Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Brief History of Cavendish


Cavendish has been occupied since the ice age glaciers receded, about 11,000 years ago. While the earliest inhabitants would have used the Black River and surrounding area for hunting and fishing, there is archaeological evidence that an Archaic Indian village existed in Cavendish 5,000-7,000 years ago.

The first Europeans would have traveled along the Indian trail that became known as the Crown Point Rd. Playing a significant role in the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars, the first deeded land was settled by Captain John Coffeen in 1769 in close proximity to the Road. One of the signers of Vermont’s Constitution, Coffeen came to Cavendish seeking religious freedom.
Dutton House in Cavendish, today now the VillageGreen

By the early 1800s, the center of town had shifted from the Crown Point Rd area, to the Black River where the river gave rise to a variety of industries that used water powered machinery-woolen, grist, pulp and saw mills. Two villages grew up within the Cavendish township-Proctorsville, named for Leonard Proctor, and Duttonsville, for Salmon Dutton. The latter would eventually be called Cavendish.

In addition to the industrial complexes along the Black River, farming was a staple for the town, with small businesses, such as a hat shop, tanneries, cabinet makers and tinsmiths, flourishing to provide goods and services to farmers and mill workers. While sheep was an initial cash crop, this gave way to dairy farming after the Civil War.

The arrival of the railroads in the late 1840s impacted the town in numerous ways. While blasting for the railroad tracks, Phineas Gage survived a major brain injury when a tamping rod went through his head, thus ushering in the modern understanding of the brain and its functions. More importantly to the town’s economics, the train increased the ability to ship goods and expand markets. It also opened the town to its first wave of tourists, some of whom bought “second homes” to escape the heat of the city in the summer months.

Gay Brothers Mill in Cavendish
While the industrial complex of the Black River made Cavendish a “mill town,” this rapidly changed after WWII, when military contracts for both Gay Brothers Mill in Cavendish village and Proctor Reel in Proctorsville military contracts ceased. By the 1950s, with the mills gone, and farming no longer a viable means of livelihood, many traveled to other areas for work-machine shops in Springfield, General Electric in Ludlow. Fortunately, the Gay Brothers Mill was purchased by Mac Molding, which continues to operate in Cavendish village.

The town’s highest census recorded was in1870 with 1,823 residents. This number would decline rapidly due to job availability in more urban areas as well as westward expansion. Since then, the population census has dipped down to a low of 1,100 and has yet to reach even 1,500.

Beginning in the 1980s, with the transformation of Okemo Mountain into a four seasons resort area, tourism and second homes have become major economic drivers. The 2017 Cavendish Grand List indicates that approximately 54% of the town is now owned by people who do not live here. 

It is the opportunity to live safely, freely and be a place of sanctuary that has drawn many to the town. As early as 1805, a former slave and Revolutionary War veteran found a home in Cavendish. Peter Tumbo (Tumber) signed the freeman’s oath and owned 50 acres of land. He died at the age of 106, with his death being noted in the anti-slavery papers of the day.

With Cavendish native Ryland Fletcher being Governor of Vermont, as well as the town’s strong anti-slavery stance, abolitionist John Brown spent a week  in Cavendish in 1857. Brown had hoped to secure some of the $20,000 the Vermont Legislature had approved to support anti-slavery settlements in Kansas.

In 1976, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize winner for literature and anti-communist, sought refuge in Cavendish. He would spend almost 18 of the 20 years he was in exile here writing “The Red Wheel.” His books, including “Gulag Archipelago” contributed to the downfall of the Soviet system.

Today, in many ways,  Cavendish has returned to its roots with the single largest employer being self-employment in the building related trades and services that cater to tourism. With the arrival of the Internet age, those parts of town that are fortunate to have high speed Internet, telecommuting and home business ventures flourish. There is a growing artist community as well as a return to small farms, with cows and sheep once again dotting the Cavendish landscape.







Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Fall 2017 Scribbler II


THEN AND NOW: 1927 FLOOD

Nov. 3 was the 90th anniversary of the flood in Cavendish. Instead of staying in its course down through the Cavendish Gorge, the Black River broke through the power company's pond dike above the gorge dam and by 9 pm, there were two feet of water in lower Main St. and four feet covering Depot St (now called Mill St.). The river   then cut a deep and wide gully down through lower Main St, once part of an ancient river bed. The gully was one-quarter mile long, 100-600 feet wide, and 25-150 feet deep. Note that this was a similar path that took place during Irene in 2011.  Swept away by the raging river were seven houses, ten barns, four garages, eight automobiles, land, trees, the lower part of Main St., and a section of the River Rd. The wreckage piled up in Whitesville, a mile downstream. 

This past year, we received a collection of photographs taken during the flood. In the week leading up to the flood anniversary, we posted the pictures to the Cavendish VTFacebook page. One photograph in particular caught people’s attention. This house still stands off Carlton Rd  down by the Black River
   


THE FIRST PEOPLE OF CAVENDISH

At the end of October, the 4th and 5th grades from Cavendish Town Elementary School (CTES) spent the day at Plimoth Plantation thanks to the Carmine Guica Young Historians Program (CGYH). One 5th grader, Andre wrote, “ I have a question for you, do you know when the Wampanoag arrive in Plymouth?”

To Andre’s question, as well as acknowledging Vermont’s adoption of Indigenous Peoples Day as a replacement for Columbus Day, we are including a more in-depth look at who the 1st people of  Cavendish were and how they came to be here. However, to answer Andre’s inquiry, it appears that the Wampanoag arrived in New England around 15,000 years ago.

Where did America’s 1st people come from and when? A much debated topic in the scientific community, most archaeologists and other scholars now believe that the earliest Americans followed Pacific Rim shorelines from northeast Asia to Beringia and the Americas. A prehistoric land bridge formed between Siberia and North America and for years it was believed that the first peoples walked over the bridge about 13,500 years. However, by the time this would have been possible the Americas were already populated. In fact, the dates for first humans in the Americas is about 20,000-15,000 years ago.


The Beringia theory is being replaced with the “kelp highway hypothesis.” Melting of the glaciers on the outer coast of North America's Pacific Northwest, about 17,000 years ago, created a possible corridor rich in aquatic and terrestrial resources along the Pacific Coast, with productive kelp forest and estuarine ecosystems at sea level and no major geographic barriers. Using boats and fishing tools, humans made it all the way from Asia to the Americas, founding many coastal communities along the way. More and more evidence supports this theory. It is possible that over a 2,000 year period, the people who would become the Wampanoag made their way from the west coast to the east coast.

As far as when the first peoples occupied Cavendish, there is archeological evidence at Jackson Gore in Ludlow that dates back 11,000 years, shortly after ice age ended. Judging from the tools uncovered, these hunter/gatherers were highly skilled craftsmen whose travels were far and included trading with other groups, as a high percentage of the stone used for the tools came from Maine. Cavendish would have had Indians traveling through the area via the Black River and/or what became known as the Crown Point Rd. The Paleo-Indians would have stopped to fish and hunt  depending on the time of year, and may have spent days or weeks here if food was plentiful. They traveled hundreds of miles each year.

The most practical group size was large enough to hunt cooperatively but  small enough to be self-sufficient and  mobile. It was probably an extended  family of men, women, and children  totaling 10 to 25 people. The human  population in this part of the world at that time was low, and the territory that  a few dozen groups like this shared may  have included hundreds or even thousands of square miles. At times several groups probably gathered together to hunt or fish; to exchange information, goods, and stories; to celebrate, to make friends, to resolve conflicts; and to meet potential spouses. Links were formed among the groups through these activities and through family ties. History & Culture Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center

Tools used about 5,000-7,000 years ago, called the Archaic period, have been found in Cavendish fields, indicating there might have been an Indian settlement away from the river and in close proximity to where Cavendish’s first European settlers built homes. Just 37 miles to the South of Cavendish in Keene, NH there is evidence of a winter settlement that is over 12,000 years old. Even closer is Bellows Falls, where petroglyphs can be found.

