Kennebec Indians

Reprinted from THE KENNEBEC VALLEY by S.H. Whitney, 1887

When the valley of the Kennebec was first explored, it was inhabited by a tribe of Indians known as the Kennebis.

The ruler of this great tribe lived upon Little Swan Island, a small island in the Kennebec River between Richmond and Dresden. He bore the title of Bashaba, and from him or his ancestors the river and the tribe received their names.

It appears that the abode of this great chieftain was strongly fortified. The ruins of this great fortress may be seen today (1887) It was built of logs in circular form, with the entrance from the north. The entrance was probably an underground passage.

The Kennebecs are divided into four subordinate tribes, each tribe being subject to a chief, who in turn paid fealty to Basheba, who was looked upon as the supreme ruler.

The territory in the Kennebec Valley was divided by the Bashaba as follows:

The SAGADAHOCS were given the land between Merry-meeting Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The CUSSENOCKES dwelt in the vicinity of Augusta. The TACCONETS possessed and occupied the fertile region that is watered by the Sebasticook, a tributary of the Kennebec; and the powerful NORRIDGEWOGS met in council in the sacred vale of Norridgewock. These families applied separate names to the river as it flowed throughout their individual tribal areas.

The Kennebec River between Merry-meeting Bay and the ocean was called Sagadahoc, to honor the tribe of the same name that dwelled upon its shores.

The river between Merry-meeting and Skowhegan Falls bore the name of the Indians acknowledged ruler, Bashaba. Between Skowhegan and Solon, the river bore the name Aruntsook, and between the falls at Solon to Moosehead Lake, the waters were called Carratunk. Moosehead, which is the fountain of the river, was called Cerbon, which means "great waters. "

Sebastian Rale, who was a missionary among the Kennebec Indians for over a quarter of a century (until 1724), gives the following description of his Indian parishioners:

"Their cabins are assembled by planting a center pole and covering it with bark; the fire is in the middle on the ground; their beds and chairs are mats made of reeds that are spread on the earth. The men dress in the skins of animals or in loose robes of red or blue cloth, and the women wear a mantle, reaching to the middle of their legs, very gracefully arranged with a light covering thrown over the head and falling to their feet, with stockings of skin or cloth from the knee to the ankle. Their moccasins are of deer-skin. In the winter they wear snowshoes, without which they could not subsist. With them they are able to overtake the swiftest of animals.

They are tall, active and powerful, with teeth whiter than ivory. Their only ornaments are beads made of shell, both white and black, so arranged in belts and the like to represent different figures with great beauty.

Their children are regarded with the greatest affection, and the utmost respect is manifest towards the aged. Their skill with the bow is great, even children shooting with astonishing accuracy.

The Kennebis eat with great irregularity, feasting upon the best one day, then being famished the next. Tobacco is used by all and is esteemed the greatest luxury. They are less barbarous than other tribes." (From Hanson, in History of Norridgwock ).

Although the early settlers in the Kennebec Valley suffered much from the hostilities of the natives, the instance has yet to be recorded where the Indian was the aggressor.

As the whites began to people the fertile shores of the Kennebec, the Indian was compelled to retreat before them.

The Bashaba was obliged to vacate his seat on Swan Island, the Indian village at Augusta (Cushnuc) was deserted, and the Tacconets were driven from the slopes of the Sebasticook. The weakened remnant of these three tribes banded with their brothers at Narantsouak (Norridgewock) and petitioned the British Governor of Maine for permission to live in peace in the northern portion of the Kennebec. This final request was denied, and in August, 1724, the last of the Kennebecs were driven into Canada.

The prominent sachems of the Kennebec tribe were as follows: the Bashaba, whose abode was upon Swan Island and to whom all the sachems of each family yielded obedience.

Abbigadassett was a sachem of the Cussenocke family and he dwelt in Bowdoinham. Robinhood was a distinguished sachem of the Sagadahoc family. He lived in Woolwich and was ever a friend of the white man.

Assiminasqui dwelt at Waterville with his tribe and was a chief speaker in the Kennebec councils. Bombazeen, for whom the rapids above Norridgewock were named, was a bold sachem and a leading warrior in the Norridgewog family.

Bowdoinham Advertiser: February 1976, pg. 6
Frank Connors, Editor

Back to Time Line