HEBRON — Peter Stowell of West Gardener recently spoke to the Hebron Historical Society on the origins and fate of Indian tribes inhabiting Maine.

He said the most probable and prevailing theory of the origins of Indians in North America were groups moving south from Siberia about 10,000 to 12,500 years ago through breaks in the retreating glaciers from the last Ice Age. Once into present day Canada and the United States, these migrants fanned out across the continent. Of these groups, the Algonquian-speaking Indians inhabited present-day Maine. They were known as Abenakis and comprised many different tribes.

Most of the Maine tribes settled along the rivers: the Penobscots on the Penobscot River, the Croix Indians on the St. Croix River and the Anasgunticooks on the Androscoggin River. Other tribal names were identified along these and other rivers as well. It is estimated that the Penobscots, for example, have been living in Old Town for more than 6,000 years.

Beginning in the 16th century, France and England were making inroads in Maine in search of valuables for their countries such as furs and other natural resources. The French used religion to sooth the Indians and make them feel valued. The English, however used force to subdue them into compliance with their economic aims and consequently produced numerous battle casualties.

Prior to contact with the European settlers (primarily the English and French) in the 16th century, there were an estimated 20,000 Indians in Maine. By 1617 approximately 15,000 had died of diseases, such as small pox, diphtheria, measles and influenza, which had been brought in by the settlers.

The French, who had always been friendly with Indians, were able to convince many of them to move onto reservations in Canada, thereby contributing to the decline in total numbers in Maine. In 150 years they had lost about 95 percent of their population in the state.

Peter Stowell

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