Maryland Indian Tribes
The first Marylanders were Paleo-Indians who came more than 10,000 years ago from other parts of North America to hunt mammoth, great bison, and caribou. By 1000 B.C., Maryland had more than 8,000 Native Americans in about 40 different tribes. Most of them spoke Algonquian languages. They grew corn, peas, squash and tobacco. They also hunted, fished and traded with tribes as far away as New York and Ohio.
The word Chesapeake, as in Chesapeake Bay, came from the Native American word “Chesepiuk,” an Algonquian name for a village that the Roanoke, Virginia, colonists discovered in 1585 near the mouth of the Bay. Later, mapmakers used the word to name the Bay. People have said that Chesapeake means great salt water or great shellfish bay, but no records exist to verify those definitions.
In 1608, Captain John Smith thought there was “no place more perfect for man’s habitation” than the Chesapeake Bay. Fur trader William Claiborne thought so, too, and set up a fur trading post on Kent Island in 1631. This was the first English settlement in the upper Chesapeake.
In 1632, King Charles I of England granted a land grant to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, to form a colony north of the established Virginia Colony. The colony would be named Maryland in honor of King Charles’ wife Queen Henrietta Maria. The first settlement in Maryland was at St. Mary’s on the Potomac River on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in 1634.
The boundary of the grant included all of present day Maryland and Delaware, and included all of the homeland of the Nanticokes, the Piscataway/ Conoy and parts of many other tribal homelands including the Lenape, Powhatan, Susquehannock, Shawnee and others.
A tribe of Algonquian linguistic stock formerly occupying the peninsula of lower Maryland between the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay and northward to the Patapsco, including the present District of Columbia, the Piscataway are notable as being the first tribe whose Christianization was attempted by the English.
Under the Maryland Government, the other chiefs or kings all recognized the chief of Piscataway as their emperor, and their original population was probably nearly 2500.
On March 25, 1634, the Catholic English colony of Lord Baltimore, including the Jesuit fathers Andrew White and John Altham, landed on St. Clement’s Island and established friendly relations with the natives and the great chief of Piscataway and the chief of Potomac town on the Virginia side. The first altar was set up in an Indian wigwam.
Because of attacks by the powerful Susquehannock at the head of the bay, the local natives were about to move, and the English settlers bargained with them for the abandoned site.
Under the new Government, the Piscataway rapidly declined. Driven from their best lands by legal and illegal means, demoralized by liquor dealers, hunted by slave-catchers, wasted by smallpox, constantly raided by the powerful Susquehannock while forbidden the possession of guns for their own defense, their plantations destroyed by the cattle and hogs of the settlers, and their pride broken by oppressive restrictions, they sank to the condition of helpless dependents whose numbers constantly diminished.