Tag Archives: Broad Creek

Road research, part 1: Broad Creek to Indian River

18th-century maps of the Delmarva Peninsula are frustratingly short on details when it comes to roads. The major routes are depicted, of course, like the well-known stage road from Salisbury to Laurel Town, but when it comes to some of the minor routes alluded to in land surveys from the first half of the century, researchers are left guessing. Waterways are usually the best geographical features to use as reference points, being more or less stationary and often (but not always) retaining their colonial-era names, but many of those ancient footpaths and roads still exist under the paved surfaces of modern highways. It’s just a matter of figuring out which ones.

One such colonial road of uncertain location is mentioned in the description of a tract surveyed for Philip Wingate in 1748: “…Beginning at a markd white oke standing on ye north side of Broad Creek about three miles back in ye woods & on ye north side of a horse Rode leading from ye aforsd Broad Creek to ye Indian River…”

As I don’t know exactly where Wingate’s land was located (“ye north side of Broad Creek” is a rather large area), I’m only speculating, but this so-called horse road may have originally linked the Nanticoke reservation known as Broad Creek Town and the Indian River Indian reservation known as Askecksy (among other, similar names), both of which were settled as early as 1705. The town of Laurel now occupies the site of Broad Creek Town, while Askecksy was located south of present-day Millsboro, near Injun Town Road or Indian Town Road.  It is known that the residents of these Indian towns had settled there to escape English encroachment, and had contact with each other, despite belonging to different tribes; in 1742, they met in the area roughly between the two reservations known as Winnasoccum or Wimbesoccom, and planned to attack the local English settlers, as explained here. Shortly thereafter, the Indian River Indians sold their land, and most of the Nanticokes migrated to Pennsylvania. By 1748, the road in question may have been used almost exclusively by the English, and may have led directly to the mills located near the branches of Indian River, rather than the old Indian lands located a few miles south of them.

I’ve crudely spliced together maps of Broad Creek Hundred and Dagsborough Hundred from the Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, which was the first map of the area to show its extensive network of unpaved roads, and highlighted the route that the horse road of 1748 may have followed. Eventually I’d like to complete a map of the entire area as it looked during the colonial era, but for now, this rough mash-up is better than nothing.

Beers, edited

– Chris Slavens

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Rev. Richard F. Cadle: A Brief Profile

Richard Fish Cadle was born in New York in 1796. As a teenager he studied at Columbia College, and went on to become an important Episcopal minister and missionary, known especially for founding churches in the wild territories of Michigan and Wisconsin. He came to Laurel in the spring of 1853 following the resignation of the Reverend James W. Hoskins, and assumed responsibility for the Protestant Episcopal parishes at Seaford, Broad Creek, and Little Hill.

The churches under Rev. Cadle’s care included Christ Church, located a couple of miles northeast of the village of Laurel, and considered the mother church of the Episcopal churches of western Sussex County; St. Luke’s, located in Seaford; the recently completed St. Philip’s, a chapel in Laurel which quickly became more popular with parishioners than the comparably distant mother church; and St. John’s at Little Hill, a tiny chapel about seven miles east of Laurel, located just outside the hamlet known as Terrapin Hill, on the main road to Gumborough.

Rev. Cadle was given a house and $150 in cash, and was supplied with hogs and corn by some of the local farmers. Although the previous rector had been given two slaves, it is assumed that the vestry probably sold or freed them due to Cadle’s opposition to slavery. One of his first services in Laurel was the burial service of Joseph O’Neal, who had died in late March at age seventy.

Rev. Richard F. Cadle

Although he was not considered an exceptional preacher, due to a minor speech impediment, Rev. Cadle was known as an educated man, a gifted writer, and a passionate teacher, establishing a class in Laurel for the study of “approved religious books,” a Bible study class, and Sunday Schools for children. Of course, he also performed all of the regular duties of an Episcopal minister, presiding over marriages, baptisms, funerals, and burials, not only at the churches he served, but also at Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and in private residences. At that time, Methodism was by far the dominant faith in the area. In early 1857, he organized St. Mark’s in Little Creek Hundred, a few miles south of Laurel, which initially met at a private residence.

