The People of the First Light
Two families, the Michauds and the Gauvins, along with their Abenaki guides, leave Canada and settle in the English village of Compton, Maine. The Gauvins, eager to become more socially accepted, convert from Catholicism to Protestantism and begin to look down on the Michauds as well as the Abenakis who have been converted to Catholicism by Jesuit priests. When some of the rowdy settlers burn down the Gauvins home, the Gauvins go to live with the Abenakis. (Abenaki means “the people of the first light” or “the people first to see the sun rise.”) The parents return to Canada, whereas their son Francois and his young wife, Maria-Claire Gauvin, continue to live with the Indians. Francois, a coureur de bois, becomes involved in a reckless life of drinking and carousing, causing Maria and the Abenakis to lose their respect for him. Agawam, a widow and spiritual leader of the tribe, teaches Maria the healing uses of herbs. He also saves the life of Francois when Francois is ill with pneumonia. Maria takes her young daughter Jennie to visit her relatives in Compton (a fictional name). Just before Maria dies in childbirth, she gives Jennie to her friend Wiyanna. When Jennie becomes a lovely young woman, her English relatives, with whom she spends the winters, want her to stay with them and plan for her to marry the widowed minister, Gideon Hughes, whom Jennie detests. Jennie is in love with Cognawescu, the chief’s son, and wants to return to her Indian family. Nevertheless, making her feel unaccepted by her own people and fearing she will end up marrying an Indian, the Gauvins tell Jennie that she needs to accept the offer of the arrogant Gideon Hughes, who insists that she marry him in order for her to become a respectable White woman and that she must no longer visit her “heathen” Abenaki friends. Read the story to find out what happens to Jennie and to learn a lot about the relations between the Abenakis, the French, and the English during the 1700s.