Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Indigenous people of Montgomery County, Maryland

My home has been near Washington DC in Montgomery County, Maryland for a decade and I was long overdue in learning who lived here before me. I don't mean 11 years ago. I mean before Europeans arrived.

It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be, so I emailed the Maryland Division of Historical & Cultural Programs:

I've been poking around trying to determine what Indigenous people lived in what is now Bethesda. I've scanned numerous articles about the people of Maryland before Europeans and they mention many MD counties, but oddly, so far, none have mentioned Montgomery County. Best I can tell from my cursory search, I believe it may have been the Piscataway, the Nacotchtank, or both?

I heard back from Matthew D. McKnight, Ph.D., Chief Archaeologist - Maryland Historical Trust, at the Maryland Department of Planning, who kindly allowed me to share his helpful reply:

You ask a very interesting question, and I think you hit upon the answer. Based on what early English records exist, the best guess as to which Native American group(s) would have inhabited the Bethesda area at time of Contact is the Nacotchtank or Anacostans

We know from the records in Virginia that the Patawomeck controlled the Virginia side of the Potomac and that they allied themselves with the English, and we know that they often fought with the Nacotchtank who controlled the opposing Maryland side. The Piscataway were the principal tribe on much of Maryland western shore and many native groups were allied with them in a kind of confederacy. The Nacotchtank were one such group.

Unfortunately, disease and warfare decimated the population to the extent that by the time European settlement moved farther inland (to Bethesda and greater Montgomery County), we don't have first-hand written accounts of Indigenous people because much of the area had been abandoned. 

By the 1680s there is some archival evidence that suggests the area had become a route south for the Seneca, Susquehannock, and other northern tribes who were at war with the Piscataway. There are some accounts of northern Indians building forts in Montgomery County, which suggests abandonment. We do have archaeology documenting plenty of pre-Contact occupation, but tying particular archaeological "finds" to the named tribes of the historic period has always been difficult.


Fall 2020 addendum: graffiti in a tunnel on the Capital Crescent Trail, where I run:


5 comments:

Gwen said...

Thanks for sharing this. I've been a long-time Montgomery County resident, and it's great to learn about the folks who resided here.

Mike Auld said...

You may want to check out the Maryland Government’s site with some locations of its Indigenous people via the link below.
The Nacotchtank was one of three major tribes in Washington DC’s Federal City’s boundary stones layout which was carved out of Maryland and Virginia “Indian’s” territories. The remaing nations are the Powhatan Paramountcy’s Pamunkey and Tauxenent or Dogue. You may want to check out the Maryland Government’s site on the locations of its Indigenous people via the link below.

The Nacotchtank was one of three major tribes in Washington DC’s Federal City’s boundaries which was carved out of Maryland and Virginia “Indian’s” territories. The remaining nations/“tribes” are the Powhatan Paramountcy’s Pamunkey and Tauxenent or Dogue.

Prince Georges was shared by the Pamunkey, the leading nation in Powhatan’s Paramountcy, the county had other tribes within its boundaries such as a small scattering of the original Piscataway. These original Algonquian Piscataway were forced out of Maryland by 1711 and went back north from where they had been forced south to the Chesapeake shore in the 1300s because of the Little Ice Age which began in the mid 1200 to the 1700s. It is unclear who the contemporary Piscataway are, since they claim that they returned to Southern Maryland as Iroquoian.

As for the Nacotchtank of SE Washington DC, remnants from their destroyed town in Anacostia, went west (into Virginia), south into Southern Maryland to join a number of tribes in that highly populated Indigenous area), and north towards Ohio (in 1685 after stopping on the Tauxenent’s Roosevelt Island). This event occurred after the bombardment by the Jamestown colonists (with the help of the Patawomeck of Stafford County, VA).

Montgomery County is more likely Iroquoian
Susquehannock or possibly Algonquian Delaware. The Susquehannock were considered tall warriors who, upon English encroachment were pushed north into Pennsylvania and New York.

https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/01glance/native/html/01native.html

Mike Auld said...

Sorry about the duplications shown here. Segments shown here were deleted during the edit... But showed up anyway. Hope you can make sense of it.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Mike, thank you for taking the time to contribute here, and in such detail. Greatly appreciated!

Yamaye-mike.blogspot.com said...

Thanks for your understanding. Here is link to more information on DC’s Indigenous people. http://yamaye-mike.blogspot.com/2021/04/indigenous-dc-hidden-history.html?m=1

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