Category Archives: Delmarva Geography

The Plantation at Whaley’s Crossroads, 1743-1792

Having lived at Whaley’s Crossroads for most of my life, I’ve always been interested in the history of the land that I call home. Who lived here in the past? Who was the first? If there were old, forgotten houses, where were they? Were today’s fields yesterday’s woods, and vice versa? What routes did the early roads follow? What did the land look like during the colonial era?

With the help of early maps, land records, wills and other genealogical records, and software, I’ve been able to answer some of these questions, but there is much that remains unknown. The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, which features local roads, waterways, houses and their owners’ names, and other structures, is incredibly useful — but 1868 isn’t all that early when one considers that there was English settlement activity in the neighborhood in the early 1700s. My goal is to use the atlas as a starting point and work backwards towards the original Maryland surveys, and connect as many dots as possible in this mostly forgotten period of 150+ years.

For this article, I’ve used Plat Plotter, Inkscape, and Google imagery to create a series of maps to demonstrate how I visualize overlapping surveys  and resurveys from the same neighborhood. In theory — my theory, at least — the overlapping area(s) between different early surveys of the same tract of land can be viewed as a Venn Diagram, of sorts. The unchanging core of a plantation over the course of decades probably includes the site of the primary dwelling house and/or the most desirable land. As successive owners buy and sell parcels of surrounding land, they create new property lines which can be compared to the older property lines, and — again, in theory — we should be able to make some educated guesses about where the core of a plantation may have been during a particular period.

All of this sounds very confusing, even to me as I’m writing about it. This is better shown than described.

Let’s start with a plat of the tract Friendship, surveyed for John N. Saunders in 1760:

This is a resurvey which begins with the original, diamond-shaped 50-acre tract (D), takes away several acres which are part of an overlapping “elder survey” (C), and adds vacant land (B), resulting in a new tract. The rest of the certificate (not shown) explains that the original tract had been surveyed for James Bowger in 1743, and was named Bowger’s Choyce (or Choice), but “the Afsd. Bowger had omitted paying Caution for the Land” and the original certificate became “null & void.” James Bowger or Bouger remains a somewhat mysterious figure in the early history of the neighborhood; he appears on the tax list for 1723, and, interestingly enough, the 1760 survey of Friendship refers to Bowger’s Mill, which was probably located at Terrapin Pond. He also received a patent for a 55-acre tract called John’s Folly in 1720.

A word of explanation is in order before we look at the next image, which shows the approximate location of Bowger’s Choyce. Although I’ll be presenting the next few maps in chronological order, I had to locate and plot each of them in reverse chronological order. Their locations are based on the boundaries of other parcels of land. To the north, a large tract sold in 1811 bordered land owned by Jonathan Betts, and it just so happened that two pieces of land, which Betts purchased from Thomas Paramore in 1791 and 1792, fit the neighboring tract like a glove. The boundaries of these two parcels, which we’ll look at in a bit, begin with the original bounder of both Friendship and Bowger’s Choyce, and although slight errors in the surveys make it impossible to pinpoint its exact location, we can get very, very close.

Here is the approximate location of Bowger’s Choyce, mostly in the area between Route 24, Whaleys Road, and Samuel Hill Road:

Bowger’s Choyce, 1743

The boundaries begin at the southernmost point, which, in 1743, was a marked red oak sapling. As I said, there’s a margin of error here, and the tree is long gone, so we can’t be sure of the exact spot, but it’s close.

Apparently, Bowger’s Choyce overlapped with another tract — “C” from the plat of 1760 — which I’ve yet to identify. The next image is based on a crude tracing of the plat, since I don’t have any other information about the mystery tract’s boundaries.

“C”

Though “C” was called an elder survey in 1760, it’s unclear whether it predates the survey of Bowger’s Choyce in 1743. It certainly predates the resurvey of Friendship in 1760.

Beginning at the same red oak at the southernmost point of Bowger’s Choyce, it’s fairly easy to plot the boundaries of Friendship:

Friendship, 1760

A small section of the tract extends beyond the map. The shape of Friendship doesn’t match the modern landscape in an overtly recognizable way, but there are boundary markers that seem to align with modern features (i.e., roads and tree lines), and may have been used in drawing later property lines.

