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ACQUIN (Atwin, Decoine, Dequine, Equin, Echkewen), GABRIEL (Kobleah, Gobliel) (known as Chief or Sachem Gabe; also Noel Gabriel and Noel Gable; perhaps Newel Gabriel and Newell Gov’-leet), Maliseet hunter, guide, interpreter, showman, and founder of the St Mary’s Indian Reserve, N.B.; b. c. 1811, probably the child baptized in 1811 as Gabriel, son of Gabriel and Marie, in Kingsclear, N.B.; m. Marie (Mary; also known as Delaide (Delaire) Francis); theirs was probably the marriage that took place on 7 Aug. 1839 in Fredericton between Noel Gabriel and Marie Marthe; d. 2 Oct. 1901 in Devon (Fredericton).

Gabriel Acquin’s family was one of many displaced by the rapid influx of loyalists into what would become New Brunswick and by the fraudulent purchase of Aucpaque (Savage Island), site of the main Maliseet village about seven miles above Fredericton, by judge Isaac Allen in 1794. The family seems to have moved about in the area between Kingsclear and the Bay of Fundy and may have also lived seasonally at Indian camps opposite Fredericton. Gabe’s own hunting territory was reportedly between the Salmon and Gaspereau rivers, although he guided “sports” throughout most of the Saint John waters and those of the Miramichi and the Restigouche.

Gabe does not seem to have used the name Acquin or its many variations before the baptism in 1845 of his son Stephen. He is possibly the Newel Gabriel who appears on bear-bounty lists in various counties in the 1830s and later, and he may have been the Newell Gov’-leet who was Maliseet wampum keeper at the Wabanaki Confederacy meeting at Old Town, Maine, in 1838. The conclusion that Noel Gabriel was subsequently Gabe Acquin rests on three documents: the 1841 baptismal record of Noel Gabriel’s son Francis and the censuses of 1861 and 1881, which show an appropriately aged Francis as a member of Gabe Acquin’s household.

Although Gabe was not the first Indian to camp at St Mary’s, he was apparently the first to settle there permanently, having been invited to do so by the executors of a loyalist estate in 1847. Eschewing the more traditional, migratory life of his people, he eventually cleared and fenced 14 acres and planted potatoes; for ten years he and his family lived on site in a wigwam before building a frame-house. In time other Maliseet families settled around them. Even though Gabe had been invited to live on the land, it was sold several times, unbeknown to him. The last sale – of two and a half acres on the riverfront to the crown in 1867 – guaranteed, in effect, only this small patch to the Maliseets. In 1883 Gabe applied to the federal government for possession of all the land on which he and his people had originally settled, but he received no reply. Because of overcrowding on the two and a half acres, more lands nearby would be bought for the St Mary’s band several decades after Gabe’s death, and today they live on these lands now known as the St Mary’s Indian Reserve.

It is as a hunter, guide, and interpreter that Gabe is best known. “From his earliest youth,” according to Captain Richard Lewes Dashwood, he accompanied British officers stationed at Fredericton on hunting trips. His skills in calling and hunting moose, caribou, wild fowl, and other game became legendary. Indeed, he is reputed to have killed as many as 25 caribou and 5 moose a year, and boasted himself of having once killed 60 red deer in two weeks. He became a regular supplier of game for the garrison, and a favourite at both the officers’ quarters and Government House. Since Gabe does not seem to have had any formal schooling, it is certain that his fluency in English came as a result of these contacts.

Among the many notables whom Gabe guided early in his career were the young Henry Allan Braithwaite, subsequently a famous hunter, trapper, and the first non-native guide in the province, and Lieutenant William Smythe Maynard Wolfe, who painted water-colours of hunting trips with Gabe and other native guides in 1853 and 1854. He also guided and befriended two lieutenant governors – John Henry Thomas Manners-Sutton* and Arthur Hamilton Gordon*. The latter published a book about his trips with Gabe, which includes a section of Maliseet stories told or interpreted by Gabe. At least one of Gordon’s trips with Gabe (to the Tobique River) was recorded on film by the premier photographer of New Brunswick, George Thomas Taylor*.

