Algonquian peoples

The Algonquian are one of the most populous and widespread North American native language groups. Today, thousands of individuals identify with various Algonquian peoples. Historically, the peoples were prominent along the Atlantic Coast and into the interior along the Saint Lawrence River and around the Great Lakes. This grouping consists of the peoples who speak Algonquian languages.

The village of Pomeioc, North Carolina, 1885, color - NARA - 535753
A 16th-century sketch of the Algonquian village of Pomeiock.

Before Europeans came into contact, most Algonquian settlements lived by hunting and fishing, although quite a few supplemented their diet by cultivating corn, beans and squash (the "Three Sisters"). The Ojibwe cultivated wild rice.[1]

The Algonquians of New England (who spoke Eastern Algonquian) practiced a seasonal economy. The basic social unit was the village: a few hundred people related by a clan kinship structure. Villages were temporary and mobile. The people moved to locations of greatest natural food supply, often breaking into smaller units or gathering as the circumstances required. This custom resulted in a certain degree of cross-tribal mobility, especially in troubled times.

In warm weather, they constructed portable wigwams, a type of hut usually with buckskin doors. In the winter, they erected the more substantial longhouses, in which more than one clan could reside. They cached food supplies in more permanent, semi-subterranean structures.

In the spring, when the fish were spawning, they left the winter camps to build villages at coastal locations and waterfalls. In March, they caught smelt in nets and weirs, moving about in birch bark canoes. In April, they netted alewife, sturgeon and salmon. In May, they caught cod with hook and line in the ocean; and trout, smelt, striped bass and flounder in the estuaries and streams. Putting out to sea, the men hunted whales, porpoises, walruses and seals.dubious The women and children gathered scallops, mussels, clams and crabs, all the basis of menus in New England today.

From April through October, natives hunted migratory birds and their eggs: Canada geese, brant, mourning doves and others. In July and August they gathered strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and nuts. In September, they split into small groups and moved up the streams to the forest. There, the men hunted beaver, caribou, moose and white-tailed deer.

In December, when the snows began, the people created larger winter camps in sheltered locations, where they built or reconstructed longhouses. February and March were lean times. The tribes in southern New England and other northern latitudes had to rely on cached food. Northerners developed a practice of going hungry for several days at a time. Historians hypothesize that this practice kept the population down, according to Liebig's law of the minimum. Northerners were food gatherers only.

The southern Algonquians of New England relied predominantly on slash and burn agriculture.[2][3][4][5][6][7] They cleared fields by burning for one or two years of cultivation, after which the village moved to another location. This is the reason the English found the region relatively cleared and ready for planting. By using various kinds of native corn (maize), beans and squash, southern New England natives were able to improve their diet to such a degree that their population increased and they reached a density of 287 people per 100 square miles as opposed to 41 in the north.[8]

Even with mobile crop rotation, southern villages were necessarily less mobile than northern ones. The natives continued their seasonal occupation but tended to move into fixed villages near their lands. They adjusted to the change partially by developing a gender-oriented division of labor. The women cultivated crops, and the men fished and hunted.

Scholars estimate that, by the year 1600, the indigenous population of New England had reached 70,000–100,000.[9]

Algic langs
Pre-contact distribution of Algonquian languages

Colonial period

At the time of the first European settlements in North America, Algonquian peoples occupied what is now New Brunswick, and much of what is now Canada east of the Rocky Mountains; what is now New England, New Jersey, southeastern New York, Delaware and down the Atlantic Coast through the Upper South; and around the Great Lakes in present-day Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. They were mostly concentrated in the New England region. The homeland of the Algonquian peoples is not known. At the time of the European arrival, the hegemonic Iroquois Confederacy, based in present-day New York and Pennsylvania, was regularly at war with Algonquian neighbours.

Tribal identities


The French and later English encountered the Maliseet of present-day Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick; the Abenaki of Quebec, Vermont and New Hampshire; the Mi'kmaw band governments of the Maritimes lived primarily on fishing. Further north are the Betsiamite, Atikamekw, Anishinaabe and Innu/Naskapi. The Beothuk of Newfoundland might have been Algonquians, but as their last known speaker died in the early 19th century, little record of their language or culture remains.

New England area

Colonists in the Massachusetts Bay area first encountered the Wampanoag, Massachusett, Nipmuck, Pennacook, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Quinnipiac. The Mohegan, Pequot, Pocumtuc, Tunxis, and Narragansett were based in southern New England. The Abenaki were located in northern New England: present-day Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont in what became the United States and eastern Quebec in what became Canada. They had established trading relationships with French colonists who settled along the Atlantic coast and what was later called the Saint Lawrence River. The Mahican was located in western New England and in the upper Hudson River Valley (around what was developed by Europeans as Albany, New York). These groups practiced agriculture, hunting and fishing.