Friendship was resurveyed yet again in 1776, resulting in a much larger tract called Delay. I don’t have the boundaries of Delay to plot it, although it appears on the incredibly detailed and useful maps created by Mike Hitch and the late John Lyon. However, additional records allow us to piece together the history of Friendship/Delay over the next few decades. Worcester County land record indices indicate that Matthew Parramore purchased a piece of land from John N. Saunders in the late 1760s; though the deed itself isn’t available online and I haven’t sought it out, it seems clear that this purchase included Friendship. Matthew Parramore willed the resurveyed version of Friendship to his son, Ezekiel, who, in turn, conveyed it to Thomas Parremore in 1791. (Note that the name Paramore was spelled differently in various records at that time.) Almost immediately, Thomas sold a 100-acre parcel of the land to Jonathan Betts, Sr., in 1791.

Here is the approximate location of that parcel:

Parremore to Betts, 1791

Notice how a couple of the boundary lines on the northeast side align with modern tree lines. The point near the middle of the tract, at what is almost a right angle, was described as the northwest corner of Parremore’s plantation in 1791, and the line extending to the east and into the woods followed a fence at that time. But just a year later, he sold an additional parcel to Betts, shown below:

Parremore to Betts, 1792

The 1791 and 1792 surveys don’t fit together perfectly, so I’ve erred on the side of matching the 1792 parcel to the tree line along its northeastern corner, which seems to match it perfectly. Its westernmost boundary is questionable, however, and actually overlaps the 1791 parcel somewhat. Both parcels begin at the red oak used as the first bounder of Bowger’s Choyce in 1743 and Friendship in 1760.

I haven’t quite pieced together the history of the land after Betts acquired it in the 1790s; I suspect it passed to Hezekiah Matthews at some point, because I know his son, Henry Clay Matthews, owned it at the time of his death in 1917. Since then, the old plantation has been divided into increasingly smaller parcels owned by a number of landowners including members of the Mitchell, Whaley, Morris, and Slavens families, among others.

The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas offers a glimpse of the neighborhood in 1868 —

Beers Atlas of 1868 + modern imagery

— but it still doesn’t tell us much about the way things were 100+ years earlier. To get a better idea, I’ve stacked the images we’ve already looked at. Where the changing property lines overlap, they reveal what may have been the core of the plantation owned by Jonathan Betts, and the Parremores before him, and John Saunders before them, and — possibly — James Bowger before him, although it’s not clear whether Bowger actually did anything with his land between 1743 and 1760.

The yellowest area  is our “hot spot” (for lack of a better term), not only because it is included in both the 1743 and 1760 surveys, but also because it isn’t included in the first parcel that Thomas Parremore sold in 1791. It seems unlikely to me that he would have sold the most important part of his plantation first. The deeds aren’t helpful, since both vaguely mention housing, fencing, and orchards, which was pretty standard for the deeds of the time, and part of the price of the 1791 parcel is illegible.

So I’ve created two images, the first, showing what I consider to be the primary hot spot; the second, showing adjoining land that may have also been considered part of the core of the plantation between 1743 and 1791, yet, for some reason, was sold a year earlier than the land to the east.

Probable hot spot, 1792

 

Probable hot spot prior to 1791

It’s only my opinion, but I’d like to suggest that the area within the solid yellow lines may have included the earliest and/or primary dwelling house, outbuildings, gardens, and orchards, while the area within the dotted yellow lines may have included early features of less importance; perhaps the earliest fields. I would also suggest that the land outside the yellow lines may have included wooded land and later fields, as the owners expanded and improved their holdings, all while buying and selling surrounding parcels.

The location of H. Matthews’ house on the Beers Atlas seems to support this theory, allowing for minor errors in both the atlas and the surveys layered underneath:

So we have the earliest known house site depicted in 1868, located on the part of Bowger’s Choyce (1743) that was included in resurveys of Friendship (1760 and 1776) and sold in two transactions in 1791 and 1792. This probably isn’t a coincidence.

The overlapping tracts/parcels might also explain why an earlier version of Samuel Hill Road looks like it leads directly to the H. Matthews house before heading east towards Lowe’s Crossroads and Millsboro. It’s possible that this section of the road was built specifically to connect Bowger’s Choyce and Bowger’s Mill, to the south, during the period between 1743 and 1760, if not earlier.

Further research might tell us more about the neighborhood, not only as it appeared in the 1790s, when the vacant land was disappearing and the land records are a bit easier to decipher, but perhaps even as it appeared in the 1740s, when only a handful of settlers were establishing plantations in this part of Wimbesocom Neck. We still know little of this early period.

