Manataka American Indian Council

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABENAKI HISTORY 

 

Part I



Abenaki Location
Extending across most of northern New England into the southern part of the Canadian Maritimes, the Abenaki called their homeland Ndakinna meaning "our land." The eastern Abenaki were concentrated in Maine east of New Hampshire's White Mountains, while the western Abenaki lived west of the mountains across Vermont and New Hampshire to the eastern shores of Lake Champlain. The southern boundaries of the Abenaki homeland were near the present northern border of Massachusetts excluding the Pennacook country along the Merrimack River of southern New Hampshire. The maritime Abenaki occupied the St. Croix and the St. John's River Valleys near the border between Maine and New Brunswick. New England settlement and war forced many of the Abenaki to retreat north into Quebec where two large communities formed at St. Francois and Becancour near Trois-Rivieves. These have continued to the present-day. There are also three reservations in northern Maine (Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet) and seven Maliseet reserves located in New Brunswick and Quebec. Other groups of Abenaki, without reservations, are scattered across northern New Hampshire and Vermont.

Population
Before contact the Abenaki (excluding the Pennacook and Micmac) may have numbered as many as 40,000 divided roughly between 20,000 eastern; 10,000 western; and 10,000 maritime. Due to early contacts with European fishermen, at least two major epidemics hit the Abenaki during the 1500s: an unknown sickness sometime between 1564 and 1570; and typhus in 1586. The major blow came in the decade just prior to English settlement of Massachusetts in 1620, when three separate epidemics swept across New England and the Canadian Maritimes. Maine was hit very hard during 1617 (75% mortality), and the population of the eastern Abenaki fell to about 5,000. The western Abenaki were more isolated and suffered relatively less, losing perhaps half of their original population. The new diseases continued to take their toll:

Smallpox 1631, 1633, and 1639; Unknown epidemic 1646; Influenza 1647; Smallpox 1649; Diphtheria 1659; Smallpox 1670; Influenza 1675; Smallpox 1677 and 1679; Smallpox and measles 1687; and Smallpox 1691, 1729, 1733, 1755, and 1758.

The Abenaki population continued to decline, but after 1676 they absorbed thousands of refugees from southern New England displaced by settlement and the King Philip's War. As a result, descendents of almost every southern New England Algonquin (Pennacook, Narragansett, Pocumtuc, Nipmuc) can still be found among the Abenaki, especially the Sokoki (western Abenaki). After another century of war and disease, there were less than 1,000 Abenaki remaining after the American Revolution. The population has currently recovered to almost 12,000 on both sides of the border. Within the United States, the Abenaki are not, and never have been, federally recognized as a tribe. However, three component tribes in Maine: Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and the Houlton Band of Maliseet, have this status.

The Penobscot have a reservation on Indian Island at Old Town, Maine and a tribal membership near 2,000. The Passamaquoddy number about 2,500 on three Maine reservations, Pleasant Point, Peter Dana Point, and Indian Township, while the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians have close to 600. There are also seven Maliseet bands in Canada (470 in Quebec and 2,000 in New Brunswick) for a total of 3,000. Canada also has 400 Abenakis de Wolinak (Becancour) on a reserve near Trois-Rivieres, Quebec and almost 1,500 at Odanak (St. Francois) 30 miles to the southwest. The other Abenaki are scattered among the general populations of Quebec, New Brunswick, and northern New England. Currently there about 2,500 "Vermont Abenaki" in both Vermont and New Hampshire but concentrated in northwest Vermont near Lake Champlain. Organized as the Sokoki-St. Francis Band of the Abenaki Nation, a tribal council was established in 1976 at Swanton, Vermont. State recognition was granted that year but later withdrawn. In 1982 they applied for federal recognition which is still pending.

Names
The Abenaki called themselves Alnanbal meaning "men." The name "Abenaki" - spelled variously as: Abenaqui, Abnaki, Alnanbal, Benaki, Oubenaki, Wabanaki, Wippanap - originated from a Montagnais (Algonquin) word meaning "people of the dawn" or "easterners." Indiscriminately applying their name for the Mahican to all Algonquin south of the St. Lawrence, the French frequently referred to the eastern Abenaki as Loup (wolves) - or more formally as the Natio Luporem or Wolf Nation. The French, However, called the western Abenaki the Sokoki. Borrowing the name of the southern New England Algonquin for Abenaki, the English at first used Tarrateen for both Abenaki and Micmac. Later, Tarrateen came to mean only the Micmac, and Abenaki the tribes of northern Maine. The Sokoki, or western Abenaki, were known in New England as the St Francis Indians. Other names for the Abenaki were: Anagonges (Iroquois), Aquannaque (Huron), Bashaba, Gannongagehronnon (Mohawk), Moassones, Maweshenook, Narankamigdok, Natsagana (Caughnawaga), Obunego; Onagunga, Onnogonges, Opanango, Owenagunges, Owenunga, and Skacewanilom (Iroquois).

