In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

In the beginning, there were the Wabanaki…

Wabanaki encampment, ca. 988 BCE
Wabanaki encampment, ca. 988 BCE

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Abbe Museum

Nearly 500 years ago, Wabanakis spotted the first European sailing ships cruising along their seacoast. The Wabanaki or Dawnland People* had lived in Maine for thousands of years, successfully surviving as migratory hunters, fishers, and gatherers.

Chief Joseph Orono powder horn, ca. 1780
Chief Joseph Orono powder horn, ca. 1780

Item Contributed by
Abbe Museum

European colonization of Wabanaki Country began in the early 1600s. At that time, a band of a few dozen Wabanaki families seasonally inhabited Mount Desert Island, headed by Chief Asticou at Manchester Point (Northeast Harbor) by the entrance to Somes Sound. Adapted to the seasonal rhythms of the region, they migrated between seacoast and inlands by way of ancient canoe routes.

Penobscot snowshoes, ca. 1850
Penobscot snowshoes, ca. 1850

Item Contributed by
Abbe Museum

With the Europeans came new diseases and colonial wars. After 150 years of these conflicts, barely 1,000 Wabanaki men, women, and children remained in Maine.

*Today, Wabanakis are divided into the Abenaki, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot.

We think it hard that you settle the lands that God gave us without making us some consideration. -Passamaquoddy Chief Abowadwonit (1763).