Tag Archives: Eastern Shore

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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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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“Sockum” and the Nanticokes of Broad Creek, part 2

A few months ago I posted an article entitled “Sockum” and the Nanticokes of Broad Creek, which explains why I believe the name Sockum, as both a surname and place-name, followed Nanticoke refugees as they drifted across the Eastern Shore between 1744 and 1850.

When researching the subject, I missed at least one fact, which I just noticed yesterday. It might not be all that important, but every little bit of information helps.

Scharf’s History of Delaware features a list of taxables in Dagsborough Hundred in 1785. This list proves that a James Sockam and a Widow Sockam (meaning the widow of a deceased Sockam) were living in the hundred at that time, which included the area later known as Gumborough Hundred. Interestingly, there was a James Sockam living in Nanticoke Hundred, Somerset County (probably in what would become Little Creek Hundred, Sussex County, following the resolution of the boundary dispute) in the 1750s. There was also a James Sockum living in Sussex County in the early 1800s. Without more information, it’s impossible to know how many Jameses we’re dealing with, but it seems likely that there were at least two or three generations of men named James Sockum (or Sockam, Soccom, etc.).

It should be remembered that just as there were Nanticoke reservations along Chicacoan Creek and Broad Creek, there was a thousand-acre “Indian River Indian” reservation located near a tributary of Indian River known today as Irons Branch. Injun Town Road, located in Dagsboro Hundred, south of Millsboro, seems to trace the southern boundary of this tract. The Indian River Indians sold sections of the reservation in the 1730s and early 1740s, with the final tract being sold in late 1743. Presumably some of them migrated north with the Nanticokes, and presumably some of them stayed in the area, eventually moving to the north shore of Indian River. It’s possible that the James Sockam of 1785 was living with or near descendants of the Indian River Indians in the neighborhood of their old reservation.

The Indian River Indian reservation, known as Askeckeky or Acksquessance, was located south of present-day Millsboro.

The Indian River Indian reservation, known as Askeckeky or Acksquessance, was located south of present-day Millsboro.

– Chris Slavens

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A Map in Progress, part 2

A few days ago I posted a draft of a map of the lower Delmarva Peninsula — portions of present-day Sussex, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset Counties — featuring villages and place names of the early 18th century. Although the locations of the Indian villages are approximate, and they may have been called by different names over the years, their existence is a matter of fact. Their names appear in colonial records, along with the names of nearby creeks and branches. We know when the reservations were established, who lived there, and about when they left. Some, but not all, appear on 18th-century maps.

The following map, though based on the same digital tracing of an old map of the peninsula, is a bit different. Locust Neck Town, Chicacoan Town, Broad Creek Town, and Askeckeky are still there, but I’ve added several sites that might have been home to Indian villages during or prior to the 17th century. Their names are italicized and I’ve placed question marks next to them. Just to be clear, there were many other villages. For example, in 1696 it was reported that there were at least ten Nanticoke villages, but I’ve shown the possible locations of only six. The text should be clear when viewed at full size.

Peninsula Indian Sites

 

Transquakine, also known as Ababco’s Town, was a Choptank village. I’ve placed it near the head of the Transquaking River, but I’m not at all certain about the location. It could be off by miles. The important thing is that there was such a village located in that general area. There were at least three Choptank villages during the 17th century.

Nause, a Nanticoke village, appears on John Smith’s map of Virginia, published in 1612. So does Nantaquack. I’ve tried to place them about where Smith placed them, but have no firsthand knowledge of either location.

Puckamee was the name of a neck of land on the north side of Barren Creek. In 1678, it was reported that Indians lived there; I assume they were Nanticokes.

I’ve placed possible village sites near present-day Sharptown and Bethel based on C. A. Weslager’s writings, but he was referring to archaeological evidence, not historical records, so there is no Nanticoke or English name for these sites. It’s possible that they were already old and abandoned by 1608. He thought that there was at least one village near Broad Creek when Smith traveled up the Nanticoke River. Based on all of the evidence I’m aware of, I can only guess that the village known as Broad Creek Town existed prior to 1705. Whether the Nanticokes reclaimed an old village, moved into an existing one, or established a new one at that time is unclear. It seems reasonable to assume that there were several villages and camps located along the creek and its branches during different eras prior to the arrival of Europeans.

Weslager also suggested, based on archaeological evidence, unexplained allusions in land records, and/or local folklore, that there were Nanticoke sites along Quantico Creek, Rewastico Creek, and Marshy Hope Creek. I haven’t looked into these locations yet, but might include them on a future draft of this map.

One of the most interesting sites is that of the “Indian Cabbin” mentioned in the 1720s. Indian Cabin Branch was a tributary of Deep Creek. Descriptions of an adjacent tract refer to Peterkin’s Branch and the Great Branch. According to Scharf, it was also known as Green Branch, and extended to Little Neck Branch. Unfortunately, none of these names appear on any map I’m familiar with, so I’ve simply placed the cabin near Deep Creek.

– 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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Yet Another Blog

When I started thinking about creating a blog about Delmarva history, folklore, and genealogy, my first thought was, Yet another blog. I’ve published one about politics, one about religion, and contributed to several others. It seems like I’m always telling people about the latest blog I’m publishing or contributing to. But, as a matter of fact, I haven’t written for any blog in over a year. So, yes, this is yet another blog, but it’s also my only blog at the moment.

I decided to create this blog for several reasons. First, I’ve been interested in genealogy — family history research — since I was a kid, and although I periodically share stories about and photographs of my ancestors on Facebook, I’d like to share that sort of information on a site that anyone can stumble upon. Second, I’ve been working on a short book-length history of Laurel, Delaware, since November, and I frequently come across information that just doesn’t fit into the book. Sometimes, pages of research boil down to a single sentence. I’ll share some of that “overflow” material on this site. Third, I’m interested in learning what others might know about a particular subject — like the Nanticoke village at Broad Creek during the 17th and 18th centuries — so I hope that posts about such subjects will provoke discussion.

Concerning the name of the blog, I chose Peninsula Roots on a whim and will probably change it several times. Once I settle on a name, I’ll buy the domain. I liked the name Between the Bays, but apparently that’s already a thing. Peninsula Roots will suffice for the present.

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