History Teaches Us Little

The following is an extract from Campobello: An Historical Sketch by Kate Gannett Wells published in the 1890s.

“Campobello itself could scarcely be said to have a history till towards the end of the eighteenth century. Moose roamed over the swamps and looked down from the bold headlands ; Indians crossed from the mainland and shot them ; straggling Frenchmen, dressing in skins, built huts along the northern and southern shores, till civilization dawned through the squatter sovereignty of two men, Hunt and Flagg.”

There is enough bigotry in that one paragraph to ensure we identify the author as both white and of English heritage. She also displays a very Victorian view of the world. If you’re curious, “civilization dawned” through the efforts of Hunt and Flagg to plant apple trees all over this rock.

I don’t know what their motivation was, but I can tell you that the descendants of those trees are everywhere. There are a few in my front yard and every couple of years I get a huge crop. In case you’re picturing big, juicy fruit you’ll have to adjust your imaginings to crabapples instead.

There is a much longer, and more detailed, manuscript by a Mary Gallagher in the local library which I haven’t had a chance to read. I have found an extract, which is really just a list of names and key dates, online. I look forward to sitting down with it in the future primarily because so many of the family names are still here (or very close on neighbouring islands). There might even be some information on the Passamaquoddy (Pestomuhkati) but I won’t hold my breath. I have (I think) learned that they are known as The People of the Dawn.

One definition of history is “a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events“. You often hear that history is written by the victors – in this case they weren’t only biased but not particularly scholarly.

The notion of “history” has been a woman’s issue for a long time. In reality it’s an issue for anybody whose stories aren’t included. The big problem of course, even if the data is available, is that the stories which are shared with us are incomplete, innaccurate, or deliberately falsified. They also depend on the story-teller’s view of the world. Kate Wells’ idea of what constitutes civilization is a good example.

There is a raging debate these days about statues. Somehow, the thinking goes, the removal of a statue erases history. I have to tell you that, in all my years as a Canadian, I’ve never seen a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald. Strangely enough, I’ve still heard of him. What we’re taught is what we know – and what we’re not taught says more about where we come from than anything else these days.

I think we’re adult enough now to declare that monuments are biased in favour of those who managed to get a sanitized history into the school books. We can fix that. In the meantime, removing symbolic lumps of metal might, in itself, be symbolic of a need to learn the stories we haven’t been told.

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