As Maine celebrates its bicentennial it seems appropriate to reflect on how its towns evolved. Maine’s newest town, the town of Chebeague Island, is comprised of 17 islands, the largest being Great Chebeague. While Chebeague was established as a town in 2007, the story of its people extends back thousands of years.

The indigenous peoples who spent time on Great Chebeague Island gave the island its name centuries before the Europeans arrived on its shores. The island’s shorelines host nearly 30 identified sites that document the occupation of the island by indigenous inhabitants. Scholars assume members of the Wabanaki nation summered on the island, but archaeologists have yet to undertake a comprehensive dig. That said, campsites and artifacts are frequently found after erosion from a high storm tide or during a construction excavation. Tools, fish and animal bones, and charred rocks are occasionally found on the shore near a shell midden.

Many of the sites identified by the State of Maine are in close proximity to freshwater streams, marshes filled with cattails and clam flats, and supplied Chebeague’s first residents with sources of food and fresh water. Many of the sites are near deep water, making access to and from Chebeague convenient for fishermen.

Today, islanders wonder about the people who first inhabited Chebeague. How much of the year did these people spend on Chebeague? Were the many campsites intertwined or do they represent unrelated settlements? Did their use of the island change over time? What did they eat? How many people used each site? Chebeaguers have so many questions!

Documents recorded by the Europeans provide some insight into the early interactions with the indigenous people. In a deed executed in 1672, Sagettawon and Robinhood, described as “Indian Sagamores,” conveyed to a group of Europeans a large tract of land including “great Jebege Island” (one of the many spellings of the island). They signed their names with elaborate pictographs. Documents found at the Massachusetts Archives written in the 1690s describe that several active campsites had been found on Chebeague. Did Robinhood and Sagettawon understand the implications of the deed they signed? Did their people continue their annual sojourns to the island? Perhaps a future archeological excavation will help to answer some of the many questions about everyday life before the coming of the Europeans.

During the summer of 1859, a young Chebeaguer named Edward W. Hamilton walked around the island and wrote about what he saw. He described an “Indian” encampment on the farm of John Hamilton II on the East End Point. Eroding middens and the discovery of numerous artifacts at various locations in that neighborhood may indicate a historic relationship between the indigenous people and this section of Chebeague. 

Next week: Chebeague Island enters the 19th century.

In commemoration of Maine’s bicentennial this year, The Forecaster is featuring historical highlights from our communities’ past 200 years. This feature can be found in print and online every other week. Donna Miller Damon is Collections Manager at the Chebeague Island Historical Society. For more information about the Society and its resources email [email protected] or check out chebeaguehistory.com

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