The first people of Cavendish would be part of the Abenaki Nation, which is part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, and not dissimilar to the Abenaki described in A Brief History: From the Koas Meadows to You Today.  The Abenaki Native Americans have been living in the same region for 10,000 years. Today, this area comprises Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and southern Quebec. The Abenaki Alliance in Vermont and New Hampshire consists of four tribal bands, much like America is divided into states. These tribal bands include the Missisquoi (St. Francis/Sokoki) [Swanton], the Elnu [southern Vt], the Nulhegan [Northeast Kingdom] and the Koasek [central and . Each individual tribal band is governed by a Chief and a Tribal Council, yet they are all part of the Abenaki Alliance....

Historians have often confused which band or tribe some of the eastern Indians were from. If they saw an Indian in one location, they assumed that person was a member of the local tribal band. Many historians have called all Abenaki “St. Francis Indians.” Other historians have used that term just to refer to the Abenaki of Odanak, who reside in Southern Quebec. This has often led to confusion about the history of the Abenaki people.”...

Hollywood moves have portrayed all Native Americans as having copper skin, dark brown eyes, and long black hair. This is far from the way the eastern tribal people looked. In 1542, sieur e Roverval, Governor General of New France, described the appearance of the Abenaki people in his letters. He wrote, “They are a people of goodly stature and well made; they are very white, but they are all naked, and if they were appareled as the French are, they would be as white and as fair, but they paint themselves for fear of heat and sun burning.” In 1637, Thomas Morton of Massachusetts wrote, “Their infants are borne with hair on their heads and are of complexion as white as our nation: but their mother in their infancy make a bath of walnut leaves, husks of walnuts, and such things as will stain their skin forever, wherein they dip and wash them to make them tawny.”

Between 1500-1609, it’s estimated that there was a minimum of 10,000 Abenaki in VT. With the arrival of the Europeans, by 1760, the population in VT and Southern PQ had dropped to 1,200. Reasons included disease, the Europeans pitting one tribe against the other, involvement in various wars, and movement into Quebec. The Abenaki were a peaceful people and were not well suited to war.

Vermont has a very dark history when it comes to its native peoples.  With the arrival of the Europeans, life changed dramatically for the Abenaki. They lost their land, were persecuted, and/or died from diseases they had no immunity to.  Consequently, those of Abenaki descent would be known as “dark” or “colored” French or gypsies. Many would have changed their name and it was very common for parents not to tell their children of their Indian heritage until they were adults.

Gratia Belle Ellis
Along with French Canadians, poor people and those with disabilities, the Abenaki were coerced into sterilization. In 1931, Vermont passed the eugenic sterilization law, "A Law for Human Betterment by Voluntary Sterilization." Vermont's eugenic solutions -- in the form of identification, registration, intervention in families with problem or backward children, and sterilization of those deemed unfit to conceive future Vermonters-was in effect until 1957, though the majority of sterilizations -200- took place between 1931 and 1941. A total of 253 people were sterilized, 80% of whom were women. However, though the sterilization was reported to end in 1957, the Abenakis continued to be sterilized in the United States, including Vermont

We have confirmed one former Cavendish resident, Gratia Denny, as being of Abenaki dissent. Her Grandmother Gratia Belle Ellis, born 1843, was an Abenaki and spoke Algonquian. It is expected there are others in town that share similar heritage, some of whom may not be aware of it.

CARMINE GUICA YOUNG HISTORIANS

The CGYH program is in full swing at the Cavendish Town Elementary School. Thanks to the generosity of Stein van Schaik, it was possible for CHS to sponsor a day long workshop with the fourth graders with cultural archeologist Charlie Paquin so that they could experience how the 1st peoples of Cavendish would have made stone tools (flint knapping) rope, and pottery as well as how they hunted with atlatls. The 4th and 5th graders were able to spend the day at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts.


Thanks to Bruce and Betty McEnaney’s Blueberry Fund, the 6th grade spent the day at Sturbridge Village, which is a great way for the kids to learn why Cavendish developed along the Black River as the water powered the machines in the 1830s.

In December, we will hosting our annual holiday workshops at CTES based on the heritage of people who have settled in Cavendish. This year we will be celebrating the Polish, many of whom came to work at the Gay Brothers Mills. At the suggestion of one of the teachers, we will be adding a special luncheon so the students can try kielbasa, perogies, stuffed cabbage and more.

