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2008-09 Essays

By: Jessie, Brooksville Elementary School
Grade: 7

  Native American Relations with European Settlers


The majority of the younger generation's knowledge about the relationship between Native Americans and European settlers comes from movies and literature. Many of these stories portray the Indians as bloodthirsty and cruel. It leads me to wonder what really happened and how we got these stories about “evil savages.” What caused people to make up stories about the beautiful culture of the Native Americans?

First Encounters and Reactions

Many European nations came to the New World in search of gold and other precious metals, furs, meat and fish, and a way to get to China without navigating around the Cape of Good Hope and Africa . Two such nations were France and England . France included Maine as part of the Canadian province of Acadia in 1603. England considered Maine as part of the territory that was granted to the Plymouth Colony in 1606. This, of course, caused many disagreements, and Maine was the scene of many battles. In 1763 the British conquered the French and declared Maine a British Colony.

A number of English settlements were established along the Maine coastline in the 1620's. Many people who had lived poor lives in England came to the New World looking for a chance to start over. Of course, this part of the world was not new. For centuries the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indians had lived along the river valleys and coasts of Maine.

At first the Indians were wary of the strangers who landed upon their shores. Once they began to better understand the Europeans a bit more, they began to slowly introduce themselves to the settlers. They were friendly, peaceful and willing to trade.

The French became good friends with many of the tribes in the northern parts of the state, near Canada. They traded and helped each other in times of war. One Frenchman, by the name of Samuel de Champlain, was particularly interested by the natives. He often employed them as guides on his many, various expeditions along the Maine coastline and up to Quebec. The English however, didn't take as well to the Indians. They believed that they owned the land and they wanted the Indians off it. They mistook the Indians' acts of welcome and friendship as acts of hostility and war. As a result, the Indian Wars began.

The Indian Wars

Many books recount the Indian Wars from both the perspective of the English and their allies and the Natives and their allies. One such book is The Winter People, by Joseph Bruchac, which tells the story of the battle at the Canadian village of Saint Francis and the atrocities committed by the English on the occasion.

Wars between the English settlers and the Indians didn't begin until 1675 when there were roughly 6,000 English settlers in Maine, then a province of Massachusetts. Battles between the settlers and the Indians continued off and on for eighty-five years (from 1675-1760). There were six wars in all. Two lasted for ten years each, and the rest were six years or less. Over 1,000 settlers were killed, and the Indians captured hundreds more. The wars ruined the fur, fishing and logging industries for the settlers and greatly weakened the Indians. In the 1720's the English raided Indian camps quite often. The French, who had sided with the Indians in the Indian Wars, made peace treaties with the English around 1760. The French supported the colonists in the Revolutionary War, and after that the Maine Indians never attacked the English or the French again.

Trade Between the Settlers and the Native Americans

When the Europeans came to the New World they brought goods to trade with the natives. They hoped to dazzle the “savages” with things, the likes of which they had never seen. In reality the objects had little value, but were bright and did achieve the desired effect of dazzling the Indians.

At the time, Native American garments were made with animal furs and hides. They were adorned with paintings, porcupine quills, and moose hair embroidery and shell beads. Among the items that the settlers brought with them to trade were glass beads, needles, thread, ribbons and cloth. When the natives discovered the wonders of woven cotton cloth, it changed their ways of dressing forever.

The Europeans (especially the French) prized furs. Fur was used for coats, hats, and as the lining for gloves. Fur was also hard to get, as one needed the skills to snare the animal whose fur was desired. Because fur was so hard to come by, it was very expensive and therefore it was a sign of the elite. French traders traded tools and goods for furs from the Huron and the Ottawa tribes in Canada. The Huron and the Ottawa were not trapping tribes and they received the furs from other tribes such as the Penobscot and the Passamaquoddy.

Treaties Between the Indians and the Settlers

Before the Revolution, and before Maine became its own state, treaties were made between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes. The treaties declared each tribe a separate nation within the state. These treaties also gave the tribes the right to certain lands on which they could live and practice their traditions and customs. The Penobscots moved to land on Indian Island (Old Town) and Passamaquoddies went to Pleasant Point (Eastport) and Peter Dana Point ( Princeton ). They were also promised an annual delivery of food, cloth and arms. Ever since Maine became a state in 1820, it has acted as guardian of the Penobscots and the Passamaquoddies. In 1822 there were only 379 Passamaquoddy Indians living, but today there are more than 2,000. There are currently about 1,200 Penobscot Indians in Maine although there are many people who probably have Native American ancestors and don't even know it.


“A Brief History of Maine ” Maine History. 1980. Maine History 1/23/09.

“The Fur Trade.” The Fur Trade. 2009. Powell County Museum & Arts Foundation. 1/27/09.­­_trade.htm

“Maine .” 2008. Maine : Definition from 1/23/09.

“Maine Indians.” The Maine Way . 2009. 1/22/09.

“Native Americans of North America .” MSN Encarta. 2008. Microsoft. 1/26/09.

“Northeast Native American Beadwork.” Brilliantly Beaded. 2003. Hudson Museum, The University of Maine. 12/26/09