Early Historical Account of the Native American Tribes of the New England
The present spirit of inquiry into the early history of New England is bringing forth additional facts and evolving new light, by which we are every day seeing more clearly the true motive and incentives for its colonization. But whenever the student turns to investigate the history of the aboriginal tribes, who once inhabited this part of the country, he is struck, not so much with the paucity of materials, as with the complication and difficulties which our earlier and later writers have thrown around the subject, as well as the very different light with which they have viewed it.
The first explorers of our coast, whose intercourse with the Indians was limited to trading for furs and skins, seem to have had a much better opinion of them than Mather, Hubbard, and some still later writers. It is not to be supposed that while a large part of the population were smarting from the distress of almost continued Indian wars, that even the most candid could coolly investigate and impartially record the history, character, and wants of such a people. But the time has arrived, when, divesting ourselves of all prejudice, we can examine carefully their true situation, and making allowance for their condition, write their history with fairness and candor.
Abenaki Indian Village
The present sketch is confined to a brief notice of the tribes who inhabited the territory now constituting the States of Maine and New Hampshire, all of which may be considered as embraced under the name of Abenakis, or more properly Wanbanakkie. It has often been supposed that this name was given them by the French, but it is undoubtedly their original appellation, being derived from Wanbanban, which may be defined the people of aurora borealis or northern light.
It is only now intended to sketch their earlier history, and to trace the various emigrations to the present residence of the Abenakis proper, in Canada; and viewing this tribe as the living representative of our extinct ones, to consider its interesting history, so clearly connected with New England frontier life, although most of that history is but a record of war and wretchedness.
Capt. John Smith,
The celebrated discoverer, Capt. John Smith, in his general history, furnishes the earliest and most reliable description of the Indians on the coast of Maine, as they were in 1614; other writers give accounts of tribes there, some of which it is difficult to distinguish or locate; but it may be best to consider all that were residing in the two States above-mentioned as embraced in about eight distinct tribes, namely: Penobscots or Tarrentines, Passamaquodies or Sybayks, Wawenocks, Norridgewoks or Canibas, Assagunticooks, Sokokis or Pequakets, Pennacooks, Malacites or St. Johns.
The Penobscots were probably the most numerous and influential tribe. Their chief or bashaba was said to have been acknowledged as a superior as far as Massachusetts Bay. They occupied the country on both sides of the Penobscot Bay and River; their summer resort being near the sea, but during the winter and spring they inhabited lands near the falls, where they still reside. It is somewhat strange to find a tribe numbering about five hundred still remaining in their ancient abode, and, though surrounded by whites, retaining their language, religion, and many of the habits and customs of centuries past, with a probability of perpetuating them for ages to come. Their name is from penobsq, rock, and utoret, a place, literally, rocky-place,—which no doubt refers to the rocky falls in the river near their residence. It is not supposed that many of this tribe emigrated to Canada, although they had constant intercourse with that country.
Passamaquoddy Indians Photographed in Massachusetts
The Passamaquodies were found occupying the northeastern corner of Maine, if, as it is generally supposed, they are the descendants of those seen and described by De Monts, who spent the winter of 1604 near their present head-quarters. Their subsequent history for more than a century was but a blank, as in all that time they are not mentioned by any writer, or named in any of the treaties, till after the conquest of Canada. This omission is certainly strange, as in the ones of 1713 and 1717 now published in this volume, mere fragments of tribes are named and represented.
Still, if any reliance can be placed on their own traditions, they had resided for generations previous to the Revolution around the lower Schoodic Lake, where the recent discovery of stone hatchets and other implements of an ancient make would seem to verify their assertions. They also point out the place of a fight with the Mohawks, who two centuries ago carried terror into all the Indian villages from Carolina to the Bay of Fundy. It is probable that from their distant inland and secluded position, as well as their limited numbers, they were in no way connected with the various wars which the other tribes waged against the colonists, and so were unnoticed. As their residence on the lake was nearer Machias than any other available point on the sea coast, it may be that to trade with this people the trading house was established there by the Plymouth Colony, in 1630, and they were often called the Machias Indians. Although their intercourse has long continued with Canada, up to this time they have sent no emigrants there. They number at present between four and five hundred souls, and still adhere to the religious forms taught them by the Jesuits. This tribe designate themselves by the name of Sybayk.
The Wawenocks were located on the sea-coast, and inhabited the country from the Sheepscot to the St. George; they are quite fully described by Capt. John Smith, who had much intercourse with them. From their situation on the rivers and harbors, they were much sooner disturbed by the settlements than any other of the tribes in Maine. In 1747 there were but a few families remaining. At the treaty at Falmouth, in 1749, they were associated with the Assagunticooks, among whom they were then settled, and with whom they soon after removed to Canada. The Canibas or Norridgewoks occupied the valley of the Kennebec, from the tide water to its sources; their principal residence was at Norridgewock. Here the Jesuit missionaries, at an early period, taught them their religious faith, and by sharing with them their privations and hardships, obtained a controlling influence over them.
