Plenty With Grudges: The Cold Case Murder of Joseph Junin


March 21, 2018
by Charles H. Lagerbom Also by this Author


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In February 1791, when local Indian trader Joseph Marie Junin was found dead, shot twice in the head in his cabin in what is present-day Bangor, Maine, many thought it a simple robbery and that local Indians were to blame. When Junin’s feckless nephew was arrested and put on trial, some agreed the boy did it for his uncle’s property and wealth. After legal proceedings for the nephew found him not guilty, a few whispered that maybe there was something more to Junin’s murder after all.

Nearly a dozen years earlier in October 1779, Massachusetts truckmaster to the Penobscot Indians Jonathan Lowder and an Acadian captain named DeBadie in two birch canoes were captured just a few hours from their final destination of Sunkhaze on the upper Penobscot River. Accompanied by four Penobscot Indians, they were on the final leg of a 130-mile long trek by lake and marsh from Machias to the Indian village at Old Town. The capture was quick and the surprise complete. A party of twenty-six Canadian Indians surrounded and disarmed them. They were led by British agent and French trapper Monsieur Lunier.[1]

The capture was a blow to American war-time operations in down east Maine, as Lowder was carrying important correspondence for Col. John Allan, Superintendent of the Eastern Indians. According to Lowder family lore, Jonathan carried those secret messages under a fake sole in his boot and they escaped discovery, but official British records contradict that claim. The prisoners were first carried to the Moosehead region, then to Quebec and finally Halifax where Jonathan was kept prisoner on suspicion of being a spy. It was the start of a long, grueling ordeal for the thirty-six years old truckmaster.[2]

For Monsieur Lunier, it was yet another successful outcome of a wartime mission for the young man, not yet twenty years old. There is little information of how, when or why he had emigrated from France to North America, although there is some indication he was part of the French aristocracy. His sister may have married into a French noble family.[3] Lunier, also spelled Lonier or Lonear, was born in 1759 in LaRochelle, France. He was only eighteen years old when he set up operations at the upper reaches of the Penobscot River. Jonathan Lowder referred to him as a French colonel in regular service, although others questioned this and some suggested he was nothing more than a French trapper who worked the upper Penobscot region. This mysterious individual and his wartime activities were never truly revealed. Lowder first learned of Lunier and his activities from Indian interpreter and commander of the Penobscot Indian ranger force Lt. Andrew Gilman, who himself had learned of the agent while conducting business with Penobscot Indians at Old Town.[4]

By the start of the war, Lunier had set up an outpost on the upper Penobscot some distance above the Penobscot Indian village at Old Town. There he proceeded to act on behalf of the British and agitate the local inhabitants. To Allan and Lowder, Lunier represented an existential threat as well as a competing source of persuasion on the local Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indians. This was recognized in a letter from Allan to the Massachusetts government. Every time Lowder, Gilman or Allan met with Penobscots, they spoke of this Lunier and his artful and cunning ways to turn them against the Americans. It is not clear whether it was a true threat or a maneuver on their part to increase leverage on the Americans, but as the war dragged on, Lunier’s threat and influence appeared to magnify. Allan repeatedly warned officials about Lunier and his great influence among the Penobscots and said he dreaded Lunier most at present.[5]

Throughout the summer 1777, rumors swirled about Lunier and a possible large-scale attack by native forces and British Regulars coming down Penobscot River, much like the British were doing in New York. When rumors spread about an armed sentry north of Old Town being fired upon, local leader Josiah Brewer sounded the general alarm. Panic ensued. Many fled while others prepared for the worst. When the impending attack never materialized, Brewer and truckmaster Jonathan Lowder were blamed by locals for the unnecessary scare. Complaints were filed against Lowder that he had even manufactured the general alarm in order to profit from it and had conveniently used this mortal danger to his material advantage. John Allan at Machias blamed Lunier for a lot of this unrest and worried about Lunier’s apparent effectiveness at stirring up trouble.[6]

