Penobscot beaded moccasins, American Museum of Natural History.
Contact with Europeans was not uncommon during the 16th century because the fur trade was lucrative and the Penobscot were willing to trade pelts for European goods such as metal axes, guns, and copper or iron cookware. Hunting for fur pelts reduced the game, however, and the European trade introduced alcohol to Penobscot communities for the first time. It has been argued that the people are genetically vulnerable to alcoholism, which Europeans frequently tried to exploit in dealings and trade. Penobscot people and other nations made pine beer, which in addition to being an alcoholic beverage had the additional benefit of allaying the onset of scurvy. When Europeans arrived they brought alcohol in quantity. It is possible that Europeans had slowly developed enzymes, metabolic processes, and social mechanisms for dealing with a normalized high intake of alcohol, where Penobscot people though familiar with alcohol had never had access to the gross quantity of alcohol that Europeans offered. The Europeans also brought new endemic diseases of Eurasia, to which the Penobscot had no acquired immunity. Their fatality rates from measles, smallpox and other diseases was high. The population also declined due to fighting between the Wabanaki Federation and the powerful Mohawk people of the Iroquois League, which struggled to control the fur trade. At the beginning of the 17th century, Europeans began to live year-round in Wabanaki territory. At this time, there were probably about 10,000 Penobscot (a number which fell to below 500 in the early 19th century)