Mid- and south-Atlantic & Long Island

The Lenape, also called Delaware, were (Munsee) and Unami speakers that were in what is now known as the eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, lower Hudson Valley and western Long Island areas in New York. They encountered the European explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in what is now New York Harbor in 1524.

The eastern portion of the Long Island was inhabited by speakers of the Mohegan-Montauk-Narragansett language group of Algonquian languages; they were related to the Pequot and Narragansett peoples of southern New England. The tribes of Long Island included the Massapequas, the Matinecocks, the Nissequogues, the Setaukets, the Corchaugs, the Secatogues, the Unkechaugs, the Shinnecocks, the Montauketts, and the Manhasets. Thomas Jefferson documented the language of the Unkechaug Tribe in 1790.

Further south were the traditional homes of the Powhatan, a loose group of bands numbering into the tens of thousands, who were among the first to encounter English colonists in the Chesapeake Bay region. Historic people also included the Nanticoke, Wicocomico, Secotan, Chowanoke, Weapemeoc, and Chickahominy.

The southernmost Alqonquin peoples were clustered around Pamlico Sound in what is now North Carolina, including the Pamplico, Chowanoke, and Roanoke.


The French encountered Algonquian peoples in this area through their trade and limited colonization of New France along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The historic peoples of the Illinois Country were the Shawnee, Illiniwek, Kickapoo, Menominee, Miami, Sauk and Meskwaki. The latter were also known as the Sac and Fox, and later known as the Meskwaki Indians, who lived throughout the present-day Midwest of the United States.

During the nineteenth century, many Native Americans from east of the Mississippi River were displaced over great distances through the United States passage and enforcement of Indian removal legislation; they forced the people west of the Mississippi River to what they designated as Indian Territory. After the US extinguished Indian land claims, this area was admitted as the state of Oklahoma in the early 20th century.

Upper west

Ojibwe/Chippewa, Odawa, Potawatomi, and a variety of Cree groups lived in Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Western Ontario, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Canadian Prairies. The Arapaho, Blackfoot and Cheyenne developed as indigenous to the Great Plains.

Western areas

Algonquian peoples in the present states of Wyoming, Colorado, southwestern Nebraska and northwestern Kansas were ancestors to the Cheyenne and Arapaho.[10] The Gros Ventre are an Algonquian-speaking people that migrated to north-central Montana.

List of Historic Algonquian Speaking Peoples


  1. ^ Raster, Amanda; Hill, Christina Gish (2016-05-24). "The dispute over wild rice: an investigation of treaty agreements and Ojibwe food sovereignty". Agriculture and Human Values. 34 (2): 267–281. doi:10.1007/s10460-016-9703-6. ISSN 0889-048X.
  2. ^ Stevenson W. Fletcher, Pennsylvania Agriculture and Country Life 1640-1840 (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1950), 2, 35-37, 63-65, 124.
  3. ^ Day, Gordon M. (1953). "The Indian as an Ecological Factor in the Northeastern Forests". Ecology. 34 (2): 329–346. doi:10.2307/1930900. JSTOR 1930900.
  4. ^ New England and New York areas 1580-1800, 1953. Note: The Lenni Lenape (Delaware) in New Jersey and the Massachuset in Massachusetts used fire in ecosystems
  5. ^ Russell, Emily W.B. Vegetational Change in Northern New Jersey Since 1500 A.D.: A Palynological, Vegetational and Historical Synthesis, Ph.D. dissertation. New Brunswick, PA: Rutgers University. Author notes on page 8 that Indians often augmented lightning fires. 1979
  6. ^ Russell, Emily W.B. (1983). "Indian Set Fires in the Forests of the Northeastern United States". Ecology. 64 (1): 78–88. doi:10.2307/1937331. JSTOR 1937331. Author found no strong evidence that Indians purposely burned large areas, but they did burn small areas near their habitation sites. Noted that the Lenna Lenape used fire.
  7. ^ Gowans, William. "A Brief Description of New York, Formerly Called New Netherland with the Places Thereunto Adjoining, Likewise a Brief Relation of the Customs of the Indians There." New York, NY: 1670. Reprinted in 1937 by the Facsimile Text Society, Columbia University Press, New York. Notes that the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) in New Jersey used fire in ecosystems.
  8. ^ Cronon, William (1983). Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-8090-0158-3.
  9. ^ Cronon, William (1983). Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-8090-0158-3.
  10. ^ Frink, Lisa. (2006) Gender and Hide Production. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. p. 30. ISBN 0-7591-0850-1.
Accokeek tribe

The Accokeek were a group of Native Americans living in Southern Maryland at the time of English colonization. They lived along the Potomac River in present-day Prince George's County, Maryland. They were an Algonquian-language tribe and were related to the Piscataway, another Algonquian-language tribe.

