Web Text-ures Logo

Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)

Click Here to return to
Colonial Life in New Hampshire
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter

Kellscraft Studio Logo



New Hampshire, abounding as it does in mountains, rivers, and beautiful lakes, seemed an ideal spot for the Indians. The woods were full of game and the rivers of fish. It is no wonder that the Indian was loath to give up his right to this place which nature had made so beautiful and which was particularly well fitted for his savage mode of life.

The Algonquin Race. — Throughout the state were many small tribes or families, each of which was composed of kinsmen. In times of great danger, however, these small families united and chose a leader, who was usually the chief of the most powerful tribe. Passaconaway of the Penicooks, who lived near the present city of Concord, was such a leader among the New Hampshire tribes.

All the Indians along the Atlantic seaboard belonged to the great family known as the Algonquin. They were a brave, fearless, and dominant race who were greatly attached to their land, as, indeed, were all Indians. Directly west of New Hampshire, and closely bordering upon it, was the home of another great family called the Iroquois. They were even more enlightened than the Algonquin family. Their homes were larger, and they were bound together more closely as a nation.


Family Life. — All Indians were remarkable for their hospitality. No visitor was allowed to go away without partaking of their food. In fact an Indian would rather have gone without, himself, than to have had a guest neglected. Hospitality was to them an unwritten law that must be obeyed, and had become a part of the Indian nature.

The villages, or small tribes, practically held everything in common like a large family, and what affected one affected all. The houses of the Indians when the first settlers came, contrary to the usual belief, were sometimes sixty or eighty feet long with a round roof, which was generally covered with movable matting, and in each house lived from three to twenty families.

Position of the Indian Women. — While, in a general sense, the warrior was the head of the household, yet within the home the mother was supreme, and the mother-right, as it was called, was very carefully guarded. The warrior, when he married, always joined the tribe to which his wife belonged. The wife, if the husband did not provide for the household properly, had the power to drive him away. The husband was looked upon as a hero, the defender of the family, the hunter, and the provider of meat. It is natural that, looking upon the man in this way, the woman believed it her duty to relieve him of all drudgery at home. For this reason we find the squaw doing all the work, planting and hoeing the garden, bringing the water and wood, not because she was driven to it, as many have supposed, but because she was willing to do the menial labor so long as the husband maintained his dignity as a warrior; but should he prove lacking in courage, no squaw would work for him.

In looking upon the man as a defender and a protector, the trust of the woman was seldom misplaced. It is said that an Indian once walked forty miles in order to obtain a few cranberries for his sick wife.

Another father cheerfully surrendered himself to be tortured, in place of his young son, who had been captured by an unfriendly band of Indians. This substitution was accepted and the boy was allowed to go free, while the father was burned at the stake.

Indian Hunters. — As hunters, the Indians were unsurpassed. Their only weapons were the bow and arrow, spear, club, and tomahawk, with which they killed the bear, deer, moose, beaver, wild pigeon, and other game. The secrets of the forest were an open book to them. They could track their game for miles through dense woods and over rocky ledges, where to the unpracticed eye there was no sign that any animal had passed. They were trained to be so watchful and observant, that a broken twig or a bent blade of grass told them not only that game had been by, but even what kind it was. When hunting, they often ran for hours without food or water with the most marvelous powers of endurance.

Indian Children. — Until a child was two years old, it was kept in a bag made of soft padded leather and usually slung over its mother’s back, but afterwards it was allowed to run about and play with the other children. The boys were early taught to run, jump, swim, and wrestle, and the skill of even the small boys with the bow and arrow was very great. The older men took the keenest delight in teaching sports and games to the little ones, and they watched their improvement closely from day to day. Before the boy could become a warrior he had to pass through many trials of fasting. When fifteen years old, a fast of five days was imposed as a final test. While the boys were taught the arts of warfare, the girls were given lessons in hard work. They brought wood for the fire, and water for cooking, and were prepared thoroughly for their share of responsibility.

Boys were never whipped by their parents, who believed this punishment to be degrading, and acts of disobedience or insubordination were allowed to pass without the “thrashing” which our forefathers thought so necessary.

Many things were taught the Indian youths and instilled into their natures which would form an excellent foundation for manhood and womanhood in any people. Among them were hospitality, respect for the aged, truthfulness, honesty, independence, and courtesy. With these attributes, however, were taught the most remorseless desire for revenge and relentless cruelty toward enemies.

The boys and young men were very fond of games and were always good-natured, no matter who was victorious. They played shinney, football, tag, hide-and-seek, and a game which formed the beginning of our national baseball. The girls enjoyed their dolls and mud pies when not helping their mothers.

How the Indians Farmed. — All along the banks of the Merrimac and Connecticut rivers, in the rich, alluvial soil, the Indians had their small patches of cultivated land, in which the squaws planted corn, pumpkins, squashes, melons, and beans. In the spring, when the alewives came up the rivers from the sea, they were caught in great numbers and used to fertilize the hills of corn; for digging up the weeds they had a primitive kind of hoe formed from a piece of slate to which was fastened a handle made of strong withes bound with rawhide. In this crude way they tilled the soil.

Food of the Indians. — When the corn was large enough, it was cut green from the cob and boiled, and was known to the Indians as samp. When corn and beans were cooked together, the dish was called succotash. Hominy was made by pounding dry corn in a mortar with a stone pestle until it was made into coarse meal, which was then boiled. Baked beans, the dish which is typical of New England, came originally from the Indians. They made corn cake, baking it on flat rocks before the fire, and also gave to our boys and girls popcorn, which they called “the corn that flowers.” It is said that the Indians were the first to make use of gruel for the sick room.

