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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government

Volume VI, Issue 12 December 2003

Line of Holly
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Rediscovering History via Database Technology

By Bruce J. Bourque


This database is a byproduct of my 25 years of research into the Native history of the Maritime peninsula, a region spanning Maine and the Maritime Provinces, bounded on the north by the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the south by the northwest Atlantic Ocean. This was the homeland of the Wabanakis, a group of eastern Algonquian-speaking communities ancestral to the modern-day Penobscots, Passamaquoddies, Maliseets and Micmacs. 


Anthropology Logo


The geographic range of this database extends westward to Montreal and southwestward into Massachusetts to take in Native communities whose members retreated northward into traditional Wabenaki territory under pressure of English colonial expansion.  The cultures of all these peoples, shaped by similar environments and histories, shared much.  However, they are neither uniform nor static. 


During the first half of the seventeenth century, those living to the south and west practiced agriculture and had contact primarily with the New Englanders, while those to the north and east were traditionally nonagricultural and had contact were primarily with the French of Nouvelle France and Acadia. During the later seventeenth century, Native populations tended to shift northward toward the French, or at least away from the English, altering the ethnic and linguistic composition of established communities and even creating new ones.


My original intent in compiling these data was to resolve some long-standing issues surrounding Wabanaki ethnicity that had confused anthropologists and historians for over a century.  Prior to this research, it was customary to discuss the history of these peoples at the level of purported “tribes”, which were generally seen as rather stable sociopolitical groupings that survived intact and in place from prehistory into the late twentieth century (Speck 1941; Snow 1976, 1980; Prins 1999).  Upon closer examination of primary sources, however, this picture of stability breaks down in the face of evidence for immigration, population movement and ethnic realignment during the colonial period. 


It was in hope of elucidating these dynamic processes that I began to gather the data included in this database.  I soon realized, however, that such a corpus might lend itself to many other uses, including genealogy, political and economic history, and demography. It is in order to facilitate these broader uses of the data that we plan to make it accessible on the web site of the Maine State Museum.


The current sample is comprehensive but probably not exhaustive. For the colonial period, much data comes from obvious sources, such as English and French colonial documents, mission records and land deeds.  After the Seven Years War, Indians no longer defended French interests or threatened English control of the region.  No longer a significant focus of attention by the larger society, they entered a period of marginalization, when prevailing popular opinion held that they would soon disappear as distinct communities. 


Much data for this period comes from provincial and state records, letters, travel accounts and sporting literature.  Another large contribution comes from parish records and, after Maine statehood in 1820, from the accounts of state-supported agents to the Penobscots and Passamaquoddies.   Although fragmentary, these data help demonstrate the survival of Native communities, the recovery of their populations after a century and a half of decline, their political struggles, and the minor yet significant roles they began to play in the emerging modern economies of this international region.


The database includes few entries beyond 1850.  This terminating date was dictated by practical considerations and by the fact that Native communities began achieve a degree of official and public recognition during the latter nineteenth century that makes tracking individuals and their communities less difficult than for earlier times. The format we have developed provides a minimum of interpretation inviting researchers to seek further information in the original source.


We have imposed judgment upon the original record in only one respect, by adding the “standard name” category to help tame orthographic variability, the shifting patterns of name giving practiced in the region during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and differing French and English pronunciations of Native names.  Our interpretations are probably flawed in some cases, but we have also provided the category of “recorded name” to allow for other interpretations.  The “date” category will often not include the month or day that pertains to the account, usually because these data do not appear in the original source. The rest of the categories are self-explanatory. 


We plan to have the data base accessible on the Maine State Museum’s web site by summer 2004.  We are also beginning development of a GIS interface for easier access to all entries by geographic location.


Bruce Bourque received his Ph. D. in Anthropology from Harvard University in 1971.  After a brief period of teaching at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, he accepted a position as archaeologist at the newly-opened Maine State Museum in 1972.  Since that time he has conducted archaeological research throughout the state.  In 1980, he began planning for a large exhibit titled “Twelve Thousand Years in Maine. Faced with the need for better information on Indians of the historic period that was then available, he began examining primary historic accounts that have generated most of the data included in the data base.


Norwegian Penny




Norwegian penny issued by King Olaf Kyrre between A.D. 1065 and 1080, found in 1957 at the Goddard site in Brooklin.


The Maine State Museum has conducted excavations at this important archaeological site since 1980.  The site appears to have been a major Indian trading location around 7-800 years ago and it is thought that the coin arrived there along with other artifacts from the far north in connection with this trade.






Line of Holly

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