The Pennacook, also known by the names Penacook, and Pennacock, were a North American people of the Wabanaki Confederacy that primarily inhabited the Merrimack River valley of present-day New Hampshire and Massachusetts, as well as portions of southern Maine.1 They are also sometimes called 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, Piguaket or Pawtucket than to the other Algonquian tribes to the south, such as the Massachusett or Wampanoag. This similarity was both linguistic and cultural. However, during the time of early European settlement, the Pennacook were a large confederacy that were politically distinct and at odds with their northern Abenaki neighbors.
One of the first tribes to encounter European colonists, the Pennacook were decimated by introduced diseases. In a weakened state, they were subject to raids by Mohawk and Micmac tribes, taking an additional toll of lives. Chief Passaconaway, despite his military advantage over the New England colonists, decided to make peace with them rather than lose even more lives through warfare. King Philip's War, however, would make their numbers fall even further. Although Wonalancet, the chief succeeding Passaconaway, tried to maintain neutrality, western bands in Massachusetts did not.
The Pennacook fled north with their former enemies, or west with other tribes, where they were hunted down and killed by English colonists. Those that survived, joined other scattered tribespeople at Schaghticoke, New York. Those that fled northward eventually merged with other displaced New England tribes and Abenaki. Although no longer a distinct tribe, many bands of Abenaki (called Abenaqui or Oubenaqui by the French) in New Hampshire, Canada, and Vermont have Pennacook blood in their veins.
The Pennacook farmed maize, corn, and squash along fertile river beds, and hunted the wooded, less fertile areas.
The name Pennacook roughly translates (based on Abenaki cognates) as "at the bottom of the hill."
In the book The Tribes and the States, by child prodigy William James Sidis, it was hypothesized that the Pennacook tribes greatly influenced the democratic ideals that European settlers soon instituted.
- The Abenaki(Waban-Aki) People by Margaret Sypniewski, herbu Odrowaz
- Johnson, M. and Hook, R. The Native Tribes of North America, Compendium Publishing, 1992. ISBN 1-872004-03-2
- Pennacook History
- Sidis, William. The Tribes and the States, 1935
Maps showing the approximate locations of areas occupied by members of the Wabanaki Confederacy (from north to south):