Manataka American Indian Council

 

 

 

 

 

ABENAKI HISTORY 

 

Part IV

 

History

A major reason for the fall of the Stuarts was a growing belief that they were on the verge of restoring the Catholic church. To this end Jesuits had been secretly entering England on the behalf of the Vatican for years. Aware of this intrigue, New England Puritans could hardly fail to notice members of this same religious order were living among the Abenaki on their northern frontier. The militant attitude of the Abenaki after they returned from Canada only seemed to confirm their suspicion of a plot which could even involve elements in the English government, and Andros' offer of a New York sanctuary for Algonquin refugees from New England in 1676 had only added fuel to the fire. The Sokoki were already French allies against the Iroquois having joined them in attacks on the Seneca villages in 1684. With the outbreak of war between Britain and France in 1688, the Abenaki needed little encouragement to launch themselves against the New England frontier.

With the onset of fighting the Abenaki withdrew to sanctuaries in northern New England and Canada. Raids struck throughout New England with a ferocity unseen since the King Philip's War and by 1695 had forced the abandonment of most of the New England frontier. The Penobscot destroyed York, Maine in 1691 and massacred 77 of its inhabitants, but by 1693 they had tired of the fighting. Together with the Kennebec, Androscoggin, and Saco, they made peace with the English, but the Sokoki near St. Francois (Odanak) had been raided several times by the Mohawk (English allies). They remained active in the war and participated in the French attacks on the Mohawk villages in 1693 and the Onondaga three-years later. The Sokoki also continued their raids into New England, one of which even reached the vicinity of Boston during 1697. The Treaty of Ryswick (1697) ended the war between Britain and France, but the fighting between the Abenaki and New England persisted for two years. At a treaty signed in 1699, the eastern Abenaki promised to remain neutral in future wars between Britain and France.

The future was only two years away. War between Britain and France resumed with the Queen Anne's War (1701-13). True to their obligations, most eastern Abenaki remained neutral and withdrew to Wolinak (Becancour) near Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. Others established villages with the Sokoki near the new Jesuit mission at St. Francois du Lac. New England colonists were so reluctant to enter Abenaki territory in Maine, it took them almost two years to realize the Abenaki had left. Western New England was different. By 1700 the Sokoki had formed a lasting alliance with the Caughnawaga (Christian Mohawk who had relocated to Canada and become French allies) and did not remain neutral. The new alliance also served to protect the Sokoki from the British-allied Mohawk, who, in honoring the Iroquois "Great Law of Peace," avoided combat with their Caughnawaga relatives who were allies of the French. The arrangement even extended to the Albany traders of New York who continued to trade with the Sokoki throughout the war.

New England, however, had no peace with the Abenaki. Forming joint war parties with the Caughnawaga, the Sokoki raided the frontier from their village of Missisquoi on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, Cowasuck in northern Vermont, and St. Francois in Quebec. The mixed populations of these villages made the affiliations of the raiders impossible, and they became known in New England as St. Francis, or simply Abenaki. The most famous raid occurred at Deerfield, Massachusetts on the unlikely date of February 29, 1704 and resulted in 56 dead, 109 captured, and half the houses burned.  Massachusetts militia attacked Cowasuck in retaliation, but most of the Sokoki escaped and retreated north beyond reach. The English had little success in stopping the raids. Haverhill, Massachusetts was destroyed in 1708, and Deerfield repulsed another raid in 1709. Military expeditions against the Ossipee and into the upper Connecticut Valley achieved little.  Meanwhile, Haverhill (only 30 miles north of Boston) was attacked in 1713.

However, in Maine, the departure of the Abenaki had opened the door for British attacks against the French in Acadia. The initial British attack in 1701 on a French fort on the Penobscot failed, but three years later the British succeeded and gained control of the entire coast of Maine. Military expeditions against the Pigwacket in 1704 and 1708 succeeded only in capturing empty villages but demonstrated that the Abenaki had withdrawn into Canada. Two British attempts to take Port Royal in 1707 failed, but the final effort in 1710 succeeded and forced the French to halt raids on New England to defend Quebec against a possible British naval attack. While the Sokoki remained near St. Francois and Missisquoi, the eastern Abenaki began returning to Maine in 1709. The British capture of Arcadia in 1710 more-or-less ended the war in North America. Three years later at Treaty of Utrecht (1713), France ceded Acadia (Nova Scotia) to Great Britain. For the first time, the entire Abenaki homeland in Maine was clearly under British rule. Although the eastern Abenaki were very upset with this situation, they agreed to peace with Massachusetts at Portsmouth that year. West of White Mountains, the Sokoki lands in northern Vermont and New Hampshire, however, remained a disputed area between the Britain and France.