We could not run the extensive programming we do at the school without the generous support of the community, including our drivers and volunteers. Special thanks to Pang Ting, Peggy Svec, and Carolyn Solzhenitsyn

BECOME A MEMBER, RENEW YOUR MEMBERSHIP, DONATE

If you have not joined the Cavendish Historical Society, need to renew your membership, and/or would like to be a volunteer, please complete the form below and sending a check, payable to CHS, to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142. All contributions are tax deductible.

Name: _______________________________________

Address: _______________________________________________


Phone Number: _____________________    E-Mail: ____________________________
Membership Level
__ Individual Member $10  ___ Senior Member 65+ $5  ___ Sustaining Member $500
__ Household Member $15  ___ Contributing Member $250                            

Volunteer
___ I would be interested in serving, as a volunteer .I would be interested in serving on the following committee(s):__ Program Planning  __ Fundraising    __ Building (Museum)
__Archives                       _ Budget           ­­–– Cemetery    __ Carmine Guica Young Historians

Donations are always welcome and can be designated as follows:
__ For general purposes                   __ Young Historians                  __Publications
__ Archeological Activities                _ Museum & Archival             __ Special Events
__ Rankin Fund                             __  Williams Fund                             __ Solzhenitsyn Project
__ Other (please specify)                   __ Cemetery Restoration           __ Preservation Projects
    

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The flood of 1927

Ninety years ago on Nov. 3, 1927, there was a heavy rain. At first, the inhabitants of Cavendish were not particularly concerned but the rain continued hour after hour. In an unusual weather pattern, two storms from different directions stalled over Vermont. Seven and one-half inches of rain fell in 24 hours on the Black River drainage area. From its source, north of Plymouth, the Black River gathered volume and force as it washed out the Plymouth roads; flooded the streets and basements of Ludlow; damaged the Rutland Railroad tracks, undermined foundations of several tenements, and flooded the finishing room of the Proctor Woolen Company in Proctorsville.

The heaviest damage was reserved for Cavendish village. Instead of staying in its course down through the Cavendish Gorge, the Black River broke through the power company's pond dike above the gorge dam and by 9 pm, there were two feet of water in lower Main St. and four feet covering Depot St (now called Mill St.). The river then cut a deep and wide gully down through lower Main St, once part of an ancient river bed. The gully was one-quarter mile long, 100-600 feet wide, and 25-150 feet deep. Note that this was a similar path that took place during Irene in 2011.  Swept away by the raging river were seven houses, ten barns, four garages, eight automobiles, land, trees, the lower part of Main St., and a section of the River Rd. The wreckage piled up in Whitesville, a mile downstream. 

The Duttonsville School ended up protruding over the edge of a high sandbank. Redfield Proctor, former Vermont governor, offered $10,000 to restore the schoolhouse. Olin Gay, Chairman of the School Board, proposed using this gift to move the school to a new location. He also proposed that the town raise an additional $5,000 by taxes to put in an auditorium basement, modernize the heating system and install toilets. The school building was moved on big rollers by oxen and horses 400 feet back to a safer location. It had much better facilities than before the flood. A Vermont Standard School until 1928, thanks to the renovations after the flood, Duttonsville was upgraded to a “Superior School,” a status it retained until closing in 1971.  The school building still stands and to today is the home and business of Dan Churchill.  

President Calvin Coolidge telegraphed his cousin, Park Pollard, that he wanted to do whatever he could to help the town. He sent Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, to visit the region and make recommendations. Tow Army engineers came to give technical help about relocating the state road.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

CHS Briefs Nov. 1, 2017



Please also check the Cavendish VT Facebook page for photo albums of various CHS activities.

WHAT WE’VE BEEN UP TO
Museum/Stone Church: Oct. 8 was the last day the Museum was opened for the season. While we are happy to open it at other times, it’s awfully cold, as it’s not heated.

There has been yet another delay on the doors. This time it was a fire marshal issue, that’s since been resolved. However, our wonderful woodworker Dave Stern needs wrist surgery and so the final installation will have to wait for spring. Dave and Bob Naess have started preparing the area for the new doors.

Thanks to Carl Leiner we have a much needed new sign for the Cavendish Stone Church. If you are wondering what happened to the sign on the side of the museum, it was destroyed when a trailer hit it. Carl is hard at work at replacing this sign.

