Help via Ko-Fi

Little Lost Republic


ALMOST forgotten among the events of this swiftly-moving age is the Lost Republic of Indian Stream. Few students of American history can lift their hands to attest that they have even heard of Indian Stream. Gone, too, are all, or nearly all, who saw that strange strip of_ territory on New Hampshire's Canadian border stand off the might of two great governments and strive desperately to maintain its independence.

The government records of the case are moldering in the archives at Washington and Ottawa. Even New Hampshire now seldom recalls the affair, and Luther Parker, "President of the Indian Stream Republic," who, with a staunch body of settlers, defied troops and warring authorities and defended the domain, is but a dim memory to the few who remember.

The argument over Indian Stream and its 160,000 acres and three hundred citizens lasted for almost sixty years—in fact, from the Treaty of Paris in 1783 to the Ashburton treaty of 1843. It all came about because three New Hampshire traders secured from Chief Phillip of the St. Francis tribe a deed to the territory of Indian Stream on the most northerly boundary' of New Hampshire.

A survey after the Revolution had determined the boundary limits of Canada and the United States. In those days, however, surveyors were not always too clear with their local definitions, so that the actual boundary line was subject to two interpretations. It was either at a creek known as Hall's Stream or some miles further south at the Connecticut River. The tract in dispute was of magnificent fertility and scenic beauty.

"Connecticut Lake, chief of the river's headwaters, lies 1,618 feet above the sea level," writes one visitor of the territory. "Picturesquely irregular in outline, its shores in a large part forest fringes broken by green intervals, it is a handsome lake of fine proportions, as becomes a progenitor of so fair a stream. The neighboring hills are thick with trees, particularly the maple, mingled with spruce and fir. In the Autumn, while the trees are aglow with their rich tints, the heights are often white from the frozen mist that clings to the spears of the evergreen foliage....

,"Now full-formed, the river emerges from the rocky outlet of this river basin. For the first two and a half miles of its course it is almost a continual rapid. Then it drops into a more tranquil mood and glides along for some four miles, winding west and southwest. Receiving along the way two fair-sized tributaries and lesser streams, it flows again more rapidly to the meeting of the boundaries of New Hampshire, Vermont and Canada."

Such was the elysian scene in the Republic of Indian Stream. It bore many names in the earlier days. It was variously known as Indian Stream, Indian Stream Settlement, Indian Stream Territory, the Township of Indian Village, the Township of Liberty in the United States, Indian Grant, Hedel's Grant, Bedel's and Others' Grant, and Bedel's and Associates' Grant. At present it is the northern part of Coos County, New Hampshire; but the records show that a good many vivid incidents had to happen before that incorporation was to come about.

DAVID GIBBS, Nathaniel Wales and Moody Bedel, the original grantees of Indian Stream, appear to have had heads for both pioneering and business. They in turn deeded parcels of the tract to others, receiving hard cash in return. Slowly in that out-of-the-way territory a population grew up.

The War of 1812 between the United Stats and England-does not seem to have had much effect on the new project, which, by 182O, had increased to forty settlers and their families. They thrived under their own laws, and no one paid much attention to them until, in 1824, a visiting commission from New Hampshire reported that there were fifty-eight families, totaling nearly three hundred folk, in the old Indian grant.

Then came the first hints of trouble. The New Hampshire legislature wanted to know more about this odd settlement on its northern boundary, which was operating peacefully under its own government. Canada had taken only a desultory interest in the settlement, but now it also awoke officially to its existence. New Hampshire claimed Indian Stream territory as its own, and the inhabitants objected. Canada claimed it and the inhabitants likewise objected to that. Great Britain took a hand and the affair was submitted to the King of the Netherlands for arbitration. He decided in favor of Canada. The United States refused to accept the word as final.

By that time the settlers of Indian Stream were asserting themselves with vigor. If Hall's Stream was the international boundary, then they belonged to the United States. If the Connecticut River was the boundary, they belonged to Canada. But they had not the slightest intention of belonging to either party in the argument until the elusive boundary had been nailed down to stay.

Such was the decision at which they arrived in the historic General Assembly meeting of 1832, when Indian Stream drew up its own constitution and stepped out for itself in the world as an independent republic.

The constitution was a remarkable document. It provided for an assembly, a council of five, an army, a supreme court. In short, it duplicated most of the branches of the United States Government. Quite possibly the republic of Indian Stream was not a complete Utopia. In the minutes of the year 1832 is found the notation that the assembly "voted to choose a committee of six to adopt some measure to prevent people from cheating, lying and swindling people out of their money," All other evidence points, however, to the conclusion that the settlers of Indian Stream were honest and industrious, with the exception of the usual handful of sharp traders to be found in any community.

THE REPUBLIC of Indian Stream had been created owing allegiance to no one but its own authorities. There was confusion as a result. The United States Government took Indian Stream at its word and began to levy customs duties on all goods going into and coming out of the territory, much to the displeasure of the farming folk.

As soon as the King of the Netherlands had decided the dispute in favor of Canada the Canadian authorities began to insist that the territory's citizens should perform their military duty as dutiful subjects of Great Britain. This likewise appears to have irked the honest republicans of the spunky little community.

