[Note: This is a single part of what will be, by my classification, about 240 compact tribal histories (contact to 1900). It is limited to the lower 48 states of the U.S. but also includes those First Nations from Canada and Mexico that had important roles (Huron, Micmac, Assiniboine, etc.).

This history's content and style are representative. The normal process at this point is to circulate an almost finished product among a peer group for comment and criticism. At the end of this History you will find links to those Nations referred to in the History of the Pennacook.

Using the Internet, this can be more inclusive. Feel free to comment or suggest corrections via e-mail. Working together we can end some of the historical misinformation about Native Americans. You will find the ego at this end to be of standard size. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to your comments...Lee Sultzman]

Pennacook Location

The Merrimack River valley of southern and central New Hampshire, including parts of northeastern Massachusetts and southern Maine. After 1676 the Pennacook had been forced to abandon the lower Merrimack. While some villages continued along the upper Merrimack until 1730, most of the Pennacook had moved north to the Abenaki in Maine or the Sokoki (Western Abenaki) at St. Francois du Lac in Quebec.


Originally, there may have been as many as 12,000 Pennacook and 30 villages, but after the devastating epidemics just prior to English settlement of Massachusetts in 1620, there were about 2,500. Smallpox began along the Merrimack River in 1631 and spread into a major epidemic in New England 1633-35. It returned in 1639, followed by influenza in 1647, smallpox 1649-50, and diphtheria in 1659.

By 1675 the Pennacook population had fallen to 1,200, and by the end of the King Philip's War two years later, the Pennacook had been halved again. Despite these losses, the Pennacook were an important member of the Abenaki Confederation and a major component of the New England Algonquin who merged with the Sokoki to become the St. Francois Indians in Quebec. Besides those at St. Francois in Quebec, other groups of Pennacook were absorbed by the Abenaki in Maine. By 1726 the last remnant of Pennacook in New Hampshire was living near Concord. Within a few years, they too were gone, but there are currently many descendents of the Pennacook among the Vermont Abenaki and the St. Francois Indians.


Pennacook (Penicoke, Penikook) comes from the Abenaki word "penakuk" meaning " at the bottom of the hill." They were also called Merrimac (Merrimack) from the name of the river along which most of their villages were located. Although an alternative form of Wamesit, Pawtucket was commonly used for all Pennacook on the lower Merrimack, while Saco could sometimes mean the Pennacook on the upper river (as well as Pigwacket, Kennebec, and Androscoggin of the eastern Abenaki). Other names for Pennacook were: Nechegansett, Opanango, Owaragee (Iroquois), and after 1680, St. Francois Indians (St. Francis).


Algonquin, but the Pennacook language was closer to western Abenaki than the Algonquin spoken in southern New England.


The Pennacook Confederacy included the following tribes and villages:

Accominta, Agawam, Morattigan (Monchiggan), Nashua (Nashaway) (sometimes said to be Nipmuc), Natticook, Naumkeag (Amoskeag, Naimkeak, Namaoskeag, Namaske), Newichawawock (Newichawanoc), Pennacook (Merrimac), Pentucket, Piscataqua (Pascataway, Pinataqua, Piscataway), Souhegan (Souheyan, Nacook, Natacook, Natticook), Squamscot (Squam, Squamsauke, Wonnesquam), Wachusett, Wamesit (Pawtucket), Weshacum, Winnecowet, and Winnipesaukee (Wioninebesek, Maunbisek, Muanbissek).

In language and lifestyle, the Pennacook were virtually identical to the Abenaki in southern Maine. For this reason, some classifications consider the Pennacook to be the southernmost group of the Abenaki, but in 1620 the Pennacook were a large, independent confederacy which tended to view their Abenaki relatives to the north as enemies. This distinction continued for the first sixty years after the arrival of the English in New England, but by the start of the 18th century, encroachment and war with the Massachusetts colonists had made the Pennacook and Abenaki one and the same.


With their villages on the Merrimack River, the Pennacook were located inland from the coast and had little direct contact with Europeans before 1620. There were some consequences, however, such as the unknown epidemic which struck the northeast sometime between 1564 and 1570 followed by typhus in 1586, but nothing prepared the Pennacook for the catastrophes which struck them in the years immediately after 1614. To the north pre-existing hostilities between the Penobscot and Micmac were aggravated by competition for the fur trade with the new French trading posts in Acadia. These finally exploded into war (Tarrateen War 1607-15). After an eight-year struggle, the Micmac emerged victorious, and soon afterwards their war parties swept down the coast of Maine bringing death and destruction to the Pennacook. By 1617 the warfare had reached into eastern Massachusetts, but there the Micmac encountered a new and terrible enemy. In 1614 English slave raiders had come ashore at the Wampanoag villages, and before leaving, they had infected the population with an extremely deadly sickness.

