Weaving a story with historical details, John Mugglebee links together the lives and experiences of generations by following the trail of a coin. Neespaugot: The Legend of the Indian’s Coin is a beautifully written journey through time. Beginning with the coin’s original owner, the Native American Runinniduk, a pawwaw or sorcerer in the Praying Village, Mugglebee describes how the old man came to be in possession of the item. He’d received the coin as a gesture of gratitude from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his assistance in translating the Bible into Algonquian. Only Runinniduk and the chief Massasoit were natives in possession of one of these rare coins; one of the first ten minted in what would become America.
Runinniduk, whose name means Snow Hare, is an interesting character. Although he is native he is fair skinned, blue eyed, and looks more like a white man than a member of his people. Once revered, when a tragedy caused by the white men causes the deaths of an entire village, Runinniduk is blamed because of his resemblance to the whites. After surviving a severe punishment, he returns to his people and is given a seat on the tribal council. It is his vote that allows the white people to survive and after many years he questions his decision. He is watching his people and the land they live on slowly being taken over by the strangers from across the sea, the People of the Boat.
Mugglebee skillfully integrates the language of the natives throughout these beginning chapters, setting an authentic tone for the book. The events that follow lead to the coin falling into the possession of Runinniduk’s granddaughter, Melba Blue Jay, who is as pale and blue eyed as her grandfather. When circumstances lead to her arrest, she is chained along with almost two hundred other natives and sent aboard a slave ship to the West Indies. Her name is changed to Clarisse where she is sold into a life of slavery and prostitution.
The descriptions of her life in the nightmare world of slavery are torturous and painful. Amazingly she survives and gives birth to children. A series of dramatic events lead to eventual freedom and she is allowed to escape along with her children. Arriving in New France, present day Canada, the land of the Iroquois and the Mohawk, she began a new life. In her heart, she hopes to someday return to Neespaugot. Eventually, she and her daughter make the long journey. The people they find on their return are the descendants of Massasoit, Metacomet, and Africans.
Following the coin through generations, Mugglebee weaves the voyage of the coin through the lives of the descendants of Runinniduk; a fascinating historical trail that leads from country to country, one hand to another, to the year 2015 and Ruth who is determined to wrest the coin from her uncle Ezra Roxxmott. He describes himself as a “…Native American and African, and Chinese, and Irish, and Russian and Jew and Muslim…”. The coin has returned to Neespaugot, completing a cycle that leads to yet another confrontation. The inscription is no longer readable, the purpose a mystery.
In this time in our history, the tale of the coin as it traversed the world, drawing from each culture and nation incorporated by the descendants, is the tale of America. We are all a blend of the paths our forebears have traveled and Neespaugot is, in many ways, the story of each of us. Capturing the flavors of the past and incorporating them into one final blend of biological uniqueness, Mugglebee holds up a mirror in which every reader might see their own exceptional identity.
Neespaugot: The Legend of the Indian’s Coin
“Mother and daughter finished loading their canoe. They had gourds of fresh water, a pannier of corn, beans, squash and sunflowers, a fishing spear, canisters of powder and lead, a musket, steels and flints, a bow and quiver, ropes, blankets, a sheet of oil linen for a tent or sail, and an oilskin bag containing maps and scribbled notes concerning their route. The smell of waterproofing—heated spruce resin and grease—mixed with the musk of the river.
Monsieur Bleu was already aboard, stretched out in the center of the canoe as Melba had trained him, taking up a third of all available space, his great pointy head higher than the bulwarks, surveying the shore. Melba climbed in and extended her arms for the baby. Laurette balked a last time.
“I don’t understand this adventure, Maman. How will we hide from the English?”
“We won’t hide, nerternees.”
“The English will torture us and eat Moliere with their marmalade.”
“Laurette, get in or go back, but give me the baby. Moliere at least will grow up in the place of my ancestors.”
“That place no longer exists, Maman!”
Melba waited for the young woman to decide. Flustered and ill-humored, Laurette handed over the child, pushed the canoe off the bank and climbed in.
That past autumn, Nero had died while their mother was away preparing this insane journey. Laurette had shrouded her little brother in winding sheet and carried him, light as windlestraw, to a moosewood tree behind the cabin, where she buried him. She, alone, his preacher, congregation, family and undertaker.
To anyone watching from shore they made a strange sight, a white woman dressed in skins and a dark-skinned Indian habited in a starch calico dress from Rouen, France, paddling downriver with a giant dog and an infant. A multitude of ducks and geese took flight, filling the crepuscule with a deafening chatter. The clack and bray of elk and moose came through the morning mist. The baby, penned in by Monsieur Bleu and the supplies, tapped the dog’s head and giggled with delight. Using the dog as a support, the child stood on unsure bowlegs and squealed at the herd of deer gathered along the shore. Melba handed him his toy, a small totem carved in wood, but he preferred to slap at the medal dangling from her neck.
“Wemoo,” sang Melba to her child. My light. “Laurette, my spirit blooms. We are going to Neespaugot!”