Indian Stream was thus hammered from both sides. Finally a decision was reached which it was hoped would brighten up the twilight enveloping the situation. New Hampshire officials were coming into the territory to serve writs on the inhabitants. A way had to be found to end such harrying. So, Indian Stream addressed a communication to the Attorney-General of the United States asking for an opinion that the territory was under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government, but not under that of New Hampshire, and demanding that the state authorities should cease their activities.

The reply of the Attorney-General was profoundly disappointing to the unhappy republic. He wrote:

"If you are within the limits of the United States, as has always been maintained by this Government, it is because you are within the limits of the State of New Hampshire."

The authorities of New Hampshire followed this blow with one of their own. They wrote to the Indian Stream Assembly that the state intended to assume full sway over the recalcitrant republic as a result of the Attorney-General's decision.

The reaction was prompt and decisive. A very much enraged republic of Indian Stream, sixty out of its seventy-five voters signing, addressed a petition to the Governor of Lower Canada.

"Being unable to defend ourselves against the aggressions oi the State of New Hampshire," was the substance of the document, "We now turn to you, asking what relief you can extend to us against new invasions."

The Governor of Lower Canada is reported to have been much pleased. He wrote back promptly that he would defend the citizens of Indian Stream against all encroachments on their liberties as British subjects; He was probably not aware of the fact that the new republic was a house divided against itself by now. It had its independent republicans, its Canadian party and its "New Hampshire boys"-each side pledged to a different government.

Indian Stream began to seethe. It seethed still more when Canadian authorities came in openly to arrest citizens on British warrants, and New Hampshire representatives appeared with New Hampshire warrants.

FOR YEARS Luther Parker had been a leading citizen of Indian Stream. He had served as a member of the first Council and later had been designated "President of the Republic." The Canadian officers of the law endeavored to lay hands on him and his brother Asa on a trivial charge. They called at his store. Luther Parker calmly produced his rifle and laid it on the counter. Asa Parker sauntered in with two large horse-pistols. The Canadian party evaporated.

Later on, however, they captured one of the brothers on a lonely road and took him across the border into Canada, where he was released on bail. The case against him promptly fell through. It is doubtful if much of a case could have been made against anyone arrested in Indian Stream during those stirring days.

There was, for instance, an Indian Stream settler named Blanchard, whose allegiance was with the "New Hampshire boys." With New Hampshire officials he arrested a certain Tyler, and Tyler was rescued by his friends of Canadian sympathy. Then, as his move in the game, Tyler, leading a party of Canadian officers, went out to seize Blanchard on the charge of falsely arresting a British subject. The "New Hampshire boys" received the news that Blanchard had been captured and was being led toward Canada. They armed themselves and set off in pursuit. The hamlets of Indian Stream buzzed with excitement.

With a guard now grown to fifteen men, Blanchard was almost over the Canadian border when eight armed "New Hampshire boys" swooped down on them on horseback and demanded the release of the prisoner. Immediately Blanchard was turned over to his friends. This might have been the end of the trouble had not someone recalled that there was still a New Hampshire warrant and a $5.00 reward out for Tyler, who had instigated Blanchard's arrest.

Two republicans started at once to invade Canada and capture Tyler. At the home of a Canadian justice-of-the peace, a hot—headed hater of the republicans, a party of twelve Canadians was encountered. The justice called upon them to seize the pair of invaders. Pistols were brought out and cocked, and stones began to fly at the two lonely Indian Streamers.

A party of thirty more "New Hampshire boys" suddenly appeared. The august justice-of-the-peace for Canada was seized and dragged across the line, later to be released with a warning to behave himself in the future. Here and there were the hurts of sabre wounds and of a pistol shot or so. The situation bore a strong resemblance to war.

THE New Hampshire Legislature passed a resolution empowering the governor to use any means at his disposal to enforce the state authority over Indian Stream. At once a company of militia under the command of Captain James Mooney marched into the disputed territory. The sight of soldiers and bayonets with the full power of a state behind them, made its impression on the citizens of the republic.

Captain Mooney quartered himself in the house of Luther Parker, where, it is related, he spent much of his time when not out on active service in reading a book and rocking the baby's cradle. All around in the yard were the tents of the soldiers. There were sporadic arrests of trouble-makers; but the presence of militia tamed down the most ebullient. Slowly the excitement waned. Barracks went up for winter quarters, indicating that New Hampshire's militia had come to stay.

The Canadian officials were informed that none of their representatives would be allowed to enter Indian Stream. A guard was posted on the roads leading into the republic. Many of the inhabitants, including Luther Parker and his family, despairing of the future of the new republic, sought other fields of pioneering. The rest settled down to a life of peace and quiet.

At last the Canadian Government promised to keep its hands off the Republic of Indian Stream and the troops were withdrawn. In a series of resolutions passed by the General Assembly, the Republic of Indian Stream dissolved its identity and came under the jurisdiction of New Hampshire.

In 1840 there was incorporated the town of Pittsburg, containing the territory of Indian Stream. Two years later the Ashburton Treaty defined the international boundary as being Stream. One more independent republic had vanished.

But all down the years there to have been a trace of the old independence left. It is related that back around 1915 the representative of the Pittsburg district, during an argument in the New Hampshire Legislature, called the attention of that body to the fact that his territory had once gone completely independent, and that, therefore, its voters had better be respected.