The British in Quebec reported on November 1, 1779 that a scouting party under Lunier to Penobscot had returned with the capture of a Lieutenant-Colonel Lowder and a Captain deBadie, referred to as a French officer. When apprehended, the two were carrying official correspondence from John Allan to the Continental Congress. British authorities reported that Lowder also carried many private letters. The messages were sent to Nova Scotia Lt. Gov. Sir Richard Hughes for his and commander of Fort George at Castine Gen. Francis McLean’s information, so “they could trace the connections of people in their neighborhood.” Of particular interest was a note from Allan stating the recent Penobscot Expedition’s naval defeat had caused anti-American murmuring among the native populations and their growing refusal to obey Massachusetts officials. Hughes also learned that anti-British native Americans were marching from St. John to join Allan. Lunier tried to counteract Allan’s move and sent the St. John natives wampum belts along with an invitation to come to Canada for discussions.[7]

The four native Americans captured with Lowder and deBadie were allowed to return to their villages after promising their fidelity. Lowder and deBadie were sent to Halifax to relieve pressure, especially regarding deBadie, as it was feared he might be mischievous in Quebec. By November 6, it was noted deBadie had given a false account of himself when he claimed that Lunier’s Indians had robbed him of five guineas. Although the accusation was doubted, British authorities paid him the amount and added that he “is to be well treated but closely watched.” Lowder was accused of tampering with the native populations, his granddaughter said the British considered him a spy. A fellow prisoner noted they embarked for Halifax on November 5, 1779. Jonathan’s wife, Deliverance, still lived at their truckhouse back on Penobscot River and feared her husband dead when she learned of his capture. All she knew was that he had been carried off by native Americans and Monsieur Lunier. Lowder’s granddaughter noted that during his imprisonment, the privilege of writing home was denied, so the family had no news of his plight. Massachusetts learned of his capture in a letter from John Allan on October 20, 1779.[8]

After the Massachusetts naval defeat at Penobscot in August 1779, native Americans in the area reportedly turned on settlers and plundered many of their houses. These actions were likely assisted by Lunier and may have prompted American Gen. Solomon Lovell to forge some kind of truce with the native inhabitants. British Loyalists and sympathizers, who now flocked to Penobscot as a safe haven, also vented their anger on the locals. Empty houses of settlers who had fled were plundered and burned, especially those thought to belong to rebel supporters. Many Indians had also pawned items to Jonathan Lowder at his truckhouse, it was a service offered and provided a convenient way to purchase supplies. When they learned of Lowder’s capture, many wanted their belongings back. One night they came to the truckhouse in a hostile attitude. Demanding their pawns, they forced their way inside the structure, where they ransacked the front parlor room. As this was happening, Lowder’s wife Deliverance passed their baby daughter Avis out a small window from the back room into the arms of neighbor Archibald McPheters’ wife. Deliverance soon after moved with Avis to Castine and sheltered with Jedidiah Preble Jr. and his wife Avis and family.[9]

By March 1780, Jonathan Lowder was still prisoner in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His granddaughter noted he was kept in Quebec, Halifax and St. John for a total time of three years. Lt. William Scudder, a soldier captured by Indians near Fort Stanwix in New York in July 1779, was force-marched two hundred and fifty miles to Quebec. A prisoner there, he wrote that on October 26, 1779, a Lieutenant Colonel Lowder of Boston in the militia and a French officer were brought in to Quebec as prisoners. Scudder recorded the two had been captured at a place called Konopscot in New Hampshire and said Lowder reported he had a valuable packet going to Gen. Horatio Gates. Within a few days, it was decided to send them on to Halifax and then eventually to Boston for an exchange.[10]

