Home  »  The Poetical Works In Four Volumes  »  The Truce of Piscataqua

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The Poetical Works in Four Volumes. 1892.

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Truce of Piscataqua

  • In the winter of 1675–76, the Eastern Indians, who had been making war upon the New Hampshire settlements, were so reduced in numbers by fighting and famine that they agreed to a peace with Major Waldron at Dover, but the peace was broken in the fall of 1676. The famous chief, Squando, was the principal negotiator on the part of the savages. He had taken up the hatchet to revenge the brutal treatment of his child by drunken white sailors, which caused its death.
  • It not unfrequently happened during the Border wars that young white children were adopted by their Indian captors, and so kindly treated that they were unwilling to leave the free, wild life of the woods; and in some instances they utterly refused to go back with their parents to their old homes and civilization.

  • RAZE these long blocks of brick and stone,

    These huge mill-monsters overgrown;

    Blot out the humbler piles as well,

    Where, moved like living shuttles, dwell

    The weaving genii of the bell;

    Tear from the wild Cocheco’s track

    The dams that hold its torrents back;

    And let the loud-rejoicing fall

    Plunge, roaring, down its rocky wall;

    And let the Indian’s paddle play

    On the unbridged Piscataqua!

    Wide over hill and valley spread

    Once more the forest, dusk and dread,

    With here and there a clearing cut

    From the walled shadows round it shut;

    Each with its farm-house builded rude,

    By English yeoman squared and hewed,

    And the grim, flankered block-house bound

    With bristling palisades around.

    So, haply shall before thine eyes

    The dusty veil of centuries rise,

    The old, strange scenery overlay

    The tamer pictures of to-day,

    While, like the actors in a play,

    Pass in their ancient guise along

    The figures of my border song:

    What time beside Cocheco’s flood

    The white man and the red man stood,

    With words of peace and brotherhood;

    When passed the sacred calumet

    From lip to lip with fire-draught wet,

    And, puffed in scorn, the peace-pipe’s smoke

    Through the gray beard of Waldron broke,

    And Squando’s voice, in suppliant plea

    For mercy, struck the haughty key

    Of one who held, in any fate,

    His native pride inviolate!

    “Let your ears be opened wide!

    He who speaks has never lied.

    Waldron of Piscataqua,

    Hear what Squando has to say!

    “Squando shuts his eyes and sees,

    Far off, Saco’s hemlock-trees.

    In his wigwam, still as stone,

    Sits a woman all alone,

    “Wampum beads and birchen strands

    Dropping from her careless hands,

    Listening ever for the fleet

    Patter of a dead child’s feet!

    “When the moon a year ago

    Told the flowers the time to blow,

    In that lonely wigwam smiled

    Menewee, our little child.

    “Ere that moon grew thin and old,

    He was lying still and cold;

    Sent before us, weak and small,

    When the Master did not call!

    “On his little grave I lay;

    Three times went and came the day,

    Thrice above me blazed the noon,

    Thrice upon me wept the moon.

    “In the third night-watch I heard,

    Far and low, a spirit-bird;

    Very mournful, very wild,

    Sang the totem of my child.

    “‘Menewee, poor Menewee,

    Walks a path he cannot see:

    Let the white man’s wigwam light

    With its blaze his steps aright.

    “‘All-uncalled, he dares not show

    Empty hands to Manito:

    Better gifts he cannot bear

    Than the scalps his slayers wear.’

    “All the while the totem sang,

    Lightning blazed and thunder rang;

    And a black cloud, reaching high,

    Pulled the white moon from the sky.

    “I, the medicine-man, whose ear

    All that spirits hear can hear,—

    I, whose eyes are wide to see

    All the things that are to be,—

    “Well I knew the dreadful signs

    In the whispers of the pines,

    In the river roaring loud,

    In the mutter of the cloud.

    “At the breaking of the day,

    From the grave I passed away;

    Flowers bloomed round me, birds sang glad,

    But my heart was hot and mad.

    “There is rust on Squando’s knife,

    From the warm, red springs of life;

    On the funeral hemlock-trees

    Many a scalp the totem sees.

    “Blood for blood! But evermore

    Squando’s heart is sad and sore;

    And his poor squaw waits at home

    For the feet that never come!

