When the Calverts came to America there were two important families of Indians living within the territory granted them. The Susquehannoughs in the northern part of the colony belonging to the Iroquois family were fierce and warlike, while on what is now known as the Eastern Shore lived the Algonquins, of more peaceful disposition. The Nanticoke and Choptank tribes belonged to this family. They were tide water people living along the rivers which now bear their names. Although these Indians were traders rather than fighters, the Nanticokes on several occasions proved hostile to the settlers.
The men of the Choptank and Nanticoke tribes were tall and handsome, but disfigured themselves with paint. The women were short and heavy, lacking the dignity of the men. Like other tribes their cheek bones were high, mouths and noses large, eyes black and beadlike. Such loathing as the men wore was made of finely dressed skins forming a mantle which hung from the shoulders and an apron about the waist. They adorned themselves with as many chains of beads and shells as they could procure. Their straight black hair was tied in a single lock and ornamented with feathers. In winter a decorated robe, leggins and moccasins were worn for protection against the cold. The women wore shortsleeved tunics with leggins and moccasins in one, and the children's dress was much the same as their parents.
Homes. The tents or wigwams of these Indians were made of young saplings set in the ground to form a circle with the flexible ends tied together to form a framework. This was covered with bark or skins. When fire was needed, it was built on the ground in the center of the tent. The wigwam held no furniture, a pile of leaves covered with straw serving as a bed. Except for sleeping purposes the wigwam was seldom used, as the Indians lived almost entirely out of doors.
The Chief's House. The chief's house, though much larger, was built of the same materials. Instead of the circular form it was oblong with holes cut in the sides for windows and an opening at the top to let out smoke from the fire. Grasses or rushes woven into curtains divided the interior. The only furniture consisted of poles laid across four stakes driven in the ground, the whole being covered with leaves and skins and used as a bed. A strong stockade enclosed the chief's house, neighboring wigwams and council-fire around which the men gathered to discuss public matters and hold religious ceremonies.
Outside the villages the land was held in common. Each family had a plot to cultivate, the manual work being done by the women and children. A part of each crop was for the chief, stored by him for personal use as well as for entertainment of guests and reserve in case of famine or siege. The main crops grown were corn, beans, tobacco, melons, and gourds. The men fished, trapped, and hunted small game. They also made weapons and bowls which were greatly prized by neighboring tribes who traded for them. The women, as in all savage races, were the burden bearers and real workers. With bones for needles animal sinews for thread they made the clothing for their families from skins they had carefully dressed. With wooden hoes they worked crops they had sown and later must harvest. When camp was to be moved, it was the women who carried the packs upon their willing backs while the men strode along with only their beloved bows and arrows as burdens.
These red men were governed by a chief whose power was absolute over them and whose position was hereditary. Next in rank was a general who had charge of all expeditions, peaceful or hostile. Such men as distinguished themselves in council or battle were given the title of cockarouse. These men, with the chief, general, and medicine man formed the council of the tribe.
The medicine man was looked upon as a person of great importance in the camp. His skill was supposed to be magical as well as medical. The Indians believed sickness a result of offending a spirit and part of their treatment consisted of pow-wowing, wild dancing, and gesticulation to appease the Evil One. Along with this herbs were used, while in ease of wounds, the flesh was
Ceremonies and Feast. In religious ceremonies, feasts and rites the medicine man again played a prominent part. These festivals were mostly in connection with seasonal changes, harvests, or return of migratory game. They were celebrated with dancing, singing, and feasting. Not until some time after the coming of the white men did these Indians indulge in any drink at their feasts except water sweetened with sugar-maple sap. In later years, drunkenness became prevalent among them as a result of trading valuable furs with the settlers for "fire water," as they called liquor.
Tobacco was a sacred herb among the Indians and used only in the ceremonial pipe. In the council it was lighted by the chief who drew on it a few times, opened the subject for discussion, and passed the pipe to the Indian next in rank. He in turn puffed a while then gave his views on the matter. This was continued until the pipe had gone all around the fire and each man allowed an opportunity to speak. Another use made of the pipe was to determine the attitude of visiting tribes. The chief after smoking it a while passed it to the principal man of the visiting tribe. If he accepted the pipe and smoked it, his errand was understood to be friendly, but if he refused to smoke, it was a sign of trouble between the tribes. The pipes were made of clay and decorated to suit the savage fancy. Several have been found in our county within recent years along with numerous stone hatchets, axes, and darts.
Indian Money. One of the Indian means of exchange was known as peak and consisted of small pieces of clam or mussel shell in purple or white. The purple was known as wampum-peak and had twice the value of the white. Rough bits of shell, rudely shaped, known as "roenoke" was much less valuable. Both peak and roenoke were strung and valued according to measure. The value of a yard of white peak was 9 pence (18c), in trade with the English; the purple, 18 pence (36 cents).
Indian Warfare. The Indians in their attacks upon the settlers used the same form of warfare as when fighting their own race. They delighted in surprise attacks and displayed great skill in this. When an attack was to be made, the chief and his warriors met in council and celebrated the coming events by dancing and pantomine of shooting, tomahawking and scalping of foes. After this they slipped from camp and traveled noiselessly to their destination. Often they went under cover of darkness, in single files, hiding behind trees until at a signal, they burst upon their victims with a war-hoop and began their cruel slaughter.
There are in some of our communities Indian stories and legends which have been handed down for several generations, and while in this way have become altered, still must have had some foundation in fact. One of these stories is of the kidnaping of a child hear McCarty's Wharf, in lower Caroline. An infant boy, Richard Willoughby by name, was left alone in his home while his father and mother were engaged in some out-of-door work. An Indian crept up to the house and stole the child. It was not until after six weeks of searching by the distracted parents and neighbors that he was finally found in an Indian camp at Yellow Hill.
Along Hog Creek the remains of an Indian camp and medicine pit were found a few years ago. Indian caves and a large burying ground were located near Blairtown. On the Caroline side at Reliance there was for seventy years a reservation belonging to the redmen. What is now Downes Wharf once bore the name of Indian Landing. On the old Lyford farm in Tuckahoe Neck bones and skulls of savages have been found.
Perhaps some day you, too, may find a relic of those long-ago tribes and treasure it in memory of a fast vanishing race.
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