During the time of Rev. Cadle’s ministry, Christ Church, which was already nearly ninety years old, was in rather poor condition, and he hoped that the historic house of worship would be repaired and maintained, writing, “It is earnestly to be wished that the object of so much nursing care may yet be a joy of many generations.”

After being caught out in a cold storm in October 1857, apparently while performing his duties, Rev. Cadle became ill, and died in a parishioner’s home on November 9. Reportedly, his final words were, “The blood of Christ is sufficient for all things.”

– Chris Slavens

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The Nanticokes’ Last Stand

The following article and map were first published in the Laurel Star in May 2015.

The Nanticokes’ Last Stand
by Chris Slavens

With about 800 houses on the National Register of Historic Places and more than a dozen historic churches in and around the town, Laurel is the kind of place where the past is not only remembered, but celebrated. Many local families can trace their roots back to the 18th century, and some still live on land cleared by their distant ancestors when the Delmarva Peninsula was a wild frontier. Yet one of the most significant and fascinating events in the area’s history is also one of the least known, possibly because it took place when the area was claimed by Maryland.

Long before Barkley Townsend founded a town on the south side of Broad Creek and named it after the beautiful laurel bushes growing along the creek’s banks, the Nanticokes thrived here. Their territory stretched from the Chesapeake Bay to the vast cypress swamp in the center of the peninsula, and was home to at least ten villages. Captain John Smith visited the tribe in June of 1608, and noted that they were rich in furs and shell money, and were “the best Marchants of all other Salvages.”

In the following decades, the tribe listened to reports of European expansion, as the Dutch and Swedes settled in the northeast, and the English spread out from the western shore into Accomack and Choptank territory, and beyond. Attempts to resist ended badly. It was with this in mind, perhaps, that Unnacokasinnon, “Emperor of Nantecoke,” signed a peace treaty in 1668. The treaty laid out several rules for the Nanticokes; among them, that they would be required to lay down their weapons if they crossed paths with Englishmen in the woods. Unnacokasinnon also promised to “deliver up” the neighboring Wicomisses, who were his subjects. A Wicomiss man had recently killed an English captain, possibly to avenge the death of his wife. The Wicomisses were subsequently destroyed.

In 1698, the Maryland legislature established a large reservation on Chicacoan Creek, but a few years later, at about the time that the town of Vienna was established nearby, most of the Nanticokes moved up the river to Broad Creek. Whether they reclaimed an old village, moved into an existing one, or established a new one is unclear. It seems that the move was prompted by a combination of English harassment and depleted resources. The legislature, reluctant to provoke the tribe, decided to create a second reservation rather than force them to leave. The Nanticoke village on Broad Creek became known as Broad Creek Town, and its residents were sometimes called the Broad Creek Indians. At that time, the area was part of Somerset County (Worcester and Wicomico Counties did not yet exist), and would not be ceded to Sussex County for nearly seventy years.

During the next three decades, many English settlers were granted land in the surrounding area. Most of them were tobacco planters from Maryland and Virginia, drawn to northern Somerset by affordable land. At that time, the territory east of Broad Creek Town was part of the immense Pocomoke Swamp. In addition to clearing the land of trees, the settlers had to drain it, which was accomplished with a network of ditches.

Nanticoke territory, 1742

As more and more land was cleared and cultivated, the Nanticokes began to feel cornered. For generations they had lived in long-term villages along the coast, rivers, and creeks for most of the year, and periodically moved inland to hunt. Now they were more or less confined to their two reservations. Dishonest traders’ use of alcohol to intoxicate them and trick them into unfair business transactions also fueled rising tensions between the peninsula Indians and their English neighbors. In 1721, some of the tribes even asked the English authorities to prevent traders from selling or giving them rum.

