News Releases

September 10, 2008

First Contacts Between Indigenous Peoples and European Pioneers in Vermont & Beyond: What Really Happened?

Noted Jamestowne Archeologist Bill Kelso To Give Keynote Address at State Conference On Early Native American & European Interactions

MONTPELIER, Vt. – The earliest contacts between Native Americans and the European pioneers – in Vermont, at Jamestowne, Virginia, on the St. Lawrence, in Newfoundland, and beyond -- will be the focus of a day-long conference later this month.

The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation will host a special day-long conference, Realities and Relationships at First Contacts between Native Americans and Europeans on Thursday, September 25, at the historic Vergennes Opera House in Vergennes.

Educators, students, community members, scholars, “life-long learners,” and everyone interested in the history of exploration, Native American and European history, archeology, and culture should attend.

“This is going to be an amazing day in which a terrific group of native Abenaki speakers, archeologists, historians, and others offer fast and lively glimpses into little known parts of Vermont, New England, and North American history,” said Vermont State Archaeologist Giovanna Peebles.

“All the speakers are terrific but we’re very excited to have Jamestown archeologist Bill Kelso join us as a special guest to speak about his discoveries,” Peebles said. “He’s been featured on National Public Radio, in the Washington Post. His work is an inspiration for all archeologists.”

In 1994 Kelso began excavating at Jamestowne, Virginia, the site of the first permanent English settlement in 1607. He was searching for the remains of the settlers’ triangular fort, assumed by everyone to have long since been washed away by the James River.

Incredibly, Kelso found the site of the fort that had eluded archeologists for decades. In the process he unearthed thousands of artifacts and the remains of roughly 100 of the settlers, a story chronicled in his book, Jamestown: The Buried Truth.

Kelso explained to Peebles that, “What we’ve done is to give a sense of reality to the myth about Jamestowne. The story that most people don’t know is that Jamestowne is the first English colony anywhere on the globe, not just the first in North America. The legacy of English governance, language, rule of law, free enterprise, among other contributions was born at Jamestowne. The archeologists at Jamestowne are shedding new light on the relationships between the native Virginia Indigenous communities and the English – it was a closer relationship than anyone had ever realized.”

Kelso’s keynote talk in Vergennes will focus on these relationships between the Indigenous peoples and the English arrivals.

A gifted cast of speakers throughout the day include Vermont resident Nancy Marie Brown, author of the acclaimed book, The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman; University of Vermont ethno-botanist Kit Anderson; Abenaki artist and activist Jeanne Brink; Abenaki scholar and performer Marge Bruchac; University of Vermont archeologist John Crock; University of Maine archeologist Ellie Cowie; University of Vermont New France specialist Andre Senecal; University of Vermont anthropologist Cameron Wesson; and Johnson State College Professor of Humanities and Abenaki scholar Fred Wiseman.

Nancy Marie’s Brown ‘s presentation will focus on the extraordinary role of Viking women in their society, in particular the remarkable, true story of Gudrid who journeyed to North America in an open Viking boat in about the year 1000 AD and gave birth – at the tip of Newfoundland -- to the first European in North America.

Shaming modern-day explorers, Gudrid traveled between Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland and even made a pilgrimage to Rome – and all this over 1000 years ago!

Themes to be explored at the conference include the role of women; sickness and healing; clothing and material culture, including body armor and weaponry; cooking and foodstuffs; plants and animals; Abenaki language; exchange and trade; and others.

“How did the Indigenous peoples and the Europeans, these dramatically different cultures, view each other? How did they live and interact together?” Peebles said. “These are some of the questions we’ll try to answer throughout the day.”

Some interesting, related readings will be posted on the web site if someone wants to do some “exploring” before the conference.

The program is open to the public and runs from 8:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., including a reception. The fee is $10 for the day (reception included), and free for students. Lunch is on your own – bring a bag lunch or enjoy one of Vergennes many eateries.

Pre-registration is encouraged but not required. To register, call 802-828-3540 or email

Detailed program information is available at:

The conference is part of the Lake Champlain Voyages of Discovery: Bringing History Home project, conducted by the Chimney Point State Historic Site, Vermont Division for Historic Preservation with the University of Maine Farmington Archaeology Research Center, Vermont Public Television with Broadwing Productions, and the Bixby Memorial Free Library in Vergennes. Major funding for Voyages is from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Conference sponsors include the Chimney Point State Historic Site, Lake Champlain Basin Program, the Vermont Archaeological Society, Patti and Tim Marrinan, Will Costello, an anonymous donor, Vermont Humanities Council, Johnson State College, University of Vermont’s Center for Research on Vermont and Department of Anthropology, Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Regional Educational Television Network, Strong House Inn, and others.

Source: Agency of Commerce and Community Development
Last Updated at: September 10, 2008 12:25:23