The Abenaki

Winooski's first residents

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(At right) Abenaki sisters Mary Ann and Frances Annance, taken in 1934 at Greenville, Maine


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Photos courtesy of The Abenaki; Calloway

The name Winooski comes from the Abenaki word Winoskik
meaning "At wild onion land"

For thousands of years before Europeans industrialized the area, the Winooski Valley was inhabited by the Abenaki Indian tribe. Back in the 1600s, there were two main Native American groups occupying Vermont. The Mahicans were located in the southwestern portion of the state. The Abenaki occupied the rest of the state.  (See Map)   Branches of the Abenaki spread throughout most of the Northeast.  The Abenaki territory extended from Maine to Connecticut and as far west as New York.  The Abenaki consisted of various groups such as the Missiquoi Band of 300, the Cowasucks of the upper Connecticut River, 500 Sokokis of the middle Connecticut River, the Penacooks and Winnipaukees of the upper Merrimack River, as well as other bands on major rivers in Vermont. Each had a sizeable village situated on bluffs close to water, yet close to the bottomlands so they could grow corn.
The Abenaki used the rivers of Vermont as a means of transportation.  Birch bark canoes were used for fishing, travel, and war parties.

Photo courtesy of The Abenaki; Calloway


The Winooski natives were well adapted to their surroundings and were experts at using available natural resources to their full potential.   The Abenaki relied on plants including butternuts, black walnuts, oak, hazelnuts, staghorn sumac, blackberries and raspberries for food medicine and dyes. They also hunted animals such as deer, moose, beaver, fish, muskrat, fox, and birds.  The meat of these animals was eaten; the bones, teeth, and hides were used for tools, clothing, and shelter.

Food and hides were stored in hand woven lidded baskets made of braided grass. Some of these baskets were highly decorative with intricate looping patterns and multi colored grasses.

Photo courtesy of The Abenaki; Calloway
The Abenaki did not gain all of their food by means of hunting and gathering. The Abenaki also planted crops of corn, beans squash and tobacco (which was used in ceremonies) near the villages. Villages were made up of long rectangular houses made of birch bark stretched over a wooden frame. 

A band would stay together through the winter months at their major village.  At the end of the winter, the band would break up and head to the family's hunting territories for the deer and moose seasons, leaving behind only the ill and the elderly.  At the first sign of spring, the hunters and their families returned to their villages.


Photo courtesy of
The Abenaki; Calloway

Women and children tapped the maple trees and the women also collected early plants and nuts. The men used weirs, traps, and spears to harvest the runs of salmon, shad, and alewives that were the major staples of the spring season.  Around May, they began planting crops of corn, beans and squash, along with special tobacco gardens.

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The summer was spent in villages, unless insects or fishing led them to canoes and onto the lakes and ponds.  Men fished and occasionally hunted throughout this time while women collected medicinal plants,which were at their peak at this time.

Photo courtesy of The Abenaki; Calloway

Come September, the women harvested crops and dried them to store for the winter. Nuts were also common food for winter storage, butternut being preferred.  Smoking eels for the winter was necessary at this time as well.  The bands broke up once again to travel to their hunting territories  to hunt moose and deer and to trap beaver, muskrat, otter, and denned bears for meat and skins. As winter approached, the families would return to the villages to feast and wait for the signs of spring.
Artifacts from the Abenaki living at the Winooski site have been found dating back as far as 3000 B.C.  The area was first inhabited  by a single family, who camped at the site in late fall to harvest butternuts.  The group stayed only a few days before continuing up the river.  Other groups collecting butternuts returned to the site in the following years. The butternuts were either roasted or boiled and carried in containers.  Later groups that passed through the Winooski valley traveled in larger bands of about four families and stayed for  longer periods of time.   They also stored water and food in ceramic containers for cooking and harvested a larger variety of nuts and berries.  Four hundred years later, groups as large as 15 families inhabited the area during the fall season. They hunted and fished in the area as well as harvest a variety of plant foods. 

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The Abenaki residing at the Winooski site used a variety of tools to catch and prepare their food and to make their clothing. The majority of early Abenaki tools found at the site are made of chipped and ground stone, metal, and bone.   Ceramic pieces were another common artifact. Some of the ceramic containers made by the early Abenaki were quite large, holding about two gallons, and most were decorated with a scallop shell stamp.
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