This had been passed to the Micmac during their raids in Massachusetts, and they carried it home with them. The resulting epidemic ended the Micmac raids against the Pennacook, but the disease swept through the Pennacook villages in three separate waves with at least 75% mortality (sometime 100%). Regular contact between the Pennacook and English began shortly after the settlement of Plymouth in 1620. Although they had met with very few Europeans previous to this, the Pennacook were not entirely unfamiliar with the English - the brief attempt by the Plymouth Company to establish a colony on the Kennebec River in 1607; and the exploration of the New England coast in 1614 by Captain John Smith. It would appear the Pennacook had gained a favorable impression from these brief encounters. As the Pilgrims began to explore the area north of Plymouth in 1621, they did not have to travel far before they encountered Pennacook. For the most part, these first meetings were friendly. At the time the Pennacook were a confederacy ruled by Passaconnaway from his capital of Naumkeag at the falls of the Merrimack River (Manchester, New Hampshire). Because of the recent warfare, Passaconnaway exercised considerable authority over the other Pennacook, and had he chosen, his opposition would probably have been fatal to Plymouth.

However, with Pennacook lands half-empty from epidemic and memories of Micmac raids still fresh, he decided to accept the English for mutual protection and trade. By 1627 the Pennacook had also become involved, as allies of the Sokoki (Western Abenaki) and Mahican, in a war with the Mohawk. Passaconnaway signed a formal treaty of alliance with the colonists that year and in 1629 sold them some land. Despite this, the friendly relations of the early years were ending, and after the Powhatan had nearly destroyed Jamestown (Virginia) in 1622, the English grew more suspicious of Native Americans. As the number of colonists steadily increased, so did the incidents and confrontations. Passaconnaway tried hard to smooth things over, and in 1632 surrendered a warrior who had killed a white man for punishment by the English. Unfortunately, his efforts were not always reciprocated, and after the Pequot War in 1637, the English became increasingly arrogant and demanding.

English settlement of New Hampshire began in 1638 with the establishment of a trading post on the Merrimack River at the village of Pennacook. Although the sale of firearms to natives was illegal in Massachusetts until 1665, the Pennacook had gotten their first guns the year before this. The most likely source was Boston fur traders, but since they would never admit this, suspicion grew among Massachusetts officials that the Pennacook were trading with the Dutch. This seemed possible since the Sokoki (Pennacook allies) had joined the Mohawk (Dutch allies) and Mahican in a war against the Algonkin and Montagnais (French allies) on the St. Lawrence River. In the paranoia of the time, even the French could have been the culprit. Suspecting a plot was forming against them, the English sent an expedition to arrest the Pennacook sachems. Passaconnaway eluded them, but his son Wanalancet was taken prisoner.

Wanalancet was held as a hostage for two years and released in 1644 only after the Pennacook signed a treaty of submission to Massachusetts. The incident soured Passaconnaway on the English, and afterwards he kept his distance from them. Tensions eased gradually, and the Puritan missionary John Eliot spent three years among the Pennacook during the late 1640s. Passaconnaway listened to his sermons on several occasions but never became a Christian. However, Eliot had better luck with his son, and Wanalancet (with his entire family) was finally baptized during the 1670s. Meanwhile, momentous events occurred to the west in the Great Lakes. During the winter of 1648-49, the Iroquois overran the Huron Confederacy and in the process upset the balance of power in North America. With their fur trade destroyed and a good possibility the Iroquois would attack their settlements, the French scrambled to protect themselves by creating a new alliance with the Algonquin in northern New England.

Following Mohawk raids on the Sokoki and Pocumtuc during 1650, the French sent a Montagnais chief and Jesuit to encourage the Pennacook, Sokoki, Pocumtuc, and Mahican to form an alliance against the Mohawk. With the promise of French firearms and aid, this was accomplished in 1651, but when a French delegation visited Boston to ask the English to participate, they refused. The last thing New England wanted was a large group of well-armed Algonquins on its frontier - especially Algonquins allied with the French. The new alliance was successful for the next five years in keeping the Mohawk at bay, but this was because the Mohawk were engaged in a war with the Susquehannock in Pennsylvania. When this ended in 1655, they turned east and into New England. They concentrated initially on the Mahican, and by 1658 the Mahican had left the alliance and made their own peace with the Iroquois leaving the Pennacook, Pocumtuck, and Sokoki to face the Mohawk by themselves.

