400 years ago this month, the first Mass was said in Maine on an island in the Kennebec River, some three leagues from its mouth in Popham. There is a lot of discussion, along with reams and reams of documentation considering many of the aspects of Maine’s history, including religion. I found it interesting that the first Catholic Mass was celebrated by the French on the Kennebec, as opposed to some place further north, where their territory was held. The Popham Colony by then had gone by then and there was no opposition to the French presence on the river, so they had been left in peace. This excerpt is from The Makers of Maine, by Herbert Edgar Holmes, published first in 1912 by the Haswell Press in Lewiston. Also of interest to Maine Catholic history is the fact that the first consecrated host made in the new world was made by wheat grown by the same Father Biard, in the Fall of this same year, 1611.
The First Mass Said In Maine
The first Mass that ever was said in the country of what is now the Province of New Brunswick, and the first administering of the sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, took place in the Fall of the year 1611. Biencourt and a ship’s company, together with Father Biard went on an expedition to the west to trade with the Indians living on the Kennebec River for corn and what other food they could get to help through the famine which they knew would come upon them during the next winter at Port Royal. On the way, Biencourt determined to hunt up the Maloans, (people from Malo in France) who were poaching, as we would say now, upon the lands and waters owned by Biencourt’s father, Poutrincourt. These people gave the men who had rightful grants from the Crown great trouble, as they hunted and fished, and what was a worse offense, traded with the Indians, over the lands reserved by lawful grant, illegally and wrongfully, without permission and without making compensation. Biencourt sailed up the St. John River several leagues and came upon their encampment. Their commander, Captain Merveille, was away at the time, but came into camp during the night, and was immediately taken prisoner by Biencourt. The next morning a peace was patched up between Biencourt and the Maloans and the latter agreed to recognise the superior title and authority of Biencourt and to make compensation for their illegal trading. Father Biard then said Mass and Captain Merveille made his confession to the Father and received communion together with three of his men.
However, to us who are studying the early history of Maine, it is of greater interest to know that the first Mass said on the soil of the State of Maine was said in the month of October, 1611, on an island in the Kennebec River, three leagues from its mouth. It is a pity that Father Biard leaves us no description of that island by which we can identify it today from among the great number of islands in the lower Kennebec. It lies between Bath and the sea, about three leagues from the mouth of the river, and imagination must supply the rest. The Jesuit relates it in these words:
“We arrived at the Kinibequi towards the end of October. Kinnibequi is a river near the Armouchiquois, in latitude forty-three and two third degrees, and southwest of Port Royal about seventy leagues or thereabouts. It has two quite large mouths, one distant from the other at least two leagues; it is also cut up by numerous arms and branches. Besides, it is a great and beautiful river; but we did not see good soil there any more than at the St. John River. They say however, that farther up, away from the sea, the country is very fine and life there agreeable, and that the people till the soil. We did not go farther up than three leagues; we whirled about through so many eddies, and shot over so many precipices, that several times it was a great miracle of God that we did not perish. Some of our crew cried out at two different times that we were lost; but they cried too soon, blessed be our Lord. The savages cajoled us with the hope of getting corn; then they changed their promise of corn to that of trade in beaver skins. Now while this trading was going on, Father Biard had gone, with a boy, to an island nearby, to celebrate Holy Mass.”
The company traded with the Indians and once came near to having trouble with them, but the peace was not disturbed, and they sailed away leaving behind them a good opinion in the minds of the Indians. It seems that these Indians had good reason to fear and hate the white men because (as I have stated in a former chapter) the English in 1608 had abused them shamefully. Father Biard says: “These people do not seem to be bad, although they drove away the English who wished to settle among them in 1608 and 1609. They made excuses to us for this act, and recounted the outrages they had experienced from the English; and they flattered us, saying that they loved us very much, because they knew we would not close our doors to the savages as the English did, and set our dogs upon them.” This is a different description from what has come down to us from the English writers, as I shall show later.
Maine History News Headlines
Wood Island preservation group gets help from Old York
By Deborah Mcdermott KITTERY, Maine — The board of the Old York Historical Society last week voted for the first time to help an organization outside the town’s boundaries, agreeing to assist the Wood Island Life Saving Station Association in Kittery…
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Clubs and groups
Foster’s Daily Democrat
ELIOT — The Eliot Historical Society invites you to join them on Nov. 7 at 7 pm at the John F. Hill Grange, State Road. Eliot Maine. Stephen Dow will present the “27th Maine” , the volunteer regiment of York County during the Civil War…