Monsieur Lunier remained in the Penobscot area throughout the war carrying messages for the British from Castine along what was then considered the forest route. In March 1780, he accompanied a large body of Indians who were dispersed along the entire frontier of New England. By 1782, he reported regularly to Quebec regarding the state of affairs along the Maine coast. This was due to suspicious British authorities who increasingly did not trust what their Indian allies were reporting. In August that same year, Lunier was sent to report on an American post at Casco Bay. The following year he was sent southward for more information for Quebec authorities. What he learned, however, was news about a possible peace. As early as April 1783, he brought word that the end of the war was forthcoming.[11]

After the war, Lunier changed his name to Joseph Junin and settled in Castine. He was still there for the 1790 U. S. Federal Census, where he was listed as head of household with one other male living with him, most likely his nephew who had arrived just a year or two earlier. The nephew was Louis Paronneau and it was his father, Junin’s brother-in-law, who was the French aristocrat. Jonathan Lowder also resided in Castine at this time and one wonders what their social encounters were like in the small village. Within a year of the 1790 census, Lunier and his nephew relocated upriver to Kenduskeag Plantation, present-day Bangor, about twenty rods above where the Central Railroad station was built. There he operated as a merchant. At the foot of what became Exchange Street, he ran a trading post for native Americans, rarely trafficking with money, just barter of durable goods. He bought the land from Jacob Dennet in July 1790. Junin had lots of supplies on stock and was thought to be wealthy.[12]

On the snowy frigid night of February 18, 1791, Junin was found murdered in his bed in his log cabin store near the house of Jacob Dennet. The Frenchman was just thirty-two years old. It was Bangor’s first official murder, although the town did not incorporate officially as Bangor until a week after the murder. As he lay asleep, someone entered his cabin and shot him at least twice in the head. An inquest found the nephew Louis Paronneau may have committed the murder and the boy was promptly arrested. Paronneau claimed three Indians had broken into their cabin and done the deed. The day before the murder, the nephew had burst into Dennet’s nearby house and claimed local Indians were aroused and that he feared for his uncle’s safety. After Paronneau left, Dennet soon heard a gunshot. The boy said he went into his uncle’s store and found the body with two (or three) lead balls in the head.[13]

A search through surrounding deep snow was conducted but nothing or no one was found to substantiate Paronneau’s claim, although some said that if Indians had committed the murder, they knew better where to conceal themselves than their hunters knew where to find them. Paronneau was taken to the Pownalborough jail. His celebrated trial included Phillippe Andre Joseph de Létombe, the French Consul from Boston. He attended the proceedings after receiving a letter from Paronneau. The boy also sent a letter of plea to President George Washington.[14]

Létombe then communicated with French Minister of the Navy Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, writing, “… a young man named Paronneau, 15-16 years old, called by his uncle, M. Junin to Penobscot a year or two ago in the fur trade with the Indians. Boy arrived last year; he went to College de Soregu-Languedoc. Boy met schoolmates here. Informed last Fall that Junin was killed by him. Jury of Inquest said it was willful murder. Louis Paronneau imprisoned; says he is innocent.”[15]

The night after Junin’s murder, before any charges had been made, Louis Paronneau stayed at the Dennet’s house. Reportedly, he shook and trembled all night long, much noticed by Dennet’s boys in their shared bed. This was construed by many as evidence of guilt. But it was also noted Junin’s house had long been a gathering place for native Americans and that muskrat skins had been widely scattered about his cabin when his body was found, perhaps a robbery attempt turned fatal. Others were not so sure. Paronneau’s legal defense, arranged by Létombe, did a masterful job and the jury found him not guilty. Others maintained there was strong, yet circumstantial, evidence of his guilt. The balance of Junin’s estate, less charges for the search, inquest and casks of rum used by Paronneau’s jury, and thirty-nine shillings for Junin’s grave marker, was given to Louis Paronneau. In a letter to Fleurieu’s replacement Minister Antoine Jean Marie Thévenard, Létombe wrote that he was sending Paronneau to his parents at La Rochelle. But that appears not to have happened. Instead, the boy may have gone to the French colonial area Grande Anse on the island of Santo Domingo. Other sources indicate he died in 1796 at the age of twenty-one in Haiti.[16]

