The Native American inhabitants of the area now known as Vermont were the Abenaki, a tribe of the Algonquin nation.
Samuel de Champlain, an early French explorer of North America, was the first European to discover the Green Mountains.
In the summer of 1609, Champlain left his encampment on the St. Lawrence in Quebec and joined the Algonquians in an expedition against their enemies, the Iroquois. The journey up the river brought Champlain onto the lake that now carries his name on July 4, 1609.
The first permanent English settlement was established along the Connecticut River in 1724 at Fort Dummer, near what is now Brattleboro.
The fort was maintained by the colonial governments of Massachusetts and New Hampshire as a defensive outpost throughout the French and Indian Wars.
The name “Vermont” is derived from the French, les monts verts, “the green mountains.”
When peace was made with the French in 1760, the Green Mountains were quickly opened to settlement. In 1791, Vermont was the first state added to the US Union.
VERMONT INDIAN TRIBES
FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED TRIBES IN VERMONT
Federal list last updated 5/16
STATE RECOGNIZED TRIBES
(Not recognized by the Federal Government)
Elnu Abenaki Tribe
Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation
*Currently, Vermont law only recognizes Abenakis as Native American Indians, not the tribes or bands.
UNRECOGNIZED / PETITIONING TRIBES
Abenaki Tribe of Vermont
ELNU Tribe of the Abenaki (aka ELNU Koasek Traditional Band of the Abenaki Nation)
Koasek Traditional Band of the Sovereign Abenaki Nation (formerly
Northern New England-Coos Band, Independent Clans of the Coos United,
Cowasuck of North America and Cowasuck-Horicon Traditional Band; aka Cowasuck Traditional Band of the Sovereign Abenaki Nation). This tribe is composed of: Coos Band of Abenaki Nation and Northern New England Band of Abenaki Nation.
Missisiquoi Council Abenaki Nation
Nulhegan Band of Coosuk Abenaki
St. Francis/Sokoki Band of Abenakis of Vermont Abenaki Tribal Council. Letter of Intent to Petition 4/15/1980; Proposed Finding 11/17/2005.
Traditional Abenaki of Mazipskwik and Related Bands
FIRST CONTACT TO PRESENT
The Abenaki had friendly relations with most area groups. The exception was their long-time enemies, the Iroquois.
The Abenaki called the Iroquois people “man-eaters,” since they occasionally practiced cannibalism on their enemies.
The Iroquois raided the Abenaki often across Lake Bitawbagok (later called Champlain). Before the Abenaki declared war on an enemy, they held council meetings.
Men, women, and children who had reached puberty were allowed to speak on the matter, and everyone voted.
First the men’s council decided whether or not they wanted to wage war. Then the women’s council met to make the final decision – since they were the ones who might have to live without fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons.
If the women made a decision in favor of war, the men’s council chose a war chief. Warriors did not have to obey him, however; he had to persuade them that his plan was the best one.
In addition to the war council and chief, the Abenaki also had a civil government and chief. The governing council was made up of village elders and the chief.
The council selected a chief who ran the council meetings and represented the community with outside groups. No one had to obey the chief; Abenakis believed that no one had the right to tell others what to do.
The chief led by persuasion, and the people followed by choice. The chief served for life, unless the council ousted him or her for bad behavior.
When a chief grew old, the council started thinking about a successor. By the time the old chief died, someone else was ready to assume leadership.
At the time the Europeans arrived, the Abenaki had a healthier diet, less violence in their lives, and more time for fun (which is usual among hunter-gatherers) than the Europeans did.
They also lived slightly longer than the European people. The arrival of Europeans and the quickness of the ensuing changes, however, marked the beginning of rapid and drastic changes to a way of life that had persisted for thousands of years.
PRE-CONTACT VERMONT TRIBES
PRE-HISTORIC CULTURES IN VERMONT
9300 BCE – Paleoindians gradually move into the area we now call Vermont.
7300 BCE – Archaic culture. Changing environment; migration and extinction of large animals.
1000 BCE to 1600 CE – Woodland Abenaki culture. Abenaki nation, culture and government develops and blooms; seasonal migrations mark the way of life.
