Indigenous History

Image Credit: Abenaki Nation

The history of New Hampshire is closely intertwined with the indigenous peoples who inhabited the region for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The native and indigenous history of the state is primarily characterized by various Algonquian-speaking tribes, collectively known as the Abenaki, including the Cowasuck, Pennacook, Sokoki, Winnipesaukee, Pigwacket, and Ossipee.

Prior to European colonization, the Abenaki Nation was prominent in Koas (pronounced “coos”) County, known today at the state of New Hampshire, inhabiting much of the region and in parts of Vermont, Massachusetts, Main, and Quebec in a greater territory called Ndakinna (pronounced “in-dah-kee-nah”). They excelled in hunting, gathering, and agriculture, cultivating crops such as maize, beans, and squash. Settlements and housing were semi-permanent, depending on the season, and they had extensive trade networks with other indigenous groups in the Northeast.

The arrival of European settlers in the early 17th century brought significant challenges and changes to the native populations of New Hampshire. Indigenous communities faced conflicts over land, diseases introduced by the Europeans, and disruption and destruction to their traditional way of life. European settlement and expansion resulted in the displacement and marginalization of indigenous communities.

During the American Revolution, the Revolutionaries offered an exchange – the Abenaki would keep their lands and autonomy if they agreed to fend off the British. However, the agreement was only honored on part of the Abenaki. With the outcome of the war favoring American colonials, subsequent treaties signed by the United States government further diminished indigenous rights and territories.

Despite centuries of displacement and marginalization, native and indigenous communities in New Hampshire have persevered and worked to maintain their cultural heritage. Today, there are ongoing efforts to preserve and revitalize native languages, traditions, and tribal governance systems. Various organizations and initiatives have been established to establish state recognition, promote indigenous rights, cultural education, and historical awareness.

In the Sugar River Region, there were significant historical connections between local indigenous communities and the educational institutions of the area. Abenaki students attended schools such as Newport Academy in Newport, which was a secondary institution incorporated in 1819 but unfortunately burned down in 1843. Peter Paul Osunkhirhine was a well-known Abenaki linguist and minister who attended Moors Charity School (which is now Dartmouth College), Newport Academy, and the Hanover Congregational Church during the 1820s and fondly recalled these experiences 30 years later. Prominent families with Abenaki relatives lived in many communities throughout the Sugar River Region, most notably in Plainfield, Cornish, Claremont, Sunapee, Langdon, and Charlestown.

Fort Number 4 actually played an intriguing role between Abenaki and non-native community relations in the mid 18th century. Daily trading activities took place, as the Abenaki were fond of the settlement’s goods, such as warm bread, cloth, thread, yarn, dyes, whalebone, balsam syrup, and various other tools and materials. In exchange, Abenaki families likely traded canoes, snowshoes, baskets, and bags. The fort helped sustain a mutually-benefitting and harmonious relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous communities that has since largely been forgotten.

New Hampshire does not currently recognize any federally or state-recognized tribes, not even the Abenaki tribe. However, the state does have a Commission on Native American Affairs, which “recognizes the historic and cultural contributions of Native Americans to New Hampshire, promotes and strengthens Native American heritage and furthers the needs of New Hampshire’s Native American community through state policy and programs.”