The 1880 census gives similar information. It shows four families of Indians
Jackson, Emory, Koska and Bomsawin. Only one of the heads of families was born in Vermont—the others are immigrants from Canada, Massachusetts, or New Jersey. Two of the families lived well south of Missisquoi—In Rutland and Addison Counties. The Jackson family, shown living in Essex County, was from New Jersey, and is not a native Vermont family. The last one is the Obomsawin family a well-known name in the records of Odanak/St. Francis. The Obomsawins maintained continuous contact with and membership in the Odanak Reserve. None of the families listed in the 1880 census appears on the genealogical charts submitted by the petitioner. 35. See discussion in section on Criterion
(e)—Descent From Historic Tribe.
The 1890 census was the first of three federal censuses to specifically seek out
Indians and enumerate them on special forms. In Vermont, this census listed 34 Indians. Although the individual listings of the 1890 census were destroyed in a fire, a compilation summarizing the results of the Indian census survived. This compilation shows the counties
35. The two members of the Obomsawin extended family shown on the 1880 census are William and Mary Obomsawin. They are not included in the petitioner's Family Descencdancy Charts. The only Obomsawin alive in 1880 who is included on those genealogical Charts is Simon Obomsawin. Simon reportedly came to Vermont in the early twentieth century (Huden 1955).
Sightings of Indian Visitors and the Basket Trade
So what is the explanation for these traveling Indians who were sighted in Vermont? The trade in baskets provides one answer. The St. Francis Abenakis, like Indians from other tribes, made woodsplint baskets in the winter and sold them to whites in the summer. The tradition of making twined bags for carrying things was an older aboriginal custom. The practice of making splint baskets to sell to whites was more recent, spreading from the Indians of the Delaware Valley northward in the eighteenth century (Brasser 1975:8, 20-21). When the Indians no longer were able to rely on fur trading for subsistence, they turned to making and selling baskets (Brasser 1975:15, 28). The earliest known trade in baskets in Vermont is from 1799, when a group of starving Indians from Odanak/St. Francis came down the Missisquoi to Troy, Vermont (Brasser 1975:21, 27, Sumner 1860:22, 26). The only other evidence of an early nineteenth century Indian basket made for whites is from the
The narrative goes on to portray the old chief who came to Rockingham with his
family. It recounts stories the old man told about his war service with the English, and his visits to England. It describes the large silver medal from King George III which he wore. Most of his family returned to Canada at the end of the summer, but the old man, in ill health, stayed until he died there late that autumn. After burying him, his son returned to Canada, and no further mention of Indians in the area appears in the town history (Hayes 1907:49-50).
It is worth noting that these sightings of Indians were in parts of Vermont far from Swanton. Barnet is in the northeastern part of the state. Barre is in the central part of the state, and Bellows Falls is in the southeastern section. In two of the three accounts, the Indians are specifically identified as coming from Canada, Maine, or New York. In the third, the Indians came down the river to Barnet—which means down the Connecticut River, from the northern tip of New Hampshire, Canada, or Maine. In none were the Indians described as residing in the area. They were seasonal visitors who lived most of the year in Canada.
All the sightings above appeared before 1860. After 1860, to 1920, the Abenakis of Odanak/St. Francis made baskets for the tourist trade. They took their baskets directly to the emerging resorts and set up shops to sell their wares all summer (Pelletier 1982: 1, 5, Pierce 1977:48-49 citing conversation with Stephen Laurent; McMullen & Handsman 1987:28).
These resorts were not located in the areas of any historic Indian villages. The
baskets made during this time period were fancy baskets for wealthy tourists, they were more elaborate than the previous period's utilitarian woodsplint baskets (Ulrich 2001:347, Lester 1987:39). During this time, entire families from Odanak/St. Francis would move to a tourist
Each family chose a different resort area to which they usually returned annually and where they either owned a house or rented one. A basket stand or shop was erected on the premises from which they displayed their work and demonstrated their craft....In order to make the maximum number of baskets in the summer, the women were often freed from their household responsibilities by hiring local people to do the domestic work for them (Pelletier 1982:5).
