The Maine Legislature is presently considering a bill that would grant more sovereignty over their legal and other affairs to the Wabanaki Nations, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac, and Maliseet, whose territories include what is now called Maine. It would seem that history has come full circle in the 244 years since leaders of these nations put their marks to the Treaty of Watertown 1776, the first treaty entered into by the fledgling United States of America.
This treaty permanently resides in the Massachusetts State Archives, and was reaffirmed in a ceremony at the Massachusetts State House in 1987. The gift of sovereignty, granted by the Wabanaki on July 19, 1776, applied to the 13 original colonies, making them states, capable of uniting by way of a written Constitution. The state of Massachusetts then shared its sovereignty with the territory of Maine, which was a colony it had administered in one way or another since 1692. Two hundred years ago, that sovereignty, given by the Wabanaki, was transferred to the state of Maine. Yes, under the tenets of international law, going way back before 1776, a nation which declares itself independent achieves it only by being recognized by an already sovereign nation.
The Wabanaki Nations, by dint of treaties with the Vatican, France and England, were sovereign peoples when their representatives signed the Treaty of Watertown, on July 19, 1776, after a 10-day conference requested by Gen. George Washington and conducted by The Massachusetts Council, who were empowered for the first time to act on behalf of all 13 colonies (soon to be states) by the Continental Congress.
Prior to the treaty’s signing, a courier arrived on horseback from Philadelphia bearing a newly inked copy of the recently approved Declaration of Independence, which was read to the Indians in conference, before being taken to its first public reading from the window of Faneuil Hall in Boston.
Seeing that after over 150 years of European settlement of their ancient homelands, some Algonquin ideals seem to have rubbed off on these colonists, the Wabanaki spokesperson, Sabbattus Netacobwit, is recorded to have said, ” We like it well!” as they each made their marks. It is also notable that the preamble to the Treaty of Watertown is drawn virtually word-for-word from the Declaration.
Notable as well is the fact that, historically, it is the first international treaty to call for the equal treatment of non-white service members.
Christopher M. Groden of Belfast is an actor, singer and director. He has also been a researcher of Native American history since the 1970s.