Abenaki People in the Adirondacks - Dan Emmett

Adirondack Journal

Dan Emmett, Canoe Builder

By guest writers Christopher Roy & David Benedict, 15 June 2009

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.

To students of Abenaki history, among the most interesting artifacts of New York history to be found at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake is a birch bark canoe constructed by Daniel Wasamimet or Dan Emmett. Born December 29, 1871 near Joliette, Quebec.

Emmett would spend most of his adult life between Odanak, an Abenaki community in central Quebec, and Indian Carry near Corey’s in the northern Adirondacks, where he spent summers from 1909 until his death in 1953.

According to Clarence Petty, he first brought a number of women from Kahnawake with him to make the sweetgrass baskets which he sold. (We wonder if he also brought his wife, Adelaide Benedict, great-granddaughter of Sabael.)

About 1913 he began setting up his tent on State Forest Preserve land and working alone. Petty stated that Emmett “believed that no one owned the land…so he cut black ash for pack baskets and canoe ribs and peeled bark from white birch on [Petty’s] land and State land for the canoes that he made.”

Dan Emmett built the canoe in question for his friends, Anna and Avery Rockefeller, around 1928. It was maintained by Emmett until his death and was only paddled on Ampersand Lake. In 1990 it was donated to the Adirondack Museum. Another canoe that he built was documented in a 1955 article in Natural History. That canoe must have been made during one of the last summers of his life.

The canoe at the Adirondack Museum is a rare example of Abenaki boatbuilding and the only example of Emmett’s work we have located. It is an invaluable specimen of Abenaki canoe building technique, and a remarkable piece of Adirondack history. It is also an important reminder of an Abenaki man who continued to visit territories that his ancestors thought of as theirs centuries beforehand.

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.