With new signage and doors, the opening of the Museum in May 2018 is something to look forward to.

Bruce McEnaney with students at Sturbridge
Carmine Guica Young Historians Program: What a busy month. Thanks to Stein van Schaik’s endowment, the 4th grade had a day long workshop with experimental archeologist Charlie Paquin where they learned “roots” skills of the first peoples of Cavendish/VT-flint knapping, pottery, rope making, atlatl throwing and much more. Check out the Facebook album for lots of pictures.

Learning to flint knap
On Oct. 27, the endowment also covered the 4th and 5th graders trip to Plimoth Plantation. The 6th graders spent that day at the Sturbridge Museum, thanks to the Blueberry fund of Betty and Bruce McEnaney. Check out the Facebook Album for these trips. Rounding out the month was a Proctorsville Ghost Walk for 5th graders and a visit to the W. Haven archeological dig by the 4th graders.

Students at Plimoth
Thank you to the many volunteers that make this program possible- Bruce and Betty McEnaney, Carolyn Solzhenitsyn, Pang Ting, Stein van Schaik and to the parents who drove to Plimoth Plantation.

Researching Cavendish’s First People: CHS provided a special post  on Oct. 9 in recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day, which has replaced Columbus Day in Vermont.

Halloween: If you missed CHS’s annual Cavendish Halloween post, check it out at the CHS blog.

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN NOVEMBER?
On Nov. 1, the 5th grade will be learning by doing with the annual Dia de los Muertos program. Visitors from Russia will be here on Nov. 3 to see the Solzhenitsyn exhibit and on Nov. 8 is the annual Fitton Mill Tour for the 6th grade will take place. While a short month, preparations are underway for the school holiday program, this year focusing on Poland. While we’ve been planning all year,, there is much to do before January begins a year of various programs on Solzhenitsyn in honor of his 100th birthday. 2018 is also the 170th anniversary of Phineas Gage’s accident and various options are being considered. As always, while planting season seems far off, we’re already discussing the 2018 plant sale and when to start what plants.

HOW YOU CAN HELP
If you can help with any of the following, please contact CHS margocaulfield@icloud.com; 802-226-7807 or PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142

• Do you like to paint? CHS has painting projects both at the Museum and at the Stone Church.  We might just have a little bit of good weather before snow flies to get in a project or two.

• Have Polish traditions you’d like to share with the school children as part of the special holiday program? We’re looking for craft ideas, foods etc.

• CHS is looking for new board members as well as volunteers who can help with various activities.













Monday, October 30, 2017

A Cavendish Halloween


The Golden Stage Inn
Are there really haunted places in Cavendish? According to last year’s 6th graders at the Cavendish Town Elementary School, there are many places in town with unexplained and mysterious things happening. Check out their video Cavendish Ghosts Stores. 

At this year’s Cavendish Historical Society’s Ghost Walk, an Abenaki tale was related in honor of the first peoples of Cavendish.

For more “ghostly stories” of Cavendish, check out


The most haunted place in Cavendish? Well according to Haunted Places, it would be the Golden Stage Inn.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Cavendish’s First People

--> For nearly 40 years there has been a movement to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Vermont is one of five states, the others being Alaska, Hawaii (Discoverers’ Day), Minnesota and South Dakota (Native Americans Day) that has made this change.

Why the change in a holiday that began in 1937? Columbus Day was designed to celebrate Italian-American culture and heritage. Starting in the 1970s, alternatives to the holiday emerged as attention was called to the fact that Columbus and other Europeans interactions with the indigenous peoples resulted in hundreds of years of violence and slavery; forced assimilation and conversion to Christianity; and a host of new diseases, e.g. small pox, that killed off thousands of native peoples. It was also noted that Columbus didn’t “discover” the Americas nor prove the world was round, since that was already common knowledge. In fact, he thought the world was pear shaped. Columbus’s voyage was economic in nature-a better trade route to the east- so slave trading was a lucrative opportunity and he captured natives for such purposes.

