13. Maryland Algonquian

The divisions between states become even more blurred when we get to Maryland. Some tribes were members of the Powhatan Confederacy of Virginia, some were not. Before contact we find tribes thriving on the western shores of Chesapeake Bay, the Delmarva Peninsula, and along the Potomac River. Their language is slightly different from the Virginia Algonquian. Here we find that a language referred to as a Piscataway variant of Nanticoke Algonquian has taken over. The last known speaker of Nanticoke Algonquian was Lydia Clark who died in the 1840’s. It is unknown by me if there exists any record of this language or if Lydia passed it on to another.

I am going to begin with the Piscataway people who were the largest and most influential tribe of the area. They lived north of the Potomac on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay. Their way of life was much the same as the other tribes we have visited, cultivating corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins, as well as gathering fruit and nuts. The Piscataway people fished, collected shellfish, and hunted deer, bear, squirrel, partridge, and turkey with bows and arrows. They lived in palisaded villages in longhouses that were about 10’ by 20’ with barrel-shaped roofs covered with bark and mats. There was a fire in the center and a smoke hole in the roof.

It is thought that the ancestors of the Piscataway people had been hunter gatherer bands that seasonally migrated to the Potomac River Basin for about 10,000 years. Just before the Little Ice Age began at the beginning of the 14th century corn was being cultivated for the first time and climate change likely drove many groups south into the region because of its longer growing season. Sometime during the 14th and 15th centuries the Algonquian bands began to coalesce into a tribe and became fully settled into permanent villages as a distinct culture. By then corn had been cultivated for at least two centuries and the Algonquian population was exploding.  As more tribes moved in the competition for resources increased and the Iroquois did their best to destroy many Piscataway and Algonquian villages above Great Falls, Virginia. The tribes below the fall line banded together and consolidated under hereditary chiefs’ authority.

A hierarchy emerged. Any village too small to have a chief paid tribute to its larger neighbor and eventually lesser chiefs were assigned to the dependent groups. By the end of the 1500’s each chief north of the Potomac was a subject to the paramount chief or Tayac, met by John Smith while he was exploring the Upper Potomac in 1608. Reluctant and somewhat rival subjects of the Tayac, such as the Doeg living on the Virginia side of the Potomac and the Nacotchtank near present day DC, hoped that the English would change the balance of power; the Virginia Colony consistently allied with Piscataway enemies.

By 1630 the Tayac’s power over subordinate chiefs had weakened. In 1634 the English began to colonize Maryland and Tayac Kittamaquand persuaded the newcomers to become his allies after he killed the former Tayac, his brother Wannas. Kittamaquand gave his brother’s village to the English, intending it as a buffer between his people and the Susquehannock Iroquois. Having forged a friendship with the Jesuit missionary Father Andrew White, Kittamaquand and his wife converted to Christianity in 1640. Their daughter Mary became a ward of colonist Margaret Brent who taught Mary to read and write among many other subjects. As a child, Mary was married off to Giles Brent, Margaret’s older brother. Mary died at the mere age of 22 after giving birth to three or four children. Giles remarried in 1654. For many years the Maryland Colony was too weak to act as the much hoped for buffer but when it became strong the first thing the colony did was turn on the Piscataway.  In 1668 western Algonquians were confined to two reservations: one on the Wicomico River and one a portion of Piscataway homeland.  Refugees merged with the Piscataway.

In 1675 the colonial government forced the Piscataway to allow their Iroquoian enemy, the Susquehannock, to live in their territory after the Susquehannock were decimated by the Iroquoian Confederacy. The two tribes went to war and finally the colony expelled the Susquehannock for attacking the Piscataway. The Susquehannock, having suffered a devastating loss, went north and joined the Iroquoian Confederacy. Together they swept down and attacked the Piscataway while the English stood by and watched. The English wanted Piscataway land, plain and simple, and were more than happy having the Iroquois wipe them out. The Piscataway people were finally on the long fall to extinction. As the colony grew in power the Piscataway succumbed to disease, as well as intertribal and colonial warfare. In 1680 the English tried to remove them from their homeland and they fled to Zekiah Swamp in Charles County where they were again attacked by the Iroquois but managed to make peace with them. The Piscataway relocated across the Potomac near The Plains, Virginia where they alarmed the settlers by their mere presence. Rather than enduring anymore conflict the Piscataway moved north and settled on Conoy Island in the middle of the Potomac near Point of Rocks, Maryland where they remained until 1722.

