Reimagining the Indigenous History of Manchester, N.H.

by Sheri Dion, Ph.D. (Instructor, University of New Hampshire) and SvetLana Peshkova, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of New Hampshire).  

As recent and descendants of European and Eu/Asian immigrants, we made the U.S. and the state of New Hampshire our home. Acknowledging the pervasive violence and injustices throughout this nation’s history, we aspire to use our privilege as public educators to support  Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaborations, which co-conspire to challenge settler colonial1 ideologies still informing knowledge production at educational institutions, schools, and in mass media state-wide. As a part of local coalitions and collectives, we join the efforts to reorient narratives of migration, lands, and shared resources to a more inclusive past and advocate for reimagining and co-creating an otherwise history of the state of New Hampshire as ourstory. Ourstory is imperative to the present and future well-being of our local communities. In this essay, we zoom in on Manchester (NH).

Indigenous2 peoples have lived on the territory of what came to be called Manchester (NH) for more than 12,000 years. For instance, oral tradition and archaeological records have established that Indigenous groups were attracted by the Amoskeag Falls, a roughly 50-foot drop in the Merrimack River that was a principal fishing area since their formation (Dincauze, 1976). Several Indigenous sites along the Merrimack and the Amoskeag Falls have proven to be notably rich in information about Indigenous heritage: the Smyth, Eddy, and Neville archeological sites have revealed crucial details about a deep history of Indigenous lifeways in and stewardship of the area.They also remind of the colonial erasure of indigenous references to the land and waterways and their substitution with the names of the (male) colonial settlers assuming private ownership of this land and waterways.

The Neville archeological site is located along the east bank of the Merrimack River in Manchester (Dincauze, 1976). This site near the Amoskeag Falls, referred to as Namaskik, Naimkeak, or “fishing place” (Potter, 1856), provides information about Indigenous lifeways from approximately 8,000 to 5,000 years ago (Dincauze, 1976). Innumerable artifacts have been recovered at the Neville site, such as projectile points, perforators, scrapers, stone and pebble tools, hammers, abraders, and unglazed ceramics (Dincauze, 1976).4 The Smyth archeological site is situated directly north of the Amoskeag Falls on a bluff approximately 40 feet above the Neville site. At the Eddy site, quartz cores, edge tools, cobble tools, and some of the earliest ceramics and pottery in the area have been identified (Piotrowski, 2002). The remains of eight Indigenous individuals were located and repatriated from the Smyth site (Kerber, 2006; Piotrowski, 2002). The repatriation (return) of Indigenous ancestors’ remains and funerary and sacred objects from other desecrated sites continues to this day (learn more about the process here).

These important archeological sites have served as a baseline for developing and interpreting knowledge about the Indigenous heritage of Manchester in the 20th – 21st centuries. Historically, the Abenaki, Penacook, and other Wabanaki peoples were prominent inhabitants of this region.5 With the support of oral tradition, historical research, and interpersonal communication, there is much that has been written about Indigenous habitation, customs, nutrition, transportation, governance, living systems of spirituality, and festivals (e.g., Piotrowski, 2002). From these materials we learn that the influx of European colonial settlers in the 1500s and early 1600s marks the beginning of endless persecution and suffering of local Indigenous peoples. Although European colonists relied upon Indigenous skills and knowledge to assist them to survive and thrive on this continent (Samson, 2000), their arrival also introduced several epidemics that quickly spread throughout and decimated local Indigenous communities (Hoornbeek, 2002). Murders, personal insults, theft, enslavement, kidnapping, broken agreements, physical violence, and wars continued to devastate these communities into the 20th century (Piotrowski, 1977, 2002; Potter, 1856).

While extensive research by several scholars has contributed some instrumental insights into Manchester’s past, it is quite telling that Indigenous perspectives are still absent from this narrative and are mainly unfamiliar to Manchester’s residents. Although Indigenous peoples continue to refute and refuse the histories that have been imposed on them by settler colonial historians in Manchester and across New Hampshire, their voices remain muted by dominant colonial knowledge production. In such context, how can we imagine new ways of “seeing” of and “knowing” about Indigneous heritage which has been systematically erased?  

