Chapter 3

From Paleoindians to Penobscots

What we know of Maine's Native People comes from one of two sources, the archaeological record and the ethnographic record. The two records are quite different, both in how they were made and in how they are interpreted. Archaeology is the scientific study of past human lifeways using information gathered from material remains that were left behind and often buried for long periods of time. As a scientific endeavor, archaeology is guided by rigorous standards and principles and is often interdisciplinary in nature. Much of archaeology today is aimed at an examination of how people adapted to certain environments, not on specific historical events that took place thousands of years ago. Ethnohistory, in contrast, uses historical sources such as written records to reconstruct past cultures. In Maine, the ethnographic record of Native People in the region was made by European explorers, traders, and colonists and, as such, contains the biases of Europeans of the early Colonial era. The ethnographic record is often the realm of historians and anthropologists, and is only rarely used to interpret archaeological data, in part because of the inherent biases, and in part because recent theoretical trends in archaeology tend toward science rather than history.

In this section, we review each one of these records in order to more fully provide a context for the interpretation of life on Indiantown during the past. Breaking from the norm, we will look both at the specific history of the region's prehistoric inhabitants, as well as at the adaptation of Indiantown's inhabitants to the local environment through time.

Archaeology and Prehistory

Nearly everything we know about prehistoric life in Maine is a result of archaeology. For more than a century professional archaeologists have been digging Maine sites and interpreting what they found in light of the theoretical approaches of their day (Spiess 1985). The advent of radiocarbon dating in the early 1950s together with Maine institutional support for archaeology beginning in the late 1960s created the base for organizing and interpreting data that had already been collected and for future studies that form the core of what we know today. Below, the outline of Maine prehistory, with details as they relate to the Boothbay region, is presented as background for interpreting the archaeological picture of prehistoric life on Indiantown.

The earliest Native People in the region, called Paleoindians by archaeologists, moved into Maine about 11,000 years ago after the land became habitable at the end of the last Ice Age. Paleoindians used beautiful spear tips called fluted points that they made from fine-grained, often gem-like stone. Sources of such stone are rare, and Paleoindians moved great distances to obtain it. In one Maine Paleoindian site, the Dam site in Wayne, there is stone from Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Nova Scotia. Making camp primarily on sand, Paleoindians hunted caribou and possibly mastodon and mammoth that inhabited Maine's late glacial landscape.

While there are no extant Paleoindian sites in the region, several Paleoindian artifacts have been recovered in the lower Sheepscot estuary near Indiantown (Crotts 1985; Spiess and Wilson 1987; Wilson 1997). A fluted point was recovered on a mudflat below a shell midden on Sawyers Island by Chip Haggett of Boothbay. The same mudflat produced half of a Paleoindian biface of stone from northern Maine and a utilized flake of New Hampshire stone. Reconstruction of the local environment during the Paleoindian period suggests that a bog and stream were in the vicinity but that the marine shoreline was many miles distant (Figure 3). A second Paleoindian find, two halves of a biface preform, was made on a nearby island, the location, again, well away from the marine shoreline during Paleoindian times.

Figure 5: Native American Cultural Chronology for Maine

Years before present: B.P.

Fluted Point Paleoindian

Late Paleoindian

Early Archaic

Middle Archaic

Late Archaic: Laurentian Tradition

Late Archaic: Small stemmed Point

Late Archaic: Moorehead Phase

Late Archaic: Susquehanna Tradition

Early Ceramic Period

Middle Ceramic Period

Late Ceramic Period

Contact Period

11,000 to 10,200 B.P.

10,200 to 8,500 B.P.

9,000 to 7,500 B.P.

7,500 to 6,000 B.P.

6,000 to 4,500 B.P.

5,000 to 3,800 B.P.

4,500 to 3,700 B.P.

3,900 to 3,200 B.P.

3,000 to 2,000 B.P.

2,000 to 1,000 B.P.

1,000 to 400 B.P.

1500 to 1676 A.D.


The late Paleoindian period in Maine is marked by the introduction of several new styles of spear points that probably represent several different culture groups in the region. The earliest are small triangular points associated with a classic Paleoindian tool kit (Wilson, Will and Cormier 1995). A somewhat later style point, probably representing a new population moving into the area from the St. Lawrence, is narrow, parallel-sided form typical of western Plano culture (Doyle et al. 1985). Half of a Plano-style point was recently recovered on an island in the Boothbay region (Wilson 1997), the piece representing the only late Paleoindian find from the region.

