First Meetings: Unearthing the Beginnings of Abenaki-English Contact in Maine’s Boothbay

A rocky wooded island sits atop placid dark blue waters.
The site of Colonial Pemaquid and the reconstructed late-17th century Fort William Henry in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

Image courtesy of the Trustees of Dartmouth College

Recipient: Trustees of Dartmouth College

Amount: $149,858.00

In the early 1600s, the rocky coastline of Boothbay Harbor became the site of a series of conflicts between English settlers and the Abenaki people that inhabited the region for centuries. These violent episodes of colonial contact had far-reaching impacts on the complex and tenuous state of Anglo-Indigenous interactions in 17th century North America. Beginning in 1604, the Abenaki of Boothbay Harbor encountered English settlers establishing fisheries, towns, and forts on Damariscove Island and the nearby Pemaquid Peninsula located in the present-day state of Maine. For the first few years of contact, the Abenaki and English settlers maintained peaceful diplomatic and trade relations. But after several generations these relationships deteriorated as the Abenaki became close trade partners and allies with the French in Canada- the regional rivals of the English in the Northeast.

After becoming embroiled in larger colonial conflicts between England and France, the Abenaki repeatedly attacked the English settlements at Boothbay. One of the more devastating encounters during this period came in 1689, when an Abenaki-French war party attacked Pemaquid and completely razed the town’s wooden fort. These sporadic episodes of violence had far-reaching consequences for Boothbay and the other English colonies of the Northeast. For instance, English conduct with the Abenaki impacted the way colonial administrators interacted with Indigenous groups in Massachusetts in the late 1600s.

A 2023 Preservation Planning Grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program to the Trustees of Dartmouth College will fund archeological investigations around Boothbay to uncover the true importance that this series of Anglo-Indigenous conflicts played in shaping early America. Dartmouth’s archeological research will utilize exciting new technology to fully map the archeological sites of Damariscove and Pemaquid and recover artifacts that provide information on the scale and character of the conflicts between Indigenous groups and English settlers.

Preservation Planning Grants are the American Battlefield Protection Program's broadest and most inclusive grant program, promoting the stewardship of battlefields and sites of armed conflict on American soil. In addition, ABPP administers three other grant opportunities: the Battlefield Land Acquisition Grant, Battlefield Restoration Grant, and Battlefield Interpretation Grant programs. This financial assistance generates community-driven stewardship of historic resources at the state, tribal and local levels.

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Part of a series of articles titled 2023 Preservation Planning Grants Highlights.

Last updated: July 26, 2023