Friday, August 29, 2014
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Treaty of Portsmouth proves inspirational

Lawyer talks about city's role in signing

By Mark Pechenik

seacoastlinel.com

SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — In presenting his Old Berwick Historical Society talk, "First Nations Diplomacy Opens the Portsmouth Door," lawyer Charles B. Doleac noted Portsmouth, N.H.'s prominence in two watershed moments of western civilization.

"With the 1915 treaty ending the Russo-Japanese war, Portsmouth was the backdrop for colonialism's de-evolution," he said. "Meanwhile, the 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth was when colonialism started." To understand the Treaty of Portsmouth's enduring impact, it is necessary to comprehend relations between the English Colonial settlers and Native American tribes, said Doleac, chairman of the 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth Tricentennial Committee.

During the Colonial era, Native Americans were a force to be reckoned with, according to Doleac.

"Treaties were made because (Native American) tribes had real military power," he said. The height of this power occurred during Queen Anne's War, fought from 1702 to 1713, when Native Americans teamed with French allies against English and colonial forces.

With the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the English and French forces laid down their arms. However, the Native American tribes pointed out that they were left out of peace terms. Tough negotiations between the English and the Native American tribes, represented by the Wabanaki Confederacy, ensued.

"The Puritans, who controlled New England, had a real problem with people they didn't regard as civilized — such as the Wabanaki," Doleac said.

Conversely, when Native Americans engaged in conflict, "they fought to win or take captives, but they did not fight to exterminate the enemy like the English did," Doleac said.

Nevertheless, the chief English negotiator, Massachusetts royal governor Joseph Dudley, sought equitable terms with the Wabanaki Confederacy. Since Dudley was well liked by the Wabanaki, they were receptive to his proposals for fair trade with English settlers, including trading houses set up for this purpose.

But the royal governor was also compelled to carry out English demands that Native American people submit to the British crown's authority.

"In fact, you'll notice the word 'submission' printed in bold letters," Doleac said, referring to a copied version of the treaty that circulated among the audience.

Exhausted by war, and believing they could peacefully co-exist with settlers as they previously did, the Wabanaki eventually signed the 1713 Treaty of Portsmouth. After the signing, Dudley provided the Native American negotiators with money and gifts.

"They went immediately to downtown Portsmouth and began to shop," Doleac said.

Unfortunately, this good will faded. Not only did the trading houses never materialize but settlers began to aggressively take over Native American lands. Armed conflict resumed. Nonetheless, echoes of this treaty have proven inspirational to Native Americans fighting for communal and individual rights.

In particular, Doleac cited court judgments enabling Native American authorities to regain land, pass laws or prosecute crimes within their own jurisdictions. This focus on justice and fairness remains strong within these societies, he said.

"All along, Native American culture has just wanted the land and its resources to be equally shared," Doleac said. "They believe that is the way it should be."

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