1609 TO PRESENT – Europeans arrive/ Culture Persists. Abenaki culture survives amidst wars, diseases, cultural conflict and diffusion.
During the last Ice Age, a two-mile high glacier flowed across Vermont.After thousands of years, the climate began to warm. The melting glacier left boggy wetlands, gravel and rocks covering the ground. As soils slowly formed, tundra grasses and sedges grew.
Melting ice filled the many giant holes dug by the glacier, and cold, clear lakes dotted the land. Large mammals such as moose-elk, mastodons, caribou, and musk ox began to browse on the tundra for food.
Into this land walked Vermont’s first human settlers. We call them the Paleoindians, from the Greek word palaios meaning “ancient.”
Ancient Abenaki Hunters
There are at least three different ideas about the migration of the Paleoindians into North America:
Many archaeologists believe that the first people to explore North America came over a land bridge from Asia. These explorers were most likely tracking animals and looking for new food sources because their populations were growing.
They migrated along a path, called the MacKenzie Corridor, which cut through two glaciers formed during the last Ice Age.
New evidence of human remains thousands of years older then the MacKenzie Corridor has added the possibility of a coastal route from Asia.
The first explorers and settlers may have canoed to the Americas searching for food sources.
Many Native Americans, however, believe that their ancient ancestors originated on this continent. One clue is that Abenaki and other Native American creation stories are rooted in the American environment and not elsewhere.
However they got to the Americas, Paleoindians were living in what is now Vermont about 11,300 years ago (9,300 BCE).
Small groups of families migrated seasonally to hunt and gather various floras, gradually moving from south to north along the Vermont waterways. Their way of life was successful, and so the population grew and families needed new territories.
This is what “pushed” them out of their original territory.
The “pull” came from the big game animals such as caribou and mastodons that migrated onto the newly created Vermont plains.
Family groups lived in rock outcroppings or shelters made of saplings or, perhaps, mastodon bones covered with animal skins. They used stone tools such as chert and quartzite, which were durable enough to cut through animal skin and bone, but brittle enough to be chipped into sharp-edged tools, such as spear points and scrapers.
Many people used chert from a quarry near what is now St. Albans and quartzite from a quarry in Monkton. We also know that part of their seasonal migrations were for trading purposes.
Chert from as far away as Maine and New York and jasper from Pennsylvania have been found in Vermont. Tools made from Vermont stones have been found from Massachusetts to Maine.
In later periods, copper from as far away as the Great Lakes shows up in Vermont.
Paleoindian sites that have been excavated in Ludlow and East Highgate help us understand the Paleoindian way of life in Vermont. Tools show us that they fished and gathered plants, but hunting seemed more important since tools found were more suited to hunting big land animals than marine animals.
Paleoindians ate a lot of caribou because there were abundant and easier and safer to kill than some of the larger mammals. Although rarely hunted in the northeast, a mastodon would provide an immense amount of hide, meat, and fat to last through the winter.
The Archaic Period
The hunt was not always successful, however, and Paleoindian families did not always eat well. Big game became increasingly scarce about 9,000 years ago.
Again, the scenery and the characters began to change. Spruce and fir forests continued to grow, but pines and oak grew, too. The Vermont forests became thicker, and the grassy plains began to disappear.
The large land animals that the Paleoindians hunted either became extinct or moved north, as the glacier receded, to find better grazing land.
Smaller animals moved into the new forests: foxes, lynx, martens, deer, moose, beaver, and cougar. The people had to adapt to the changing environment, and gradually learned new ways to live.
Their new way of life, called Archaic by archaeologists, included hunting smaller mammals, fishing, and gathering plants as important activities. Gradually over the next few thousand years people developed new weapons to hunt the smaller animals and new fishing tools and techniques.
New kinds of housing and clothing reflected the natural resources in the new environment.
They also developed new tools and techniques for collecting and processing wild plants. Trade in goods and ideas also contributed to changing ways of living.
By about three thousand years ago, a new Woodland culture was thriving. Analysis of archaeological sites along the rivers and lakes help us understand the lives of these early Vermonters.
Until recently, all the Early Woodland sites in Vermont have been excavated in the Champlain Valley. However, an Early Woodland site was unexpectedly uncovered in Canaan when the town began to replace an old bridge.