A turning-point in Gabe’s life occurred in 1860 when the 18-year-old Prince of Wales visited Fredericton. Passing by Government House in his canoe, Gabe was hailed by the prince, who asked for a ride. Against the remonstrances of equerries and household, Gabe paddled the future king across the river and into the mouth of the Nashwaak River before returning. Gabe was subsequently invited to England, first in 1883 as one of Canada’s entries in the International Fisheries Exhibition in London. With his canoe and wigwam and wearing an outfit beaded by his wife, an extraordinarily talented craftswoman, he set up camp on the ponds of South Kensington, renewed old friendships with royalty and officers he had known, and became, in the words of William Austin Squires, “the greatest social lion of the day.” Gabe is reputed to have gone to England again in the 1880s though this claim is undocumented. He was 82 when he took his last trip there, in 1893–94 with Paul Boyton’s World’s Water Show.

After the closure of the colonial establishment in Fredericton in 1869 Gabe continued guiding distinguished people into the ninth decade of his life. During the same period he was featured at sportsmen’s shows in Boston, New York, and Chicago. In 1900 he made a will leaving his house and property to his daughter Catherine. He died the following year at 90 years of age, his funeral attended by dignitaries of all sorts, including Lieutenant Governor Abner Reid McClelan. He seems to have had four sons and three daughters, and his descendants now live on most New Brunswick Maliseet reserves.

Gabe’s fame today is only partly due to his talents and his reputation as reliable, honest, and witty. It has much more to do with the circumstances of his life and his extraordinary response to them. For his people colonialism had brought about the rapid destruction of hunting territories and ushered in a period of extreme poverty, disease, and despair. The shift to guiding and a more settled life by many natives was thus a forced adaptation to grim new realities. Gabe was only one of many who made this shift, but he did more than adapt. His was a classic case of the colonized striving to imitate the colonizer in language, manners, and preferences, often to excess. By his excesses in abandoning traditional values of conservation, he contributed also to the demise of the ancient Maliseet way of life.

Gabe rode the crest of two powerful 19th-century trends – romanticism, which sought to exalt native people, and colonialism, which sought to “civilize” and assimilate them. Both took on new urgency at the height of Indian rebellions in the west in the 1880s, the height also of Gabe’s popularity. It was no accident that white society, not native society, gave him the title of “chief”’ or sachem,” and no accident that white society idolized him. That so much was consequently written about him is, in itself, a key to his fame, and also a reminder of an odd legacy of Gabe’s – that while he did participate in the destruction of a way of life, he did at least ensure that some record of it would survive.

Andrea Bear Nicholas

[A photograph of Gabriel Acquin is reproduced in the works cited below by D. R. Jack (opp. p.250) and F. H. D. Vieth (opp. p.277). Another photographic portrait is in the British Museum (London), MM 024082; a sketch copy of it by Juliana Horatia Ewing [Gatty*] appears on p.47 of her Canada home, cited below. Copies of a third photograph identified as a picture of Acquin are held in the Erickson coll. at UNBL, MG H117, and the Canadian Museum of Civilization (Hull, Que.), Photograph Coll. (both under the reference number NM74–17338), and published in Carole Spray, Will o’ the wisp: folk tales and legends of New Brunswick (Fredericton, 1979), 15, and in the works cited below by Squires (p.49) and Greene (p.17). However, it is clearly of a non-native in Maliseet dress.

Two of Lieutenant Wolfe’s water-colours of hunting trips with Acquin are held in NA, Documentary Art and Photography Div., acc. nos.1985-3-21 and 1985-3-47. G. T. Taylor’s photographs of Lieutenant Governor Gordon’s trip with him may be found in the PANB’s Photograph Sect. in the Taylor (P5/248, P5/253, P5/263) and 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment (P42/64) collections. The Taylor coll. also includes at least three additional photographs of Gabe on later hunting trips (P5/181, P5/267, P5/355).

