Thomas W. Strong, lithograph publisher, New York/Wikimedia Commons
“Death of Father Sebastian Rale of the Society of Jesus. Killed by the English and Mohawks at Norridgewock, Aug. 23, 1724;” frontispiece from Indian Good Book by Eugene Vetromile (1819-1880).

Native History: Scalping of 10 Abenaki Celebrated; Where Did it Begin?

Alysa Landry

This Date in Native History: On February 20, 1725, a group of 88 scalp hunters led by John Lovewell attacked a band of Abenaki Indians living in a wigwam near Wakefield, New Hampshire.

Motivated by state-sponsored programs that offered rangers payments for Indian scalps, the men tracked the Abenaki for 11 days then opened fire near midnight on February 20. Lovewell’s posse killed and scalped 10 men and received a bounty of 100 British pounds per scalp.

Part of Father Rale’s War—or the war between the Abenaki and the New Englanders—this incident marks one of the most celebrated times colonists scalped Indians in exchange for money.

“Bounty was a European innovation,” said Dean Snow, emeritus professor of anthology at Penn State University. “Scalping was used as financial credit for making the kill. It was the way to tally credits in warfare.”

Lovewell, who led three raids against the Abenaki, eventually earned the title of the most famous scalp hunter of the 18th century. Although he capitalized on the privatization of war, earning extravagant bounties for every Indian scalp he brought back, Lovewell was not the first colonist to practice scalping.

State-sponsored scalp hunting laws went into effect in the mid-1670s, John Grenier wrote in his 2005 book The First Way of War: American Warmaking on the Frontier.

In July 1689, at the start of King William’s War, the state of Massachusetts declared that each soldier would receive eight pounds out of the public treasury for each Indian scalp and that “whatever Indian plunder falls into their hands shall be their own.”


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