As they inhabited fertile intervale land, they gave more attention to agriculture than any of the neighboring tribes, and appear to have been originally more peaceably inclined towards the whites than some of their neighbors. Residing so far inland, they were but little acquainted with the prowess of the whites, and sent out their war parties to commit murders and depredations on the unprotected settlers, without expecting a retribution on their own heads. After a long succession of murders and captures in the English settlements, by this tribe, instigated, as was believed, by their priest, Sebastian Rasle, an expedition was sent against them, consisting of about two hundred men, who killed about thirty Indians, including Rasle, and destroyed the place, without the loss of a man. This broke their power, but they continued to reside there for many years, and gradually retired to the St. Francis,—the last family migrating near the end of the last century.
The Assagunticooks were a numerous tribe who inhabited the country along the whole valley of the Androscoggin; and although their lands were not occupied by whites, they were frequently bitter enemies, and were the first to begin a war and the last to make peace. Their location gave them easy access to the settlements, from Casco to Piscataqua, which they improved to glut their thirst for blood and slaughter. About 1750 they moved to Canada and joined the St. Francis tribe. They could then muster about one hundred and fifty warriors, and being much the most numerous tribe that emigrated there, it is supposed they had the greatest influence, and that their dialect is more truly perpetuated than any other in that confederacy.
The Sokokis inhabited the country bordering on the Saco River, but were mostly limited to its head waters. Their villages were located on the alluvial lands in what is now Fryeburg, Me., and Conway, N. H. The Pegwakets and Ossipees were either identical with or branches of this tribe. In 1725 Capt. John Lovewell with about fifty soldiers, on a scouting adventure in the vicinity, fell in with a war party of the tribe, and a sanguinary battle ensued, disastrous to both parties. Their chief, Paugus, was slain; and within a short period the remainder of the tribe, dispirited by their misfortunes, retired to Canada.
The Pennacooks were probably the only occupants of the waters of the Merrimac, and perhaps included nearly all the nations who resided in what is now the State of New Hampshire. Their principal residence was at Amoskeag Falls, the site of the present manufacturing city of Manchester. It is usual to name the Pennatuckets, Wambesitts, Souhegans, and some others as tribes, but there can be no doubt they all owned fealty to the head sagamore of the Pennacooks, and were only branches of that tribe, as were all the Indians on the Piscataqua and its waters. It is also probable the small band of Cowasacks, on the upper Connecticut, were of this tribe. The Pennacooks must have been at one time a numerous community, and were less warlike than any of the Abenaki race. It is likely they were more disposed to cultivate the soil, and their historian, Judge Potter, represents them as amiable and friendly to the whites. Notwithstanding, they were the earliest emigrants to Canada. They left their pleasant hunting grounds with regret, and often returned to cultivate their ancient fields; but few of them resided permanently there after about 1700.
It is proper to add to the names of the original Abenaki tribes, that of the Malacite or Amalecite, who have always resided on the St. John. It is not known that any part of this tribe emigrated to Canada with those of Maine, but in 1828 about thirty families emigrated there, and settled on a branch of the River Verte. But the largest part still reside in New Brunswick.
We come now to trace the emigration of the Abenakis to the banks of the St. Lawrence. As the Jesuits had been in constant communication with the tribes in Maine for more than half a century, the Indians had learned the way to Quebec, and it is probable that during Philip’s war some of the tribes obtained arms and ammunition from that place. During this war the Pennacooks, under the influence of their chief, Wonnolancet, had remained neutral, and in July, 1676, at Chocheco, signed with some others a treaty of perpetual peace. Still, the feeling of the whites was so strong against all the race, that they placed little reliance on their former good conduct or present promises. A few months after this treaty, they induced a large number of Indians, from the various tribes, to come to the same place, and where all the militia of the provinces had assembled, and while professing to practice some sham evolutions, the Indians were suddenly surrounded and captured. Many of the prisoners so treacherously obtained were executed, and others sold into slavery for having been in arms against the whites.
Although Wonnolancet and his tribe were discharged, this breach of faith must have taught him that he could not rely on the white man’s promise, and that neither he nor his tribe was safe on the Merrimac. With this feeling he, with a part of them, left for Canada in the autumn of 1677. Although he subsequently returned to visit his former hunting and fishing grounds, his real home was, for the remainder of his life, near Quebec, and he with his band became the nucleus of the Indian settlement there; but it is not apparent that he was at any period the enemy of the English. Abenaki Pics Here
In the course of the war, nearly all the tribes in New England had been more or less involved in it. The colonists now looked upon them as a conquered race of heathen, and that their duty was to drive them out, and enjoy their lands in the manner of the Israelites of old. On the other hand, the Indians who had made terms of peace, having now for the first time realized that they had not the ability to cope with the English in war, and could not trust their friendship in peace, naturally looked to the French as the protectors of their villages and hunting grounds. Many of them were willing to place themselves and their families under their care.