During the early days of colonization, the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia was largely populated by the Algonquin People as well as smaller groups of Iroquois and Siouan Peoples. Among the Algonquin sub-tribes in Maryland are the Annemessex, the Assateague, the Choptank, the Pocomoke, the Accohannock, and the Nanticoke, the Kuskarawaok, the Manokin , and the Wicomico. In Virginia, Northampton is the ancestral home of the Accomac tribe, and present day Accomack County is the ancestral home of the Occohannock tribe (Rountree & Davidson, 1997). Smaller tribes such as the Magothas, the Mattawames, the Nuswattocks, and the Curratocks had their home at Craddock Neck. The Machapungoes lived across several villages near present day Nassawadox, Quinby, and Washapreague. The Onancock tribe resided near present day Onancock, the Chesconnessex resided near Chesconessex Creek, VA; the Matomkins were near present day Accomac, VA; the Kikotanks (MD STATE SITE HAS KIKOTANK listed as an Assateague tribe) were near present day Gargatha, and the Chincoteagues on Chincoteague Bay (Walczyk, 2003).
The Powhatan Confederacy was the largest organized political, social, and martial body in the region and extended from the tidewaters of Virginia, up into the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and down through North Carolina (Mark, 2023). This confederacy was irreversibly changed by early colonization of the Eastern Shore of MD and VA. When Captain John Smith first explored the Eastern Shore region in 1608 he encountered a rich land populated with well-established Native American societies. These societies had differing languages and politics, but shared many of the same social and technological tools of the region. The earliest records, made by colonial explorers and settlers, appear in county and state records but unfortunately do not record much of religious, historical, or mythological oral histories of the Indigenous societies (Rountree & Davidson, 1997).
Numerous Reservations and ‘Indian Towns’ were established on the Eastern Shore as colonial settlers divided the land. The Choptank Reservation (1668), Askiminikansen, Wueponqua, and Parahocon on the Pocomoke River (1678), Chicone and Puckamee on the Nanticoke River (1678), the Tundotank (Tony Tank) and Cottingham on the Wicomico River (1678), Manokin Indian Town near Princess Anne (1661) . However, lacking any formal boundary surveys, excepting Choptank and Chicone, these reservations quickly dissolved, in some cases in less than a generation (Rountree & Davidson, 1997). By 1698, all major tribes had some kind of status with the provincial government of Maryland and were settled on reservations with legally established boundaries (Rountree & Davidson, 1997).
By the mid 1600’s the surviving Virginia tribes were losing land to English settlers at a rapid rate. A 1640 treaty set aside land for the Accomacs, known as Gingaskin Reservation. The Gingaskin Reservation was patented in 1680 and recorded in the county records in 1712 . The legal termination of the Gingaskins began in 1784 and ended in 1813 (Rountree & Davidson, 1997). By the mid 1800’s land disputes, changing regulations, and treaties undermined the autonomy and lands of the Eastern Shore tribes. By the 1750’s Native American populations on the Eastern Shore were dwindling as people emigrated off the peninsula. For those who remain, many work to preserve the history and culture of the First Nations People of the Delmarva Peninsula.
Mark, J.J. (2023). Powhatan Confederacy. World History Encyclopedia. https://www.worldhistory.org/Powhatan_Confederacy/
Rountree, H.C., & Davidson, T.E. (1997). Eastern Shore Indians of Virginia and Maryland. University of Virginia Press.
Walczyk, G,M. (2003). The Indians of the Lower Eastern Shore. Shoreline Vol. 10, No. 3. Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture
The Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University acknowledges that we are situated on the traditional lands of the Wicomico peoples. The University occupies the past lands of the Tundotank Reservation (Tony Tank) created during colonization of the Eastern Shore.
Accohannock Indian Tribal Museum
Bending Water Park, 28325 Farm Market Road, Marion Station, MD 21838