Wabanaki people have lived in the Dawnland since before recorded time. Known as those who greet the sun in this land of first light, their homeland is a network of waterways, connected by rivers that Wabanaki people still paddle, footpaths that underlie highways, and bonds of kinship. Long before European settlers arrived, the Piscataqua region hosted extensive agricultural communities. Fields of companion crops were cultivated by Wabanaki women near freshwater falls like Quamphegan, where fish were plentiful.
When English and French fishermen and explorers arrived in the early 1600s, Wabanaki people welcomed these traders into their exchange networks. But colonial impacts on their subsistence, including overfishing, logging, and damming, led to intense conflicts. European diseases, arising in part from urban crowding and animal husbandry in Europe, devastated Native communities throughout the eastern seaboard. Wabanaki people largely responded by rebuilding their kinship networks and cultivating diplomacy with newcomers until the 1670s, when Massachusetts settlers brought the confrontation known as King Philip’s War to their door.
Newichawannock—the “place between rapids”—was home to Sagamore Rowls, a Wabanaki leader who negotiated agreements with English settlers on behalf of his community. The name Newichawannock also applies to the extensive river (now the boundary between New Hampshire and Maine) that connected this coastal region to Wabanaki homelands in the White Mountains. Rowls cultivated relationships of exchange with neighboring communities, including English and French newcomers.
A deed from the 1640s illustrates an apparent agreement between Rowls and English trader Humphrey Chadbourne. Rowls, representing the people of Newichawannock, may have intended this agreement to allow a trading partner to continue to inhabit his homeland, while reserving the right to use traditional planting and fishing grounds.
In the 1670s, as encroachments on Wabanaki territory and violence from colonies to the south increased, the first war between the English and the Wabanaki erupted. Wabanaki people targeted water-powered mills erected on their planting grounds and fishing falls, defending the forests, fisheries and fertile land on which they depended.
(From the Old Berwick Historical Society exhibit, 2017-2018, Forgotten Frontier: Untold Stories of the Piscataqua by Emerson Baker, Project Scholar, and Nina Maurer, Curator.)