By 1660 the warfare had spread to include the Abenaki in Maine who were attacked by the Mohawk because they were helping the Montagnais on the St. Lawrence. Raids and counter-raids flew back and forth across western and northern New England. For the most part, the Algonquins held their own against the fearsome Mohawk, because the French were providing them with arms and ammunition from their new trading post at Castine, Maine (1661). Boston traders also supplied the Algonquin for a good profit, but for the Pennacook, there was an additional price. To appease the English, they had sold land in 1652, 1655, and 1656, but by 1662 so much land had been taken by settlement that Passaconnaway was forced to petition the Massachusetts legislature for relief. Forty years after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, the Pennacook on the lower Merrimack were no longer in a position to share or sell their lands but had been reduced to asking the English to leave them enough land on which to live.

Meanwhile, the Iroquois could not be stopped. Although the Mahican were drawn back into the war in 1662, they were soon driven from the Hudson Valley and retreated into western Massachusetts. The brunt of the fighting then fell on the Pocumtuc along the Connecticut River, but after a series of Mohawk attacks in 1663, the Pocumtuc were running out of warriors and tried to make peace. When this failed and Mohawk attacks resumed in 1664, the Pocumtuc were forced to abandon the Connecticut Valley. Some found refuge with the Pennacook and continued to fight, but during 1664, the English captured New York from the Dutch. Since this deprived the Iroquois of Dutch trade and firearms, it should have stopped the war. The English, however, signed a treaty and trade agreement with the Mohawk. No longer concerned with the possibility of becoming involved in a war with the English, Mohawk war parties swept east to attack the Pennacook and Sokoki during 1665. Raids even struck the Pennacook and Praying Indian villages near Boston.

1,200 French soldiers arrived in Quebec during the fall, and their attacks on the Mohawk during the winter of 1665-66 slowed the Iroquois offensive. When the Mohawk appealed to the English governor of New York for protection from the French, their treaty of trade and friendship with the English evolved into a formal military alliance. During the summer of 1666, there was an exchange of raids with the Mohawk hitting the Pennacook while the Sokoki and Kennebec attacked Mohawk villages. From the standpoint of the Pennacook, Sokoki, and Abenaki, it was bad enough that the English had become allies with the Iroquois, but even worse was when the Boston traders had abandoned them to move west to Albany and trade with their enemies. In the midst of a war, the English had betrayed them and switched sides. The exception was the trading post built by Richard Waldron in 1668, but in the process he took possession of the Pennacook capitol at Amoskeag.

Only the French continued their trade and support, but in 1667 even they agreed to a general peace with the Iroquois. This allowed the three western tribes of the Iroquois to concentrate on a war with the Susquehannock, while the Mohawk and Oneida went after New England. During 1668 the Mohawk drove the Pennacook across New Hampshire into southern Maine, and by 1670 the Sokoni had been forced to retreat to the St. Lawrence River where they lived under French protection. At this point, a kind of "calm before the storm" settled over New England. Passaconnaway died in 1669 and was succeeded by his son Wanalancet. Despite his mistreatment in 1642, Wanalancet became a Christian and worked to keep the Pennacook neutral as the King Philip's War approached (1675-76). He was opposed in council by Kancamagus, the son of Passaconnaway's brother Nanamacomuck and the sagamore of the Wachusett. Considering what the Pennacook had already suffered, it was amazing that Wanalancet was able to prevail.

At the beginning of Philip's uprising in 1675, only the Nashua and Wachusett (most of whom, oddly enough, had converted to Christianity) were involved in the fighting. However, to keep some of the Pennacook neutral, Wanalancet send many of them north. Some took his orders very seriously, and during the winter of 1675-76, French Jesuits encountered one group of Pennacook on the shores of Lake Huron. Refusing English demands in the fall of 1675 to make his people return from Canada, Wanalancet withdrew to the upper Merrimack and spent the winter at Lake Winnipesaukee. By the summer of 1676, Philip's alliance was breaking up, and Philip was a hunted man until trapped and killed in August. With the fighting apparently coming to a halt, the Pennacook, as well as the Ossipee and Pigwacket (Abenaki), felt safe enough to return from Canada and begin peace negotiations with the English. This turned out to be premature. The English had suffered heavy losses during the war and were reacting with an indiscriminate hatred of Philip's followers that extended to all Native Americans. Philip's head displayed on a pole at Plymouth was not enough to satisfy their need for vengeance, and English soldiers continued to hunt down anyone who had fought them. The effect was to continue and spread a war which should have ended.

