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Nanticoke Indian Surnames

Every word in the title of this post is inappropriate, to an extent. The following names are not all Nanticoke names, necessarily. They may or may not technically be surnames. And, of course, we all know that Native Americans shouldn’t have been called Indians. A more accurate title might be: “Family names associated with native peoples of the Delmarva Peninsula in the 17th and 18th centuries.”

Note that the following names are not associated with the modern Nanticoke Indian Association. Surnames like Clark and Harmon are certainly deserving of attention, but they’re also of European origin. I wish to briefly comment on a few surnames or family names that appear in historical records, definitely linked to local Indians, and definitely rooted in their language.

Asquash (or Ashquash)

Ashquash was a son of the Nanticoke emperor Unnacokasimon, who probably died in the 1680s. Unnacokasimon’s brother, Opeter or Ohopperoon, succeeded him following his death, but the English authorities believed the old emperor had been poisoned and viewed the brother as a usurper. His fate is unclear. Ashquash was emperor in 1705, but left the Eastern Shore in 1713 to live among the Susquehanna Indians.

In 1725, a William Asquash living in Chicacoan Town was described as “the late Emperor’s son.” In other records, the name was sometimes spelled Ashquash. The combination of an English first name and his father’s name is interesting; perhaps he wanted a surname to be more like his white neighbors. However, his relationship to others who apparently used the name Asquash as a surname is unclear. In 1742, Abraham and Jemmey Asquash were living in Chicacoan Town, while in 1757, a petition asking the provincial government to recognize George Pocatehouse as the emperor was signed by John Asquash, Nancy Ashquash, Molley Ashquash, Moses Ashquash, and William Ashquash.

The name is a fairly common word in Algonquian languages, referring to similar plants such as pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, etc., and is the basis for the English word squash. A much earlier example of its use as a name comes from Connecticut, where, in 1644, an Indian named Ashquash murdered an English servant.

Unfortunately, the name seems to have left the peninsula, and/or died out. I’ve searched in vain for records of later Asquashes or Ashquashes.

Cohonk

Cohonk, like Asquash, is an Algonquian term found beyond the Delmarva Peninsula. It referred to the honking of Canadian geese, and was also associated with the coming of winter or the passage of a year. In 1742, a James or Jamey Cohonk testified about the Wimbesoccom event; apparently he was from Chicacoan Town, making him a Nanticoke. He and other Cohonks were involved in the dispute about whether the provincial government should recognize Peter Monk or George Pocatehouse as the emperor in the late 1750s. Like Asquash, the name Cohonk seems to disappear from the records after that period.

Puckham or Puckum

The surname Puckham or Puckum is a bit problematic, because it could be a variation of the English surname Peckham, and is rather common. (A search of Ancestry.com for “puckham” yields nearly two million records, including spelling variations.) However, in the 1670s, there was a 1,500-acre Indian settlement on the east side of the Nanticoke River and on the north side of Barren Creek known as Puckamee. Furthermore, in 1682, an Indian named John Puckham married Jone Johnson, a free “negro” woman, in Stepney Parish, Somerset County. Stepney Parish covered the area between the Nanticoke and Wicomico Rivers. An excellent article at Native American Roots explains the view that Puckham may have been derived from Puckamee, which meant “a place to source red ochre.” Whatever its origins, the surname Puckham or Puckum has generally been associated with blacks since the colonial era.

Hop

Hop is not a name, per se, but it seems to have been part of many names. Unnacokasimon’s brother was Ohopperoon; John Chinehopper was a leader of the Nanticokes in 1742; Tom Hoppington was a Nanticoke from Chicacoan Town in 1742, and Hopping Sam was a chief of the Locust Neck Indians (or Choptanks) in 1742. It seems safe to assume that these names shared a common root.

