Wabanaki Confederacy

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Armies >> Native American Peoples >> Wabanaki Confederacy

Origin and History

The Wabanaki Confederacy ("People of the Dawn") was a wide alliance of many Algonquian-speaking Native Americans formed after 1670, which included:

  • the Abenaki, inhabiting present-day Maine, the Connecticut River valley in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, the southern Québec, southern New Brunswick and southern Nova Scotia; they numbered approx. 40,000 peoples before contact
  • the Passamaquoddy, inhabiting present-day Maine and New Brunswick
  • the Penobscot, inhabiting present-day Maine
  • the Wolastoqiyik (aka Maliseet), inhabiting the Saint John River valley and its tributaries, in present-day New Brunswick and Québec in Canada, and parts of Maine in the USA
  • the Miꞌkmaq (aka Micmac), inhabiting the Gaspé Peninsula of Québec, present-day Prince Edward Island, and eastern New Brunswick as well as the northeastern region of Maine (from 1630, a band occupied southern Newfoundland); they numbered approx. 20,000 peoples before contact
  • the Pennacook, inhabiting the Merrimack River valley of present-day New Hampshire and Massachusetts, as well as portions of southern Maine

As early as 1520, the Miꞌkmaq people began to trade fur with the European fishermen and whalers.

Territory of the Wabanaki Confederacy - Copyright: Kronoskaf

From their first contacts with Europeans to 1620, the Abenaki people saw their population fall to some 20,000 and the Miꞌkmaq to less than 4,000, due to epidemics.

After King Philip’s War (1675-76), the Abenaki people absorbed several refugee Native American bands, which were moving north to Canada. Some of them settled at the Saint-François mission (present-day Odanak) and at Bécancour (present-day Wôlinak), near Trois-Rivières.

In 1688, during King William’s War (1688-97), the Wabanaki Confederacy allied itself with the French and took part in many raids against British settlements in New England. Until 1748, Wabanaki warriors continued to take active part in most raids launched by the French against British settlements in New England.

In 1701, the Wabanaki were amongst a large group of French allies who signed a major treaty, known as the Great Peace of Montréal, with the Iroquois Confederacy.

During the Queen Anne’s War (1702-13), Abenaki warriors participated in raids on Deerfield, Massachusetts, and other settlements.

In 1724, during the Grey Lock’s War (1723-27), a British force managed to capture the large Abenaki village of Norridgewock on the Kennebec River and many Abenaki families migrated to Canada, where they rejoined the bands already established at Saint-François and Bécancour.

In 1743-44, Jesuits established a mission at Missisquoi.

During the King George’s War (1744-48), Abenaki war parties raided New York and New England.

In 1752-3, the Saint-François Abenaki met with Captain Phineas Stevens in Montréal and at Fort Number Four and forbade further encroachment on their lands. However, colonial settlers continued to squat in Abenaki territory.

By 1790, there were less than 1,000 Abenaki peoples.

As many other Native American peoples, from their first contacts with European colonists, the members of the Wabanaki Confederacy were decimated by smallpox.

Role during the War

In June 1755, 50 Miꞌkmaq warriors joined the French garrison for the defence of Fort Beauséjour, which surrendered on June 16. In August, an Abenaki war party from Saint-François made a raid against the Mahican village of Schaghticoke, bringing its inhabitants back to Canada with them. The defection of this village made the British suspect the loyalty of all of their native allies.

On July 20, 1756, 42 Abenaki warriors who were at Fort Carillon moved closer to the carrying place to be in a better position to launch raids against British parties. On September 16 at 6:00 p.m., 100 Canadiens and 400 Native American warriors (including Abenaki warriors) under Captain de la Perrière embarked aboard 34 canoes at Contrecoeur’s camp for an expedition in the direction of Fort Edward and Fort William Henry. On September 25, Montcalm sent Florimond with 17 Abenaki warriors to reconnoitre Fort Edward.

In February 1757, a party of Abenaki warriors from Saint-François and Bécancour joined Rigaud's forces for a winter raid against Fort William Henry on the shores of Lake George. At the end of July, 245 Abenaki warriors from Saint-François, Bécancour and Missisiquoi, and 56 Maliseet from Acadia formed part of the French army assembled at Fort Carillon (present-day Ticonderoga) for the expedition against Fort William Henry.

On March 23, 1758, a party of Abenaki warriors left Montréal for Fort Carillon. In July, a party of Miꞌkmaq warriors formed part of Boishébert’s detachment, which intended to reinforce the troops defending Louisbourg. On October 12, 150 Iroquois and Abenaki warriors arrived at Carillon.

