It was a snowy, frigid February evening in 1791 when Joseph Junin was killed in his home in Bangor — the first recorded homicide in Bangor history, and one that remains unsolved, 227 years later.
The story that’s survived over the past 200 years in historical documents and memoirs is one that involves an unhinged teenager, falsely accused Native Americans, and, possibly, Revolutionary War-era espionage.
Joseph Junin was a Frenchman who came to America as a young man, settling in Castine and establishing himself as a trader with the Penobscot tribe. It’s not clear exactly how long he lived in Castine, but in 1790, at the age of 31, he moved to Conduskeag, then a small but growing settlement on the Penobscot River, which was officially incorporated as Bangor on Feb. 25 the next year — a week after his killing.
Junin continued trading in the settlement, swapping blankets, cloth and rum for furs from the natives. His shop was located on the same property as his home, at what is now the corner of Exchange and Washington streets. It’s not known how many family members Junin lived with, but there was at least one: his 16-year-old nephew, Louis Paronneau.
Kimberly Sawtelle, an archivist at Fogler Library at UMaine who runs a Bangor history blog, On a Grave Subject, has done extensive research on the circumstances surrounding the Junin killing. She believes that young Paronneau was a bit of a loose cannon, according to her research.
“This is somewhat supposition on my part, but he seemed pretty much to be a scallywag, and his parents certainly did not want him to be in France, so they sent him to live with his mother’s brother, his uncle,” said Sawtelle. “It appears that [Paronneau’s] father was a marquess of some sort in France, so he came from a connected family.”
According to documents from that era, on the night of Feb. 18, 1791, Paronneau burst into the home of Junin’s neighbors, Jacob and Elizabeth Dennett. He aired his concerns for his uncle’s safety — namely, that Junin’s long standing relationship with the natives had soured, quickly, and that he feared for his uncle’s life. He even claimed to have seen “angry Indians” lurking around outside the house. The Dennetts assured Paronneau that all was well, and he left.
Not long after, the Dennetts heard gunfire. They went over to investigate and found Junin, dead, with three bullets in his head, and muskrat furs scattered about the house. Though a search party was formed to find the people Paronneau claimed were threatening his uncle, none were found.
Col. Jonathan Eddy, a Revolutionary War military leader and the founder of the town of Eddington, was one of the two men that issued a warrant for the arrest of Paronneau, who was taken into custody on Feb. 22. Eddy’s writings — in which he extensively details the circumstances around Junin’s murder — were compiled and published in 1877 by scholar Joseph Porter.
While in jail, Paronneau wrote letters to both the French Consul in Boston, and to George Washington himself, asking the former for help with his legal defense, and imploring the latter to show him mercy.
The trial was held in July 1791 in Lincoln County, at the Pownalborough Courthouse, in what is now Dresden. Paronneau was acquitted of all charges, despite circumstantial evidence against him, thanks to a defense team assembled and paid for by the French Consul in Boston, Eddy wrote. If it’s true that Paronneau was a son of the French aristocracy, it appears his family came through just in time — less than two years later, the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution began, resulting in the execution of more than 16,000 aristocrats.
Though Junin’s murder was never solved, there remain some interesting questions surrounding the murder — besides, of course, whether or not Paronneau was truly the killer.
Col. Eddy wrote in his memoirs that he believed that the name Junin was an alias, and that the victim’s real name was Lunier. Eddy wrote that during the Revolutionary War, Junin traded regularly with the natives — not just supplies, but also whatever information the Penobscot had on the movements of the Americans, which he then shared with the British.
“Junin was an Indian trader and without doubt the same man who acted as British agent on Penobscot River during the Revolutionary War,” wrote Eddy. “The Capt. Lunier referred to was the same man who as Joseph Junin was murdered in his store in Condeskeag Plantation Feb. 18 1791.”
Eddy would have had reason to be suspicious of Junin, if he was indeed a British agent. Eddy was an early and proud supporter of the American Revolution, and he spent much of the war leading the defense of Machias, including during the Battle of Machias in August 1777 (not to be confused with the Battle of the Margaretta, also in Machias, in 1775). In the Battle of Machias — which was more of a skirmish, really — the local militia, led by Eddy, and native allies successfully defended the town from British troops that were attempting to land.
According to numerous historical documents, leading up to the Battle of Machias, someone had tipped the British off that the Americans were based in Machias, and were working on planning an assault on New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. There’s no proof of it, of course, but could that person have been Junin, who may have been in Castine at the time? We may never know.
After the trial, Junin’s estate was sent to Paronneau’s father in France. Louis Paronneau allegedly hightailed it back to his home country, presumably taking with him his uncle’s remaining cache of fur, fabrics, guns and rum, but it appears he didn’t stay in France for long. The last known mention of a Louis Paronneau was in 1796. He apparently died at the age of 21 in what is now Haiti, according to official documents now held by Florida State University.
Junin was buried in a cemetery not far from his home, near what is now Oak Street in Bangor. In the mid-1800s the graves were moved to Mount Hope Cemetery, where he lies to this day.
When the Bangor Historical Society hosts its Ghostly Bangor tours each October, in the weeks before Halloween, the site of the Junin murder is among the stops.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.