Original Inhabitants of Maine

Scientific evidence seems to indicate that the earliest inhabitants of Maine were Paleo-Indian hunters who probably fell victim to climatic change. Later, the so-called Red Paint people occupied the area and were buried in graves lined with red ochre (found to be hematite, a blackish-red mineral, the primary ore of iron). By the time of first European explorers, the region was populated by two main native groups.

  • The Micmac inhabited eastern Maine and parts of New Brunswick. They were not a large tribe and were involved in frequent warfare.

  • The Abenaki lived west of the Penobscot River and were more populous and less warlike, devoting their energies to fishing and farming.
Both groups enjoyed generally peaceful relationships with the early settlers, but warred between themselves and with the Iroquois. As the 17th century progressed, the Abenaki sided with the French against the English settlers because of friction over land holdings. King Philip's War lasted longer in the Maine wilderness than it did to the south. Resistance from the Native Americans virtually ceased after the Peace of Paris in 1763 , given that their allies, the French, withdrew from Canada.

Five centuries before Columbus' voyages, it is believed by some that Leif Ericsson visited the coast of present-day Maine for the purpose of establishing a settlement. Although absolute proof is lacking, John Cabot, an Italian mariner working for Henry VII of England, appears to have explored the area in 1498. Following Cabot, other Europeans visited the shores of Maine to explore, fish, or to repair their ships and gear.

In 1604, French explorers Pierre du Guast, Sieur de Monts and Samuel de Champlain made a serious effort to establish a small settlement on Saint Croix Island (on the border on present-day Maine and New Brunswick). The settlers became sick with scurvy and vacated the colony the following year.


See Indian Wars.
Native American Cultural Regions map .