– Chris Slavens

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Will of Teague Matthews, Jr., of Sussex County, 1790

The following is a possibly imperfect transcription of the last will and testament of Teague Matthews, Jr., a native of Somerset County who seems to have moved to the Broad Creek area in the 1770s. He and his wife, Mary Truitt, had several children, from whom many of the Matthews of Sussex County are descended; their descendants also include members of the Vinson, Hitchens, Cannon, Messick, and Lewis families, among others. Teague lived on the outskirts of what was then known as the Pocomoke Swamp, on the east side of Wimbesoccom Creek (Gray’s Branch), and attended the recently completed Broad Creek Chapel (Old Christ Church). He died in the spring of 1790. It’s unclear whether he was buried at Broad Creek Chapel or on his own land; wooden grave markers have been found at both locations.

I’m working on a longer article about the Matthews family and their fascinating, overgrown family cemetery several miles east of Laurel, but in the meantime, here’s the text of the will for genealogists or anyone else who might be interested:

Will of Teague Matthews

In the Name of God Amen
I Teague Matthews of the County of Sussex and State of Delaware [planter?] being low and weak of body but of sound and perfect mind and memory, thanks be to God for it, and calling to mind the uncertainty of all human events, and that it is appointed unto all Men once to die I have thought proper to make and ordain this my Last Will and Testament, hereby disannulling and making void all other Will and Wills by me heretofore made in manner and form following. I give and bequeath unto Almighty God that gave it, my Immortal Soul, as for my body I desire it may be decently buried at the discretion of my Executors hereafter named; as for the Worldly Goods wherewith it have pleased God to endow me I give and bequeath in manner and form following…

I give unto my beloved Wife Mary Matthews the place I bought of John Jones, with all the Improvements thereunto belonging during her natural life of Widowhood, and I order that she shall not be in anywise disturbed in the use of my present dwelling houses untill she either dies, marries or my Son Phillip builds her a House, on the said place called Jones’s place, the House to be framed, eighteen feet by twenty a Brick Chimney and reasonable furnished: also I give unto my said Wife One yoke of Oxen, one black Colt, one Bed and furniture, one Ewe and Lamb, one Cow and Calf.

I give unto my Son Phillip my home plantation together with all the Improvements, thereunto belonging to him and his Heirs for ever, but my desire is that if he dispossesses of the said Lands and without lawful Heirs that he should leave it to my Son David. I also give unto my Son Phillip One Bay Mare, also one Bed and furniture also two Bull yearlings…

I give unto my Son James all the Lands that I bought of John Jones, together with all the Improvements thereunto belonging after the death or Marriage of my Wife, to him and his Heirs for ever…

I give my daughter Betty Vinson One Cow and Calf and one Ewe and Lamb more than she has already had from me…
I give unto my daughter Sally, One Cow and Calf, one Spinning Wheel, one pine Chest that she calls hers, one Bed and furniture, and One Ewe and Lamb…

I give unto my daughter Rebecca, One Bed and furniture, one Cow and Calf, one Chest that I formerly called mine and one Ewe and Lamb…

As for all the remainder of my moveable Estate I order that it may be equally divided between my Son James, my Son David, my Son Levi, my daughter Catharine and my daughter Prissa, and my desire is that the whole may be done in a quiet and peaceable manner. And I hereby leave my beloved Wife Mary Matthews and my Son Phillip Matthews, joint Executors of this my Last Will and Testament, In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and Seal this twenty third day of March. One thousand Seven hundred and Ninety.

Signed Sealed and delivered as the Testators Last Will and Testament being first duly published and pronounced in the presence of us Thos Conner. Molly Roach. Rebecca Conner.

Teague (his X mark) Matthews

Memorandum this 27. Day of April 1790 before me Phillips Kollock Register appointed for the probate of Wills and granting Letters of Administration for the County afsd. Appeared Thomas Connor and Rebecca Connor, two of the Witnesses to this foregoing Will, who being duly sworn on the Holy Evangels of Almighty God did severally depose and say that in their sight presence and hearing the Testator Teague Mathews did sign Seal publish and declare the same to be his Last Will and Testament, and that at the doing thereof he was of a sound and perfect mind memory and Judgment and that they and each of them together with Molly Roach subscribed the same as Witnesses in presence of the Testator and at his request. Phillips Kollock Reg.

– 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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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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