By the spring of 1742, the situation was nearing its breaking point, and when a party of twenty-some Shawnee visited Chicacoan Town to share news of a French and Iroquois plot to drive the English from the Eastern Shore, the Nanticoke leaders were receptive to the idea. Colonel John Ennals noticed the visitors, but thought nothing of it at the time. The Shawnee stayed for about eleven days, then returned to the north.

A couple of weeks later, in early to mid-June, the Nanticokes, Choptanks, Indian River Indians, and Pocomokes quietly left their respective reservations and traveled to a place called Winnasoccum. The exact location of Winnasoccum is unknown, but colonial land records referring to Wimbesoccom (or Wimbasacham, Wimbesacum, etc.) Creek and Neck, and later maps featuring Sockum Creek, suggest that it was about six miles east of Broad Creek Town—or, in today’s terms, in the area between Pepper Pond and Trinity United Methodist Church.

Once numerous Indians had assembled at Winnasoccum, a week-long powwow commenced. The details of the plot were explained: In the near future, the Shawnee would secretly return and help the Nanticokes execute a surprise attack on the English settlers during the night. Men, women, and children would be slaughtered, and the attack would continue for as long and as far as possible. Meanwhile, the French, who had been grappling with the English for control of North America for decades, would land on the coast. For the Nanticokes and other tribes, it was to be a desperate, all-or-nothing, last stand against the invaders who had stolen their lands, forced them onto reservations, and destroyed some of the neighboring tribes. In celebration of the plan, some painted their bodies and danced to the sound of beating drums, brandishing tomahawks and firing guns, and a medicine man from Indian River brewed a poison to be dumped into their enemies’ water supply.

Had the gathering escaped the notice of the English, the history of the peninsula might have unfolded quite differently. But the white residents of both the Broad Creek area and Dorchester County reported their Indian neighbors’ suspicious absence to the authorities in Vienna, and on June 22nd, Colonel Ennals wrote to Colonel Levin Gale, warning that all of the Indians of Dorchester were missing, and that the Broad Creek Indians had left their village to hunt at Winnasoccum. He didn’t believe they were hunting, because the old men, women, and children had gone, too, instead of remaining behind to tend the crops. Gale forwarded the letter to Governor Samuel Ogle in Annapolis.

During the next week, several Indians were questioned. Four Choptanks confirmed that the purpose of the gathering at Winnasoccum had been to discuss the plot against the English. By July 4th, at least twelve Indians had been interrogated. Some claimed that the Broad Creek Indians had told them about a secret log structure on a small island about two or three miles into the swamp, stocked with guns, powder, shot, and many poison-coated, brass-pointed arrows. Meanwhile, the Council of Maryland directed the commander at Vienna to order any Indians in the swamp to surrender their weapons, and to guard the routes out of the swamp to ensure that none escaped to contact the northern tribes.

The Eastern Shore forces succeeded, and on July 12th ten Indians were questioned at a meeting of the Council in Annapolis. The leaders claimed that they had gone to Winnasoccum to hunt and elect an emperor, and denied the existence of any log structure stocked with weapons. Others claimed that they had gone there only because they were told to, and learned of the plot after they arrived.

The Council did not take long to make a decision. On the same day, some of the Indians were warned that they could have been severely punished, and that the English could take all of their lands, but would instead show them mercy. They were released on the condition that they would inform the nearest Justice of the Peace if they saw any “strange Indians.” However, their leaders, including Simon Alsechqueck and Captain John of Broad Creek, remained in custody for another twelve days. On July 24th, they were released after signing the most restrictive treaty in the history of the Nanticokes’ dealings with the English. They could no longer elect an emperor, and every member of the tribe was forbidden to own a gun without obtaining a license from the governor.