In the summer the women and children picked wild raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries; in the autumn they went nutting for chestnuts, hickory nuts, and beech nuts, which they, like the squirrels, stored up for winter use.

The food was boiled in an earthen pot, which was made by lining a wicker basket with clay and sand. This was put upon the fire, and when the basket was burned away, a serviceable pot was left. Pieces of the pottery are found even now with the print of the basket work on them. Their spoons and ladles were made from seashells and their knives from flint.

Mechanical Skill of the Indians. — The Indians were by no means an unskilled race of savages. They had many mechanical contrivances of a high order, and their skill in handling rude tools was very remarkable. Their bows and arrows, usually made from the tough and springy hickory wood, were beautifully formed and exceedingly accurate. They also had spears for fishing which were like their arrows, only larger and longer, with a triangular piece of flint for the head. The war club was cut from a stout oaken stick with a heavy knob on one end, in which they often fastened jagged pieces of flint. Stone hatchets, or axes, were made in an interesting way. The head was carefully formed with a groove around it, and was inserted in a small, growing sapling which had been split for the purpose. It was allowed to remain in this position until the young tree had grown around the stone so as to hold it very securely, when it was cut off above and below, leaving a sufficient handle. Thus a very strong and durable weapon was made.

The squaws were skillful in tanning skins so that the leather was soft and pliable. From the tanned hides of the moose, deer, beaver, and other animals they made their moccasins and the clothing which they used in winter. For sewing, they used an awl-like needle made either from the bone of a fish or from a small bone taken from the leg of a heron.

In moving from place to place, the Indians often followed the rivers, and used the birch-bark canoe, or dugout, for this purpose. During the winter, when deep snows covered the ground, they bound snowshoes to their moccasins, and could travel as easily as in summer. The snowshoes were made of a light framework of ash, which was filled with meshes of rawhide, thus presenting a broad surface to the light snow. Besides spearing fish, they caught them with fishhooks made of bone and also with nets woven from the fibrous bark of the elm tree. They were skillful in constructing baskets, and sometimes made fish traps of basket work, very similar to the lobster pots common at the seashore. The fish could swim into this trap, but found difficulty in getting out.

Method of Making Fire. — The Indians produced fire in the following manner; — they first took a dry stick about a foot long and an inch in diameter, and after flattening both sides, so that it was about a fourth of an inch thick, they carefully made a small depression on one of the flat sides, a quarter of an inch from the edge. Opposite this hole a nick was cut in the edge, and was connected with the depression by a small groove. When these preparations were completed, the stick was placed on the ground and firmly held by the knees. Then a slender stick of soft wood, about the thickness of a pencil and from twelve to fourteen inches long, was rapidly twirled back and forth between the open palms in the small depression. In a short time a fine dust was formed at the junction of the two sticks and, passing through the groove, fell in a little heap within the nick mentioned above. Soon the heat caused by the friction set fire to the dust, which was carefully yet quickly transmitted to such inflammable substances as might be near at hand. By this method they were able to produce fire in from one to three minutes.

After the coming of the white men, the Indian became very improvident. The labor-saving devices which the English brought over, and which the Indians easily bought for skins, removed the necessity of working hard with flint tools in order to make the bow and arrow, the stone hatchet, and the kettle of clay.

Indian Cunning. — An incident which occurred at Plymouth, New Hampshire, shows the cunning and forethought of the Indian. Captain Baker, with a small band of men from Northampton, Massachusetts, had attacked and destroyed an Indian village at Plymouth. The Indians, however, were very numerous, and Baker retreated down the Connecticut as rapidly as possible, thinking that he would surely be followed and attacked. At the first halting place, where they prepared their supper, a friendly Indian, who was with the party, suggested to Baker that each man should build many fires and cut many sharpened sticks upon which to broil their meat. By this means the Indians, seeing a great many fires and sticks, would be deceived as to their numbers and would, perhaps, stop their pursuit. This idea was acted upon, and the pursuing Indians, coming upon so many camp fires, believed the whites too strong to be attacked and turned back, leaving Baker and his men to go to their homes unmolested.

The different tribes often fought with each other, and in these quarrels they used the same stealthy methods of attack which they were accustomed to employ in hunting wild animals. They have sometimes been called cowardly on account of their manner of fighting, when they were merely following their custom of being as economical of their lives as possible. If they were beaten they never asked for quarter, and if they were captured they expected to be tortured by their enemies, and gloried in being able to bear the most cruel suffering without complaint. While they were being slowly killed, they often taunted their captors with a lack of skill in torturing them.

The Indian’s Idea of Land. — The Indian could form no idea of the individual ownership of land. He believed that, like the sea and air, it had been given for the use of all men, and he could not see how a man was able to really own any of the earth. To be sure, they had their tribal limits beyond which they could not hunt or fish, but the right to hunt belonged to the tribe as a whole and not to any individual. For this reason, they parted readily with their land to the white settlers for a small sum, but they did not think that by so doing they were actually selling the soil. This misunderstanding was the cause of trouble and bloodshed. If the whites had taken more pains to learn the habits of the Indians, much of the suffering from the Indian wars might have been avoided. Among the few men who made a careful study of the Indian character was Eleazer Wheelock, the founder of Moor’s Indian School, which later became Dartmouth College. His efforts to Christianize and to help the Indian, and his marked success, afford a shining example of what might have been accomplished with the New Hampshire Indians.

Little remains of the Red Men at the present time except a few flint arrowheads, fragments of their pottery, the Indian names of rivers, mountains, and towns, and here and there an old headstone in the corner of some forgotten cemetery, on which is inscribed, “Killed by the Indians.”

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.