France and Great Britain both claimed the Western Abenakis’ homeland as part of their colonial realms. From the 1680s until the 1760s these European powers fought four major wars. The last was called the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years’ War. The Abenaki were caught in the clash between these two empires, but they were used by and fought for both sides.
Eventually, the majority of Abenaki allied themselves with France, feeling that the French had treated them better than the British. The French were more successful at converting the Abenaki to Catholicism, because they were less judgmental and rigid than the English Protestants. The British further alienated the Abenaki by forming alliances with tribes who were the Abenakis’ traditional enemies, such as the Iroquois. Most threatening, though, was the expansion of English settlements up the Connecticut River Valley. The Abenaki took in refugees from the southern New England tribes who were escaping the aftermath of King Philip’s War in 1675. Again and again the Abenaki saw how the British treated other native peoples, witnessing other tribes being permanently displaced as English farmers seized their homelands.
During the French and Indian War, many Western Abenaki moved their families to wilderness areas, a traditional survival tactic. Some traveled to unsettled and marginal areas on the fringes of society. Others retreated inland to what is today northwestern and northeastern Vermont and were assimilated into the frontier settlements there. Many sought refuge with kin at Odanak in Canada or in New York. However, when the French surrendered to the British in 1763, the Abenakis’ legal claim became tenuous, because their homeland was now considered conquered territory and they were left out of treaties.
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