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The history of the American Indians in Maryland is similar in many ways to their history in all of North America. The native population lived in groups with similar languages and cultures, often banding together in loose confederacies or chiefdoms to protect themselves from other groups. Some were associated with a specific locale for long periods of time, while others were much more nomadic. Some relied upon the sea, while others were hunters who relied more on wild game. Some grew crops in a farming culture. And many of these groups combined these cultures and practiced each of them at different times of the year or at different times in their history.
As the English colonies expanded, many of the tribes left Maryland and joined with larger tribes in the Ohio River Valley or, as will be seen below, joined with their neighboring tribes to the north. Some of the descendants of the tribes of Maryland remained, intermarried with the Maryland colonists, and were integrated into their society, especially in Charles, Prince George, and St. Mary’s Counties. Some of those descendants are currently endeavoring to reestablish their heritage.
The names of tribes and bands of American Indians are usually recorded phonetically. The result is that the spelling of those names may vary, from only slightly to considerably. A tribe may have a name and also be known by the locality of their territory, as in the Amamesses Tribe who lived on the Annemessex River, and may be known by either name.
Historical Tribes and Bands of American Indians in Maryland
Algonquian Indians on the Western Shore of Maryland
The primary chiefdom of the Piscataway (or Conoy) Indians, consisted of five smaller Indian chiefdoms owing allegiance to the largest, the Piscataway.
- Anacostians, along the Anacostia River – in what is today Washington, D.C., western Prince Georges County, and Alexandria, Virginia.
- Piscataway, along the Potomac River from Broad Creek to Piscataway Creek to Pomonkey Creek, in what is now Prince Georges County, Maryland
- Mattawomen, located near Mattawomen Creek in Charles County, Maryland and Quantico Creek in Prince William County, Virginia.
- Nanjemoy, from Mallows Bay on the Potomac River to Nanjemoy Creek in Charles County, Maryland.
- Potapoco, located along the Port Tobacco River in Charles County, Maryland. They moved in the late 1600s to the Rappahannock River in Virginia
Two independent Algonquian chiefdoms on the lower Potomac River’s northern shore.
- Chaptico (also called Cecomocomoco), located along Cuckhold Creek, Wicomico River, and Brenton Bay. After 1707, they seem to have blended into the rest of the population of the area and ceased to exist as a separate tribe or culture.
- Yoacomaco, located near the St. Mary’s River in 1634.
The Pawtuxent and allied chiefdoms along the shores of the Patuxent River.
- Pawtuxant, located in today’s Calvert County from Solomon’s Island to Hunting Creek. They migrated upriver in the 1650s and joined with the Chaptico Indians in 1692.
- Acquintanack, located in what is today St. Mary’s County, from the mouth of the Patuxent River to Swanson Creek. They lost their territory in thre 1640s and joined with the Pawtuxants.
- Mattapanient, located around the Western Branch of the Patuxent River in today’s Prince George’s County.
- Assacomoco, located along the east shore of the Patuxent River from Hunting Creek in Calvert County to Lyons Creek in Anne Arundel County.
Algonquian Indians on the Eastern Shore of Maryland
The principal chiefdom of the Nanticoke, located along the eastern shore from Pocomoke River to the Sassafras River. They are a southern relative of the Lenni Lenape. A group identifying themselves as Nanticoke remain today, located primarily in Delaware.
- Assateague, in the area around Asseateaque Bay. They joined with the Pocomoke Indians on a reservation on the Upper Pocomoke River, in what is now Worcester County.
- Pocomoke, located on the Pocomoke River (called Wighcocomoco by John Smith in 1608) in today’s Somerset and Worcester Counties. They were allied with the Amamesses, the Morumsco, and the Acquiantica Indians.
- Amamesses, located on the Annemessex River.
- Morumsco, of Fishing Bay on the Pocomoke River.
- Acquiantica, of the Pocomoke River.
- Nanticoke, a large principle chiefdom located on the Nanticoke River in today’s Dorchester, Somerset, and Wicomico Counties. They included the Wicomico, Monie, and Manokin chiefdoms located on the rivers along the lower eastern shore bearing the same names.