A pictograph drawn on birchbark by Acquin in 1888, portraying a canoe trip around New Brunswick, appears in Garrick Mallery, Picture-writing of the American Indians (Washington, 1893; repub. in 2v., New York, 1972), 1: 334–36 (fig. 446), along with some biographical information not recorded elsewhere. Several beaded outfits crafted by Acquin’s wife are in the N.B. Museum’s Humanities Div., D. J. Hazen estate coll., acc. nos. 59.88.1–9 and 59.89.1–6. Some of the items are shown in N.B. Museum, Micmac & Maliseet decorative traditions: a catalogue featuring a selection of Maliseet and Micmac decorative arts from the collections of the New Brunswick Museum, ed. Gaby Pelletier, photographs by Don Simpson (Saint John, 1977), 26–27, 31, and The spirit sings: artistic traditions of Canada’s first peoples (Toronto and Calgary, 1987).  a.b.n.]

Arch. Paroissiales, Sainte-Anne (Fredericton), RBMS, 1806–24: 12 (mfm. at NA). Library of Congress (Washington), Prints and Photographs Div., Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell coll., C. G. Leland papers, container 372, Edward Jack to Leland, 4 May 1884; container 373, Jack to Leland, 17, 29 Dec. 1883; 18 March, 16 April 1884. NA, RG 31, C1, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, St Mary’s. PANB, MC 300, MS2/128: 2–4, 14–16. St Dunstan’s Roman Catholic Church (Fredericton), RBMB, 2: 126, 210, 267; 3: 36, 98, 292; 5 (mfm. at PANB). Saint John Regional Library, C 27: 358 (“Sachem Gabe,” undated clipping from the Saint John Daily Sun). UNBL, MG H9, Gabriel Atquin, affidavit, 29 March 1883 (typescript). York Regional Library (Fredericton), F. B. Greene, “Saint Mary’s – its land and its people” (photocopy, n.d.), 18–26, 30–34, 40–41, 48–50, 55–56, 61–69. Daily Gleaner, 13 Sept. 1894, 3 Oct. 1901. Daily Sun (Saint John), 16 May 1883: 1; 29 May 1883: 1; 5 Dec. 1883: [3]. Illustrated London News, 2 June 1883: 557–58.

R. L. Dashwood, Chiploquorgan; or, life by the campfire in Dominion of Canada and Newfoundland (Dublin, 1871), 124, 127–31. J. H. [Gatty] Ewing, Canada home: Juliana Horatia Ewing’s Fredericton letters, 1867–69, ed. Margaret Howard Blom and T. E. Blom (Vancouver, 1983). A. H. Gordon, [1st Baron Stanmore], Wilderness journeys in New Brunswick, in 1862–3 (Saint John, 1864). Douglas Hyde, “On some Indian folklore” in his Language, lore and lyrics: essays and lectures, ed. Breandán Ó Conaire (Blackrock, Republic of Ire., 1986), 135–44; also editor’s intro., 43–44. D. R. Jack, “Gabe Acquin,” Acadiensis (Saint John), 1 (1901): 250–52. Edward Jack, “The Abenakis of Saint John River,” Canadian Institute, Trans. (Toronto), 3 (1891–92): 195–205; “A day with the Abenaquis,” Daily Sun, 30 July 1881: 2 (also reissued as part of article by D. R. Jack, “The Indians of Acadia,” Acadiensis, 1: 191–94); and “Maliseet legends,” Journal of American Folk-Lore (Boston and New York), 8 (1895): 193–208. Thomas Parkhill, “‘Of Glooskap’s birth, and of his brother Malsum, the wolf’: the story of Charles Godfrey Leland’s ‘purely American creation,’” American Indian Culture and Research Journal (Los Angeles), 16 (1992), no.1. [W.] A. Squires, “The great sagamore of the Maliseets,” Atlantic Advocate, 59 (1968–69), no.3: 49, 51–52. F. H. D. Vieth, Recollections of the Crimean campaign and the expedition to Kinburn in 1855, including also sporting and dramatic incidents in connection with garrison life in the Canadian lower provinces (Montreal, 1907).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Andrea Bear Nicholas, “ACQUIN, GABRIEL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/acquin_gabriel_13E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/acquin_gabriel_13E.html
Author of Article:   Andrea Bear Nicholas
Title of Article:   ACQUIN, GABRIEL
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   September 28, 2023