Abenaki Tribe

Abenaki Native American Indian Tribe - Wigwam village

The Abenaki Tribe
Summary and Definition: The Abenaki were farmers hunter gatherers and fishers whose lands stretched from Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River basin and south into Maine and northern Massachusetts. The Abenaki lived in wigwams or longhouses and their clothes were distinguished by the ethnically  distinct, pointed or peaked hoods that the Abenaki people wore.

What language did the Abenaki tribe speak?
The Abenaki tribe spoke in spoke in several related dialects of the Algonquian language family. In their own language they are known as the "Wabanaki." The meaning of the name 'Abenaki' was "whitening sky at daybreak" or "people of the dawn" referring to Easterners in respect of the location of their homelands. The Abenaki called their homeland 'Ndakinna' meaning "our land." The British and the New England tribes called them the 'Terrateens'. The Abenaki consisted of four divisions:

  • Eastern Abenaki who lived in parts of Maine

  • Maritime Abenaki lived in the St. Croix and Saint John River valleys

  • Western Abenaki (Sokoki) who lived in the Connecticut River valley in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts

  • Canadian Abenaki who lived in Canada (New Brunswick and Quebec)

What was the lifestyle and culture of the Abenaki?
The Abenaki, or Wabinaki, were part of a confederacy of Algonquian speaking tribes. The Wabanaki Confederacy consisted of five principal Nations: the Abenaki, Micmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot. The Abenaki people were hunters, fishers and farmers who lived in wigwams made primarily of birchbark. Birchbark was an extremely important material and was used to make canoes, shelters, clothing and containers. The 1500's saw the first European explorers. The French established New France and the English began their colonization process. The lands that now cover the US states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts encroached on Abenaki territories. The Europeans brought devastating diseases such as smallpox, influenza, diphtheria and measles and a series of epidemics killed many Abenaki who had no immunity to such illnesses. The French and Indian Wars raged for 75 years as France and England fought for the lucrative new lands. The Abenaki become allies of the French. The Abenaki first became involved in the fighting through their friendship with a Frenchman, Jean-Vincent d'Abbadie de Saint-Castin (1652–1707) a French military officer serving in Acadia who became an Abenaki chief. Defeat in the wars and inter-tribal warfare resulted in the scattering of the Abenaki people and many relocated to Canada.

Where did the Abenaki live?
The Abenaki are people of the Northeast Woodland Native American cultural group.   The geography of the region in which they lived dictated the lifestyle and culture of the Abenaki tribe.

  • The Northeast Woodland region extended mainly across the New England States, lower Canada, west to Minnesota, and north of the Ohio River
  • Land: Lush woodlands, rivers, ocean
  • Climate: The climate varied according to the location of the tribe
  • Land Animals: The  animals included squirrel, white-tailed deer, raccoon, bears, beavers, moose, and caribou
  • Fish and Sea Mammals: Whales, Seal, Fish and shell fish
  • Crops: The crops grown in the area were corn (maize), pumpkin, squash, beans and tobacco
  • Trees: Poplar, birch, elm, maple, oak, pine, fir trees and spruce

What did the Abenaki live in? Wigwams
The Abenaki tribe lived in Wigwams aka Birchbark houses. This type of shelter, conical or domed shaped, or occasionally pyramid shaped wigwams, were common to the Algonquian speaking people. Wigwam is the word for "house" in the Abenaki language. The wigwam varied in size housing up to 27 people in a village and temporary wigwams used on hunting trips that housed just 3 people. Wigwams were built with wooden frames that were covered with woven mats, sheets of birchbark and animal skins. Ropes were wrapped around the wigwam to hold the birch bark in place.

What did the Abenaki live in? Longhouses
Many other Abenaki lived in oval-shaped longhouses. Inter-tribal warfare was harsh and frequent so people lived in fortified longhouse villages surrounded by fencing (palisades) and reinforced with mud. Longhouses were built up to 200 feet long, 20 feet wide and 20 feet high. 

What clothes did the Abenaki wear?
The clothes worn by the Abenaki varied according to the season. In the hot, humid summer the men wore breechcloths tucked over a belt that hung to mid-thigh at the back. The breechcloths were often accompanied by leather leggings kept in place with strips of cloth like garters to protect their legs. The leggings tapered towards the ankle and the outside was decorated with a fringe or beadwork. Moccasins were made with a long tongue and a high collar that could be folded up or down. In the wet and snowy winters snowshoes were also worn during the winter. The Abenaki women wore deerskin wraparound skirts or dresses and also wore leggings. In the winter cloaks made from buckskin or other animal skins were worn by both men and women. The Abenaki also wore highly distinctive, embellished pointed or peaked hoods made from birch bark or leather that covered the shoulder decorated with feathers or tufts of animal hair at the point.