– Chris Slavens

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Map of Vinson’s Pond, 1792

Yesterday I gave a presentation about the early history of the Trap Pond neighborhood at the Baldcypress Nature Center in Trap Pond State Park, covering some of the interesting people and places in the area between the early 1700s and 1840, when the mills there were named the Trap Mills. My presentation included an incomplete map of the area as it may have looked between 1772 and 1792 — during the days of Newbold Vinson’s plantation on the west side of the pond — featuring waterways, roads, mills, and a few houses. See below; the text should be clear when viewed at full size, or when printed on a sheet of paper.

It’s difficult to make a map like this, because the earliest map to depict many of these details is the Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, and land records and plats don’t always mention or depict nearby roads and other features. I’ve had to make educated guesses about the roads, in particular, and in some cases, those guesses might not be correct. Many of today’s roads are based on 18th-century roads, with minor changes made here and there, but in some cases, roads that we use today were created surprisingly late. For example, since the mills at the north end of Trap Pond probably date back to the 1770s, and the mills at Pepper Pond date back to at least 1760, it would seem reasonable to assume that the section of Trap Pond Road which connects these two early landmarks was built around the same time. Yet it wasn’t. The legislation authorizing the creation of this road wasn’t passed until 1867. Previously, the Goose Nest Lane was the main road leading to and from the Trap Mills, at least on that side of the pond.

Another missing road that throws people off when they look at the map is Route 24, or at least the section between Little Hill Road and Samuel Hill Road, running right through Whaley’s Crossroads. This section wasn’t built until the 20th century. Previously, the main road veered southeast with today’s Little Hill Road. From Terrapin Hill, one could continue southeast towards Little Hill, or follow an early, curvier version of Whaleys Road towards the Line Meeting House.

One of the earliest roads seems to be Wootten Road, and it doesn’t seem to have changed much. When the tract Forest Chance was surveyed in 1730, its first bounder, a poplar tree near the southern end of Trap Pond, in today’s terms, was said to stand near the road from Matthew Hosea’s to Indian River. Hosea lived near Trussum Pond. The route that this road followed from Terrapin Hill to Indian River is less clear; it’s possible that it followed the southern side of Saunders Branch towards Lowe’s Crossroads, but it’s also possible that it veered north, roughly following Whaleys Road to Samuel Hill Road, then followed one of several routes to the northeast. I’ve allowed for this possibility on my map, not only because it seems logical, but because the land along this route was settled fairly early, and I think there could have been a dwelling house near this section of Samuel Hill Road as early as the 1760s, if not earlier.

Looking at many of the other roads in the area, it’s entirely possible that they date back to the 18th century, since they seem to connect mills that existed at that time. However, I’m less certain about those I’ve omitted from the map, at least for now. I hope to continue to add details, especially houses.

– Chris Slavens

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A Work in Progress

About a year and a half ago I became interested in an unusual local burial custom mentioned in a handful of books: The construction of a wooden, shingled roof over a grave. The roofs were already old and in poor condition when they were first photographed in the 1930s, and today, none are known to have survived. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours looking for roofed graves in Sussex, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties — in records and in the field — and although I’ve yet to find a surviving roof, I’ve been rewarded with additional photos and information about the peculiar structures.

Initially I planned to summarize my research in a paper and submit it to an academic journal, but recently I decided to convert the work in progress into a short book, instead. This approach has allowed me to write with a bit more style, and include opinions and hunches which wouldn’t belong in a research paper. I plan to complete The Roofed Graves of Delmarva in the next couple of months, and self-publish a run of about one hundred copies.

The following illustration is a rough draft of a map showing the locations of six cemeteries known to have featured roofed graves. The book will also feature more detailed maps of each site.

– Chris Slavens

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The Beers Atlas and Aerial Imagery

The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868 is a valuable resource for Delaware researchers, featuring the locations of most houses and their owners’ names, in addition to other important structures like churches, schools, and stores. I’ve often compared the atlas to early topographic maps and aerial photography while researching a particular individual or property, glancing from one to another, but with the help of fairly simple software, images from different sources can be layered and merged, creating a sort of hybrid map.