The failure of the plot may have been the last straw for the Nanticokes. Shortly thereafter, an exodus began. In 1744, Simon Alsechqueck and other Nanticoke leaders requested and received permission for the tribe to leave the Eastern Shore and live among the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. The refugees made their way north, paddling dugout canoes down the Nanticoke River and up the Chesapeake Bay. They joined other displaced tribes along the Susquehanna River for a time, but eventually traveled farther north and settled in French territory. Others moved east, and lived among the Indian River Indians. Their multiracial descendants would found the Nanticoke Indian Association 180 years later.

By 1754, Broad Creek Town was deserted. Any Nanticokes who didn’t move away probably lived in cabins on undesirable tracts of land, and were gradually absorbed by the white or black populations through intermarriage. Only stone artifacts and ancient names like Rossakatum, Wimbesoccom, and Assacatum remained to remind future generations of the first people to call Broad Creek home.

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Map of the Nanticoke Indians’ territory, 1742

This week the Laurel Star (and presumably the Seaford Star) published an article I wrote about the Nanticoke Indians about a year ago, as well as a rough map of the area showing the approximate locations of the Nanticoke, Choptank, and Indian River reservations in 1742. It was in that year that the surviving tribes gathered near Trap Pond and planned to wipe out the English settlers and reclaim the Eastern Shore with the help of Shawnee warriors and French forces. The plot was discovered and foiled, otherwise the history of the peninsula might have unfolded quite differently.

I’ll post the full article in a week or two, as I’d like for everyone who’s interested in the subject and able to do so to support the newspaper and buy a copy, but in the meantime here’s the map. Click to enlarge.

Nanticoke territory, 1742

– Chris Slavens

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A Map in Progress

Recently I decided to create a series of maps depicting the Broad Creek area during the colonial era. Many of the local place names have changed since then, making it difficult to describe where anything was.  It’s all well and good to explain that Gray’s Branch used to be known as Sockum Creek, and Wimbesoccom Creek before that, but it would be helpful to be able to point to Wimbesoccom Creek on a map. Maybe there is such a map, but I haven’t found it, so I’m in the process of creating it.

The following map is part of a digital tracing of an old map of the peninsula, plus several place names dating back to the early 1700s — say, between 1705 and 1735. (Most of the names date back to the 17th century, but some of the English creek names only date back to the 1720s and 1730s.) Eventually I’d like to create a map based on a modern map or satellite imagery, but this is a good first step. The text should be clear when viewed at full size.

Delmarva Early 18th Century

The locations of the Indian villages are approximate. There were many others, of course, some of which are well-documented and can be added to future drafts, and some of which are shrouded in mystery. For example, it was once reported that there were ten Nanticoke villages, but John Smith only visited four or five of them (Nause, Arseek, Sarapinagh, Nantaquack, and/or Kuskarawaok, which might have been another name for Sarapinagh), and colonial records only name Chicacoan Town and Broad Creek Town.

Somerset County, Early 18th Century

The location of Broad Creek Town is based on atrocious photocopies of old land records in a folder at the Laurel Public Library, which hint at, rather than show, the location of the reservation created in 1711. Most, but not all, of the Nanticokes’ land was on the north side of the creek. It should be noted that there is at least one reference to “Broad Creek towns,” plural, but all of the other colonial documents I’ve studied refer to only one town or village. Rossakatum Branch, located east of Little Creek, doesn’t appear on this map.

I’m unsure about the identity of Bald Cypress Branch, which was described as a branch of Broad Creek. (Not to be confused with the Bald Cypress Branch that flows through Gumboro and into the Pocomoke River.) If it wasn’t another name for Raccoon Branch, the source of Raccoon and Trap Ponds, then it might have been the next branch to the west, later known as Tresham or Trussum Branch. Bald cypress trees can still be found on both branches.

The map I traced to create the base layer of waterways didn’t show Chicacone (or Chicacoan, as it was usually spelled) Creek, so I drew a squiggle in that area and placed Chicacoan Town next to it.