What food did the Abenaki eat?
The food that the Abenaki tribe ate included crops they raised consisting of the  "three sisters" crops of corn, beans and squash together with sunflowers, the seeds of which were crushed for their oil. Fish such as sturgeon, pike and bullhead were caught. Hunters provided meat from deer (venison), bear, moose and smaller game like squirrel or rabbit. Birds and waterfowl such as duck, grouse and wild turkey also added to the variety of their food. Their diet was complemented by vegetables, mushrooms, nuts (acorns, hickory and butternuts) and fruits (plums, cherries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries). Maple syrup was obtained from the sap of the maple tree.

What weapons did the Abenaki use?
The weapons used by the Abenaki included war clubs, tomahawks, battle hammers, knives, bows and arrows, spears and axes.

Abenaki History: What happened to the Abenaki tribe?
The following Abenaki history timeline details facts, dates and famous landmarks of the people. The Abenaki timeline explains what happened to the people of their tribe.

Abenaki History Timeline

  • 1524: French expedition, led by Giovanni da Verranzano, made the first recorded contact with the Abenaki

  • 1534: The colonization of New France began

  • 1604: French explorer Samuel de Champlain encountered many of the Abenaki tribes and established fur trading links

  • 1606: The colonisation of New England began

  • 1600's: Epidemics of smallpox and measles and inter-tribal warfare diminish the numbers of Abenaki

  • 1600's: Abenaki villages raided by the Iroquois

  • 1607:  The Plymouth Company made unsuccessful attempts to establish a colony on the Kennebec River

  • 1607-1615: The Tarrateen War (1607 - 1615) took place between the Micmac and Abenaki over the fur trade with the French

  • 1609: On July 30, 1609, Samuel de Champlain claimed Vermont as part of New France

  • 1614: Captain James Smith met Abenaki during his exploration and mapping of the coast of northern New England

  • 1614: The Abenaki begin trading beaver furs with the English and the French

  • 1620: Massachusetts Bay Colony founded by John Mason and Sir Ferdinando Gorges. Maine was originally part of the Massachusetts colony

  • 1620: The Great Migration of English colonists began

  • 1636: Connecticut was settled by colonists, led by Thomas Hooker

  • 1636: Rhode Island was settled by Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson

  • 1637: Abenaki received first firearms in trade with the French and become their allies

  • 1638: New Hampshire was settled by John Mason

  • 1647: Eastern Abenaki attacked by Mohawk (English allies)

  • 1650 Mohawk once again began attacking Western Abenaki and other Algonquian tribes

  • 1664: New Jersey was settled

  • 1675: The Abenaki joined in the King Phillip's War (1675-1676) which was fought against the English in the colonies of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine during which time nearly one  third of America's white population was wiped out and thousands of Native Indians die

  • 1676: The Mohawk (English allies) attack Western Abenaki forcing them to retreat to Quebec on the Trois-Rivieres, and St. Francois River for French protection

  • 1679: The Abenaki return to Maine

  • 1688: The French and Indian Wars (1688-1763) begin marking the outbreak of King William's War (1688-1699) between France and their allies in the Wabanaki Confederacy and England and their allies in the Iroquois Confederacy

  • 1699: The Abenaki promised to remain neutral but the treaty is broken

  • 1702: Queen Anne's War (1702-1713)

  • 1722: Dummer's War (1722–1725), aka Lovewell's War, Father Rale's War, Greylock's War was a series of battles between English settlers in Maine and the Wabanaki Confederacy

  • 1725: War in Maine ended with defeat of Eastern Abenaki and a peace treaty. The Canadian Abenaki at Wolinak and St. Francois to agreed to peace with New England

  • 1744: King George's War (1744 - 1748) between Britain and France, peace ended. The Abenaki and Sokoki supported the French, the Eastern Abenaki moved toward Canada, a few St. Francois Abenaki found refuge near Boston with the English

  • 1746: At least 35 Abenaki and Sokoki war parties attacked the frontier

  • 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle

  • 1749: Father Le Loutre’s War, aka the Micmac War (1749–1755) erupted in Acadia and Nova Scotia between France and the Micmac and Maliseet of the Wabanaki Confederacy against the British who were the victors

  • 1754 The murder of two of Abenaki hunters by New Englanders brought retaliatory raids against the New England

  • 1754: French Indian War (1754 - 1763), also known as the 7 year war, was the fourth and final series of conflicts in the French and Indian Wars fought between the British and the French. Both sides were aided by Native Indian allies. The Abenaki are allied to the French

  • 1759: Rangers commanded by Major Robert Rogers attack and burn St. Francois

  • 1763: French and Indian War ends in victory for the British ending the colony of New France. Canada, east of the Mississippi River, was added to the British empire

  • 1763: The Abenaki scatter as settlers claimed their land

  • 1776: During the War of Independence the St. Francis Abenaki served with the British, others supported the Americans

  • 1805: The British gave land to the Abenaki in Canada

  • 1812:  War of 1812, last conflict participated in by the Abenaki on British side

Abenaki History Timeline

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