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Northeast Tribes



The Abenaki, native to Maine and New Hampshire, made their villages along rivers and streams. Each village had a meeting hall, a sweat lodge, and was surrounded by palisades — tall log walls that guarded the village against attacks. The Abenaki lived primarily in wigwams, lodges made of birch, and although they were agricultural, growing corn, beans, and squash for food, they also hunted and fished.

Known for their quill and beadwork and making black ash baskets, the Abenaki often traded with other local tribes, using birchbark canoes, sleds, and snowshoes to travel from one place to another. The Abenaki were nearly wiped out by a series of epidemics after encountering Europeans in the 1500s. They allied with the French, and other local tribes in 1600s to fight the English, but after a series of defeats by the British, they withdrew to Canada.

  Palisaded Indian village
Palisaded Indian village


The Iroquois were a group of five allied tribes known as the Iroquois Confederacy who lived in New York along the St. Lawrence River. They were farmers, growing corn, beans, and squash, but also hunted and trapped native animals. Iroquois villages, which were permanent and moved every 20 years or so when the soil had been exhausted, consisted of longhouses that could hold 30-60 people. These settlements were usually built near streams and surrounded with palisades and watchtowers for protection.

When Europeans entered their territory, the Iroquois traded furs with them. Around 1650, epidemics of new diseases greatly reduced the Iroquois population. By the time the Revolutionary War began, however, the Iroquois had regained their numbers through the absorption of other tribes and their own military conquests. All but two of the Confederacy's tribes sided with the British during the war, which proved costly. The colonists defeated the Iroquois still loyal to the British in 1779. In the early 1800s, the Iroquois began selling their land, and by 1838, they were forced onto reservations.

  Iroquois longhouse
Iroquois longhouse


The primarily agricultural Lenape (also known as the Delaware) lived in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. Their villages consisted of wigwams and longhouses, with a sweat house at the center.

The Lenape were known as peacemakers, and were often called on to settle disputes between rival tribes. When forced to fight, they were fierce warriors, sporting mohawks and red body paint in battle. Preferring peace, they welcomed some of the first European traders in the early 1600s and enjoyed bartering pelts for European goods that helped to make farming easier and their dress more fashionable.

By the mid 1600s, the Lenape were plagued by epidemics of disease brought by the Europeans. During the Revolutionary War, the Lenape supplied the colonists with scouts and warriors when they were promised a leadership role in a future Native American state. The tribe signed their first treaty with the U.S. government in 1778, giving up their land and moving further west. Settlers pushed the Lenape westward over the next 100 years, until the tribe was forced to resettle in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

  Map of Lenape tribe  


The Massachuset lived in the Massachusetts Bay area of Massachusetts and survived by farming, hunting, and fishing. They spent summers living in longhouse villages along the coast, harvesting fish and shellfish. In the winter, they retreated to small inland villages where they could hunt. Agriculture was also important; the tribe grew crops such as corn, beans, squash, and tobacco.

Some of the first to encounter European explorers, the Massachuset were virtually wiped out by European diseases. When the Puritans arrived in 1629, they found roughly 500 members, and by 1633, a smallpox epidemic had killed nearly all of the remaining Massachuset.

  Map of Massachuset tribe  


One of the most powerful tribes of its day, the Miami lived in areas of Indiana and Ohio. The tribe resided in oval, reed houses in permanent villages, where their life centered around farming and hunting local animals, particularly buffalo. The Miami traded with many other tribes in the Great Lakes region, and used dugout canoes and sleds pulled by dogs, called travois, to carry trade goods and travel from one area to another.

During the 1740s, the Miami allied with the French to push British traders out of their region. When the French lost to the British in the French and Indian Wars, the Miami moved to Indiana in the hopes of avoiding further conflict with the British. When the Revolutionary War broke out, the Miami allied with the British and continued to fight against the colonists following the British defeat. In 1794 the Miami were defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers and surrendered most of their land to the U.S. By the 1820s, they had ceded all of their remaining territory and first moved to Kansas and then to Oklahoma in the 1860s.

  Map of Miami tribe  


The Pequot, native to Connecticut, survived through hunting, fishing, and farming. To guard against attack, they lived in heavily fortified villages consisting of longhouses or wigwams. They were highly organized, governed by tribal councils and a chief.

Dutch traders formed a relationship with the Pequot in 1614. The Pequot traded beaver skins for European goods. Other tribes in the area also wanted to trade with the Dutch, but the Pequot began attacking their neighbors to establish a trading monopoly.

In the 1620s, the English began moving into Pequot territory and trading with them. This caused a rift in the tribe, with half uniting with English traders and the other half allying with the Dutch. A smallpox epidemic in 1633 ravaged those members allied with the Dutch, and the death of an English trader at the hands of a Pequot led to the Pequot War in 1637. Hundreds of Pequot were killed and those who were captured were divided into different tribes or sold into slavery. In the 19th century, the remaining Pequot were confined to a reservation.

  Map of Pequot tribe  


A confederacy of nearly 30 tribes, the Powhatan lived in areas of Virginia and Maryland. Their villages were established along rivers for easy access to food and transportation and only moved when the soil became exhausted and could no longer support crops such as corn and tobacco.

The establishment of the Jamestown colony in 1607 and its expansion in the years that followed led to warfare between the British settlers and the Powhatans. The situation worsened until Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan's daughter, was abducted in 1613 and held at Jamestown. Her marriage to Englishman John Rolfe in 1614 brought about peace for a few years. But with the death of both Pocahontas and Powhatan, the confederacy's new leader, Opechancanoug, launched an attack on British settlements in 1622. The British retaliation was violent and the two sides continued to battle periodically for more than a decade. When the Powhatan finally signed a peace treaty in 1646, they were forced onto a small reservation after giving up their land.

  Map of Powhatan tribe  


Living in Ohio and Indiana, primarily in the Scioto River Valley, the Shawnee lived in round wigwams made of tree saplings, thick grasses, and other natural materials. Village life centered around hunting and farming corn and squash. The women were responsible for all domestic labor and were very skilled potters. The men focused on hunting and protecting their families as warriors.

When the French moved into Shawnee territory, the tribe allied with them. Conflict arose between the tribe and British traders who began arriving in the 1740s. The Shawnee sided with the French during the French and Indian Wars, and continued to fight the British as they tried to colonize the area following the wars in the mid-1760s. Thinking the British could protect their land from further encroachment by colonists, the Shawnee allied with them during the Revolutionary War. The tribe continued to fight the colonists until their defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. At that time, they were sent to Indiana and were eventually removed to reservations in Oklahoma and Kansas.

  Map of Shawnee tribe  

Image credits: Florida Center for Instructional Technology (FCIT) at USF.

Plains Tribes Next: Southeast Tribes

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