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The Indians known by this name were probably at one time the most numerous of all the North American tribes. Migrations, inter-marriages, political alliances, wholesale absorption of captives and desertions, however, make it impossible to fix the tribal limits with any degree of exactness; yet the Algonquins may be said to have roamed over the country from what is now Kentucky to Hudson Bay, and from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and perhaps beyond. The Micmacs, Abenakis, Montagnais, Penobscots, Chippewas, Mascoutens, Nipissings, Sacs, Pottowatomies, and Illinois, the Pequods of Massachusetts, the Mohegans of New York, the Lenapes of Pennsylvania and Delaware, with many other minor tribes, may be classed among them. Linguistically and physically they have many unmistakable traits in common. John Eliot and Cotton Mather had a very poor idea of them and spoke of their condition as "infinitely barbarous". The early French missionaries gave more flattering accounts of their intellectual power, their poetry, their oratory, their nobility of character, and even their mechanical skill. In his "Indian Tribes of the United States", though referring to somewhat more modern Indians, Drake rather shares the latter view, at least with regard to the Algonquins of Lake Superior. The name Algonquin seemed to be a general designation, and it is not certain that they were united in a confederation at least in one as compact and as permanent as that of the Iroquois, who supplanted and crushed them. Whatever union there was had given way before the whites arrived. It is regarded as one of the mistakes of Champlain that he espoused the cause of the Algonquins, whose power was not only waning but who were actually vassals of the Iroquois, and made war against the Iroquois, their enemies; a policy which, besides, threw the Iroquois with the English and resulted in so many bloody wars. In his Preface to the "Jesuit Relations", Thwaites is of the opinion that they have made a larger figure in our history than any other family, because through their lands came the heaviest and most aggressive movement of white population, French and English; but it is now believed that the number was never so great as was at first estimated by the Jesuit Fathers and the earliest English colonists. A careful modern estimate is that the Algonquins at no time numbered over 90,000 souls and possibly not over 50,000. But as the actual number of Algonquins now living is in excess of that, it is more than likely that the early missionaries did not exaggerate and that there may have been nearly a quarter of a million of them, as some moderns still claim. The missions among them began with the Micmac tribe of Nova Scotia and the Abenakis of Main. The work at Tadoussac was contemporaneous with the first attempt at colonization; it extended north as far as Hudson Bay, and along the St. Lawrence and Ottawa to the Great Lakes on whose shores the Algonquins were found, sometimes living with the Hurons who were kinsmen of the Iroquois. The Chippewas, whom Raymbault and Jogues visited at Sault Ste. Marie in 1641, were Algonquins as were those whom Allouez later gathered together in his famous mission of La Pointe on Lake Superior. The Algonquin language has been more cultivated than any of the other North American tongues. Its sounds are not difficult to catch, its vocabulary is copious and its expressions clear. The early missionaries called it the "Indian court language." It was the most widely diffused and most fertile in dialects of all the Indian tongues. "It was spoken, though not exclusively", says Bancroft, "in a territory that extended through sixty degrees of longitude and more than twenty degrees of latitude." This facilitated to some extent the work of the missionaries. Eliot translated the Bible into Algonquin and Father Rasle (q.v.) left an Abenaki Dictionary which is the possession of Harvard University. In recent days, Bishop Baraga (q.v.) of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, has written a remarkable series of works such as the Ojibway Catechism, prayer book, hymn book, extracts from the Old and New Testament, the Gospels of the year, and a grammar and dictionary. They regarded Manabozho, or the Great Hare, as their ancestor, and the tribe that bore his totem was entitled to the greatest respect. He was the founder and teacher of the nation, the creator of the sun and moon, and the shaper of the earth. He still lives in the Arctic Ocean. The Supreme Spirit they called Monedo, or Manitou, to whom they ascribe some of the attributes of God, but who does not judge or punish evil doing. Bad actions are not considered as committed against him. There is an evil spirit who has to be propitiated, and besides him are many others who bring all temporal misfortunes. Hence the universal superstition, magic, sorcery, and the like. According to one authority the number of Indians of Algonquin stock in 1902 was estimated at about 82,000 souls, of whom 43,000 are in the United States, the remainder being in Canada with the exception of a few refugees in Mexico.
Drake, The Indian Tribes of the United States: Jesuit Relations; Charlevoix, Histoire de la Nouvelle-France.