Accokeek, Maryland, a small unincorporated town in Maryland, was named for the Accokeek tribe.

Accokeek means at the edge of the hill.

Algonquian languages

The Algonquian languages ( or ;

also Algonkian) are a subfamily of Native American languages which includes most of the languages in the Algic language family. The name of the Algonquian language family is distinguished from the orthographically similar Algonquin dialect of the indigenous Ojibwe language (Chippewa), which is a senior member of the Algonquian language family. The term "Algonquin" has been suggested to derive from the Maliseet word elakómkwik (pronounced [ɛlæˈɡomoɡwik]), "they are our relatives/allies". A number of Algonquian languages, like many other Native American languages, are now extinct.

Speakers of Algonquian languages stretch from the east coast of North America to the Rocky Mountains. The proto-language from which all of the languages of the family descend, Proto-Algonquian, was spoken around 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. There is no scholarly consensus about where this language was spoken.


The Chaptico were a group of Native Americans who lived along the Western shore of Chesapeake Bay in what is today Maryland. They were loosely dominated by the Patuxent in the pre-colonial time. The Chaptico spoke an Algonquian language.

Choptank people

The Choptank (or Ababco) were an Algonquian-speaking Native American people that historically lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland on the Delmarva Peninsula. They occupied an area along the lower Choptank River basin, which included parts of present-day Talbot, Dorchester and Caroline counties. The river emptied into the Chesapeake Bay. They spoke Nanticoke, an Eastern Algonquian language closely related to Delaware.The Choptank were the only Indians on the Eastern Shore to be granted a reservation in fee simple by the English colonial government. They retained the land until 1822, when the state of Maryland sold it, in part to pay for the state's share of the District of Columbia.

Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma

The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma is one of three federally recognized Shawnee tribes. They are located in Oklahoma and Missouri.

The tribe holds an annual powwow every September at their tribal complex.

Kickapoo people

The Kickapoo People (Kickapoo: Kiikaapoa or Kiikaapoi) are an Algonquian-speaking Native American and Indigenous Mexican tribe. Anishinaabeg say the name "Kickapoo" (Giiwigaabaw in the Anishinaabe language and its Kickapoo cognate Kiwikapawa) means "Stands here and there," which may have referred to the tribe's migratory patterns. The name can also mean "wanderer". This interpretation is contested and generally believed to be a folk etymology.

Today there are three federally recognized Kickapoo tribes in the United States: Kickapoo Tribe of Indians of the Kickapoo Reservation in Kansas, the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas. The Oklahoma and Texas bands are politically associated with each other. The Kickapoo in Kansas came from a relocation from southern Missouri in 1832 as a land exchange from their reserve there. Around 3,000 people are enrolled tribal members. Another band, the Tribu Kikapú, resides in Múzquiz Municipality in the Mexican state of Coahuila. Smaller bands live in Sonora and Durango.

Matapeake people

The Matapeake were a group of Native Americans living on Kent Island, Maryland at the time of English colonization in 1631. Their chief village was on the southeast side of the island. They were an Algonquian-language tribe and were related to the Nanticoke, another Algonquian-language tribe.

Matapeake, Maryland, a small unincorporated town in Maryland, was named for the Matapeake.

Miami Tribe of Oklahoma

The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma is the only federally recognized Native American tribe of Miami Indians in the United States. The people are descended from Miami who were removed in the 19th century from their traditional territory in present-day Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.


The Nacotchtank were a native Algonquian people who lived in the area of what is now Washington, D.C. during the 17th century. Their principal village (also named Nacotchtank) was situated within the modern borders of the District of Columbia, on the eastern bank of a small river that still bears an anglicised variant of their name — the Anacostia.

The Nacotchtank seem to have been associated with the larger Piscataway, whose Tayac or grand chief ruled over a loose confederacy of area tribes. Another closely related tribe was the Doeg, whose homeland was on what is now the Virginia side of the Potomac, in the area around Fairfax, Prince William, and Stafford counties. All of these groups are thought to have spoken the Piscataway (or similar) variant of the Nanticoke language.

Niantic people

The Niantic (Nehântick or Nehantucket in their own language) were a tribe of Algonquian-speaking American Indians who were living in the area of present-day Connecticut and Rhode Island during the early colonial period. They were divided into eastern and western divisions due to intrusions by the more numerous and powerful Pequots. The Western Niantics were subject to the Pequots and lived just east of the mouth of the Connecticut River. The Eastern Niantics became very close allies to the Narragansetts.

