Clash of Empires

The Abenaki lived in extended family groups of approximately fifty to one hundred people. They built their most permanent homes near their cornfields because these required tending during three seasons of the year. Villages inhabited by almost 500 people existed in what today are the lands around Newbury and Swanton. 

The Abenaki believed in one Supreme Being. They honored the spirits of the animals and the plants and the four winds. Mother Earth, Father Sky, Grandmother Moon, Grandfather Sun, and mythical hero Gluskabi were personified to enhance relationships and connections to the environment.

The Western Abenaki experienced great suffering long before the Europeans made direct extended contact with them in the mid-1600s. Contagious diseases from Europe had already decimated their population as fishermen, mariners, and explorers passed sickness from tribe to tribe. European demand for beaver pelts changed hunting practices, increased dependence on trade, and pressured natives to over trap and use other bands’ hunting territories. Native people of coastal and southern New England, forced out of their homelands by English farmers, migrated north seeking refuge with their kinsmen. French Catholic missionaries came from the north and English Protestants from the south to try and convert the indigenous people to new religions.

Before long the Abenaki found themselves in a dangerous position between the two European rivals, France and Great Britain. Though the final outcome for the Abenaki would be loss, because they were left out of treaties and disenfranchised, the interaction between Europeans and natives consisted of both cooperation and conflict during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.Frenchman Samuel de Champlain, accompanied by two French soldiers and sixty Algonquin warriors, arrived on the lake that would later bear his name in July 1609.  A skirmish with the Algonquins' enemies, the Iroquois, ensued.

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