Abenaki - History and Cultural Relations

The Abenaki were contacted sporadically by Basque and Perhaps French fishermen during the sixteenth century. Their hostility to Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524 suggests that there had been earlier unfriendly contacts. By the time of more intense French and English exploration just after 1600, the Abenaki were accustomed to dealing with Europeans, and there was brisk trading of furs for European manufactured goods. Kidnapped Abenaki were introduced to fascinated English audiences by their captors. The French took a different approach, sending Jesuit missionaries to convert the Abenaki to Roman Catholicism. An epidemic of hepatitis or some similar disease wiped out the communities of eastern Massachusetts after 1616, opening the way for English settlement in that area in 1620. Meanwhile, the French established themselves at Port Royal (in modern Nova Scotia) and on the St. Lawrence in Quebec, with Abenaki territory then becoming a zone of contention between the European powers. The Abenaki were drawn into six colonial wars between 1675 and 1763. English settlement of the Maine coast was largely abandoned during King Philip's War (1675-1676). Thereafter the Abenaki increasingly became economically tied to the English, but religiously tied to the French. Although they were dependent in different ways upon each, the Abenaki managed to remain independent from both through King William's War (1688-1697), Queen Anne's War (1702-1713), King George's War (1744-1748), and the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), each of which was an American counterpart to wars in Europe. Dummer's War (1721-1725) was a conflict between the Indians and the English that Despite French support for the Indian cause had no counterpart conflict in Europe. The Jesuit missionary Sébastien Râle was killed during this war, and afterward many Abenaki from western Maine began moving to safer communities in Quebec and on the Penobscot River. From this time on, the Penobscot were principal spokesmen for the Abenaki in dealings with the English. After the defeat of the French in 1763, the Penobscot joined with six other former French allies in a confederation that had its headquarters at Caughnawaga, Quebec. By this time the western and coastal region of Maine had been lost to English settlement. The Abenaki sided with American rebels in the American Revolution, and those remaining in the United States retained most of interior Maine. New treaties with Massachusetts (which then held the Province of Maine) began to be negotiated in 1786. By 1833 the Penobscot were reduced to a few islands in the Penobscot River. These were unconstitutional agreements, however, and recent land claims by the Penobscot and other Maine Indians have led to very large settlements in compensation for the lost land.

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