In the following examples, I’ve overlaid a portion of the Beers Atlas (specifically, a portion of the map of Broad Creek Hundred) over early aerial imagery. In each case, there is a significant gap between the year the map was produced and the year the aerial photograph was taken, but the resulting images are striking nonetheless.

The image above depicts the neighborhood between Lowe’s Crossroads and Little Hill. The photograph is from 1954. Points of interest include the absence of King’s Crossing Road in 1868, and the presence of a road connecting what is now Lowe’s Crossing Road and Carey’s Camp Road. That road still survives as a private dirt lane. “Mrs. N. Timmons” is assumed to be Nancy Timmons, who was—according to census records—100 years old in 1870, but only 60 years old in 1850.

The image above depicts the neighborhood once known as Terrapin Hill, or, more recently, Whaley’s Crossroads. The photograph was taken in 1937. Perhaps the most striking difference is the absence of today’s Route 24 in 1868. Even in 1937, the road was fairly new. Persons of interest include Henry Pepper, Elijah Hudson, William J. West, and Henry Clay Matthews. Henry is probably the southernmost “H. Matthews,” living on the north side of today’s Samuel Hill Road, near the center of the image.

I plan to create more hybrid images of neighborhoods in this part of Sussex County, such as the Old Forge community located east of Laurel, Trap Pond (which will be tricky, since it’s in both Little Creek Hundred and Broad Creek Hundred, and therefore appears at the edge of two maps), Cypress Swamp, and parts of Gumboro.

– Chris Slavens

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Matthew Hosea: An Early Settler Near Trap Pond

This week I’ve been looking at an interesting early settler in the Trap Pond area named Matthew Hosea (pronounced Hozey). I don’t know when he came here or where he came from, but he received a patent for a 100-acre tract named New Dublin in 1716, and was a head of household in 1723, according to the earliest tax list. That’s very early for the neighborhood in question.

Hosea probably lived closer to Trussum Pond and James Branch than to Trap Pond. His “neck of the woods” was called both Hosea’s Neck and the Great Neck, and as early as 1730, surveyors noted a path leading from Matthew Hosea’s to Indian River. I suspect this path crossed either Trap Pond or Raccoon Pond, and parts of it probably survive today. In 1734, a 50-acre tract named Snow Hill (not to be confused with other tracts named Snow Hill) was patented to Hosea; its first bounder was “a Marked White oake standing one the north side of a branch of Broad Creek called the bald Syprus Branch a Littell Distance from the side Of the sd branch and a bout two hundred pole [1,100 yards] above wheere Matthew Hosey Now Lives in a Neck called the Great Neck…”

Hosea’s descendants held onto his land for a long time, possibly even into the 20th century, and a local schoolhouse was labeled Hosey School on maps as recently as 1945.

It would be irresponsible to try to guess what kind of man Hosea was. Why did he settle in what was then an untamed wilderness, far from neighbors and even churches? Was he a sort of free spirit who craved independence in isolation? Or was he a sterner sort of fellow who simply settled where he could afford to?

We can only be sure of one thing: He had to work very, very hard just to survive, build a farm, and provide for his family, out here on the outskirts of civilization.

– Chris Slavens

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Finding Quaacoson Ridge in Northeastern Wicomico

Recently I’ve mentioned a tract named Quaacoson (or Quaacosan) Ridge in a couple of articles, one about roofed graves, and one about local quiacason house sites. This particular tract consisted of 39 acres, and was surveyed for Isaac Mitchell on May 20, 1758, and patented to him on the same day. Previously he had acquired the 170-acre tract Hogg Yard, and would later acquire a 100-acre tract named Beach Ridge; all three were located in Worcester County.

The tract was described as follows:

…all that Tract or parcell of land called Quaacoson Ridge scituate lying & being in Worcester County back in the Forrest bounded as follows Beginning at a marked scaley barkt white oak standing near the south end of a ridge known by the name of Quaacoson Ridge & a few miles back in the woods from Pocomake River on the West side thereof thence running South twenty poles thence West sixty six poles thence North thirty poles thence East fifty six poles thence North East forty poles thence East one hundred poles thence South thirty eight poles thence with a right line to the first bounder containing & now laid out for thirty nine acres of land more or less to be holden of the Manor of Worcester

Quaacoson Ridge, 1758

This admittedly vague description tells us a couple of important things:

  1. The tract was named after a geographical feature known as Quaacoson Ridge, and its first bounder stood near the southern end of the ridge.
  2. The tract and the ridge are located a few miles west of the Pocomoke River, placing them in today’s Wicomico County. Hogg Yard and Beach Ridge are located in the same neighborhood. (Of course, initially I couldn’t ignore out the possibility that they were located north of the Transpeninsular Line, in today’s Sussex County, Delaware, but that turned out not to be the case.)