Reflecting on this question, while being reflexive about our complacency in reproducing colonial narratives about Indigenous heritage as teachers through our ignorance about it, we think that the Indigenous history of Manchester can come to life in many ways. The most important one is through Indigneous oral history and testimonials. As teachers engaged in public education in this state, our contribution to this effort can come through creative fabulation (Hartman, 2008), a questioning and storytelling about that which could have been and has been neglected in archival records and political narratives about the city’s and state’s histories. The use of creative fabulation can inspire a narrative about a more inclusive past, which integrates the stories of European settlers’ imposition of their doctrines, educational system, language, religions, and customs on local Indigenous communities. Such creative storytelling is also critical of the archival knowledge we have amassed and reproduce through many existing scholarly publications and in mass media. To question the limits of archival record and research we should explore how “historic” events were often documented in naïve, and sometime purposeful, ways that espoused social ignorance above historical truth, personal biases of the writers, and growing social inequality.

One example of such knowledge production is a 750-page text, The History of Manchester, Formerly Derryfield, in New Hampshire, by Chandler Eastman Potter, published in 1856. This publication is available online via Google books and the HathiTrust Public Domain Collection, and print versions can be purchased through online vendors. The idea for this publication originated in meetings of the Committee for the Centennial Celebration of 1851. As part of the volume’s assignment, Potter (1856) assumed the charge of writing the history of community, including the history of the Pennacook and Abenaki peoples in Manchester. While Potter’s (1856) history of Manchester offers exaggerated portraits of European social power, it systematically downplays the importance of Indigenous lifeways, death, and destruction that occurred in conflicts between the European settlers and Indigenous peoples from the end of the 1600s through the 1700s. Although in the volume Potter (1856) presents some details about local Indigenous peoples and European settlers’ interactions and conflicts, these scenes focus upon European settlers’ perspectives and take no account of complex and diverse Indigenous lifeways, experiences, practices, and customs. For instance, while describing a period of ongoing conflicts from 1722 to 1725 between the European settlers and the Indigenous peoples, Potter (1856) refers to the Indigenous communities as “the enemy, awed by [the European settlers’] brave resistance” (p. 162) and asserts that these conflicts “completely humbled the haughty spirit” (p. 163) of Indigenous groups.

What if we were to critically read and reimagine this story about history as a more equitable and inclusive co-created one, the one that challenges European settlers’ unilateral authority and power? Whereas Potter (1856) suggests that Indigenous groups were “awed” and “humbled,” we can tell a story that highlights how Indigenous groups throughout the area we refer to as Manchester were degraded by pandemics, physical violence, enslavement, extermination, re-education, assimilation, and migration. By highlighting contemporary contributions of local Indigenous communities to the well-being of the state and its (im)migrant populations, we can also tell the story of survivance, the concept of active Indigenous presence and survival as resistance (Vizenor, 2008), the story of the Indigenous “we are still here.” The intent of such re-narration does not rely upon “recovering the lives of the enslaved or redeeming the dead” (Hartman, 2008, p. 11), but instead aims to present a more complete, co-constructed story about history that we call “ourstory.”

Ourstory begins with admitting grave violence against and cultural genocide of local Indigenous populations and confronting our blind spots resulting from our indoctrination into a Eurocentric his-story (and/or her-story). Ourstory includes a recognition of violence at the birth of this nation, this state, and these towns and cities and the subsequent pains of migration, immigration, and socio-political inequality, which plague our communities till this day. To write ourstory in this state and country we need to confront such his-storical narratives as the one by Potter (1856) through a critical reading and recognizing personal biases, the existing colonial prejudice, and assumed socio-cultural privilege that informed the process of collecting information and writing his rendering of Manchester’s history. Of the millions of lives that have been lived, there exists little documented evidence in Potter’s (1856) text of the diversity of local communities and lifeways that were once before, characterized by different languages, political systems, art forms, and living systems of spirituality. The stories that do exist in narratives like Potter’s (1856), are told through authoritative settler perspectives, and should be told otherwise. This is not simply a rewriting of his-story but a recognition of its political and selective construction, where the stories by some are always already privileged and others – muted. A re-narrated ourstory about/of Manchester must include Indigenous individuals’ names, describe interpersonal interactions among them, and incorporate the everyday existence and socio-cultural, political, and economic contributions of local Indigenous communities past and present.  

