A Short History of Acadia National Park

ANCIENT NATIVE PEOPLES made their home on Mount Desert Island long before European explorers ever ventured across the Atlantic. One tribe, whose burial sites contained red ochre, earned the name the Red Paint People. Few surviving records of their presence remain: slate tools, pottery, red ochre burials, and middens, or large refuse piles of shells, which archaeologists have dated at between 3,000 and 5,000 years old.

More is known about the Abnaki people, who inhabited the island at the time the first Europeans made contact in the 1500s. Originally it was believed the Abnakis traveled to Pemetic - or "sloping land," as they called the island - by birch-bark canoe from their winter homes near the Penobscot River's headwaters. During the summer months, they would hunt, fish, and gather berries near Somes Sound. More recently, archaeologists have concluded that the Abnakis actually wintered on Pemetic to take advantage of the milder coastal winters.

The history of these early island residents is told at Acadia's Abbe Museum, located just off the Park Loop Road near Sieur de Monts Spring. The museum's collection includes prehistoric pottery, bone, and stone tools, as well as more recent artifacts such as baskets, porcupine quillwork, and a canoe and wigwam made from birch bark.

European Explorers

Nobody has come up with hard proof, but it is entirely possible that Vikings visited Acadia around 1,000 A.D.
The Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazano may not have set foot on Pemetic during his 1524 voyage along the North American coast, but it is he who is credited with christening the area that is now Maine and the Canadian Maritimes with the name L'Acadie or Acadia. Some historians believe it to be an Abnaki word; others say it is a corruption of Arcadia, an equally scenic and inspiring region of Ancient Greece. Eighty years later, in 1604, the French explorer Samuel Champlain was struck by the bareness of the island's mountaintops while sailing along the coast. He gave Pemetic the name by which it is known today: l'Isles des Monts-déserts or Mount Desert Island. Champlain, who crossed the Atlantic 29 times and later founded Quebec, is believed to have run aground at Otter Point, where he met members of the Abnaki tribe. A party of French Jesuits, who settled at the mouth of Somes Sound in 1613, were also warmly greeted by the Abnaki. The priests intended to found a mission there but were soon after pushed out by a band of English explorers determined to expand northward from their settlements in Massachusetts. For the next century, the French and British would struggle for control of Acadia. In 1759, the British finally prevailed when they defeated the French in Quebec, but not before a young French nobleman laid claim to a large section of the Maine coast. Sieur de Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac stopped long enough on Mount Desert to lend his name to the island's highest mountain before moving on to found the city of Detroit,Michigan.