Early and middle Archaic sites are relatively uncommon in Maine and, until recently, it was thought that few people inhabited the region during these periods (Peterson and Putnam 1992:13). However, more and more sites continue to be found, some in deeply-stratified alluvium along river banks and others along lake and river shores. The closest early Archaic point finds are from Dresden, Brunswick, and Warren (Spiess et al. 1983; Bourque personal communication). Middle Archaic finds, on the other hand, are more common. At least three middle Archaic Stark-like points were recovered on the same mud flat on Sawyers Island where the fluted point was recovered (Crotts 1985; Wilson 1997). Sanger (1981) reports another Stark Point from a mud flat in front of the Taylor Site in Boothbay. Marine waters had not flooded the land in the vicinity of these finds at the time they were discarded, and it is likely the associated sites were near freshwater streams and wetlands.

Several late Archaic traditions are recognized in Maine and the relationships between them have spurred considerable debate (e.g. Bourque 1995; Cox 1991). The Laurentian Tradition, primarily an inland culture, is the earliest and includes two geographically different manifestations in Maine, Vergennes, and Brewerton. Vergennes occurs almost exclusively east of the Kennebec, while Brewerton is more widely distributed. The somewhat later small stemmed point tradition is prevalent along the coast and in near-coastal areas in western Maine and sporadically east along the coast as far as Blue Hill Bay (Cox 1991). Current controversy (Bourque 1995; Cox 1991) surrounds the relationship between small stemmed point and the Moorehead Phase, a culture best known for elaborate red ocher graves. Moorehead Phase sites are distributed in coastal and near-coastal sections of eastern Maine.

At some time around 3,900-3,700 B.P. the Moorehead and small stemmed populations in Maine appear to have been replaced by an intrusive population from the south, the Susquehanna Tradition (Bourque 1995). With a distinctively different technology and possibly less of a maritime orientation than the preceding populations, Susquehanna Tradition sites are widely distributed in Maine. At present, the early and middle phases of Susquehanna presence are better known than the later.

There is ample evidence of late Archaic settlement in the Boothbay region, most recovered in eroded context (Crotts 1985; Wilson 1997). Vergennes Phase occupation is documented by the presence of an Otter Creek point recovered by Henry Abbott of Boothbay Harbor on or near Indiantown. A Ramah chert point recovered on the Townsend Gut shore suggests Moorehead phase presence, while numerous collections contain Susquehanna materials. The only intact late Archaic sites, however, are several containing small stemmed points on the Sheepscot River (Bourque personal communication; Wilson 1997). Most of the ground stone tools from the region are attributable to the late Archaic period as well.

The advent of pottery use about 3,000 years ago marked the beginning of the Ceramic period in Maine, which is usually divided into subperiods on the basis of changes in pottery construction and decorative elements. Long-distance trade or exchange is prevalent at two times during the Ceramic period. Between approximately 2,500 and 2,300 B.P., classic Adena materials from the Ohio Valley occasionally appear in Maine in mortuary context and even more rarely at habitation sites (Bourque 1992; Heckenberger and Peterson 1990). During the late Ceramic period, exchange of more utilitarian objects, including lithic material, became common (Bourque and Cox 1981; Sanger 1991).

All phases of the Ceramic Period are represented in collections from the Boothbay region. In fact, most intact shell midden deposits date to this time, either because rising sea levels have eroded older deposits (Sanger 1981) or because many of the shell midden sites were not available until this time (Chapter 2). Ceramic Period artifacts found in the Boothbay region include decorated pottery, several styles of projectile point, a variety of scrapers, an occasional celt and numerous bone tools such as barbed points, chisels made from beaver teeth and simple bone points.

By convention the Ceramic period and Maine prehistory end with European Contact in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although Contact Period sites are occasionally found, the interpretation of those remains falls into the domain of the ethnographic record whenever possible. That is the subject of the next section.

Ethnohistory and the Midcoast Region

The early ethnohistoric record, as documented in accounts by early European explorers, traders, missionaries, and colonists, provides a tantalizing but often limited view of Native lifeways in the region. The period includes the exploration and early colonial periods in Maine history, ca. 1524-1676, a dynamic era for Native People and Europeans alike. At the same time that a new land, replete with almost unlimited opportunity, was opening up for Europeans, the world was closing in and diminishing for Native People, who were deeply affected by disease and warfare as well as relentless European encroachment on the land. In this section, we divide the period into several phases: a period of exploration prior to 1605, a period of early settlement between 1605-1622, and the colonial period prior to King Philips War, between 1622-1676. Finally, we take a brief glimpse at more recent Native tenure in the region.