The division of the Niantics became so great that the language of the eastern Niantics is classified as a dialect of Narragansett, while the language of the western Niantics is classified as Pequot-Mohegan.


The Ozinie were a group of Native Americans living on Kent Island, Maryland at the time that John Smith visited the island in 1608. They were an Algonquian-language tribe and were related to the Nanticoke, another Algonquian-language tribe.


The Passamaquoddy (Peskotomuhkati or Pestomuhkati in the Passamaquoddy language) are an American Indian/First Nations people who live in northeastern North America, primarily in Maine, United States, and New Brunswick, Canada.

The Passamaquoddy people in Canada have an organized government, but do not have official First Nations status.


The Pennacook, also known by the names Penacook and Pennacock, were a North American people of the Wabanaki Confederacy who primarily inhabited the Merrimack River valley of present-day New Hampshire and Massachusetts, as well as portions of southern Maine. They are also sometimes called the Pawtucket people or the Merrimack people.

An Algonquian-speaking tribe, they were more closely related to the Abenaki tribes to the west, north, and east, such as the Penobscot and Piguaket or Pawtucket, than to other Algonquian tribes to the south, such as the Massachusett or Wampanoag. This relationship was both linguistic and cultural. But, during the time of early Anglo-European settlement, the Pennacook were a large confederacy, politically distinct and at odds with their northern Abenaki neighbors.


The Potapoco were a tribe of Native Americans living in southern Maryland at the time of English colonization in the 17th century. The Potapoca were among the Atlantic coastal tribes speaking Algonquian languages, and they inhabited the area along what the English colonists later called the Port Tobacco River. They called their settlement Potopaco.Overall, the dominant tribe on the north side of the Potomac River was the Algonquian Piscataway tribe, which later absorbed some of the smaller tribe's survivors. Upon absorption, the Potapoco became a sub-tribe of the Piscataway.

Roanoke people

The Roanoke (), also spelled Roanoac, were a Carolina Algonquian-speaking people whose territory comprised present-day Dare County, Roanoke Island and part of the mainland at the time of English exploration and colonization. They were one of the numerous Carolina Algonquian tribes, which may have numbered 5,000-10,000 people in total in eastern North Carolina at the time of English encounter.The last known chief of the Roanoke was Wanchese, who traveled to England with colonists in 1584. The smaller Croatan people may have been a branch of the Roanoke or a separate tribe allied with it.


Sachem and Sagamore refer to paramount chiefs among the Algonquians or other Native American tribes of the northeast. The two words are anglicizations of cognate terms (c. 1622) from different Eastern Algonquian languages. The Sagamore was a lesser chief than the Sachem. Both of these chiefs are chosen by their people. Sagamores are chosen by single bands to represent them and the Sachem is chosen to represent a tribe or group of bands. Neither title is hereditary but selected by the bands.


The Native American Siwanoy or Sinawoy were a tribe of the Wappinger Confederacy, in what is now the New York City area. They spoke Delaware language of the Algonquian language family. By the mid-17th century, when their territory became hotly contested between Dutch and English colonial interests, the Siwanoy were settled along the East River and Long Island Sound between Hell Gate and Norwalk, Connecticut, a territory that included eastern parts of what became the Bronx and Westchester County in New York and southwestern Fairfield County in Connecticut.


The Tockwogh were an Algonquian tribe first discovered by Captain John Smith's party after being informed about them by the Massawomekes (Iroquois). The name Tockwogh is a variation of tuckahoe, a water plant with bulbous roots used for food. At their first meeting, Smith noticed they wore copper hatchets and beads which were traded with their allies, the Susquehannock, mortal enemies of the Massawomeke. The Indians held a feast for Smith's party. Smith noticed that the Tockwogh wigwams were very different from those of other Algonquian peoples: longer, larger, covered with bark, and shaped like ovals. About 20 made a village and villages were surrounded by fields of corn, squash, beans, tobacco. Before leaving the Tockwoghs, Smith traded blue beads, bells and hatchets for corn, pearls, meat, weapons and hides.


The Yurok, whose name means "downriver people" in the neighboring Karuk language (also called yuh'ára, or yurúkvaarar in Karuk), are Native Americans who live in northwestern California near the Klamath River and Pacific coast. Their autonym is Olekwo'l meaning "Persons." Today they live on the Yurok Indian Reservation, on several rancherías, including the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, throughout Humboldt County, and beyond. They are enrolled in seven different federally recognized tribes today. They ate lots of berries and meats, but whale meat was prized above others. Yuroks did not hunt whales, instead, they waited until a drift whale washed up onto the beach or place near the water and dried the flesh.

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