The economy of war: Violence, religion, and the Wabanaki Indians in the Maine borderlands

Christopher John Bilodeau
Dept. of History, Cornell University
July, 2006


This dissertation examines French, English, and Wabanaki Indian contact during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, depicting the evolution of what I call the 'Economy of War': a political economy that wove together social, cultural, religious, diplomatic, and material institutions in such a way as to make war for the Wabanakis necessary. I trace the inception, growth, and culmination of this Economy of War and the creative responses by the Wabanakis to counter its ill effects. In my analysis of this political economy, I focus on two dimensions. First, I look at the endemic violence of four Anglo-Wabanaki wars during the fifty-year period between 1675 and 1725. Violence became embedded within Wabanaki social life to the point that it not only became a preferred method of problem-solving, but, for many Indians, the only method available to them. Second, I look at the importance of religion among the Wabanakis, as Catholic missionaries moved into Maine in the 1680s, playing crucial roles in binding the Indians diplomatically and militarily to the French. But that alliance came with a cost, as the missionaries maintained a rigidly pro-French political view that did much to foment conflict with Puritan New England. Under the influence of these two aspects, the Wabanakis came to view their social world through a new framework, one that combined certain institutions of their lives, such as trade, religious beliefs, military practice, and honor in a way that forced the Indians into a series of Manichean choices whose logics inexorably led them to conflict with one of the two imperial powers. This Economy of War devastated the Wabanakis physically, but simultaneously gave them the tools and the impetus to reorganize their decentralized socio-political organization into a pan-Wabanaki confederacy, one they used throughout the eighteenth century at times to process, and at times to resist, European colonization.