There is so much we do not and will not know that exists beyond available archival knowledge and materials. There is certainly work yet to be done to tell new stories and retell the known ones about local Indigenous survivance, including the stories insightfully chronicling how Indigenous peoples were and continue to be social and spiritual visionaries and the stories of how they continue to fight against Eurocentric ideologies and socio-political disenfranchisement. It is time to imagine and create an otherwise history of Manchester and the state of New Hampshire as ourstory.


  1. Settler colonialism can be defined as the displacement of an original population by settler colonizers, accompanied by the normalized exploitation of indigenous lands and waterways and genocide and repression of indigenous peoples and cultures (Settler colonialism, 2017).
  2. In the use of “indigenous,” we recognize that the term and existing synonyms such as Aborigine, American Indian, First Nations, and Native American can be contested by various tribal groups, “especially when used in an international, totalizing, and universal way” (Peters & Mika, 2017, p. 1229). Where some groups may not embrace indigenous, others adopt it. There is no current consensus for the correct usage of these terms.
  3. For more details about New Hampshire’s Indigenous heritage see the Indigenous New Hampshire Collaborative Collective’s (INHCC) story map: click here
  4. More information about existing collections of artifacts from the Neville site is available at the Manchester Historical Association.
  5. Recognizing that European identification of Indigenous communities is flawed by European settlers’ reliance upon their own place-based encounters with Indigenous groups as forms of identification.More information about the identification of Indigenous communities and geographical borders imposed by the colonists can be found on the INHCC post,“The Problems with Historical Narratives:” click here


Below is the list of place-naming constructs, which, according to Pouliot (2020) are used in reference to the larger group of Algonquin (Algic ISO 639-3) (“L” Dialect – Pennacook)-speaking families within the Abenaki and Pennacook or Aln8bak groups. This list does not exclude or include any group or groups that may be historically mis-identified or now identified with another “Eastern” Abenaki group:

