Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
February 11, 1892


Contributions to the History of Charlotte County and the Border Towns.


Whether it is held that the Micmacs and Etchemins were the primitive inhabitants of New Brunswick or that they were preceded by another race, it may be regarded as certain that they were in undisturbed possession of the territory long before the white men came.  The Passamaquoddies, or Etchemins, have removed to the other shore of the St. Croix, and are now no longer numbered among the inhabitants of Charlotte county; but the place names which they have left behind are monuments more enduring than buildings or sculptured stones.

Before taking up the history of our county since the advent of Europeans, it is right that we should glance at what is known of these people, who met and welcomed the first white men that trod our shores, who were the friends and not the foes of our ancestors, and whose present condition is their misfortune more than their fault.

The Indians of this region belonged to the great Algonquin family, extending from Labrador to South Carolina, and westward nearly to the Rocky Mountains.  The nation or confederacy which included the Passamaquoddies was known as the Wabanaki, a name which is generally interpreted as meaning ‘people of the east,’ or ‘people who live nearest the dawn.’1  The word has been variously spelled; Wabanakai, Abnaki, Abenaki, Abanaki and Abenaquis, being some of the forms in which it is found.2  Openango is probably another form of the same word.

There were four tribes or divisions of the Wabanaki-the Penobscots, the Passamaquoddies, the St. John River Indians, and another, said to have been scattered and merged in other tribes, but probably now represented by the Abenakis of Becancour and St. Francis.3

The Passamaquods, or Passamaquoddies, were known to the French as Etchemins, by which name were also included the St. John River Indians, (now known as Maliseets, or Milicetes,)4 and the Penobscots.  The Micmacs are of distinct origin, and were at one time a separate nation.5

Edward Jack, C. E., in a paper read last month before the Canadian Institute at Toronto, states that the principal sub-divisions of the Wabanaki took their distinctive names from the districts in which they lived; as, for instance, Kambesinnoaks, ‘those who lived near the lakes;’ Sokowakiakio, ‘men of the south;’ Nurtantsuaks, ‘those who travel by water.’  It is held by some authorities that the name Passamaquoddy (Peskamaquontik) was of similar origin.

According to Indian tradition, the Passamaquoddies are descended from a man and woman belonging to two of the older tribes, who, as they could not agree to live with either tribe, made for themselves a home in this region, which was then unoccupied.

The traditional songs and stories of the Wabanaki show they were a people remarkable for their poetic imagination.  Mrs. Brown, who has a large manuscript collection of their myths and legends, believes that the Passamaquoddies surpassed all the other tribes in this respect.  The next few articles will deal with this people and their curious folk-lore.  As to their history before the coming of the whites, almost nothing is known, owing to their lack of written records;6 but as to their habits of life, etc., we have some testimony in the old refuse heaps, so frequent along the shores of Passamaquoddy bay.  In the next subsequent article we will give an abstract of a paper by Mr. G. F. Matthew, which embodies all that is known upon this subject.

Mrs. Brown has been told by the Passamaquoddies that the shell heaps were left by their forefathers; who, they say, made autumn encampments on the shore, for the purpose of getting a winter’s supply of clams.  They chose a spot from which it was easy to get back to their winter hunting grounds; therefore the shell heaps are generally found near the mouths [sic] navigable streams.  The clams were put into an oven, and cooked just enough to be taken out of the shells easily; and were then dried on sticks.  This preserved them, and made them light and easy to carry.  Several households, they say, used the same oven; which accounts for the great number of shells in one place.  The saltness of the clams made them an important article of food, as salt was unknown in its crystalline form.

1The Indians themselves do not know the meaning of the word.  The late Father Vetromile, of Eastport, missionary to the Etchemins, gives an elaborate argument to prove that the name is derived from wab, white, and naghi, ancestor; and means ‘our ancestors of the east,’ a term of respect applied to them by adjoining tribes.  Mrs. Brown accepts this derivation; but, as naghi is used as a title of respect, (much as ‘father’ is with us,) would take the name to mean, rather, ‘the people living near the light, whom we respect.’  Louis Mitchell, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe, and their representative in the Maine state legislature, translates it, ‘the people of the northern lights.’

2The spelling which we have adopted shows, as nearly as possible, the Passamaquoddy pronunciation of the word.  The a represents a sound broader and more nasal than a in father, and approaching that of a in all.  The final i had the sound of y in the English word chalky, with which the last two syllables of Wabanaki nearly rhyme.

3The chief emigration of the Abenakis from their original home to the St. Lawrence seems to have taken place under Frontenac’s administration.  At that time the Jesuits had brought together, at St. Joseph de Sillery, a certain number of these Indians, and formed, with those who were already there, an Abenaki mission of 500 to 600 souls; and in 1683 they established, on the Chaudiere, another more considerable one, which they named St. François de Sales.  This Abenaki emigration is a subject well worthy of investigation.  Puritan bigotry seems to have had much to do with it.-Edward Jack.

From an authentic contemporary MS. it appears that in 1703 the Marquis de Vaudreuil, governor-general of Canada, brought Indians from Maine and settled them in two villages on the Chaudiere-Becancour and St. Francis.  It was always the policy of the French to keep villages of friendly Indians on all rivers navigable for canoes, to block the way of the English to Canada.-W. F. Ganong.

4Some of the more intelligent of the Abenakis of the St. John say that their ancestors came from the west, and that the original inhabitants of New Brunswick were Micmacs.  In furtherance of these views they say that the names of a great number of the branches of the St. John consist of Micmac words.  One of our Abenakis, with whom I have had frequent conversations, gives the meaning of ‘Melicite’ as being ‘broken’ language; referring to the original language of the Abenakis having been corrupted by an admixture of Micmac words.  Abbe Maurault, who for many years was missionary to the Abenakis of St. François, on the St. Lawrence, derives the word from ‘Maloudit,’ those from St. Malo; this being, he says, the name which the Abenakis gave to the ‘metis’ among them, because the greater part of their fathers came from St. Malo.  The Abbe further states that the French called the Indians residing on the St. Croix and St. John rivers, first, Eteminiquois; and later, ‘Etchmins.’  This name was given them, he states, because the Abenakis called this territory ‘Etemanki,’ ‘land of snow shoe skins,’ on account of the abundance of moose and caribou to be found there.-Edward Jack.

5Mrs. W. Wallace Brown, who possesses the largest collection of precious wampum known, has a treaty belt on which are three marks supposed to represent the three tribes of the Wabanaki, after the departure of the lost tribe, and before the union with the Micmacs.

6The Wabanaki and neighboring tribes had a regular method of writing, and were accustomed to send messages on birch bark; but their writing seems never to have been used for historic or literary purposes.  A curious book of prayers in the Micmac characters is in the possession of Mr. W. W. Brown.