How To Use This Map

The most obvious thing to do with this map is to begin finding places and seeing how Wabanakis understood the landscape of western Maine during the first centuries that they interacted with European-American colonists. You can see information about a place by clicking on the point that is next to its name.

As you learn the meanings of particular places, you may also notice larger patterns.

Names helped Wabanakis identify and interpret their homelands. Arockamecook, Pigwacket, Norridgewock, Amitgonpontook, and Amascontee were the locations of spring and summer settlements, where Wabanakis spent time catching fish and then growing corn, beans, squash, and other vegetables. The names reflected these practices. Arockamecook (near Rumford) and Pigwacket (today’s Fryeburg) refer to farmland, and Amitgonpontook (the Great Falls of Lewiston-Auburn) and Amascontee (the Sandy River in Farmington) refer to good sites for fishing. In fact, as you will see on the map, there were many names that described good places for catching or preserving fish.

Other names call attention to landmarks for travelers. Norridgewock (in today’s Madison), reminds travelers of the rapids of the upper Kennebec River.

These names related to fishing and traveling should make one thing very clear. Wabanakis possessed a close relationship to the water that provided them food and transportation routes, and their technology enabled them to deepen that relationship. Birch bark canoes were, according to author David Cook, “the wheel” of Wabanaki technology. They were sturdy and maneuverable, and it is relatively easy to paddle them downriver or pole them upriver. When rivers became too shallow or when it was necessary to cross land to reach a new river, the canoes were also light enough to carry, or portage. Large canoes could be taken on the ocean.

Detail from a map by French mapmaker Joannes Ludovicus Franquelin, “Carte pour servir a l’Éclaircissment du papier terrier de la Nouvelle France…” (1678). Source: Bibliotèque Nationale de France, Notice the Wabanakis carrying two canoes while others paddle offshore.

Besides showing how people related to particular places, names also show how people connected some places together. Cochnewagon suggests something about paddling and portage routes between the Androscoggin and Sabattus Rivers to the west and the Kennebec River to the east. Those traveling from Amascontee on the Sandy River to where it meets the Kennebec River at Norridgewock should be sure to keep an eye out for the rapids and rocks of Penobsquisumquisebou. Monhegan, Machegony, and Kennebunk are all Mi’kmaq words. They describe some of the landmarks that Mi’kmaqs used as they traveled along the coast between Nova Scotia and places to the southwest. Wigwam Point and Seogogguanegabo, both in what is now Bath, suggest the large populations that congregated around Merrymeeting Bay for travel, trade, and community.

Whenever possible, captions will refer you to other places in Maine (and in a few cases outside Maine) that can help you recognize some of these relationships. Names of different places with related meanings are listed under the “See Also” category in the pop-up window.

Names do more than call attention to physical characteristics of a place (good places to fish; bad places to paddle a canoe) or even the relationships among different places. They also suggest broader cultural values. For a European-American example, one might think of Kennedy Park in downtown Lewiston. The name refers to John F. Kennedy, but it possesses even richer meanings for those who know the stories of Senator Kennedy’s visit to Lewiston shortly before he was elected President in 1960. Although many place names in western Maine were associated with stories that deepened their meanings, we have found only two—Medawisla (a pond in Sabbatus) and Mundoo-uscootook (the Eastern River in Dresden)—that suggest some of these associations in western Maine. Unfortunately, these two places provide only hints of the stories and the values that Wabanakis would have associated with them. Place names have much to teach, but the colonists who wrote many of these names down in the 1600s through 1800s also destroyed many of the ways that Wabanakis related to those places.

 Those interested in the relationships between places and stories should consult the map of Passamaquoddy place names that Donald Soctomah has assembled and of Penobscot place names that Aimee Dolloff composed in collaboration with James Francis. (See “Sources and Further Reading” for more information.)

 In addition to these different types of names, a number of names refer to Wabanaki people. Although these names are included in the map, they are not Wabanaki in origin. White colonists bestowed these names after they acquired the land from the original Wabanaki inhabitants.

 Whatever the type of Wabanaki place name, the abundance of names in western Maine makes very clear that we all walk on Wabanaki land.