Meet Maine Here.

First Peoples

Wabanaki Trade and Transitions

Native people’s story began long before Europeans arrived. For thousands of years, the ancestors of Maine’s present-day Native Americans have made their lives here. Known today as Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot, these tribes are collectively called the Wabanaki.

Maine State Museum, 2016.38.1

Wabanaki people developed alliances with European traders who arrived on Maine’s shores. By the late 1500s, the Wabanaki had an expansive trade network with Europeans that sent furs across the Atlantic. Once both France and England claimed vast lands and established competing colonies, their settlers worked to draw the Wabanaki into their own trade networks.

Initially, a mutually beneficial trade centered on furs. Europeans most prized beaver fur. The Wabanaki especially valued woven cloth, copper pots, and firearms, which became vital for hunting.

War – Disease – Displacement

Wabanaki peoples strategically protected their way of life in the midst of international conflicts in their homelands.

Flintlock Musket, Paris, France, ca. 1725, Maine State Museum, 2003.35.1

The English need for land pushed Native people of New England to war. When Metacom’s War (King Philip’s War) began in 1675, most Wabanaki groups tried to remain neutral. The English demanded that the Wabanaki give up their guns or be declared enemies. This forced Wabanaki leaders to choose between war or letting their families starve without the weapons to hunt. When the English killed or kidnapped Wabanaki people to sell into slavery, many Wabanaki groups in Maine chose to join the war multi-tribal military effort to drive the English out of New England.

Penobscot Powder Horn, ca. 1750, Maine State Museum, 79.43.1

For nearly the next hundred years, the Wabanaki allied with the French to limit English settlement in Maine. Beginning in 1689, war between France and England spilled over to their North American colonies and involved their Native allies. The English were not easily forgiven for past behavior and the French continued to provide muskets and supplies, such as the musket and powder horn seen here. After the 1763 Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years War (known by the English as the French and Indian War), the French largely withdrew from North America. Weakened by widespread death from wars and disease, the Wabanaki faced repeated waves of English settlements deeper into their lands.

Maine State Museum