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Native Americans of Maine

Here First photo

Native Americans of Maine

How did the indigenous tribes of the northeast coast of the United States interact with the earliest explorers and later ‘Americans’ who came to their lands?  Learn more about their experiences in these two books available at The Wandering Bull, LLC!

Here First: Samoset and the Wawenock of Pemaquid, Maine.

Jody Bachelder  focuses on the experience of the Native American who first made contact with the English colonists who arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.  She examines how we know what we do about Samoset and his community.

Beginning with the short incident of Samoset approaching the people who would found Plymoth Plantation, Bachelder expands her scope backwards in time to the pre-contact period.  Then she proceeds to describe what happened after that well-remembered but somewhat legendary encounter.

Bachelder offers an overview of the lifestyle of the Wabanaki Indians.  Then she describes what happened to the coastal settlements when European sailors arrived. Early contact incidents and settlements in Maine coincided with massive epidemics that resulted in the extinction of entire villages.  Europeans arrived on the eastern shores of northern North America to take advantage of sources of fish and timber.  Their contact with the Native Americans there led to both trade with and exploitation of the indigenous populations.  Exposure to these traders and settlers allowed Samoset to learn enough English to converse.

Eventually, in search of allies to help support his village, Samoset travelled south to what is now Massachusetts where he encountered the new arrivals from England.  The story continues with the creation of permanent European trading posts and settlements along the coast and how the lifestyles of the surviving Native Americans living in what is now the state of Maine changed.

Indians in Eden: Wabanakis and Rusticators on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, 1840s – 1920s.

Bunny McBride and Harald E.L. Prins pick up the next part of the story of the Native Americans in Maine.

This well-illustrated book includes many excerpts from newspapers, interviews and diaries that describe how the coast of Maine changed during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It focuses on the area that includes Bar Harbor.  The ‘Eden’ of the title is what the tourists of that time called Mount Desert Island because of its undeveloped natural beauty.  McBride and Prins describe how indigenous communities survived during a period of increased tourism and development while simultaneously being ‘romanticized’ and discriminated against.

As they tried to access the resources they had depended on for millennia, the Wabanaki (including the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq and Abenaki tribes) began to create a trade economy in which they sold handmade items and offered hunting and fishing services to the vacationing wealthy white visitors.

The book describes the craft items like baskets, birchbark canoes, moccasins, snowshoes and bows & arrows that were popular with the seasonal guests.  Natives also served as guides for canoeing trips, hunting and fishing.  They hunted a variety of birds and porpoises so they could sell feathers (very popular for 19th century ladies’ hats) and oil for lighthouses and clockworks.  Some specialized in entertainments of storytelling and dancing, ‘playing up’ the dress and mannerisms expected by white audiences.

The end of the book provides profiles of several ethnographers and anthropologists who recorded legends, history and songs from the remaining Wabanaki who still remembered them.  Among these are Native American Joseph Nicolar who wrote The Life and Traditions of the Red Man; Charles Godfrey Leland who wrote Algonquin Legends of New England; and Frank Gouldsmith Speck who authored Penobscot Man: The Life History of a Forest Tribe in Maine.

Reading these books back to back will provide you with a long timeline of the experiences, hardships and survival of the Native Americans from the northeast corner of North America.

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