Part Two: Mapping MAWOOSHEN. SPAP Report No. I-2

“The Countrey of Mawooshen” behind the Maine coast, so enigmatically outlined by Hakluyt and Purchas, was known to Europeans in the earliest 1600s only by hearsay reputation. Very few European explorers actually had gone ashore, or even briefly ventured up rivers in long-boats; mostly they just “coasted” by the places they mention in their reports. If the “Ashamahaga” River was indeed today’s Presumpscot River (the outlet of Sebago Lake’s large drainage basin), its mouth easily could have seemed less than the written description indicates, and appear to be just another cove among several in the vicinity.

This may help to explain the absence of Sebago Lake from European maps until very much later indeed. I will return to the topic of Sebago’s conspicuous “absence” later, and to the “disappearance” of its once-numerous Native people also. First let’s consider the presence of the Native American peoples whose homeland Mawooshen was, to set the local context.

Bear in mind that the view from the coast allows only hints of the hinterland. It is always wise to remember that anthropological maps can be somewhat misleading; beware their appearance of precision. Scholars no longer state “Here be Dragons” at unknown places on maps, but we still should admit to possible chimeras. Yet “The Countrey of Mawooshen” is virtual reality compared to the myth of “The Land of Norumbega” which just preceded it.

French explorer Samuel de Champlain finally dismissed the old Norumbega myth, based upon his actual fieldtrip up the Penobscot River estuary in 1604 — at the same time that English explorers were reporting on their actual coasting of Mawooshen. Both French and English explorers increasingly encountered, and tried to interview, Wabanaki natives after 1600. However, when trying to name Native American ethnic groupings, the French usually were lumpers and the English usually were splitters: usually but not always, in both cases.

Therefore, anthropologists today have no choice but to make our own ethnic categories, based upon modern concepts, because the historical documents alone can cause chaos when left uninterpreted. Indeed, anthropologists often try to analyze (“cook”) cultural data further than the specific descriptions of “raw” data which have tended to satisfy historians, in the hope to enhance understanding beyond the descriptive level. Neither approach is right or wrong — just different.

A modern linguistic map locating aboriginal Native American languages-and-peoples would show that most of northeastern North America was occupied by peoples whose separate languages were/are classified in the Algonquian Language Family. (Indeed, there is only one other such major category in the northeast: the Iroquoian Language Family, whose Mohawk and Kwedech peoples are of most concern to us here.) Among the northeastern Algonquian languages-and-peoples, there are regional groupings of closely-related peoples, and we are concerned here with the Wabanaki (meaning Dawnlanders, or Peoples of the Sunrise).

In the very earliest 1600s, the Wabanaki peoples can be termed Micmac, Etchemin, and Abenaki-Pennacook. Collectively the Wabanaki homeland spread from Gaspe Peninsula (QC) in the north, to Cape Ann (Gloucester MA) in the south; and from Cape Breton Island (NS) in the east, to Lake Champlain (VT) in the west. This encompassed today’s Canadian Maritimes & southern Quebec, and northern New England & northern Massachusetts. Today, Wabanaki peoples still occupy portions of their ancestral lands, as communities of Micmac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki. The unmentioned names of Wabanaki specific bands and villages — both old and new — are subsumed under the general names given above (e.g.: Pigwacket under Abenaki-Penacook; St. Francis under Abenaki).

My maps show the supposed locations of the Wabanaki peoples just mentioned (and some of their non-Wabanaki neighbors), at two different times (A and B) separated by many cataclysmic events.

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Initially, European commercial interests set up a few small coastal stations, first for their own fishing activities, later for fur-trading with the fascinated Natives. (A cold-cycle in Europe stimulated insatiable demand for warm furs, while Native Americans became addicted to metal goods in exchange.)

The earliest 1600s brought English and French exploration in earnest, preparatory to attempts at real colonization. Soon enough, overlapping claims for the northeastern part of “New England” and the “Acadia” portion of “New France” would push or pull the long-resident Wabanaki into European political squabbles.

Even before sides were chosen, however, an intertwined triple-whammy hit the Natives, unexpectedly and repeatedly: Native trade-wars, European-disease epidemics, and European usurpation of Native independence. First, Native peoples fought each other for access to European trade-goods. Second, Native peoples repeatedly “died in heaps” from European diseases. Third, in sharing their lands with the English and their souls with the French, the Wabanaki increasingly lost their cultural independence. The dynamics of all these factors combine to make no simple matters of either the mapping of Mawooshen or the telling of its tale.