The resorts to which these families of Odanak/St. Francis traveled to set up shop included Highgate Springs, Vermont, on the border with Canada (Hume 1991:106). This Highgate resort area, along with others in the White Mountains of New Hampshire; Lake Placid, Lake George, Lake Mahopak, and Saratoga Lake, New York, Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Michigan, was chosen for its high concentration of tourists--the basket-buying customers of the Victorian age. Odanak/St. Francis Abenaki chief Joseph Laurent made a conscious effort to develop the basket selling business at such resorts by establishing seasonal Abenaki camps in the White Mountains of New Hampshire (Hume 1991:103). After over thirty years of selling baskets from this Intervals, New Hampshire, camp, the area became known as a center for Indians from Odanak despite the fact that they had no previous historical tie to the area (Hume 1991:105, 111). Two members of the Obomsawin family interviewed by Gordon Day in 1957 stated that they did not believe that Abenaki families from Odanak/St. Francis returned to their historic place of origin to sell baskets. Rather, they believed sites for selling were chosen based on the ability to make sales (Day 1948-1973:14).
The fact that the Abenakis of Odanak/St. Francis developed these successful outlets for their baskets at resorts in the White Mountains, Adirondacks, and elsewhere, may explain why there were less frequent sightings of traveling basketmakers peddling baskets house to
37. The VHS accession sheet notes that the donor made a parenthetical comment that the gypsies who traded the basket may have been Indians. This shows the confusion between gypsies and Indians that has developed in recent years.
Rowland Robinson's Indian Friends
Vermont author and illustrator Rowland E. Robinson ( 1834-1900) was known in the late nineteenth century for his naturalistic stories about Vermont. His writings are sometimes cited in support of arguments that the Abenakis maintained a continuous presence in Vermont (Dann 2001 ). Robinson's works are instructive, but not for the proposition that there was an uninterrupted Abenaki presence in Vermont. The Indians about which he wrote were from Odanak/St. Francis.
Robinson lived in Ferrisburgh, at the southern end of Lake Champlain. While his
stories were published as fiction, they are widely acknowledged to be faithful renditions of people, scenes, and events (Collins 1934: 5-6, Martin 1955:11 ). 38. Robinson's stories include a detailed description of the construction of an Indian canoe, Indian folk legends, and many Indian names for places in Vermont. He gleaned this information from Indians with whom he became friends. This is attested to by some of his personal journals and correspondence that are still extant. 39.
38. Collins wrote: "Every reader of Robinson will grant, however. that he was one of those Vermonters who seem gifted with the mind of natural-born investigator. Upon readers of Robinson, whether folk-lore, essays, or history, is laid the conviction that here is an author who knows whereof he writes" (Collins 1934:6).
39. His papers are housed at the Rokeby Museum, Ferrisburgh, Vt., and the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont, Middlebury, Vt.
Did he know the Indians? According to Collins: "Almost every year small bands of St. Francis Indians ... camped about Vergennes," Vergennes being at the first falls of Otter Creek and close to Robinson's home. In his geographical essay entitled Along Three Rivers, Robinson writing about Lewis Creek said, "I remember visiting with my grandfather a camp of St. Francis Indians, in a piney hollow that divides the South bank." A footnote in his historical sketch of Ferrisburgh, written in 1860, proves that he was already acquainted with John Watso, the Abenaki Indian who became his principal informant. His letter to Manley Hardy of Brewer, Maine. implies that he was still in touch with this informant in 1896. Such direct testimony does not need support, but again Robinson's own work confirms it. The Indian characters whom he introduced into his stories bore family names which were current in the St. Francis band in the 19th century, names like Wadzo, Takwses, and Otodosan. (Day 1978a:37).
Day believed Robinson had seen the Indians from St. Francis coming to sell their baskets in the 1850's (Day 1978a:39). Indeed, the Indians who visited Vermont in Robinson's narratives came to sell baskets and moccasins around the countryside (Robinson 1921a:92, 1921 b:136 ).
Among the indications that the Indians who visited Ferrisburgh and neighboring
Charlotte were not local residents is Robinson's identification of them as "Waubanakee of Saint Francis." In his article on the history of Ferrisburgh in Maria Henenway" Vermont Historical Gazetteer, Robinson related information he personally gathered from "John Watso, or Wadhso, an intelligent Indian of St. Francois" (Robinson 1867:32). This was contemporaneous information from an Abenaki living in 1858. 40. Watso related the history of the departure of Indians from Vermont as follows:
40. Collins says that Hememway met Robinson in 1858 and that his essay on was first Ferrisburgh published by her in 1860 (Collins 1934:8-9).