Adirondack Journal — Abenaki People in the Adirondacks - Maude (Benedict) Nagazoa


By Christopher Roy & David Benedict
15 June 2009

David Benedict is an Abenaki family historian. Christopher Roy is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University and is currently conducting research on various Abenaki-related topics throughout the Northeast. Roy will speak about "Abenaki History in the Adirondacks and in the Adirondack Museum" at the Adirondack Museum's upcoming Abenaki Day celebration on July 11, and at a lecture entitled "Searching for Sabattis, and Other Tales of Adirondack Abenaki Adventure" at the Adirondack Museum July 20 at 7:30 PM.

Maude (Benedict) Nagazoa, Proud Adirondack Abenaki

While most people associate Abenaki people with the Odanak reserve on the banks of the St. Francis River in Quebec, Abenaki history is just as rooted in the Adirondack Mountains.

In July 1960, about a year before her death, Rensselaer resident Maude (Benedict) Nagazoa donated ten items to the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Together with items now in the collections of the New York State Museum and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, they comprise an extraordinarily valuable record of Abenaki material culture. The items at the Adirondack Museum include birch bark baskets, ash splint baskets, and items associated with the basket trade.

Maude (Benedict) Nagazoa was born at Lake George during the summer of 1880 into a basketmaking family. Her parents, Samuel and Margaret (Msadokous) Benedict, had made their home at Lake George for several years, periodically visiting Odanak, an Abenaki community in central Quebec, to visit friends and relatives. Many of Samuel's relatives lived at Lake George and elsewhere in the Adirondacks.

In 1916, Maude Benedict married Edwin Nagazoa in Sorel, Quebec, not far from Odanak. Edwin had spent at least one summer at Lake George as a child, and was related to the Benedicts. They lived at Odanak for several years until they moved to Albany with relatives — the Watso family — where Edwin worked in construction. Maude moved to Rensselaer shortly after Edwin's death; one of her granddaughters lives there today.

What is remarkable to us about Mrs. Nagazoa's gift to the Adirondack Museum is the pride evident in the letter accompanying the donation. She apologized for having been delayed in sending the baskets, etc., by illness, and then provided some wonderful detail about the items. The baskets were made in Lake George "when we used to live there."

"The old basket" was made by her father "when he was first married in 1870." (They were married at Odanak, but her father was already working in the lumber trade at Indian Lake and her mother had already spent many summers selling baskets at Saratoga Springs.) Her father was "the son of Elijah Benedict of Indian Lake," an Indian guide discussed by Ebenezer Emmons in the report of the 1840 expedition of the New York Geological Survey. And she finished her letter by pointing out that she was Sabael's great-granddaughter.

During her life, Maude (Benedict) Nagazoa moved between the Adirondack country so intimately tied to her father's family history, the Odanak reserve which serves as the seat of Abenaki government, and the Albany metro area where many Abenaki continue to live and work today. The collections at the Adirondack Museum are an important testament to a woman who was exceptionally proud of her family's history and wanted to see the legacy of her ancestors preserved for future generations.

Christopher Roy is an anthropologist conducting research on various Abenaki-related topics throughout the Northeast. David Benedict is an Abenaki family historian and descendant of Sabael Benedict's son Elijah. They are actively seeking more information about Adirondack Abenaki history — feel free to contact them at caroy@pshift.com or d.benedict@roadrunner.com.