Joseph Orono – Native American


Joseph Orono (1688–1801) was a Penobscot Indian chief or sachem who lived on the Penobscot River in present-day Maine. The town of Orono, Maine, which contains the University of Maine, is named for him.

By the time Orono was born, the Penobscot people had been in close contact with French Catholic missionaries and traders for over a generation, and Orono was himself of mixed ancestry, probably the grandson of Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de Saint-Castin, The 3rd Baron Castin, who had settled at the mouth of the Penobscot River (the site of the present town of Castine, Maine) in the 1660s. Saint-Castin had married the daughter of Penobscot sachem Madockawando, and their son, Bernard-Anselme d’Abbadie de Saint-Castin became the last leader of the tribe during its French alliance. His son Joseph Orono, who had to deal with the English, and then Americans, had light skin, blue eyes, and was a “zealous Catholic” according to contemporary accounts.

In the 1750s the English from nearby Massachusetts defeated the French in Acadia, which included the ancestral lands of the Penobscot. English settlers began to populate the Penobscot River valley from the 1770s, putting pressure on the tribe. Orono chose to accommodate the more numerous and better-armed white settlers as, in the course of his life-time, they gained virtually full control of Penobscot lands, restricting the tribe to its largest island-village (which they called “Indian Old Town” because it was assumed to be of ancient origin).

When the Revolutionary War broke out the Penobscots received a letter from the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts urging them to join with the “New English” against the “Old English”. Orono agreed, urging his tribesmen to side with the Americans and offering to supply them braves, even making a trip to Boston and Newport, Rhode Island in 1780. The Americans did not take up the offer, however, likely fearing that it would empower the Penobscot.

In 1774 the English had founded a village called Stillwater, just below “Indian Old Town” at the site of a falls. Relations between the settlers and Indians had been sufficiently peaceful that, when Stillwater incorporated as a town in 1806, it named itself Orono, Maine after the recently deceased Penobscot sachem, who had lived to the age of 113.