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Program 8: People of the Dawn


Twelve Thousand Years: Native Americans in MaineThe most recent and most comprehensive study of early Native American life in Maine is "Twelve Thousand Years: Native Americans in Maine" By Bruce J. Bourque, Steven L. Cox and Ruth H. Whitehead. Bruce Bourque is chief archaeologist and curator of ethnography at the Maine State Museum and senior lecturer in anthropology at Bates College.

Excerpts of early race relations used with permission


The accounts of Indian life presented by Champlain, Capt. John Smith, and their contemporaries have often been interpreted as depicting Natives - "noble savages" - living in a traditional pattern of harmony with their environments. In tracing an archaeological course toward the end of prehistory, however, we have encountered instead a late Ceramic period filled with change, including the arrival of agriculture, a new style of ceramic technology, a widespread pattern of lithic exchange and shared artifact styles, the possible emergence of bark canoe technology, an intensification in the exploitation of marine mammals and an increase in the use of petroglyph imagery as a form of spiritual expression. In many ways then, the late Ceramic period echoes a pattern not of tradition-bound stability but rather one of dynamism akin to that of an earlier time, during the Late Archaic period, when the Moorehead phase emerged following a period of cultural stability. As the Moorehead phase suddenly gave way to the Susquehanna tradition, the late Ceramic period also heralds a profound change, as new peoples from across the sea entered the region and gained dominion over it. (p. 100-101)

"The goal of ethnohistory is to piece together fragments of historic information about Native peoples. It thus resembles archaeology to the extent that it ferrets fragments of information out of often obscure deposits-historic documents instead of middens [piles of refuse], in this case-and makes them comprehensible through interpretation. This might seem to be a less complex task than archaeology if one assumes that Indian history can simply be read in historical records. In fact, however, contemporary European colonials rarely tried to write the history of these populations. Instead, they wrote mainly about their own concerns, and subsequent historians have also generally focused their research on Europeans, not Indians. Even in historical works where Indians are mentioned extensively, their perspective is rarely the central theme, and what is said about them is often badly distorted by ignorance and cultural bias. Thus, the Reverend William Hubbard's account of King Philip's War in Maine describes most of the important military and diplomatic activities of the Indians involved, but does so in a way that leaves the English apparently blameless for the war. Similarly, French Jesuit missionaries-who lived and worked much more closely with Maine's Indians than the English-also distorted their accounts in order to aggrandize their own effectiveness as emissaries of their God and their king. And both the English and French used the same telling term for Indians: "savages." (p. 103-104)

"The historical record of European-Indian contact from the era of "discovery" through the colonial period is different for the Maritime Peninsula than for other parts of North America. This was the arena in which, from earliest times, the English and the French vied for control. This competition generated a wealth of historical data about Native peoples that provides scholars with an English and French perspective on most important events. One example of how these parallel records can help clarify historical Native positions concerns an event that occurred in 1694, during King William's War. In that year, Massachusetts governor William Phips pressed two beleaguered Indian chiefs, Madockawando and Edgeremet, to cede their lands to him and another Englishman in return for peace. This transaction was recorded in English records as a voluntary sale. The Indians however soon "broke" the treaty and resumed hostilities against the English. From the English perspective, the Indians behaved in a perfidious manner. But French sources paint a different picture, pointing out that these two chiefs, who were not native to the lands in question, had no authority to relinquish them, and that their action was actually the trigger that incited an already discontented population to resume the war." (p. 104-105)


"Early relations between the Native people and Europeans throughout the region were generally peaceable, if not always friendly. In 1623, for example, Samoset, a sagamore of some influence who hailed from the Pemaquid area and who is memorialized in New England lore for welcoming the Pilgrims at Plymouth, told Christopher Levett at Casco Bay that the Indians and English should be bound by "mouchike legamatch [friendship]." Levett was also supposedly told, by a group of local sagamores, 'that I and my wife and children should be very welcome into that country at any time.' To the east, the French also were apparently welcomed. Charles de Biencourt, commander of Port Royal and leader of the small colony there during the 1610s, and his heir and successor Charles La Tour, both claimed the title "grand Sagamo" of the Souriquois and Etchemins. Moreover, Biencourt was said to have spent his last years living among the Souriquois, and La Tour married a Souriquois woman in the early 1620.

The amity between Native and European peoples was undoubtedly rooted largely in two factors. The first was the desire among aboriginal people for European goods, including cloth, brass kettles, biscuit, liquor, and guns. West of the Penobscot, however, the second factor was fear of the Tarrentines, as many New England Indians called the predatory Souriquois. As Plymouth governor William Bradford put it in 1621: "the People [of Massachusetts Bay] were much afraid of the Tarrentines, a people to the eastward which used to come in harvest time and take away their corn, and many times kill their persons." In fact, it was probably in the hope of gaining protection from the English that the Massachusetts sachem Chikataubut and eight others signed a submission to King James in September of that year, and it was certainly fear of the Tarrentines that motivated Indians of Adawam and Naumkeag, near Salem, to maintain close ties with that new settlement eight years later.

The honeymoon was short-lived, however, as Europeans began to clash over territorial claims and access to furs, often using liquor and firearms to enlist Native support, and resorting to other abusive tactics. According to Bradford, in 1627: 'Besides the spoiling of the trade this last year, our boat and men [at Cushnoc] had like to have been cut off by the Indians, after the fishermen were gone, for the wrongs which they did them, in stealing their skins and other abuses offered them...and besides they still continues to truck pieces [firearms], powder and shot with them, which will be the overthrow of all, if it be not looked unto.

So extensive was this trade [firearms] that a year later, according to Bradford, 'the Indians are full of pieces all over, both fowling pieces, muskets, pistols, etc. They have also their moulds to make shot of all sorts.... Yea, some have seen them have screw-plates to make screw pins [for flint locks] themselves....wherewith they are better furnished than the English themselves." (P.121-125)

Ensuing conflicts disrupted the fur trade and took much of the European profit out of it. "In 1634, for example, Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop remarked that the traders were 'cutting one another's throats for beaver.' Moreover, profit margins were further diminished by the fact that 'the Indians are now . . . well seen into our trading commodities' and were willing to buy only first-rate goods: the longest, warmest coats, hats that fit, and coverlets that were 'soft and warme.' And then only if the price was right, as far as furs were concerned, it was a seller's market.

The English officials made repeated efforts to rectify misdeeds done to Maine Indians and to halt the trade of guns and powder, but the governance on the trading frontier during the 1620s and 1630s was not strong enough to halt either. They may have had some effect, however, for during the late 1630s and 1640s trade-related violence seems to have abated somewhat. By this time land-based English traders shifted their activities eastward and farther inland to posts such as a t Pejepscot and Cushnoc. At the mouths of the Penobscot and St. John Rivers, French posts controlled the trade. On the coast, only the fishing port of Pemaquid still remained active in the trade, in part by playing the role of intermediary between French and English traders and by attracting some Indian trade from the west side of the Penobscot and from its own modest hinterland. (P.126-127)


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