Language
Algonquin, but distinct from the languages of the Micmac to the north and the New England Algonquin to the south. There was also a dialectic difference between the eastern and western Abenaki with language of the western Abenaki being closer to that of the Pennacook.

Divisions
Abenaki Confederation tribes:
Amaseconti, Androscoggin, Kennebec, Maliseet, Ouarastegouiak, Passamaquoddy, Patsuiket, Penobscot, Pigwacket, Rocameca, Sokoni, and Wewenoc. Although they were also members of the confederation, the Micmac and Pennacook have been listed listed as separate tribes.

Seven Nations of Canada:
Composed of seven mission communities located along the St. Lawrence River in 1750: Caughnawaga (Mohawk), Lake of the Two Mountains (Iroquois and Nipissing), St. Francois (Sokoki, Pennacook, and New England Algonquin), Becancour (Eastern Abenaki), Oswegatchie (Onondaga and Oneida), Lorette (Huron), and St. Regis (Mohawk).

Eastern Abenaki:
Amaseconti Between the upper Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers in western Maine.
Androscoggin (Amariscoggin, Ameriscoggin, Anasaguniticook, Arosaguntacook, Asschincantecook). Main village, on the river of the same name was called Arosaguntacook Town. Arosaguntacook is sometimes applied in error to the St. Francois Indians.
Kennebec (Caniba, Sagadahoc, Kanibesinnoak, Norridgewock, Nurhantsuak) lived along the Kennebec River in northern Maine. Villages: Amaseconti (Amesokanti, Anmissoukanti), Norridgewock (Naridgewalk, Neridgewok, Noronjawoke), Kennebec, and Sagadahoc.
Ossipee. Located on a lake of the same name in east-central New Hampshire.
Penobscot (Pentagoet, Panaomeska). Meaning "rocky place," or "ledge place." Location - Both sides of Penobscot Bay extending far inland along the Penobscot River. Subdivisions - The Penobscot on Moosehead Lake are known as "Moosehead 

Lake Indians." Villages: Agguncia, Asnela, Catawamtek, Kenduskeag, Mattawamkeag, Meecombe, Negas, Olamon, Oldtown, Passadumkeag, Pentagouet, Precaute, Segocket, and Wabigganus.
Pigwacket (Pegouakki, Peguaki, Pequawket). Main village called Pequawket Town was located on the upper Saco River.
Rocameca Upper Androscoggin River.
Wewenoc (Ouanwinak, Sheepscot, Wawenock, Wawnock) Coastal areas of southern Maine.
Wolinak (Becancour) Trois-Rivieres, Quebec.

Other names associated with the eastern Abenaki: Arsikantegou, Kwupahag (Kwapahag).

Maritime Abenaki:
Closer in language and culture to the Micmac, the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy have been listed as Abenaki for historical reasons. The French usually referred to both tribes as the Etchemin.

Maliseet (Aroostook, Malecite, Malicite, St. John's Indians). From the Micmac word "malisit" meaning "broken talker." Their own name "Wulastegniak" means "good river people." Located along the St. John River in northeastern Maine and western New Brunswick.  Villages: Devon, Kingsclear, Madawaska, Mary's, Medoctec (Medoktek, Meductic), Okpaak, Oromocto, St. Anne, St. Basile, The Brothers (Micmac), Tobique, Viger, and Woodstock.

Passamaquoddy (Machias Tribe, Opanango, Pesmokant, Quoddy, Scotuks, Scootuck, St. Croix Indians, Unchechauge, Unquechauge). The name means "pollock spearing place" with their villages were located on Passamaquoddy Bay, the St. Croix River, and Schoodic Lake. Villages: Gunasquamekook, Imnarkuan, Machias, Sebaik, and Sipayik. Other towns at Lewis Island and Calais in Maine with a few locations on the Canadian side of the St. Croix River.

Western Abenaki (Sokoki):  Originally composed of Abenaki tribes in Vermont and New Hampshire west of the White Mountains, Sokoki means "people who separated." Various forms of Sokoki are: Assokwekik, Ondeake, Onejagese, Sakukia, Sokokiois, Sokoquios, Sokoquis, Sokokquis, Sokoni, Sokwaki, Soquachjck, and Zooquagese. Some accounts include groups of the western Pennacook as Sokoki: Amoskeag, Naamkeek, Nashaway, Souheyan, and Winnipesaukee. Sokoki is often confused with the Saco, a name given to eastern Abenaki who lived near the Saco River (a combination of Pigwacket, Kennebec, and Androscoggin).