On May 31, 1759, Niverville was detached with 95 Abenaki warriors and about 40 Canadien volunteers fro Beauport for a reconnaissance at Isle-aux-Coudres. On June 17 at 5:00 p.m. near Isle-d'Orléans, the British launched their boats against the fireship Jaloux but they were chased by about 24 Abenaki canoes who captured a boat belonging to the Squirrel (20), taking 8 prisoners. On June 29, during the Siege of Québec, Monckton's brigade marched along the river road to Pointe Lévis, drove off a body of French and Abenaki warriors posted in the church, and took possession of the houses and the surrounding heights. On August 4, troops stationed at Pointe-aux-Trembles (present-day Neuville) were recalled to the exception of a force of about 750 men (500 French and Canadiens along with 250 Wabanaki warriors).

On October 4, 1759, Rogers' Rangers raided the Abenaki settlement of Saint-François killing around 40 people including 22 women and children and burning the town, whilst the warriors were absent. Most of the inhabitants, forewarned, had crept away and hid before the Rangers struck. Abenaki warriors hotly pursue the retreating Rangers eliminating at least one group of Rangers.

In 1760, an Abenaki war party raided Charlestown, New Hampshire. There was a major concentration of Abenaki warriors from Missisquoi, Saint-François and Bécancour around Ile-aux-Noix with Bourlamarque’s army. This gathering is known to the British as Wigwam Martinique, probably near the present-day town of Sorel in Québec. In June Rogers and 300 Rangers move down Lake Champlain to attack Saint-Jean and Chambly on the Richelieu River. 50 rangers were sent to locate and destroy Wigwam Martinique but failed to find their objective. Abenaki oral tradition recalls a raid on Missisquoi at about this time. Rogers’ command was intercepted by over 300 Native Americans and French and were forced to withdraw.


The Jesuit Sebastien Rasles commented in 1723 that Abenaki men had, ‘... black hair, and with teeth whiter than ivory. If you wish to see him in fine array, you will find his only ornaments to be what are called “rassades [wampum]; these are a sort of shell-work, or sometimes of stone, fashioned in the form of small beads, some white, some black, — which are strung in such a way that they represent different and very exact figures, which have their own charm. It is with these strings of beads that our Savages tie and braid their hair, above the ears and behind; they make of them earrings, necklaces, garters, and belts, five or six inches broad; and with this sort of finery, they value themselves much more than does a European with all his gold and precious stones.’


Peter Kalm, a Swedish speaking Finnish naturalist, travelling along the Saint-Laurent River in 1750 observed that the only difference in the appearance of the Iroquoian speaking Wendat (Lorette Huron) and Algonquin speaking Miꞌkmaq and Montagnais men was that the latter wore their hair long. However, Pierre-Joseph-Antoine Roubaud, a Jesuit priest at Saint-François (Odanak) observing a war party of Abenaki, Algonquin, Nippissings and Maliseet men preparing to set off in 1757, observed that their hair was, ‘... entirely shaven, except one little tuft reserved on the crown to which is attached plumes of birds, or small pieces of porcelain [wampum] or some such gewgaw. In 1758 Captain John Knox saw a Mi’kmaq man wearing, ‘... a turban; on his head, adorned with an extravagant number of beads and feathers of various colours...’


Abenakis from the village of Bécancour, first half of the 18th century. - Source: Wikimedia Commons

Wabanaki men could wear hoods of broadcloth decorated with applique ribbon work and linear beadwork. A mid-18th century Maliseet one in New Brunswick Museum in red broadcloth has ‘fox or wolf ears’ and is decorated with yellow and and lime green ribbon overlaid by linear white beadwork in the form of conjoined diamonds, with alternating white and dark blue edging beadwork. An Abenaki one is shown in the illustration.


Roubaud also stated that the men of the war party were ‘... painted with vermillion, white, green, yellow and black made of soot and the scraping of pots, all these unite in a single... visage, and are methodically applied with a little tallow, which serves for pomatum. Such is the paint, on these occasions of solemnity, is called into requisition to embellish not only the face, but also the head. ‘Many of them have the face painted all over in cinnabar; others have only strokes of it on the forehead and near the ears; and some paint the hair with the same material. Red is the colour they chiefly use in painting themselves, but I have only seen some who had daubed their face black’.