While Columbus may have been a very brave and skillful sailor, he was also a deeply flawed human who set the stage for the Spanish conquistadors who looted and killed natives by the thousands. How Columbus Sailed into US History Thanks to Italians

Columbus was also not the first European to reach America. Leif Ericksson arrived well before Columbus in what is today Newfoundland and it’s very possible that St. Brendan’s voyage from Ireland took place 500 years before Ericksson and 1,000 years before Columbus. However, all of them are “Johnny come latelies,” as the Americas were occupied, possibly as early as 16,000 years ago. 

To read more on how the Americas were populated, check the following resources:
First Humans Entered the Americas Along the Coast, Not through the Ice:Evidence mounts against the traditional story of early human migration through an ice corridor. 
A 24,000-year-old horse jawbone is helping rewrite our understanding of human habitation on the continent

So what about Cavendish? The following information is based on what is currently known through archeology and other studies. As we learn more, we will continue to provide updates.

There is archaeological evidence at Jackson Gore, Ludlow, VT that dates back 11,000 years, shortly after ice age ended. Judging from the tools uncovered, these hunter/gatherers were highly skilled craftsmen who traveled far and included trading with other groups, as a high percentage of the stone used for the tools came from Maine. Cavendish would have had Indians traveling through the area via the Black River and/or what became known as the Crown Point Rd. The Paleo-Indians would have  fish and hunt game depending on the time of year, and may have spent days or weeks here depending on whether food was plentiful.

The most practical group size was large enough to hunt cooperatively but  small enough to be self-sufficient and  mobile. It was probably an extended  family of men, women, and children  totaling 10 to 25 people. The human  population in this part of the world at that time was low, and the territory that  a few dozen groups like this shared may  have included hundreds or even thousands of square miles. At times several groups probably gathered together to hunt or fish; to exchange information, goods, and stories; to celebrate, to make friends, to resolve conflicts; and to meet potential spouses. Links were formed among the groups through these activities and through family ties. History & Culture Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center

Tools used about 5,000-7,000 years ago, called the Archaic period, have been found in Cavendish fields, indicating there might have been an Indian settlement away from the river. Just 37 miles to the South of Cavendish in Keene, NH there is evidence of a winter settlement that is over 12,000 years old. Even closer is Bellows Falls, where petroglyphs can be found.

Bellows Falls Petrogylphs

Since the first settlements in Bellows Falls, numerous Indian graves have been inadvertently dug up throughout the village and near the falls.  There is a tradition among longtime residents that the section of town located on the west side of Main Street, across from the Square, was once an Indian burial mound (Hayes 1907:29). Additionally, two centuries of excavations for roads and building construction near the petroglyphs have uncovered numerous skeletal remains throughout the village and on the island leading to the bridge that crosses the Connecticut River. Lyman Hayes interviewed the late Dr. S.M. Blake who indicated to him that “the whole distance across the island had, in a much earlier period, been used for an Indian burial-ground. The bodies were uncovered sitting upright, having been buried in a sitting posture with the knees drawn up to the chin, in a circular hole dug deep enough so that the top of the heads came within a foot or two of the surface of the ground” (Hayes 1907:29). Even the mound just to the west of the petroglyphs, where a power substation is located today, was once an Abenakis burial mound. It would seem that the village was erected upon what could be one of the largest burial sites in all of Vermont, and perhaps in all of New England.  This was and still is a very sacred place to the Abenakis. The Abenaki and the Bellows Falls (VT) Petroglyphs 


The first people of Cavendish would be part of the Abenaki Nation, which is part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, and not dissimilar to the Abenaki described in A Brief History: From the Koas Meadows to You Today. 

The Abenaki Native Americans have been living in the same region for 10,000 years. Today, this area comprises Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and southern Quebec. The Abenaki Alliance in Vermont and New Hampshire consists of four tribal bands, much like America is divided into states. These tribal bands include the Missisquoi (St. Francis/Sokoki) [Swanton], the Elnu [southern Vt], the Nulhegan [Northeast Kingdom] and the Koasek [central] . Each individual tribal band is governed by a Chief and a Tribal Council, yet they are all part of the Abenaki Alliance....

Historians have often confused which band or tribe some of the eastern Indians were from. If they saw an Indian in one location, they assumed that person was a member of the local tribal band. Many historians have called all Abenaki “St. Francis Indians.” Other historians have used that term just to refer to the Abenaki of Odanak, who reside in Southern Quebec. This has often led to confusion about the history of the Abenaki people.”...