The French in Acadia (renamed Nova Scotia by the British) did not accept the Treaty of Utrecht as permanent and expected the next conflict would return control to France. That is, if British settlement did not overrun the area in the meantime. By 1717 new English settlements were moving rapidly up the coast of Maine and into the Connecticut Valley of southern Vermont and New Hampshire. Feeling they were defending the rights of their Abenaki converts (and perhaps those of France as well), several Jesuits, most notably Father Sebastian Rasles, strongly encouraged the Abenaki to defend both their lands and themselves. Conferences in 1717 and 1719 between the English and Abenaki could not reach an agreement, and after several incidents of violence, Massachusetts governor Samuel Shuttle declared war on the Abenaki in 1722. Known as Dummer's War (Grey Lock's War, Lovewell's Wa, or Father Rasles' War), the fighting lasted five years until 1727. In 1724 a colonial army attacked and burned Norridgewock on the upper Kennebec River in Maine, killing Rasles and mutilating his corpse. Although the French were never involved directly in the war, their sympathies were definitely with the Abenaki, and their reaction to the circumstances of Rasles' death almost provoked an open rebellion among the French population in Acadia.

Only 150 Kennebec refugees from Norridgewock managed to reach safety in Canada. After the Pigwacket were defeated the following spring, resistance by the Abenaki in Maine ended. In December they signed a peace treaty with Massachusetts which was ratified at Falmouth the following August. The fighting continued in the west, however, for another two years in what could be considered a separate, but related, conflict - Grey Lock's War (1723-27).  A member of the Pocumtuc who had found refuge in New York after the King Philip's War, Grey Lock (Wawanotewat "he who fools others") had left Schaghticook and joined the Sokoki at Missisquoi. After war with New England began in 1722, he became a war leader and his successful raids against settlements in the Connecticut valley of Massachusetts earned him a large following. Unable to capture Grey Lock or locate his secret "castle" near Missisquoi, the English asked the Iroquois to help, but they refused to become involved except as possible mediators.

After the war in Maine ended in 1726 with the defeat of the eastern Abenaki and a peace treaty, Massachusetts sent gifts and an offer of peace to Grey Lock in the fall. No answer came back except in the form of continued raids. New York, the Iroquois, and the Penobscot made other attempts to mediate an end to the conflict, but Grey Lock also ignored these efforts. The Penobscot, however, did succeed in getting the Canadian Abenaki at Wolinak and St. Francois to agree to peace with New England. Grey Lock was noticeably absent from the treaty signed at Montreal in July of 1727, but shortly afterwards - probably honoring the request of the Abenaki at St. Francois - he ended the war but never signed any agreement with the English. Seventeen years of peace followed what had been 50 of continuous war between the Abenaki and New England.

The Pigwacket, Androscoggin, Norridgewock returned to Maine during 1727, and in the years following, the Penobscot emerged as the spokesman for the eastern Abenaki with the French and English. For the most part, these peoples would never leave their homeland again. The Passamaquoddy and Maliseet continued to occupy the St. Croix and St. John Rivers respectively, while in Nova Scotia (Acadia) the French Acadians and Micmac patiently awaited their return to France rule and maintained an uneasy truce with the British garrisons in the area. Two permanent Abenaki communities had meanwhile emerged in Quebec: Becancour (near Trois-Rivieres composed mostly of eastern Abenaki displaced from southern Maine); and St. Francois (30 miles to the southwest with a mixed population of Sokoki, Pennacook, and New England Algonquin). The Sokoki also maintained a large, permanent village at Missisquoi on Lake Champlain and a smaller settlement at Cowasuck in northern Vermont.

After Dummer's War, New England came to think of the Abenaki as having permanently migrated to Canada - an error which has persisted to the present. For this reason, virtually all groups of Sokoki and Abenaki encountered in northern New England during this period were usually referred to as St. Francis Indians. The poorly defined boundary between Quebec and New England (a question not completely settled until the 1800s) contributed to the confusion, but it also was a convenient excuse for taking what was considered the unoccupied land in between. In truth the Sokoki and Abenaki never really left northern New England and bands of extended families have continued to live and hunt there ever since. After 1727 English settlements cautiously crept north along the Connecticut River into southern Vermont and New Hampshire, but the slow advance of these heavily fortified outposts in a time of peace is a clear indication that the Sokoki and Abenaki were still present in northern New England in large enough numbers to seriously dispute this encroachment.