The location of Askeckeky, also known as Askecksy, Ackequesame, Askakeson, etc., roughly corresponds with the location of the modern road named Injun Town Road or Indian Town Road. Now a back road, this road was once one of the main routes to Millsborough, and perhaps an Indian trail during the colonial era.

– Chris Slavens

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“Sockum” and the Nanticokes of Broad Creek

Beginning in 1744, the Nanticokes left their reservations on Chicacoan Creek and Broad Creek, in Dorchester and Sussex Counties, respectively. Most traveled north, up the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River, and lived among the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy before eventually settling in modern-day Ontario. Some moved east, and joined the Indian River Indians. Within a decade, Broad Creek Town was said to be abandoned, and in 1767 the Nanticokes relinquished their claim to the reservation and requested compensation. White settlers bought the land, and eventually the town of Laurel was founded on the site of the old reservation. But did all of the Nanticokes leave the Broad Creek area? If not, where did they live? What happened to them?

The strongest evidence for a Nanticoke presence near Broad Creek during the late 18th and early 19th centuries is the name Sockum, which was both a place name and a surname. Its meaning is uncertain, though its similarity to sachem, an Algonquian term for chief, is obvious. During the colonial era, the tributary of Broad Creek known today as Gray’s Branch was known as Wimbesoccom Creek, and the surrounding area as Wimbesoccom Neck. Several spelling variations can be found in the early records, including Wimbasacham and Winnasoccum. By the 1790s, the name had been shortened to Sockum, and Sockum Creek appeared on maps of the area for the next several decades.

The Broad Creek area in 1796. "Socum Cr" was previously known as Wimbesoccom Creek, and later known as Sockum Creek.

The Broad Creek area in 1796. “Socum” or Sockum Creek was previously known as Wimbesoccom Creek. It’s been named Gray’s Branch since the Civil War.

As a surname, Sockum first appears (to the best of my knowledge) in the tax lists for Somerset County, Maryland. In 1756, James and Rachell Sockam were dependents in the household of James Weatherly in Nanticoke Hundred. (Just to be clear, Nanticoke Hundred covered present-day western Sussex. The Delaware hundred of the same name covers a small portion of the same territory.) In 1757, James and Rachell “Scokem” were still living in Nanticoke Hundred, but James was the head of household. Although it’s impossible to be certain, I think it’s likely that they lived in what is now Little Creek Hundred, the area south of Broad Creek. At that time, the area north and east of Broad Creek was part of Worcester County, not Somerset.

According to the 1785 list of taxables in Dagsborough Hundred (which included the Gumboro area at that time), a James Sockam and a Widow Sockam (meaning the widow of a deceased Sockam) were living in the hundred.

The name next appears in the 1800s. There was a James Socom living in Dagsborough Hundred in 1800, a James Sockam living in Little Creek Hundred in 1810, and a James Soccum living in Dagsborough Hundred in 1820. Was there one James Sockum who moved around? Or were there two or three men with the same name? And was there a connection to the James Sockum documented in 1756 and 1757?

 In 1830, a free “negro” named William Sockum was living in Broad Creek Hundred with his wife and daughter. However, it’s important to remember that Indians were considered “colored” or “mulattoes” in 19th-century Delaware. Only after a long struggle did the multiracial descendants of the Nanticokes and Indian River Indians win recognition and respect as the Nanticoke Indians. William Sockum could have been 100% black, and I don’t deny that he probably had African ancestors — otherwise he would have been labeled a mulatto — but I suspect he also had Nanticoke ancestors.

In 1840, Elisha Sockom, a free “colored” man, was living in Dagsborough Hundred with his wife and four children. I’m not sure if he was the same Elisha Sockum who died in Philadelphia in 1881; according to his death certificate, he was born about 1794 in Sussex County, Delaware. Another free “colored” man named S. Souckum was living in Philadelphia in 1840; he was the first Sockum outside of Sussex County to be counted in the census, which supports the theory that Sockum was and is a Nanticoke name.