What was not spoken so loudly at the time was that there were plenty others who may have held a grudge or had a score to settle against Junin or Lunier. His business relations with the local Indians had indeed soured by the early 1790s; many did not like his exorbitant exchange rates. Col. Jonathan Eddy, who had issued orders for Paronneau’s arrest, had nearly lost the battle of Machias during the war because someone, most likely Lunier, had tipped off the British as to the Americans’ intentions. Jonathan Lowder had been captured and sat as a prisoner of war for three years and had his family was physically threatened all due to Lunier. By 1790, Lowder was Castine’s village excise officer and clerked at Robert Treat’s store in Bangor. The two must have constantly crossed paths in post-war Castine. With the British capture and control of the Penobscot region during the war, many others, both local settlers and local Indians, were affected by Lunier’s wartime actions and connections with the enemy. But with Paronneau’s release, no one else was ever charged for the first murder committed in Bangor history.[17]

Junin’s grave marker at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Bangor, Maine. (Author)

The Bangor City Council in 1836 ordered Junin’s remains removed from the old burial ground at the corner of Oak and Washington Streets to the newly opened Mt. Hope Cemetery. His nephew’s celebrity trial, Junin’s French connections and his unsolved murder were deemed important enough for them to consider re-interring him in Bangor’s newest and most fashionable cemetery. A crucifix and ribbon buried with him were found to be in a remarkable state of preservation. His gravestone is the oldest at Mt. Hope Cemetery and is easily found on the grounds.[18]


[1] “November 1 Quebec,” Haldimand Collection B-150, Report Public Archives of Canada (Ottawa: Brown Chamberlain, 1889), 583; “Report Pages 73, 84, 123, 160,” Sessional Papers of the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada v5 (Ottawa: s.n., 1888), 131, 132, 177, 543; and “Report Pages 34, 36,” Documents Relating to the Constitutional History of Canada 1759-1791, 1791-1818 (Ottawa: S.E. Dawson, 1889), 583.

[2] Frederick Kidder, Military Operations in Eastern Maine and Nova Scotia During the Revolution Chiefly Compiled from the Journals and Letters of Colonel John Allan (Albany: Joel Munsell, 1867), 268-269; Mary Avis Taylor Wiley, “When Bangor was a Log Cabin and a Stockade,” Bangor Commercial (September 24, 1912), 2; “November 1 Quebec,” Haldimand Collection B-150, 583; “Report Pages 73, 84, 123, 160,” 131, 132, 177, 543; and “Report Pages 34, 36,” 583.

[3] Emily Burnham, “The Story of Bangor’s Oldest Cold Case,” Bangor Daily News, February 17, 2018.

[4] Baxter Manuscripts v14 (Portland: Lefavor-Tower Company, 1910), 411-412, 413; John Howard Ahlin, Maine Rubicon: Downeast Settlers During the American Revolution (Calais, ME: Calais Advertiser Press, 1966), 106n23, 183; “Letter from John Allan, 19 November 1777,” Baxter Manuscripts v15 (Portland: Lefavor-Tower Company, 1910), 289; “Castine and Penobscot Names, etc,” Bangor Historical Magazine v1 (Bangor: Joseph W. Porter, 1885), 57; Jonathan Eddy, Memoir of Col. Jonathan Eddy of Eddington, ME (Augusta: Sprague, Owen and Nash, 1877), 58-59; Richard I. Hunt, Jr., British-American Rivalry for the Support of the Indians of Maine and Nova Scotia 1775-1783 (MA Thesis, University of Maine, 1973), 85; and “Joseph Marie Junin” (

[5] “Letter from John Allan, 19 November 1777,” 289; Memoir of Col. Jonathan Eddy, 58-59; Hunt, British-American Rivalry, 85; and Baxter Manuscripts v14, 413.