By the 18th century some of the Piscataway are thought to have moved south toward the Virginia Colony and merged with the Meherrin. Other Piscataway relocated on the Susquehanna River to get away from the ever-encroaching English. With them, remnant groups of Lenape, Tutelo, Shawnee and Iroquois settled along the western edge of Pennsylvania and Maryland dissolved its reservations. Only 150 Piscataway remained. In the late 18th most survivors moved north. The last record of them was made in 1793 in Detroit mentioning that the Piscataway had resettled in Upper Canada. Today descendants live at the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nations Reserve in Ontario. In the 19th century a small group of Piscataway people were documented as still living in their original homeland; they had remained after the main tribe had been displaced and destroyed. They were eventually classified as Free People of Color and referred to as Wesorts, a derogatory name. Like all other non-white groups, all Free People of Color were subjected to the tyranny of the Jim Crow. However, I find it quite remarkable that throughout all of these centuries the Catholic Church had maintained records of Piscataway and other Algonquian members even though over time many had become tri-racial. The names of these individuals were identified as the core families that were later recognized by the state.

Phillip Sheridan Proctor, born in 1895 and later known as Turkey Tayac, reclaimed the hereditary position. He was instrumental in reviving the Piscataway and other Mid-Atlantic and southeastern tribes. He inspired many tribes to reorganize including the Lumbee, Nanticoke, and Powhatan. Turkey Tayac advocated against blood quantum as means of determining the identity of Native descendants, recognizing that after centuries many had become tri-racial. After his death in 1978 the Piscataway split over disagreements about state and federal recognition, casinos, and which groups were “legitimate” Piscataway people. The division created: The Piscataway Conoy Confederacy & Subtribes, The Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians, and The Piscataway Indian Nation. State recognition of all three groups came in 2011 with the condition that each had to renounce any plans to launch gambling enterprises.

In 1608 John Smith encountered a palisaded village, called Tohoga, of about 300 Nacotchtank on the Anacostia River near present day Georgetown.  The people were friendly and managed a successful trading center where they monopolized the fur trade with the Iroquois. In 1622 Henry Fleet with a party of rival Patawomeck allies attacked the Nacotchtank, killing eighteen and burning the village. The Nacotchtank took Fleet captive and held him for five years; during his captivity he learned to speak their language fluently. Although Fleet escaped in 1628 he returned in 1632 and obtained “800 weight” of pelts. In 1634 the Maryland Colony was established and Fleet was still a trader in Tohoga. Sadly, and like so many others, the Nacotchtank were wiped out by disease and encroachment. The survivors relocated to Anacostine Island (present day Theodore Roosevelt Island) where remnants and descendants could have merged with the Piscataway.

The Doeg likely spoke either the Piscataway or Nanticoke dialect. Doeg chiefs were male, a position inherited through female linage. They were disliked by the Powhatan Confederacy and may have viewed the English as potential allies. One account puts the main tribe in King George County about 1557. At some point the group split and some moved off to Prince William County. John Smith encountered the Doeg in 1608. The next account shows up in 1650. Colonists settled the Northern Neck frontier and at the same time Doeg, Patawomeck, and Rappahannock moved into the area as well. There they joined local tribes to dispute settlers’ claims to the land. By 1666 the colonists declared war on them and in 1669 had laid claim to the land west of the Potomac north to My Lord’s Island. Most of the Doeg were driven into Maryland in 1670 as well as Caroline County, Virginia. When John Lederer, in 1670, visited the piedmont area that had been the Doeg homeland, only Siouan groups were found, likely driven into the region by other tribes. Nevertheless, the Doeg continued to harass the English on Northern Neck. A raiding party stole a few hogs from Thomas Matthew because he failed to pay for some trade goods. Matthews and others pursued them into Maryland where they killed a few Doeg and a number of innocent Susquehannock. The Doeg retaliated by killing Matthew’s son and two of his servants. The Virginia Militia led by Bacon entered Maryland, attacking the Doeg and slaughtering more innocent Susquehannock. The general reaction against the natives by the Virginia Colony resulted in Bacon’s Rebellion. After the conflict the Doeg merged with the Nanzatico and beyond 1720 their fate is unknown.

