SAINT-AUBIN, AMBROISE (Ambroise, Ambroise Bear, Ambroise Pier, Ambroise Var), Malecite chief; d. October 1780.
During the American revolution the governments of Nova Scotia and Massachusetts competed for control of the area that has become New Brunswick and Maine. Within this vast wilderness the Penobscot, Malecite, and Micmac Indians seemed to hold the key to victory. The colonies believed they could secure their frontier districts and damage those of their enemy by controlling these tribes. To gain such influence the governments waged campaigns combining bribery, flattery, and intimidation with restriction of Indian access to vital supplies and heavy-handed manipulation of the Roman Catholic priests serving the tribes.
Ambroise Saint-Aubin was a chief of the Malecites, who constituted a powerful force in the Saint John valley. His participation in the revolution began in September 1775 when he and Pierre Tomah, another major Malecite chief, appeared at the Penobscot truck house (Bangor, Maine) and declared their support for Massachusetts. In July 1776 Saint-Aubin led a delegation of Malecites and Micmacs to Watertown, Mass., for a week-long conference with government leaders. The meeting resulted in a treaty under which the state promised a truck house at Machias (Maine) and the Indians agreed to provide 600 men for the Continental Army.
Although the promise of 600 fighting men was repudiated by the older Micmac chiefs, the Malecites and some Micmacs continued sympathetic to the Americans. Saint-Aubin was involved in a number of American operations, including Jonathan Eddy*’s unsuccessful attack on Fort Cumberland (near Sackville, N.B.) in the fall of 1776, and he assisted John Allan*, who became the American agent to the Malecites and Micmacs in 1777. Early in the summer of 1777 a rift in the Malecite polity became evident. An American force under Allan established itself on the Saint John at Aukpaque (near Fredericton) in June and was warmly received by the Malecites. When British ships arrived in the lower river later in the month, however, Pierre Tomah went on board HMS Vulture to confer. Saint-Aubin refused to go, and he and a larger part of the tribe fled to Machias, which they reached in time to help the garrison meet an assault from a British force sent by Sir George Collier. Saint-Aubin continued to work with Allan and spent much time travelling between Machias and Nova Scotia as a courier and spokesman among the Indians for the Americans. Although Allan noted that he was an “old man” and “very Infirm,” he remained active through the summer of 1780 and his death in October was sudden. The Indians suspected that he had been poisoned, but Allan knew of no evidence for the allegation.
Although Saint-Aubin’s adherence to the Americans had provided them with a useful tool in operations and reconnaissance, the Malecites played a minor role in the revolution. Impoverished by governmental neglect since 1763, they were interested only in gaining maximum benefit from the conflict, not in undertaking the large-scale hostilities to which both sides had hoped to incite them.
PAC, MG 11, [CO 217], Nova Scotia A, 72, pp.44–45; 78, pp.83–85; 83, pp.22, 303; 87, pp.123–24; 100, pp.200–1; [CO 220], Nova Scotia B, 12, pp.158–59; 13, p.126; 14, pp.50, 90–91. Documentary history of Maine (Willis et al.), XIV-XVI, XVIII, XIX, XXIV. Military operations in eastern Maine and N.S. (Kidder). J. H. Ahlin, Maine Rubicon; downeast settlers during the American revolution (Calais, Maine, 1966). R. I. Hunt, “British-American rivalry for the support of the Indians of Maine and Nova Scotia, 1775–1783” (unpublished ma thesis, University of Maine, Orono, 1973).