The territory embraced within the present limits of Vermont, previous to any occupation by Europeans, was claimed as a hunting-ground by several tribes of Indians who were hostile to each other, consequently it was often the scene of their savage wars, and constant invasion prevented its being made their permanent home. Indeed, it was Champlain’s nominal purpose to help the Canadian Indians in their war with those in the region of the lake, that first brought him upon its waters. The Iroquois, or Five Nations, was a powerful confederacy composed of several tribes of Indians, who had planted themselves in Western New York, on the shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie, and were the inveterate enemies of the Canadian Indians. Champlain started from Quebec with about one hundred of the Canadian Indians, in 1609, and proceeded up the lake to the vicinity of Crown Point, where, on the western shore, as they had expected, they met a large party of Iroquois, who defied them. But, when Champlain, at a single fire of his arquebus, killed two chiefs and mortally wounded another, and another Frenchman fired from another quarter, they fled in alarm, ending the first battle fought on Lake Champlain.
The origin of the Indian cannot be determined by history, nor will calculation ever arrive at a probable certainty. For a period of over two hundred years the subject has engrossed the attention of learned men, and yet the question, “By whom was America peopled?” remains without satisfactory answer. In 1637, Thomas Morton wrote a book to prove that the Indians were of Latin origin. John Joselyn held, in 1638, that they were of Tartar descent. Cotton Mather inclined to the opinion that they were Scythians. James Adair seems to have been fully convinced that they were descendants of the Israelites, the lost tribes; and, after thirty years’ residence among them, published in 1775, an account of their manners and customs, from which he deduced his conclusions. Dr. Mitchell, after considerable investigation, concluded “that the three races, Malays, Tartars and Scandinavians, contributed to make up the great American population, who were the authors of the various works and antiquities found on the continent.” DeWitt Clinton held, that “the probability is, that America was peopled from various quarters of the old world, and that its predominant race is the Scythian or Tartarian.” Calmet, a distinguished author, brings forward the writings of Hornius, son of Theodosious the Great, who affirms that “at or about the time of the commencement or the Christian era, voyages from Africa and ,Spain into the Atlantic ocean were both frequent and celebrated;” and holds that ” there is strong probability that the Romans and Carthagenians, even 300 B. C., were well acquainted with the existence of this country,” adding that there are “tokens of the presence of the Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Carthagenians, in many parts of the continent.” Then Priest, in his American Antiquities, states that his observations had led him “to the conclusion that the two great continents, Asia and America, was peopled by similar races of men.”
It is unnecessary, however, to add to this catalogue. No two authorities agree. Great faults have been charged against the Indians, and great faults they doubtless possessed when judged from the standpoint of a different civilization. Were the line strictly drawn, however, it might be shown that, as a whole, they compared favorably with nations upon whom light had fallen for sixteen hundred years. This at least appears to their credit, that among them there were none who were cross-eyed, blind, crippled, lame, hunch-hacked or limping; all were well-fashioned, strong in constitution of body, well proportioned, and without blemish. Until touched and warped by wrong treatment, wherever they were met, whether in Vermont, Canada, on the Potomac, the Delaware, or the Hudson, they were liberal and generous in their intercourse with the whites. More sinned against than sinning, they left behind them evidences of great wrongs suffered, their enemies being the witnesses.
Numerous arrow-heads, spear-points, etc., found in different localities throughout the county, prove that it was at one time certainly a favorite hunting-ground, if not their permanent home. The Indians who claimed this territory, and the territory west of it to the vicinity of the Connecticut river, were a branch of the Abenaqui tribe, whose chief location, in modern times, has been at St. Francis. There was always an intimate connection between them and the Indians at St. Francis, and they have been commonly spoken of, by American writers, as St. Francis Indians; and yet they had the distinguishing appellation of Coossucks, which is descriptive of the country where their principal lodge was. Coos, in the Abenaqui languages signifies the pines, and this name was applied by the Indians to two sections of country upon the Connecticut river, one above the Fifteen-mile falls, about Luenburg, and the other below, about Newbury, on account of the great abundance of white pine timber in those places; and the termination, suck, signifies river, so that Co-os-suck, signified the river of the pines.
The Coossucks and St. Francis Indians, who always acted on the part of the French in the wars between the French and English colonies, were for many years the most blood-thirsty and cruel enemies that the frontier settlements of New England had to encounter. Two of these Indians, Capt. Joe and Capt. John, were known for years among the early settlers. The former once resided on the banks of a pond in Morristown whence it received its present name, Joe’s Pond. Joe was mild and inoffensive in his disposition, and used to boast that he had never pointed a gun at a man. When he became old and unable to support himself, the legislature of Vermont granted him an annual pension of $70.00 a year. He died at Newbury, February 19, 1819, aged about eighty years, and with him fell the last of the Coossucks.
Capt. John was the opposite of Joe in disposition, being fierce and cruel. He held a captain’s commission during the revolution, and, at the head of a party of Indians, was attached to the American army, which captured Burgoyne, and was also in the battle in which Braddock was defeated. He used to relate that he was knocked down by a British officer, whom he afterwards shot, and that he tried to shoot young Washington, but could not hit him. When under the excitement of strong drink, he exulted in the relation of his former deeds of barbarity, among which he told how he mutilated a woman taken at Fort Dummer, by cutting off her breasts, and would imitate her shrieks and cries of distress.
In Cambridge there is a place called Indian hill, where hatchets, arrows, and many other relics were found. In the early part of the century, a party of the St. Francis Indians tarried for a time on this hill, and hunted and fished in the neighborhood, and as late as 1840, a number of families from the St. Francis Indians came into the town and encamped and made baskets and bark dishes for a while.