Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Maple Sugar and Indians



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



Maple sugar. In some of the Eastern States and parts of Canada the production of maple sugar and syrup is one of the thriving industries of the country. The census statistics of 1900 show that during the year 1899 there were made in the United States 11,928,770 pounds of maple sugar and 2,056,611 gallons of syrup. The total values of the sugar and syrup for 1899 were, respectively, $1,074,260 and $1,562,451. The production of maple syrup seems to have increased somewhat, while that of maple sugar appears to have declined. This industry is undoubtedly of American Indian origin. The earliest extended notice of maple sugar is "An Account of a sort of Sugar made of the Juice of the Maple is Canada," published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society for 1684-85, where it is stated that "the savages have practised this art longer than any now living among them can remember." In the Philosophical Transactions for 1720-21 is printed an account of sugar-making in New England by a Mr. Dudley. The Indian origin of maple sugar is indicated also by notices in Joutel; Lafiteau, who states directly that "the French make it better than the Indian women from whom they have learned how to make it"; Bossu, who gives similar details about French sugar-making in the Illinois country; and other early writers. In various parts of the country the term "Indian sugar" (Canad. Settlers' Guide , 66, 1860) has been in use, affording further proof of the origin of the art of making maple sugar among the aborigines. Some of the Indian names of the trees from which the sap is obtained afford additional evidence, while maple sap and sugar appear in the myths and legends of the Menominee, Chippewa and other tribes. The technique of maple-sugar making also reveals its Indian origin, not merely in the utensils employed, but also in such devices as straining through hemlock boughs, cooling on the snow, etc. For maple sugar cooled on the snow the Canadian-French dialect has a special term, tire, besides a large number of special words, like sucrerie, ' maple-sugar bush'; toque, 'sugar snowball'; trempette, 'maple sugar sop,' etc. The English vocabulary of maple-sugar terms is not so numerous. Humbo, a New Hampshire term for 'maple syrup,' is said to be of Indian origin. The details of the evidence of the Indian origin of this valuable food product will be found in H. W. Henshaw, "Indian Origin of Maple Sugar," Am. Anthrop., III, 341-351, 1890, and Chamberlain, "The Maple amongst the Algonkian tribes," ibid ., IV, 39-43, 1891, and "Maple Sugar and the Indians," ibid ., 381-383. See also Loskiel, Hist. Miss. United Breth., 179, 1794.           


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 273-274.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College