Understanding the local town histories is very important, but the information will have much greater value if it is placed in the context of regional history.
Since the towns involved so far all seem to be clustered in the same general region, now seems like a good time to review the regional history of the upper Connecticut River.
Prior to 1760 there were no white settlements on the Connecticut River north of Charleston (aka Fort Number 4). At the cessation of hostilities with New France (c1761 French & Indian War) land hungry settlers, adventurers, and land speculators flooded into the wilderness regions along the Connecticut River.
The original grantees or proprietors of these unsettled towns were usually men of affluence, holding military or civil positions in their present communities. Acquiring land grants generally required a group of these men to buy shares, but occasionally shares where given away to someone in favor with the Governor or influential families. A few were soldiers rewarded for service during the previous war. The cost of buying into a grant went into the pockets of the officials making the grants. But that was only the starting cost. Now these proprietors had to meet the terms of their grants, which usually included surveying boundaries and lots, settling a certain number of families within a certain time period, building roads, schools, etc. All of these things cost additional money which had to be supply by the proprietors. Many of these original proprietors never lived on the land they owned. They hired men to go and settle the towns for them. It was these settlers that actually carved the towns out of the wilderness. It was their blood, sweat, and tears that formed communities out of the wilderness, but in the process, they destroyed the natural resources around them.
The settlers were not the first to live here. The Abenaki and their ancestors had been here for thousands of years. This was N’dakina “Our Land” to the Abenaki People.
For the Abenaki, the Connecticut River served as a major highway to and from coastal and interior regions of their homeland. They traveled in family bands making seasonal migrations to various seasonal resources needed for survival. They traveled by canoe when the river was open and by snowshoe when the ice could carry their weight.
The primary stronghold or home base of the Abenaki was located in Quebec at a village commonly referred to in history as St. Francis. The French called it St. François du Lac, the name of the Catholic mission established there. The Abenaki of today call it Odanak and in prior times it was “Arsikantegouk”(1).
However, Odanak was not their only village, just their primary village. We know of at least one planting village located along the Connecticut River on the intervales in the present towns of Haverhill, NH & Newbury VT. There are probably others we don’t know about.
A planting village is a location where agriculture existed. A number of family bands would gather in the spring to fish and plant, disburse into family bands for the summer, gather together again to harvest, and once again disburse for the winter months. It is doubtful the village was a year round residence like St. Francis. During the many periods of war, the village was probably abandoned for safer locations further up the river, around Lake Memphremagog, or at St. Francis. At the time of the Revolutionary War there is no record of the village, but there is evidence the Abenaki remained in the region hunting, fishing, and gathering their seasonal resources as much as possible.
The Abenaki had lost their long time French allies in 1761, and for the most part were not in favor of this new war being waged by the English Americans against their English Government across the ocean. Most attempted to stay away from the settlements and kept to themselves during the war. A number of Abenaki did join the American forces as Rangers and a number of Abenaki based at St. Francis fought for the English. Some, such as Chief Louis Gill are suspected of working both sides to their advantage acting as double agent spies.
About 1774, just prior to the outbreak of Revolution, Henry Tuffs spent two years living with a group of Abenaki in the upper Androscoggin River region. He tells us there were approx. 700 Abenaki in small scattered settlements between Lake Memphremagog and Lake Umbagog. A quick look at my map shows this includes the upper Connecticut River or the region referred to as Coös. These are the same Native People the early settlers of the region came in contact with on a regular basis. They are sometimes referred to as Cowassuck, Coassuck, Cowas, etc. but in reality it was the name of the region they were found in. They were Abenaki with strong ties to St. Francis.
The Ammonoosuck River was also important to the Native People of the region. Is was a primary route between the headwater of the Androscoggin, Connecticut, and St. Francis River Watersheds. A crossroad that could get you where you needed to go.
I am not providing my sources or bibliography here because the material is compiled from my years of reading and research in this time period and region. If you would like to learn more, I direct you to my view my research library and suggested reading list at LibraryThing.com.
(1)Arsikantegouk – from Gordan M. Day’s “The Identity Of The Saint Francis Indians”, 1981, pg. 14
Does anyone have comments or questions about the regional history?
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