A casual reading of other surveys associated with Isaac Mitchell, and then other families in the general neighborhood, including Wests and Whaleys, told me that the site is located in northeastern Wicomico County, relatively close to the state line. But there are quite a few points of high elevation in this area, and however well the name Quaacoson Ridge might have been known at one time, it doesn’t seem to have made it onto any maps.

Fortunately, a great deal of land in the neighborhood was patented to James Whaley in February 1850, and Quaacoson Ridge (the tract) turns up in these records. Even more fortunately, one tract in particular — West Level, which included land formerly surveyed for Henry Spears in 1770 — bordered the state line, making it relatively easy to place it and the adjoining tracts, including Quaacoson Ridge, on a modern map.

West Level, patented to James Whaley in 1850, incorporated elder tracts Spears Venture, Addition to Spears Venture, and portions of Quaacoson Ridge and Beach Ridge.

West Level, patented to James Whaley in 1850, incorporated elder tracts Spears Venture, Addition to Spears Venture, and portions of Quaacoson Ridge and Beach Ridge.

The following map was created with Plat Plotter, a free, fun, and very useful app that anyone can use to plot property boundaries. This is by no means exact, but it’s accurate enough for our purposes, i.e., locating the ridge for which the tract was named.

Approximate location of West Level and Quaacoson Ridge, plotted with Plat Plotter.

Approximate location of West Level and Quaacoson Ridge, plotted with Plat Plotter.

It would seem that the white oak which served as the first bounder of the tract stood on the northeast side of the waterway known as the South Fork Green Run (a curious name; South Fork of Green Run might be more accurate), but considering the likely margin of error, it’s not especially important which side of the branch the tree stood on. It’s obvious that it stood quite close to it, probably at the water’s edge. Although this point might not seem to be at the south end of a ridge, it does lie to the southwest of an area of slightly higher elevation, which would have been much more significant during the 1750s, when the land would have been much swampier. This feature, encompassing the intersection of Tingle Road and New Hope Road, is the most obvious candidate for the ridge due to its proximity and the fact that the tract includes a significant portion of it. Let’s call this feature Candidate A.

Candidate A. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

Candidate A. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

However, we must consider the possibility that the ridge is actually located a bit further away. After all, “near” is a very subjective term, and “near” in the context of a swampy forest in the 1750s might allow for a greater distance between the tree and the south end of the ridge than a modern researcher might assume. As it happens, the first bounder is, indeed, “near” — roughly 2,500 feet from — the south end of a much more prominent geographical feature which certainly seems very ridge-like. If this feature, which we’ll call Candidate B, was known as Quaacoson Ridge in the 1750s, one can see how a surveyor, lacking other landmarks, might reasonably have described the first bounder as lying near it (though why a tract would have been named after a ridge it didn’t actually touch is a mystery to me). One problem with this possibility is that other tracts associated with the feature in question, such as West’s Luck (which overlaps it), make no mention of Quaacoson Ridge. But they don’t mention any other ridge, either. Since West’s Luck bordered the state line and was surveyed in 1817, the surveyor might have felt that there was no reason to mention any other landmarks. Older tracts might include helpful references; further research is needed.

Candidate B, spanning the state line. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

Candidate B, spanning the state line. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

Wherever Quaacoson Ridge was, it’s clear that the name survived in some form into the early 20th century. When the new 14th election district was erected out of the 4th election district in 1906, its boundaries were described as follows:

Commencing at the Delaware and Maryland line at a point on the county road leading from Bethel Church to Whitesville, Delaware, about two hundred yars west of the residence where Enoch Truitt now resides; by and with the centre of said county road to interesect county road leading from Cobb’s Hill to James H. West road at or near Quackinson School House; by and with the centre of said road to intersect the county road known as the Radcliff Farlow road; by and with the center of said county road to old Burnt Mill known also as New Mill…

“Quackinson” is almost certainly a corruption of Quaacoson; Quackinson isn’t a local surname, and I can’t think of any other reason for such a name to appear in the neighborhood in question. The location of this school is a bit unclear. Two nearby schools appear on the 1877 Lake, Griffing, and Stephenson Atlas, unhelpfully labeled School No. 1 and School No. 2, but neither is especially close to the possible Quaacoson Ridge sites, and it’s unclear which, if either, was called Quackinson. A similar name, Quackison, appears in land records pertaining to Benton H. Whaley, dated 1899; a plat of lands known as Whaley’s Quarter depicts a road from Quackison to Pittsville intersecting with a road from Quackison to Cobb’s Hill.

