The Ancient Dominions of Maine
Norumbega Reconsidered and the Wawenoc Diaspora
Information File:

The Aboriginals

The following is quoted from Chapter III in Reuel Robinson, 1907, History of Camden and Rockport, Maine, Camden Publishing Co.

The men who owned and inhabited the State of Maine prior to its settlement by the whites, belonged to the great Algonquin family of American Indians, which extended from Canada to the latitude of South Carolina and from New Brunswick to the Mississippi River, completely surrounding the numerically smaller if intellectually greater Iroquois of the Six Nations of central New York. This great family was composed of a large number of divisions, subdivisions and clans. Those who inhabited Maine were the Abnakis or Abenaques, dwelling west of the Penobscot and the Etechemins occupying the territory extending eastward of that river to New Brunswick. These two races were hostile to each other and had many bloody conflicts.

At the time Capt. Waymouth visited this section the Abnakis were predominant throughout Maine. Their chief tribe was the Wawenocks, the name signifying a "brave people." They dwelt on the west shores of the Penobscot, and throughout the territory stretching westward to the Kennebec. The sachem of the Wawenocks was ruler of all the tribes from the St. John's River to the Merrimac and was called "Basheba." His seat was at Pemaquid and he was practically king of the thirty thousand or more souls inhabiting that region.

These natives of Maine were taller than the average white man. The men were of fine physique and many of the women comely of form and face. They were inclined to be of a friendly disposition towards their pale-faced visitors and had the English treated them magnanimously, they probably would have had little trouble with them. The French nearly always treated the Indians as brothers, and often intermarried with them, as in the case of Baron Castine who established a trading post on the eastern side of Penobscot Bay at the place now bearing his name, but then called Biguyduce, and shortly afterwards married a daughter of Madockawando, a chief of the Etechemins, and himself became a sagamore of the tribe. The French, therefore, in nearly all their quarrels and wars with the English settlers, could rely upon the Indians to be their friends and allies.

After Waymouth had been anchored a short time in "Pentecost Harbor" among the St. George islands, the Wawenocks made their appearance in three canoes. They landed on an island opposite, kindled a fire and stood around it looking with wondering eyes at the ship.  Rosier writes about the incident as follows: "Weffing unto them to come unto us, because we had not seen any of the people yet, they sent out one canoe with three men, one of which, when they came near us, spoke in his
language very loud and very boldly." They waved towards the sea with their paddles as if demanding that the strangers sail away and not intrude upon them longer. By showing them knives, combs, glasses, etc., the sailors finally coaxed them alongside and presented to them bracelets, rings, pipes, and peacock feathers which they stuck in their hair. They then went away and were succeeded by another canoe containing four others.  Rosier describes the people as, ''well countenanced, proportionable, with bodies painted black, their faces, some with red, some with black, and some with blue; clothed with beaver and deer skin mantles, fastened at their shoulders and hanging to their knees; some with sleeves, and some with buskins of leather sewed; they seemed all very civil and merry; and we found them a people of exceeding good invention, quick understanding, and ready capacity." The next day they again visited the ship and were enticed on board and below and were given of the ship's provisions to eat.  Afterwards other natives visited the ship, and five of them whose names are said to have been Tahanado, Amoret, Skicowares, Maneddo and Saffacomoit were seized and held as prisoners aboard the Archangel.  The redmen then tried to inveigle one of the sailors ashore to spend the night, probably for the purpose of holding him as a hostage for the release of their kidnapped kinsmen, but without success.  The basheba also sent an embassador, wearing a peculiar kind of coronet made of stiff hair, colored red, desiring that they would bring the ship up to his house, but Waymouth prudently declined the invitation.  When, a few days later, Waymouth sailed for Europe, he took the five captured redskins with him, three of whom lived three years with Sir Ferdinando Gorges, and the most of whom finally returned to Maine with different expeditions, and, from the knowledge of the English language which they had acquired, were employed as interpreters between the English and the natives.

Nine years later Capt. John Smith sailed into Penobscot Bay.  In his book afterwards published, he speaks of finding an Indian settlement at Camden, called Mecaddacut.  He also speaks of the Wawenocks as follows: "The most northern part I was at was the bay of Penobscot, which is east and west, north and south, more than ten leagues; but such were my occasions I was constrained to be satisfied with them.  I found in the bay that the river ran far up into the Land, and was well inhabited with many people, but they were from their habitations, either fishing among the isles, or hunting the lakes and woods for deer and beavers.  On the east side of the bay are the Tarrantines, their mortal enemies, where inhabit the French, as they say, that live with the people as one nation or family, and to the northwest of Pentagoet (Penobscot Bay) is Mecaddacut, at the foot of a high mountain, a kind of fortresse against the Tarratines, adjoining to the high mountains of Penobscot, against whose feet doth beat the sea.  But over all the Lands, Isles, or other impediments, you may well see them sixteen or eighteen leagues from their situation.  Segocket is next; then Muscongus, Pemaquid," etc.  the next year after Smith's visit (1615) the Etechemins, long weary of Wawenock rule, revolted, and a sanguinary conflict ensued in which all the Maine Indians engaged.  The mighty Wawenocks led the western tribes, while the brave Tarratines or Penobscots, under their sagamore, Nultonanit, headed the eastern tribes.  The war was to the knife and lasted two years.  Scores of braves fell on both sides and the Wawenocks were nearly exterminated by the war, which the victorious Tarratines closed by killing the basheba and freeing themselves from Abnaki control, thus ending the existence of the powerful native depotism, that was so zealous of its perogatives that it insisted that all visitors to this territory should show their respect for the great basheba.  This was illustrated when Capt. Popham's colony settled on the Kennebec in 1607, and began the erection of their dwellings.  A deputation from the Wawenocks came down from the eastward, to visit the new plantation, stating that their king, the basheba, expected all strangers coming into his dominion to pay their respects to him at court.  The natural generosity of the natives is also illustrated on this occasion, for when Popham, in compliance with this demand, sent a deputation to visit the basheba, which was driven back by a storm, the king, learning of this disaster, sent his son with a retinue to visit the president of the colony at Sabino.

This war between the western and eastern tribes was immediately followed by a fearful scourge, which swept away whole villages and devastated the country from the Penobscot to Cape Cod.  During the following half century the small pox became a frequent pestilence among the Maine Indians and did much to diminish their numbers.  During that time, too, they joined at intervals with the Massachusetts tribes in waging war upon those "Romans of the Western World," the Iroquois, by whom they were defeated, and on one occasion they were pursued through the forests by the mighty avenging Mohawks to the very eastern confines of the state.  All these things proved disastrous to the Maine Indians, and in 1675f their numbers had been reduced to about twelve thousand souls.  That year King Philip's war began in Massachusetts and many of the Maine Indians participated with their western brothers in their hatred of the paleface, and from that time for a period of some ninety years, the English colonists were, a greater portion of the time, in a state of actual or semi-warfare with the savages.  During the "French and Indian War" when the natives espoused the cause of their friends, the French, Maine was the theatre of bloody strife and savage cruelty, but after the overthrow of the French, the power that had driven them on to prosecute these wars, the sun of the Maine Indians set forever, and the settlers were no longer harassed by fear of the tomahawk and scalping knife.  The tribes originally dwelling in the vicinity of Camden and to the westward long ago disappeared from the earth.  Of the Etechemins there remain two small tribes, the remnant of the famous Tarratines or "canoe men" at Oldtown and a few Openagoes or "Quoddy" Indians in the eastern part of the state.