Native American Nations
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America, when it became known to Europeans, was, as it had long
been, a scene of wide-spread revolution. North and South, tribe was
giving place to tribe, language to language; for the Indian,
hopelessly unchanging in respect to individual and social
development, was, as regarded tribal relations and local haunts,
mutable as the wind. In Canada and the northern section of the
United States, the elements of change were especially active. The
Indian population which, in 1535, Cartier found at Montreal and
Quebec, had disappeared at the opening of the next century, and
another race had succeeded, in language and customs widely
different; while, in the region now forming the State of New York, a
power was rising to a ferocious vitality, which, but for the
presence of Europeans, would probably have subjected, absorbed, or
exterminated every other Indian community east of the Mississippi
and north of the Ohio.
Like a great island in the midst of the Algonquins lay the country of tribes speaking the generic tongue of the Iroquois. The true Iroquois, or Five Nations, extended through Central New York, from the Hudson to the Genesee. Southward lay the Andastes, on and near the Susquehanna; westward, the Eries, along the southern shore of Lake Erie, and the Neutral Nation, along its northern shore from Niagara towards the Detroit; while the towns of the Hurons lay near the lake to which they have left their name.
Of the Algonquin populations, the densest, despite a recent epidemic
which had swept them off by thousands, was in New England. Here were
Mohican, Pequot, Narragansetts, Wampanoag, Massachusetts, Penacook,
thorns in the side of the Puritan. On the whole, these savages were
favorable specimens of the Algonquin stock, belonging to that
section of it which tilled the soil, and was thus in some measure
spared the extremes of misery and degradation to which the wandering
hunter tribes were often reduced. They owed much, also, to the
bounty of the sea, and hence they tended towards the coast; which,
before the epidemic, Champlain and Smith had seen at many points
studded with wigwams and waving with harvests of maize. Fear, too,
drove, them eastward; for the Iroquois pursued them with an
inveterate enmity. Some paid yearly tribute to their tyrants, while
others were still subject to their inroads, flying in terror at the
sound of the Mohawk war-cry. Westward, the population thinned
rapidly; northward, it soon disappeared. Northern New Hampshire, the
whole of Vermont, and Western Massachusetts had no human tenants but
the roving hunter or prowling warrior.
Landing at Boston, three years before a solitude, let the traveler push northward, pass the River Piscataqua and the Penacook, and cross the River Saco. Here, a change of dialect would indicate a different tribe, or group of tribes. These were the Abenaquis, found chiefly along the course of the Kennebec and other rivers, on whose banks they raised their rude harvests, and whose streams they ascended to hunt the moose and bear in the forest desert of Northern Maine, or descended to fish in the neighboring sea.
Crossing the Penobscot, one found a visible descent in the scale of
humanity. Eastern Maine and the whole of New Brunswick were occupied
by a race called Etchemins, to whom agriculture was unknown, though
the sea, prolific of fish, lobsters, and seals, greatly lightened
their miseries. The Souriquois, or Micmacs, of Nova Scotia, closely
resembled them in habits and condition. From Nova Scotia to the St.
Lawrence, there was no population worthy of the name. From the Gulf
of St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario, the southern border of the great
river had no tenants but hunters. Northward, between the St.
Lawrence and Hudson's Bay, roamed the scattered hordes of the
Papinachois, Bersiamites, and others, included by the French under
the general name of Montagnais. When, in spring, the French
trading-ships arrived and anchored in the port of Tadoussac, they
gathered from far and near, toiling painfully through the desolation
of forests, mustering by hundreds at the point of traffic, and
setting up their bark wigwams along the strand of that wild harbor.
They were of the lowest Algonquin type. Their ordinary sustenance
was derived from the chase; though often, goaded by deadly famine,
they would subsist on roots, the bark and buds of trees, or the
foulest offal; and in extremity, even cannibalism was not rare among
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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867
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