Re: request for info about Abenaki / Pennacook

John Wilmerding (jwlmrdng@doc.state.vt.us)
Fri, 20 Oct 1995 10:20:27 -0400


Dear LeaAnn Wood: <leaann@mail.wsu.edu>

You said:

> ... I would very much like to communicate with anyone who knows
> anything about Western Abenaki or the Pennacook tribe. I have
> read that some people migrated to Canada long ago. I hope you
> can send some information to me to help in my search.

The Sovereign Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi is named after the
Missisquoi, the traditional summer fishing and hunting grounds of
the western Abenaki people. This tribe is based loosely around the
descendants of the original Sokoki Abenaki, who ranged throughout
most of Vermont (especially along a northwest-southeast axis),
western Massachusetts, southwestern New Hampshire, and southern
Quebec. The Abenaki call(ed) their land Ndakinna (pronounced 'n-
da'-ki-nna), which means 'our land'. The tribal name, Abenaki,
means 'people of the dawn'.

The Abenaki call(ed) themselves Alnobak, which means human being.
They traditionally honor all others as Alnobak as well. The
Iroquois say, however, that Abenaki means 'eaters of the bark of
trees', and indeed there is a tradition in the tribe that the bark
of certain trees can be used as sustenance in time of hardship.

The hardiness of the Abenaki and their ability to survive in the
not-particularly-lush environment of the Green Mountains gave a
great early advantage to Grey Lock, who was their mightiest and
best-known chief because of his wars against English colonists in
Massachusetts. Grey Lock acquired a grudge against the English
after he was wounded as a young man by settlers in western Massa-
chusetts, where he was born. He fled that area and moved north to
Missisquoi (modern-day Swanton, on Lake Champlain near the Canadian
border). Based there, Grey Lock's raiding parties sortied south
and southeast along the western tributaries of the Connecticut
River to raid settlements in Western Massachusetts, notably Brook-
field, Northfield, Deerfield, etc. He carried on his guerrilla
wars of defense and reprisal for several decades after King
Phillip's War ended the 'honeymoon' between the English colonists
and the Massachusetts tribes. Grey Lock lived until he became too
old to range the hills and fight, and then he married, settled
down, and fathered many children, remaining 'productive' for his
tribe in this special way well into his 70s. Massachusetts'
highest peak is named after him

By some accounts, the English were initially so hard-put to fight
Grey Lock on equal terms that they cannibalized Abenaki children
for nourishment on the return home south after raiding Abenaki
bands in northern Vermont. The settler's strategic position im-
proved after they moved northward along the Connecticut, destroying
Abenaki villages and camps as they went and establishing fortifica-
tions such as the one at Brattleboro, VT (Abenaki: Wantastiquet,
or gathering place by the waters), where I now live. The last
substantial Abenaki fortification on the Connecticut was at
Hinsdale, NH ... they 'fell back' to that position after colonists
displaced them from their large historic village home at Squakheag
(modern-day Northfield, MA - 'Squakheag' is derived from the same
word as 'Sokoki', which means 'people who went their own separate
way'). Eventually those Sokoki Abenaki who still lived as a tribe
and followed tribal ways were forced out of southern Ndakinna into
Quebec, particularly after they sided with the French in the
'French and Indian' wars in the mid 18th century.

After settling in Quebec, many of the Abenaki converted to
Catholicism as a result of the ministrations of French mission-
aries. The French even established the first church in Vermont at
Missisquoi. Most of the remaining tribal Abenaki were re-named (or
renamed themselves, perhaps) after saints (St. Francis, St.
Germain, etc.). The current Grand Chief, Homer St. Francis, is
said to be Grey Lock's direct descendant. He has shown me proof
in writing (historical documents) of a campaign to eradicate
Abenaki bloodlines (including, or course, his own) in Vermont under
the guise of 'eugenics', an effort that proves that Vermont's
settlers had publicly-organized hostile and genocidal intent toward
the Abenaki well into this century.

Of course, over the centuries many or most of the Abenaki have
'passed' as European ... some of them they were fairly light-
skinned to begin with, perhaps due to Norse or Celtic incursions
into North America (evidence of which is still being discovered).
Your ancestors may not have gone to Canada, or perhaps may not have
remained there. People of Abenaki descent are scattered all around
New England, and many have followed the historic mass migration
into cities (such as Boston) that accompanied the industrial
revolution.

The Sovereign Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi maintains offices today
at Missisquoi/Swanton, P.O. Box 276, Missisquoi, VT 05488.
[802-868-2559] [FAX: 802-868-5118] The state of the tribe today
is that it is suffering an ideological split; pro- and anti-
gambling, essentially. There is a current initiative for Federal
recognition which may succeed, but the recognition of the Abenaki
is a political football (or perhaps a yo-yo) in Vermont, it having
been granted by the state in the mid-1980s and then rrescinded
again after a change in the statehouse and the state Supreme Court.

A prominent Abenaki family, the Bruchacs, have a home in the
Saratoga, NY, area. Two Bruchac men in their thirties, Jesse and
Jim, are the leaders of a musical group called the Dawnland Singers
... they have released cassettes and a CD which you, as a seeker
of your 'roots', would probably enjoy and be inspired by. Jesse
is an authority on the Abenaki language; he reads, writes, and
speaks Abenaki as well as anyone in the USA today, and has
published Abenaki language teaching tapes. The extant surviving
native speakers of the language are all elderly and reside in towns
in Quebec that were formerly settled by the Abenaki during the
northward exodus out of Ndakinna.

From Wantastiquet, Sokoki Abenaki Land, on the Connecticut River,
I am,

John Wilmerding * Putney, VT, MM, RSF * jwlmrdng@doc.state.vt.us