The Accohannock were found to live where what is now both Maryland and Virginia. Their main village was at present day Crisfield, Maryland. They were members of the Powhatan Confederacy. When Powhatan died they became less involved with the Virginia tribes due to their unwillingness to fight against the colonists, and were dropped from the Confederacy because of it. By the 1640’s the English had taken most of their land and the Accohannock left Virginia entirely for Maryland. There they widely intermarried with the English. In 1659 the Maryland Accohannock renamed their tribe Annemessex after the river along which they lived. Descendants still live in Crisfield but haven’t received government recognition.

The Yaocomico lived primarily in the coastal tidewater areas of Maryland, along the north bank of the Potomac near its confluence with the Chesapeake Bay. They were peaceful people. The English purchased thirty acres from the Yaocomico, which became the settlement later called St. Mary’s City. It was an ideal location because the fields had already been cleared and the villagers were apparently willing to move their village in exchange for European goods. They too saw the English as a possible buffer against the Iroquois. Half the tribe moved immediately while the other stayed long enough to maintain and harvest that year’s crops before joining the group that had relocated. Here we meet Father Andrew White again who left a wonderful description of a people that wore, according to him, deerskins decorated with animal teeth, shells, and feathers. The men were highly painted and the women were tattooed. Much like today’s skeet shooting, Yaocomico archers were able to hit with arrows sticks thrown into the air before the sticks fell to the ground. The tribe had something of a government, much of their land was cultivated, and they marked numerous annual celebrations with feasting and music created with flutes, drums, and rattles. Having shown Jesuits and the English some consideration, the Yaocomico were viewed favorably in the historic record. Maryland settlers continued good relations with the Yaocomico, and included provisions in treaties that provided protection for them from neighboring tribes. Sadly, due to disease, competition with other tribes, and ever-increasing encroachment by the English, the Yaocomico disappeared by the 1670’s or 1680’s.

Numerous other tribes in the region met similar and yet somewhat unknown fates. The Potapoco, who had lived in the coastal area of the Port Tobacco River were eventually forced to merge with the larger Piscataway. So too were the Mattawoman who lived on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay until about 1735, and the Patuxent people of the same area. The Patuxent were reputedly the first people taught by Father Andrew White. The Chaptico, loosely dominated by the Patuxent, as well as the Accokeek met similar fates. John Smith was told about the Tockwogh by the Iroquois. When he encountered them he noted that they wore beads and copper hatchets which they had either traded for or stolen from their Iroquois enemies. The Tockwogh put up a big feast for Smith and his party. Smith also noted that the Tockwogh longhouses were oval shaped and much longer and larger than the other longhouses he had encountered. The village was made up of about twenty of these longhouses and was surrounded by cultivated fields of corn, squash, beans, and tobacco. At the time Smith supposedly traded blue beads, bells, and hatchets for corn, pearls, meat, and hides. The fate of the Tockwogh is unknown.

