased President Harrison, and the latter two were written on the formula of Beadle’s dime novels series.   This manuscript, by contrast (at least in its first 3rd) eschews action for description: long digressions on features of the landscape seem to bear their own interest and focus never, or only loosely, integrated into the novel’s action.   Women characters—both Indian and Puritan—clearly reprise Oakes Smith’s feminist critique of the place of women in marriage—and in ways it’s hard to deny, express an older woman writer’s backward look at the effect of patriarchal pressures on her earlier life. 

I don’t know how the novel ends; in fact even at this point (124 pages of some 300) I’m not sure what the conflict is!  It is, however, “historically” based, and researching the time and place, we find the Baron de Castine led a war-party alongside Native American tribes against the English settlement of Pemaquid in 1689.  

Of course once one happens upon such a document, allusions to its referential landscape and characters start appearing everywhere.  Strange to find Oakes Smith’s Maine brother Longfellow writing a poem about the Baron in the late 1870s, narrating next to nothing about his life in the colonies.  Longfellow’s Castine scandalizes his father by marrying an Indian bride, whom he brings along on his return home to France, and makes “good” on the marriage, previously consecrated only by Native American ritual, by remarrying in the church, and hence “coming home” to his own.  That Oakes Smith begins her novel with a reference to this “proper” marriage, but shows it performed by a French Priest at Castine’s castle in the (then) French colony, makes one wonder if Oakes Smith was beginning to “embellish” the record in the way George Adams had predicted by supplying the story—or legend—of Castine’s “American” life in the early 1880s. 

More soon.