Maine Native American History--The Europeans Arrive
Knox County — Our history of Maine’s Native Americans continues with the coming of the Europeans. Again I must reiterate that this brief history is only meant to be an overview. Books and other materials will be recommended at the end of this series.
We all know of the history of the Indians as they interacted with the people who settled in Plymouth Colony. I have written about that part of our history in another blog, “The Real Plymouth Colony,” in the archives under November, 2011. Therefore, we will concentrate on the Native Americans who were living in Maine during the time that Europeans were coming to America.
This map shows the tribes who were in existence during the colonial period. They were the Abenaki, the Penobscot, the Maliseet, and the Micmac, not pictured here. The Micmacs were of the Aroostook County area.
The Abenaki and the Penobscot occupied present-day Edgecomb and the surrounding areas. The name Penobscot means “the place where the rocks open out.” These two tribes spoke the same language but with different accents, much the way Americans and Canadians speak with different accents. Indians also had a written language made up of symbolic drawings. Important records were kept on the inside of birch bark. The Penobscots were well known for their birch bark canoes (which canoes today are patterned after).
The Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Micmacs were not always friendly towards one another, sometimes going to war with each other. Eventually, however, they formed an alliance called the Wabanaki Confederacy to fight together against the Iroquois. They never fought each other after that and remain allies today even though the Alliance was disbanded in 1862.
If you are looking for Indian artifacts your best bet to dig for them lies in Edgecomb.
The Indian people had established societies, established villages, and established hunting grounds. The Europeans quickly disrupted the Indian way of life, calling their culture, religion, and way of life that of savages. They were belittled in every way possible and their annihilation was ultimately uppermost in the minds of the Europeans.
This historical paper from the Maine Historical Society pleads for help from the English for defense against the Indians. (see a photo of it on the regular blog space: www.southendstories.blogspot.com) It reads:
25 July 1644
We doe think fit & advise that the 4000 lot leviable by act of assembly upon the County for defense of it aft. The assaults of Indians, Pd for this year applied toward the maintaining a strength of English for the aid & protection of the Pasctawayes, according to this present instance. It was signed by 15 men.
The Pasctawayes are in fact the tribe known as the Piscataways from the Maryland area. I don’t know if they at one time resided in Maine or not.
So how did the Europeans progress over the years in their annihilation of Native Americans? One way was the result of passing on their European illnesses to the Native population. Indians had never had to deal with these illnesses and therefore had no resistance against them. Whole villages were wiped out by illnesses like smallpox, measles, diphtheria, and the like.
Indians were treated as sub-humans. They were massacred such as they were at Wounded Knee. They were sold into slavery and relocated onto reservations. It was here that they were starved to death in many cases. They depended upon the white man for everything, and again, numbers of Indians did not survive.
From the mid-1800s, U.S. policy was to confine each Indian tribe to a specific parcel of land called a reservation. The land chosen for the Indians more times than not was land no one else wanted. It was often barren and not suited for farming. Reservations were managed by agencies that supposedly were to look after the needs of those on the reservation.
The boundaries of reservations, over time, have changed. They have been reduced in size and during the later policy of “termination” the status of reservations was ended altogether.
The federally recognized reservations today in Maine include: Aroostook Band of Micmacs; Indian Township Reservation (Passamaquoddy); Passamaquoddy Reservation; Penobscot Reservation; Pleasant Point Reservation, Passamaquoddy. There is a map of the locations of these tribes online, but it is very fuzzy, so I didn’t include it here.
The reservation we are most familiar with is the Penobscot reservation in Old Town. As of the 2000 census there were 562 people.
It has been said that Hitler used the American example of how we treated our Native Americans as a blueprint for the way he treated the Jews during WWII. American reservations have been called, at least in the early days, as nothing more than concentration camps. The best way to tell this story is to watch the following YouTube video. It is told from an Indian point-of-view and I warn you, some of it is not easy to watch. You can also find the history of all the Native American tribes in several YouTube videos hosted by Kevin Costner called “500 Nations The Story of Native Americans.”
(See the YouTube video, “American Holocaust of Native American Indians”). It is included with my regular blog space, www.southendstories.blogspot.com)
The next part of this series will include the Native Maine Indians as they are today. I will also include references for further study, including references for children.
Thanks for listening.