Choptank, whose territory was in today’s Talbot, Dorchester, and Caroline Counties. They had land granted to them for a reservation, but it was sold by the Maryland government in 1822.
Monoposon and Mataoeake, located on the southern shore of the Chester River in Queen Anne’s County in 1631.
Ozinies, located along the north shore of the Chester River in today’s Kent County. They were defeated by the Maryland colony in the 1660s and were dispersed.
Tockwogh, located on the Sassafras River, in today’s Kent and Cecil Counties. They were allies of the Susquehannock. The were not present after 1634 when Maryland was established.
Shawnee, who migrated to the Susquehanna River in Cecil County in the 1690s, and thence to Allegany County, where they lived until the 1730s.
Iroquoian-Speaking Indians of Maryland
Susquehannock – Their primary location was in the area of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. However, they controlled the lands from the Patapsco River, north on the western shore of Maryland and from the Sassafras River north on the Eastern Shore. They moved to Piscataway Creek in Prince Georges County in 1675. The English drove them out in 1763 and the remaining members of the tribe moved back to Pennsylvania and New York, where they became part of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederation. A good article on the history of the Susquehannock Tribe is available online.
Massawomeck, lived in what is now Allegany County, Maryland and in the states of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. They ceased to be mentioned in historical records after 1635 and their fate is unknown.
Tuscarora, originally from the North Carolina region, they migrated to what is now Frederick County, Maryland around 1720, after losing the Tuscarora War, fought by this tribe and the English colonists of North Carolina. They eventually migrated north to become part of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederation.
Another, more simplified, way of classifying the tribes of Maryland is detailed in Native American Tribes of Maryland, an online resource for students. That source states that the three main groups were the Nanticoke tribe (including the Piscataway and Conoy), the Powhatan tribe (including the Accohannock), and the Susquehannock tribe.
There may have been other tribes or bands associated with Maryland, as Federeick Webb Hodge or John Swanton have identified the following as additional tribes in the state – Chicacones, Kittamaqundi, Potomac, and Taocomcoes. These may simply be alternate names of tribes identified earlier in this article.
Current Tribes and Bands of American Indians in Maryland
There are no federally recognized Indian tribes in Maryland today, although one, the ________, has applied for such recognition. Non-recognized Indian tribes and communities include:
Piscataway-Conoy Confederacy P.O. Box 1484 La Plata, Maryland 20646
Records of the American Indian Tribes of Maryland
As is often the case, historical documents listing individual Indians are very scarce for the colonial time period. Most records listing individuals were not kept until the federal government was formed and standard practices were established concerning the creation and preservation of such record. The Office of Indian Affairs, forerunner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was not established until 1824. Prior to that time, the few records that were kept often were more general in nature, describing the inter-relationships between Indians and non-Indian settlers.
By the time the Office of Indian Affairs was formed, all of the tribes of Maryland had either moved from the state or had been integrated into the non-Indian culture. Many of the records of Indian descendants in Maryland, therefore, will be in the standard genealogical records such as land records, deeds, church records, census, etc.
Anyone who claims connection to the Piscataway Tribe should read the Wikipedia article on the tribe. That article explains briefly the efforts to disqualify the tribe as Indians, based upon their intermarriage with African-Americans.
Depositories of Records of the Indians of Maryland
The holdings of the Maryland State Archives include histories of the Indian Tribes of Maryland. In this archives, they are classified under the research topic of Native Americans. A search of their holdings may be made online (http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/refserv/genealogy/html/ethnic.html#native).
- Hodge, Frederick Webb. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institutuion, Bureau of Ethnology, Bulletin #30 1907.
- Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of Ethnology, Bulletin #145
A useful history of the Native American tribes of Maryland to 1700 is found in:
- Semmes, Raphael T. Captains and Mariners of Early Maryland. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins Press, 1937. (Family History Library book 975.2 H2sr; fiche 6049133.) The book has an extensive bibliography, an index to the names of persons, and a separate index to names of Indians.
Maryland- History for a calendar of events
Maryland-Military for a list of forts
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