Though recorded accounts of Dummerston’s written history extend more than 250 years, archeological evidence suggests that human beings have traversed the landscape of southeastern Vermont, likely including Dummerston, for millennia. Some 11,000 years ago, following the retreat of glacial ice from New England, the first “Vermonters” are believed to have migrated into the region, traveling along the open corridors of the Connecticut River valley. Few artifacts of these Paleoindians have been preserved; rare fragments of stone spears and knives indicate that they were hunters and gatherers that roamed the land in small groups following wild animals and seasonal wild plants. More is known about the people of the Archaic Period, which extended from roughly 9,500 to 3,000 years ago. During this time the climate warmed and the small bands of natives gradually developed territories and campsites along rivers and streams, hunting, fishing, and trapping. They also created new tools such as the atlatl, and carved bowls and canoes out of wood. It is highly possible that such communities existed along the West and Connecticut Rivers in what is now known as Dummerston.
Then in the subsequent Woodland Period, hunting and gathering was supplemented by a shift toward farming in which a new diversity of domestic foods was cultivated, including first sunflowers and squash, and later corn and beans. The invention of the bow and arrow likewise aided in hunting wild game. Hand in hand with agriculture came the rise of permanent established villages with larger groups of people, and an elaborate social order, complete with hierarchical leadership, ceremonial rituals like burial sites and intertribal trade. Pottery was created as well, relicts of which have been uncovered in flat, fertile, well-drained sites along the Connecticut River valley, including a highly decorated fragment at Fort Dummer in Brattleboro.
By the 1600s, the descendants of the Woodland peoples, who French traders collectively called the Abenakis, had developed into several independent groups, extending all throughout what is now Northern New England. In Vermont there were three western Abenaki tribes: the Sokoki, Cowasuck, and Missisquoi tribes, which focused heavily on farming along the major waterways. Archeological findings reveal that the Abenaki people established extensive villages along the tributaries of the Connecticut River, each with an average of 1000 inhabitants. Inside great, rectangular “longhouses” of birch bark stretched over a pole frame would live several related nuclear families, which helped develop a strong sense of community and shared responsibility. Like their ancestors the Abenaki cultivated staple crops of corn, squash, and beans, and gathered wild fruits and nuts. In order to enrich the soil for crops, clear the way for movement and hunting, and stimulate new plant growth, the natives burned the understory of forests. They also knew how to make maple syrup, and likely taught the process to the colonists. Pottery, bark vessels, and baskets were made for household chores, while dugout canoes and toboggan sleds provided transport along the rivers and over the snow. The Abenaki world view was deeply connected to a sensuous, animate landscape. At puberty, boys would go on a vision quest in search of a spirit helper, and some would become shamans who treated the sick and mediated the intimate relationship between humans and the natural world.