As well as paint, tattoos were permanently marked. ‘Many of them have figures on the face and on the whole body, which is stained into the skin, so as to be indelible... These figures are commonly black; some have a snake painted on each cheek, some have several crosses, some an arrow, others the sun, or anything else their imagination leads them to. They have such figures likewise on the breast, thighs and other parts of the body; but some have no figures at all.’


Kalm noted that some men have earrings, others not. Roubaud considered that: ‘To each part of the head there is its peculiar ornament. The nose has its pendant; while the ears are well furnished having been split in infancy and drawn down with weights until they flap against the shoulders...' Captain Pierre Pouchot, a French engineer officer serving in Canada between 1755 and 1760, further writes; ‘When a young man has been to war, he cuts the border of his ears and attaches a piece of lead so that the weight may elongate the cartilage, forming an opening large enough to put in a [moccasin] rolled up. They put in a brass wire around, and in the circumference, they put in tufts of coloured hair or feathers. These ears come down to the shoulders, and float as they walk. When they travel in the woods, they put a band around the forehead to keep the ears from being torn in thickets. They do not keep their ears till they become wise, because in quarrelling while drunk, they tear them, so that before getting far along lose them entirely. They pierce the cartilage of the nose, and put a little ring with a triangle of silver, which falls down before the mouth.’

Necklaces and Neck Pouches

The Jesuit Roubaud described Wabanaki warriors wearing, ‘...wampum collars, silver bracelets, a large knife hanging on the breast...’ Another important pouch likely to have been worn around the neck and in which was kept a man’s personal pipe was the tobacco pouch made of the skins of animals with the hairy side turned outwards. Pouchot stated that Indian men wore, ‘... around the neck, a collar pendant like our orders of knighthood. At the end is a plate of silver, as large as a saucer. Or a shell of the same size, or a disc of wampum’, whilst the Jesuit Roubaud reports that: ‘The chiefs and captains are not distinguished, except the latter by a gorget or neck-piece and the former by a medallion, which on one side has a portrait of the king, and on the reverse Mars and Bellona giving each other a hand, with the motto virtus et honos.’

Breechclout and Apron

Pouchot recorded men wearing, ‘... a breech-cloth, which is a quarter of an ell of cloth, which they pass under their thighs, crossing before and behind upon a belt around the waist. Sometimes the cloth is embroidered [probably with ribbon and linear beadwork – a Maliseet example for the mid-18th century has several rows of yellow ribbon with white edge beading]. When they travel, to avoid being chafed by the cloth, they put it simply as an apron before them.’ Presumably the backside is covered by a shirt or then a animal skin, such as an otter, pouch folded over the belt.


Knox gives a general description of leggings in his journal in December 1758. ‘Leggers;, Leggings, or Indian spatterdashes, are usually made of frieze, or other coarse woollen cloth; they should be at least three quarters of a yard in length; each Legging about three quarters wide (which is three by three) then double it, and sew it together from end to end, within four, five, or six inches of the outside selvages, fitting this long, narrow bag to the shape of the leg; the flaps to be on the outside, which serve to wrap over the skin, or fore-part of the leg, tied round under the knee, and above the ankle, with garters of the same colour by which the legs are preserved from many fatal accidents, that may happen by briars, stumps of trees, or under-wood, &c. in marching through a close, woody country. ... the Indians generally ornament; the flaps with beads of various colours, as they do their Moggosan...’


Pierre Pouchot observed, ‘... they wear garters of beads [probably loomed wampum in geometric patterns of white and dark blue black], or porcupine quills, bordered four fingers wide, which are tied on the legs.’ Garters were also made of woven woollen fibres typically dyed red with white bead patterns incorporated into the weave.


Wabanaki moccasins were made of smoked moose or buckskin with a puckered centre seam along the instep. They had cuffs split at the back (women’s moccasins were made with a single cuff around the ankle). A two-piece moccasin style with a separate vamp was also worn. They are fastened under the cuff and tied at the instep with a thong. During the winter, moccasins are made larger so that they could be lined with rabbit skin, moose hair and or old blanket and the cuffs wrapped up around the ankles. Snow shoes were worn during the winter.


A European shirt, cut in contemporary European fashion, was also popular and could be daubed with grease and paint to waterproof it. He also states that: ‘They wear a shirt which is either white or blue striped and a shaggy piece of cloth, which is either blue or white, with a blue or red stripe below. This they always carry over their shoulders... They all have their breasts uncovered.’ Roubaud, also described Wabenaki warriors wearing, ‘... a shirt bedaubed with vermillion... moose skin moccasins and a belt {probably a woven wool sash] of various colours...’ around the waist. Pouchet mentions that: ‘The fore arm [of a shirt presumably] is ornamented with silver broaches, three or four inches wide, and the arms by a kind of wristlets made of wampum or coloured porcupine quills with fringes of leather above and below.’ Quillwork for the area was likely to use black, red and white quills.