A number of explorers passed by the Maine coast during the sixteenth and earliest seventeenth centuries, most visiting briefly and making few observations, but several taking the opportunity to trade with local Indians and to record their visits The earliest was Giovanni da Verrazzano, a Florentine commanding a French vessel, who visited the coast in 1524, trading with Native People in the vicinity of eastern Casco Bay (Morison 1971) or Penobscot Bay (Ed Churchill personal communication 1998). In contrast to the Narragansetts whom Verrazzano had previously encountered (Calloway 1991), Verrazzano found the Maine Indians rude, trading by lowering a basket of items over a cliff and afterwards showing "all signs of discourtesy and disdain, as was possible for any brute creature to invent, such as exhibiting their bare behinds and laughing immoderately" (cited in Morison 1971:309). This caution in trade followed by "discourtesy" for Verrazzano and his crew may indicate that Maine Natives had previous experience, likely unpleasant, with Europeans (e.g. Salisbury 1982). Verrazzano called Maine Terra Onde di Gente (Land of Bad People) and noted that the inhabitants "were clothed in skins of bear, lynx, sea-wolf, and other animals"...and "live(d) on game, fish, and several fruits which are a species of root which the earth produces itself" (Calloway 1991:32).

A year after this encounter, the Spaniard Estevan Gomez visited the coast, entering Penobscot Bay then sailing west past Pemaquid, Boothbay, and the Kennebec without going ashore (Carlson 1986). Several less well-documented European visits were made in the 16th century as well. One was in 1527, when one of two English vessels looking for a northwest passage visited Maine, exploring the coast but not trading with the Natives (Bourque and Whitehead 1986). Another possible visit was shortly after 1567, when English sailor David Ingram reportedly walked from Florida to New Brunswick, visiting the Maine coast en route (Morison 1971). Finally, the Frenchman Etienne Belanger cruised the Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine Coasts in 1583 (Bourque and Whitehead 1985). While attempting to trade in Nova Scotia, Belanger lost two crew members and his pinnace to hostile Natives.

The final voyages of the exploratory period were made by Englishmen Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602 and Martin Pring in 1603. John Brereton, who recorded the Gosnold voyage, noted that their party encountered "six Indians in a baske shallop with a mast and sail, an iron grapple, and a kettle of copper (who) came boldly aboard us, one of them apparelled with a waistcoat and breeches of black serge, made after our seafashion, hose and shoes on his feet; all the rest (saving one that had a paire of breeches of blue cloth) were all naked. These people are of tall stature, broad and grim visage, of a blacke swart complexion, their eiebrowes painted white" (cited in Calloway 1991:33). These Indians, encountered at Cape Neddick, were Micmac traders acting as middlemen between Europeans in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Etchemins and Almouchiquois of the Maine coast (Bourque and Whitehead 1985).

The period of early settlement, between 1603-1622, is particularly important in regard to European observations of Native inhabitants of the region. At this point, Europeans were contemplating and initiating settlement rather than exploring the area, so they made more detailed observations of Native People than previously. Importantly, those observations were largely made before traditional patterns were deeply disrupted by intensive inter-tribal warfare between 1607 and 1615 (Snow 1978) and by the massive epidemics of 1616-1620 that decimated as much as 90% of the population in some areas (Spiess and Spiess 1986). The authors of accounts of this period include Frenchmen Samuel de Champlain, Marc L'Escarbot, and Pierre Biard, and Englishmen James Rosier (of Captain George Weymouth's expedition), Captain Robert Davies (of the Popham Colony), and Captain John Smith. A picture of Native life in the region emerges out of these accounts, never including all the information necessary to fully reconstruct Native lifeways, but sufficient to provide structure to archaeological accounts.

Champlain records the ethnicity of Maine's Native inhabitants, noting that the Souriquois (Micmac) were present east of the St. John River and in Nova Scotia; the Etchemin inhabited the coast between the Kennebec and the St. John Rivers; the Almouchiquois were present west of the Kennebec; and the Abenaki lived in interior Maine (Bourque 1989). Within these ethnic divisions, local sagamores provided leadership for smaller groups that included 50 to 1,000 members. Sagamores assumed leadership by strength of personality rather than by heredity, and "their authority (was) most precarious....The Indians follow [ed] them through the persuasion of example or of custom, or of ties of kindred or alliance" (Biard cited in Prins 1994:99). In the early seventeenth century there are examples of strong leaders that united smaller groups in common purpose. Perhaps the most notable was Besabes, a Penobscot River sagamore who headed an alliance of Native People between the Penobscot River and Cape Ann (Bourque and Cox 1985).

At the time of European Contact, many of Maine's Native People had an economy based on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild food, although Champlain and John Smith noted that agriculture was practiced west of the Saco River and upstream along the Kennebec (Snow 1978). Maine's hunter-gatherers moved in a seasonal round to exploit resources as they became available in different locations. Summer coastal habitation with winters in the interior was noted in several accounts, although the pattern may have had more to do with an adjustment to summer trading with Europeans on the coast rather than representing a traditional pattern of seasonal movements (e.g. Bourque 1973). In the Sheepscot area, Native People seem to have moved between Merrymeeting Bay, the lower Kennebec, and the Sheepscot Rivers, seasonally exploiting available resources in each location.