Abenaki (Abnaki, Abenaqui, “eastern” Abenaki, “central” Abenaki, “western” Abenaki), Aberginians, Accominta (shoreline), Adirondack (Wawobadenik – white mountains), Agawam (fish curing place), Almouchiquios, Amaseconti (Amesokanti, Anmissoukanti – abundance of small fish), Amoskeag (one takes small fish), Ammatoscoggin, Androscoggin (Amariscoggin, Amerascoggin, Ameriscoggin – rock shelter place), Anasagunticook, Arosaguntacook (Arosaguntacook, Arrosaguntacook), Aucocisco, Bashaba, Canibas, Cochecco, Cowasuck (Cahass, Cohassiac, Coos, Coosuc, Koes, Eastern Woodland People, Northeastern Woodland People – at the white pines), Etchemin, Green Mountain Band, Kennebec (Caniba, Sagadahoc, Kanibesinnoak, Nurhantsuak,Kinibeki), Kik8ntegok (river of fields – Chaudiere River), Loup (Wolves), Massapuag, Merrimac, (Merrimacks – at the bottom of the “sand” hill), Missisquoi (Mezipskwik Missiassik, Missisiak, Mazipskoik, Misiskuoi, Missiassik, Missique, Missisco – place of flint), Morattigan (Monchiggan), Musketaquid, Nashoba, (Nashua, Nashaway – the land between), Natacook (Naticook), Naumkeag (Naumkeg, Naimkeak, Naamkeek, Namaoskeag, Namaske), Nechegansett, Norridgewock (Newichawawock, Newichawannock, Newichawanoc, Norridgewock, Naridgewalk, Neridgewok, Noronjawoke – people of the still water between rapids), Odanak (our village – St. Francis Jesuit mission), Odana (village on the Connecticut River at or near the Ox Bow in the Cowass – Coos), Ondiakes (Ondiakee) colonized version of “people of a village,” Onegigwizibok (otter river – Otter Creek), Ouarastegouiak, Oppenangoes, Ossippe (Ossippee – lake made by river widening), Otonic, Ouragie, Owaragees, Patsuiket, Pawtucket, Pequawket (Pigwacket, Pegouakki, Peguaki, Pequawket – at the hole in the ground), Pemigewasset, Rocameca (on the land upstream), Pejypscot, Pechiepsacut, Pemigewasset, Pennacook (Penakuk, Panukkog, Peenecooks, Penagooge, Penakook, Penecooke, Penicoock, Penicook, Penikook, Pennacokes, Pennacooke, Pennagog, Pennecooke, Pennekokes, Pennekook, Pennokook, Penny Cook, Penny-Cooke, Pennykoke, Pinnekooks, Pnoacocks, Ponacoks, Sagadahoc, Saco (south place), Soheg, Sokoki (Assokwekik, Ondeake, Onaiake, Onejagese, Ossipee, Sakukia, Sokokiois, Sokoquios, Sokoquis, Sokokquis, Sokoni, Sokwaki, Soquachjck, Zooquagese – people at the outlet / people who separated), Spirit Bear Band, St. Francis (St. Francis du Lac), St. Joesph de Colraine, Souhegan (Souheyan, Nacook, Natacook, Natticook), Squamscot (Squam, Squamsauke, Wonnesquam, Msquamsauke), Salmon-Mskuamagw, Sunapee, Suncook (Senikok – at the rocks), Wachuset (at the small / middle sized mountain), Wamesit (fishing place), Washucke, Wataunick, Wawenock, (Wawenoc, Wewenoc, Ouanwiak, Sheepscot, Wawenock, Wawnock) (people of the bay country), Weshacum, Winnecowet, Winnicunnet, Winnipisauki (Winnepiscogee, Winnipesaukee, Winnepiseogee, Maunbisek, Muanbissek – the land around lake), Winnisemet, Winoski (Winoskik – onion place people), Wioninebesek, and, Wolinak (village at the bay – two villages – Becancour, PQ and coastal Maine)


Dincauze, D. (1976). The Neville site: 8,000 years at Amoskeag, Manchester, New Hampshire. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.

Hartman, S. (2008). Venus in Two Acts. Small Axe 26, 12, 2, 1-14.

Hoornbeek, B. (2002). An Investigation into the Cause or Causes of the Epidemic Which Decimated the Indian Population of New England. In Piotrowski, T. (Ed.), The Indian heritage of New Hampshire and northern New England. (pp. 49-57). McFarland.

Kerber, J. E. (2006). Cross-cultural collaboration: Native peoples and archaeology in the northeastern United States. University of Nebraska Press.

Peters, M. A. & Mika, C. T. (2017) Aborigine, Indian, indigenous or first nations? Educational Philosophy and Theory, 49, 13, 1229-1234.

Piotrowski, T. M. (1977). History of the American Indians in the Manchester, N.H. Area. T.M. Piotrowski.

Piotrowski, T. (Ed.). (2002). The Indian heritage of New Hampshire and northern New England. McFarland.

Potter, C. E. (1856). The History of Manchester, Formerly Derryfield, in New Hampshire.

Pouliot, P. (2020, March). Personal Communications with Paul Pouliot, Sag8mo of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People.

Samson, G. (2000). Manchester: The mills and the immigrant experience. Charleston: Arcadia.

Settler colonialism. (2017). In Oxford Bibliographies.

Vizenor, G. R. (2008). Survivance: Narratives of Native presence. University of Nebraska Press.

Image by Michael 2008.