The Lake Between: Native and Imperial Contests for the Champlain Valley, 1675-1768

Whitehead, Christopher, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Taylor, Alan, Department of History, University of Virginia

This essay examines Mohawk and Abenaki peoples as well as French and English colonists as part of the same dynamic world by tracing their rivalries over the Champlain Valley. It argues that the imperial contest to claim Lake Champlain exacerbated the traditional, precolonial Mohawk-Abenaki competition over the region, creating a violent corridor between Albany and Montreal that both empires struggled to control. This place of imperial ambiguity allowed Abenaki and Mohawk peoples to maintain their autonomy and assert their own influence in the borderland. British and French officials relied on Native allies to defend colonial settlements against invading enemies and to provide warriors for offensive expeditions. In return, Mohawks and Abenakis enjoyed generous diplomatic gifts and reaped the bounties posted by colonial governments for enemy scalps and prisoners. Most important, Natives exploited the escalating imperial rivalry to preserve their own claim to the contested waterway, for officials in Albany and Montreal could not risk offending their allies by letting enemy encroachments go uncontested. When Britain conquered Canada through overwhelming military force in 1760, however, British officials consolidated control over the lands along the lake by transforming its dense forests into farms and pastures. To justify their settlement, officials denied the Abenakis’ claim to their homeland and restricted the boundary of Mohawk country a hundred miles south of their precolonial border. With the imperial rivalry extinguished, Mohawks and Abenakis struggled to preserve Lake Champlain as a Native world.

To structure my narrative, I follow two Native leaders, Grey Lock Wawanolewat, a Western Abenaki, and Hendrick Theyanoguin, a Mohawk, as they navigate the imperial and Native contests for the Champlain Valley. Both were products of these overlapping rivalries, and each shaped the other’s world. As Europeans fought to claim the lake between their empires, Wawanolewat and Theyanoguin competed to preserve their people’s autonomy and influence in the space that Natives had contested for centuries.

MA (Master of Arts)
Grey Lock Wawanolewat, Hendrick Theyanoguin, Lake Champlain Valley, Abenaki, Missisquoi, Mohawk, Canajoharie, Indigenous Boundaries, Imperial Borderlands
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