Cowasuck (Cahass, Cohassiac, Coos, Coosuc, Koes). Village name was Cowass "place of the pines." Located on the Connecticut River in northern Vermont.

Hoosac. Mixed settlement with the Mahican.

Missisquoi (Mazipskoik, Misiskuoi, Missiassik, Missique, Missisco) "place of flint." Eastern shore of Lake Champlain.

Schaghticoke. Mixed Mahican and New England Algonquin settlement on the Hudson River north of Albany, New York.

Squakheag (Squaeg, Squawkeag). Variously assigned to the Sokoki, Pocumtuc and Nipmuc. Mixed population and probably at various times was occupied by any of these tribes.

St. Francois (Odanak, St. Francis, St. Francois du Lac). Southwest of Trois-Rivieres, Quebec and included settlements along the St. Francois River.

Other Names of Abenaki Villages:
Aquadocta, Cobbosseecontee, Ebenecook, Ketangheanycke, Mascoma, Masherosqueck, Mecadacut, Moshoquen, Muscongus, Negusset, Ossaghrage, Ouwerage, Pasharanack, Pauhuntanuc, Pemaquid, Pocopassum, Sabino, Sagadahoc, Satquin, Segotago, Sowocatuck, Taconnet, Unyjaware, and Wacoogo.


Culture
Native Americans have occupied northern New England for at least 10,000 years. There is no proof these ancient residents were ancestors of the Abenaki, but there is no reason to think they were not. The Abenaki lived in a manner similar to Algonquin in southern New England. Since they relied on agriculture (corn, beans, and squash) for a large part of their diet, villages were usually located on the fertile floodplains of rivers. Depending on location and population, some of their cultivated fields were extensive. Missisquoi, on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, reportedly had more than 250 acres of corn under cultivation. Agriculture was supplemented by hunting, fishing, and the gathering of wild foods. The relative importance of fish/seafood depended on location. In areas of poor soil, fish were often used as fertilizer to increase the yield of corn.

For most of the year, the Abenaki lived in scattered bands of extended families, each of which occupied separate hunting territories inherited through the father. Unlike the Iroquois, the Abenaki (and most New England Algonquin) were patrilineal. In spring and summer, bands would gather at fixed locations near rivers, or the seacoast, for planting and fishing. These summer villages were sometimes fortified depending on the warfare in the area. Compared with Iroquois settlements, most Abenaki villages were fairly small, averaging about 100 persons, but there were exceptions - particularily among the western Abenaki. Some Abenaki used an oval-shaped long house, but most favored the dome-shaped, bark-covered (sometimes woven mat) wigwam during the warmer months. During winter, the Abenaki moved farther inland and separated into small groups of conical, bark-covered wigwams shaped like the buffalo-hide tepee of the plains.

Abenaki is actually a geographical and linguistic (rather than political) grouping. Before contact individual tribes were the usual level of political organization. Occasionally several tribes would unite under a powerful sachem for purposes of war, but the Abenaki were noteworthy for their general lack of central authority. Even at the tribal level, the authority of their sachems was limited, and important decisions, such as war and peace, usually required a meeting of all adults. The Abenaki Confederacy did not come into existence until after 1670 and then only in response to continuous wars with the Iroquois and English colonists. Even this did not change things, and reports of French military officers are filled with complaints that Abenaki leaders usually had difficulty controlling their warriors.

In many ways the lack of central authority served the Abenaki well. In times of war, the Abenaki could abandon their villages, separate into small bands, and regroup in a distant refuge beyond the reach of their enemies. It was a strategy that confounded repeated efforts by both the Iroquois and English to conquer them. The Abenaki could just melt away, regroup, and then counterattack. It was an effective strategy in times of war, but it has left the impression that the Abenaki were nomads. Since the Abenaki usually retreated to Canada during war, New England came to think of them as Canadian Indians - which, of course, they were not - but it served as an excuse to take most of their land in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont without compensation. Only the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy signed treaties and kept some of their land. The other Abenaki were dispossessed and remain unrecognized. However, there was no "ride into the sunset." Largely invisible over the years, the Abenaki have remained in their homeland by living in scattered, small bands. New England has numerous romantic monuments which celebrate the disappearance of its original residents. Misleading, since they never really left!

 

 

Lee Sultzman

From the Archives of Little Mother
Our thanks to Blue Panther, Keeper of Stories blue_panther@mindspring.com

 

READ ABENAKI HISTORY PART II - The History Begins

 

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