    “Waldron of Cocheco, hear!

    Squando speaks, who laughs at fear;

    Take the captives he has ta’en;

    Let the land have peace again!”

    As the words died on his tongue,

    Wide apart his warriors swung;

    Parted, at the sign he gave,

    Right and left, like Egypt’s wave.

    And, like Israel passing free

    Through the prophet-charmëd sea,

    Captive mother, wife, and child

    Through the dusky terror filed.

    One alone, a little maid,

    Middleway her steps delayed,

    Glancing, with quick, troubled sight,

    Round about from red to white.

    Then his hand the Indian laid

    On the little maiden’s head,

    Lightly from her forehead fair

    Smoothing back her yellow hair.

    “Gift or favor ask I none;

    What I have is all my own:

    Never yet the birds have sung,

    ‘Squando hath a beggar’s tongue.’

    “Yet for her who waits at home,

    For the dead who cannot come,

    Let the little Gold-hair be

    In the place of Menewee!

    “Mishanock, my little star!

    Come to Saco’s pines afar;

    Where the sad one waits at home,

    Wequashim, my moonlight, come!”

    “What!” quoth Waldron, “leave a child

    Christian-born to heathens wild?

    As God lives, from Satan’s hand

    I will pluck her as a brand!”

    “Hear me, white man!” Squando cried;

    “Let the little one decide.

    Wequashim, my moonlight, say,

    Wilt thou go with me, or stay?”

    Slowly, sadly, half afraid,

    Half regretfully, the maid

    Owned the ties of blood and race,—

    Turned from Squando’s pleading face.

    Not a word the Indian spoke,

    But his wampum chain he broke,

    And the beaded wonder hung

    On that neck so fair and young.

    Silence-shod, as phantoms seem

    In the marches of a dream,

    Single-filed, the grim array

    Through the pine-trees wound away.

    Doubting, trembling, sore amazed,

    Through her tears the young child gazed.

    “God preserve her!” Waldron said;

    “Satan hath bewitched the maid!”

    Years went and came. At close of day

    Singing came a child from play,

    Tossing from her loose-locked head

    Gold in sunshine, brown in shade.

    Pride was in the mother’s look,

    But her head she gravely shook,

    And with lips that fondly smiled

    Feigned to chide her truant child.

    Unabashed, the maid began:

    “Up and down the brook I ran,

    Where, beneath the bank so steep,

    Lie the spotted trout asleep.

    “‘Chip!’ went squirrel on the wall,

    After me I heard him call,

    And the cat-bird on the tree

    Tried his best to mimic me.

    “Where the hemlocks grew so dark

    That I stopped to look and hark,

    On a log, with feather-hat,

    By the path, an Indian sat.

    “Then I cried, and ran away;

    But he called, and bade me stay;

    And his voice was good and mild

    As my mother’s to her child.

    “And he took my wampum chain,

    Looked and looked it o’er again;

    Gave me berries, and, beside,

    On my neck a plaything tied.”

    Straight the mother stooped to see

    What the Indian’s gift might be.

    On the braid of wampum hung,

    Lo! a cross of silver swung.

    Well she knew its graven sign,

    Squando’s bird and totem pine;

    And, a mirage of the brain,

    Flowed her childhood back again.

    Flashed the roof the sunshine through,

    Into space the walls outgrew;

    On the Indian’s wigwam-mat,

    Blossom-crowned, again she sat.

    Cool she felt the west-wind blow,

    In her ear the pines sang low,

    And, like links from out a chain,

    Dropped the years of care and pain.

    From the outward toil and din,

    From the griefs that gnaw within,

    To the freedom of the woods

    Called the birds, and winds, and floods.

    Well, O painful minister!

    Watch thy flock, but blame not her,

    If her ear grew sharp to hear

    All their voices whispering near.

    Blame her not, as to her soul

    All the desert’s glamour stole,

    That a tear for childhood’s loss

    Dropped upon the Indian’s cross.

    When, that night, the Book was read,

    And she bowed her widowed head,

    And a prayer for each loved name

    Rose like incense from a flame,

    With a hope the creeds forbid

    In her pitying bosom hid,

    To the listening ear of Heaven

    Lo! the Indian’s name was given.