“Winters Embittered with Hardships”: Severe Cold, Wabanaki Power, and English Adjustments, 1690–1710
- The William and Mary Quarterly
- Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
- Volume 72, Number 1, January 2015, 3rd series
- pp. 57-98
- View Citation
- Additional Information
In the 1690s and the first decade of the 1700s, two of the coldest decades of the Little Ice Age, severe winter weather in the American Northeast prompted adjustments first by Wabanakis and later by English colonists. Wabanaki people had generations of experience journeying through and drawing subsistence from their “winter lands.” With well-adapted seasonal practices and technologies, such as moose hunting on snowshoes, they knew how to cope with persistent cold and take advantage of periods of stable snow cover. In the Second Anglo-Wabanaki War (1688–99), Wabanakis launched winter raids against sites in northern New England, revealing a crucial seasonal vulnerability of English settlements. Frigid weather and Wabanaki attacks contributed to a sense of panic among New Englanders in the 1690s. During these years, however, English observers, soldiers, and captives also learned winter skills and strategies from their Wabanaki adversaries, which they used in the Third Anglo-Wabanaki War (1703–13). In 1703–4, colonial leaders began sending out hundreds of English “snowshoe men” to patrol Wabanaki hunting grounds, shifting the power dynamics in the winter woods. By appropriating an indigenous technology, English colonists adapted to a changing climate, provided greater security for their settlements, and dissipated fears of long winters.