By 1850, there were two distinct Sockum families living in Sussex County. Isaac Sockum, a 40-year-old mulatto, was living in Broadkill Hundred, near Milton, with his wife and two daughters. The area around his farm became known as Sockumtown. One of his sons later reported that he had been told that Sockum was an Indian name, and that the family was descended from a white man and an Indian chief’s daughter. Meanwhile, Levin Sockum, a 40-year-old mulatto whose relationship to Isaac Sockum is unclear, was living in Indian River Hundred with his wife and ten children. Locals called the area on the north shore of Indian River “Sockum” or “Down Sockum,” supposedly because numerous Sockums lived there, but only Levin and his immediate family were counted in the 1850 and 1860 censuses. Levin was a storekeeper. In 1855, he was convicted of illegally selling ammunition to a so-called mulatto of Indian descent. The following year, he was convicted of illegally possessing a firearm, despite the fact that he did not consider himself to be a mulatto and claimed Indian ancestry. Following the humiliating trials, the family left the area. Most of them settled in New Jersey, where they were recognized as Indians, and changed their last name to Sockume. Some moved to San Francisco. There were also Sockums living in Philadelphia and New York in 1860.

In conclusion (for now), census records indicate an eastward migration of the name Sockum between 1756 and 1840. As both a place name and a surname, it first appears in the Broad Creek area. Later it appears near Indian River and the town of Milton. This doesn’t prove that all (or any) of the Sockums were descended from Nanticokes of the Broad Creek reservation, but I think that’s the best explanation. Maybe the story old Isaac Sockum told his children was true. Maybe a white man married the daughter of one of the last local chiefs of the Nanticoke people. Maybe their descendants were wrongly classified as mulattoes and persons of color, but handed down the story of their roots, generation after generation, even as they migrated across Sussex County and eventually moved to other states.

– Chris Slavens

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Bull’s Mills

A few days ago I posted a short piece about Terrapin Hill, a forgotten hamlet between Laurel and Gumboro, and mentioned Bull’s Mills a couple of times.

By the Civil War, the sawmill and gristmill named after Manaen Bull, a former British soldier who married Governor Nathaniel Mitchell’s widow, were already more than one hundred years old, having been built by Joseph Collins before 1760, when the area was still claimed by Maryland. They were built on a branch of Broad Creek known as Wimbesoccom Creek during the colonial era, Sockum Creek during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and Gray’s Branch from about the 1850s to the present. In modern terms, they were located on the south side of Laurel Road (Route 24) immediately before the road to Trap Pond, though at that time that road didn’t exist and the Trap Mills were relatively unimportant.

There were only about a dozen houses clustered around Bull’s Mills, but the surrounding area was populated enough to justify a post office and schoolhouse. The nearest church was Bethesda M.E. Church, about a mile and a half to the southeast, but there was also a new Methodist Protestant (M.P.) congregation meeting in another schoolhouse, only about a mile to the northeast. They would eventually build their own church and name it Trinity.

It seems that there was a sizable black population in the area between Bull’s Mills and Hitchens’ Crossroads, about two miles north. In The Churches of Delaware, Frank R. Zebley briefly mentioned that “Gray’s Church, colored” was “located south of Record’s School near Gray’s Branch,” but offered no additional information. An A.M.E. church was built across from the Ross Point Colored School in 1884, on what is now East Trap Pond Road. I’m not sure how old the schoolhouse (which was replaced in 1922) was; it doesn’t appear on the Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, but the atlas isn’t perfect. Unfortunately, historians have tended to overlook 19th-century black churches, schools, and communities, particularly in rural areas.

Today you will not find the name Bull’s Mills on any map. Or Bull’s anything, for that matter. The community became known as Pepper’s Store or simply Pepper, and the old mill-pond was named Pepper Pond. The mills, store, and schoolhouse are long gone.

– Chris Slavens

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