The Pennacook had no such hatreds, and when refugees came to their villages, they took them in and provided refuge. To the English, this was an act of war, not mercy. In the midst of peace negotiations at Dover that fall, Major Richard Waldon attacked the Nashua (allies of Philip). 200 were killed, and captives were sold into slavery. Only a few Nashua escaped to the Pennacook villages, but it was all the excuse the English needed, and a second expedition under Captain Samuel Mosely went after them. The Pennacook withdrew before the English reached them, but the Mosely's men burned their village. A similar unprovoked attack struck the Ossipee and pulled the Penobscot and Kennebec into the fighting. Wanalancet still wanted to avoid a war with the English, and in the fall he led his people to St. Francois in Canada taking the surviving Nashua with him. A war faction under Kancamagus remained behind and fought the English until the Mohawk attacked them forcing the Pennacook to withdraw north to the Androscoggin (Abenaki).

Since the war between the Abenaki and English continued until 1685, few Pennacook chose to accompany Wanalancet back to New England after 1679. They settled in small, scattered villages along the upper Merrimack and endeavored to remain neutral until Wanalancet's death in 1696. Another group of Pennacook is believed to have immigrated to Acadia (Nova Scotia) during this time. The bulk of the Pennacook, however, were scattered among the Sokoki at Missisquoi (Lake Champlain) and St. Francois where they were a major component within its mixed population. Forced to abandon their homeland by the English, these Pennacook were hardly neutral. As members of the Abenaki Confederation, they had become the staunchest of the French allies and the most bitter of enemies for the English in New England.

With the beginning of the King William's War (1689-97) the Abenaki and Pennacook were ready to punish the English. If anything, they were "too ready" for the purposes of the French who wanted them to stay in Canada to defend Quebec. Instead, Abenaki and Pennacook war parties left St. Francois, Bcancour, and Missisquoi and went south to take a terrible revenge on New England. The small groups of Pennacook on the upper Merrimack remained neutral, but it was not easy for them. In 1687 there had been rumors of a French fort near them (false). Despite their assurances they were neutral and an offer in 1689 to relocate near English settlements, they were under constant danger of an English attack. It was an impossible situation, and, meanwhile, Abenaki war parties were using them as rest stops on their way to, and from, New England. Eventually, most of the neutral Pennacook withdrew to Lake Champlain and Cowass (Sokoki) for the duration of the war.

Meanwhile, Ampolack, a Pennacook war chief from St. Francois, was leading raids against the English settlements in the Connecticut Valley. In 1689 Kancamagus joined with the Saco to attack Dover, New Hampshire. An English army went after him, but Kancamagus retreated north to the remoteness of the upper Androscoggin Valley in Maine. It was not until the following September that an expedition commanded by Benjamin Church located his village. Kancamagus escaped during the attack, but his wife and children were captured. With the English holding his family hostage, Kancamagus finally made peace at Sagadahoc. The war between Britain and France ended with the Treaty of Ryswick, but the fighting between the Abenaki Confederation and New England continued until 1699. The ink was scarcely dry on the treaty than both sides were preparing for the next conflict - Queen Anne's War (1701-13).

The Abenaki had promised in their treaty with the English to remain neutral in future wars between Britain and France, but no member of the Abenaki Confederation was more opposed to this provision than the Pennacook. They were unable, however, at the confederation meetings that winter to reverse this policy, but they found support. During the next two years the Abenaki still ready to fight the English gathered around the Pennacook. As war approached in 1701, this large group of hostile Abenaki had located itself in the area between the upper Merrimack and St. Francois. Aware that another war was imminent, the English attempted to lure them away from the French (or at least keep them neutral) at a meeting held at Casco Bay in 1701. In the tug-of-war for their allegiance, the English offered trade and a sanctuary at Schaghticoke, while the French countered with a similar offer at St. Francois. The French won.

By the end of the Queen Anne's War in 1713, the Pennacook had pretty much been absorbed into the Abenaki. Their disappearance, however, was more a matter of name than reality. According to the New England version of the story, there were still a few Pennacook along the upper Merrimack in 1719. By 1726 they were a single village near Concord with only five men, and before they "rode off into the sunset," the "Last of the Pennacook" saved some of the colonists from starving that winter. All of which was probably true regarding this one group, but the Pennacook themselves had not disappeared. For that matter, neither had the Pocumtuc, the Nipmuc, the Abenaki, or the other tribes that New England history has found convenient to declare extinct. They continued as the St. Francois Indians, the Bcancour Abenaki, and the Vermont Abenaki. Although often thought of as Canadian Indians and French allies, they were, in fact, the original residents of New England.

First Nations referred to in this Pennacook History:


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