Blankets and Coats

Trade blankets were worn for warmth. Hooded capotes were a popular item of winter dress for Algonquin speakers trading with the French. In 1743 it is recorded that seventy cloth capotes trimmed with false silver lace were sent to Fort La Raye (present-day Green Bay) to be traded for furs. Eight were of white cloth and the others of unspecified colours. They lacked buttons and were fastened by a woven patterned fibre sash or belt at the waist. European coats and sleeved waistcoats in the contemporary style were also obtained and worn by some men. Halters

Halters or tumplines were carried on raids for captives. These were a woven braid made of twined vegetable fibre some 350cm long with a broad central portion for a neck band of about 70cm and 7cm wide which could be decorated with false embroidery with moose hair in geometric patterns. One from 1743 considered to be of Abenaki origin but possibly Huron, has geometric patterns in orange, blue, navy and white with bead edging. These were fastened around the captive’s neck. They were also used for carrying loads.


During the 1640s flintlock firearms were being shipped across the Atlantic in large numbers and were likely to have been traded to the Wabanaki. Abenaki men arriving in Quebec in 1637 were armed with arquebuses, with a matchlock mechanism, but in 1645 Native Americans at Sillery had a good number of flintlock muskets.

By the beginning of the 18th century the standard trade musket that armed the Wabanaki was manufactured in France at the Tulle arsenal. The .62 calibre ‘fusil de chasse’ or hunting musket has a 44-inch octagon-to-round barrel and the lock plate is marked with the name of the arsenal spelt as TVLLE. After 1745 the ‘V’ changed to a ‘U’. Characteristically the stock had a drooped ‘cow’s foot’ butt.

A powder horn and a shot pouch would have been worn over the shoulder and high up under the arm to minimise them flapping about whilst moving. Shot pouches were often made of woven fibre with white bead patterns woven into the threads; bags of deerskin with sewn wampum panels with small white geometric patterns on a dark blue black field or of black dyed skin with quillwork and white bead edging with a fringe of metal cones filled with red dyed deer hair. Straps were of woven fibre or loomed wampum.

A knife was carried in a sheaf, often decorated with quillwork, hung around the neck and a tomahawk or warclub was carried stuffed through a belt at the back.


Bourque, Bruce and Laureen Labar Uncommon Threads: Wabanaki Textiles, Clothing and Costume, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009, pp. 50, 59-63, 90-91.

Calloway, Colin, The Western Abenakis of Vermont, 1600-1800, Norman, University of Oklahoma, 1990, pp.45, 173-179.

Chartrand, René, Raiders from New France: North American Forest Warfare Tactics 17th – 18th Centuries, Oxford, Osprey Publishing, 2019, pp. 55.

Ingraham, William (trans.), The early Jesuit missions in North America, Albany, J. Munsell, 1873, pp. 142.

Kalm, Peter, Travels in North America, quoted in O’Neill, James, Their Bearing is Noble and Proud: A collection of narratives regarding the appearance of Native Americans from 1740–1815, Dayton, J. T. G. S. Publishing 1995, pp. 10-11.

Knox, J. An historical journal of the campaigns in North-America, for the years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760 containing the most remarkable occurrences of that period, particularly the two sieges of Quebec, &c. &c., the orders of the admirals and general officers, descriptions of the countries where the author has served, with their forts and garrisons, their climates, soil, produce, and a regular diary of the weather: as also several manifestos, a mandate of the late bishop of Canada, the French orders and disposition for the defence of the colony, &c. &c. &c. /. Volume 1. London, Captain John Knox, 1769, pp. 113, 220.

Pouchot, Pierre, Memoir Upon The Late War In North America, Between The French And English, 1755-60. Volume II, Alpha Editions, 2021, pp. 189-191.

Thwaites, Rueben, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents 1610 to 1791, Vol. 67, pp. 67, 133-134.

Access Heritage – French Fur Trade Musket accessed December 1, 2015

Sulzman, Lee: Abenaki History

Sulzman, Lee: Micmac History

Waldman, Carl: Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Revised Edition, pp. 3-4


N.B.: the section Role during the War is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.


Larry Burrows for a major overhaul of the entire article