A major smallpox epidemic forced the abandonment of Missisquoi in 1730, but it was re-occupied the following year. In one of those questionable agreements by natives of doubtful authority, some Sokoki and Schaghticook were induced to sell land along the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers in 1735. Despite this agreement, the Sokoki continued to protest each new English settlement and made it very clear that they considered the upper Connecticut Valley as their own. Their numbers had been reduced by war, epidemic, and slow exodus west to the Great Lakes (only 150 warriors), but allied with the French and Caughnawaga, they were still formidable. The friction increased, but the Sokoki still traded with both the English and French. The real problem, however, was to the west at the disputed boundary between Canada and New York in the upper Hudson Valley. French settlement on Lake Champlain had begun near Missisquoi in 1734, and a Jesuit mission was added in 1743.

With the beginning of the King George's War (1744-48) between Britain and France, the long period of peace ended. Both the Abenaki and Sokoki stood with the French. The Cowasuck and Eastern Abenaki withdrew north towards Canada, but strangely enough, a few St. Francois and Pigwacket (one of the last mentions of the Pigwacket who disappear from record after 1750) sought refuge near Boston with the English. The Sokoki and their Caughnawaga allies promptly cleaned out most of the new settlements in southern Vermont and New Hampshire and harassed the few that remained for the next four years.  

 

Governor Shirley of Massachusetts in 1744 declared war on Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, and St. John Indians (actually the Maliseet and Micmac) so the Canadian Maritimes were aflame ...at least for the English since the French Acadians were officially neutral and openly sympathized with the Micmac. At least 35 Abenaki and Sokoki war parties attacked the frontier during the spring of 1746. In August Fort Massachusetts on Hoosac River was captured and almost all of the settlements on the east side of the Hudson River in New York had to be abandoned.

Only Mohawk sided with the British, but after their raid just south of Montreal, the Canadian Iroquois declared war on the British colonies in 1747. The French-British war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, but the Penobscot, Kennebec, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy did not sign a separate peace until 1749. It took even longer for Penobscot to get the St. Francois to agree to call in their war parties.   

 

Although they had been battered on the frontiers by the native allies of the French, the British had succeeded in capturing the French fortress at Louisbourg in 1745. Much to the outrage of New England the peace treaty had returned Louisbourg to France, and much to the outrage of the French Acadians, Britain had retained control of the Canadian Maritimes. If there was one thing the King George's War accomplished, it was to leave all parties dissatisfied and ready for another war to settle things.

In 1749 the French reoccupied the upper St. John's River. By blaming the British for a smallpox epidemic that had broken out among the Micmac during the war and supplying arms and ammunition, they were able to prolong the fighting in Nova Scotia until 1752. By 1755 the British had decided to regain control of the Maritimes by deporting the entire French Acadian population which had steadfastly refused to sign an oath of loyalty to Great Britain. Things were also very tense in western New England, and the Sokoki at St. Francois threatened war in 1752 if there was any further English settlement up the Connecticut River. The murder of two of Abenaki hunters by New Englanders the following year brought retaliatory raids against the New England frontier during the summer of 1754. Preparing for war, the French had encouraged the mission villages along the St. Lawrence (Caughnawaga, Lake of the Two Mountains, St. Francois, Becancour, Oswegatchie, Lorette, and St. Regis) to organize themselves as the Seven Nations of Canada (Great Fire of Caughnawaga).

The Caughnawaga dominated this group and attended the Albany Conference with the British colonies (August, 1754). Speaking on behalf of the Abenaki and Sokoki, the Caughnawaga agreed to stay out of any future war between Britain and France. Unfortunately, it was a promise that could not be kept. The opening shots of the French and Indian War (1755-63) were actually fired in 1754 in western Pennsylvania. Raids from Missisquoi and St. Francois hit the frontier in New York that year, and the Penobscot attacked Maine settlements, prompting the Massachusetts governor to offer bounties of: £50 male Penobscot prisoner, £40 male scalp, £25 woman/child prisoner, and £20 woman/child scalp. In 1755 the British had assembled a large military expedition under General Edmund Braddock to capture Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh). Strangely enough, the allies that helped the French inflict the horrendous defeat on Braddock's army near Pittsburgh were, for the most part, not from the Ohio valley, but warriors from the Seven Nations of Canada led by a Huron war chief from Lorette.

