Indians of the Androscoggin Valley


Indians of the Androscoggin Valley


Bethel Historical Society


August 3, 1981



SERIAL 1.5.X.6a

Full Text

Indians of the Androscoggin Valley

The Indians of the Androscoggin River Valley were members of the Anasigunticook tribe, a sub-group of the Abenakis, the major tribal grouping which encompassed the Indians from the Pennacooks in New Hampshire to the Passamaquoddies and the St. John River Indians in eastern Maine. By the eighteenth century, and certainly by the time of white penetration into inland Maine, the tribal organization of the Abenakis and their subgroups had been greatly weakened, starting with a smallpox epidemic in 1617, and followed by major migrations to Canada as the result of the Mohawk invasion in 1680, and the English raids of 1724-25. The Maine Indians, including the Pequakets from the Fryeburg area, and the Anasigunticooks of the Androscoggin Valley, became associated with the Indians of the St. Francis Mission in Canada, and were often referred to as St. Francis Indians.

Some members of the Maine tribes did return to their tribal lands regularly in periods of peace between the colonial wars of the 18th century. During these wars, their loyalties were often divided between English and French, conflicts which further weakened tribal bonds. The way of life of the Indians during the period just preceding and during white settlement differed little from that of their forebearers in less turbulent times. Their lives were geared to the waterways of the Maine woods, the quest for the day's food, and the need for clothing, shelter, weapons and fire. During the spring hunt, beaver and muskrat were trapped, fish were caught in rude wiers, and and salmon were speared. Corn, beans and pumpkins were planted, using an alewife as fertilizer. In the summer, the Indians traveled south to the sea, harvesting its bounty to be eaten, or dried and packed away in birchbark boxes. Acorns were ground, feathers gathered, seals, porpoises and even whales hunted. Berries were picked and dried, roots dug, eels caught. In the fall came the harvest, and the hunt for furs. Winter was spent inland, sheltered by wigwams, making garments, baskets, and other articles, and in hunting large game for fresh meat. Increasing contact with white trappers and settlers, and trips to the missions in Canada, brought the opportunity to trade for implements, weapons, and woven fabrics.

Locations in Bethel which have been identified as Indian sites include a 3-to-4 acre intervale area on the banks of the Androscoggin above Riverside Cemetery, where the Indians had a village and a 10 acre cornfield. Settlers found this uninhabited for about 50 years prior to 1774, but in clearing the land found twenty storage cellars, possibly for corn, and a number of articles including gun barrels, kettles, axes, knives, bottles, arrows, and hoes. The hoes were put to their normal use by the settlers, but [Oliver] Fenno the blacksmith recycled the gunbarrels into fireshovel handles, an activity which nearly came to an end when a charge of powder lodged in one of them exploded. A single skeleton of a young girl was found wrapped in birch bark with a piece of white ash bark under her head. Mollyockett told settlers that the girl had been killed in a drunken frolic. She also indicated that the Indians of this village had been happy there until driven away by whites. This would make sense given the possible hasty exit after Lovewell's Fight when the threat of English raids prompted exodus to Canada.

The Jonathan Clark farm, near the entrance to Mill Brook, was an Indian burying ground. Settlers found a clearing and graves here and the Indians who visited camp here. It is possibly not coincidental that this was the site of the Indian Raid.

Pow Wow Point in the name by which Bethel residents have identified an area near the narrows in the Androscoggin River approximately one mile before the main railroad crossing at Bethel Hill. This seems to have been a meeting place for area Indians and a camp ground.