The Quaacoson Ridge neighborhood, 1877,

The Quaacoson Ridge neighborhood, 1877.

Identifying Quaacoson Ridge would be a valuable contribution to local historical knowledge for several reasons:

  1. Place-names and specific sites associated with the local Indian tribes are relatively rare. Aside from a handful of settlements (mostly reservations) mentioned in late 17th to mid-18th-century sources, we don’t know of all that many specific places that were important to them.
  2. We know even less about Indian activities in this particular neighborhood, or in the neighborhood of the Pocomoke Swamp in general.
  3. Like us, Indians used relatively permanent routes to travel from one place to another. Locating such sites can help us to identify the routes used to get to them. Was there a path leading to Quaacoson Ridge? Could it be the basis of a modern road? Or — perhaps more likely — was the ridge reached by water?
  4. Determining the approximate location of Quaacoson Ridge contributes to our understanding of local Indian mortuary customs (or at least it raises more questions for us to attempt to answer). The site is far from any known Indian settlement, in one of the last neighborhoods to be developed by Europeans. Why? Did the local tribes always build quiacason houses on the outskirts of their societies, unlike others who are known to have built them in or near their villages? Or did the choice of location reflect a desire to conceal quiacason houses from the colonists, who had been known to damage or rob them on more than one occasion?
  5. The location of the ridge could also shed light on the origins of the local roofed grave custom. If Candidate B is Quaacoson Ridge, then it’s very likely that the ancestors or close relatives of John C. West (1814 – 1858), who was buried under a roofed grave near Trap Pond, lived on a ridge associated with Indian mortuary houses. That wouldn’t prove anything, but it would be very interesting. Even if Candidate A is the correct feature, it’s still close enough to the Bethel Church cemetery, as well as some of the oldest local West lands, to be related to the roofed grave custom.

– Chris Slavens

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Quiacason House Sites of the Eastern Shore

In a recent article for the Laurel Historical Society, I noted the possibly coincidental links between local roofed graves, the family of John C. West (1814-1858), and a site in northeastern Wicomico County known as Quaacosan Ridge. This is one of several sites on the Delmarva Peninsula named after Native American mortuary houses and used as landmarks by surveyors from the 17th century into the 19th.

“Quiacason” — as I will spell the term throughout this post — is one of those Native American terms that the English colonists struggled to spell, resulting in creative spellings including quacasun, chiocason, quiocosin, quiocosine, quoioccason, quioccasin, quioccosin, quiakeson, quiankeson, quankosine, and even cuiackason or cuiaskason. It refers to a wooden mortuary or charnel house, described by some sources as crib-like, in which bodies of the deceased were placed. This custom was encountered in the mid-Atlantic and parts of the South, with some variations; for example, it seems that some quiacason houses served as permanent resting places, while others were intended to be temporary protective enclosures while a corpse decomposed, after which the bones were removed and buried in an ossuary.

The best-known account of a quiacason house on the Delmarva Peninsula is one of the latest. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated September 18, 1797, Cambridge resident Dr. William Vans Murray reported that a remnant of Choptank Indians (who he called Nanticokes) living at Locust Neck in Dorchester County, Maryland, preserved the remains of a chief named Wynicaco in a “Quacasun-house” or “chio-ca-son house.” Wynicaco died circa 1715, and is mentioned in many records of the period.

"Indian Charnal House" by John White, 1580s.

“Indian Charnal House” by John White, 1580s.

But references to local quiacason houses date back to the 17th century. Possibly the earliest is found in the description of a 500-acre tract named Quiakeson Neck or Quiankeson Neck, which was surveyed for James Weatherly in 1668 and described as lying on the “south side of Nanticoke River, beginning at a marked pine by a swamp near Indian Quiankeson houses.” (Marye, 1936). Other records place this site near Barren Creek in what is now western Wicomico County.