The most common form of dwelling in much of Maine was the conical wigwam (Willoughby 1905), although larger longhouses were constructed at times, often as summer residences and for ceremonial purposes. In 1602, Brereton (1912:32) described a wigwam as "a little old house made of boughs, covered by bark." In addition to bark, wigwams were sometimes covered with hide or woven mats. In winter, the inside was lined with deer hides, and the floor was covered with hemlock twigs or balsam fir needles covered with mats or hides (Prins 1994:101).

One of the most important pieces of ethnographic information attributable to the period of early settlement is a document based on information gathered in 1605 from five Indians kidnapped by George Weymouth in the vicinity of Pemaquid and written by Samuel Purchas in 1625. Purchas recorded the location of 21 villages between the Penobscot and Cape Ann, identified the number of men in each village, the sagamore's name, and the number of households. Using these data, Dean Snow (cited in Baker 1986) estimated that Maine's population in 1605 was about 11,900 people. This figure is probably close to the pre-contact population, before warfare and disease reduced Native People to about 10% of this amount.

The ethnographic record is richer for the Colonial Period than for the preceding period of early settlement, but it is less representative of Native life before Contact. Some of the most intriguing documentary sources for this period are Indian deeds, where individual sagamores or groups of Indians transferred parcels of land to white settlers, traders, and entrepreneurs (e.g. Baker 1986). There are three types of Indian deeds: those transferring modest plots of land to individual landowners, those for large tracts of land upriver to secure trading rights, and those, particularly in western Maine, to acquire timber rights (Churchill personal communication). Many aspects of the deeds are time-transgressive. The earliest deeds are those to individual landowners; in these deeds there appears to be a good correspondence between the long-term rights of the grantor to the land he/she was granting. Although poorly paid for the land in material terms, Indians typically retained fowling, fishing and hunting rights once the land was transferred. At this time, trading was an important economic activity and English settlers and traders wanted the Indians to remain in the area.

As tensions rose between Indians and settlers later in the seventeenth century, deeds often included exclusionary clauses to keep Indians off the land. Further, the later deeds did not necessarily indicate an ancient correspondence between the grantor(s) and the land they granted, but may have demonstrated alliances between different groups and the repopulation of land where indigenous groups were decimated by disease (Bourque personal communication 1998).

Of particular importance to the region between the Sheepscot and the Kennebec, a sagamore called Robinhood signed about 20 deeds between 1639 and 1683 (Baker 1986; Prins 1995). Robinhood was the son of Mentaurmet (also called Metiwormet), one of three Sheepscot River sagamores identified by Purchas (1623) in the Mawooshen document. Although Mentaurmet is firmly associated with the Sheepscot by Champlain (1912:111), Levett (1912:618), and Biard (cited in Prins 1994), the deeds place his son Robinhood (also called Damarin, Rawandagon, and Mohotiwormet) as sagamore of Nequasset on the Kennebec. Robinhood's five earliest deeds, dating between 1639 and 1650, were signed solely by himself, and were all for land on the east side of the lower Kennebec.

Between 1650 and 1660, Robinhood co-signed deeds with two different groups of sagamores. The first group, including Terrumquin, deeded land between present-day Bath and Casco Bay. This group appears to have resided around Merrymeeting Bay. The second group, including sagamores Dick Swash and Jack Pudding, signed deeds for land on the Sheepscot River.

After 1660, Robinhood signed several deeds by himself for land between the Kennebec and the Sheepscot, including a deed to Henry Curtis for property between East Boothbay and the mouth of the Sheepscot that includes present day West Harbor and perhaps Boothbay Harbor. At the same time, Sheepscot River sagamores Dick Swash and Jack Pudding signed deeds by themselves for land on the upper Sheepscot. Of interest, Robinhood later confirmed one deed for land near Dyers Neck in what is now Newcastle.

The deed signatures suggest that Robinhood was the chief Sagamore of a territory focused on the lower Kennebec, but that he had strong ties with groups occupying the Sheepscot River and Merrymeeting Bay. These groups were likely all related, coalescing at times and living in more restricted territories at other times, probably seasonally as resource availability dictated. It seems likely that this territory, from Merrymeeting Bay and the lower Kennebec to the east side of the Sheepscot River, marks a territory shared by Indiantown's inhabitants, at least at the time of European Contact and probably before.

Following King Philip's War, Native American presence diminished in the area between the Sheepscot and the lower Kennebec. Remnant Native groups coalesced on the upper Kennebec and in Quebec. Much later, in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Penobscot Indians like "Indian Pete" (Plate 4), showed up in the area, attracted by tourism and the opportunities it presented. Older regional residents remember some of these Indians cutting sweetgrass and selling baskets. At this time, there is no way to know whether these Indians had some ancient connection to the area, or whether they simply found here a good place to spend the summer.

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