Abenaki and Sokoki warriors also participated in Montcalm's campaign in northern New York, where it is rumored that the Penobscot initiated the massacre that followed the capture of Fort William Henry in 1757. Meanwhile, an Abenaki war party from Becancour raiding near Albany gathered up the last 60 New England Algonquin at Schaghticook and took them back to St. Francois in Canada. Except on the frontier in Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, New England suffered relatively few Indian attacks during the war, especially after the colonial rangers commanded by Major Robert Rogers attacked and burned St. Francois during the fall of 1759. Rogers claimed to have killed 200 Abenaki (including the French priest), but the French records listed only 30 dead. Charlestown was raided in retaliation, but the St. Francois dispersed after the raid and were effectively taken out of the war. After the capture of Quebec in 1759, the war was over in North America, although the French did not officially leave until 1763.

Peace did not come uniformly, and Rogers Rangers were required to expel the French from the St. John's River in 1760. Even then a British survey crew was warned by the Maliseet to remain on the lower part of the river. Peace with the St. John's tribes and their eastern Abenaki allies did not really happen until after treaties were signed in 1770 and 1776, and peace with the Micmac took another three years. Elsewhere, with the French defeated and the Abenaki scattered into small groups, settlers flooded north between 1761 and 1774. With their lands being overrun, the Seven Nations considered joining the Pontiac Rebellion in 1763, but in the end urged peace. The British response to the uprising was to issue the Proclamation of 1763 halting further settlement west of the Appalachian crest. However, Sir William Johnson, the British Indian agent for North America, ruled that this did not cover lands claimed by the Caughnawaga, Sokoki, and Abenaki.

This left the Abenaki without a homeland. After years of passing back-and-forth across the border, Quebec considered them New England Indians, and New England felt they belonged in Canada. During the war, many Abenaki and Sokoki had been given refuge at the St. Regis, but with the end of the fighting, the Mohawk wanted them to leave, but they no longer had a place to go. Some stayed as unwelcome guests, others were absorbed by St. Francois, but many were forced to scatter in small bands across northern New England as squatters in their own homeland. It was not surprising that, on the eve of the American Revolution in 1775, the Abenaki and many former French allies longed for the return of French rule to North America. The American Revolution presented the Abenaki with two poor choices between the Americans who were taking their land and the British who were giving it away.

In the beginning, the Seven Nations and other Abenaki were asked to remain neutral but ended up fighting on both sides. Already involved in a struggle with the British over settlement in northern Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, and perhaps hoping the revolution would get rid of the British and restore the French in Canada, the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac sided with the Americans. The St. Francois were divided but some helped the Americans besiege Boston and provided guides for Benedict Arnold's ill-fated expedition against Quebec during the winter of 1776-77.  The Penobscot also served as scouts for Washington's army, and in 1779 participated in the unsuccessful American attack against the British forts on the Penobscot River. Colonel John Allen formed an Abenaki regiment at Machias which harassed British shipping along the Maine coast during the war. Meanwhile, other Abenaki served with the British and raided Maine's Androscoggin valley in 1781.

After the war the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy received some recognition for their services and by 1798 Massachusetts established three small reservations for them in northern Maine (Maine was not a state until 1820).  The treaty was a clear violation of the Non-Intercourse Act passed by Congress in 1790, and led to a $81.5 million federal settlement in 1978 for lands taken from them without compensation. Federal recognition followed in 1980. The Passamaquoddy and Penobscot were granted representation in the Maine legislature in 1823, but their representatives had no status except in matters concerning Native Americans. Tribal members were not allowed to vote in state elections until 1924. The Canadian Abenaki at St. Francois and Bécancour were granted reserves. These were enlarged to accommodate an enlarged population in 1805, although the land was reclaimed in 1839 for "non-use." During the War of 1812, the "last time the Abenaki went to war," Bécancour provided two companies to the British army. The St. Francois and Bécancour have endured to the present, although groups have left over the years. Many went west and worked with the Hudson Bay Company during the 1800s.

Small groups of Abenaki have been moving west to the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley since they accompanied La Salle's expedition in 1680. The French encouraged one group to move to Ohio in 1721, but upon learning the Abenaki had proposed an alliance with the Fox (who were at war with the French at the time), the invitation was withdrawn. Several small groups still managed to settle along the Ohio River by the 1750. In 1787 some of the Abenaki with the Iroquois at St. Regis left. Crossing the Mississippi, they settled on the White River in Spanish Arkansas. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, they apparently merged with the Delaware and Shawnee who lived nearby and later moved with them, first to Kansas and then Oklahoma. Vermont became a state in 1791, but neither it nor the United States has ever recognized the land claims or tribal status of the Abenaki living there. The Sokoki presented claims for parts of their homeland in 1798, 1800, 1812, 1826, 1853, and 1874, but all were rejected by the State of Vermont.

First Nations referred to in this Abenaki History:

Huron
Mahican
Narragansett
Nipmuc
Susquehannock

 

Lee Sultzman

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

 

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