[6] Hunt, British-American Rivalry, 85; “Jedidiah Preble Jr.’s deposition,” Baxter Manuscripts v15, 158-159, 164-165; Walter A. Snow, Brooksville Maine: A Town in the Revolution (Ellsworth, ME: Downeast Graphics, 1976), 50; and “Letter from John Allan, 19 November 1777,” 289.

[7] “November 1 Quebec,” Haldimand Collection B-150, 583; “Report Pages 73, 84, 123, 160,” 131, 132, 177, 543; and “Report Pages 34, 36,” 583.

[8] “When Bangor was a Log Cabin and a Stockade;” “November 1 Quebec,” Haldimand Collection B-150, 583; “Report Pages 73, 84, 123, 160,” 131, 132, 177, 543; “Report Pages 34, 36,” 583; John E. Godfrey, History of Penobscot County, Maine: The Annals of Bangor, 1769-1882 (Cleveland: William Chase, 1882), 528; Kidder, Military Operations, 268-269; The Journal of William Scudder, 77-78 University of Michigan Library,;view=fulltext.

[9] “Statement of Major Todd,” Baxter Manuscripts v17 (Portland: Lefavor-Tower, 1913), 300; “When Bangor was a Log Cabin and a Stockade;” Godfrey, History of Penobscot County, 528; and Robert C. Brooks, “The Artificers and Inhabitants Who Built Fort George, Penobscot 1779-1780,” Maine Genealogist (May 2004), 64.

[10] “When Bangor was a Log Cabin and a Stockade;” and The Journal of William Scudder, 76-77.

[11] “March 4 1780 Quebec,” “January 30 1782 Quebec,” “August 10 1782 Quebec,” “February 17 1783 Quebec,” Haldimand Collection B-150, 584, 588, 590, 591.

[12] Burnham, “The Story of Bangor’s Oldest Cold Case;” “Penobscot Town, Hancock County,” 1790 US Federal Census; Memoir of Col. Jonathan Eddy, 59-62; “Castine and Penobscot Names, etc.,” 57; Godfrey, History of Penobscot County, 538, 694; and “Miscellaneous Items,” Bangor Historical Magazine v6 (Bangor: Benjamin A. Burr, 1891), 240.

[13] Burnham, “The Story of Bangor’s Oldest Cold Case;” Memoir of Col. Jonathan Eddy, 59-62; “Castine and Penobscot Names, etc.,” 57; Godfrey, History of Penobscot County, 538, 694; and “Miscellaneous Items,” 240.

[14] “Letter from Captain Henrich Urban Cleve to Duke Carl Wilhelm Ferdinand,” April 24, 1783 Journal of the Johannes Schwalm Historical Association v7, no 1 (2001), 63; Memoir of Col. Jonathan Eddy, 59-62; “Penobscot Town, Hancock County” 1790 US Federal Census,; “Castine and Penobscot Names, etc,” 57; Godfrey, History of Penobscot County, 538, 694; “Miscellaneous Items,” 240.

[15] Abraham P. Nasatir & Gary Elwyn Monell, French Consuls in the United States: A calendar of their correspondence in the Archives Nationalles (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 1967), 56.

[16] Memoir of Col. Jonathan Eddy, 59-62; “Castine and Penobscot Names, etc,” 57; Godfrey, History of Penobscot County, 538, 694; “Miscellaneous Items,” 240; Burnham, “The Story of Bangor’s Oldest Cold Case;” Jérémie Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida (MS Group 17).

[17] Burnham, “The Story of Bangor’s Oldest Cold Case.”

[18] Ibid.; “Castine and Penobscot Names, etc.,” 57; Godfrey, History of Penobscot County, 538, 694; “Miscellaneous Items,” 240; “Joseph Marie Junin,” Memorial ID 174113817,; “Mount Hope Virtual Tour: The Merchant of Bangor,”

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