Hollywood moves have portrayed all Native Americans as having copper skin, dark brown eyes, and long black hair. This is far from the way the eastern tribal people looked. In 1542, sieur e Roverval, Governor General of New France, described the appearance of the Abenaki people in his letters. He wrote, “They are a people of goodly stature and well made; they are very white, but they are all naked, and if they were appareled as the French are, they would be as white and as fair, but they paint themselves for fear of heat and sun burning.” In 1637, Thomas Morton of Massachusetts wrote, “Their infants are borne with hair on their heads and are of complexion as white as our nation: but their mother in their infancy make a bath of walnut leaves, husks of walnuts, and such things as will stain their skin forever, wherein they dip and wash them to make them tawny.”

Between 1500-1609, it’s estimated that there was a minimum of 10,000 Abenaki in VT. With the arrival of the Europeans, by 1760, the population in VT and Southern PQ had dropped to 1,200. Reasons included disease, the Europeans pitting one tribe against the other, involvement in various wars, and movement into Quebec. The Abenaki were a peaceful people and were not well suited to war.

During the American Revolution, Abenaki ranger units and warriors fought on the American side. By 1840 there were confirmed 1,000 Abenaki in northwestern VT and 1,500 by 1910. Totals in other parts of the state for this time period are unknown. In 2006, the VT Legislature recognizes the Abenaki people and created the VT Commission on Native American Affairs. The 2000 US Census shows 2,460 Indian people and 3,976 who cited “Indian” as one of two or more races in VT for a total of 6,396 focused in northern and central VT.

So why aren’t these people readily known? Vermont has a very dark history when it comes to its native peoples.  With the arrival of the Europeans, life changed dramatically for the Indians. They lost their land, were persecuted, and/or died from diseases they had no immunity to.  Consequently, those of Abenaki descent would be known as “dark” or “colored” French or gypsies. Many would have changed their name and it was very common for parents not to tell their children of their Indian heritage until they were adults.

Along with French Canadians, poor people and those with disabilities, the Abenaki were coerced into sterilization. In 1931, Vermont passed the eugenic sterilization law, "A Law for Human Betterment by Voluntary Sterilization." Vermont's eugenic solutions -- in the form of identification, registration, intervention in families with problem or backward children, and sterilization of those deemed unfit to conceive future Vermonters-was in effect until 1957, though the majority of sterilizations -200- took place between 1931 and 1941. A total of 253 people were sterilized, 80% of whom were women. However, though the sterilization was reported to end in 1957, the Abenakis continued to be sterilized in the United States, including Vermont

As recently as 2002, the Vermont Attorney General’s office said the Abenaki didn’t have a “continuous presence” in Vermont as they all migrated to Canada. Not only was this incorrect, but starting in 2011, there is state recognition of
Elnu Tribe of the Abenaki southern VT,
 Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk  Abenaki (Northeast Kingdom)Nation
KoasekTraditional Band of the Koos Abenaki Nation (northeast and central VT and NH regions) .

Gratia Belle Ellis
We have confirmed one former Cavendish resident, Gratia Denny, as being of Abenaki dissent. Her Grandmother Gratia Belle Ellis, born 1843, was an Abenaki Indian and spoke Algonquian. It is expected there are others in town who share similar heritage, some of whom may not be aware of it.

Learn More About the Abenaki at the websites listed above, as well as the following resources:

Malian’s Song The book,  Malian’s Song,  is based on an eyewitness Abenaki account of Robert Rogers’ 1759 raid on the Abenaki village of St. Francis. For many years the only information about the raid included in history textbooks was based on Robert Rogers’official report. In 1959 ethnologist Gordon Day recorded Elvine Obomsawin Royce telling a very different story of the raid that had been passed down in her family for generations. Here Jeanne Brink, granddaughter of Elvine, reads an English translation of her grandmother’s story

Additional Resources
Learning About First Peoples and How They Lived: Facebook Album of CTES’s 4th graders day long workshop with experimental archeologist Charlie Paquin.



                                             A History of the Abenaki Tribe 

                                                 Abenaki Documentary