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Mawooshen Research(tm)
Ethnohistorical Anthropologist
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Studying the relationships
of the lake & river
with their human communities through time
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SPAP Report No. I-1

In The Length and Breadth of Maine, Stanley B. Attwood lists fourteen "drainage districts" for the state, consisting of "ten principal streams and four coastal basins". Between the Androscoggin and Saco Rivers, two are listed: the Royal and Presumpscot Rivers. Although of similar length (25.5 and 24.25 miles, respectively) and fall (298' and 262'), the likenesses of Royal and Presumpscot basins end there, if drainage areas are compared: 97 square miles versus 615, respectively.

This latter difference implies that it was the Presumpscot, not the Royal, which made another top-ten list of Maine rivers: "The description of the Countrey of Mawooshen, discovered by the English in the yeere 1602. 3. 5. 6. 7. 8. and 9." This detailed puzzler was found among the papers of the great traveloguer Richard Hakluyt and published by his scholarly heir Samuel Purchas in 1625. It has fascinated and frustrated countless researchers ever since, because there can be no absolute certainty about it, given only current knowledge. (Mawooshen was a name used by some English explorers for the mainland behind part of the Maine coast, during the very early 1600s. It may mean walk-together, and be a metaphoric name for the political alliance headed by Wabanaki paramount-chief Bashaba, who was killed c. 1615 by a rival Native alliance.)

Tease your own brain with the relevant portion, presented below. "Sagadahoc" is the old name for the joint Kennebec-Androscoggin estuary, south of Merrymeeting Bay. "Shawakotoc" probably (?) is the Saco River.

To the Westward of Sagadahoc, foure days journey there is another River called Ashamahaga, which hath at the entrance sixe fathoms water, and is halfe a quarter of a mile broad: it runneth into the Land two dayes journey: and on the East side there is one Towne called Agnagebcoc, wherein are seventie houses, and two hundred and fortie men, with two Sagamos [i.e., chiefs], the one called Maurmet, the other Casherokenit.
Seven dayes journey to the South-west of Ashamahaga there is another River, ... named Shawakotoc....

Richard Hakluyt, who died the same year as Shakespeare (1616), and Samuel Purchas who continued Hakluyt's work, have been credited with writing the great prose-epic of the English nation. They both interviewed returning explorers, and sometimes published data which did not appear in the official accounts of the voyages. Such is the case with James Rosier's reports of George Waymouth's 1605 voyage: Purchas includes Rosier's list of names of twelve Maine Indian sagamores which Rosier omits from his official account. Purchas spells our two chiefs' names as "Mawermet" and "Shurakinit", and gives no contexts at all for anyone listed. If these two sagamores are mentioned elsewhere, I have not recognized the spelling of their names, nor the name of their village ("Agnagebcoc").

The "Mawooshen" document represents the
protohistoric period in northeastern North America's past -- between the (native)
prehistoric period of archaeologists' specialty and the (white)
historic period of historians' preference.

Ethnohistory is the modern attempt to squeeze anthropological data out of old documents from both the protohistoric and historic periods, and few are as cryptic as "Mawooshen". Old-fashioned historians ignored consideration of native peoples, lumping them together as mere pawns in the Europeans' chess-game of conquest. But when combined with two other anthropological approaches -- archaeology and folkloristics -- ethnohistory shines a much brighter light on the past than ever before was possible. Let's hope that both the Royal and Presumpscot Rivers eventually can be subjected to such thorough anthropological scrutiny as to clarify the Ashamahaga puzzle for certain.

For now, we can say only that "Ashamahaga" probably meant the Sebago-Presumpscot Basin.

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