"Indian Schools" in New Brunswick
When the Loyalists arrived in New Brunswick, it was inhabited by Aboriginal peoples known as Mi'kmaq and Maliseet. They had called the Maritimes home since time immemorial, and despite the growing presence of first French and then British settlers, they had maintained their culture, while gradually adapting themselves to the growing European presence. The arrival of the Loyalists proved to be a major challenge to the Natives living in New Brunswick. Not only were their traditional hunting and fishing territories increasingly encroached upon by the rapacious immigrants, but also they found themselves the objects of efforts by the newcomers to impose Euro-American beliefs and customs.
Edward Winslow's first encounters with the colony's Aboriginal peoples reveal the condescending attitudes that many Loyalists brought with them. On 7 July 1783, Winslow wrote his friend Ward Chipman detailing events of the previous day. "Yesterday," Winslow informed Chipman, "I had the honor of being introduced to three Indian — Chiefs — a High — Priest — Squaws — & attendants. It really was ridiculous enough. A relation of the particulars may afford fun at some future day."1
Many Loyalists, including Edward Winslow, supported a plan to develop a number of "Indian Schools" which would be operated under the auspices of the New England Company.2 A British agency established with the express purpose of "civilizing" and "christianizing" the Native peoples of North America, the New England Company shifted most of its activities to British territory of New Brunswick following the American Revolution. Edward Winslow was appointed as a commissioner of the New England Company in 1791.
Originally to be situated in such diverse locations as St. Andrews, Woodstock, Fredericton, Sheffield, Sussex, and Miramichi, the Indian Schools were consolidated in the mid-1790s into one facility at Sussex Vale, where it was believed a sustained regiment of farming would assist the acculturation/assimilation process. Winslow described reasoning behind the selection of Sussex-Vale as the site for the Indian School in an 1804 letter, stating
Some of the Commissioners contended that Fredericton would be the most eligible place, other places too were named, and after mature consideration, Sussex-Vale was considered to embrace more advantages than any other place and a College was erected there, in a situation where it was surrounded by a considerable extent of fertile country, cleared and under high cultivation, and in the possession of reputable and excellent farmers. The circumstance it was supposed would offer to the Indians the fairest opportunity of observing the program of agriculture and of contemplating the benefits which resulted from temperance of industry. 3
Teaching New Brunswick's Native population about farming was only one aspect of the school's acculturative program. The Christian faith was also used as a tool to undermine Native culture, albeit not as successfully as Winslow had hoped. In that same 1804 letter Winslow lamented the failure of Native peoples to convert to Christianity while praising the school for the help it offered to those in need:
...although the Indians did not embrace the Christian religion with that alacrity which the pious Testator might have anticipated, they nevertheless considered this place as an Asylum where the aged and infirm could rest from the fatigues which are incident to savage life, and where the young of both sexes were fed, cloathed, and instructed as far as they inclined to be.4
Despite Winslow's claims that the Sussex Vale institution was a place where Native peoples "could rest from the fatigues" of their chosen lifestyle, the school proved unsuccessful. Pupils, eager to return to their families, left as soon as they could. An 1804 letter from George Leonard, treasurer of New Brunswick board of the New England Company, to Winslow hints at a potential reason why. Quite simply, students were not getting enough food. As Leonard notes, "those poor creatures" were being deprived of their "bread."5 But it took until 1826 that the Indian School at Sussex-Vale was formally acknowledged a failure and its doors finally closed.
University of New Brunswick
1. Letter from Edward Winslow to Ward Chipman, 7 July 1783, Winslow Family Papers, Volume 2-105. Back
2. An excellent examination of the New England Company's supposed benevolence in New Brunswick can be found in Judith Fingard, "The New England Company and the New Brunswick Indians, 1786-1826: A Comment on the Colonial Perversion of British Benevolence," Acadiensis, I, 2 (Spring 1972), pp. 29-42. Back
3. Notes respecting the Indians and Acadians of New Brunswick, 1804, Winslow Family Papers, Volume 12-111. Back
4. Notes respecting the Indians and Acadians of New Brunswick, 1804, Winslow Family Papers, Volume 12-111. Back
5. Letter from George Leonard to Edward Winslow, 4 January 1804, Winslow Family Papers, Volume 12-60. Back
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