A People in Motion
The Abenakis, or “the people of the rising sun”, were the most southerly First Nation on the northeastern coast of North America. They probably descended from the Late Woodland peoples who had inhabited the region prior to the arrival of Europeans.
In the early 17th century, the Abenaki First Nation was made up of many independent groups, whose composition varied according to the seasons and to political alliances with neighbouring populations: the Malecites and Passamaquoddies of eastern Maine and New Brunswick, and the Micmacs of New England and New Brunswick. French and British ethnographic sources attest to the presence of Abenakis on the banks of the Saint-François River around 1611. The Abenakis no doubt used the river as a north-south route at the time. They would thus have had direct access to the St. Lawrence River, making it easier for them to exchange goods with other First Nations groups, such as the Innus, as well as with the French.
According to historical sources, the Abenakis and the Sokokis assembled regularly, as of 1676, on the east bank of the Saint-François River, a few kilometres upstream from the St. Lawrence River. In the early 18th century, the Jesuit Jacques Bigot founded a mission there for the Abenakis. The mission was headed by the missionary Loyard. Known as Arsikantegoukit, it was located on low ground next to the Saint-François. However, it was flooded when the water rose in the spring. Moreover, it soon became too small, following the arrival of many Abenaki and Sokoki refugees fleeing New England and conflicts with the British. Therefore, a new mission had to be built.
The Governor of New France, Louis-Hector de Callière, and Intendant Champigny asked Marguerite Hertel, the widow of Jean Crevier, a prominent person in the colony, to give up part of the seigneury of Saint-François for building the new mission. The Governor then commissioned a fortification plan to protect it. The Royal Engineer Levasseur de Néré proposed a fort consisting of a 4.5 m high wooden palisade with a bastion at each of its four corners. The fort was to be built on elevated, well-drained ground, at the spot where the present-day village of Odanak is located. It was to protect the Abenaki population from attacks by the British and the Iroquois.
The signing of a peace treaty between the British and the Abenakis in 1726 put an end to the hostilities for a time. Father Aubery, of the mission at Odanak, welcomed the Abenakis who had fled the missions at Nanrantsouak (now Norridgewock, along the Kennebec River, in Maine) and at Pentagöuet (now Castine, along the Penobscot River, in Maine). The arrival of these newcomers, which included a contingent of 300 warriors, bolstered the defence of the fortified village.
In the summer of 1752, the engineer Louis Franquet visited the fort during an inspection tour of the colony’s military installations in preparation for a probable war with the British. War broke out and, on October 4, 1759, Fort Odanak was attacked and destroyed by detachment of Major Roger Roberts’ Rangers.