Lansing – What started as personal research for Theresa Weller to find out more about the Anishinaabe name of an ancestor, turned into a book, “The Founding Mothers of Mackinac Island: The Agatha Biddle Band of 1870.”
It tells the story of the Agatha Biddle Band, a band of primarily Native American women who lived on Mackinac Island in the 1800s.
The band was a unique Native American community because it was composed of 66 women and eight men. It was extremely unusual for a band to be majority women. Moreover, the women were unrelated to each other, which was also unusual at the time.
They formed their band because they each owed annuity payments from the U.S. government for land abandoned in the Washington Treaty of 1836
Weller tells family families in the band and gives readers insight into what life was like for them and others on Mackinac Island during the 1800s.
“It started when I was just collecting the annuities and wanted to find out what my ancestor’s Indian name was, and it just blossomed. I thought there were so many people related to Mackinac Island that I should keep doing it, ”Weller said.
In the preface, Weller says that her purpose in writing the book “was to give Sauvages a name. Who were these women? Where did they come from? How was their life? “Sauvages is a French word meaning wild or natural.
Weller used records of annuity payments for research belonging to the band.
“The writing process started with me making spreadsheets of all the different annuities I had and trying to compare them. But there were so many gaps in between, ”Weller said.
Weller was able to obtain records from Mackinac Island Genealogy and Family History for 1858-59. These years were important because 1858 was the last year in which women’s names for annuity payments were written in their own Indian names.
Then annuities were written with the names of their husbands.
Weller said she found a lot of interesting stories about the women and that people were extremely generous and gave her information and photos of their ancestors to include in her book. This information helped her piece of information together and identified some band members.
A majority of the women were at least half-blooded, and many were married to fur traders.
Biddle joined the band in 1837 and became its boss in the early 1860s. Her parents probably came from the tribes of Odawa and Potawatomi. However, it is unknown how much Indian blood Agatha had.
Her maiden name was Sarrasin, and she married a man named Edward Biddle, with whom she had at least four children.
Biddle maintained his Catholic faith throughout his life and was buried in Ste. Ann’s Cemetery on Mackinac Island.
Because the band consisted of members from many backgrounds, they did not have to follow typical rules of conduct and did not have to marry people outside their birth clan.
This led to much marriage among the children of the members.
Weller’s ancestor, Angelique Belonzhay, was the sister of band member Marie Charlotte Dejadon. The Belonzhay women are thought to be from the Mississippi, but little is known about the origins of their family.
Weller, living in St. Ignace and freelance writer, said that St. The Ignace community is still extremely tight, and many residents there with French surnames are descendants of women from the band.
“I have received a number of emails from people thanking me for confirming ideas or theories that they have had,” Weller said.
Weller said she hopes readers can learn more from her book about Native American women and the difficulties they have endured.
“The Founding Mothers of Mackinac Island: The Agatha Biddle Band of 1870,” ($ 32.95) is available from Michigan State University Press and Amazon.
Emilie Appleyard writes for the Great Lakes Echo.
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