Now we are going to meet the tribes encountered by Smith in 1608 who lived on the Delmarva Peninsula: the Choptank, the Assateague, and the Nanticoke, as well as the Pocomoke, a tribe affiliated with the Wicocomico people. Choptank is a word believed to be derived from the Nanticoke word “tshapetank”, meaning “a stream that separates” or “place of big current”. The Choptank were somewhat independent of but related to the Nanticoke by culture and language who were the predominant tribe of the eastern shore of the peninsula. The Choptank maintained a friendship with the English settlers and theirs was the only reservation established in fee simple as the Choptank Indian Reservation in 1669. Fee simple in English law was a form of freehold ownership and the highest type of ownership that can be had in real property according to Wikipedia’s definition. Over time, the Choptank and English widely intermarried and they ceased to exist as a separate entity. In 1790 those that were left abandoned their last village in Dorchester County. In 1822 the state of Maryland sold off the reservation to developers. Some of the proceeds went to the formation of District of Columbia.

There is virtually nothing known about the Assateague other than their burial customs. After death bones were completely cleaned and then placed on shelves in a longhouse built explicitly for burial purposes. Several such ossuaries have been found on the eastern shore of the Delmarva Peninsula. A treaty made by the Maryland Colony in 1662 with the Assateague and the Nanticoke, required settlers to pay the tribes six matchcoats for the land that they had stolen. A matchcoat is a blanket of heavy cloth with uncut nap on one side and frequently traded with many tribes for land. The Colony would also trade one matchcoat for every runaway slave captured and returned by the Assateague. It was agreed that colonists had to have a pass before entering Assateague land and so long as the Assateague didn’t trade with the Dutch in Delaware, the English would provide whatever they needed. But the story becomes familiar again with Assateague being forced onto reservations along the Pocomoke River where they became the dominant tribe over Chincoteague and Pocomoke peoples. Even so, settlers continued to encroach, building homes on Assateague land and allowing their cattle to graze in the tribes’ cornfields. In 1722 another worthless treaty was signed promising that it would last until the “world’s end”. It was a long and involved treaty containing rules and regulations concerning all types of civil behavior between settlers and natives. For the protection granted to the tribe it had to pay the government annually two bows and two dozen arrows. By 1671 numerous tribes including the Assateague, the Pocomoke, the Annemessex, and the Manokin were relegated to a single settlement called Indian Town by the English and Askiminokonson by the natives. It was made part of the reservation in 1686, located north of the Potomac near present day Snow Hill, Maryland. In 1742 it was rumored that the Shawnee and Assateague were planning an uprising. Consequently, the provincial government dissolved its recognition of the Assateague chief and placed each village under the authority of the province. After much conflict the Assateague moved to the Susquehanna River area and became a tributary tribe of the Iroquois, eventually ending up in Ontario, Canada. Some stayed in Maryland on the Choptank reservation until 1798. A remnant group settled near Indian River in Delaware. I could not determine what became of them after that.

John Smith encountered the Nanticoke in 1608 on the Delmarva Peninsula. Nanticoke means “tidewater people”. They had an extensive trade network with tribes throughout the Chesapeake Bay area. By 1684 the English assigned them a reservation between Chicacoan Creek and the Nanticoke River but encroachment continued. In 1707 the tribe bought 3000 acres on the Broad Creek in Delaware. Further encroachment forced the Delaware band to sell its land in 1768. Meanwhile, others had moved to Pennsylvania in 1744 gaining permission from the Iroquois to settle on the Juanita River in Wyoming, PA. About ten years later they moved upriver and joined the Piscataway where both fell under the jurisdiction of the Iroquois League. As allies to the British they moved north to Fort Niagara. Eventually the British resettled them at the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario and compensated the tribe for its losses. I can only ask, how on Earth for which could the losses of their homeland on Delmarva Peninsula followed by horrific displacement along with loss of their people and culture ever be compensated? Some stayed near Buffalo, New York, while others joined the Lenape and migrated to Kansas, where together they were forced to move to the Indian Territory of present day Oklahoma.  Today there are numerous state and federal recognitions of the Nanticoke people that include the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nations in Ontario, the Delaware Tribe of Indians in Oklahoma, the Nanticoke Indian Association in Millsboro, Delaware, and the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Indians in Bridgeport, New Jersey. We’ll talk more about the latter group in the Delaware Algonquian essay.




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