Many Late Woodland sites have been found in the Connecticut River Valley including Sumner’s Falls (Hartland), Skitchewaug (Springfield), Warrel Farm (East Barnet), Fort Dummer (Brattleboro) and Great Bend (Vernon).
This is the culture that the Europeans met when they first set foot in the Green Mountains. Let us look at the Abenaki way of life in 1600, just before the Europeans arrived.
Abenaki Life in the 1600s
The Abenaki of the Late Woodland period were part of a larger Wabanaki group that extended throughout most of Vermont, into Quebec, and included all of New Hampshire and Maine.
In Vermont, the western Abenaki divided themselves into three major bands: Missiskoik (in the Champlain Valley) and Sokwaki and Cowasuck (in the Connecticut River Valley).
By the Late Woodland period, extensive settlements existed in all of Vermont’s lake and river valleys. The Abenaki family bands lived together in villages with as many as 1,000 people per village with longhouses for up to forty people.
Summer, fall, winter, and spring were the occasions for seasonal migrations to various locations within the family or band’s territory.
During the coldest part of the winter, the families stayed in the village. The women made new clothes, tools, and moccasins, which were decorated with porcupine quills, while the men repaired and made new tools and weapons.
Even if the Abenaki were at war with other nations, battles were suspended in the depths of winter. In late winter a hunting season began. Hunters traveled to their separate hunting territories, somewhere within the group’s lands.
They hunted on one fourth of the territory each year to give the animal population time to recover and to maintain a balance between human needs and animal needs.
When spring arrived, the people returned to their village. In the Connecticut River Valley, they fished for salmon and shad, which were abundant at this time of year as they migrated upstream to spawn. The largest salmon weighed as much as thirty-five pounds.
The Abenaki men used decoys and blinds to hunt waterfowl. While the men were fowling and fishing, the women gathered spring plants and did the sugaring.
They filled green birch bark kettles or pottery containers with the sap and boiled it, placing hot embers or heated stones directly into the sap. The women boiled it down and formed it into sugar cakes for easy storage.
Later in the spring, the women, expert herbalists, gathered young ferns and other plants for food and medicine. When it was warm enough, in April or May, the planting season began.
During the Woodland period the three sisters, corn-beans-squash, became an important component of a diversified diet.
In the southern Connecticut Valley, farming was a more important way of life than in the north or in western Vermont. The earliest known farm site is on the Connecticut River in Springfield. They stored vegetables in pits beneath small houses, and grew tobacco.
The change from gathering to farming meant they did not need as many seasonal migrations to hunt and gather, so they stayed in the villages more than their northern neighbors. In the north hunting and gathering stayed more important than farming, perhaps because of the shorter growing season.
In summer, Abenaki people fished, hunted small mammals, and gathered wild plants. Especially important were berries and nuts. Along with other plants, these provided food and medicine for the people. Cattails were another important food source.
Abenakis ate the young shoots, flowers, and seeds and used the pollen for flour. Mothers wrapped cattail-down around the babies for diapers and warmth. They used sharpened stems for darts and knives and wove them into mats.
Summer was also a good time for making pottery. During the summer months the Abenaki traveled to visit and trade with friendly people from other villages and regions. Short-distance trade kept relations friendly among the bands and helped to solve conflicts.
Over the years, a large trading network developed between the Abenaki and other nations of the northeast, Canada, and the mid-west. In the fall, women harvested the crops, dried them and stored them in bark-lined pits for the winter months.
They also dried meat and fish, berries, and nuts. At the end of the harvest, everyone celebrated at the harvest ceremonies. The families then returned to their upland hunting territory to get a fresh supply of meat and skins for the winter.
Genealogy:Sources of records on US Indian tribes
Here is a list of places to visit in Vermont USA to learn about native american culture.
Chimmey Point Tavern
Rtes. 17 & 125
West Addison, VT 05491
mailing address:Historic Preservation, RFD 1, Box 3546
Vergennes, VT 05941
tel (802) 759-2457
fax (802) 828-3206
Isle La Motte Historical Society
Isle La Motte, VT 05463
tel (802) 928-3422
fax (802) 564-3390
Putney Historical Society
Putney, VT 05346
tel (802) 387-5862