In May of 1686, the “King of Assateague,” whose people were living at “Askiminokonson” at the time, complained to the Maryland authorities “against Edward Hamond for that whereas it is a custom among them upon the death of an Indian king to save his bones and make a case with skinns wherein they inclose the bones and fill it up with Ronoke, and other their riches, he the said Hamond about a month since had upon the like occasion of one of their kings dyeing stolen away the skinns and roanoke from the place where he was layd…” Although the English took the complaint seriously enough to investigate, they eventually dismissed it.

A similar incident occurred in Nanticoke territory in 1707, when Samuel Marke, Isaac Mallett, and Joseph Tompson robbed a “Quiacosan house.” Although their guilt seems to have been taken for granted, six years later, Nanticoke leaders “Tom Coursey, Pantikas, and Rassekettham” complained that “they had not the satisfaction proposed for the robbery done by the Malletts on their Quankosine house…” It’s unclear where this happened. At the time, most of the Nanticokes were living in settlements along Chicacoan Creek and Broad Creek; “Pantikas” is surely an alternate spelling of Panquash, whose leadership among the Nanticokes spanned several decades, while “Rassekettham” would seem to be the same leader for which Rossakatum Branch, which flows through Laurel, was named. It’s unclear whether the issue was ever resolved.

Another tract named Quiakeson Neck, this one of 50 acres, was surveyed for Henry Dorman in 1734, and described as being “near the heads of the branches of Wiccomoco River bounded as follows Begining at a marked white oak standing on the North side of the Main Branch of the said Neck about sixty yards from the side of the afsd Branch & near the fork of the afsd neck where a Quiakeson house formerly stood…” The exact location of this tract is unclear, but in today’s terms it is probably located northeast of Salisbury.

A brief reference comes from a land commission held in Dorchester County in 1761, which noted that one of the original Choptank reservation’s bounders had been a tree standing in Cuiackason Swamp.

Another Wicomico reference — though the land was part of Worcester County at the time — is found in the description of a tract named Boald Cyprus (Bald Cypress), which was described in 1762 as “Beginning at a marked chestnut white oak standing on ye west side of Nassaongo Creek and on a point called the Quaacotion House Point on the south side of the afsd Point near the head of Nassaongo Creek…”

Yet another Wicomico reference — again, from old Worcester records — is found in the name and description of a 39-acre tract named Quaacosan Ridge, which was surveyed for Isaac Mitchell in 1758. This tract was fairly close to the Transpeninsular Line, or today’s state line, in or near the Pocomoke Swamp. The name seems to have survived in some form, for when the 14th election district was created in 1906, the “Quackinson School House” was used as a landmark.

The probable neighborhood of Quaacosan Ridge, from the 1877 Lake, Griffing, and Stevenson Atlas.

The probable neighborhood of Quaacosan Ridge, from the 1877 Lake, Griffing, and Stevenson Atlas.

Some thoughts:

  1. We shouldn’t necessarily assume that the local quiacason houses looked like the one John White painted in North Carolina. Even without a visual, we can make some educated guesses about their design based on their purpose and the materials available. Since a house had to protect decomposing corpses from scavengers — including black bears — for an extended period of time, it had to be strong. These were not flimsy structures. One can imagine a sort of elevated wigwam built with sturdy posts and enclosed with bark. Such a structure could withstand hurricanes if built well.
  2. It is apparent, despite the various spellings, that the English colonists (surveyors in particular) were familiar with quiacason houses and knew the Indian word for them. In an era when most landmarks consisted of natural features such as creeks and trees, and the occasional village or plantation, quiacason house sites were noteworthy. Between the stench of the rotting dead and European superstitions concerning graveyards, the colonists probably tried to avoid the sites (assuming they weren’t robbing them), but were certainly aware of their locations. Eventually, however, the demand for arable land prevailed. “Ridges” — in reality, points of high elevation compared to surrounding swamps — became ideal sites for homes and farm buildings.
  3. It is unclear whether quiacason house sites doubled as ossuary burial sites. Since relatively few of each have been documented, it’s not surprising that they don’t seem to overlap. Personally, I think that a dry, secluded ridge would have been a practical site for the burial of bones following their cleaning. From an archaeological point of view, it would probably be easier to locate quiacason house sites and search for evidence of ossuaries, than to search known ossuary sits for evidence of wooden posts — though either approach could work.

– Chris Slavens

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